Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lentils with green beans (or green beans with lentils) : a fast and easy vegetarian dinner

I generally avoid partially prepared foods for reasons of cost and taste, but sometimes there is no time for anything and compromises are necessary.  You can get washed and trimmed vegetables and precooked lentils, beets and potatoes.  It beats ordering in or going out, in terms of health, taste, cost and even time.  I threw this dish together with them in less than 30 minutes, a simply spiced stew of green beans and lentils.  I seasoned it with cumin and Kirmizi pepper, and topped it with garlic flavored yogurt.  It is a very flexible dish, so I will give some variations at the end.  You could fancy up the yogurt topping with a mint and pepper butter, or skip it entirely and add some pomegranate molasses to the sauce and top the stew with feta.  And on, and on, and on.  I tend to swing Middle Eastern with ingredients like this, but they are amenable to a host of flavors.

Lentil and green bean stew:
  • 1 teaspoon - 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon flavorful red pepper (Aleppo, Kirmizi or Urfa)
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound green beans, washed, trimmed and halved (I used haricots verts from Trader Joe's)
  • 15 ounce can diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen fire roasted)
  • 2 cups cooked French lentils (you can either boil a cup for 20-30 minutes, or do as I did and use the precooked kind from Trader Joe's or Fairway, which come in vacuum-sealed 500 gram packages)
  • 1/2 cup garlic flavored yogurt (directions below)
  1. Spray a nonstick skillet and heat olive oil on medium until hot.
  2. Add olive oil, let heat for about 30 seconds, and add cumin seeds.  Cook until aromatics are a few shades darker, but do not burn.
  3. Add onions, turn heat to high and cook for about 5 minutes until soft.
  4. Add red pepper, salt and black pepper and stir for about a minute until aromatic.
  5. Add the green beans and cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5-10 minutes until well cooked -- there are few adequate words in the English language to describe and undercooked canned tomato.
  7. Add the lentils and any liquid in the package and cook to heat through, about another 5 minutes. If it is dry, add a little water to keep it from scorching.
  8. Serve w on rice or bulgur (my favorite quick method is below), or with pita. Garlic-flavored yogurt goes well with this.   It is good reheated or cold the next day.
  9. Serves 4 generously as a main dish.
Quick bulgur: Coarse bulgur goes best here and nothing could be easier.  Bulgur may be a 10,000 year-old convenience food.  It is already cooked and just needs to be rehydrated and warmed.  Forget most of the fancy pilaf recipes.  Take one part of bulgur and put it in a microwave-safe serving dish.  Sprinkle salt lightly over the top, and pour on 1 part boiling water.  Stir to mix, cover and leave it sit until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Cover dish with a paper towel and zap in microwave until warm.  For 3-4 servings, I used 1 cup of bulgur and water and zap them for about two and a half minutes.

Garlic yogurt:  On a cutting  board, smash a medium clove of garlic with a broad bladed knife and remove the skin.  Sprinkle with coarse salt, about 1/4 teaspoon.  Mash the salt into the garlic with the side of the blade.  In about 30 seconds or so, it should be reduced to a puree. If not, chop is a bit with the sharp edge, and then go back to mashing.  Scrape the garlic into a small bowl, and then stir in 1/2 to 3/4 cup of yogurt of your choice and fat level.  I really like goat's milk yogurt here.  This is a wonderful topping for all kinds of Middle Eastern dishes and especially good with those in tomato sauce.

Flavored butter or oil:  Heat 1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter on medium heat until melted.  Add 1/2 teaspoon each finely ground black pepper and Aleppo, Urfa or Kirmizi pepper.  Let these heat, being careful not to burn, for about a minute.  If you want, and for a rather wild flavor, add 1 teaspoon of dried spearmint or 1/2 teaspoon of dried tarragon, forced through a sieve.  Cook about 30 seconds.  You make pour this directly over the lentil and green bean stew, or pour it over the yogurt, which will then be particularly beautiful.  If you are pouring it over the yogurt, the stew is best served with the yogurt on top rather than on the side.

Other flavors:  You can add a handful of fresh coriander when you add the green beans, and top it with more fresh coriander.  Add some sliced garlic, abut 4 cloves, when the onions are done and a teaspoon of pomegranate molasses with the tomatoes, and then top the stew with about 1 cup  of crumbled feta and heat a few minutes so it starts to melt.  Don't use yogurt in this case.  Omit the cumin seeds and add 1/2 teaspoon allspice or cinnamon when you add the tomatoes.  Experiment with different kinds of pepper. Experiment in general!

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