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Recessionista in the Kitchen: A Week of Lentils

Updated on November 20, 2012
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Challenge Accepted!

Being broke is difficult enough without limiting your culinary options. Now, folks are broke for a lot of different reasons, and on a lot of different scales - this article is a salute to everyone who is self/under/unemployed, and doesn't assume any cooking experience whatsoever. If you can boil water, you and lentils will get along just fine and dandy.

The following is the culmination of a five-day tribute to one of the cheapest foods in the grocery store: lentils. If you want to follow along, and I encourage you to do so, the amount of lentils you'll want to start with will vary with the number of people in your household. All of my examples are made for two people, one of which has a seriously impressive appetite. We'll round up to three portions, with fingers crossed for leftovers. I'll note which recipes keep best as we go. I started with a one-kilo bag each of red and green lentils. Some fancy places have purple too, but since this is a frugality exercise, let's leave those be.

Incidentally, lentils will keep for 12 months easily if they're stored in a well-sealed container and kept in a cool dry place. If the really really big bags are more economical, feel free to stock up.

General Nutrition Information: this stuff is good for you

Your mamma would be so proud! Lentils are a good source of protein, iron, dietary soluble fiber, calcium, magnesium - and even vitamin C. They are cholesterol-free, for those of you concerned with such things, and very low in saturated fats. Diabetics and those so inclined will find them helpful in managing blood sugar. Preggos might be interested to know that lentils are a fantastic source of folic acid. And everyone with pretensions of immortality will be pleased to hear they're chock-a-block full of antioxidants. There has been some hype about lentils being especially good for your heart, so maybe you could stretch the metaphor and whip 'em out for Valentine's Day or anniversaries.

There's something for everybody! So go ahead and deep-fry them, right?

Start out slow (also known as "expectation management")

So you've told your roommates/spouse/kids that you're trying something new this week. Or not, depending on how well the people in question handle change... In any case, we'll start out slow to fight lentil burnout on Day 5. First up, plain ol' lentil curry. I'm making mine with red lentils, because I like my curry mushy. Green lentils work great too, but are more likely to come through the cooking process as distinct lentil pieces. With red lentils, you'll end up with delicious mush. Carry on.

What you need: an onion, some garlic, lentils (about 1 cup per anticipated mouth), whatever India-spices you have available, salt, pepper. Boiling water.

1. Put a little bit of oil in a pot; put the pot on a burner set to medium heat. Smush the garlic with the flat side of your knife (gets the juices out nicely) and then chop that sucker up. Dice the shit out of the onion. Cut it up into tiny little pieces. When your eyes are ready to fall out of your head, slide that whole mess into the oily pot and stir it around.

2. Go wash your face, hands - blow your nose.

3. If you have an electric kettle, bully for you! Fill 'er up and let 'er rip. While waiting for your kettle to come to a boil, throw your lentils in the pot and let them get started a little bit. Dump a good amount of water on top. I usually go for about 1 liter. You can always add more later if you want to fiddle with the consistency.

4. Cook the lentils at a low boil for a generous half hour, stirring when you feel like it. Add more water if it's boiling off too quickly. Towards the end of the cooking process, add your spices of choice - my favorites are spicy red pepper and curry powder, but if my husband is in charge he will just dump in a whole ton of turmeric. Whatever floats your boat - it's always good.

5. I like to serve it with yogurt, but most of the other people who eat at our house prefer to have it with bread.

What to do with leftovers: This will be good in the fridge for 4 days, but I wouldn't recommend freezing it. Depending on how much is left and what spices you've used, it could be transformed into soup, so that's what we'll make tomorrow!

Lentil Soup, Red and Green

Red lentil soup (blended, with a bit of yogurt)
Red lentil soup (blended, with a bit of yogurt) | Source
Green lentil soup
Green lentil soup | Source

Lentil Soup, or "transmuted leftovers"

There are about as many ways to make lentil soup as there are fish in the sea... (only a very slight exaggeration?). If you're working with leftovers from last night, then naturally you're constrained by the spices used previously. I generally magnify the onions and garlic (these will become rather muted once transmuted into soup, so it's best to refresh). You can also add a potato or some broccoli if you have a blender or like your soup chunky. But a stick blender is really worth its weight in precious metals if you're fond of subtlety in the kitchen.

Some things you might think about adding to your soup:

  • Ginger
  • Carrots
  • Tomato paste
  • Potato (acts as thickening agent)
  • Apple (ditto thickening)
  • Broccoli

Add everything, suitably chopped, to your leftovers in a suitably-sized pot (you judge suitability of size by how much soup you want to make). Add another half cup of lentils if there wasn't much left, and a little tiny bit of olive oil to make everything get along. Let it all cook together for about 5-10 minutes, and add hot/boiling water. Stir and reduce heat after it has come to a boil. You can turn it way down: as long as it's still lightly boiling, all is good. Cover (with space for the steam to get out) and go read a book for half an hour.

In half an hour or so, check on the soup. Add a little more water if necessary, and break out the blender if you've got one. Once everything is at your desired consistency, it's time to add any additional spices. Then you can cover it completely and take it off the heat. Your soup is ready to serve, or to be reheated when everyone is at the table. If you leave it uncovered and it cools, it may develop that rather unappealing "skin" - if it does, just snag it with a fork and toss it.

Made with red lentils - needs to be mushy

Red lentil fritters
Red lentil fritters | Source

Onwards and Upwards: Lentil Fritters

Guys, I make these All The Time. They're easy and amazing. And the best recipe, hands down, is Susan Voisin's (fatfreevegan.com). I haven't changed a thing.

For the patties, put all this in a rice cooker or a deepish pan on low/med heat. Cook until rice is tender.

1 cup Red Bhutanese rice (brown rice should work too)
1/2 cup red lentils
3 1/2 cups water
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely diced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Let it all cool and mush in a tablespoon of corn starch (gently). Make yer little patty balls (interesting shapes: fun!) and cook them in an oiled pan (Susan says sesame oil - we're not that picky). They should be all set in 3 or 4 minutes. If you'd rather do it all at once, you can put them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. No oil necessary if you use baking parchment stuff.

The sauce, which is excellent but *can* be replaced with good garlicy yogurt, is the following all pureed together:

1/4 cup toasted coconut
1 tablespoon ginger paste or 1 tsp. minced ginger
2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
1/4 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons agave nectar (or other sweetener)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic

For garlicy yogurt, just peel and smash a couple cloves of garlic and stir into a cup or 2 of yogurt - thicker the better. Let it sit for a bit in the fridge and give it another good stir right before serving.

Afiyet olsun!

Italian lentil salad - green lentils with tomato and cucumber

Deeelish.
Deeelish. | Source

Lentil Salad: best with green or purple lentils

I imagine your red lentils are tapped out at this point, so here's a recipe calling for the firmer sorts: green or purple, etc. Remember that for firmer green lentils, you want to cook them for 15 minutes with a little bit of oil in the cooking water.

So anyway, this is the easiest: cook up your lentils, let them cool, and add some combination of chopped purple onions, minced carrots, garlic, ginger, potatoes, tomatoes, chives... and for dressing, pretty much anything. I go for vinegar dressings, or citrusy ones, but I've seen it all done.

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Going Out on a High Note

Fridays: they always bring a little extra energy with them and their saucy weekend promises. So let's put that energy to good use! I'm double-dipping in Susan Voisin's crock pot of deliciousness, but for good reason.

Red Lentil Sambar from Vegan Fire and Spice!

Dun dun dun!

I'm including this in the week's collection also because it is a fine example of effective spicing. You really don't need all of them (what *is* sambar powder anyway?) so do play around to taste.

You will need some combination of the following:

1 cup red lentils
3 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons cold-pressed canola oil (I go ahead and use regular old cooking oil, simple folk that I am)
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 hot green chiles, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
2 teaspoons sambar powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped cauliflower
1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup diced eggplant
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Bring lentils and water to a boil, then simmer covered for 30 minutes. Put aside but do not drain (Crucial!). In a skillet, heat the oil (medium heat) and add the mustard seeds - when they're doing their little dance, add the onions, garlic, chillies and ginger - cook until soft (approx. 5 minutes). Add the tomatoes and give them 2 minutes to cook, then add all the spices you've chosen, and any remaining veggies. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add this to the lentils. Let it all simmer together for another 5 minutes. Soakin' up the love.

Voila!

Challenge Complete: Congratulations

You have managed a week of healthy, easy lentil delight. Perhaps what you've saved on your grocery bill can take you out to a movie. Unless you live in Manhattan, in which case your movies are outrageously expensive and you should get Netflix.

But I do hope that this exercise will encourage you to play around with the staples. Curiosity never killed no one, no matter what Mother Goose says.

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    • MelChi profile image

      Melanie Chisnall 5 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      Interesting, easy to prepare recipes - I'll definitely give a few of these a go!

    • Hayley Richardson profile image

      Hayley Richardson 5 years ago from London, UK

      I'm lazy and usually only get dhal when I have take away or my friends mother in law makes it for me but it looks a lot easier than I thought it was. I'll have a go at this.

    • buckleupdorothy profile image
      Author

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Mel and Hayley - do please let us know how your experiments turn out, and if you find any other excellent combinations. When writing this, I very nearly forgot all about carrots!

    • hush4444 profile image

      hush4444 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Fantastic hub! The recipes look wonderful, and I love your breezy and witty way of presenting them. I'll definitely be trying some new lentil dishes. Voted up!

    • buckleupdorothy profile image
      Author

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Thanks Hush! I'm afraid I was never great about following recipes exactly (never have exactly what is called for, etc etc.) and have found that flexibility is a great way to go. Makes it hard to write up recipes for others, but it also makes the cooking process in general a lot easier and more fun! Very glad to hear that it worked for you. Let us know how it goes!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I'm interested to try these out. They look mouthwatering and very healthy. I esp. love the fritters. Now off I go to look for lentils.. :)

      In the meantime, allow me to congratulate you on your Hubnuggets nomination. Here you go and see for yourself https://hubpages.com/community/March-Madness-HubNu... Enjoy!

    • lifelovemystery profile image

      Michelle Orelup 5 years ago from Houston, TX

      I see lentils in the store but have never known how to prepare them. Thanks for the recipes!

    • buckleupdorothy profile image
      Author

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Thank you! I'd love to hear how your lentil experiments work out. We've just tried the soup with broccoli and potatoes without the blender and I'm pleased to say that it turned out just fine. Deliciously lumpy.

    • buckleupdorothy profile image
      Author

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Rock on, LLM - let us know how your kitchen adventures turn out! And thank you very much for the comment.

      Best wishes.

    • nieve1279 profile image

      nieve1279 5 years ago

      I love lentils, one of my fav all time foods, and havingjust started a new job i need all the money saving tips i can get, many thanks.

    • Riverfish24 profile image

      Riverfish24 5 years ago from United States

      I use a Pressure Cooker and make lentil/dal everyday! As a kid I hated it and now its staple especially coz it is so easy. Nice Hub!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

      I like lentil soup but the other recipes are new to be. They look and sound good. Thanks for the recipes.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      mmm... delicious writing in this hub, buckleupdorothy! I'm away from home, but when I get back I'm going to whip up some of these recipes... I love lentils! Voting you up etc.!

    • buckleupdorothy profile image
      Author

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Thank you! And here's to many happy meals made and shared with love.

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Awesome! I like lentils, but I really old had one recipe to use them in. Thanks for expanding my repertoire! Bookmarked and voted awesome! I see lentils in my future...

    • buckleupdorothy profile image
      Author

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Great to hear, Natashalh. I have a few more brewing in the kitchen, with a summer theme - stay tuned!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Is lentil soup part of the Ramadan tradition there in Turkey? It is very important in Morocco and I wrote a hub with the recipe. (Thelentils are cooked with meat) The best food ever, and even after all these years something I enjoy all the time.

    • buckleupdorothy profile image
      Author

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Hey there DrMark! Lentil soup is absolutely ubiquitous in Turkey - a staple year-round. In fact I subsisted on it almost completely: in most of the cheap sulu yeme?i places it used to be a lira!

    • missolive profile image

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 5 years ago from Texas

      First and foremost, the word, recessionista is fabulous! Love it! Second, you have introduced three ways for me to include budget friendly and heart healthy lentils into my diet. These recipes sound great and I'm bookmarking this for my quest into healthy dishes for me to sample this summer. Thanks for a great hub - I like your wit. :)

    • buckleupdorothy profile image
      Author

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      I'm afraid I can't take credit for the word 'recessionista' - I think some New Yorkers maybe coined it a couple years ago, to describe people cutting back on high-end fashion and making a trend out of it. I'm very pleased you like and will try the recipes though!

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