27 May 2009

Cheap is Delicious

Who says the best food in the world has to cost a first born child or a horde of virgins? Or contain gluten?

Why can't dinner cost less than $2 per person while still causing eyes rolling back into heads and noses hunting out your leftovers?

Well, not to fret my friends. Delicious cheap eats do exist. In fact, they exist in my kitchen all of the time. They aren't always so cheap as to be less than $2 per person, but they have happened. In fact, one happened last night.

After reading about lentils with burnt onions over at Cheap Healthy Good I just had to find out more. I looked up Mark Bittman's original post (which CHG links to) and read what he had to say about something so basic as burning onions.

The onions aren't black and dry, but they're right between there and caramelized. Putting them with onions, some carrots, kale, lentils, and brown rice creates a healthy and cheap well balanced meal. There's protein, whole grains and plenty of vegetables. Many other vegetables could be added to this dish to increase the nutrient power and vegetable serving count for the day. I bet a bit of shredded chicken would taste pretty darn good too.

But, last night it was just the basics. I followed the directions at CHG and substituted kale for the spinach. Kale is quite a nutrition powerhouse as it is high in potassium and vitamins A and C as well as being a good source of calcium and fiber.

There is no picture of this meal as it was eaten rather quickly. The smell of it drew us in too quickly for a snapshot. It's probably better that way anyhow as I tend to have a problem with over-stirring causing foods to break down a bit (i.e. lentil mush).

When I took leftovers to work today my boss and coworker could smell the deliciousness radiating from my container. They wanted some. Only my boss sampled the food. It made her remember why she likes lentils, and made her question why she's forgotten them. She's early on in her cooking education, and lentils were one of the first foods she really learned how to cook (other than scrambled eggs). I told her how simple this dish was and she was stunned.

All anyone needs for this dish is a little forethought. At least in cooking the brown rice. Actually, you could wait until you have an hour left to get dinner on the table and you'll be armed and ready to feed the troops.

Put 1/2 cup of brown rice to boil on the stovetop. Once it starts bubbling, turn the heat to low (about #3) and top the pot with a double layer of paper towels and a lid. I got that idea from Gluten Free Cooking School. Simmer it for 45 minutes.

While the rice is cooking rinse 1/2 cup of lentils and put them into a pot to cook with the appropriate amount of water(check the instructions on your bag, they should say it's a 1 cup to 2 1/2 cup ratio). My bag of lentils said to cook them similarly to the rice, but with no paper towels and for only 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, as they're both simmering away, dice up one and a half large onions, 3 carrots, and 1 packed cup of kale.

Coat the bottom of a pan with extra virgin olive oil (non-teflon would be best, but use what you have).

Bring this up to medium high heat (I know this goes against what I've told you before, but it'll be worth the olive oil flavor, use a high heat oil if you'd prefer to not risk it).

Add in the onions. They should sizzle. Stir frequently for about 15-20 minutes. Turn the temperature down to medium if things are progressing too quickly (meaning: beginning to burn rapidly). We want these onions to burn slowly.

Watch the onions to see that they go past the golden, caramel color. At this point add in the diced carrots. When the onions reach the blackened edges and some blackened middles stage add in the kale. Let the kale wilt down. Turn off the heat.

The rice and lentils should be done at this point. Drain any excess liquid from the lentils.

In a large bowl mix together the lentils and rice. ***Don't over stir.***

Then add in the onion, carrot and kale mixture. Once again, combine but don't over stir.

If over-stirring does occur, simply hide the meal from your guests and eat it all yourself.

If not, proudly serve up your inexpensive, nutritious, and tasty dish.

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