Vegetarian Dinner on Monday

We try to eat a vegetarian meal for dinner once or twice a week. We do this because we think it’s a healthful thing to do, and because, frankly, vegetarian meals are often cheap. We sometimes eat the sort-of “standard” vegetarian dishes such as beans and rice, or spinach ravioli with a simple tomato sauce. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll mention that we pretend that Parmigiano Reggiano is a vegetable.) However, I try to be on the lookout for new dishes to try.

Last week, I found a bag of lentils hiding in the back of the pantry and decided to go hunting for lentil dishes. Also, carrots are in abundance at the farmers market and I had picked up a couple of pounds of really beautiful and sweet tasting carrots last Saturday. So I had carrots in mind as I searched, as well. I found two appealing recipes for carrots and lentils in the New York Times Cooking section, both by Martha Rose Shulman. One is Carrots and Lentils in Olive Oil, the other is Lentil and Carrot Salad with Middle Eastern Spices. I liked the look and sound of both; I didn’t really want a “salad”; my wife is not a fan of cilantro; but we both like cumin and cardamom and lemon. So I put together a dish for us using elements of both recipes: Carrot and Lentil Stew with Middle Eastern Spices. One can quibble about whether the dish is really a stew or not. I liked the sound of it.

Here’s a photo of the preliminary mis en place. I really do think it’s important to have all of your ingredients, utensils, and equipment out and assembled before one starts actually cooking. It greatly reduces the amount of profanity required to prepare a dish, if nothing else.

It’s also important to do as much of the prep work as one can before cooking. In this case I was able to do the initial partial cooking and draining of the lentils in parallel with some slicing and chopping.

The smell of the onions and coriander seeds frying in olive oil ……

Carrots and garlic, cumin and cardamon….

Finally, diluted tomato paste, lentils, and half of the mint….

Simmered until the lentils were just right. Finished with a little lemon juice and the rest of the mint. I served it over brown rice with lemon wedges on the side. We had some left-over grilled zucchini and our usual salad as accompaniments.

Finally, I should tell you that we discovered, as is often the case, that this dish is better after an overnight in the refrigerator. The flavor was more subtle and yet more developed – the mint was less obvious, and a squeeze of lemon brought up the flavor of the three spices. We love leftovers.

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