As I’ve mentioned before, I love to make lentils and rice when we are fasting. But I recognize that lentils are a hard sell for a lot of people. The texture can be mushy, the taste a bit earthy, and let’s not even talk about the appearance. Thousands of years of human history and thousands of miles of inhabited land where lentils are still a staple stand behind lentils as an excellent choice for nourishing human life, however. So even if you are not feeling the lentil love, come with me for a moment and take a peek at some of the fascinating and delicious ways people in other parts of the world eat them. You might just get inspired!
As a side note, in addition to being vegan, all of these recipes are nut-free, soy-free, and gluten-free if you serve them with rice rather than bread. Pick one to try each week, make enough for two nights, and you’ve already got a decent start on menu planning from now until Pascha.
This is one of my favorite things to eat. Ever. Period. Fasting or not. I could eat this rice every day for weeks and not get tired of it. I have not been able to find pandan leaves at my local international market. You can order them, or pandan extract, online. However, since many people compare the flavor to vanilla, and since Wikipedia says that pandan contains some of the same flavor compounds as basmati rice and is used to flavor lesser-quality rices to make them taste more like basmati, I just use a tiny sliver of vanilla bean in both the rice and the lentils, and make the Kaha Bath with basmati rather than plain rice.
Sweet, tangy, and garlicky, these are definitely good when you are craving something a little different (and all that lemon and garlic can’t hurt when you are fighting a cold!). Making your own pomegranate syrup is as easy as boiling some store bought pomegranate juice until it starts to thicken up. The syrup lasts for a long time (several months? as long as it doesn’t have mold growing on it or cloudy stuff floating in it it’s still good) in a covered jar in the fridge, and if you add a splash of lemon juice and a couple of spoonfuls of sugar while it boils the syrup it may last even longer. If you don’t want to go to the trouble, however, you can use a little honey, some extra lemon juice, and maybe a drop of molasses in its place. Also, if you are fasting from olive oil you can either sauté the garlic in a little bit of whatever vegetable oil you use (don’t use the full amount – other oils are not likely to taste as good as olive), OR you can make it oil free by dry toasting the unpeeled garlic cloves in a hot skillet until they get blackened edges and soften up a bit, then mincing/crushing/pulverizing them and adding them straight to the lentils without further cooking. This dish is also lovely with rice if you want to go gluten-free.
My husband loves this spread. Great as a dip for veggies or pita chips, or as a spread on sandwiches. Add crusty bread and vegetable soup and you have a lovely dinner for a cool spring night. Easy to make oil free – just use water instead of the oil.
This is the essence of simple, but my head is spinning from trying to find a recipe to link to for you. Basically this dish is made across the Middle East with only slight variations. In fact, the spelling varies more widely than the recipe! But the tiny variations make it hard for me to know which link is most likely to work reliably for everyone. So here is the rundown: cook plain old brown or green lentils and some rice – long grain is most common, but short, medium, basmati, white or brown all show up in someone’s favorite version. You can cook the rice and lentils in one pot or cook separately and then combine. If you want (since you can’t really make fried onions without oil anyway), you can add some oil while cooking the lentils and rice, either right along with the water or sauté the dry grains for a minute before adding the water. It keeps each grain a bit more separate and fluffy, and less likely to turn into uniform mush. Fry up some onions until they are good and caramelized. Serve them on top of the lentils and rice. Some folks add a little spice to the lentils, cumin being the most common, but some versions also include cinnamon, allspice, coriander, bay leaf, or even a touch of garam masala. It is traditionally served with yogurt, but can be served with tangy chopped salads, hummus, a squeeze of lemon juice, or even pickles. But really, it is lovely just plain.
Here are a few different versions for those who like a specific recipe.
Okay, okay, split peas are not lentils. But close enough. I stumbled upon this NPR story completely by chance several years ago and decided to try some of the recipes. The first and second recipes at the end of the article (the sweet potatoes and split peas) have become fasting staples in our house. Add a little rice, roti, or a green vegetable and you have a complete meal.
I have linked to the Global Table recipe for this dish just so you have a starting point, but as much as I love that blog I really hope I’ll have time to perfect and post my own recipe some time this Lent. I usually make this around the 5th week of Lent, since that is when the reading from Genesis about Jacob and Esau comes up. My husband says that something like these lentils could well have been the “pottage” for which Esau sold his birthright, since in some versions he refers to the lentils as being red. Injera is a little tricky, but worth trying if you enjoy kitchen experiments. Injera and mesir wot were the only “odd” think I ever craved during my first pregnancy. I think it had little relation to hormones and a lot to do with being homesick for San Francisco and the Eritrean ladies who attended my father’s church there and used to bring huge platters of injera with super-spicy lentil stew to church on foggy San Francisco Sundays.
I did not love how this dish tasted when I first made it, but keep coming back to it because I love how it makes me feel. I love the reminder that people in other parts of the world fast, as well, and that what I consider hardship is simply normal for many of them. And, surprisingly, my kids have actually been known to eat this because the first time I made it I called it “Sunshine Stew.” As a side note, whole cumin seeds are a bit intense. If you don’t already know you like them you might want to start with just a tiny sprinkling, or substitute ground cumin instead.
Okay, let’s face it, some people are just never going to like a “bowl of mush” no matter how beautifully seasoned it is. For those picky eaters who just cannot be persuaded to eat spoonable beans, I give you the crispy fried lentil patty. I am not posting a link because there are just too many and I have never actually followed someone else’s recipe, anyway. I am still working on pinning down my own recipe so I can post it (I never seem to make them exactly the same way twice), but if you are itching to try them a quick google search should give you enough methods to keep you fed every night for a month!