April 2, 2007
The Case of the Leek
Among the pulses, perhaps the most unimposing is the little lentil. It
gives the impression that when food chats, the lentil has a hard time
getting a word in edgewise.
one will perhaps ever know if this is true, but we can take some of this
and apply it when we choose to make the lentil the focus of a meal.
is small, which means you will need many to do the work of fewer dried
beans of bigger size. There is also a shorter cooking time, perhaps half
an hour from start to finish.
might be left to our surmises when it comes to inner-pulse politics, but
we can be certain of one thing – the lentil gets on well with rice.
Whether this is a function of similar size or similar color is a matter
The two are cooked in largely the same way. Add them to water, heat the
water to boiling and turn down the heat until the contents of the pot
are cooked. But, while it takes perhaps 45 minutes to cook brown rice,
it takes maybe 20 minutes to cook brown lentils (a warning – overcooking
will cause brown lentils to fall into mushiness).
you were to mix brown lentils and brown rice, you might be tempted to
call your dish “The Man in Drab” (a warning – to do this is to risk
incurring the wrath of Johnny Cash’s spirit). It would not only be
unappealing to the eye, it would be nearly devoid of flavor. Some people
might enjoy lentils and rice with nothing else. If you know someone like
this and they invite you over, feign illness. You will be asleep on
their couches within 20 minutes of arriving.
good sauce is a simple mix of leek and tomato.
Because the leek is a bigger, sweeter cousin of the green onion, it is
possible that for flavor purposes you may indeed feel free to substitute
in any number of ways – from green onions, to shallots, to regular
onions. You’ve stumbled into a hornet’s nest of flexibility. If you
aren’t a fan of the leek, or are otherwise unfamiliar with its ways and
are nervous about treading across new ground, allow yourself to be stung
(repeatedly, if necessary).
Your first step is to unlock the leek’s sweeter, milder flavor. This is
done in ways that are so predictable that you should be worried if you
didn’t see them coming.
Chop off the green stem and root structures and cut it in half
lengthwise. Slice across the grain into thin strips. Meanwhile, heat
olive oil and garlic and add the sliced leek. While you sauté this over
a gentle heat, cut up tomatoes and add those when the leek is softened.
Perhaps you are now saying, “That’s all? What kind of fraud calls that a
this is indeed what you are saying, you are invited to calm down.
Hysterics get you nowhere. But it does raise a problem. Leeks and
tomatoes, by themselves, do little to change the basic flavor of this
dish. Settling for half measures, successful in other endeavors (raising
a child, fixing an aircraft, balancing a budget), will raise the
question of why you bothered.
the tomatoes and leeks, we commend some spices – curry powder and hot
paprika. Of the herbs, parsley is a good accompaniment (as it is
elsewhere, no herb is perhaps as genial and as easy to get along with as
our old friend parsley), as is judicious use of cilantro. On the latter,
be forewarned – it can be an obnoxious, overbearing brute.
Allow your sauce to blend over a low heat for a few moments, until such
time as the tomato juice cooks down. This will give the various members
of your little orchestra time to compare notes and strike harmony.
While you do this, measure out equal parts brown lentils and brown rice.
Stir them together, and contemplate the visuals of what you have
created. It looks unappetizing and unfriendly. It is a reminder of just
why you have spent time cooking together leeks and tomatoes and other
Improve its appearance by adding your sauce. The instant addition of
reddish and white to green and olive drab will make it more appealing to
the eyes. Here, a piece of last-second inspiration. Squeezing lemon
juice over it won’t improve the visual qualities, but it will add a
certain citrus-y oomph.
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