Thursday, December 30, 2010

a sated appetite

My family is utterly boring when it comes to celebrating New Year's Eve.

Admittedly, we're boring about celebrating holidays in general, but the closest we've come to a New Year's tradition is a habit of nodding off before the New Year is actually rung in. Sometimes we watch the fireworks, but mostly, we're dead to the world when the clock ticks over. New Year's dinner is only noteworthy for its complete lack of noteworthiness: we eat a perfectly ordinary meal, or else we opt for (vaguely dissatisfying) takeout.

It's quite clear that if I'm ever going to have any New Year's traditions worth mentioning, I'm either going to have to make up my own, or appropriate someone else's. The latter is easier than the former, of course. There's no shortage of food-related traditions, so it's a question of choosing one that appeals.

Lentils and other legumes play a part in the New Year's dishes of countries all over the world because they look like coins and represent wealth. I'm not terribly intrigued by the symbolism, but I like lentils, and they are reliably available at the supermarkets here.

Which brings me to lentil stew - a simple mixture of lentils, olive oil, mirepoix, herbs and water. It may not sound like much, but when treated with care, these unassuming ingredients produce an end result that is startlingly flavorful. This year, New Year's Eve may still be boring, but at least I'll ring in the New Year with a sated appetite.

Lentil Stew

This stew is completely meat- and dairy-free, but you'd never guess it from the flavor. The key tricks: be generous with the olive oil and seasonings, and make sure the vegetables are properly browned before you add the lentils.

While this stew is perfectly good on its own, it also makes a nice side dish for pork or fish.

(Makes about four portions if eaten plain, and six portions as a side. Will freeze.)

First, the mirepoix. Start by finely chopping one large yellow onion. Rinse one celery heart. Peel two cloves of garlic. Peel three medium-sized carrots.

Heat a generous splash of olive oil in heavy-bottomed pan with lid over very low heat. Add the onion. Stir briefly with a wooden spoon.

Dice the celery. Add it to the pan. Sprinkle over a fat pinch of salt. Sprinkle over dried rosemary, thyme, basil and oregano. (A herb blend also works.) Add one bay leaf. Stir.

Mince the garlic, add it to the pan. Grind over a generous quantity of black pepper. Stir.

Dice the carrots; add them to the pan. Stir. The mixture should smell fragrant; if it doesn't, add more herbs.

Keep the pan over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to go dry. The pan will develop a rich brown coating on the bottom; this is exactly what you're looking for. Continue giving it an occasional stir; pay close attention once the onions have browned. When it looks as though your vegetables might scorch, add a splash of water, scraping up any stuck-on browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.

Add one pound of cooked lentils (or half a pound of soaked dried lentils). Pour over enough water to cover. Cook at a simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, then uncover and reduce until there is only a little liquid in the pan. Check for salt and pepper; adjust to taste. Serve warm.


Lindsey said...

My family never had any super amazing New Year's traditions either, we mostly would get takeout chinese food and then maybe watch the ball drop.

Happy New Year!

adele said...

Lindsey - Good to know I'm not alone. Happy New Year!

~~louise~~ said...

Happy New Year, Adele. That's what so GREAT about traditions, there's always room for one more. Enjoy:)

Googie Baba said...

In the American South, they eat black eyed peas on January 1. It is supposed to bring luck and posterity to your family.

Googie Baba said...

Oh, and in my family, we would play Canasta, get drunk and get into fist fights with each other.

Happy New Year.

adele said...

Louise - Happy New Year!

Googie - I've read about black-eyed peas - don't think I can find those at the import store, though.

As far as family traditions go, I think I'd keep the canasta, and skip the rest. :)

Happy New Year!

Cakelaw said...

Our family is pretty boring for New Year too - we always sleep it in - though this year by accident I was up, because a friend up the road called unexpectedly and invited me to the movies, and we went for a bubbly afterwards. Happy New Year!

adele said...

Cakelaw - Movies and bubbly? Sounds like that's worth repeating. :) Happy New Year!