Domesticity Nouveau

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Two by Two Lentil Stew with Gluten Free Naan

Believe it or not, I had never cooked lentils until recently.  On a couple of occasions I have consumed lentil soup from a can, but was not impressed.  Actually I was downright horrified that people considered it food!   So when a few different friends mentioned that they were making lentils, I had to pause and wonder if I had been cheated out of a gastronomical experience.  After all, lentils are a common food in a vast number of cultures; that many people on the planet can't be wrong about something.... can they?

I was familiar with lentils being part of the Indian food culture, and as I was looking for recipes and asking friends how they made lentils, I discovered they are also included in the diets of people from Africa, the Mediterranean region, North & South America, Europe, pretty much everywhere!  This wee little legume has quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to creating a tasty dish.  Its a rather neutral base, similar to chicken, that can be flavored to whatever culture is creating the meal.  That got me thinking... if I make a large "plain" batch, I can change the flavor each time I serve it... cheap eats that aren't boring and bland!  So off I went, reading hundreds of recipes and figuring out the base that is common to most cultures.  It is amazing how similar the basics of cooking are across the globe!

The first night we had "plain" lentils that were anything but plain; savory, rich, earthy, down right delicious if I do say so!  The next night I added curry paste and coconut milk.  Another night was cajun spice and smoked sausage over rice. Why did it take me so long to discover these tiny little protein packed gems?  I'm looking forward to the next batch and discovering some new spice mixes to share with everyone.

Along with lentils being a cross-culture commonality, flatbread, in one form or another can often be found in countries around the world.  In the Mediterranean there are pitas.  In Central America there are tortillas.  In India there is Naan....  oh how I mourned the loss of flatbread when I had to go gluten free.  After the success I had with flourless "flour" tortillas, I quickly realized that other flatbreads weren't that different and all that sorrow had been a waste of time!  I got to work in the kitchen and came up with a version of gluten free Naan that satisfied my yearning for a curry companion.

Two by Two Lentil Stew
Makes:  A lot, enough for several dinners and lunches, good to freeze for days you don't want to cook

2 tsp Olive Oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 large celery stalks, diced
2x2 (4) carrots, diced
2x2 (4) cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 large tomatoes, diced or 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups of dried lentils (I use a mix of 1 cup petite green French lentils & 1 cup brown or green lentils)
2 bay leaves
2 quarts (8 cups) water or broth (I use water because it is cheap eats)
2 potatoes, diced
2 cups of packed chopped spinach, or 1 10 oz pkg frozen spinach
2 tsp balsamic vinegar or lemon juice
Salt & Pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat and saute onions, carrot and celery until tender.  Stir in garlic, cook for about 30 seconds (you don't want it to burn or it will be bitter) and add tomatoes.  Add lentils and water/broth, stirring up any browned bits that may have been on the bottom of the pan.  Toss in the bay leaves and simmer gently for 45 minutes, or until lentils are soft.  Add potato and spinach and cook until potato is tender.  Stir in balsamic vinegar or lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Once you make the base, you can flavor individual servings with curry paste or powder, coconut milk, Cajun seasoning, Greek Seasoning, taco seasoning, add in cooked sausage, chicken, tofu... get creative and play with your food, I won't tell your Mom!

Gluten Free Naan (Indian Flatbread)
Makes:  about 12 pieces, depending on how you portion and roll it out

9 oz brown rice flour
4 oz potato starch
1 oz tapioca flour
1 Tbsp Sugar
2 tsp Xantham gum
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp instant yeast
4 Tbsp melted butter or ghee
3/4 cup warm milk (not so warm it kills the yeast, not so cold the yeast don't wake up)
1 large zip topped bag

Measure the flours, sugar, xantham gum, salt, and yeast into a bowl. Add melted butter and warm milk,  mixing until dough forms.  You can do this with a KitchenAid Mixer using the paddle attachment or by hand.

Divide the dough into 12 equal size portions and roll into balls.  At this point, you can either refrigerate and use the next day or roll out immediately.  Keep the dough balls covered as they wait to be rolled out.  I prefer to let my dough sit overnight, the flavor improves a bit, but it isn't necessary.  If you do refrigerate, pull the dough out about an hour before you intend to roll it.

Take a moment to read through the post about flourless "flour" tortillas to get some pointers for rolling out flatbreads.

Open your ziplock bag and Place one ball in the center between the sheets.  (Because of the butter in this recipe, I didn't find it necessary to dust the plastic layers with flour, but if yours sticks, try dusting with potato starch.) Take a pie plate or cake pan and mash the ball down to a flat circle. Using a rolling pin, roll out the naan to between 1/4" and 1/8" thick. Carefully peel back the top of the ziplock and very gently remove the naan from the other side. Place the naan on a sheet of waxed paper and cover with another sheet. Repeat until all the dough has been rolled and shaped.  Let the dough rest for about 30 minutes in a warm area.

Using a frying pan or griddle over medium to medium-high heat, cook naan one at a time for approximately 2 minute per side, until lightly browned and starting to puff a wee bit.  Continue cooking until you are finished. Keep warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve, or reheat if making ahead. 

These did just fine in the freezer.  Just make sure to thaw completely before reheating thoroughly.  There is a slight texture change, but it is worth the convenience of having these made ahead!  You can reheat in a frying pan or wrapped in foil in a 350 degree oven until warm.