Mexico celebrates lentils Latin style
Having forgotten to take something out of the freezer, the second choice was to find something out of the pantry (which consists of 2 small shelves in the cupboard above the kitchen sink). Don't laugh, you would be amazed how much can be packed in an area not much larger than 2 carry on bags! Well, as it turns out, the pantry was the right place to start. I found a bag of French style lentils that was begging to be prepared in a way that I had not yet created. The Mexican Paella posted not long ago was a hit and it was time that lentils had their day South of the Border. And so that is the story of this recipe, which turned out wonderful I might add. It's very simple to make and with the exception of one or two ingredients, most of the other ingredients are probably loafing around in your pantry and fridge. Here's what we need:
1 1/2 cups of French style lentils (they keep their shape better when cooking)
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1 1/2 cups of water
4 oz. (100 gm) of chorizo (Mexican or Spanish) sliced thin
5 Tomatillos (medium, cut in quarters)
2 Tomatoes (medium, cut in halves, then sliced)
2 cups of fresh green beans, cut in halves
8 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 shallots, diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 large red bell peppers, chopped
1/4 cup of parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon of Cumin
1 teaspoon of fresh chopped Tarragon
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon of salt + 2 pinches
1 teaspoon of black pepper
4 tablespoons of olive oil
A few drops of Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon of colorante (see below - only if you have some)
A word about colorante. It is a substitute for Saffron. It comes in powder form, yellow-orange in color, and much less expensive than Saffron. It adds a nice color to your dish and I think it adds an extra layer of flavor albeit very subtle. Nowdays, you can probably find it in ethnic food stores and even the Asian supermarkets that are springing up everywhere in the States. If you're in Mexico, Central and South America, or Europe, you should find it easily available. I recently found some at one of the Asian markets that sell foods and spices from all over the world. If you can't find it, go ahead and use a few Saffron strands.
As usual, please do all your prep work before you start cooking. It will make it much easier on you. Also, don't fear the "long" list of ingredients for this recipe. Most of it consists of spices that are so integral to this dish. Now that you have everything ready and together, it's time to cook.
Start by getting a large pan that is a good 3 inches deep and pour 1/2 of the olive oil. Heat the oil over medium high heat and saute your chorizo until it is beginning to brown. Remove the chorizo and set aside. Do not discard the oil. When chorizo has cooled a bit, use a sharp knife and chop each slice into rough pieces.
In the same pan, now at medium heat, saute the garlic, onion, and shallots until they become translucent. Next, add the red peppers, stir and continue to saute for about 5 minutes. Add the lentils and stir well so that they are well coated. If you need more oil, you can now add the other half of it. Saute for a few minutes.
Next, add your remaining vegetables and stir to incorporate all the ingredients. Saute another couple of minutes and add your liquid, bringing heat back up to medium high. Return the chorizo to the pan and add all your spices, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. You should have have all your ingredients in the pan.
Bring to a boil, stir well, and cover, reducing heat to medium low. Continue to cook for 30 minutes, returning for a final stir about half way through (15 minutes). When done, lentils should be cooked through just past al dente and still retain their shape. Stir one last time, remove from stove and keep covered for about 10 minutes so that remaining juices can be absorbed.
You can serve this in a dress up way or casual, as the pictures show. Dressed up, gather a few metal molds that look more like cookie cutters. Set molds on a cookie sheet and fill them, making sure to pat the lentils down with a spoon. Fill to about 1/4 inch below top rim of mold and fill remaining quarter inch with a Mexican blend grated cheese and set under the broiler for about 6 minutes or until cheese bubbles. Remove them from the oven and let set for a few minutes. Then, using a spatula, transfer them to a dinner plate, run a thin, sharp knife around the rim and carefully lift the mold.