During the cold January weeks, it’s best to nest at home. In NY it has been especially wet and unpleasant this season. Once the holidays are over and the hustle and bustle of the season ends, I always get the urge to cook and eat at home. I love to make comfort foods at this time of the year. One of my favorite winter dishes is lentils and rice. I have wonderful memories of eating it at my grandmother’s home during the winter. It is the perfect dish for Lent and the fasting season that occurs in the months before Easter. It’s also a huge hit in our shop, as it feels homey and familiar, can be eaten hot or room temperature and is naturally vegan (extra bonus!).
Traditionally, this dish is long-simmered lentils and rice with fried onions as a garnish. Since January is also my time to clean out the pantry, I knew this month’s version would be multigrain and seasoned with a fabulous spice blend. After taking stock of my supplies, I decided on French Lentils. I already had them on hand and I love the way they quick-cook and hold their shape. Instead of the traditional white rice, I used pearled barley and freekeh. I love the texture and heartiness of barley and the toasted flavor of freekeh is well balanced with its fabulous aroma. All three have similar cooking times so they are easy to combine. Happily, I had odd amounts of each to use up.
I decided on Tunisian 5 Spice powder for its exotic yet comforting flavor profile. Although any full bodied seasoning mix would be great. Plus, it meant only having to add one mix rather than a bunch of different spices. Now that I had the base it was time to make my favorite part: the fried onions. No matter how many onions I make, I always regret not making more. I thinly slice onions and fry in olive oil until browned and crispy, at least 20 minutes. Then I drain them, saving the oil to flavor the base. The onion infused olive oil perfectly perks up the flavor of the grains without adding extra work. I use a 2 ½ to 1 ratio for grains and water or vegetable stock for base, simmering just until tender and all liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes. Taste and salt. Once all was simmering, the house smelled terrific.
Normally this dish would be served with many other sides to make a meal. Since my household consists of my husband and two grown children, I decided to be practical and make it an entire meal unto itself. A bowl would satisfy everyone no matter when they arrived home. With my base all done, I settled on toppings. Multicolor grape tomatoes added vitamins and color, as well as texture. Persian cucumber slices also added color, as well as freshness. The fried onions added crunch and flavor, as well as richness. Greens added nutrients and lightness to the bowl. A just boiled egg added protein — plus I just love eggs! A bit of home-pickled cauliflower added just enough punch and brightened the flavors.
This may not be as traditional as the dish of my childhood, but it tasted just as good and was a great family meal! Perfect for a cold and damp winter day. As a bonus, leftovers made delicious lunch fare for the rest of the week!