I honestly cannot be bothered to photograph my food, so please pardon me. (Unlike my brother, whose vacation photos consist largely of pictures of what he ate…)
But one of my favorite REALLY EASY things to make when I want something seriously health-ful, easy, meatless, and requiring not many ingredients is this lentil-and-brown-rice dish–delicious and easy, good complete protein, whole grain, just absolutely nothing bad to say about it.
Curried Lentils and Rice
In a saucepan with a lid, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. (You could use broth if you’d like.)
- 1 cup brown lentils (rinsed and picked)
- 1 cup brown rice
- 1 tbs or so curry powder or garam masala of your choice
- 1 28 oz. can (or quart jar) diced tomatoes with their juice
Stir and bring back to a simmer; cover and simmer for about 40 minutes or until rice and lentils are cooked but not mooshy.
That’s it. You may want to play with the amounts of spices, you may decide to add onions or garlic or sauteed mushrooms or other veggies. You may wish to omit the tomatoes. You can do pretty much whatever the heck you want; it’s still delicious. The lentils and rice take about the same amount of time to cook (don’t substitute white rice, or it’ll go to mush before the lentils are done!), and all that really matters is having two cups of water to one cup of lentils/rice. This makes about 7 cups, which would probably feed 3-4 people, or 2 with lunch leftovers…
If you don’t have curry powder or garam masala–you can make do with your own spice blend, even if you don’t have all the ingredients. Curry powder recipes are available all over the internet, but basically they seem to be a combination of coriander, cumin, and turmeric, with maybe a little cayenne if you like the heat. (I happen to love Pensey’s hot version…) Garam Masala, an Indian spice blend, is another where there are about as many versions as there are Indian grandmas who make them, and it’s a lot like curry only you usually have some “sweet” spices like cinnamon, cloves and/or cardamon, and leave out the turmeric. (By the way, to really do this right you’d toast the spices in the pan first, then grind them, and THEN start the rest of the recipe; I really don’t ever do that…)
Which is to say, if you have cumin and cinnamon but not the others, throw some of that in with some black pepper, and it’ll probably be delicious. Futz around with spices, and don’t be afraid to mess things up.
Last time I did tomato sauce, which involved endless food mill time (it was my first time using the food mill–I do not like it, Sam I am! Glad I only paid $12 on ebay for the thing, because I really dislike using it!) and even more endless cooking down time, and which in the end still didn’t give me the result I wanted. So this time I took it easier and just did plain old Chunky Canned Tomatoes. Nothing added except a little lemon juice and red wine vinegar (because I ran out of lemon juice). I’ll do the adding at the other end, when I cook.
PickYourOwn.org has very good and easy directions for tomato canning, as do a few more places–at this point I feel comfortable enough canning that I do improvise slightly as long as I make sure safety measures (long enough processing time, sufficient acid content) are followed. So here’s what I did; total 2 hours with kids scurrying around and one barfing dog to deal with during that time, and the last 45 minutes was just waiting for the jars to process. The reason I improvised was that I wanted something bigger than diced tomatoes but which would already have cored and seeded the tomatoes before canning them. And I wanted something that would have the tomatoes packed in their own juice, not water or juice-purchased-elsewhere. And trust me–this method makes a LOT of its own juice!
Jenn’s Easy Canned Tomatoes
Put the canning pot on to boil FIRST. It’s a big sucker, and if you have a gas stove, it’ll take forever.
Put 7 or so quart canning jars in the dishwasher AT THE SAME TIME. And lightly simmer the lids, and follow whatever jar prep processes you like to follow.
Washing the tomatoes: Since these were not organic (even though they were local), I did definitely want to wash them. I filled half the sink with soapy water and the other half with clear. Swished them around in the soapy water, scrubbed them a bit, shifted them to the clear water. Rinsed out the soapy half and filled it again with clear cold water. (I didn’t use much soap; if you’re worried about rinsing, hey, rinse more!)
At this point, you’ll want to have ready:
- Big pot of boiling water
- Big cutting board and sharp knife
- Sink or MASSIVE bowl with cold water and ice cubes
- bowl for tomato skins and stems
- bowl for seeds and juice (what you’re discarding or doing something else with)
- bowl or pot for tomato pieces (what you’re canning)
- Lots of cleaning rags or paper towels.
- Clothes you don’t give a crap about, or a good apron, or both
When the water’s at a full boil, put as many tomatoes in as you can reasonably fit and let them stay for maybe 3 minutes. (I went 5 once for a batch and it didn’t hurt anything.) During this 3 minutes, add a bunch of ice cubes to the clear cold water sink. Then remove the tomatoes to that icy water immediately to keep them from cooking more.
At this point, honestly, I just used the tomato-skin water as my canning water, but if you chose to you could put new water on to boil right about now.
At this point the skin should slide off easily. Cut the stem end off, slide the skin off, and cut the tomato horizontally in half. Squeeze the seeds and inner juice into a separate bowl, and then squish the tomato pulp itself into your pot. (Oddly, this isn’t as gross as it sounds.) Continue this process until your pot is full or you run out of tomatoes. (I didn’t use my biggest pot and needed two batches. Live and learn.)
Put the pot of tomatoes on the stove and heat, and let it simmer for just a few minutes.
Into each quart jar, put a tablespoon or two (opinions vary–go with 2.) of lemon juice. This removes any doubt about the acid level of your tomatoes. Spoon tomatoes into quart jars, stir or “bubble” them down to make sure you don’t have air pockets, and add a little more juice from the pot as needed to fill them to the right head space level. I got just under 7 quarts of tomatoes, so one of my jars is very juice-heavy; I might just make tomato paste or something out of it, I don’t know. Place lids on, screw rings on lightly (“finger-tight,” is what they say), and process for 45 minutes in a hot water bath.
(And as usual–please do your homework on safe canning procedures–pickyourown.org is a good site, and I have listed a bunch of others at The Green Phone Booth. I am not a nutritionist, a doctor, or even a proper foodie, and I don’t even pretend to play one on the Internet. Consider this the disclaimer.)
I also, by the way, didn’t want to dispose of all that lovely tomato juice–I strained the seeds out (and it’s unbelievable how many seeds I did successfully get out of those tomatoes!), boiled it down a bit so it was less watery, and ended up with about a quart and a half of nice, fresh-tasting tomato juice. If you like tomatoes but don’t think you like tomato juice, give this stuff a try–it tastes simply like fresh tomatoes, and comparing it to anything I’ve gotten out of a bottle at the store is like comparing fresh summer peaches to the canned “cling peaches in heavy syrup” ones you get in the canned fruit aisle. I didn’t do the “proper” canning procedure with it, just the highly suspect “open kettle” method we’re not supposed to use any more, because I plan to drink it all within the next week or so anyway. (See the Food In Jars blog for other things not to do when you’re canning, and other handy Canning 101 tips!)
Made chili with one quart, just to see how they did: delicious. Very very good.
Only weird thing, probably because I didn’t cook them down enough beforehand–in the couple of days after sealing, the “head space” has increased quite a bit; they aren’t even close to full now. I’m assuming the tomato stuff just sort of broke down, and the air trapped inside the tomatoes is no longer inside but outside them, which means they won’t keep as long in the jars; I should have simmered them longer…(That’s okay–the way I use tomatoes, I’ll be lucky if they make it to November). Also, I was victim of the apparently very common issue of the water separating from the pulp, which mean I had an inch of sort of unattractive yellowish water at the bottom and the tomatoes at the top; it’s not a big deal, according to the sites I checked, and once I shook them up again after the jars cooled it hasn’t re-separated.
This was easy enough and tasty enough that I would do it again and probably will next year, maybe going for a full bushel (14 quarts in the end) instead of this year’s half bushel (7 quarts)–my canner holds seven quarts at a time, so that would basically be two full batches, probably more like 3-4 hours total.
It’s clearly summer, the time we’ve been waiting for since planting that god-awful vegetable garden in that god-awful soil…harvest time. (Guess it must not have been as god-awful as we thought, because here there be veggies!) The cucumbers are going berserk, and they’ve become my snack food of choice these days. And I’m remembering why zucchini is something you don’t want to plant too much of, because we’ve already got more than we can eat.
So I sliced a couple of the bigger ones and put them in a ziploc in the freezer to thaw later into pasta sauce makings. (https://greenmomintheburbs.wordpress.com/2009/05/09/crockpot-pasta-sauce/) And tonight three more smaller squashes and 3 farmers market tomatoes became part of dinner. (Wish I’d had mushrooms…)
- boil pasta water in a pot. Just after it boils but before you put the pasta in, drop 3 (or so) tomatoes in for about 90 seconds. Remove, run under cold water, and slip the skin off. Put in the pasta; everything else happens while it’s cooking.
- Cut up 3 or 4 baby zucchinis (or however many you want–it’s not an exact science), some green beans, sliced carrots, shrooms, asparagus, pretty much any veggie you like. (I just did the zukes tonight.)
- Just about when you put the pasta in the water (assuming about a 10 minute cook time): In a skillet, heat a little olive oil. Saute a few cloves of minced or crushed garlic (or be like me and use the stuff out of the jar…sue me!); toss veggies into oil and garlic, saute gently to let veggies cook to crisp-tender. (Maybe medium-high heat?) Note: if like me you like to avoid oil and thus calories, you should know that actually using enough nice extra virgin olive oil to really coat the bottom of the pan well makes a huge difference in the success of the veggies. Too little oil and it just doesn’t work as well. Tragic, isn’t it?
- While the veggies are doing their thing and the pasta is cooking, take your skinned tomatoes, cut them in half cross-ways, and gently squeeze out most of the juice and seeds. (Messy, but pretend it’s a co-worker you don’t like.) (Did I say that? Actually, at the moment I really do like all my coworkers!). Coarsely chop the tomatoes.
- About a minute before the pasta comes out of the water, add the tomatoes plus some (maybe a tsp or so?) dried basil or oregano, or a larger quantity fresh herbs. Stir around and let heat just enough (medium low or so?) to lightly cook the tomatoes but not enough for them to dissolve. Add a little salt and pepper if you wish. Do not cover.
- Drain the pasta. Toss with sauce and (if you’re me) a bunch of fresh parmesan.
Seriously easy, and if you time things well it all takes maybe 15 minutes not counting water boiling time.
I haven’t tried it, but I have to say that the “sauce” leftovers look like they would make lovely bruschetta topping…(EDIT: It’s now several days later, and I have had a few lovely sandwiches based on this sauce. From grilled cheese with warmed primavera to just a pita with some lettuce and leftover sauce stuffed inside, this is a GOOD sandwich filling!)