Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lentils with Cream: A Salsa for Maria

Maria had an opening this evening, a ceramics exhibit in Athens, for the students in the University of Georgia pottery class she just finished teaching this summer. I brought an appetizer for the event, a Mexican-inspired lentils cooked with dry chilies and sour cream, lentejas con crema. It was served with corn tortilla chips. We used the tri-colored chips, which are very festive. Naturally, the creamed lentils were served in a pottery bowl that Maria had made.

The recipe uses to advantage 'French' green lentils, which are available typically in bulk at health food and natural food stores. The regular supermarket tan lentils do not have as good a texture, or flavor, as the small green lentils. Regular lentils could have been used, but the cooking time is shorter and the amount of water absorbed would be different. The dried chilies, California or Guajillo, are smooth, mild flavored, dark red flattened chilies from 4 to 6-inches long. Only the seeds are hot, and you need to discard the seeds and pith. They are available at Mexican groceries and at our Dekalb Farmers Market.

Lentils Sauteed with Cream Tim

3 cups (about 1-1/2 pounds) French green lentils (natural food stores) or regular tan lentils
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium-small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 medium-sized dry California (Guajillo) chili peppers, seeded and shredded (easy with kitchen sissors) and coarsely cut up
3 cups water plus more for the cooking
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 to 2 cups sour cream
Coarsely chopped cilantro and diced, seeded tomatoes for garnish.

Rinse and drain the lentils. Prepare the fresh vegetables. In a heavy pan over low heat, fry the lentils, onions, garlic, and bell pepper in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent. Add the black pepper and cut dried pepper. Add 3 cups water, stir well, cover, and simmer, stirring from time to time, until the water is absorbed. Then beginning adding water 1/2 cup at a time, stirring, and simmering, covered, until the water is absorbed. When it is absorbed, add another 1/2 cup water, etc. Depending on the dryness of the lentils, this process may take from six to eight 1/2-cup measures of water. Gradually the lentils will be come tender, a few will start to break up, and no more water will be absorbed. As the lentils are softening, add the salt. Let cool. The lentils can be stored, refrigerated, at this point, up to several days until ready to serve.

Before serving, stir in the sour cream, part at a time, until the desired degree of wetness is achieved. Taste for salt, and add some as needed. Serve liberally sprinkled with coarsley chopped cilantro and diced tomato, seeds and juice pushed out before dicing.

Serve with tortilla chips.


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