Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rice with Lentils: Side dish for Jerk Chicken

It wasn't supposed to be like this. With the Jamaican jerk chicken I was cooking, I was planning a rice and pidgeon peas side dish I had at the student dining hall when I spent those six months in Jamaica. Many years ago, when I myself was a student. But I couldn't find the red pidgeon peas. I'll eventually get the Jamaican 'rice and peas', with its fragrance of coconut milk, onto the blog, but right now I like the rice with lentils even better than the dish I recall from Jamaica. (I'll also be getting the jerk chicken recipe onto the blog after I retest it.)

The secret to this rice and lentil dish is really good broth. Homemade, if possible, and intense. I used pork broth left over from simmering spare ribs before marinating them for barbecue. Chicken broth, made with lots of chicken scraps, backs, skins, and necks, then simmered down after removing the solids (and fat skimmed off) would be great too. And a good vegetable broth (preferably enhanced by using part white wine in place of some of the broth) would also do well. The recipe is geared to unsalted broth, but there is an adjustment indicated in case your broth is salted.

I used the small green French lentils, but here the regular supermarket tan-green lentils work better because they cook faster, for just the length of time the rice needs. Similarly, the small hulled red lentils (called 'Egyptian lentils' or 'masoor dal') will do well in this dish. The little French lentils still have firmness, which is actually appealing, but if the lentils have the same texture as the rice it seems more harmonious, and more fitting for a rice side dish.

The recipe serves six as a side dish.

Rice with Lentils Tim

1/2 cup dry lentils (tan, split pink, or French green -- which will be a little firm)
1 small onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 cups basmati or other long-grained rice
1-3/4 teaspoons salt if broth is unsalted, or 1 teaspoon salt if broth is salted
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large bay leaf, broken in half, or two small ones
3 cups meat or vegetable broth, unsalted preferred

Rinse the lentils in hot water and drain well in a sieve. Mince the onions and fry them, stirring frequently, in the olive oil. When they are limp and just beginning to turn golden, stir in the rinsed and drained lentils, and fry, stirring frequently 5 minutes, or until sizzling and the onions are starting to brown.

Meanwhile, rinse and drain the rice. Place it in a heavy bottomed pot or rice cooker container and add the salt, pepper, bay leaf, and broth. When the lentils are done frying, add them to the rice mixture, and stir to combine. If cooking in a pot, bring it to a boil, stir well, cover and turn to lowest heat and simmer 20 minutes without lifting the lid. Turn off heat, and without lifting the lid, let sit 10 minutes. Alternatively let cook covered in the rice cooker, letting it sit 10 minutes after the heat turns off. With either cooking method, when the holding time after cooking is over, stir with a rice paddle or large spoon, and let rest for at least 15 minutes. If using a rice cooker, after stirring, press the lever to 'on' and let stay hot until ready to serve,

Taste, and adjust salt if necessary. Serve piled up in a dish.

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