Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Butternut and Lentils braised with Beef: Using meat for flavor

Throughout history, meat, even for hunter-gather societies, was occasional. Animal protein was a lucky highlight rather than a staple. Even today, the great majority of the world's population eats meat, if at all, as something to flavor rather than center the meal.

We Americans typically consider meat -- or fish -- the focus of dining, except perhaps for soup or seasoning with broth. Potatoes, rice, or vegetables serve primarily as side dishes. Our culinary heritage is rich in meat, especially in the German-American cooking of the Midwestern "Heartland" -- a medically ironic term.

Elsewhere in the hemisphere meat, especially beef, looms even larger. The Argentineans and Brazilians are notorious meat eaters. "Argentinean" attached to "Restaurant" means steak house. When as a student I lived with families in Colombia and Costa Rica, fried steak was part of almost every breakfast.

By contrast, in some of Europe and most of Asia, meat is the minority food, the expensive touch to the meal, the food for celebrations.

Some smug Western writers have suggested that curry seasoning was a way to disguise the taste of spoiling meat. In fact, curries are a way of stretching freshly butchered meat bought the same day at market. Lots of savory sauce enhances the meat and flavors the rice or bread that is the true base of the meal. A scrawny chicken or small chunk of meat can thus feed a large family.

Having spent a number of years in Asia, I also tend to view meat as a way of flavoring, rather than being, the meal. (That said, I won't turn down a juicy steak or a pile of barbecue, if offered.)

Here's a dish I developed to explore seasoning with meat. This Eastern Mediterranean style of lentil and vegetable stew uses the approach that is more typical in Asian cooking. It has plenty of protein, as well as flavor -- just not a lot of meat. See if you think the experiment worked.

Based on the contents and seasonings, I would serve a spicy red wine like a Grenache/Garnacha or Côtes du Rhône with this.

The recipe will serve six. Many different accompaniments could go with this, like noodles, brown or regular rice, other grains, or good crusty bread.

Butternut and Lentils braised with Beef

3/4 cup tan (ordinary) lentils
1 pound ground beef chuck
1 medium-large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 inch fresh ginger, finely minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium tomato, chopped, or 2 tablespoons tomato paste (freeze the rest)
1 1/2 cups water
1 small (1 1/4 pounds) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut in 1-inch chunks
2 teaspoons salt, divided
3/4 cup low-fat yogurt

Place lentils in large bowl and cover with boiling water 3 inches above the lentils.

In heavy pot, fry ground beef and onions together, stirring occasionally, until both are looking well cooked.

Reduce heat. Add garlic, ginger, spices and herbs. Fry, stirring frequently, one minute. Add tomato or paste, and simmer another minute.

Drain lentils, and add them to pot. Add water. Simmer, covered, stirring from time to time, until lentils are becoming tender. Add a little water if mixture is sticking.

Add butternut and 1 teaspoon of salt. Simmer, covered, and stirring occasionally until butternut becomes tender. Add a little water, as needed, to keep mixture from sticking. As butternut becomes tender, add remaining salt.

When lentils and butternut are tender, beat yogurt in a small bowl with a fork and stir it into pot. Bring back to a light bubble. Simmer 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Taste and add salt if needed.

Serve with noodles, rice or other grain, or crusty bread.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

SCRUMPTIOUS!!! Thank you so very much Tim. Everyone thought it was delicious, not just me, but I am taking the few leftovers home for George and have already copied the recipe for our use at home. The addition of the butternut squash is another of my favorites, so you really hit the nail on the head for me with this marvelous dish. Thanks again! - Babs

11:15 AM  

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