Sunday, September 19, 2010

Spicy Lentil Stew with Meatballs: Comfort Food

Seeking a homey meal for a group I cook for regularly, I came up with a stew of lentils -- because one of the group particularly enjoys that legume -- plus meat balls, a type of thing I make often, and recently wrote about in my column in the Athens Banner/Herald.

I was not feeling very well when I cooked (a dental problem, now dealt with), and comfort food seemed more to my mood than something exotic or exciting. Also, lentils and meatballs are both fairly quick cooking, as well as substantial.

Although I enjoyed the dish, including on a rerun of some leftovers, and my grand kids liked it, it was considered "good" by the group, rather than "wow."

Nonetheless, here it is, a tasty supper dish, especially when accompanied by lightly salted brown or regular rice.

I haven't tried wine with it, but I'd presume a dry, medium-bodied red, like a Tempranillo, Chianti, Pinot Noir or Beaujolais would do the trick.

The recipe serves six, with leftovers. Accompany with sour cream to dollop on, plus bottled hot sauce for those who want it.

Spicy Lentil Stew with Meatballs

1 pound (2 1/2 cups) green-tan lentils
4 cups water or unseasoned chicken broth
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-large onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dry oregano
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus to taste
Minced parsley for garnish

Meatballs:
2 pounds ground turkey, pork, beef or a combination
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup quick-cooking oatmeal

Rinse lentils, then bring to a boil in large pot with water or broth plus wine. Skim off foam. Let simmer, covered, while preparing onion mixture. Add water as needed to keep liquid even with surface of lentils.

Heat olive oil in separate pan. Fry onions until softened. Add garlic and carrot and fry 2 minutes.

Add to simmering lentils. Add seasonings (other than salt) plus tomato paste. Simmer together until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally and scraping bottom of pot. Add salt, and simmer several more minutes. Add water as needed to make a thick, soupy mixture.

While lentils are being cooked, mix meatball ingredients together well, kneading thoroughly.

Cook the meatballs in the simmering lentils, once lentils are tender. Roll out meat mixture into 1-inch balls, moistening hands with water, and drop meatballs, as they are formed, into lentil mixture.

Shake the pot gently to mix meatballs around, but do not stir, or meatballs can break. After 10 minutes, meatballs should be firm, at which point, lentils can be stirred gently.

Taste lentil mixture, and add salt to taste. Simmer another 10 minutes.

Serve, sprinkled with minced parsley. Accompany with a rice dish. Offer sour cream plus bottled hot sauce as condiments.

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