Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lentils and Rice

Yesterday, I made the lentils and rice recipe accompanying Mark Bittman's recent New York Times op-ed. It was, at best, a modest success.

The recipe has shortcomings, beginning with the instruction to use "a large saucepan." Scratch that. You need a big pot. I started with a medium-to-large saucepan, and soon realized it was too small. The vegies and pancetta didn't brown enough because there wasn't enough cooking surface.

I thought I'd get away with the smaller saucepan until I added the lentils. They with the other contents filled the vessel more than halfway. I knew the lentils would double in size, exploding the lid off the saucepan. I had no choice but to transfer to a large pot, costing me significant flavor.

Another problem was Bittman's vague instructions on heat levels. I guessed a low boil and covered. I figured 30 minutes, adding a cup of white rice (I'm not a brown rice fan. Tastes like straw to me) after 10 minutes. A half hour passed and I tasted: a little crunchy, although most of the liquid had been absorbed. In short, the heat was too high.

I lowered the temperature, added a cup of water and cooked another 10 minutes. Still a touch hard, so I repeated. Another 10 minutes and it was done.

The result was not bad, if a little bland. I went too easy on the salt on the assumption the pancetta would provide seasoning. It didn't, although that may be because I had to transfer to another cooking vessel. I would add salt and try bacon next time.

On the upside, the yield was huge, easily seven to eight servings, it reheats well and it's filling. If you are looking for a cheap, nutritious lunch, this is your ticket.

In sum: use a larger pot, add a generous amount of salt and simmer instead of boil.

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