Months back a friend mentioned making lentil tacos for her family. The idea sounded intriguing and I’m always looking for vegetarian options for main course meals. But I was a little hesitant to try it out— with a meat-loving husband and two kids who turn their nose up at “brown food” — the odds weren’t really in my favor.
Was I willing to invest time in preparing a meal that I wasn’t even sure would be eaten? Finally hit with a chilly fall day in Santa Barbara, I got the itch to make something warm and comforting with a little spice. I decided to just go for it. We don’t know until we try, right?
Tying my apron strings extra tight, I jumped into the challenge. My approach was to add flavor staples in our house (San Marzano tomatoes, red pepper, garlic) to the lentils, with a little Mexican flair thrown in. I served them taco bar style, with corn tortillas, roasted tomatillo salsa and guacamole.
The verdict? Dinner was delicious and earned approval by all. A healthy, easy meal to add to the family dinner rotation. Score one for Mom. For another dinner, I used these lentils as a bed for sea bass and it was delicious.
1 teaspoons cumin
½ large red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 large celery stalk, roughly chopped
½ yellow onion or 1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 can of San Marzano tomatoes (14.28 oz)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon red pepper chili flakes
1 ½ cup green lentils
3 cups waters
Toast cumin seeds quickly in a dry pan (this is an extra step that I really think is worth doing. It doesn’t take very long and if nothing else, it’ll perfume your whole kitchen gloriously) and then grind in a mortar and pestle. Put the red bell pepper, carrot, celery, and onion in food processor or use a box grater and process until fine (Justine, you can use your Vitamix). After you’ve removed the vegetables from your food processor, add the can of tomatoes, pulse a few times, and reserve.
Put 3 tablespoons olive oil and bay leaf in a large Dutch oven on medium high heat, until the bay leaf sizzles. Then add the grated mixture to the pan and cook for about 15 minutes. Continue stirring at regular intervals. If the pan gets too dark, add a little bit of water and scrape the brown bits off the bottom
After about 15 minutes add the garlic, cumin, salt, smoked paprika, and the red pepper chili flakes. Stir to combine. Add your tomato puree, lentils, and 2 cups of water. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer. Cover for about 1 hour, or at least until lentils are tender.