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My kids always know when I have neglected to make a meal plan for the week (and subsequently neglected to make my usual categorized, alphabetized and cross-indexed shopping list – or go shopping at all), because that’s the day that we have some sort of Exciting! Creative! Lentil dish. Note to new parents and/or new vegans (or hopefully new vegan parents) – always keep your pantry stocked with lentils. You have no idea how many times they will save your ass; especially if you start your kids eating them from a young age and you end up with a couple of total weirdo youngsters who actually gobble them up in all their various incarnations, with gusto. My kids are crazy for lentil soup, lentil stew, lentil pot pie, lentil dahl, lentil balls, lentil salad…you name it. They just love lentils. So trust me on this one. Buy lentils. When it looks like you might be running low, buy more. They are inexpensive, protein-rich, and cook faster than beans with no soaking required. That’s my pro tip for tonight.

At 5pm tonight I had to finally acknowledge that the whining had begun and I hadn’t the faintest idea what I was going to do to quell it. I did what I always do in that situation, Pinky – tried to make something out of lentils. I am very lucky that a dear friend of mine recently sent me a fresh jar of Arabian Baharat spice mix, from my favourite spice-mixin’ company Monsoon Coast. If you aren’t so lucky as to have a friend like that, or access to your own Arabian baharat spice mix that has been pre-mixed and sold commercially, I suggest you try making your own and keep it on hand. In my opinion, there is nothing better when you’re stumped on what to make out of your lentils. Here’s a selection of good looking recipes for grinding up your own. I’m not that industrious (read: mostly lazy) so they’re offered untested, but do let me know how it goes.

Before I was entirely clear on what I was doing I put about 2 cups of brown lentils in a pot, and filled it up with water til they were covered with it by about 2 inches. I set it on to boil. I then set about hunting down some easily cooked grain like rice or couscous. No such luck. All I had in the cupboard was flour and cornmeal. I had a vague recollection of making some delicious and tender cornmeal dumplings a while back, that I’d let simmer away in a giant vat of French-style tomato, herb and lentil soup. I figured I could do the same kind of thing but cook the dumplings in some boiling, salted water, and mix them into the lentils near the end of cooking.

I mixed equal parts cornmeal and flour, added some baking powder, salt, cumin (another great flavour for lentils) and smoked paprika. I then whisked in some soy milk and water to make a fairly thick batter. With the water at a high boil, I dropped scant teaspoons of this mixture into it, working quickly. Then I turned the heat down to medium-low, covered the pot, and let them boil merrily away in there for about 15 minutes. Don’t cook your dumplings any longer than that as they’ll go from firm-yet-tender to a disintegrating mass of mush in fairly short order. And while I’m on the subject don’t overcook your lentils, either – they should be al dente when you remove them from the heat and drain them. Nobody likes a mushy lentil and since I’d decided at this point to make a kind of spiced stir-fry out of them and the dumplings I wanted them to retain their shape and stay slightly toothsome.

The beauty of this kind of cooking is you just work with what you’ve got. I could have put any number of vegetables into this dish, had I actually planned for it and go shopping to accomodate it. As it was, all I had in my fridge tonight was a handful of carrots, the last few stalks of a bunch of celery, some apples that needed to be cooked to be considered edible. I also had a couple of onions and a few bulbs of garlic. Because I like to have more than one homogenous green lump of mush on my plate at a meal I decided I’d roast the carrots, whole; and but the rest of what was lingering (some might say MA-lingering) in the fridge into the Arabian-style lentil-and-dumpling fry-up. I chopped everything up kinda chunky. I heated a humungo skillet over medium and added some oil. I tossed all the veg and apples in and sauteed them all around until they got kinda tender and aromatic. Then I heaped a few generous tablespoons of the Arabian baharat into the pan, along with some sea salt, and stirred it all together. Then I added in the drained lentils, strained dumplings and very carefully mixed it all around until the seasoned veg & fruit were all incorporated. Add in a little lemon zest and juice, and voila….dinner.

Baharat-Spiced Lentils with Cumin-Cornmeal Dumplings, Roasted Carrots, a blob of soy yogurt & a lemon wedge cuz we's fancy.

Yeah, so. This meal isn’t winning me any awards from Gourmet Foodz Unlimited but both my kids had second helpings, and frankly, those are usually the highest accolades I can hope to achieve since deciding to breed. Plus, you know. Kids voluntarily eating lentils and vegetables. Honestly? That’s gotta be worth a plaque or certificate or something.

Oh – were you wondering how to roast a carrot? Preheat oven to 425F. Peel (or don’t) all the carrots (of similar thicknesses) you think you can eat. Put them on a roasting sheet. Drizzle them with oil. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Roast for 25 – 35 minutes or until they look kinda like that picture. Nom. Feel the vitamin A seep into your eyeballs. Be happy.

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