Sunday, October 7, 2012

Lentil Loaf

So this is an old family favorite, one of those recipes that I can (almost) make from memory. I made it yesterday in the student kitchen here at school. The great thing about this lentil loaf is that it not only freezes and reheats well, but it tastes good hot or cold. It's great to make for a meal then save for lunches or quick dinners later in the week (or, in my case, dinners when I dining hall menu doesn't pass muster)

Serves (about) 6 to 8

Classic Lentil Loaf

Adapted from The Cook's Encyclopedia of Vegetarian Cooking

(I say "adapted" because I've changed some things: extra garlic (of course) and celery, fresh lentil instead of canned (duh!), and the pureeing step - I like to leave more ingredients whole)

~3/4 C uncooked lentil 
(the regular brownish-green ones)

1 large sweet onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 celery ribs, sliced into small pieces

2 carrots, grated
1/2 C fresh bread crumbs
1/2 C grated cheddar cheese

14 oz. can red kidney beans
1 egg

1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Tbs. ketchup
1 tsp. each: ground cumin, ground coriander, and chili powder

First, put the lentils in a small saucepan and cover them with about 1 or 2 inches of water. Bring them to a boil then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until they are just tender. You want them on the al dente side so that the loaf has nice texture (plus, they will cook a bit in the oven). Drain them, if necessary, when they are done.

Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a saute pan and cook the onion, garlic, and celery over low heat for about 7 minutes, stirring it occasionally. The kitchen should be smelling delicious by now - don't take the onion mixture off the stove till it does :)

While the lentils and the onion mixture cook, grate your carrots, cheese, and breadcrumbs if necessary. You want to do these two ingredients before the next step, which is pureeing the beans, because this way you don't have to clean the food processor! Put the bread crumbs, cheese, and carrots in a large mixing bowl for later.

When the onion mixture is done, pour it into a food processor along with the kidney beans and the egg. Process until it is smooth - but not TOO smooth.

**If you are ill-equipped, as I was yesterday, you can use a blender for this step. Be sure to stop frequently and bring the bottom ingredients to the top so that you don't end up with baby food on the bottom and whole veggies on the top...

Add the pureed beans and veggies to the bowl with the carrots etc. along with the lentils, spices, tomato paste, and ketchup. Mix well so that everything is evenly incorporated - pay special attention that the tomato past, ketchup, and spices get mixed uniformly, as they tend to clump together in one place.

You have options for baking pans: the original recipe calls for a loaf pan, but I like to use a larger glass baking dish (about 9x12). A loaf pan will give you denser, perhaps mushier, pieces while a shallower baking dish yields thinner, crispier pieces. However, the loaf pan gives you pretty slices while a dish makes not-quite-so-pretty square pieces. Whichever you choose, it doesn't matter too much - it will have great flavor no matter what. 

The not-so-appetizing pre-cooked version of lentil loaf. Believe me, it will taste MUCH better than it looks right now...
Lightly grease your pan of choice with butter then pour in the lentil mixture. Smooth the top so that it is relatively flat, then bake on the middle rack at 350 for about an hour. You want it to be nice and crispy and brown on top, and the timing will also depend on which pan you use and how thick the loaf is. When it is done, allow it to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes. 

I would recommend it warm with mashed potatoes and freshly roasted brussels sprouts and/or peas, cold crumbled on top of a salad, or pretty much at any temperature paired with anything! Ketchup or gravy are also sometimes tasty condiments. (It pretty much goes with anything meat loaf does...)