…on good food, questionable judgment, and making life work
By all accounts, my kids are pretty good eaters. My oldest loves lentils. I mean he loves them. When I announce lentil soup for dinner he is genuinely delighted. When he walks into the house after school and smells lentils, he cheers. I believe this stems from his infancy/toddler years when we were strict vegetarians. His baby foods were finely ground lentils, grains, and other legumes. This is comfort food for the poor guy.
In general, my kids are not picky, because we can’t afford for them to be–from both a time and an economic standpoint. We have worked hard on not indulging any pickinesses. My middle child had a serious texture issue with rice as a toddler–in that it made her gag. But rice is a big part of our diet, and I just diligently kept working on it (re-introducing it several times a week) until she could tolerate it–and it did take a few weeks.
Now I’m not saying that my methods aren’t controversial (with the exception of my oldest, who is just really easy with this stuff). Hell yes, I use bribery. But it’s weird bribery, and I’m sure a lot of you guys have used the same tricks. Take, for example, my middle child: when she was three, she went through a phase where she loved The White Stripes. So, if she was dawdling over something she didn’t particularly like at the dinner table, I’d bribe her with music–because I knew it was currency for her. I’d play a little bit of a song and she’d bop along all happy and satisfied, and then I’d pause it until she took a bite. (I also did this with TV shows if the food was really unfamiliar or not appealing to her.) Today? She’s a seven year old who, while not a live-to-eat kinda gal, is not afraid to try new foods.
My youngest? We bribe her by the bite, too. Her currency is a little different. Actual Momquote from dinner the other night: “Okay, okay. Nobody laugh at Lainie until she takes a bite.” And she’d take a bite, and then she’d tell a joke or show us her belly (the girl gets physical comedy), and we’d all laugh for her. I anticipate many parent-teacher conferences during her school years.
But let’s not get hung up on my past vegetarian transgressions or my parental shortcomings. Let’s discuss this (and more lentils in a bit):
When I’m not arbitrating virtual quarrels between my two eldest as they play Minecraft, I’m obsessing about chili–Texas bowl of red style. No tomatoes, no carrots or celery, and we will not defile the pot with beans. It is essentially a stew, cooked low and slow in a broth consisting of chili peppers, garlic, onions, and stock. It’s about as close to a perfect dish as you can get. It’s also DEAD EASY.
We can also discuss this:
First, the chili. Here’s what you need:
4-6 ancho chilies
6-8 guajillo chiles (I have found anchos and guajillos at Kroger, Walmart, and Aldi–they are increasingly easy to get)
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
Salt & pepper to taste
1-2 tbs canola oil
2-3 lbs boneless chuck roast, cut into 1 in chunks
1 onion, chopped
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups stock (if you don’t have homemade beef stock, use canned chicken stock. Canned beef stock is disgusting)
a cup or so of non-hoppy beer, I like PBR for this
2 cups water
2-3 dried shiitakes (optional, but totally worth it)
*Short ingredients list, I told you this was easy.
Toast the chilies in a skillet over medium heat, turning often, until you can smell them, 3-5 minutes. Don’t let them burn, not delicious. Put the chilies in a big bowl and cover them with boiling water, submerging them using a small plate. Let them soak until they are softened–this can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. When the chilies are soft, pull the stems and seeds out (rinsing makes this easy, but be gentle or you’ll lose too much flesh), and put the chilies in a blender. Add the cumin, the salt and pepper, and about 1/4 cup of water (add more water as needed). Blend them into a beautiful crimson paste:
Set about 1/2 cup of the chili paste aside in your fridge, for later use.
Then proceed as though you are making a stew: brown the meat in batches. Then, reduce the heat, add the onion and a pinch of salt and stir it around the pan aggressively to deglaze–about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and and cook for 1 minute. Add the chili paste, stock, beer, water, and shiitakes (if using) and stir well to combine and to get any remaining brown bits off the sides and bottom of the pot. Bring it to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 2 1/2-3 hours, or until the meat is tender.
I’ve heard talk recently of a significant upcoming sporting event. I have no idea, because I don’t follow such things, but this might make a nice addition to a casual dinner party or a card game night.
Now, if after eating this for two days (good God, the leftovers are even better than the first day), you wonder if your arteries are more suet than vessel, then I encourage you to make and eat this:
Bowl of Red Lentil Soft Taco
1 tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
6 or so white mushrooms, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of diced tomatoes with juice (this doesn’t need to be precise)
the 1/2 cup of chili paste that you made and reserved from above
1 cup lentils
2 cups vegetable broth or water
1/2 ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano, rubbed between your palms before adding
Tortilla shells and the toppings of your choice
Saute the onions, carrot, pepper, and mushrooms in a medium saucepan over high heat until soft, about 6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add the garlic, cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, chili paste, and broth or water and mix well to combine. Add the lentils, cumin, and oregano and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 50 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid as necessary–you don’t want a really soupy consistency, but if it turns out too watery after the lentils are tender, just remove the lid and cook off some of the liquid.
And who knows, maybe a little of my secret ingredient might make these even better…