Top 10 Lists

June 12, 2008

A few years ago, my brother Michael informed me he was compiling a list of his top 10 songs. He was heavily in to punk rock at the time so I remember being surprised that Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” made the cut. As someone who has always loved music, I thought it was an interesting idea but how to choose? There are a bazillion songs out there and I easily tire of even those that I like. I worked in radio for a number of years and having a speaker above my desk blaring music that I couldn’t turn off (or turn down) spoiled even some of my very favorites for me.

I came up with the idea that a song that truly belonged on my top 10 would be one that, if I heard it on the radio while driving in my car, would cause me to say, “I love this song!” and turn up the volume. Maybe because of my years working in radio, I am a chronic station flipper. I feel like I am sick of almost every song that comes on – even relatively new ones. But one that I am happy to hear? That must really be a favorite.

In thinking about my favorite foods, I came up with a similar strategy. There are so many things that I love – how do I know if it’s really a top 10? Now I know – if I see it on a menu, my eye goes right to it and I order it 9 times out of 10. Or if I see it in a display case (a nice one, not at Safeway), I end up with it in my shopping cart. It’s like the world get shut out and all I can think about is this food.

My list is a work in progress but I can tell you one of the very top things on there. Lentils. I love all kinds of lentils in all kinds of preparations. Soups, stews, salads, you name it and I love them. I love the good old fashioned pedestrian brown lentil, the firmer and fancier Le Puy lentil, and I love love love red lentils. Unlike their siblings, red lentils break down when cooked and become mushy but with a lot of texture and bite to them. They have an incredible buttery and rich taste to them but they are, of course, almost fat free and incredibly healthy with loads of protein, iron, and fiber.

This week I made a Stir-Fried Rice and Dal dish to go with a Spring Curry with Sri Lankan Spices (and a Cucumber Raita and a Mango Papaya Chutney). It was so good that I could have eaten it for all my meals for the rest of the week. There were a few more steps to it than warrant an “everyday meal” for me, but it made me think of another recipe which is one of my absolute favorites. This one gets extra points for being easy, relatively quick, very nutricious and for keeping well (up to 5 days!). AND it is so tasty, you won’t believe it. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients, the hands-on time is short.

Curried Red Lentil Stew with Vegetables
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Serves 4-6

Vegetable Oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (2 x 1 inch) piece of ginger, grated or minced
5 large garlic cloves, minced
3 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
3/4 tsp. tumeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
3 1/2 cups water
1 15 oz can reduced-fat coconut milk
3 medium carrots, quartered lengthwise, then cut cross-wise in to 1/2 inch pieces
3 cups baby spinach (3 oz)
1 cup frozen peas (not thawed)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Heat a 4-5 quart heavy pot over moderate heat. Add just enough oil to lightly coat the bottom, then add the onion with a sprinkling of salt. Stir occasionally until golden, 8-10 minutes.

Add ginger and garlic and cook 2-3 minutes. Add curry, cumin, and tumeric and cook over low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in lentils and add water and coconut milk and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Add carrots and another pinch of salt and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally until carrots are tender and lentils have broken down in to a coarse puree, about 15 minutes.

Stir in spinach and peas and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. Add additional water if necessary (especially if you are reheating this out of the fridge) to thin the dal so it can be ladled over rice.

By the way, here is my preliminary Top 10 Foods List. (You will notice that several faves on this list are in the above recipe – no wonder I love it so much!).

Coconut milk
Wide noodles (either egg or rice – Veggie Pho can put me over the edge)

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