Ohai culinary blogsphere and lovers of Inexpensive Real Food everywhere. Long time no see.
All kinds of stuff has been going down in my life lately. This stuff has prevented me from posting by effectively turning my brain into a quivering pile of goo. It has included:
- Near mental and emotional breakdowns due to the stress of Ph.D. work
- Dramatic questioning of What I Want To Be Doing With My Life and Whether Getting a Ph.D. is Actually Going to Get Me There
- Very, very serious contemplation of dropping out of grad school or, at the very least, taking a break
- Crippling anxiety over my perceived lack of marketable skills for doing anything other than getting a Ph.D.
- Daily flip-flopping over whether I need to cancel or postpone my last major qualifying exam (which is less than three weeks away, ahhhhh)
Grad students and former grad students will know exactly what I mean. To everyone else, I will just say this: Ph.D.s are evil and you should not get them. (That, and: If you want to give me a job if I quit my Ph.D. program, shoot me a comment.)
Anyway. I’ve finally managed to get some mental R&R lately, which has put me in a much better frame of mind and made me want to blog about cheap food again. Yay! I can’t promise that this will happen again before the semester is finished, but I do intend to keep at this once my metaphorical plate is a little less full.
So. Carrying on. This dish, called Moukentra in my Greek cookbook, is another one of my favorites. It’s a good fallback option when you need a quick-ish meal and you don’t have much food in the house – the only ingredient it calls for that I don’t always have on hand is fresh cilantro, and it can be made without it in a pinch. I’ve made this dish with both white and brown rice, and it’s fantastic both ways.
This recipe is adapted from The Foods of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi. Though it’s low on veggies, I usually eat it on its own, though it would be even tastier paired with a small salad or the like.
Moukentra (Greek-style Lentils and Rice, adapted from The Foods of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi)
- 1 c. or 1/2 lb. green or brown lentils
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 red or yellow onion, chopped
- 2-3 cups lentil cooking water, chicken/veggie stock, water + bullion stuff, plain water, or a combination thereof
- 1 c. brown or white rice, rinsed (the recipe calls for white Arborio, but I have substituted brown basmati with similarly tasty results)
- 1/2 – 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, depending on your spice tolerance
- 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cook the lentils: Wash them, then put them in a pot with the bay leaf and water to cover by about two inches. Bring this to a boil, and let it simmer until the lentils are done, about 20-25 minutes. Chop your veggies in the meantime. Once the lentils are cooked, drain them, reserving the cooking water if you want to use it later in the dish (this is optional, but flavorful and efficient).
Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan or large pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it has softened, about five minutes. Add two cups of the lentil cooking water or stock or whatever you are using, plus the rice, cooked lentils, and crushed red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer.
The cooking time will depend on whether you are using white or brown rice – white rice should cook in about 20 minutes, brown in 50. Regardless of which you use, open the lid to stir the dish periodically, and add a bit more lentil water/stock/whatever if it’s drying out or sticking. This dish is supposed to be creamy like a risotto rather than fluffy like a pilaf, so a bit of extra liquid won’t hurt anything. Cook until the rice is done.
Remove from heat and add the cilantro, along with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.
- ~1/2 lb. brown lentils @ $1.79/lb. = $0.90
- 1 medium red onion: ~$1
- ~1/2 lb. brown basmati rice @ $2.19/lb. = $1.10
- 1/2 bunch cilantro = $1
Total for at least four servings: $4.00 plus the cost of small amounts of olive oil, stock/bullion, crushed red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf.