Spring is officially here. Many of you will probably read this post on Saturday and yes, it’s the first day of spring. I know it’s been one long, ruthless winter for much of the country. So while we’re lucky here in the Bay Area to wear our flip-flops year round (or at least I do), we’re excited about warmer weather, too. We’re all waiting for a little change, a little more light, a little growth. Waiting.
And here’s just the recipe for you. I’ve recently fallen in love with braises because you put your ingredients in a big pot, put it in the oven and then you move on with your life until it’s ready to be taken out of the oven. It’s passive, it’s simple, and it’s slow. So on this first day of spring when so many of us are looking ahead to a little more sunshine, a little more light, a little more time off, a little more happiness or fulfillment or money or whatever it may be for you– just know that there’s something to be said for paying attention to what’s simmering away right in front of you. And with that, I bring you my new go-to recipe for lentils and the wish that you find a little pleasure in the waiting.
This recipe is the result of much experimentation. It’s not quite a dal, but not quite a delicate lentil dish either. The flavors are quite simple, so if you prefer more of an Indian-spiced dish, feel free to play around with the addition of ginger, turmeric, coriander and other warm spices. And certainly use whichever variety of lentils you have on hand for this. I just happen to think the red ones are especially nice to look at. Last, I used grapeseed oil here because it can hold a much higher temperature than olive oil. I’m a recent convert.
Preheat the oven to 250 F. Rinse the lentils until the water runs clear and pick through, getting rid of any bad/discolored ones. Heat grapeseed oil in an ovenproof pot over medium heat, adding the vegetables, garlic, and onion and cooking for about ten minutes or until the onions are translucent. Add lentils, and cook for one minute. Add the vegetable stock until it just covers the ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and transfer to the oven.
Braise the lentils until thickened, about 45 minutes to one hour. They should resemble a substantial dal. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sprinkle with chopped cilantro for garnish.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.