Lentils, couscous accommodate any vegetable

Skipping trips to the grocery store by falling back on a well-stocked pantry has become more and more appealing over the years.

After eating my words that I’d “never” be able to grocery-shop just once a month, I advocated for exactly that, 10 years after posting such a naïve statement to this blog. I simply can’t approach the grocery store with the same enthusiasm for crafting exciting menus now that I have kids in tow. So meals have to entail minimal fuss but still pack plenty of flavor and nutrition.

A guide for stocking a serviceable whole-foods pantry accompanied my biweekly column in this week’s food section. My companion podcast gave some ideas for adding variety to the list and swapping items to suit your family’s cooking style. I suggested sampling the gamut of lentils, for example, determining which varieties worked best in soups or stews, which stayed intact after cooking to lend texture to salads.

Whole grains is another genre for which I voiced a preference for millet over quinoa, owing to its comparable amino acid profile at half the price. Each are healthful substitutes for couscous, which is actually a refined wheat product.

Consider those alternatives in this recipe. Try serving the cooked lentils and veggies over steamed millet or quinoa. Experiment with brown, or even black beluga, lentils for a striking contrast to the light-colored grain.

Lastly, choose in-season vegetables for this stew, rather than the zucchini suggested by the Kansas City Star. In this transition season, I’d reach for fennel to accompany the onion and another root vegetable, beets perhaps, to complement the carrot. Instead of bell pepper, I’d use my freezer stash of roasted chilies from last year’s garden.

The simplicity of this recipe shows that, with a few pantry staples, it can fill the bill any time of year.

Tribune News Service photo

Rustic Lentils on Couscous

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, cored and chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1/2 zucchini, not peeled, chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2/3 cup green lentils

2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced, no-salt-added tomatoes, with liquid

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

Salt and pepper, to taste

Hot, cooked couscous, for serving

Shredded Parmesan cheese, for garnish

In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is tender. Add the bell pepper, carrots and zucchini; cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Stir in the lentils, tomatoes, 1 cup water, the Italian seasoning, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until lentils and vegetables are tender.

Ladle lentils and vegetables over the hot couscous. Sprinkle with the Parmesan.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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