Friday, September 16, 2005

Mmm, Lentils

Sometimes, something sounds like it is going to be a delicious and fantastically healthy side dish, and you think to yourself “how scrumptious, I will make this wonderful lentil salad.”

“I will use only ingredients that I happen to have on hand, right here in my kitchen, and it will provide a nutritious and well balanced addition to my evening meal.” And perhaps you are trying not to go to the grocery store, because you will be away from the kitchen for a few days and don’t want to stock up and have the food rot secretly in the crisper drawers. And you are cheap.

So you make a few substitutions. Instead of dill and basil, you use parsley and mint, because those are the herbs that are washed and ready in the fridge. Fresh herbs are expensive! And there is always too much in the bunch. So there is just about zero percent chance you are going to tromp over to Whole Foods for eight dollars worth of basil and dill when there is perfectly good parsley and mint right there in the fridge.

And then you don’t have quite enough tomatoes, and no scallions at all, but you do have plenty of onions, and the onion sounds like a good friend of the lentil. And there are some bits of red bell pepper in the fridge too; you think they might provide some added color and crunch. The recipe calls for “small French lentils,” and you have only an old and sort of scary bag of dried lentils.

Surely there can’t be so much difference from one lentil to another. And they package does indicate that these are “No. 1 Grade.” You press fearlessly onward, so proud of your healthy lentil salad with creative and thrifty modifications.

Aesthetically, things are not too bad. Your lentil salad looks like this…

But the smell is already quite strong and the smallest nibble brings tears to your eyes. Perhaps you inadvertently used some kind of bionic onion? An onion grown next to the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant? This one onion, smaller than a lemon and only a little bigger than a lime, managed to infiltrate every corner of your healthful lentil salad and completely overwhelm it, so that it tastes like this…

It is too strong for even your onion-loving roommate. You eat the toasted pitas stuffed with chicken and lovely mild sautéed onions in parsley garlic sauce. You eat some hummus that was hanging around the back of the fridge. You put the lentil onionfest into a Tupperware and throw it in the back of the fridge. Maybe you could put it on pasta for a refreshing (oniony!) pasta salad? Perhaps the flavors will mellow overnight? A hungry vegan might stop by unexpectedly?

Your visions of yourself as an innovative recipe modifying wizard of healthy cooking are dashed to bits. Then again, lentils? What were you thinking?


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