Here’s a step-by-step photo how-to documenting the process I go through daily to cook the frugal and tasty and healthy meal that has come to represent almost 50% of my diet. This dish saved me from my college culinary life which was dominated by fish sticks, ramen, and popcorn! I call this dish lentil chow, and it keeps me hale and hearty. It’s based off of a “rice pilaf” recipe I found on Jacob Lund Fisker’s Early Retirement Extreme blog. I got sketched out while reading about arsenic in rice online once though. Maybe it was BS but I haven’t had rice since. Yes, I have tried this dish with bacon, and let it be said that it was good.
I get my green lentils at Wally World near my house because they’re the cheapest around at $1.08 per pound. You can also order them online at Sam’s club by the big-ole-bucket. Red lentils are harder to find, and in my experience they can get a lot mushier when you cook with them. You have to be sure to sift through your lentils with your fingers and examine them because once in a blue moon you might encounter a pebble or something. . . it was alarming when it happened to me, but you get used to that sort of thing when you’re eating cheap, earthy foods. I’ll use about one and two thirds of that little cup of lentils you see there for this recipe.
I like sweet yellow onions. Onions are cheap and pretty good for you, and they’re probably even better for you if you don’t cook them so like I do. I use one each time I cook this. I always discard the outer layer after cutting off the ends, chop it into about 5 cylindrical slices (not from pole to pole as some people do), then slice off little wedges from those larger slices until the whole onion is chopped to bits.
I put those bits of onion into a pot or pan and add a good amount of extra virgin olive oil. Pompeian claims they don’t rest on their laurels, and I do like the price and decent taste.
That’s where I set my burner for cooking the onions in the olive oil.
This is an alternative and by no means mandatory little sub plot to our cooking story that you are living out vicariously through me. The vegetable you see here is Bok Choy. Use one stalk for a dish as an alternative to an onion or simply to add to the onion.
Bok choy tends to be dirty so I rinse it under running water and rub off all the dirt with my thumb. I rip off the green, leafy parts before chopping the stalk up as the green parts are edible but don’t fare so well in the boiling oil. After it’s chopped cook the pieces with the onion slices in the olive oil.
Once the onions (and perhaps bok choy) are looking this colour after cooking in the oil a while, you’re ready to progress to the next stage.
I add about one and a half or more of these glasses of water to the olive oil and browned onions.
Then I add one and a half (or more if I’m especially hungry) of these little cups of lentils to the water and stir it up a bit. Let the stuff simmer/bubble for a while, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and uneven cooking.
Meanwhile, the cats and I cast lots to determine how exactly I shall season my dish. Just kidding about the molasses.
This is not done.
This is where I consider it done and cut it off. Sometimes if I’m lucky I’ll get the bottom layer to crisp a bit. . . I like the texture it gives to the dish. You can let it go longer and add more water if you keep stirring the stuff in order to let the lentils get softer.
Then I pop it into my favourite bowl with my favourite seasoning and use my favourite spoon to chow down.
I did some rough calculations, and here’s what I figured for the calories and prices of a bowl of the stuff like you see above:
- Lentils: 40 cents, 420 calories
- Water and electricity: 10 cents
- Olive oil: 25 cents, 360 calories
- Onion: 25 cents, 50 calories
- Bok Choy Stalk: 15 cents, 50 calories
- Seasoning: 5 cents, 5 calories
- Total: $1.20, 800-900 healthy, toothsome calories
If this post and the dish described within it enriched your life, consider donating to my own little lentil, onion, and olive oil fund! Believe me. . . if Paypal took lentils I would take them ;-).