Thursday, April 30, 2009

lentils & rice

lentils & rice

With our economy in the crapper, and so many feeling the crunch, some for the first time ever, of course we are all interested in saving some bucks. My own household has zero income (save for the husband's unemployment benefits) currently and so one might think that we're making drastic changes to our lifestyle. Only, well, no, we're not. The changes are small, things you wouldn't notice, and mostly reside in the realm of psychological distress (the insomnia and wrenched guts of wondering how long we can stave off foreclosure, you know, gripping subjects like that). I'm doing less thrift store therapy, our bills are not as cut and dried and tidy anymore, and we have to say No to the children more often. But other things, like what we eat, remain exactly the same (uh, cross fingers, knock on wood, say your prayers, because who knows how long we'll tread water like this??).

According to so many stories I've heard on the radio (before potential pandemic usurped economic downturn, anyhow) eating for less is the new five star restaurant. I heard some silly chef challenge on All Things Considered recently that had famous names (not so famous that I knew who they were, but whatever.) in food attempting to make a tasty meal for a family of four on a budget of ten dollars. And I nearly switched the station because, seriously? This is news?

But then I had to step back and remind myself that not every person responsible for feeding a family has the same good fortune I have to both a) not ever had much money to start with and b) a formative young adult introduction to being healthy and being cheap.

Actually, I'm pretty sure that it was the cheap that beget the healthy, even if, over the years, the subjects morphed into a symbiotic jumble of mindful living. But I might not ever have made it to where I am now had I not read The Tightwad Gazette in the first year of my marriage.

I didn't catch on to Amy Dacyzyn's compendium of frugal living tips in its newsletter days, no, I checked out the books from the library (but years afterward, the three volumes were published together in one fat edition). And I ate them up entirely. It's been a long time since I've read them, I bet the references are dated and maybe a little hokey, but the suggestions, I'm sure, are still sound.

Suddenly I'm doubting the veracity of one of my family's longstanding menu staples, ye olde Lentils and Rice, and whether it's a Tightwad inspired dish or not. It doesn't matter. It's cheap. It's easy. It's delicious. It's good for you. We eat it every week.

We've also been a vegetarian family for over ten years now, so it's not a lightbulb moment at this point to realize that meatless meals cost less. In fact, though I'm really saving this subject for a post all its own, I must briefly mention that if you're eating meat at every meal, you're probably contributing to all manner of societal ills and atrocities because there's no way in heck this planet can support animal consumption at the rate our country has expected it for so long. Okay.

And if you're not a vegetarian (really, I have no problem with omnivores, it's the factory farming and culture of excess and draining resources and animal cruelty, among other things, that irks me) you should still be eating a lot of bean based meals. I'm glad that pinched pocketbooks are finally compelling some people to make this a priority, better now than never I guess. Though I admit that it truly does surprise me that something as simple as Beans (or Lentils) and rice can be regarded as revolutionary.

So this is a favorite meal of mine because, first of all, everybody eats it. It cooks up long and slow so unless I'm running late, I get it going early and dinner happens smoothly, without any of that last minute Witching Hour Hungry Kids rush. So, all that PLUS it's the perfect dish for using up whatever's languishing in the not-so-crisper drawer in your fridge.

Here's the gist (per my transcribed scrawl in the little spiral notebook that's lived in the silverware drawer of every house I've ever lived in as a married lady): in a 9 x 13 casserole, dump together 3/4 C rice, 1/2 C lentils, chopped veggies, 2 1/2 C water or stock. salt/spices/seasonings to taste. Cover. Bake 325 for 90 min.

That's the basic idea, but I usually double it and make the rice to lentil ratio heavier on the lentil side. I use brown basmati and, also, some sort of tomato, canned diced or tomato sauce. The picture above is prior to adding the (self-picked and canned w/ a friend last late summer) tomatoes, but after I grated in a few stringy carrots and chopped up some salad greens that were starting to head south. I had just picked up our first CSA share of the season and needed to out-with-the-old in our refrigerator to make room-for-the-new.

We have eaten this in so many (many many!) configurations, but last week I served it alongside a carmelized leek and rapini frittata. The leeks and rapini were also part of our CSA share from of our favorite local farmers (who also happen to be friends, making the whole 'do you know where your food comes from?' question so much more personal and true). Leftovers are great to throw into a tortilla for a fast lunch. At our house we always say "lentilsnrice" all smashed together in one fast word like that. Lentilsnrice. Not just for tightwads!


Molly said...

i could live on beans and rice, or lentilsandrice, but i swear i thought my husband was going to cry a few weeks ago when he came home to discover that we were having beans and rice yet again for dinner.

and i have to say - the tightwad gazette changed my life about three years ago. if only i had read it in our first year of marriage, instead of our eighth, who knows where we'd be now (probably not crying over beans and rice). i recently loaned it to my sister-in-law and she devoured the book. it might be dated, but i think that the specific suggestions are very useful. in economics, and life, it's really all the little things that add up, even though we tend to focus on the big things.

jess said...

the best one i ever made had all the ragtag leftovers in my fridge (which is how this dish shines best) so i don't think i will ever recreate it. i remember this particular evening (in addition to the usual tomato, garlic, carrot)it was carmelized onions, kale rosemary, roasted eggplant and a ton of mushrooms- oh and a bit of goat cheese crumbled in the last minutes.
it's my favorite as well. i enjoy thinking back to those years. thanks for this one.

Angelina said...

I've never read the tightwad gazette. I've been lucky enough to experience both major poverty (eating for two on $13 a week) and then being comfortable enough to be able to splurge on things like fancy cheeses and olives.

We're not as poor now as we were at our poorest but there are no fancy ingredients for us these days but what Trader Joe's occasionally provides.

Cooking hasn't really changed all that much for us either. I've been a vegetarian my whole life so meat has never been on the table. And I grew up eating lots of beans and rice. I admit though that I don't make rice very often. It's slowly making a reappearance.

My fingers are crossed, all wood is knocked for you!

milkstained said...

I'm going to give this another try - I did such a terrible job reading directions last time. It was delicious but ricily crunchy.

My CSA veggies are going south FAST so it's going to be mushrooms & collard greens with some carrots & shredded red cabbage.

angie said...

I'm going to make this, it looks delicious and a new way (for me) to eat my lentils and rice and veggies.

I really think though you should reconsider wagging your finger at the atrocities your meat eating readers are causing the earth. NONE of this life we Americans (mainstream, middle class expectations) lead is sustainable, and it really should not be. But still, we cry when we can't have egg in our microbrew. Your limited circumstances now include so many privileges the rest of the world does not have mainly because we do.

april. said...

i totally agree, angie. really i do! my lifestyle has been subsidized by the leaner life of so many other people, countries. i believe it. but i also believe we have to start somewhere, doing something. it's never my intention to come across as a finger wagger. but i do hope to come across as someone who is earnest and honest. this is just my life here.