Friday, January 7, 2011

Celebrate the New Year with Lentils!

After the long night of celebrating the New Year in grand Czech style, New Year's Day is usually spent with the family ... recovering and thinking of the New Year. Along with this comes traditional Czech cuisine for New Year's Day....lentils (Lens culinaris)!  Why lentils, you ask? Legends have it that they represent money and prosperity for the year. If you remember, we blogged earlier about everyone taking a scale from the Christmas carp and keeping it in their wallet for the next year to bring money. So, this is in the same vein.

On a similar note, an old Czech saying of "Jak na Nový rok, tak po celý rok" which is (roughly) translated as: As on New Year's Day, the same throughout the whole year long.

So, one must have lentils to eat and plenty of them, please!
Here we offer you TWO lentil recipes that we enjoyed for New Years.

Lentil Soup:
In keeping with Mae West's astute comment, "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful!", a good lentil soup is always comforting and hard to resist!

Start by rinsing and then soaking ~1 cup of dry lentils in filtered water (cover the lentils completely) in your favorite stew pot (maybe it's a pressure cooker, a cast iron delight, or a stainless steel cauldron....). Leave to soak for 12 hours.
Add more water, if necessary after they've soaked. The add
250 g (~1 cup) of diced, smoked ham (we used Bohemian smoked ham from the Trebon market):
 Stir in 1 cup of stewed tomatoes (your home-canned ones, if you have them; otherwise some choice ones that you have),
1 bunch chopped parsley,
1 bunch chopped cilantro (if you have it),
2 finely diced onions,
2-3 cloves minced garlic,
1 bunch chopped scallions
salt/pepper to taste.
Simmer for a couple of hours until tender (or, if you're using your pressure cooker....15-20 minutes at 10 psi).
 Then....ladle it up for a generous New Year!  Of course, if you like, make some fresh corn bread to have on the side....
 We also garnished ours with carmelized winter butternut squash (moon, stars and sun) for the upcoming Solar Eclipse (which happened the following Monday)!
 Happy New Year from Mark!
 And the same from Neil!
 May the New Year be filled with culinary delights with extraordinary flavors!

Our second lentil recipe was a take-off of an old family favorite Neil and his Mom used to make:
Sprouted Lentil Croquettes
Soak 1 cup of lentils (as above) for 12 hours until they are swell!
Then, drain and keep them at room temperature, slightly covered (so they stay moist) and wait for 3-4 days until they thoroughly sprout.  Be sure to rinse them once/day to keep them moist and prevent any bacterial buildups.
 Then, we're ready to make croquettes!
To the lentils, add:
Zest/juice from 1 lemon
salt/pepper to taste
1 cup bread crumbs (if you don't have any around, we just grate some stale bread with a box grater)
2 eggs
1 bunch chopped scallions
1 small package of blue cheese, cut into small cubes

Form into croquettes either by hand (with a spoon) or using a croquette maker (we got ours below from the Palestinian deli at the corner of Cleveland and Como Avenues in St. Paul, MN--the proprietor, a culinary friend of ours, got one for us when we visited Egypt as that's where ours was made!):
 Put into a fry pan with hot oil and soon you'll have these delights sizzling merrily away!
Drain briefly on paper towels and then serve HOT with an aoili, hot sauce, tartar sauce or walnut/cilantro chutney from Khyber Pass Restaurant (corner of Snelling and Grand Avenues, St. Paul, MN)!
May the New Year be filled with plenty of health, wealth, friends, good cuisine and time to enjoy all four of these!

For a side dish, we also served one of our all-time favorites from our Wisconsin chef/friend:
Steamed Cauliflower with browned butter
This is so easy to make!
Take 1 head of cauliflower, clean/wash it.
Steam it in a large dish until it is tender all of the way through.  
Brown 1/8 pound of butter in a saucepan.
Place the hot cauliflower head onto a platter and pour the browned butter over the top:
Slice it up and enjoy it alongside your sprouted lentil croquettes!
Good eating (Dubro hyut)!

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.

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