Or, if you don’t speak Spanish, just lentils.
I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain for part of my junior year of college and returned for a period of time after graduation to teach English. Before then, I hadn’t eaten lentils much. I’m sure I had them in a soup here or there, but I can’t think of one time when I had actively made lentils, ordered them or ate them at home or in the cafeteria. However, my señora liked to make them for my roommate and I frequently for lunch. I have no idea how she would cook them, but they were amazing: dark and creamy with carrots and peppers. I tried to copy it once a few month ago in a soup, but it wasn’t even close. I think I asked her how she made them, but either she wasn’t listening or I was butchering my Spanish or she was ignoring me and didn’t want to pass her super secret lentil recipe to some crazy American girl who wouldn’t leave her apartment (by the end of the semester, my roommate and I were convinced she hated us. As shown by the day she fed us oxtail, when she knows I don’t eat beef, and told us it was chicken. hmmm.) Well, I loved those lentils, and thought of them everytime she fed us arroz a la cubana (rice covered in fried eggs covered in tomato sauce) or weird cut-up hot dogs in some rando sauce.
When I went back to Sevilla after college, I was on my own this time, living in an apartment with a billion other young people with no one to cook for me but me. Oh, and I was as broke as broke could be. That’s really broke. I struggling to find work and making about 40 euro/week. Yeah…that’s not alot. This is the time when I started doing the whole “make a big pot of something and eat it for the next 3 nights” thing. And I still do it, cause I’m still broke. But not as much so. Going to the grocey store in Spain, I never had any idea what I was going to cook-I would just buy the cheapest stuff and hope for the best. Lucky for me, groceries are ridiculously cheap in Spain. The other day I found a receipt in my wallet from a grocery store in Sevilla (I really need to clean out my wallet) that was for a 4-pack of yogurt, some apples, a bag of pasta and a loaf of bread. Grand total: €2.10. (I ate ALOT of pasta then. And lost weight. Grr.) Well, the local SuperSol was chock full of jars of garbanzos and lentejas, at about 30 cents a pop. So, I came to love my garbanzos y lentejas cause they enabled me to pay my rent every month. Thanks garbanzos y lentejas! You’re the best!
This recipe was the first one I came up with during that time of poverty, using my super dirt cheap jars of lentils. In fact, every ingredient can be bought on a pauper’s budget. I have made this sooo many times, I couldn’t even make a guess to the number. Also, in Spain I didn’t have to cook this for very long because the jarred lentils were already cooked, but using dried lentils, you have to let it cook for at least an hour. However, using dried lentils is nothing like using dried beans, because you don’t have to soak them, which make this easy to make on a whim as long as you have a bag lying around.
Last night, I made this for the 1000th or so time. One of my roommates was one of my closest friends from college and also studied abroad in Sevilla (but in a different program.) Her señora made her either garbanzos (chickpeas) or lentejas everyday for lunch. Every. single. day. and not good like my señora did. Bad. and monotonous. After that semester, she vowed she would never eat garbanzos or lentejas ever again. Well, every time I make my lentejas, I joke around, offering her some, and she replies by making some horrid gutteral sound that indicates that she is, in fact, not interested. However, much to my suprise, she walked into the apartment as I was finished up, and she commented how delicious it smelled! I told her what I was making, and she said she wanted some! I guess I do have the power of coersion! Or, maybe it is just so delicious, it can make a lentil-hater love lentils.
Caveat-while my lentejas were delish, I woke up this morning and my apartment smelled like onions and garlic. I lit several candles around the apartment while getting ready and proceeded to set off the smoke detector at 6:30am. Whoops. Cook this with the windows open or fan on your stove on.
Lentejas-Spanish Betsy style
1/2 bag dried regular old brown lentils (I use Goya. It’s cheap), picked over
3 cloves of garlic
1 large yellow onion
1 green bell pepper
1 large can of whole tomatoes, chopped
1 small can crushed tomatos
salt & pepper
Saute the chopped onion and minced garlic in a large pot with olive oil over medium-low heat for about 8 minutes until they start to show color. Add the bell pepper that has been chopped into 1/2 inch size pieces, and continue cooking for about 5-10 more minutes until the onions are completely cooked and the pepper has brown color around the edges. Chop the whole tomatoes into about 6 pieces each, and add into the pot along with the juice from the can of tomatoes and the crushed tomatoes. Stir so it’s all thoroughly combined. Fill the large can with water and add that as well. Pour in the lentils and stir again. Spices: I always do this by taste, but add lots. Probably around a tablespoon of chili and a tablespoon or more of cumin. Add about 2 teaspoons each of kosher salt and pepper. Stir one last time and bring to a boil. When it is roaring, turn it down to a low simmer, cover, and cook for about 1/2 hour. After 30 minutes, taste the stew, but not the lentils because they’re not done yet! Make sure the spices are how you like them. If it tastes very strongly of tomatoes, add more spices. I always add more at this point, probably about a teaspoon of more of each. Continue to cook for about 30 minutes more. Serve and DEVOUR. Every time I eat this, I automatically picture myself back at the flat on Calle Ximenz de Enciso among 5 other roommates of all different nationalities, eating different things but eating together. Enjoy!