Sunday, May 4, 2014

Savory and Comforting Stewed Lentils, A taste of Trinidad



Stewed Lentils, A Classic Trinidadian dish

This is one of my favorite ways to eat lentils and is a traditional protein. It's African in origin, food made by the descendants of the African slaves who were brought to the Caribbean to work on the sugar plantations. Trinidad's population is a kaleidoscope, or as we say in Trinidad a callaloo of peoples who have been brought here through history.

In addition to lentils, red beans, chicken and other meats are stewed. I have even seen stewed soya and stewed black eye beans. The method is unique; I saw a Trinidadian lady on the Food Network Show 'Diners Drive Ins and Dives' showing Guy Fieri how to stew chicken and he was rather confused, saying he has never seen sugar being burned like that before.

The 'Stewing' process involves heating a small quantity of sugar in some oil over a low to medium heat. It's not something that you leave the kitchen and come back, you have to keep an eye on the sugar so that it does not burn. The picture below shows the sugar almost halfway there, but the process is closer to completion when the bubbles are much bigger in size.

Stewing Process, Sugar being Caramelized
Almost to the Point of Burning
 
It's cooking on the edge as you take that sugar almost to the point of burning, any more and it will be burnt, any less and you will not get that rich taste and golden dark brown color. If the sugar turns black you have taken the process too far and it's better you restart the process; the burnt sugar will make the food too bitter to eat. Another issue with this process is ensuring that your pot is dry, any residual water will spit out, potentially damaging anyone in the vicinity.

Have a pot cover at the ready and a cup of water. As soon as you get the sugar to the desired stage, you will need to quickly cover the pot and add some water to stop the sugar cooking further. The pot will protect you from the water sizzling and splattering. If done correctly, stewing is a great way to cook any bean or meat dish. Remarkably, the dish will not be sweet, but savory. It's a delicious taste of the Caribbean and easy to replicate; the most important ingredient is sugar!

Not only that but this dish being made with dried lentils is economical and healthy. It's high in protein and low in fat. You can make this as soupy or thick as you want. I prefer mines soupy to soak up the rice I eat it with. I sometimes if I am lazy to cook rice, eat this with bread. The usually pairing for this is plain rice or fried rice. I actually also pair this with mashed potatoes, potato salad or even macaroni pie, another of my favorite Trinidadian classics.

I hop you like this recipe, and comments are welcome! :)


Recipe

Cuisine:        Trinidadian African
Good for:      Lunch, Dinner
Category:      Side Dish, Protein
Time:            1½ hours (not counting soaking lentils)
Serves:         8
Skill:             Medium
Suitable: Vegetarian
Heat: medium if not use hot pepper

 
Ingredients

2 c          dried lentils.
2 tb         sugar
3 tb         vegetable oil
3             onions sliced
8             garlic cloves
3 tb         ketchup
1 tsp       soy sauce
1             hot pepper whole
¼ c         chive chopped
¼ c         celery stem and leaves chopped
2             tomatoes chopped
½ c         coconut milk (optional)
2 tb         parsley
2             leaves bandania or chadon beni chopped (cilantro can be substituted)
¼ tsp      black pepper
               salt to taste
                 hot water as needed.


Utensils:  Ensure the pot you use to caramelize the sugar has a suitable cover.


Procedure

  1. Pick through the dried lentils for stones. This is important. You definitely do not want to be biting on a stone while eating.
  2. Wash lentils and let soak in water overnight. If you don't have the time, don't worry, the lentils will just take a bit longer to cook.
  3. Put lentils with fresh cold water in a pot and cook on a medium flame for about 40min to 1 hour.
  4. In meantime, cut up tomatoes, herbs, garlic and onions.
  5. Take out a few lentils out of the put and check if cooked.
  6. When the lentils are done, heat oil in a pot on medium to low heat.
  7. Have a pot cover that will sufficiently cover the pot nearby and also a cup of water.
  8. Add sugar to the oil. Let sugar dissolve and make big bubbles, but do not let it get black.
  9. As soon as you get to that stage, cover the pot leaving a small opening for you to pour water through. Cover the pot once water has been poured.
  10. Once the sizzling has gone, uncover pot and add onions and garlic and sautee for a few minutes.
  11. Add ketchup and tomatoes and cook down.
  12. Add cooked lentils, celery and enough hot water to cover.
  13. Salt can be added at this point as well as soy sauce and a whole hot pepper if using.
  14. Let cook for about 15-20mins till flavors combine.
  15. Take off heat, add parsley, bandania and chives.
  16. Coconut milk can be added now if using.
  17. Test for seasoning and add black pepper.

Do's and Don'ts
  • Do check for stones. You don't want to break your teeth or your guest's teeth with a stone.
  • Don't raise heat on high to hasten stewing process, the sugar can burn in a few seconds.
  • Do cover the pan once the water has been added to the hot sugar.
  • Don't salt the lentils when you are cooking them the first time. 

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