Balsamic Chicken with Sauteed Vegetables and Lentils.

Can we talk about lentils? Why don’t we eat more lentils in this life we lead? I realize I’m speaking for you, readers, when really I should just speak for myself…maybe you eat a lot of lentils already, or maybe you’re allergic to lentils and I’m being insensitive to your needs. Sorry. But everyone else, why aren’t lentils a bigger part of our lives?! They are cheap, good for you, SO easy to make, and incredibly versatile. They can be the star of a dish, the sidekick, or the background canvas for another ingredient’s greatness. And let me repeat how cheap they are. Most stores in my neighborhood sell a pound bag of lentils for less than a dollar, and since they do plump when you cook ’em, you end up with a LOT of lentils for very little money. They are also a great high-protein substitute for rice if that’s your thang, and since you prepare them basically the same way you prepare rice, it’s not hard to learn to make lentils. Also they taste great. Are you convinced? Good. Make this. IMG_1270 INGREDIENTS

for chicken:
3 small chicken breasts
fav all-purpose spice rub (there are 2 kinds of people: those who know that Back-of-the-Yards rub from the Spice House is the best seasoning ever, and those who haven’t tried it yet)
salt and pepper
balsamic vinegar
butter

for lentils:
1/2 lb lentils
1 cup chicken stock
3 cups water
pinch of parsley
pinch of rosemary
pinch of thyme

for veggies:
1/4 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups spinach leaves, chopped
salt and pepper
lemon juice (optional)

DIRECTIONS

IMG_1281 I believe marinades are an art, not a science. With that in mind, have a bowl or plastic bag handy and rub the chicken breasts with some spice rub and salt and pepper. Put the chicken in the bowl or bag and pour in a few teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. Let this concoction marinate in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, or as long as overnight.

The lentils take a little while, so get them going next. Sort through and pick out any stones or weird looking ones, and rinse the remaining beauties. In a small pot, combine lentils, chicken stock, water, parsley, rosemary, and thyme. Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer and cover. Cook until tender, and drain any remaining liquid. Set the lentils aside.

When you’re almost ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 350 F.

To cook the chicken, heat a skillet or other stove-to-oven-safe pan over medium high heat. Add some butter to the pan and let it melt, and then add the chicken breasts. I like to move each one around a little bit in the butter so that I know they’ve all had their turn in the good stuff. Make sure the chicken breasts are not touching or crowded too closely (we don’t want them to steam or braise).

When one side of the chicken has browned nicely, flip the chicken over and get some color on the second side. Once you’ve got some good color on both sides, turn off the heat and finish cooking the chicken all the way through in the oven. It’s done when the center is white, not pink, and the juices run clear. Remove from the pan and set chicken aside.

But don’t do anything to that wonderful pan! It has awesome flavor in it from the chicken. So put the pan back on the stove and turn the heat to medium low. It should still be a pretty hot pan, so add the onions, carrots, and garlic, and stir around to pick up the beautiful browned bits of flavor. Cook until softened and add the spinach, cooking just until wilted. Squeeze over a bit of lemon juice if you like.

Then add the lentils into the pan and stir to create a beautiful mottled mosaic of colorful veggies. Taste for salt and pepper, and then top with your chicken breasts for a gorgeous, rustic meal!

IMG_1284 This lasted me a few days of lunches at work, and man was it good. Lentils are just awesome. IMG_1236

Blackened Onion and Lentil Pilaf.

On Wednesday night, I got home late from a busy day at work, and I was starving! Thinking to make something easy and quick, I decided to put together a really simple lentil dish to accompany the chicken drumsticks I was roasting. I love lentils and consider them an almost-perfect food. They taste good, they’re really versatile, they’re easy to cook, they’re good for you, they last forever, and they’re incredibly cheap! What’s not to love? Last night, I riffed on a Lebanese rice dish called mdardara, which I had learned about a long time ago but hadn’t ever made. It’s a really simple lentil and rice pilaf topped with blackened onion strings, but in my version, I replace the rice with quinoa and the regular brown lentils with the slightly fancier French lentils. What makes this dish so great is that you can really use any kind of lentil, any kind of onion, and any kind of grain that you have around the house. It’s so flexible – just use what you’ve got and you’ll be good to go with a tasty side or main dish that’s totally simple and healthy.

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INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup French lentils
2 cups stock or water (I used homemade vegetable stock)
bay leaf
1/2 onion, sliced
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/3 cup red quinoa (really this will work with any grain)

Just the Recipe link: Blackened Onion and Lentil Pilaf

DIRECTIONS

Add lentils, 1 1/2 cups stock or water, and bay leaf to a pan and bring to a boil.

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Reduce to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender, about 30-40 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, drain any excess liquid, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a frying pan and add the onions. Cook over medium low, stirring occasionally. When they start to take on a slightly blackened color, add a shallow layer of stock or water to the pan, to help them soften and brown rather than dry up and turn black. If you want them on the more charred side, use less stock; if you like them totally browned and almost caramelized, as I do, use a bit more stock.

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Turn the fire down to low and cook the onions until they’re a deep brown-black and the liquid is almost totally reduced.

Finally, the quinoa. Cook according to package directions. I recommend cooking the quinoa in any remaining stock you have on hand, as this really perks up the flavor of quinoa and makes it way more flavorful than when it’s cooked with water.

When everything is cooked, assemble! Mix the lentils and quinoa and make sure to season with salt and pepper. Spoon them into your bowl or serving dish and top with the onion strings. Add another sprinkle of salt to the onions and that’s it! A simple and easy yet very yummy after work meal that functions as a side or a main dish. And I’m saving the leftovers for lunch.

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