This is one of the first meals I learned how to make when Jason and I initially got married. Back then, we lived in a tiny apartment off a winding, busy street with our puppy dog Bailey and several beta fish. Besides being somewhat smallish, it was still comfy with a great wood-burning fireplace adorning the living room, an expansive balcony connecting both master bedroom and main room, and a decently-sized kitchen (with a grand view of the tennis courts no less!). The accommodations were simple and understated. But no matter; we loved it all the same. It was our little nest and we called it home for two + years.
Believe it or not, cooking didn’t always come naturally to me. I grew up surrounded by a family of cooks and delectable food but it wasn’t until I left home that I was forced to harness everything I’d observed by rote memory and apply it to my own kitchen. My first attempt at roasting a turkey for Thanksgiving was atrocious. From that experience I learned two things: one, take the bag of giblets out of the turkey before baking and two, cook the 15-lb. turkey longer than 45 minutes. [facepalm]
After that debacle, you can imagine my delight upon discovering how effortless and fool-proof this family favorite of lentils and sausage dish ended up being. Plagued torment of misplaced turkey gizzards and salmonella fears aside, my biggest concern with this meal was limited to deciding which kind of hog to use and how many garlic cloves to mince. It may look like a lot of ingredients, but it’s a cinch to make: you just dump all the stuff in a pot, cover with water, and let it go. In under an hour you’ll have a huge cauldron of smoky deliciousness, with the softened lentils melting into the kielbasa, the kielbasa melting into the softened lentils, and the caramelized onions hanging out in between. This is winter grub at its finest, folks.
*This is my virtual contribution to the #gojeepotluck! Starting on Thursday, January 26, check out other potluck dishes fellow gojee contributors shared. Go to gojee.com and enter “gojeepotluck” into I Crave. You can also follow #gojeepotluck on Twitter.
Braised green lentils with smoked kielbasa
Throughout the years, I’ve experimented with this dish by swapping and exchanging several key components to check for flavor differences and I invite you to do the same. You have several options here: instead of smoked kielbasa, you can use bacon rations, hot dog slices or lil’ smokies (these are favored choices at my parents house), smoked turkey meat, any other flavorful sausage; you get the point. As far as the lentils are concerned, I’ve interchanged the green with red and split pea varieties too which both seem to work well but plan on shaving off about 15 minutes of cooking as these smaller kind require less stove time. The ají colorado is an optimal base for the braise but if you don’t have any, using tomato paste as a flavor enhancer would work too.
Makes a huge pot o’ lentils, enough for at least 8 people with extra to freeze
1 pound smoked kielbasa, cut in half and again and then cut into quarter moons
1 yellow onion, cut in half then into half moons
4 garlic cloves, minced
Canola oil, if needed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ají colorado
2 pounds dry green lentils, rinsed
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
Steamed white rice, to serve
Lime wedges, to serve
Hot giardinera pickled vegetable mix (I love Potbelly’s ready-made bottled variety), to serve
Curly parsley, to garnish
In a large pot or dutch oven set over medium-high heat, brown the kielbasa in batches making sure not to overcrowd; I had to do two batches. When they’ve rendered a good amount of fat and are nicely golden and crisp on the outside, scoop them out and put into a bowl; set aside. Keep the fat in the pot (if it doesn’t look like there’s enough gloss at the bottom of the pan, take the liberty of dropping another tablespoon or so of canola oil) and toss the onions and garlic inside, stirring. Let this cook down slightly, about a few minutes. Add the salt, pepper, oregano, cumin and mix. Add in the ají colorado and let this melt into the onion-garlic mixture, about half a minute. Pour in a smidge of chicken stock, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan so you can scrape up the yummy bits left behind from the kielbasa.
Then, toss in the rinsed lentils and mix to coat with the saucy goodness in the pot. Dump in the chopped tomatoes, kielbasa, and pour the rest of the chicken stock plus water over the whole thing. Cover and let this come to a boil. When this happens, stir again and change the heat to low, covering, and checking every 15 minutes or so to see if it needs more water. If the lentils still haven’t softened and the liquid is getting low, add another cup or two of water to alleviate. It should take about 45 minutes for the lentils to cook all the way through. Taste and augment seasonings per preference.
I serve this alongside white rice with lime, parsley, and an ample dose of hot giardinera right on top. The piquant acid and gentle heat from the pickled vegetables really ignites the whole dish, whetting the palate and provoking for just one more bite (or two, or three…).