19 May 2014

Lentils with Preserved Lemon and Tomatoes

This is a kind of down and dirty what's for dinner post. We all need those, don't we? Paul and I have been traveling a lot recently and that means our pantry is pretty empty, and I'm often digging around for something that will just make a cohesive meal. In this case, we have a combination of two dishes that I've mishmashed into one.

First, we have skillet-roasted tomatoes, which are pretty common in North Africa -- we've had them at riads (like b&b's) in Morocco and Algeria, and you also find them conserved in olive oil with garlic and chiles. The idea is simple: halve a tomato, sear it in a skillet until it's blackened on the outside but still firm in the center.

The next part of the dish was based on a lovely basic lunch we had in Morocco which was just a simple salad of cooked lentils with preserved lemon. When we were in the States recently I noticed several grocery stores (Whole Foods, etc) were selling preserved lemons in the pickle and olive sections. So, there's no excuse not to have preserved lemons in the pantry! They are one of the great savers of the last minute dinner. This simple salad would be great for summer picnic season, or a quick dinner.

Lentils with Preserved Lemon and Tomatoes

2 leeks, white and light green parts only
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 cups brown lentils
1 teaspoon cumin
3 cups chicken stock
1 preserved lemon
3 medium-sized tomatoes
handful of chopped parsley
olive oil, salt, harissa

1. Discard the center part of the preserved lemon with the thick pith and seeds, keep the lemon peel and fleshy bits around the peel. Slice about 1/4 of the preserved lemon into strips. Chop the remaining preserved lemon into small cubes.
2. Halve and slice the leeks. Heat some olive oil in a medium pot. Add the leeks and saute over medium heat until softened and translucent. Add in the garlic and the tomato paste and let toast for another minute. Stir in the lentils, cumin, a good pinch of salt, a spoon-tip of harissa, and the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and let simmer over low heat.
3. Check the package for cooking times, but it should take about 25-30 minutes for the lentils to cook. They should be soft around the edges but not totally falling apart. Stir in the chopped preserved lemons and parsley and set aside the lentils.
4. While the lentils are cooking, slice the three tomatoes in half. Heat up a heavy skillet with some olive oil until hot. The olive oil should start to smoke a little. Sear the tomatoes, bottom side down, for a few minutes until browned. Turn the tomatoes over and brown quickly on the top.
5. Arrange the lentils, roasted tomatoes, and preserved lemon strips on a platter. Drizzle some more olive oil and salt on top and serve warm or at room temperature.

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