A few months ago, over Thanksgiving weekend, my mom and I took a day trip up to the city. We have these trips down to a science, and the normally are as follows: spend lots of time either in the Mission or the Embarcadero window shopping and eating as much good food as possible (if we can find salted caramel ice cream, even better). This time, we ended up at Book Passage in the Ferry Building and spent some time browsing the bookshelves. By some happy coincidence, Mollie Katzen was also there signing copies of her new cookbook, The Heart of the Plate. I’ve been reading Mollie Katzen’s cookbooks for years, namely Moosewood and Vegetable Heaven, ever since I got them as Christmas gifts in elementary school. Her cookbooks feature creative, unpretentious food that appeals to everyone, vegetarian or not, and The Heart of the Plate is no exception. It was such a thrill to meet her and talk to her about her evolution as a cookbook writer as well as meet her friend Katie Hafner, who was signing copies of her memoir, Mother Daughter Me, which if you haven’t yet read, you should—it will make you laugh, cry, and think for hours about what it means to be either a mother or daughter. Needless to say, we bought both books and broke into them on the BART on the way back home that night. (If that wasn’t enough already, we also learned that she is friends with David Lebovitz, which was particularly exciting for my mom and I because my brother has remarked that we can bring any conversation back to David Leibovitz, his blog, and his book The Sweet Life in Paris.)
In the past few months, I have made a few recipes from The Heart of the Plate, and all of them were delicious. The entire book is full of recipes that appeal to me, with entire chapters on hearty legumes, grains, vegetables, and garnishes. The other day, I made her Golden Lentils with Soft, Sweet Onions, from the “Cozy Mashes” chapter, and if that isn’t the perfect dish to serve for lunch with a side of homemade flat-bread, then I don’t know what is. The dish starts with a pan of minced onions that are gently cooked until deep golden brown and perfectly caramelized with a touch of balsamic vinegar. In the meantime, a pot of red lentils cooks until, in the words of the recipe, they are “mindlessly soft.” Once combined, the onions subtly perfume and flavor the lentils without overwhelming them with spice, as some lentil dishes often do. These lentils are filling, healthful, and well worth taking the time to make. Thank you Mollie, for taking the time to chat with my mom and me, and signing this inspiring cookbook to add to my growing collection.
Golden Lentils with Soft, Sweet Onions
Very slightly adapted from The Heart of the Plate, by Mollie Katzen
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
3 cups minced onions (about 2 medium onions)
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups red lentils
5 cups water
- Heat the olive oil in a large (12 inch) skillet over medium heat, then add the minced onions and sauté, stirring frequently. After 5 minutes, turn the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and golden, 16-20 minutes. Add the sea salt and 2 tablespoons of the balsamic vinegar and continue to cook for 10-15 more minutes on medium-low until very sweet and caramelized. Adjust seasonings to taste, then set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring the red lentils and water to boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer very gently for 35-40 minutes until the lentils “are mindlessly soft.” In the last 10 minutes of cooking, simmer uncovered to allow the lentils to thicken a bit.
- Once the lentils are cooked, add them to the pan of onions and combine over low heat. Adjust salt to taste, and add remainder of the balsamic vinegar, if desired. Spoon into serving bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil, then serve immediately.