Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lentil Loaf for the Homeless

Once a month, my church takes dinner to First Lutheran in downtown Ft. Lauderdale. Each Wednesday, First Lutheran serves dinner to homeless people--anyone who shows up at 6 pm gets a meal.

Last night, we were serving meatloaf (or meatballs), mashed potatoes, cole slaw, green beans, bread, and dessert. Last month, when we served ziti casserole, we met a man who was allergic to meat, and luckily, we had a meatless ziti casserole. I tend to cook mostly vegetarian, but when I've been cooking for our First Lutheran outings, I've thought I should cook with meat, so the folks who don't get much to eat on a daily basis can have the protein and fat that meat provides. It was good to be reminded that not everyone can tolerate meat. And good to remember that vegetarian cooking can provide similar nourishment. So, when we planned last night's meal, I wanted to provide a vegetarian alternative.

I brought a lentil loaf, fully expecting that no one would want it and resolving not to have hurt feelings. But we had not one, but two vegetarians, as well as some curious eaters. One man even asked me for the recipe, which I'll bring next month.

I made it out of leftover lentil soup (left from last Wednesday's Labyrinth meal). I had a lot of soup and despaired of ever eating it all. What a great solution.

A few years ago, I started writing down my basic recipes for male relatives who don't cook. So, I have my soup recipe in the database, and I thought I'd post it here. The way to make Lentil Loaf is at the end.

My first pot of Lentil Soup was made with Mollie Katzen's recipe from The Moosewood Cookbook, so I want to give her credit for inspiring this recipe. Most of what I know about vegetarian cooking I learned from her books. The first Lentil Loaf recipe I ever made was made from a recipe from the cookbook Laurel's Kitchen, by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey.

Lentil Soup

A timing heads up: this soup needs 30-60 minutes to simmer.

The bare minimum of ingredients you’ll need:

12-16 oz. package of dry lentils
28 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I like Del Monte petite cut)
OR 2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
Pot of water

Nutrition Booster:

Several carrots (3-6), chopped into bite size pieces (you can use baby carrots, but they’re more expensive). Carrots are SO nutritious and cheap—don’t be afraid to use a lot.

Flavor Boosters:

1 onion, chopped

several cloves of minced garlic (put the cloves through a garlic press or look for jars of minced garlic in your produce department and use a spoonful or two)

several Tablespoons of olive oil

herbs: oregano and basil

several Tablespoons of brown sugar (or molasses)

several Tablespoons of red wine

several Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar

Basic Instructions:

Put the onion and oil in a big soup pot. Turn the burner to high or medium high (8 or so on your burner control dial). Stir the onions around in the bottom of the pot until they’re limp and more translucent. Add the garlic and the oregano and basil. Stir another minute or two.

Put all the sliced carrots that you’re going to use in the pot and cover them with water. Turn up the heat of the burner under the pot until the water boils. Let the carrots boil 10-15 minutes. You want tender carrots before you go any further. Spear one, let it cool, and eat it to be sure.

Add the tomatoes and the lentils and all the rest of the flavor boosters that you’re using. Fill the pot the rest of the way with water. Let the pot come to a boil, then turn the heat way down (you want it to simmer just below a boil—you’ll probably want to keep the heat at medium low—at 2-4 on the dial). The lentils probably need a half hour of cooking at this point. If you think about it, give the pot a stir every so often (if not, no big deal).

You can also let this soup simmer away for an hour or longer. Just keep an eye on the liquid level (those lentils will soak it up as they cook!) and add water as necessary.

You could serve this topped with a dollop of sour cream, if you wish. But it’s great plain.

A pot of this soup will easily serve 6-15 people; smaller groups can get several meals out of one pot. And it’s cheap (it will cost you $1.00-$2.00 to make a whole pot), so when you’re tired of it, throw it out.

What to do with leftover Lentil Soup:

Lentil Loaf

If the soup has been in your fridge long enough, it's likely to have absorbed excess liquid, and you won't have to drain it.

Take 2 cups of the drained soup (you can include the carrots and tomatoes) and put in a bowl. Beat 2 eggs and add them to the bowl. Add 1 cup of bread crumbs (Italian bread crumbs add nice flavor) and a drizzle of olive oil (2-4 Tablespoons). You could stop here or you could add: up to 1 cup of nut pieces (walnuts work nicely), up to 1 cup of seeds (sesame works nicely), up to 1 cup of oats or wheat germ or flour.

If you add a lot of dry ingredients, you might also need to add back some moisture. You want the consistency of wet glop (think meatloaf, if you've ever made it or a mortar mix). Start with 1/2 cup and go up by 1/4 cup increments. You could use plain water or: soup liquid, tomato juice, 1 more beaten egg, or stock.

Grease a loaf pan and add the mixture to the pan. Put the pan in a 350 degree oven. Bake covered for 30 minutes, uncovered for 10. Slice and eat.

You might want to serve with some sort of sauce. I used to serve it with Hollandaise, but ketchup might work too. If you're a non-vegetarian, gravy might be a treat.

Lentil Salad

Boil as much liquid out of the soup as you can (or drain it--or let it sit for several days, and it will absorb the liquid). Add chunks of feta cheese to the lentils, along with tomatoes (cherry tomatoes cut in half work well), cucumbers, peppers or whatever veggies you have on hand. Voila! A lentil salad (feel free to serve it on top of greens) or something you can spoon into pita bread.


John said...

The first (only?) time that I made a Lentil Loaf, I made the mistake of sticking a wooden spatula in the blender while it was blending. It took a big chunk out of the spatula and the force of the impact knocked a big hole in the plastic blender container. Ooops!

Kristin said...

The only similar story I have is when I unloaded the dishwasher once, and a glass slipped from my hand and dropped onto the glass blender container that was also in the dishwasher. What a mess!