Three Things to Cook

lentils-image1I recently came across an interesting article by Mark Bittman that appeared in the New York Times back in December. It advocates eating “real food,” rather than convenience or restaurant food. According to Bittman, everyone should be able to do three things: a chopped salad, a stir-fry, and a basic lentils and rice recipe. Bittman suggests that by learning to cook just these three things, we can begin to end our reliance on processed and fast foods. In the bargain, he suggests that we’ll save money, eat more healthy foods, and reduce our carbon footprint.

I found Bittman’s article quite interesting, and consistent with many things I do already. I rarely eat out, and no longer rely on convenience foods. Gone are the years when I ate Lean Cuisines every night for dinner. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t completely given up convenience products, but I do use them less than I used to. However, I approach things in a slightly different way than Bittman suggests.

While I eat a lot of main dish salads in the summer, I’m not convinced that they’re inexpensive. Nor are they easy. During the summer months when I eat main dish salads nearly every night, I have to stop at the grocery every other day to keep all of the fresh produce I need in stock. I do like salads, but at least for the winter months, would definitely swap out his chopped salad notion for pasta. There are so many things you can do with pasta and not use convenience sauces (although many of them are delicious).

I’d probably add a fourth thing to his list, and that would be to make a big pot of homemade soup, stew, or chili on the weekend. I do this nearly every weekend all winter, and then divide it up into individual serving containers; some of the containers go in the freezer, and some in the refrigerator. This makes an incredibly easy, nutritious meal to reheat during the busy week. It can also be as inexpensive (beans and veggies) or expensive (add in chicken, beef, or more exotic vegetables) as I want.

Since I’ve read Bittman’s article, I’ve actually incorporated lentils and rice into my regular diet. I’m still searching for recipes that really make me happy, so if you happen to have one, I’ve love to read about it. I routinely cook beans and rice (black beans or red beans), and would group those in with his basic “lentils and rice” category (something Bittman actually does in the recipe that goes along with the article).

I’ve also been doing more stir-fry meals since reading this article. But I suspect I’m totally violating the author’s original notion, as I’ve been using bottled stir-fry sauces, rather than making my own. Why? Because I don’t have the seemingly hundreds of ingredients that most of the recipes I’ve found seem to require. Do you have any good, simple, stir-fry sauce recipes?

Did you read Bittman’s article? If so, what do you think? And what do you think of his three cooking “essentials?” And finally, is there any difference in taste between red, yellow, and brown lentils?

7 thoughts on “Three Things to Cook

  1. Missie

    I don’t know anything about red, yellow, or brown lentils and their differences. ;-)

    However, I have made my own stir fry sauce fairly simply — adjust for quantity, but just a tablespoon or two of corn starch into roughly a 1/3 cup or so of broth (chicken, beef, or veggie broth), a couple tablespoons of soy sauce (I’ve been using reduced-sodium), and seasonings to taste — usually a bit of ginger, some garlic, some red pepper flakes or a splash of Dragon Sauce if I want it spicy, a splash of vinegar (preferably rice wine) if I want a bit of tang…pour into your skillet or wok after cooking up the veg and/or meat, bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce heat and simmer until desired consistency (usually only takes a couple-three minutes).

    You can also use part water and part juice in place of the broth (which is what I do when making sweet ‘n’ sour sauce).

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  2. LeeB.

    I think if most of your ingredients are unprocessed, a few sauces and such that might be processed are okay. After all, we’re no longer in the olden days when people would go to fresh markets every day or even go out and hunt for food or get what we needed from our gardens.

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  3. CindyS

    It’s so funny that you posted about this now. I was watching some show where the person was saying that everyone should be eating lentils.

    Uh, okay.

    So I’m thinking about finding out about them. I hate brown beans, can eat kidney beans (but now I have to make chili without chili powder) and other than that, I don’t have a clue.

    Also, rice to me is not a side dish – I grew up on meat and potatoes so I would rather eat a potato over rice any day of the week.

    And thank you for mentioning just how hard it is to keep salad in the house. Since I don’t have a fondness for the grocery store, I won’t go there every other day. I can send Bob though ;)

    And sorry, I don’t have any lentil recipes.


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  4. LinnieGayl AAR Post author

    Cindy, glad I’m not the only one who feels that way about salads. I love them, but they’re a lot of bother.

    Well, I purchased some red lentils this morning, so will be trying them out later this week. We’ll see if they taste different.

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  5. Katja

    Hi Linnie

    The main difference between the different sorts of lentils isn’t really the taste (they’re all vaguely the same if you ask me) but the cooking time.

    As for lentil recipes, try to search for Indian recipes (those with lentils will probably have Dal somewhere in the name). There are loads of recipes for soups or curries.

    I also like (make that love actually) a lentil salad, for example with salmon tatar (raw marinated salmon) or with gratinated goats cheese or with bits of browned bacon or really just on it’s own.

    For a lentil salad, boil the lentils (without salt, that’s the most important thing to remember) until done (depends on the kind of lentils, the small red and black ones are done quickly, the bigger yellow one can take quite long and sometimes need to be watered over night first. What you want is soft but not mashed).
    In the mean time chop some onions, add some garlic (to taste really), and make a salad sauce (vinegraitte) from a good olive oil, some decent balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and perhaps add some honey and some mustard (not too hot) or even better honey mustard (if you should have it).
    Apply the vinaigrette to the still warm lentils, let them soak it up for a little while and then enjoy.
    Sorry, all the links I could post you would be in German and I don’t have time for translations right now.

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