I have started and re-started this blog 10 times. I want to write about how hard life is right now, how uncertain our future is, and how stressful it is to have someone’s life and education hinge on a stupid algorithm that you think is arcane and unfair. But it’s just going to come off as whiny. Oh poor me, my husband is about to become a doctor and I’m feeling stressy about it. Boo hoo.
But it’s gotten really tough in the Rivera household. Andy submitted his match list last week and shit got real. It’s been all about hope and dreams until this point, but now it’s about waiting, and stressing, and worrying. We go over and over in the same conversations about whether he made the right decision and how it will all turn out. We have B, C, and D alternate plans. It’s too complicated an emotion to explain in a blog post, but it’s a physical pressure in my chest. I worry uncontrollably about our future. If Andy will match, where we will end up, if I’ll get a job, can I get another dog?
So I cook. And cook, and cook, and cook. Cooking is easy, and comforting, and everything usually comes out right. There aren’t any questions or worries. You season with enough salt and don’t char anything too badly and it’ll come out all right. I made yeasted waffles the other night. With 6 cups of flour and 6 eggs. That’s enough waffles to feed a prison population. Thankfully waffles freeze well. I wish all of my compulsions froze well.
Last night I needed something easy and comforting – something that wasn’t waffles. My cousin had sent me this recipe from the New York Times for lentils and rice with crispy leeks. I like lentils a lot. They feel so healthful. Like eating lots of tiny vitamin pills. They are also delicious, and a good conduit for one my favorite spice combination: allspice, cumin, and cinnamon.
This recipe is an absolute cinch. I, of course, made some changes. The original recipe called for cooking the entire meal in one pot, but I wanted to fry my leeks separately. I don’t do the dishes, so I’m usually pretty unconcerned about how many pots and pans I use. I fried the shallots in a 2-quart saucepan instead of my braiser for a quicker frying time and less oil.
I also added some fennel, because around this time of year I get absolutely obsessed with fennel. There is something about the crisp, anise flavor that really speaks to me in the winter months. Some cut up apples and fennel and I am in absolute heaven. The fennel mellows out beautifully, and you don’t get that sharp licorice flavor, but instead a deep earthy tone, that pairs symbiotically with the allspice and cinnamon. The recipe would be just as good without it, but I’d suggest it.
Mujadara with Crispy Leeks and Spring Greens
Adapted from the New York Times
- 1 cup brown or green lentils
- 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, roots trimmed
- 2 1/4 teaspoons salt, more as needed
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3/4 cup long-grain rice
- 1/2 a bulb of fennel, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cups trimmed and chopped spring greens (I used spinach)
Add lentils to a bowl and cover with water. Allow to soak for 10 minutes.
Slice open the leeks lengthwise and run under the kitchen faucet to rinse away any dirt or grit. Slice thinly. If your leeks are very dirty, you can slice thinly and place in a bowl of water, swishing them around a few times and then lifting them out, leaving all the grit at the bottom of the bowl.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crispy, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer half the leeks to a bowl to use for garnish and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Season with salt immediately.
Stir in fennel and cook until softened. Add the garlic into the pot with the remaining leeks and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant. Stir in rice and sauté 2 minutes. Stir in cumin, allspice and cayenne; sauté 30 seconds allowing the spices to bloom.
Drain lentils and stir into pot. Add 4 1/4 cups water, 2 teaspoons salt, bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Spread spring greens over the lentil mixture. Cover and cook 5 minutes more, until rice and lentils are tender and greens are wilted. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Serve sprinkled with reserved crispy leeks.