The Vittles of Shame

It is only within certain specific parameters that the following recipe can exist.

First, my life is not like yours.
I submit the entirety of this blog as evidence hereto.

Secondly, my kitchen is not like yours.
I live alone.  I cook constantly.  My counter space is limited, and I have, without making too much of the point, a fractured relationship with many demands of adulthood. Specifically, I mean domestic responsibilities up to and including dishwashing.

Most critically, my food truck is not like yours.

Ostensibly it is tied to some catering outfit cloaked in our city’s demi-monde, showing up each day at 11:45 to hawk sandwiches and pizza slices and institutionally produced pies to those without taste buds or adequate foresight. Indistinguishable patties of meat seem to have languished under a steam table in some pit too dark for Mr. Maillard, commingled with a warm bread product and then shrinkwrapped when still warm – which means that, due to condensation, everything is simultaneously bone dry and unpalatably soggy.

This truck does not represents an accountant’s mid-life crisis and second mortgage. It is not someone’s Gyro/Burger/warming winter drink/Sichuan-themed Offal Truck Dream come to life.  (“Instant Schwarma,” “Whose Your Patty,” “Our Toddies Ourselves,” or “Toung Fu,” respectively)

Rather, it is the gastronomic ferry used to convey dead souls across the river Styx.  And there is no walk of shame quite like Soggy Sandwich and Funyuns walk of Shame.

Which means that most of the time I’ll have lunch packed

This is not a problem early in the week when I typically have leftover chicken and ciabatta from my highly ritualized Sunday.  But when the saucepan piles into the wok and into the bread rising bowl and into the sink and dishes begin to drown out all available space – I reach a point where something has to give.    And for the tenderest of mercies, my snobbery often overpowers my laziness and I confront the fact that I absolutely have to face a sinkful of dishes. Which means I’ll try to cook dinner as I wash.

I make this stew spur of the moment, on weeknights when I have no option but to hover over my sink for 90 minutes doing dishes.  There is a rhythm to this stew that I appreciate, not to mention that it’s delicious and inexpensive.

The recipe uses a method I learned from a Rick Bayless cookbook. Instead of adding stew ingredients to a single pot, this stew uses two vessels – a pot for the simmering beans, and a “building vessel,” typically the cast-iron skillet that sits on my burner at all times, which maximizes the flavor potential of each individual component before being added to the beans.

The specific ingredients here can vary, depending on the typical contents of your pantry.  Enterprising readers will notice that the picture below deviates slightly from the text.  My recipe below takes advantage of stuff I just happen to always keep around.

I am doing my dishes Lentil Stew.

1 1/2 Cups Green Lentils (Dry)
8 ounces of pork shoulder, cubed and salted.
4 Cups Chicken or Vegetable Broth
1 Medium Onion, roughly chopped
2 or more cloves of garlic, chopped
1 standard supermarket can of whole tomatoes
1 yellow zucchini squash – chopped into several large chunks
1 green  zucchini squash – (as above)
1 red pepper or 1 green pepper – (as above)
1-3 teaspoons of “seasoning.”  I typically use a heavy pinch of smoked chipotle powder/cayenne/pimenton
salt and pepper to taste
Green Onion for garnish.  You gotta garnish.

Place your soup vessel over high heat and bring the broth to a boil.  Add the lentils, and stir gently until the water reaches a boil again.  Reduce the heat to a simmer – about the point where the water is still bubbling constantly.

Cook for about 20 minutes.   Add water or broth if you need to.

Twenty minutes in, place a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium/high heat.  Add the pork pieces, stirring occasionally, until browned.  Add to the bean pot, along with the garlic.  (I realize that it’s counterthematic here but in this case I don’t sear the garlic b/c I don’t want it to burn)

Brown the onions in the skillet, as in, one step beyond “sweating.”  Into the bean pot.

Repeat with the squash and pepper.  Allow the edges to caramelize.  Into the pot.

If you’re using fresh tomatoes, add the chopped tomato solids to the skillet.  They won’t necessarily char, but the flavor will concentrate considerably.  Just stir for a minute or two.   Into the pot.

Add your seasoning and taste.   Adjust as needed.

Continue cooking until the beans taste “done.” They should still hold together but offer no resistance or chalkiness when you bite it.

Garnish tastefully.

And, of course, save the leftovers.  Make this stew on a Wednesday evening and lunch is set for the rest of the week.

6 thoughts on “The Vittles of Shame

  1. Lentil Stew….one of my all time favorites and completely versatile. Can’t wait to try your version. In foresight, your soup is probably way more satisfying than that “walk-of-shame” soggy sandwich you speak of.

    I’ve been using varying vegetables and spices in my pantry to pull together a mexican/taco/spicy/bean soup each week to pair with my own weekend ritualized bread for my daily lunch (the cooks for the employee cafe enjoy using a lot of beef and mushrooms ..]= ). It’s hard to wiggle prep time into adulthood schedules…but in the end it’s worth it!


  2. Hey Stephanie, thanks for your comment.

    Finding prep time is always my challenge. Typically when I think of dinner I’m always thinking about leftovers for the following lunch, but sometimes it’s just not possible and I have to straight-up make a lunch, which can be tricky after the bread/chicken runs out!

    Also, I really like mushrooms in Lentil soup. I might use a beef broth rather than chicken/veggie, but I like.

    Talk soon!

  3. dear sweet Jeff, you’ve updated! :) based on your pic i think i know, but just in case, are your lentils dry or pre-soaked? i typically soak my lentils for 24 hours and even then i have to cook them for a good amount of time before they are palatable. you don’t mention this step….

    • Thank you, Lan, I should have specified dry lentils. I clarified above.

      Your patience, as always, means a lot. Much to tell. :)

  4. Summer soup is the best kind. I have yet to foray into the world of lentils. Perhaps you are the mage of the legumes?

    • Mage? Hardly. More like Necromancer, animating lifeless little stones into lively creatures which do my bidding.