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Comfort Food: Mid-Winter Edition

When the winter winds howl and you need at least three layers just to keep from shivering, and even your warmest boots aren’t keeping out the snow, you may find yourself craving a certain cozy comfort. But the recent holiday season with its sweets and rich, creamy dishes may have left you feeling over stuffed and needing a break from your favorite cheesy casseroles and mac and cheese variations.Well, there’s an alternative that offers winter satisfaction.

I don’t know what it is exactly, but I find this dish, which does not look exciting and involves no cheese at all, carries a very special kind of comfort and satisfaction. Like a favorite bathrobe you can snuggle into so you feel warm and homey.

What am I talking about? Rice and lentils.

Yes, this is a classic Middle Eastern dish, a well-known comfort food in certain circles, which goes by various names. And around this time of year I get a craving for it. If you’re looking for an alternative to casseroles and stews, try this.

I took this recipe at Everybody Likes Sandwiches as an inspiration, but not having any onions (shocking, I know) nor sweet potatoes or yams, and lacking the patience for caramelizing onions in any case,  I opted for rice and lentils with the addition of two plain old orange carrots.

Also used: curry powder (1 Tbsp), 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp garam malsa, 1 tsp or more cumin seeds.

I started with the cumin seeds, heating them in a heavy pot – Dutch oven actually – in hot oil for a bit, before adding the rinsed brown rice and lentils, basically  following the recipe as given, minus the onions and the cinnamon stick. I added the ground spices to the rice and lentils, and then poured about 4 cups of filtered water over everything, along with some concentrated chicken bouillon (the kind the comes in a jar as a sort of paste). You could leave out the chicken bouillon or use veggie stock instead.

Got it to a slight boil, then turned down the heat and let it simmer on low, covered for about 10 minutes. In the mean time, I roughly diced the carrots (bite-sized pieces, but not too small or thin). After about 15 minutes, I added the carrots, then  covered the pot again and let things simmer and mingle.

I stirred occasionally, and gave it about 40 to 45 minutes overall so that the rice would be fully cooked. You may have to add more water. I also stirred in some sherry, to keep things from drying out.

For the first dinner, I served this with a poached egg mixed in and some blue corn chips for added crunch. It makes a wonderful warming meal that helped me savor the cold outside because I was so warmed inside. Satisfaction in a bowl.

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