Autumn 🍁 is finally in the air in Los Angeles. All and all, we had a pretty mild summer. The real heat in LA comes in September and we did have two week-long 🌆 heat waves with temperatures of 90-100℉ (32-38℃). It’s still a bit hot during the day, but the nights 🌙 are getting cooler, with beautiful, just-right evenings.
We can all feel the changes in LA’s climate from just 10 years ago. The drought here in California continues and people are pulling out lawns and planting 🌱 water-saving California native plants. We’ve pretty much switched to natives for any shrubs and hearty perennials, but we still plant colorful annuals, fresh vegetables 🍅 and herbs 🌿.
Elsewhere in weather news, while Hurricane Ian has made the world-wide news, my family’s home town in Italy 🇮🇹 (Senigallia, Marche) has been slammed by freak storms🌪. The normal trickle of the Misa river was turned into a raging torrent by an unexpected, freak downpour; much of the downtown area that straddles the river was flooded. The same river flooded badly in 1976 and people are pretty upset that nothing was done to improve flood control. A lot of businesses and homes got flooded and at least 10 people were killed. Italians don’t seem to have any doubt that serious climate changes are happening in their country.
But the people of Senigallia are a very stubborn, hard-working bunch of people (as our friend and cousin Tizi says). People in the town were out in force helping to clean up homes and the town streets. It was very gratifying to see Facebook filled with pictures of neighbors helping neighbors.
But while we haven’t had to endure flooding or other natural disasters here in LA (yet! – LA always seems to get destroyed in disaster movies – along with Paris), the near-constant sunny weather doesn’t fool us: Autumn 🍂 on its way. It feels like time to start cooking hearty soups and stews for colder nights. Just the sun going down earlier is putting me in the mood. Unfortunately, sometimes this kind of food can be a gut bomb, so finding lighter food for my autumn mood is my preference. Enter lentils. These little legumes are very versatile: they can be used for standalone dishes or to add an additional pop to salads, eggs and soups. They are also high in fiber, to help keep your G.I. tract nice and happy.
Stewed lentils are a very simple dish to prepare. You can serve them as a side dish or along with a green salad for a light meal. Because lentils are the star, it’s important to buy good-quality lentils. I’ve read reports that typical supermarket dried beans have been on the shelf for an average of 5 years (!), so I look elsewhere when I’m after all types of dried beans. My current go-to source is Timeless Natural Foods. You can find them on Amazon, or for bigger sizes and better prices, shop at the Timeless website. I recommend “French-style” or Puy lentils for this dish because they won’t fall apart when cooked (regular brown lentils will fall apart but they are perfect for lentil soup).
So cook up some delicious lentils this coming week and have yourself a comforting autumn meal.
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 1 small onion, peeled and diced
- 1 cup dried French/Puy lentils
- 1 glass of wine, red or white, whatever you might have open
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- 4 or so sprigs of fresh herbs of your choice such as parsley and thyme, tied together with string
- 1 bay leaf, dried or fresh
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Heat a medium-sized, heavy-bottom pot over medium heat. Add 2 or so tbsps of olive oil. Add the diced carrot, celery and onion. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and stir. Cook until the vegetables are soft and translucent. It can help to cover the pot with a lid to “sweat” the vegetables.
- Add the dry lentils and stir into the vegetables. Add the wine and stir again. Cook until ½ the wine has evaporated.
- Add the tomato sauce and enough water to cover the lentils. Add the herbs and bay leaf.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
- Cover and cook until the lentils are tender with just the tiniest bit of crunch: usually about an hour. Check and stir the lentils several times during the cooking process. Add more water as needed.
- When the lentils are cooked, but very slightly al dente, remove the lid and raise the heat to evaporate any excess cooking liquid.
- Remove the herbs and bay leaf. Taste and adjust the salt and add some ground pepper.
- Serve with a slotted spoon and enjoy with toasted bread.