When I first went to Spain, I really had no idea what Spanish food was like. Sure, I’d read about jamón and tortilla de patata, but I had much more experience with Mexican food. In case you didn’t know (or live in another country), Mexican food (or at least our Americanized version of it) is quite popular here – it seems as though every small town has its own Mexican restaurant. At least one.
In 2008, while studying in Toledo, I didn’t have that many homemade Spanish dishes. Sure, I ate in our school cafeteria, but the most popular foods there were paella, tortilla, and bread with olive oil. Good stuff to be sure, but I never had what would soon come to be one of my favorite Spanish dishes – lentejas.
Lentejas means “lentils.” But as a dish, it’s more like “lentil stew.” I know, I know, it doesn’t sound super appetizing. But believe me, it is. Especially if made by a certain Spanish lady with a knack for cooking (yes, Mario’s mother). It doesn’t even look that great. But appearances can be deceiving.
A nice bowl of lentejas (served as a primer plato almost always) is a warm, comforting dish to eat during the winter. (Heck, I’d eat even in the boiling hot Spanish summer.) Like any dish that originated in the kitchens of yesteryear, it varies from home to home. I emailed Mario’s mother, Pepita, to ask her how hers are made. This is her reply:
Se ponen en remojo unas horas antes (8 horas, aproximadamente). Cuando se pongan a hervir se retira esta agua y se lavan un poco. Se parte zanahoria, puerro o cebolla (pueden ser las dos a la vez).
Las cantidades dependen del tamaño y de la cantidad de lentejas. O sea, según veas.
Se ponen en una cazuela a hervir todos los ingredientes citados, las lentejas y se le añade una hoja de laurel, un diente de ajo entero, un chorro de aceite, sal y un poquito de pimentón. Es opcional ponerle un trozo de chorizo, o de costillas de cerdo…
Y cuando estén cocidas… se apaga, y ¡a comer!.
Soak the lentils for a few hours (approximately 8). When it’s time to cook them, remove the excess water and rinse the lentils. Chop up some carrots and leeks/onions (or both at once, if you like). The amount of carrots and leeks/onions depends on the amount of lentils and the size of the vegetables. That is, however you like them.
Put all the above ingredients into a pot to boil. Add a bay leaf, a whole clove of garlic, a splash of olive oil, and a dash of paprika. You can also add some chorizo or even pork chops.
And when they’re done cooking…it’s time to eat!
It’s just too bad that, unlike any good Spanish cook, I don’t have a Thermomix (pronounced “ter-moh-miiiix”).