Cheesy Spinach-Lentil Casserole is a healthy one-pan meal
Peggy Lampman | Contributor
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Whew — limped over the 2012 finish line without permanent injury, but I can do better than a stagger. It’s a New Year; time to straighten up, return to the gym, and put a bounce back into my step — a sway into my swagger.
How about you? Have you made any exercise or weight-loss resolutions? Not buttering your Cinnabon in the morning’s a start — or consider adding a two-pound weight to your evening cocktail ritual. Here’s how it works: Every night increase your cocktail curls by three, alternating arms; watch those biceps bulge in two short weeks.
You see, resolutions don’t have to be painful. And the following healthy, vegetarian recipe is no exception. A meal of lentils, rice and spinach slathered in sharp melted cheddar will power your pistons, provides great leftovers and — New Year’s bonus — does not involve messing up more than one pan.
The dish was adapted from a recipe in Molly Katzen’s fabled “Moosewood Cookbook”, which was the first cookbook I’d ever purchased after graduating from college in the late seventies. This cookbook, published in 1977, was inspired by the Moosewood Restaurant collective she helped create near Cornell and Ithaca College.
The ingredients in Ms. Katzen’s spinach and lentil casserole are similar to those in the recipe below, but to further simplify the dish, I used only one dish instead of three. I found another recipe onine that simply combines and tosses uncooked lentils, rice, stock and chopped onions, bakes it in a dish, then tops it with cheese. It’s a bit lackluster for my palate, but incorporating some of Ms. Katzen’s recipe ingredients elevates it to a new plateau.
In that era, I’d just moved to New York City and landed my first (non-service industry) job. Though surrounded by tempting restaurants and delis at every turn, my beleaguered budget could only afford cooking variations of legumes and grains from scratch. My Manhattan kitchen was hardly bigger than a shoebox, and this vegetarian cookbook was an excellent way to maintain healthy eating habits while living on a shoestring. If 1978 had a flavor profile, for me, it was tamari, sunflower seeds and lentils.
In today’s fiscally uncertain environment, with a population of Americans confused about culinary basics and conflicting dietary rhetoric, a revisit to cookbooks such as this is a refreshing, tantalizing option. Since the seventies, Katzan has streamlined the popular “Moosewood Cookbook” classic, morphing it into the “New Moosewood Cookbook”, incorporating simpler cooking techniques and fewer ingredients, reducing egg and cheese, and using less fat in general.
I think the old and new Moosewoods should be enjoyed in tandem, as the some of the changes caused mild dissension among her followers, including myself. It’s as if imagining — back in the eighties — the late, great Jerry Garcia lost 50 pounds, buffed up and shaved his head; I’d still love him and would appreciate his commitment to better health, but I’d have missed the old Jerry — as, sigh, I do today.
Yield: 6-8 servings
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Bake Time: Approx. 1 hour, 40 minutes
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup brown lentils
1/2 cup uncooked long grain brown rice*
1 cup chopped onion or leek
3 teaspoons fresh minced garlic
1 (1 pound bag) frozen spinach, thawed, all water wrung out
2 teaspoons dry basil
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 eggs, well beaten
2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
*It is important NOT to use a quick-cook brown rice; the uncooked rice should require at least 45 minutes of cooking time.
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. In a (3 quart, 9x13-inch) baking dish, combine stock, lentils, rice, leeks or onions and garlic. Stir and cover tightly with foil. On center rack of oven, bake 1 hour and 10 minutes.
3. Remove foil, stir in spinach, basil, olive oil, if using, and 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce. Season to taste with additional tamari and freshly ground pepper. Stir in beaten egg and combine well with spinach-lentil mixture. With a spoon or spatula, flatten casserole and wipe exposed edges of dish. Combine cheese and sunflower seeds and evenly spread over casserole. Return to oven and bake an additional 30-35 minutes, or until cheese is golden.
4. Let rest 10 minutes, then cut into portions and serve.
Peggy Lampman is a real-time food writer and photographer posting daily feeds on her website and in the Food & Grocery section of Annarbor.com. You may also e-mail her at email@example.com.