Red Lentils served with Rice

Learn from our Thrifty Parents, and Cook Lentils

Do you notice how some folks are just born frugal? They are naturals at saving money. They simply don’t like to spend it. I wish I had been born with that gift, but I wasn’t. I had to learn thrift!My Mom grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and that stayed with her for her entire life. In those days, they cooked extremely frugal meals with lots of potatoes. That’s how Mother learned to cook, so that’s what she made, even during the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. We could not get her to spend money on herself, and she would even deprive herself of things she could really afford. However, when my dad died unexpectedly in the mid 1960’s, with not much chance to build up a nest egg, my Mom, at that time 46 years old, had to start again from scratch. She went back to work, and even so late in life was able to buy a lovely home and pay for it all herself.

Mother loved that house, especially the quarter acre of back garden in which she could grow fresh vegetables for the table. The lessons of the Great Depression stayed with her, and she lived well, even when life was unkind.

Mother’s parents had begun their married life in 1920. After five years on the family potato farm in New Brunswick, they moved to the Niagara region and bought two undeveloped but very fertile acres with a run-down, dirt-floored house on it, which they spent years renovating. They planted orchards, berry bushes, and a vegetable garden, and kept the family going through the Great Depression. By putting foods by, my grandmother set a beautiful table even during the hard winters. They got through it with food to spare.

Living well is not about buying retail “stuff”, dining out, or having a lot of material goods. We really don’t need all that. What we really need is good, nutritious food, decent shelter, love in the family or community, and a solid spiritual life. All the rest we can piece together from the bits and scraps around us. Like a patchwork quilt, our lives are comprised of the small treasures that life offers, and from which our hands can make something beautiful, thanks be to God.

Today, our world is faced with a new hard times story. The economic upheaval of 2008 and following has been a call for us to learn to live more simply. Unfortunately, there are many people who have become the undeserving victims of our society’s excesses, and it seems that there will be more victims before the crisis ends. I cannot fix banks and companies. I know very little about commerce. But my family taught me a bit about getting by, and if that can help anyone, I am honoured to share my knowledge.

One of the cheapest, best foods anyone can have on hand is lentils. I like the big, green ones. They are full of protein and fibre, and a big, steaming bowlful is so comforting on a cold day.

Easy Green Lentil Dahl

2 cups big green lentils
4 – 5 cups water
1 tsp. turmeric
2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, minced
1 inch fresh ginger root, grated (or substitute 1 tsp. ground ginger)
2 tsp. garam-masala (available in Indian stores, or you can substitute ground cumin)
3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced (optional)

Place lentils, water, turmeric and salt into a heavy saucepan. Bring to boil on high heat. Reduce to med/low. Simmer 20-30 minutes until tender.

Heat skillet. Add oil. Add onions and ginger. Do not brown. Heat through until onions are soft and transparent. Mix with lentils. Simmer 5 more minutes.

Add garam-masala and cilantro. Serve hot with rice or fresh bread. Also makes a good cold lunch with bread and chutney. Keeps well.

Red or Yellow Lentil Dahl

1 cup split red, yellow, or mixed lentils
1 inch fresh ginger root, grated, or ¼ tsp ground ginger (the dry kind)
1 onion, diced
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced, or ¼ tsp garlic powder
3 tbsp. oil
1 ½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp black mustard seeds (optional)
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 tsp dried coriander
Pinch of dried chillies
3 Cups or more of water

Optional additions:
a few diced or canned tomatoes
1 or 2 chopped carrots.

Sauté garlic, onion and fresh ginger in oil. Add lentils and other ingredients; stir one minute. Add 3 cups of water and cook for ½ to one hour. Good with rice or bread.

You can experiment with this recipe, stripping it down to the essentials. It is still very good with only an onion, salt and pepper, turmeric and cumin, and if you have the garlic and a bit of fresh or dry ginger, great, but you can really get away with reducing this down to a few ingredients. As a day-before-payday meal option, this is very frugal and everyone loves it. You just have to make up some rice, potato or bread to make it a meal. If you have a green vegetable or a bit of salad to serve on the side, that would complete the meal nicely.