Monday, July 20, 2009

Lentejitas para Carlitos

I had never heard of International Friends Day until last year, when my sister and I were wandering past shop windows in Buenos Aires and noticed flyer after flyer advertising candy-colored shiny mates and special dinner menus for "El Día Internacional del Amigo." We asked our Argentine Spanish teacher what on earth they might be referring to- more baffled by the supposed internationality of the day than the concept of a "Friends Day," which actually sounded kind of nice.

"On International Friends Day you go out with your friends to eat, or you have a barbecue," he told us, "it´s just a day to be with and appreciate your friends." Sounds good. And why on this day specifically? What makes it international? "Yeah, I´m pretty sure we only have it in Argentina. But it´s on July 20th because that´s the day the first man walked on the moon." Does that clear everything up for you? Yeah, it cleared everything up for us too.

And this evening I was on the bus and a sixty-year-old white-haired man wearing a houndstooth jacket sat next to me and began to go through his address book, calling his friends to wish them a happy friends´day and send them hugs and kisses (very Argentine and not as weird as it sounds; "un beso, chau" is a typical sign off from a telephone conversation.)

But still. How can a country be so confusing and at the same time so endearing?

A couple of months ago, after returning to the U.S. and then coming back to Argentina I was homeless and searching for a house, during which time some lovely Colombian friends of mine put me up. One day while I was staying with them I made lentils, which is a very typical food for Colombians, but they eat them hot and almost soup-like, flavored with tomato and onion, and cooked until quite mushy. I made mine more like a traditional French lentil salad, the lentils retaining their shape, and a vinaigrette poured over at the end.

At any rate, the lentils were a big hit with my friend Carlos, who asked me to show him how I made them sometime. This was actually quite an achievement of sorts because Carlos makes a grand total of two meals for himself: vegetable-beef stir-fry, eaten with rice, and pasta with bolognese sauce. He alternates day by day, and has been following this routine for over a year. Occaisonally-- very occasionally-- Colombian-style lentils are seen as well. I told him of course I´d show him and that it was really very simple, but we never got around to it while I still lived there. And now that I don´t live there, I hear of his daily aspirations around lunch time, "Hoy quiero hacer algo diferente, sabes, estaba pensando en hacer las lentejas de Eva" (Today I want to make something different, you know, I was thinking about making Eva´s lentils), and the subsequent discovery, at lunch time, that Carlos has made...vegetable-beef stir fry!

Therefore as a nod to International Friends Day, though it may not actually be international (though it is celebrated in some form in several other countries), an American dedicates a French-inspired recipe to a Colombian on this Argentine holiday. Carlitos, esta receta es para ti, que de pronto llegues a hacertelas un dia. (Carlitos, this recipe is for you, so that maybe you might actually end up making them for yourself one day.)

For reasons of location, i.e. Argentina has limited and/or expensive options for ingredients that I formerly thought of as commonplace and relatively inexpensive, I´ve learned to adjust the recipe so that it tastes right to me without having to search out ridiculously expensive mustard (though I really do love Maille) in Carrefour.

Lentil Salad

1 c. lentils

1 bay leaf

thyme, fresh or dried


1 tbsp. olive oil

1 med. onion, finely diced

1 carrot, half a fennel bulb, or both, finely diced

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. dijon mustard (optional)

3-4 tbsp. good olive oil

1 shallot or 1 clove garlic, finely chopped

freshly ground black pepper

- a handful of chopped parsley goes well if you use the carrot

Rinse the lentils and put them in a pot with water covering them by a good 3 inches. Bring to a boil and skim off the dirty looking foam that starts to collect in the center with a spoon. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the bay leaf, a pinch of salt, and a couple of branches of fresh thyme or two pinches of dried thyme. Simmer for around 25 min., until tender but not falling apart, adding more water if needed.

Meanwhile saute the onion and carrot/fennel over med-low heat in the 1 tbsp. of oil, sprinkling them with a bit of salt and pepper, until soft. Remove from heat.

When the lentils are done, drain them and remove the bay leaf. Pour them into the skillet with the cooked onion, or combine the onion and the lentils in the receptacle you plan on serving them out of.

Mix the shallot, vinegar, mustard, and a pinch of salt. Whisk in the olive oil, and pour the whole thing over the lentils while they´re still warm. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper, and add parsley if desired.

When my sister was here with me we ate a lot of lentils (actually that´s not much of an excuse, I always eat a lot of lentils, because I love them, and because well, 70 cents a pound, anyone?); she beforehand had more or less refused to eat them but learned very quickly that lentil salad and goat cheese are amazing together, and even more so if you throw in some marinated red peppers and eat them bruschetta-style on slices of mini-baguettes.

The Elena variation:

2 red bell peppers

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (our family likes garlic; this can be halved if you prefer not to have vampire-killing breath after lunch)

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 tbsp. olive oil


soft fresh goat cheese (chevre)

Before starting the lentils, roast peppers over a flame, or halve, de-seed, and de-vein them and stick them under a broiler or in a very hot oven until well charred. Throw them into a plastic or paper bag and close the bag, allowing the peppers to steam their skins off. After 15 min., or when you have a minute free and the peppers are already cool, peel off the skins (don´t run the peppers under water as you´re rinsing off flavor), de-seed and de-vein them if you haven´t already, and slice them into long strips. Combine the peppers with the vinegar, oil, garlic, and a big pinch of salt. Taste and add more salt and vinegar to taste. Let marinate for as long as you have (anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours.) When the lentils are ready to eat, retrieve your pepper slices, dice them, and mix them into the lentils. Add a bunch of crumbled goat cheese on top, and eat accompanied by or on top of French or sourdough bread.

Lentejitas para Carlitos

(Ensalada de Lentejas, o Lentejas Secas)

1 taza de lentejas

1 hoja de laurel

tomillo, fresco o seco


1 cucharada de aciete de oliva

1 cebolla, picada chiquita

1 zanahoria, o medio hinojo, o ambos, picados chiquitos

1 cucharada de vinagre de vino tinto

1/2 cucharita de mostaza (opcional)

3-4 cucharadas de aceite de oliva de buena calidad

1 chalote o 1 diente de ajo, bien picadito

pimienta, recien molida (lo que venden en saquitos tiene un sabor diferente; la dejaria afuera si solo tienes esta)

- un puñado de perejil picado combina bien aca si usas la zanahoria

Lava las lentejas y ponelas en una olla con agua para cubrir por 7 cm. Hiervelas y saca la espuma mugrosa que acumula en el centro con una cuchara. Baja el fuego a un fuego lento y echa la hoja de laurel, una pizca de sal, y unas ramas de tomillo fresco o 2 pizcas de tomillo seco. Cocinalo por 25 minutos, hasta que esten en su punto pero no desbaratando, añadando mas agua si se necesita. Mientras tanto saltea la cebolla y la zanahoria/hinojo con fuego medio-bajo con la una cucharada de aceite, salpicandolas con un poquito de sal y pimienta, hasta que se ablanden. Quitalas del fuego. Cuando las lentejas esten listas, escurrilas y saca la hoja de laurel. Echalas en el sarten con la cebolla cocida, o mezcla la cebolla y las lentejas en el receptaculo de donde quieres servirlas. Mezcla el chalote, el vinagre, la mostaza, y una pizca de sal. Añade el aceite y batela, y echa todo a las lentejas mientras estan todavia calienticas. Pruebalas para ver si necesiten mas sal y pimienta, y echa perejil si quieres.

La variacion de Elena:

2 pimentones/morrones

2 dientes de ajo, bien picado (en mi familia nos gusta el ajo; puedes usar solo un diente si prefieres que no tengas el aliento listo para matar a los vampiros)

2 cucharadas de vinagre de vino tinto

1 cucharada de aceite de oliva


queso de cabra fresco (que casi no hay en Buenos Aires a menos que quieras comprarlo en el Carrefour y pagar 20 pesos)

Antes de empezar las lentejas, asar los morrones encima de un fuego, o partelos y quitales las semillas y las venas y metelas debajo de una parrilla o en un horno muy caliente hasta que esten bien asados (y se vean carbonizados.) Metelos en una bolsa de plastico o de papel y cierrala, dejando los morrones a hervirse para quitarlos las cascaras. Despues de 15 minutos, o cuando tienes un momento libre y ya estan frescos, quita las cascaras (no metas los morrones en agua porque eso los quita sabor), quitales las semillas y las venas si ya no lo habias hecho, y cortalos en tajadas largas. Coloca los morrones con el vinagre, el aceite de oliva, el ajo, y dos pizcas de sal. Fijate si hace falta mas de sal y vinagre. Dejalo marinar por cualquier tiempo que tenga (entre 10 minutos a unas horas o mas, pero el sabor del ajo aumenta con tiempo.) Cuando las lentejas esten listas a comer, saca los morrones del adobo, cortalos en cuadritos y mezclalos con las lentejas. Añade el queso de cabra desmenuzado encima, y cometelo con o encima de pan frances, como si fuera bruschetta.

1 comment:

  1. mmmmmmmm deliciosas variaciones de lentejas de parte de la familia Siegel!!!!
    lentejas especiales para gente unica(Carlitos), ademas como le gustan a el, ricas, faciles y economicas, que mas se puede pedir no???
    o como decimos en Colombia
    gracias a las sisters Siegel por darnos una muy buena receta para a nuestra dieta basica en Buenos Aires ¡¡¡lentejas!!!
    gracias omeeeee.