There’s something about making lentils that always makes me feel I’m doing the right thing. They’re inexpesive, so I’m being resourceful. They’re healthy, so I’m eating smart. They’re a simple, whole food, so I’m making something from scratch. They’re boring and bland, so they call upon my kitchen creativity. And they remind me of my parents, grandparents, and every peasant before them who’s soaked a stale heel of bread in their soup. So much is accomplished through one little legume.
Oh, the irony. If my four-year-old self knew that I’d one day write an ode to lentils, she’d kick my ass. And she’d probably win. I despised lentils more than anything growing up. They’re the only food with which I managed to beat my mom in the “you’re not leaving this table until you finish that” game. I once spent an entire evening staring at a bowl of cold lentil soup, giving my mom the stink eye as she washed dishes. I remained at the table hours after everyone finished dinner, determined not to let the evil bean win. If I did, she’d make me eat them all the time! I considered myself a pretty flexible kid, but I drew the line with lentils. I just shut down and readied myself for a night at the kitchen table.
A hard film formed on the surface after the first hour. Orange bits of carrot squares peered at me through the greenish brown bog. I couldn’t imagine how my brothers could love this stuff so much. It reminded me of a toilet bowl after a long night with food poisoning. It was by far the most offensive thing I’d ever been asked to eat. Give me pigs’ feet, lamb brains, or calf livers any day. But the lentils had to go.
My mom did well, though. I see now how conflicted a mother must feel in that situation. If you give the kid her way, you’re teaching her she can get whatever she wants if she pouts long enough. You’re tired, it’s been a long day, and you really don’t want to spend your night in a staring contest with your four-year-old. But she’s not giving up. And really, at this point, are you going to force crusty, cold soup on her? It’s not about the lentils anymore, but still, this is getting old.
After a solid two-hour battle, she grabbed the plate and tossed its shriveled contents in the trash. We didn’t look at each other. She just said “go,” and I slithered out of my seat. I was relieved, but scared that I’d taken it too far. I’d picked my side and was dedicated to it, but I didn’t think it would be an all-out war. I left the table with a heavy heart, wondering if it was worth making my mom so mad. I never complained about lentils again. She never forced them on me again. I just ate them quietly when they’d come up in the dinner rotation, and I think she gave me a smaller portion each time.
Twenty-five years later, and I’m actually eating them voluntarily. Making up recipes, even! Who would have thought. Joe inspired this lentil egg salad this week, as we’re challenging ourselves to eat through whatever’s in the fridge, even if we think there’s nothing to eat. Thankfully, there’s always something to eat.
Lentil Egg Salad
1 pound dried lentils
½ bunch of parsley, chopped
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
dried oregano, to taste
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
Boil the lentils over medium heat until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Don’t let them get mushy as you would for a soup. Drain and rinse with cold water.
Add the parsley, eggs, and onions. Season with oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, and red pepper flakes until you like it. The vinegar gives this salad a nice bite that you don’t normally get in lentil dishes.