Christine Burns Rudalevige’s newly organized pantry at her home. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Spring cleaning is most cathartic, I find, when I tackle it like interval training, in short, intense spurts with a definite end in sight. If I spend more than an hour dealing with the cobwebs and dust bunnies hanging out in every corner of this old house, catharsis devolves quickly into a feeling of oppression. On a recent rainy afternoon, I worked to make my largest pantry cabinet neat, tidy and ready to accept a surge of summertime cooking staples like spare jars of capers and ketchup and an influx of DIY pickled vegetables and preserved fruit.

I stood on a chair to reorganize the shelf-stable foods pushed to the back of this cupboard – a very deep one whose bottom sits at my eye level (I’m 5-foot-10) and reaches up to the kitchen’s 10-foot ceiling – and to vacuum up the crumbs in the corners. I took stock of the stash that remained. I was sad not to find a jar of local plum tomatoes I hoped would be hidden in the back, as those are my favorites. I was pleased to see two jars each of raspberry-rhubarb jam and lemon fig preserves sitting there, though. And I was downright ashamed to find five nearly full jars of lentils, and piles and piles and piles of seaweed sitting there unused.

I’ve long touted these two ingredients as being central to a green eater’s diet. They are both crops that leave their environments better off for having spent time growing in them. Seaweed, which pulls greenhouse gasses from the seawater as it grows and thereby may help fight ocean acidification, deepens the flavor of many simmered dishes. And pulses, which naturally fix nitrogen in the soil in which they grow, can add unadulterated plant protein to any meal. Apparently, I need to do a better job following my own sustainable eating advice.

I blame my seaweed problem on the burgeoning seaweed market. Anytime I see a new company entering this market, I seek out their products. And as existing seaweed growers and gatherers introduce new products, I simply must try those, too. Rationalization or not, what I needed to solve my usage problem was a better seaweed storage system. I commandeered a spare pots and pans lid rack and used it to arrange my bags of kombu, dulse and nori. Now they stand up and can be seen better – and used more often.

My issue with pulses, I reasoned, is that they don’t go off. While they may fade and get drier as they sit (requiring a longer time to cook), both their flavor and their nutritional value remain intact over time. As it’s inefficient, both in terms of energy and time, to cook a small portion of lentils, I usually make a whole pot. Truth be told, though, I get really bored getting to the bottom of a pot of lentils. I crave variety in color, texture and flavor.

So I started experimenting with methods for cooking with a variety of lentils at the same time. While 12-bean soup is a delicious thing, a five-pulse mixture comprising yellow split peas, Puy and red lentils and urad and moong dal was an utter disaster (the last two types you can find at Indian grocers). The peas were teeth-breaking hard, while the red lentils completely dissolved into the liquid, which is OK for a soup, but not what I was looking for in a pot of legumes I could use in various ways throughout the week.

Since you add lentils to boiling water just as you do with pasta, I had better luck cooking them the way I do when faced with multiple open boxes of various pastas: add them to the pot in accordance with their cook times. Split lentils need only 5-7 minutes in a simmering pot of water or stock, while whole ones need 20-25 minutes. Split peas and whole peas and beans require 30 and 60 minutes, respectively. I lined my lentils up on the counter in order of longest to shortest cook time. In a pot, I brought four cups of stock seasoned with whole garlic cloves, bay leaves and a few strips of seaweed (of course!) to a boil. I added my whole moong beans first and let them simmer for 30 minutes before adding split yellow peas. Next, I added the Puy lentils and the Urad dal. Fifteen minutes later, my red lentils went in. After five minutes, I fished out a red lentil to test if for doneness. When they were ready, I drained the whole pot.

This pot of lentils was anything but boring! For future reference, I wrote the ideal cook time for each type of lentil on each jar’s label. And, in an attempt to set myself up for more sustainable eating success, I arranged the jars right next to my seaweed stash. I’ll keep you posted on how it works out.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Christine Burns Rudalevige uses pure lemon juice in her salad dressing. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Dressed Lentil Greek Salad
If I am going to eat this salad right after making it, I use baby spinach. If I make it as a contribution to a potluck, I use kale, which holds up better when dressed. The dressed lentils are also good on their own, so I suggest doubling the recipe for that component. Keep the dressed lentils in the fridge to serve with grilled vegetables for a cool meal on a hot summer’s night.

Serves 4

FOR THE SALAD:

½ medium red onion, thinly sliced

3 lightly packed cups chopped baby spinach or lacinato kale

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup pickled, sliced banana peppers

FOR THE DRESSED LENTILS:

2 cups warm, cooked lentils

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon tahini

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

To make the salad, place the sliced red onion in a bowl of cold water to soak for 30 minutes, then drain. In the meanwhile, in a medium serving bowl, combine the spinach, tomatoes and parsley. Scatter the drained onions, olives, feta and peppers over the top.

To make the dressed lentils, combine the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, vinegar, tahini, garlic, honey and oregano in a small bowl and whisk until blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the lentils to the dressing, stir to combine and let the mixture sit 10 minutes. Add the dressed lentils to the salad and toss well. Serve at room temperature.

Dressed Lentil Greek Salad. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


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