Food for What Ails Ya: Lentil Rissoles
Just like Anna Karenina’s unhappy families, everyone deals with illness in her or his own way.
The HH, for instance, when struck with a cold or flu, takes to his (ie, our) bed for two days or so. He doesn’t talk; he doesn’t watch TV; he doesn’t eat; he barely uses the bathroom. Then, after the magical 48-hour interval, he emerges from the room like someone who’s just attended a premiere screening of Star Wars: still a little dazed, eyes not quite yet adjusted to the light, but somehow energized and ready to get back into the regular world.
I, on the other hand, rarely if ever spend time in bed during the day (no, no, I didn’t mean it that way, silly! I’m talking about when I’m sick). Instead, I stumble about and manage to function at sub-optimal levels for as many days as it takes to recover. . . usually the better part of two weeks. Then, one day, I realize that the symptoms are gone–no more pile of soggy tissues beside the bed, no more abandoned cups of tea all over the house, no more tickle at the back of the throat, no more raw, throbbing red proboscis.
Similarly, I think that people who recuperate from illness crave unique foods as well.
When I was 16, I caught chicken pox from the CFO. (Believe me, chicken pox is intended as a childhood disease for a reason; what is usually mild and short-term discomfort for a ten year-old can progress to a full blown health crisis for a teen or adult). Besides the initial alarm and teenaged angst I felt during the first two days (when I assumed those little pustules were zits rather than pox), I also became incredibly enervated and developed a high (104F or 40C) fever before an insanity-inducing itch enveloped my entire body for about ten days. I recall spending hours hunched in the bathtub, attempting to submerge myself (face included) under the lukewarm water into which was dumped an entire box of baking soda. If it hadn’t been a drowning risk, I probably would have slept in that tub.
When I finally began to regain some strength, my mom asked what I wanted to eat.
“I think I’d like some. . . cottage cheese and canned pears.”
Cottage cheese? And canned pears?? Neither of these was a favored food; I almost never ate canned anything. Still, my body must have known what it needed. Perhaps there was sodium in the pears to replenish what I’d lost in bodily fluids by sweating so much. Or maybe my adolescent self still required some protein and calcium. Whatever the reason, it did the trick, and I began to get better.
This past week, as I finally emerged from the quagmire of a heinous virus (not swine flu, according to my doctor), I began to yearn for real food, something other than tea, or broth, or a healing smoothie.
“Ess goo suh-er” I said to the HH. (I lost my voice after the first few days, and it still hasn’t quite come back, unfortunately.)
“Huh?” the HH replied.
“Let’s cook supper,” I whispered. “How about lentil rissoles?”
“Huh?” the HH replied. (Oh, he had heard me this time; but he had no idea what a “rissole” was).
Like so many food bloggers, my favorite reading material when I have a few minutes of downtime is a good cookbook. In general, I flip through any new recipe book as soon as I get it home, marking favored recipes with tabs made from torn Post-It notes. Some books end up with just a few tabs, lonely markers like flags left behind on the surface of the moon, while others are graced with tabs on almost every page, leaving a fringe of sticky notes across the book’s edge.
This recipe for lentil rissoles is one I picked out over a year ago, when I first flipped through Homestyle Vegetarian, a great find at a bookstore remainder bin. Basically, a rissole is a patty or burger that’s been coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. I decided to nix the coating/frying and cook these up as a simple yet flavorful burger. Besides being delicious, these lovelies boast a full 24 grams of protein per serving (2 rissoles).
In about 30 minutes (by then I was too hungry to refrigerate them as directed before cooking–but I think it would have helped), we had a satisfying meal of rissoles and a simple green salad on the table. The end result was slightly disappointing in texture (probably my fault for not refrigerating them first), with a soft and moist interior much like refried beans. As a result, the patties tended to break up as I transferred them from pan to plate. (I’m guessing that a Tbsp/15 ml finely ground flax added to the raw mixture would help considerably, or substituting a glutenous rather than gluten-free bread for the crumbs). But the taste was outstanding.
Not at all spicy, with just a whisper of cumin, the burgers were toothsome and even meaty. While my habitual method with burgers is to blend everything to a homogenous smoothness, in this case I followed the original recipe and made patties with distinct chunks of carrot and whole peas, which provided bursts of slightly sweet, intense flavor in each bite. Beauty!
The HH proclaimed these a huge success and happily ate two. We had ours plain, but because of their mild flavor, I bet these would be stellar with a chutney or even a few slices of avocado and a dollop of salsa. Still, that’s just how I’d eat them. I imagine everyone else will deal with the burger in her or his own way, of course.
adapted from Homestyle Vegetarian
These patties are perfect for an everyday dinner, and would be wonderful jazzed up with an array of toppings and served in a toasted bun.
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp (10 ml) ground cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) ground coriander
2 cups (480 ml) vegetable broth or stock
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 cup (250 g) red lentils, picked over and washed
1-1/2 cups (120 g) fresh whole grain breadcrumbs (I used millet-quinoa bread, but I think a spelt or whole wheat would actually work better here)
2/3 cup (60 g) walnuts, finely chopped (I ground mine in the food processor)
1/2 cup (90 g) frozen peas
3 Tbsp (45 ml) chopped flat leaf parsley or cilantro
Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven. Cook the onion, garlic, cumin and coriander over medium heat for 2 minutes, or until the onion has softened. Stir in the carrot, lentils and broth. Slowly bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked and pulpy, stirring frequently to stop them from sticking and scorching. Remove the lid during the last 10 minutes to evaporate any remaining liquid. The mixture should be fairly mushy and there should be no liquid visible on the bottom of the pot after you run a spatula across it.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the breadcrumbs, walnuts, peas, and parsley. Form into eight 3-1/2 inch (8 cm) round rissoles. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until they are firm (this is the step I skipped–I would advise doing it).
Spray a nonstick frypan with olive oil spray and heat over medium heat. Cook the rissoles about 4 minutes on each side, until the outsides are browned and crispy and they are heated through. Makes 8 rissoles. May be frozen.
Last Year at this Time: Barley and Hazelnut Salad
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