Choose your own cooking adventure.

It was a cold and snowy day (yes, in Memphis)…

… and I found the green lentils.

But first, a story:

When my son was nine or ten he went deep into the Dragonology world of books, puzzles, and games. He and a friend started a Dragonology club (a detail he’ll likely fuss at me for sharing), and they met at the library, in the stained glass house in the children’s section, on Sunday afternoons for a few weeks until they outgrew the idea.

His favorite of all the Dragonology elements were the Pocket Adventures, a 4-book series of very short tales, written in the “choose your own adventure” format. We still talk about those books now, more than a decade later.

Now, I’m no expert in either parenting or psychology (or cooking either, for that matter), so take this next part for what it’s worth: I believe “choose your own adventure” stories are grossly underutilized, for children and adults alike. This time we’re living through would be a great time for them to make a roaring comeback.

Aside from a handful of immutable laws of nature (gravity, for example), very few absolutes restrict human behavior. Our entire lives are instead a matter of internal choice and external consequence, over and over again. We choose our own adventures, if often unconsciously, all day, every day.

With each choice, particularly with conscious, intentional choices, comes an opportunity to learn and grow, paired with an opportunity to think about how our individual choices affect people around us. Acknowledging privilege, and what does or doesn’t accompany it, is a factor in the mix, and that acknowledgment is also a choice.

Accepting that life is made up of choices and consequences and practicing the skill of choosing in a safe environment (children’s books) could go a long way toward re-building critical thinking skills, no?

That’s a lot to lay on four little Dragonology books, I realize. So I’ll just leave that thought hanging there, and get back to the lentils. You’ll see, soon, how the two things connect.

I found the green lentils (see yesterday’s post if the reference is lost on you), but on this cold and snowy day (even in Memphis, because climate change is real), I’m going to use them not for simple country lentils but instead in an effort to recreate something I made a few weeks ago (theme of the moment, that).

What I had in mind, a few weeks ago, was something that would match these keywords: lentils, farro, hearty salad.

What I found, when I ran that search string, included these two suggestions:

Charlie Bird’s Farro Salad (link is to Ina Garten’s version, on food network, but there’s also a Melissa Clark version on NYT Cooking)

Ali Slagle’s Farro and Lentils with Jammy Onions (NYT Cooking)

There were others, of course; but these two (the second one in particular) were the ones that struck my fancy. With these recipes as guidelines, I improvised. The result was good enough that I scribbled down my own “recipe” and tucked it into my cooking journal.

Today when I found the lentils, I remembered that I’d written these notes and also that I intended to share them here. When I pulled the ancient (32 years and still going) journal from the shelf, another scrap of paper that had been stuck to the back of the shelf popped out with it.

That scrap of paper was one of the drawings my son did when he was designing the Dragonology club membership certificate, back when he was in 4th grade. No, I’m not sharing a photo of it. That one is my private treasure.

But seeing that drawing reminded me of snuggling up with him at night to read Pocket Adventures and decide what would happen in the story of The Iceland Wyrm.

And I laughed, because “choose your own adventure” really should be the title I write on that ancient, falling-apart cooking journal, shouldn’t it?

Choose your own “eat less meat” adventure.

Choose your own “eat more plants and fiber” adventure.

Choose your own “make enough food to share” adventure.

Choose your own “let’s play with chocolate” adventure.

January cooking (and eating) needn’t be boring and certainly not punitive, even (and perhaps especially so) if the body is asking for something other than buttery shortbread and holiday casseroles.

Your cooking is your adventure. Choose wisely, but not so wisely that the spirit of the exploration and discovery disappears.

Stay warm.

See you tomorrow?

Green Lentils & Farro with Creamy Onion Drizzle

Ingredients:

¾ – 1 cup green lentils
¾ – 1 cup farro
1 large yellow onion
1 (fat) garlic clove, minced/pressed
1 lemon, juiced (and maybe zested – to stir in at the end?)
3-4 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
2 T (ish) butter
¼ c (ish) heavy cream
Parsley (dried and/or fresh – see notes)
Thyme (dried and fresh – see notes)
Dry mustard (1 tsp?)
Salt
Parmesan cheese (or other aged hard cheese – Gouda, etc.)

Optional, if serving as a hearty salad: Mixed winter greens (I’m using kale, because kale and I have become pals), cut into fat ribbons and sprinkled with a bit of salt before serving

Preparation:

You’ll need 2 medium saucepans (or one saucepan and 1 Dutch oven).

  • Cut onion in half and slice into thin half rounds.
  • Rinse farro and lentils.
  • If you’re mincing the garlic instead of using a press, go ahead and do that now.
  • Bring stock to boil in saucepan.
  • In the other saucepan (or Dutch oven) melt 1 T butter; add onion and stir; cook until onion is translucent; add garlic; keep cooking until onion starts to darken on edges – but do not burn garlic; stir in farro and toss to coat; keep stirring until farro is lightly toasted.
  • Transfer farro/onion mixture to hot stock; add lentils; reduce heat to simmer; stir in a good pinch of thyme (dried) and mustard.
  • Without wiping down the other saucepan, return it to heat and melt remaining 1 T butter; add remaining onion and a handful of fresh thyme sprigs; cook over medium heat until onion is nicely caramel colored; add lemon juice and cook until almost completely reduced but be careful not to burn; remove thyme stems, leaving any leaves that have pulled away; stir in 1-2 T. chopped fresh parsley (or 1-2 tsp. dried – which is what I used because it’s what I had); stir in heavy cream and cook until heated through. Remove from heat and blend until smooth in a small blender. Salt to taste and set aside.
  • Keep cooking lentils/farro until they’re tender and all of the liquid has been absorbed (or drain, if needed).
  • Spoon lentils/farro into bowl; drizzle with onion/herb cream; top with shaved cheese.
  • Alternate: Spoon lentils/farro over a bed of winter greens, drizzle with onion/herb cream, and top with shaved cheese.

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