Cheap, Easy, Delicious: African Lentil Casserole

This is not a new recipe to our blog, but it was posted way back at the beginning and it has played such a constant role in both our menu and Little Sis’ family menu that I can’t help but share a slight variation in hopes that it will catch some people who missed the original,.  Maybe the new spice profile will appeal to those who passed up on the original as well!

As boring as the name is, ‘Lentil Casserole’ packs a lot of bang for the buck…… or maybe a buck and a half.  Literally.  Dried lentils and dried brown rice lay the inexpensive groundwork for this hearty meal that gains great flavor with spices and in this case spinach.  My picky son really likes this and finds it ‘thermos worthy’ (to take to school for lunch).  Both my husband and I like it as well and when I heated some leftovers at work the other day, I was asked 3 times what smelled so good.  Just my little ‘ol cheap-o lentil casserole, no cause for excitement ;-)!

The ‘African’ part of the title comes from Tabil spice mix but this dish can be made with Italian spices, as in the original, or Mexican spices, or whatever you think will get your people’s attention!  Tabil is not necessarily easy to come by, but you can buy it or you can make your own.  Admittedly, using this spice mix can increase the cost of this dish a bit, as if you buy prepared it is expensive, and if you have to invest in the spices, it is expensive at first….. but very worth it in the long run and less expensive than buying.

This can be cooked in a crockpot over about 4 hours or on the stovetop in 45 – 60 minutes.  The beauty of the stovetop method is that once the onions are sauteed and the water is boiling, there is not much more to do, so it’s not a labor intensive hour and therefore gets cooked when we have forgotten to plan but are not yet starving!

African Lentil Casserole

1 – 2 tsp oil
1 & 1/2 c chopped fresh onion
2 clove garlic, mashed
6c veggie or chicken broth (I use ‘Better Than Bouillon – Vegetable‘ or this cheaper make your own version -FYI I don’t use sundried tomatoes when I follow that recipe as they gummed up my food processor)
1 & 1/2 c lentils
1 c brown rice
1 Tbsp Tabil spice mix
2 – 3 large handfuls of spinach

Saute chopped onion and garlic in the oil in a large pot if you are cooking on the stove, in a small saucepan if transferring to crock pot.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot of crock pot except for the spinach
CROCKPOT:
Cook on low for 2 hours, high for 2 hours.
About 15 minutes before eating or being done, add the spinach and stir, let cook until spinach is wilted.

STOVETOP:
After sauteeing onion and garlic add the rest of the ingredients except for spinach.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 45 – 60 minutes.  Just before serving, add spinach and cook until wilted.

It looks like a lot of spinach but it cooks down into MUCH less.

Pot of steaming lentils, rice and spices

Pot of steaming lentils, rice and spices

 

 

Put those handfuls in there….

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Then stir the spinach in…..

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Not so spinach-y that the finicky will be repelled 😉

And there you have it.  Cheap. Easy. Tasty.

Enjoy!

Pantry Fare

Real foods are the best foods.   Well… okay I’m gonna say it.  Real foods are the only foods.  The other things are chemicals and synthetics that we’ve been convinced will satisfy us.  So there.  Even in the real food category, however, some are better than others.  While we could get into a lengthy discussion of nutrition benefits, I have to admit that the real foods that earn my highest praise are often those that are not only nutritious, but the most versatile.  Versatile real foods allow the greatest number of variations without too much skill building and are real pantry boons (especially if they are CHEAP).

And so, I return joyfully to my previous post on recalibrating our grocery bill.  Things are going pretty well in this department, and the pantry is finally thinning enough that I can see what’s in there and what’s not.  I can also feel out what we actually NEED based on how many times I look for something that is already gone.  Granted, I am no longer prepared in the event of a nuclear disaster as I was prior to attempting to ease up on the grocery mania, but we still could eat for a while out of that pantry….  Based on my experiments this week, I WILL make sure that I’m always stocked with bulgur and lentils.  I’ve continued playing with the lentil-bulgur mix and I’ve discovered a home run that is kid approved (yes, even the picky one).  It is also one of those lovely recipes that provides lots of opportunity for the less mature members of the family to participate in the cooking (I am talking about my children here, in case you were wondering if that was a jab at my wonderful and very mature husband).  I give you Mini Neatloaves. (Applause)

Mini Neatloaves – Served our family of 4 two dinners with 2 adult lunches left. Inspired by Confetti Mini-Meatloaf on Spark Recipes

  • 4c lentil-bulgur mix
  • 3c rolled oats
  • 1 med onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2/3c mushrooms ( I used reconstituted dried)
  • 2/3 c diced tomatoes (or tomato sauce – we had leftover pasta sauce to use up)
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 eggs (I used flax)
  • 1 t mustard powder
  • 2 t marjoram
  • 1T creaminess (milk, mayo, yogurt… whatever.. I needed this because I mixed in the remainder of the leftover lentil-bulgur taco mix and it needed some mellowing)
  • 3T Braggs or soy sauce

Preheat oven to 350.  Lightly oil two muffin tins – you can also use a loaf pan, but I’m just gonna tell you that’s not as fun.  If you’re making flax eggs, prepare them first so they have time to set up.  Put lentil-bulgur mix and oats in large bowl.  Put veggies in food processor and process until they are no longer distinguishable as individual bits to your pickiest eater (you may not need to be quite as thorough as I was on this front).  Add veggie slush to bowl.  Add spices and flax eggs and mix.  I added about of cup of leftover peas that were in my fridge.  (My two still love measuring so they helped a lot on this part).  Mix until well combined.

Recruit volunteers to fill muffin tins with neat loaf mix.  Bake in oven for about 25-30 minutes (Watch closely as we had little people crises and I’m not sure I got the time exactly right.)  If you make a loaf, you will need to cook it longer.  If you make one enormous meatball, you’d better make a lot of spaghetti.

I served ours on a bed of orzo (insurance), beet salad with orange dressing, and cucumber slices.  We got 100% approval rating and all parties ate more neat loaves than orzo.  The  younger crowd enjoyed theirs with a little ketchup (don’t judge).  Most everyone enjoyed the beets as well (she just doesn’t like beets, even with orange juice in the picture).

Absolutely delish.  Oh, and if you’re wondering about the dressing, it was simply an attempt to get my daughter to eat beets.  3T orange juice, 1T olive oil, small squeeze honey, pinch salt.  While it didn’t change my daughter’s mind about the beautiful beets that we grew and that she helped harvest from the garden, the rest of us enjoyed it, and found it especially yummy when it slid from our beets into our orzo and onto our cucumber slices.  Summer is fabulous. Hope yours is delish as well.