Potage of quinoa w/ 4 kinds of lentils & 8 kinds of basil

Potage with quinoa and lentils

We visited Monticello last week. It’s so full of beauty, light, and grace that it made me weepy. Less than a mile away, in the visitor’s center, is a recreation of one of Jefferson’s slaves’ dwellings. It’s dark, gloomy, and cramped. That made me weepy, too. Jefferson designed the house with all of the “dependencies” – where the work was done – hidden beneath the building in catacomb-like tunnels. The word “dependencies” struck me as a funny one, in this situation. As you walk through the house and grounds you realize that Jefferson and his family had a complete and childlike dependence on their slaves. Their slaves dressed them, raised their children, grew their food, cooked their food, made their furniture, dug their graves. The man who dug Jefferson’s grave was named Wormley Hughes. He worked in the garden. The garden at Monticello is a thing of wonder. Beautiful, useful, inspiring – a perfect spot to sit and ponder questions of liberty and independence. Wormley Hughes was freed after Jefferson’s death, and shortly thereafter, his wife and 8 of his children were divided and sold.

It’s a discombobulating experience, visiting Monticello. So much beauty, and cleverness – so many good ideas being exchanged, and important work being done. And literally hidden beneath all of it, so much pain and suffering.

Sorry to go on about it! It’s on my mind. I did buy some seeds in the gift shop, to plant in our garden. I’m very excited about our garden this year. We have about 8 kinds of basil, and that’s what I used to make this dish! Back in the Ye Olde Days, they used to have “potage gardens,” and the fruits and vegetables grown there would be used to make potage, a thick stew or porridge. The potage combined all of the different elements of a meal in one bowl, and was a staple in the diet of peasants. This particular potage contains 4 kinds of lentils – beluga, french, red, and split moong. The beauty of this, is that when they’re all cooked together, the quick-cooking varieties (I’m talking to you, moong & red!) melt into a creamy background, while the slower-cooking types (french and beluga) remain a bit al dente. So you have a nice mix of textures. If you can’t find beluga lentils or split moong dal, you could make this with french and red, which are both fairly easy to locate. I roasted the cauliflower separately, because I like that smoky flavor, and then pureed half with broth, and added half whole. This is quite a thick, satisfying dish, and it’s flavorful as well – seasoned with ginger, smoked paprika and tons of fresh basil. It’s funny, though – lentils are so pretty when they’re raw, and so drab when cooked. They make up for it with supreme tastiness, though!

Here’s Blind Willie McTell with Amazing Grace. He doesn’t sing, but it’s almost as if the guitar is speaking the words.

1/2 cup quinoa
1/4 cup red lentils
1/4 cup beluga lentils
1/4 cup french lentils
1/4 cup split moong dal
olive oil
1 shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1/2 inch cube ginger
1/2 t smoked paprika
1/2 t ground coriander
cayenne to taste
1/2 head cauliflower – florets only, cut quite small
3 cups baby spinach – finely chopped
1 medium-sized tomato, roughly chopped
1/2 – 1 cup basil, different varieties, if you have them
1 t salt
plenty of fresh ground pepper
2 T butter (unless you’re trying to keep it vegan)
splash balsamic.

Wash the quinoa in a fine sieve in several rinses of water. Rinse and drain all of the lentils.

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss the cauliflower with a little olive oil to lightly coat, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast for about 20 minutes, till it’s starting to get brown and crispy on the outside. Set it aside.

Meanwhile…Process the shallot, garlic and ginger until you have a rough & chunky paste. Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized soup pan. Add the shallot-ginger paste and the bay leaf. Stir and cook until it starts to stick to the bottom and get a bit brown. Then add the quinoa and all of the lentils. Stir to coat, and cook till they start to sizzle. Add the coriander, paprika, and cayenne. Stir, and then add about 3 cups of water. Enough to cover with about 1/2 inch on top. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer till everything is cooked. The beluga lentils will take the longest – about 30 minutes. Everything else should be fully cooked and almost melted by then. You’ll probably need to add another cup or two of water as everything reduces and thickens.

Stir in the butter and balsamic.

Put half the roasted cauliflower in a processor. Add a few ladelfuls of broth from the lentils and process till smooth. Add this to the pot. Add the tomato and spinach, and stir till they’re warm and wilty.

Taste for salt and season with plenty of black pepper.

Wash and dry the basil, and cut it into thin ribbons. Stir into the stew just before you serve.

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