Black Rice and French Lentil Tacos with Pistachio Herb Sauce

Black rice, french lentil tacos

Black rice, french lentil tacos

There’s a scene in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot in which the titular idiot, Prince Myshkin (who, of course, is not an idiot at all but the wisest man in any room) tells the story of a condemned man. He describes, in great detail, the thoughts going through the condemned man’s mind, minute by minute. “He said that nothing was more oppressive for him at that moment than the constant thought: ‘What if I were not to die! What if life were given back to me–what infinity! And it would all be mine! Then I’d turn each minute into a whole age, I’d lose nothing, I’d reckon up every  minute separately, I’d let nothing be wasted!'” And someone asks Myshkin what happened to the condemned man after his punishment was changed at the last minute, and he was granted “infinite life.” Did he live reckoning up every  minute? “Oh, no, he told me himself–I asked him about it–he didn’t live that way at all and lost  many, many minutes.” The condemned man is Dostoesvsky himself! This exact thing happened to him when he was 29 years old–he was before the firing squad when a reprieve was delivered. So the account of the rest of his life must be about him, as well, he lost many, many minutes, as we all do.

I love the fact that Myshkin knows Dostoevsky, not by name, but as a man he’s spoken to, at one time or another. And one of the things I love most about The Idiot is just how much Dostoevsky seems not to know Myshkin, from time-to-time. He loves him, clearly, as does everybody who meets him, even the angry anarchists who don’t want to love him at all. And at moments he has beautiful flashes of insight into Myshkin’s thoughts and feelings–just before his epileptic fit, for example. Because, of course, Myshikin is Dostoevsky, in part, his creation, born of his imagination. But there are times when Dostoevsky says, regarding the Prince’s actions and emotions, “…we can supply very little information.” He doesn’t know where the Prince disappeared to, or why he left! He doesn’t know, and he gives us only the hints and rumors that any of the other characters would be privy to. And at the end, when we wonder why the Prince acted the way he did in a certain crisis, he says, “And yet we feel that we must limit ourselves to the simple statement of facts…because we ourselves, in many cases, have difficulty explaining what happened.” Of course this has the effect of allowing us to see Prince Myshkin as a strange and inexplicable creature in a society in which people have certain expectations for the way people will act and speak. But it’s also a beautiful description of the creation of a character who becomes alive for the writer and the reader, a character you think long about after you’ve finished the book.

When Dostoevsky wrote he didn’t know what would happen next in his story, so that he was just as surprised by it as the reader. And the first parts of the book were published in journals before he’d written the next, so he couldn’t go back and change his mind. The story becomes as inevitable as our lives. The Idiot is meandering and strange and strangely written in a way that I find thrilling. In a clumsy, beautiful, heartfelt “explanation,” Ippolit, the angry anarchist, who considers himself condemned to death by the last stages of consumption, tells us about the joy of traveling when you don’t know where you’re going, and of trying to understand things and express things  you will never be able to understand or express, “Ask them, only ask them one and all, what they understand by happiness? Oh, you may be sure that Columbus was happy not when he had discovered America, but when he was discovering it; you  may be sure that the highest moment of his happiness was, perhaps exactly three days before the discovery of the New World, when the mutinous crew in their despair almost turned the ship back to Europe, right around! The New World is not the point here, it can just as well perish. Columbus died having seen very little of it and in fact not knowing what he had discovered. The point is in life, in life alone–discovering it, constantly and eternally, and not at all in the discovery itself. But what is the point of talking? I suspect that everything I am saying  now sounds so much like the most common phrases that I will probably be taken for a student in the lowest grade presenting his easy on ‘the sunrise….’ But, nevertheless, I will add that in any ingenious or new human thought, or even simply in any ernest human thought born in someone’s head, there always remains something which it is quite impossible to convey to other people, though you may fill whole volumes with writing and spend thirty-five years trying to explain your thought; there always remains something that absolutely refuses to leave your skull and will stay with you forever; you will die with it, not having conveyed to anyone what is perhaps most important in your idea.”

Black Rice, French Lentil tacos

Black Rice, French Lentil tacos

I love the flavor or black rice, so nutty! And I especilaly love it mixed with a bit of smoked basmati, which makes it ridiculously tasty. And of course I love French Lentils! I made both of these separately, then stir fried them with some garlic, added spinach and cannelloni beans, and seasoned with smoked paprika and garam masala. We ate them with warm tortillas, grated mozzarella cheese and an herbaceous pistachio sauce. Really nice! It was also very easy to make, and tonight the leftovers will turn into croquettes.

Here’s Idiot Wind by Bob Dylan

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Black rice, french lentil, roasted mushroom croquettes

IMG_5008I like the idea of Roland Barthes’ Mythologies. Have I read them? I have not, not even a smicker of them, as our Malcolm used to say. Will that stop me talking about them? It will not! According to my understanding, Barthes examines certain aspects of modern life that have become accepted as fact and shows how they are, in truth, myths: stories that we use to define ourselves and our place in the world. Barthes was writing in France in the 1950s, and it seems that now, here, in America in 2014, we’ve woven such an insane tangle of stories to explain ourselves to ourselves and the rest of the world that it’s almost overwhelming. It seems important, though, to take a step back from time to time, and to try to unravel them to arrive at some truth. Some ever-shifting never-reachable truth. Here’s one I’ve been thinking about lately. “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” It all starts in pre-school, when they’re handing out crayons or cookies. The fundamental idea, of course, is to be content with what you’re given, and to shut up and stop whining! At its most basic, it’s toddler crowd control. At its most basic, I like the idea. I would like my children to be capable of contentment, a difficult state to achieve. I would like them to be grateful to get anything at all. I would like them to be even-tempered and agreeable rather than whiny and difficult. Of course I would. And I would like to live in a world where these qualities are rewarded. But the truth is that we don’t live in that world. We can send an army of five-year-olds home chanting the catchy little rhyme, but if they absorb the lesson too completely how will they ever become successful modern Americans? We’re not supposed to be happy with what we have! We’re supposed to want more! Too much is never enough! We’re supposed to want whatever other people have. It’s one of our older myths, as Americans, that if we work hard and strive for more, for better, we can achieve success and riches. How would advertising work if people were content with what they had and who they are? It wouldn’t! It wouldn’t work, and billions of advertising dollars would be wasted trying to manipulate people based on desires and insecurities they didn’t really feel. In America we award the loud people, the talkers, the salesmen, the people who want what they get and want what everyone around them gets, too. We don’t admire people who settle. We’re scornful of people who don’t strive to better themselves, even if they face insurmountable odds such as we can’t even dream of. I believe there are countries where ambition is looked upon as a negative quality, as a vice, but we don’t live in such a country. As long as we’re telling stories about the world we inhabit, I’d like to tell this one: You get what you get, and you change it to make exactly what you need. And if you don’t get the right parts to make what you need, you share with your neighbor. You trade them the parts they need for the parts you need, and everybody creates exactly what they want. Obviously, if everyone makes a picture with the one crayon they’re given, which might not even be a color they like, it won’t be as satisfying as if everybody shares all the colors to make their pictures. Everybody makes something beautiful. And still, nobody gets upset.

Black rice, french lentil and roasted mushroom croquettes.

Black rice, french lentil and roasted mushroom croquettes.

Croquettes! Or kofta, if you like. Or burgers. These would make great veggie burgers! These are very flavorful, very umami-ish. They have a nice texture-quite crispy. We ate them in warm tortillas with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, grated sharp cheddar. Which was delicious! But you could also make them larger and put them on a bun to make burgers. Black rice is not hard to find, I think, but you could make these with any other kind of rice, even rice leftover from your take-out food. All of these things, the lentils, the rice, can be used in other meals, which is good because the recipes given below will give you more than you need.

Here’s Bob Marley with Want More.

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