January 22, 2012

A Unique Month

When the wind snaps and the snow falls, nothing offers more comfort than a hardy stew. But January is a unique month. Its chill echos December's call to hibernate, yet January offers suggestions to mend. Stews can be too much, too heavy. I want food that offers both substance and succor.

It calls itself a ragout. Page 289 of Amanda Hesser's "The Essential New York Times Cookbook" offers a Roasted Carrot and Red Lentil Ragout. The roasted carrots are deep and sweet. The lentils are impartial, but the heat is deft. Listed in the cookbook's index under the "Dinner on a Moment's Notice" section, it's a cinch to make.

It's no beauty queen, but makes up in practicality for what it lacks in eye appeal. The recipe is forgiving. Add as much or little chile powder to suit your taste. I will use less next time, as well as more roasted carrots. The ragout is happy atop rice or alongside boiled potatoes, and takes a liking to a dallop of yogurt or sour cream when eaten by itself. The rich-sweet smell of roasting carrots will have you thinking of this ragout long after your bowl is empty.

Roasted Carrot and Red Lentil Ragout
1.5 lbs carrots, peeled
5 Tbs. olive oil
2.5 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3/4 tsp ancho chile powder
3/4 tsp chipotle chile powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over
5 cups chicken broth

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Lay the carrots in a roasting pan or a baking sheet and toss with 3 Tbs oil. Season with 1.5 tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper. Roast for 20 minutes.

2. Turn the carrots, add the onion, and roast for 15 minutes, or until the carrots are brown and tender. Remove from the oven.

3. When the carrots are cool enough, cut them into 1/4 inch dice.

4. Heat the remaining 2 Tbs oil in a large saucepan. Add the carrots and onions, chile powder, and cayenne pepper, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the lentils, add the broth, and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, until the lentils are falling apart. Season with the remaining 1 tsp salt and pepper to taste.