Cheesy Spinach-Lentil Casserole

Cheesy Spinach-Lentil Casserole

Whew – limped over the 2012 finish line without permanent injury, but I can do better than a stagger. It’s a New Year; time to straighten up, return to the gym, and put a bounce back into my step – a sway into my swagger.

How about you? Have you made any exercise or weight loss resolutions? Not buttering your Cinnabon in the morning’s a start – or consider adding a two-pound weight to your evening cocktail ritual. Here’s how it works: Every night increase your cocktail curls by three, alternating arms; watch those biceps bulge in two short weeks.

First, simply combine stock, lentils, rice, onions and bake, covered.

You see, resolutions don’t have to be painful. And the following healthy, vegetarian recipe is no exception. A meal of lentils, rice and spinach slathered in sharp melted Cheddar will power your pistons, provide great leftovers and – New Year’s bonus – not involve messing up more than one pan.

The dish was adapted from a recipe I found in Molly Katzen’s fabled “Moosewood Cookbook”, which was the first cookbook I’d ever purchased after graduating from college in the late seventies. This cookbook, published in 1977, was inspired by the Moosewood Restaurant collective she helped create near Cornell and Ithaca College.

Then, remove foil and add remaining ingredients, per recipe instructions.

The ingredients in Ms. Katzen’s casserole are similar to those in the recipe below, but to further simplify the dish, I used only one dish instead of three. I found another recipe on-linethat simply combines and tosses uncooked lentils, rice, stock and chopped onions, bakes it in a dish, then tops it with cheese. It’s a bit lackluster for my palate, but incorporating some of Ms. Katzen’s recipe ingredients, elevates it to a new plateau.

In that era, I’d just moved to New York City and landed my first (non-service industry) job. Though surrounded by tempting restaurants and delis at every turn, my beleaguered budget could only afford cooking variations of legumes and grains from scratch. My Manhattan kitchen was no bigger than a shoebox, and this vegetarian cookbook was an excellent way to maintain healthy eating habits while living on a shoestring. If 1978 had a flavor profile, for me, it was tamari, sunflower seeds and lentils.

In today’s fiscally uncertain environment, with a population of Americans confused about culinary basics and conflicting dietary rhetoric, a revisit to cookbooks such as this is a refreshing, tantalizing option. Since the seventies, Katzan has streamlined the popular“Moosewood Cookbook” classic morphing it into the “New Moosewood Cookbook”, incorporating simpler cooking techniques and less ingredients, reducing egg and cheese and using less fat in general.

I think the old and new Moosewoods should be enjoyed in-tandem as the some of the changes caused mild dissension amongst her followers, including myself. It’s as if imagining – back in the eighties – the late, great Jerry Garcia lost 50 pounds, buffed up and shaved his head; I’d still love him and would appreciate his commitment to better health, but I’d have missed the old Jerry – as, sigh, I do today.

Recipe: Cheesy Lentil-Spinach Casserole

Ingredients

  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 1/2 cup uncooked long grain brown rice*
  • 1 cup chopped onion or leek
  • 3 teaspoons fresh minced garlic
  • 1 (1 pound bag) frozen spinach, thawed, all water wrung out
  • 2 teaspoons dry basil
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a (3 quart, 9X13-inch) baking dish, combine stock, lentils, rice, leeks or onions and garlic. Stir and cover tightly with foil. On center rack of oven, bake 1 hour and 10 minutes.
  3. Remove foil, stir in spinach, basil, olive oil, if using, and 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce. Season to taste with additional tamari and freshly ground pepper. Stir in beaten egg and combine well with spinach-lentil mixture. With a spoon or spatula, flatten casserole and wipe exposed edges of dish. Combine cheese and sunflower seeds and evenly spread over casserole. Return to oven and bake an additional 30-35 minutes, or until cheese is golden.
  4. Let rest 10 minutes, then cut into portions and serve.

*It is important NOT to use a quick cook brown rice; the uncooked rice should require at least 45 minutes of cooking time.

Number of servings (yield): 6-8 servings

Active Time: 20 minutes

Total Bake Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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4 Responses to Cheesy Spinach-Lentil Casserole

  1. Emily says:

    Did you use lentils from the can or the dry ones?

  2. Peggy says:

    Hi Emily – I use dry lentils. Good question and I should have been more specific – Thank-you!

  3. Julie says:

    Peggy,
    I love your DinnerFeed blog. How much fresh spinach would I have to use to make that substitution?

  4. peggy lampman says:

    Hi Julie – Great question. I would be only be concerned if the moisture omitted from the fresh, uncooked spinach would influence the final dish. I would try it with a pound of chopped fresh spinach but I can’t guarantee the end result unless I checked it in my own kitchen. Of course you could blanch a couple of pounds of fresh spinach and squeeze out all of the water – that should work. Please let me know how it turns out using fresh. Thanks! Peggy

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