Coconut Red Lentil Dip

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At our wedding, almost three years ago, Aaron and I gave bookmarks to our guests as tokens of our gratitude. These bookmarks were printed with various lines from a few of our favorite poems. One was the closing stanza of Margaret Atwood’s Variations on the Word Sleep:

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

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Lentils are stodgy things, unassuming and cheap. There’s an hippie strain about them, tainted with the implications of under-salted, uniformly brown meals. It’s easy to obsess over the beauty of fresh produce. There’s a vitality, brilliantly colored and beautifully arrayed. If lentils inspire love, it’s the love of gratitude. It’s a long running marriage to an heirloom’s passionate affairs. Lentils are supportive. There is always more they will be willing to give.

Perhaps we ought to celebrate lentils more. Lentils are accessible. They are sustaining. They give, quietly and without complaint, again and again. And they are happy to fade into the background, allowing their more glamorous accompaniments to take the spotlight. They are unnoticed. They are necessary.

In the spirit of generosity I offer this red lentil dip. Earthy from the lentils, sweet from coconut milk, and with a kiss of heat from ginger. My dreams of taking this dip on a picnic were destroyed by Aaron devouring half of it when he arrived home from work. I’m not fond of this habit of assigning any mashed beans the moniker “hummus”, because there’s no tahini and no chickpeas in most. But this is satisfying in the same way as hummus, with a similar texture and similar balance of flavors. And because red lentils are the uncelebrated workhorse of the kitchen, this dip comes together from start to finish in about twenty minutes. Pretty remarkable for something so unnoticed.

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Coconut Red Lentil Dip

Be careful when blending the dip- too fast or too long and it may start to take on paste-y quality. It doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth- in fact, a slightly nubby texture is delightful.

Makes about 2 cups of dip

4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, peeled
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt
1 cup red lentils
1 fifteen ounce can coconut milk
4 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lime

to serve

sesame seeds
crackers
vegetables

Melt the coconut oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook gently for about five minutes, until the garlic and ginger are fragrant but not taking on any color. Add the coriander, black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir well, then continue cooking for another minute. Stir in the red lentils until they are coated in the spice and shiny with the oil, then stir in the coconut milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer and stir often, cooking until most of the liquid is absorbed and the lentils are tender but firm, about ten to fifteen minutes. If the liquid is absorbed but the lentils are still hard, add water at half a cup at a time and keep simmering. You don’t want the lentils to dissolve for this.

Transfer your cooked lentils to a blender and blend until the lentils are mashed. While the blender is whirling, add in the olive oil, lime juice, and 1/4 cup of water. Taste, and add any salt you deem necessary. Serve at room temperature, sprinkled with sesame seeds surrounded by crackers and crudités of choice.

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Gougères with Gruyere and Shallots

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When I was 10 my parents made the decision to change churches. We went from attending Mass every Sunday at the a grand Cathedral to a small, scrappy church technically a mile away but actually in a different universe. It was no small decision. The Cathedral was where my parents had been married, where all three of their children had been baptized. It was where my dad had been an alter boy and a lector, and where many of my cousins attended school. It was large and elegant and intimidating.

Our new church was none of those things. The priests were Franciscans. They had nicknames and went barefoot on the alter. Babies were baptized naked. It was all new and exciting. And our new church was a bilingual parish.

My hometown had (and still has) a sizable Hispanic population. This was never something that I had encountered in my day-to-day life. My grandparents had been born in the same town I was. I knew where they had lived, the house my dad had been born into, where the only church that still spoke Slovak was located but somehow not about the huge swath of our town where signs were only in Spanish. Our neighborhood was mostly white. Our family was mostly white. My school was diverse, but the friends I hung out with outside of school were mostly white.

And my parents decided to change that. Soon we were attending bilingual services for feast days. After Mass in the summer we would eat paletas bought from the vender who arrived just as Mass was letting out. In the fall it turned to churros. My dad and I joined a choir and would sing verses alternating in Spanish and English. At church potlucks I happily ate tacos, but refused to eat more when I learned what lengua meant (tongue).

I want to be clear that this does not mean everything was all the sudden happy and easy. There were misunderstandings. There were missteps. I did not often want to go to services that would stretch to 2 hours, and where I only understood every 3 words. But it was good for us, as individuals and as a family.

I cannot, for the life of me, correctly use por and para, but there are hymns I will not sing in English. There is still nothing as good as a paleta in the summer heat. I am filled with gratitude of the humble  church where I was raised, where Aaron and I were married, that marched for immigration reform. It was not a wealthy church, but it was a rich one.

I was reminded of all of this last night, as the church I attended celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church I attend here in Minneapolis is a Cathedral. It is large and elegant, but also warm. Last night there was a bilingual service. There was a procession of Aztec dancers. There were the words I have sung, hundreds of times, set to a different tune, but still “Santo, santo, santo, santo el Señor“. And there was a homily of hope in the darkness. About the radical nature of a brown-skinned Mary appearing in Aztec clothing and speaking Nahuatl to Juan Diego, an Aztec peasant. About how God is always with those who are oppressed, no matter when or where.

Gougères do not fit neatly with this story. But feeding people is one of the best ways I know to show love. I like to joke that I only speak culinary French, but the other half of the joke is that I only speak religious Spanish.

When we choose to love people it is not easy. It requires a steely resolve and great patience. It requires radical hope and realism. Love is not easy. But I would rather live actively working on love than live without it. And where I stand right now, love includes gougères .

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Gougères with Gruyere and Shallots

Makes about 30 gougères

Gougères freeze well, and can be baked straight from frozen. One great beauty of gougères is that they are so versatile. You could add herbs, spices, or different cheeses to these beauties to make them entirely your own. I’ve been known to bake gougères and eat them straight off the sheet tray. But if you pressed me for the best way to eat them I’d tell you to invite people over, make mulled wine, and serve gougères warm from the oven.

8 tablespoons (113 grams) butter
1 cup (226 grams) water
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1/2 a shallot, diced
1/2 cup (40 grams) finely grated gruyere

In a medium saucepan over medium heat melt together the butter, water, and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, making certain that all the butter is mixed, then add in the flour. Use a rubber spatula to stir in the flour, being careful to completely incorporate the flour. Continue stirring on heat, using the spatula to pick up and turn the dough, until the dough looks smooth and even. Turn the dough out into a large bowl.

Stir the dough with a rubber spatula every few minutes until the dough is at room temperature. Once the dough is no longer warm, add in the eggs, one at a time, stirring completely between each addition. It will first look as though the egg will refuse to combine, but continue working and it will cooperate. After the eggs have all combined stir in the shallots and gruyere.

If you are using a piping bag, use a medium sized round tip (or do as I did, and just cut a opening in your bag and don’t use a tip) and fill your bag. Pipe out the gougères onto a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. I aimed for mine to be an inch and a half in diameter and an inch in height and found that to be a perfect size.

If you are not using a piping bag, use two spoons to scoop the batter onto a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Aim to use about 2 tablespoons of batter in each gougère. Be careful, regardless of which method you choose, to not let the gougères touch.

Put a tiny bit of water in a shallow dish. Dip your fingers in the water, and then use your fingers to shape the gougères as necessary. If you’ve piped your gougères, flatten out the tail on top. If you’ve spooned your gougères, smooth out any rough lines.

The gougères can now be frozen, or baked off. If you want to freeze your gougères just pop the tray in the freezer, then transfer to a ziplock bag once frozen.

When you are ready to bake your gougères, preheat your oven to 400. Bake the gougères, spaced an inch apart, for 20-30 minutes (20 for fresh, 30 for frozen), rotating the baking tray every 10 minutes. The gougères are ready when they are golden in color, firm to the touch, and light when picked up. Enjoy warm.

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