And that brings up a point I am learning (the hard way, as usual) about beans. If you are cooking dried beans/legumes/whatever, the stated cooking time is a suggestion, a rough guess at best. I think Those Who Write Recipes put a number down because it would be silly to say the cooking time is anywhere from an hour to a day, which, in some cases, isn't far from the truth.
You may be thinking, "But why so variable? It's just a bean. How hard can it be?" Ha! That is exactly the point: How hard (read: old) is your bean?
I am not a bean scholar, but the age of a bean can affect its cooking time, even with as tiny a morsel as a lentil. Unfortunately, there might be no way to know how old that bag of lentils in the store is. Older beans are drier and they take longer to cook. That's one of the reasons bean recipes usually direct you to soak beans overnight, to level the playing field.
Long story short, Know Your Lentils. When uncorking a new bag of lentils, allow plenty of time to cook that first batch. Let them simmer 15 mins. then start checking. Make sure there is no crunchy stuff left in the middle before calling them done. Store the rest of the bag in a sealed container. Lentils are usually exempted from the pre-soaking requirement, but if you find your lentils take much longer to cook than advertised, pre-soak those bad boys next time.
Coincidentally, last night on America's Test Kitchen I happened to catch the last few minutes of some bean-cooking tips, just in time for this post! Brining beans (soaking in salt water) is supposed to be even better than soaking in plain water. I must try that.
Recipe? Oh yes, the recipe. There is a recipe, I promise. Couple of notes: This is relatively simple, seasoning-wise, so the caramelized onions, cumin, and smoked paprika are key. You can't go wrong with more onions or cumin. Be sure to see the note at the end about slicing onions.
Müceddere: Rice Pilaf with Onions, Lentils, Chickpeas, and Orzo
Adapted from this recipe
Makes: 2-4 servings
Takes: 45 mins., depending on how cooperative the lentils and onions are.
2 cups cooked brown rice, warmed
1/4 cup lentils (preferably green)
1/4 cup orzo pasta
2-4 Tblsp oil
1.5 cups sliced onion* (1 med. lrg.)
2 tsp sugar
1 Tblsp lemon juice
Salt & black pepper, to taste
1 - 15 oz can chickpeas, drained
1 - 15 oz can's worth of tomato products (diced, crushed, sauce, or a combo)
1 Tblsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley (opt.)
Add the lentils to 2 cups water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer until they are just about done, 15 mins. in a perfect world. Add the orzo and some salt, bring to a boil, and cook for about 8 more mins., or until the orzo is just done. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a med. saucepan (I use a deep 12" skillet) over med. heat. Add the onions, sugar, a 1/4 tsp of salt, and black pepper to taste. Cover the pan and sweat the onions over med. low heat until they're tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the lid, turn the heat to med., and stir in the lemon juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown. Moderate heat for a longer time produces better results. If you need to raise the heat to get them done NOW, just don't let them dry out, scorch, or burn.
When everything is ready, stir the rice, lentils, orzo and chickpeas into the onions. Add the tomatoes, cumin, smoked paprika, and salt to taste. Mix well. Add a couple Tblsp of water, cover the pan, and let warm through over med. low heat for at least 15 mins. Stir occasionally, don't let it scorch.
Top with chopped cilantro or parsley if desired.
* Random Food Tip
This is another trick I just learned from America's Test Kitchen. If you're cutting onions to caramelize for onion soup or a dish such as this, slice them pole-to-pole (end to end) instead of crosswise (around the equator). They will be shorter and prevent the sensation of trying to eat really long, stringy noodles.
It amazes me that after cooking for decades, I can still see or read a tip that is so obvious it really makes me wonder why the hell I didn't already know that. This onion tip was one. At some point I'll show you what I just learned about vegetable peelers. That was a real "D'oh!" moment.
Oh, I almost forgot...