Ah, Thanksgiving is finally here! Yes, the holiday where you have a pass to eat and eat and EAT. (AND to be thankful for all the goodness in your life).
Well, if you're anything like me, you have a signature dish that you just have to eat. For me, that dish is this Legacy Lentil Stew. This dish has a journey, one that can be traced to Cameroon, one-third of my cultural identity. It melds my past, present, and future.
The first iteration of this dish took shape in my mother's farm village in rural Cameroon, where she first learned to prepare this stew with her grandmother. Her grandmother had a farm and cultivated crops, raised livestock, and ultimately prepared fresh meals. The first take of the dish incorporated goat meat, fresh vegetables, and of course, lentils.
When she left for America at age 23 in 1981, she didn't take many things with her. But she did bring a strong culinary sense and this recipe. Throughout the 1980s she prepared this recipe and oscillated between her grandmother's version to that with an American flair, corned beef.
My mother perfected this dish.
Once the mid-90s hit, I stumbled upon the intoxicating aroma of as a dubious 9-year-old. I never asked how it was made, but I always watched inquisitively from afar as mama diced each vegetable and sprinkled magical seasonings to enliven it. Here's what made it unforgettable -- the savory aroma that would engulf the kitchen with the blare of Saturday morning cartoons in the distance. That was home.
With the swift passage of time, the next time I revisited the recipe was as a 19-year-old college student in Canada. Let's just say, I failed miserably on my first attempts. (should've paid MORE attention years ago, eh?). Luckily, one simple phone call to mama helped me understand the error of my ways. Once it did, I unlocked a piece of my lineage to Cameroon.
I had finally learned how to cook what my great-grandmother had made. The very woman I'm named after.
But its journey didn't end there.
When I left for London, I took many things with me and this recipe was neatly inscribed in my mind. It helped me survive my best and worst times during my Master's program. My flatmates raved about the recipe, and it provided me energy to survive countless 12-hour days at the library.
Simply put, this recipe is resilient. It survived its humble beginnings in rural Cameroon to the bustle of America to Canada's capital city, and finally to the ornate history of London.
It's a testament to home-grown cooking that leaves an indelible impact merging the past, present, and future.
With all THAT legacy, here's my take on a family recipe that spans generations, inspired from the motherland, of course.
This Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for? I'm thankful for family recipes like the one below!
1.5 cups dry green lentils* (yields 4 cups cooked)
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
4 celery ribs, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves
3 carrots, julienned
1 red onion, diced
1 cup unsalted tomato sauce
5 cups water
1/3 cup olive oil
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp pepper
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp Sriracha
*May sub for canned lentils
- Pot with high sides (such as a dutch oven)
- Cutting board
- Chef's knife
- Large bowl
- Large sieve or strainer
- Soak dried lentils overnight in a bowl with 2 cups of water. By the next day, lentils will have doubled in size (this is normal). Rinse lentils in a sieve. Add 3 cups of water and add lentils to a pot with high sides. Adjust stove to medium-high heat and boil uncovered for 20-25 minutes, or until lentils have softened.
- Chop your vegetables (onion, celery, carrots, and tomatoes) and set aside.
- Remove cooked lentils from the stove top and drain excess water in a sieve. Set lentils aside in a bowl.
- Rinse pot used to cook lentils.(Remove all excess water, if you don't the oil will splatter). Add olive oil; set heat to medium-high and wait for oil to warm, until it has a water-like consistency. (about 1 minute)
- Reduce heat to medium-low; add the chopped onions. Stir and cook onions down for about 2 minutes or until slightly translucent in color.
- Adjust heat to medium. Add diced tomatoes and stir until combined. Add 1 tsp each of salt, pepper, and cumin. Cook tomatoes down for 5 minutes, stirring consistently until tomatoes have wilted. Grate garlic into sauce using a microplane.
- Add tomato sauce; season stew with 1/2 tsp each of salt, pepper, curry, and Sriracha. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add cooked lentils, celery, and carrots to stew; stir to combine. Adjust heat to medium until it simmers. Depending on the chunkiness you desire, add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of water. Reduce heat to low, then let simmer covered for 30 minutes.
- Remove pot from heat; plate with your favorite rice or garlic naan!