Vegan lentil bolognese (and a whole bunch of rambling)
For a few weeks running, I’ve fallen into a habit of going off on personal tangents. One more week won’t hurt, right? Next week I will make a concerted effort to post food with minimal commentary about anything outside of said recipe. Promise. Unless something REALLY compelling comes up that needs to be logged, diary-style.
This week I’m thinking about lentils. For anyone impatient with personal ramblings yet still willing to visit here, time to skip to the recipe is now. I first worked on this recipe for Ancient Harvest and now it’s a regular. It’s easy, satisfying, colorful, variable, vegan, plant-powerful, and delicious.
It’s funny, the little things that trigger memories, even those we didn’t mean to store. Sometimes such a blessing. Sometimes a trigger for a cloud. Always, an opportunity for learning and reflection.
Last Thursday I went to the police station to be fingerprinted. My teaching license is up for renewal this year, and last month I was notified that my background check is no longer on file and fingerprints need be resubmitted. On reflection that’s standard–because, time passing–but in the moment I interpreted the email as, great, CDE LOST my fingerprints, and what a hassle. I was a little prickly, in small part because I had also been “lost” in the system regarding one writing contract and was months behind on getting paid; on top of that, a check from another contract had been lost in the mail. These things combined, and I concluded morosely that I was steadily being deleted from existence.
At the station, a brisk woman ably rolled my fingers and thumbs on the card while I tried to hide my crankiness by appearing absorbed by the boxes printed on the card. My eyes rested on the standard tiny square marked “R”, and for a moment I disappeared. Not quite deja vu, not time travel (though, wow, if only!)…you know the brain space kind of place I mean.
I was six years old. My father and I were parked outside the small local elementary school, the only one in our then small town. We were dropping off books for a sale. As my father hauled the boxes over to donations, I hopped into the back of an open truck to browse through books displayed there. I remember loving the old, worn ones best, thumbing through beguiling, dusty, yellowed pages, breathing in their smells.
“What ARE you?!” A man’s insistent, aggravated voice barked me out of my mini-reverie. I looked up and took in his ruddy face, purple and pulsating at the temples. Even then I could see he was coarse, naive and rude. But I still felt less-than facing him, and he scared me.
“What ARE you?!” the man repeated. I looked around, confirming he was directing all that barbed anger toward me. I wasn’t sure I understood the question. Undeterred, he continued, “What are you? Jap, Chink, Mexican?” “I’m-I’m American,” I finally stammered, as I’d been taught. His uproarious laughter in response…I guess I’ve magnified it in my mind, but it was deeply unsettling. Prejudice wasn’t new to me, but this was the first time I’d felt such electric loathing directed at me like that, and from an adult. Mess that he was, I would given him respect, regarded him as authority.
What happened next was nothing noteworthy. My dad came back, and we went home. The incident lasted no more than two minutes, but decades later I realized it stayed with me, retained some power to rattle me. And found myself staring at a fingerprint card, asking myself, again, the same question that fuming man asked me.
I’ve marked N/A in a designated box, checked many boxes, or left box blank…I’m not Black, Hispanic, White/Caucasian, Asian, or even Other as it’s qualified by Pacific Islander. I get that it’s useful information to include for census. But every time I’m faced with the box, leaving the blank box I avert my eyes and for a moment I feel small and drab.
It’s common and temptingly easy to analogize with food. I mean, I do it ALL THE TIME. But societally, it’s intriguing, right? Positive, well-intended comparisons that are never immune to loathing and dismantlement…like those for our country’s diversity, from melting pot to salad bowl. Negative, vindictive, taunting ones that stick…Oreo, Twinkie, egg. In today’s uneasy climate, hateful stereotypes seem to be finding new force and freedoms, and this makes me so, so sad. What’s immeasurably reassuring is I know I’m so, so not alone.
This past weekend I followed the marches with longing, awed by the masses uniting peacefully around the world as WE. In my kitchen I made lentil bolognese and decided on a whim that I wouldn’t stoop to trying to answer “what are you” as if a one-word box could be a satisfactory response, but that I would play the game. You know, the food analogy one. So this week I am lentils. And why not? Lentils are soft, quiet, but tougher than you might think. Sure they easily go unnoticed. But lentils are hardy and sustaining, enduring and versatile. If you mistake them as drab then perhaps you haven’t paused to appreciate the richness of their colors.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 1 medium zucchini, chopped
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 1/4 cup red lentils
- 1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped plus extra for garnish
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- Pasta of choice, to serve
- In a large pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, carrot, garlic, bell pepper, celery and zucchini and cook slowly until the vegetables soften and onions turn golden, about 10 minutes.
- Increase heat to medium-high. Stir in tomato paste and cook 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and continue cooking, stirring and scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, a further 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in the lentils, broth, and wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Season to taste with salt and pepper and simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 30 minutes.
- During last 10 minutes while sauce is simmering, prepare pasta according to package directions.
- Stir parsley and basil to sauce and serve over pasta. Garnish with basil leaves and serve.