I've made the classic dish, Pasta alla Norma for years. It's one of my standards when I have a nice eggplant to use. But, as I was thinking about new ways to use brown lentils, I had one of those "Ah-ha!" moments.
The story about how Pasta alla Norma was named is probably all nonsense, but supposedly, the Italian writer Nino Martoglio, upon tasting the dish, exclaimed "This is a real 'Norma'!", comparing it with the exceptional perfection of the Vincenzo Bellini opera Norma. Hmm. Okay. Regardless of the legend, it's a classic Sicilian dish, originally composed of pasta, tomatoes, eggplant, ricotta cheese and basil.
For my purposes, it was a delicious way to prepare eggplant for a husband who thought he didn't like eggplant. He's a believer now. Which is great, because I grow them every summer.
Eggplant is a great vegetable because they're nutritional powerhouses, are easily available, aren't terribly expensive and can work brilliantly in any number of recipes and cuisines - from Thai to Sicilian! If you have tried growing them, they're easy to grow and tolerate warm temperatures.
Lentils are another nutritional powerhouse - filled with fiber, plant protein and all the good things we need to thrive. Also inexpensive and easily available, they're another ingredient that works in almost any cuisine! If you don't have at least two types of lentils in your pantry, I'm wondering why not! I always have the brown (what you see above), the French (green) Lentilles du Puy, red and yellow (Moong Dal) in my pantry. This is a sure-fire way to be well-fed and healthy on a budget.
Let's get started cooking!
Prep your onions, garlic and eggplant. Measure out the other ingredients. As you can see, I wet sauté my onions, garlic and eggplant. That means sautéing without any added oil. I learned this technique from the Forks Over Knives/Rouxbe Ultimate Plant-based Culinary Course and never looked back. I didn't believe you could sauté without all those added calories from oil, but I was wrong! Oils are highly refined foods - stripped of their fiber and nutrients. They deliver added calories in addition to damaging our cardiovascular system, and increasing our risk of diabetes (insulin resistance). Plus, I discovered that oil got in the way of flavor. That's right. I remarked to the instructor on one of my FOK/Rouxbe assignments that without oil, the flavors were much brighter. He chuckled and said "now you get it".
Sauté the onions, garlic and eggplant for several minutes, over medium-high heat, using 'just enough' broth/water/wine to keep the food from sticking to the pan.
Then, add the tomato paste, and sauté it (without any more liquid) until it begins to darken. Now, you can add the capers and wine. Cook until the wine is almost evaporated.
Add the lentils, tomatoes (or Marinara Sauce ... I have a lot of homemade from my bumper crop of tomatoes last summer!) and broth/water.
Bring to a boil, and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently to loosen any lentils that begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. The mixture will thicken somewhat as the lentils cook (absorbing liquid). You might want to add a bit more water/broth/wine.
I don't like to waste even a drop of home-grown tomato goodness. I'll swish out ever last bit into the pot! This is when you'll want to reduce the heat to a simmer, and put a lid on the pot loosely. Simmer over the lowest heat for 20-25 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure that you have enough liquid.
Remember to taste and adjust the flavors. If tartness is needed, you can add more wine, a splash of vinegar (white wine or Spanish Sherry vinegar) or fresh lemon juice. If sweetness is needed, add more tomato paste ... or do what I do and toss in a spoonful of brown sugar! Of course, salt and pepper to your hearts' content.
I also love adding one of my favorite herb blends to this dish: Summer Garden Salt-Free Herb Blend from the Spice House in Chicago. I always have this in my spice cabinet with plenty in reserve in the freezer. It's that good!
I served it over some freshly cooked Tagliatelle pasta. Leftovers went over fat, toasted slabs of sourdough bread. This dish is nothing if not versatile! It would also be great spooned over a baked sweet potato or yam.
Hey, if you like or make this dish, would you mind posting the recipe to Yummly? I'd really appreciate that. The Yummly icon is on the right side of this webpage. Oh, and saving to Pinterest would also be great! Each photo should have a Pinterest icon in the upper left corner! Thanks!
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