lentils-image1I recently came across an interesting article by Mark Bittman that appeared in the New York Times back in December. It advocates eating “real food,” rather than convenience or restaurant food. According to Bittman, everyone should be able to do three things: a chopped salad, a stir-fry, and a basic lentils and rice recipe. Bittman suggests that by learning to cook just these three things, we can begin to end our reliance on processed and fast foods. In the bargain, he suggests that we’ll save money, eat more healthy foods, and reduce our carbon footprint.

I found Bittman’s article quite interesting, and consistent with many things I do already. I rarely eat out, and no longer rely on convenience foods. Gone are the years when I ate Lean Cuisines every night for dinner. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t completely given up convenience products, but I do use them less than I used to. However, I approach things in a slightly different way than Bittman suggests.

While I eat a lot of main dish salads in the summer, I’m not convinced that they’re inexpensive. Nor are they easy. During the summer months when I eat main dish salads nearly every night, I have to stop at the grocery every other day to keep all of the fresh produce I need in stock. I do like salads, but at least for the winter months, would definitely swap out his chopped salad notion for pasta. There are so many things you can do with pasta and not use convenience sauces (although many of them are delicious).

I’d probably add a fourth thing to his list, and that would be to make a big pot of homemade soup, stew, or chili on the weekend. I do this nearly every weekend all winter, and then divide it up into individual serving containers; some of the containers go in the freezer, and some in the refrigerator. This makes an incredibly easy, nutritious meal to reheat during the busy week. It can also be as inexpensive (beans and veggies) or expensive (add in chicken, beef, or more exotic vegetables) as I want.

Since I’ve read Bittman’s article, I’ve actually incorporated lentils and rice into my regular diet. I’m still searching for recipes that really make me happy, so if you happen to have one, I’ve love to read about it. I routinely cook beans and rice (black beans or red beans), and would group those in with his basic “lentils and rice” category (something Bittman actually does in the recipe that goes along with the article).

I’ve also been doing more stir-fry meals since reading this article. But I suspect I’m totally violating the author’s original notion, as I’ve been using bottled stir-fry sauces, rather than making my own. Why? Because I don’t have the seemingly hundreds of ingredients that most of the recipes I’ve found seem to require. Do you have any good, simple, stir-fry sauce recipes?

Did you read Bittman’s article? If so, what do you think? And what do you think of his three cooking “essentials?” And finally, is there any difference in taste between red, yellow, and brown lentils?