Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Red Lentil Pancakes with Mango Chutney

Last weekend I cooked dinner and played piano with/for a new friend.  Playing music is so much like cooking.  In each case, it's often about translation-- taking something written and turning into a one-time event.  Sure, you can record the performance, or freeze your leftovers, but for the most part, each time you give life to the words, numbers, and symbols on the page, you're making something a little different.  So many variables: your instrument, the tempi, the volume, the phrasing and dynamic, the articulation, etc... and with food, the freshness of the ingredients and the place where they came from and the time of year... and in both cases, the people you're sharing it with.

This, of course, is assuming you're doing everything possible to accurately reproduce the communication from the page.  Usually there are substitutions, estimates, whims, and corners cut.

And you might not even be following a recipe to begin with.  Because every Bach invention you play (or hear), every Indian curry you make (or eat), you're building up an incredible vocabulary, inventory of tricks, figures, combinations, structures, patterns, all components that can be recombined to make something new.

We live in a culture that rewards those who cook by the book but enviously pays lip service to the superiority of the untutored creative genius.  I think the idea that these creative practices are wholly separate is a fiction.  The most historically "authentic" performance of a Handel aria demands a huge amount of interpretation and decision-making on the part of the performer, and the freest jazz solo ever played is informed by any number of tropes and patterns the player has played many times before.

I've been thinking about all this as the frequency of my posts dwindles.  It's not that I'm not cooking as much, but rather that the most appropriate cooking blog posts are the recipes that I follow rather closely.  The things I make when I'm in a hurry, when I want something comforting and familiar, or when I want to be able to talk with guests... are usually those things for which I don't need a recipe.

That said, here's a new recipe, seen separately in several places.  We had these lentil pancakes with a mango chutney I thought I was making up off the top of my head--sauteed onion, ginger, mustard seed, and cumin seed; added mango and salt; simmered; finished off with lemon juice--only to realize this morning that I'd made a similar (more complicated) version almost a year ago.  And speaking of almost a year ago, we finally finished up the mangoes that had been in my freezer for nine months.  They were still delicious--there was way less fallout than there was when Mel Gibson's character in Forever Young got thawed.

We had the pancakes and chutney with baingan bharta and kale sauteed with garlic, stock, and lemon.  Since we ate all of that up, the pancakes are photographed above with rice and and a new eggplant lentil curry.

I used arrowroot as a binder for the pancakes and realized how far that $8 bag I bought at Whole Foods is going to take me.  Considering I use about a tablespoon per month, we're talking lifetime supply.

The pancakes were very fragile until the heat activated the arrowroot, but I think this was exacerbated by the fact that I blended the lentils with all the other ingredients, so that they never really got creamy and batter-like.  Still, they turned out delicious, and with the chutney, they were delightfully reminiscent of potato pancakes with applesauce.

Spiced Red Lentil Pancakes

1 c red lentils, soaked overnight and drained
2 TB arrowroot + 6 TB cold water (substituted for 2 eggs)
1/2 c chopped scallion
1 large carrot, finely julienned or grated
1 TB minced garlic
1 TB minced peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 TB garam masala
1 tsp red pepper flakes (omitted)

1. Put the lentils in a food processor and add about 3/4 cup water (or less). Puree until a smooth and thick batter is formed. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the arrowroot mixture, scallion, carrot, garlic, ginger, garam masala, chili, and salt.
2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray. Ladle in the batter to form several smaller pancakes.  Turn the heat down to medium and cook until the bottom is browned, about 2 1/2 minutes. Flip and cook for another 2 1/2 minutes.
3. Serve hot with some kind of mango chutney and fresh cilantro.
Serves about 3.


janet @ the taste space said...

Those pancakes are pretty tasty... Thanks for the idea for frozen mangoes. We are cleaning out our freezer and I was thinking on making mango bbq beans again but this is a great idea. How long do you think the chutney would last?

Julia said...

Hmm.. I did the canning thing where you sterilize the jar, but after opening it, I'd think a few weeks? I'd freeze part of it if I didn't think I was going to get back to it for a while. Of course, that doesn't really help with your clean-out-the-freezer agenda! ;)