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    In the frying pan, nearly ready to serve. I made this one with carrots, curry spices, chile-garlic paste, allspice and cinnamon, and a little vinegar and lemon for acidity.

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Lentil Stew with…Pineapple?

Fresh pineapples are just coming on the market at a good price this week or so–$2 or $3 apiece. Meanwhile, tomatoes are…well, let’s say they’re not at their finest in December. So, some added incentive for trying something new.

Pineapple is the last thing that belongs in anything subtle or savory–or is it? Hawaiian pizza is practically a classic by now, despite the culinary clash of a pineapple-ham topping on the one hand and garlicky tomato sauce, mozzarella and oregano on the other. Of course, that (and all other glazed pineapple/pork product classics) seems more brash than subtle.

Given the usual culinary partners–ham, chicken, cottage cheese, spam and more spam–you’d think the rule for making pineapple work in something savory would be that the other main item has to be pretty salty to stand up to all that acidic tropical sweetness. But that’s not the only way to deal with it. Good thing too, since ham, ham, spam and ham are off my grocery list. (So’s spam.)

This curried lentil and vegetable stew, which I’ve based on a dish from my much-missed Lebanese former-restaurant-turned-lunch-spot, takes advantage of pineapple’s tang while mellowing out its jarring sweetness. It took me a couple of tries to achieve the taste I remembered from the restaurant, but I think this version works pretty well, even though it contains no salt at all.

Depending on the sweetness of your pineapple, you may need more or less to balance the flavors. The pineapple should be a subtle but surprising bite among the other vegetables and the rich lentil base. Don’t be afraid to tinker with the (rather loose) amounts of the various ingredients and taste as you go.

Curried Lentil Stew with Pineapple

  • 3-4 c. fully cooked green/brown lentils or half a pound dry (see step 1)
  • 1 T. curry powder
  • 1/2 t. ground cumin
  • 1/2 t. ground coriander seed if you have it
  • 1/2 t. brown mustard seeds if you have them
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1-2 medium tomatoes if you have them
  • juice of a lemon–plus another half to adjust taste as needed
  • 2  large or one really fat clove garlic, minced/mashed/grated
  • 2-3 half-inch rounds of fresh unsweetened pineapple in smallish chunks
  • 2-3 big carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 stalks celery, chopped
  • a good glug of dry red wine, cheap but decent, about 1/4 c.
  • olive oil

1. To cook the lentils in case you haven’t, wash and pick over half a pound of green/brown lentils and put them in a big pyrex bowl (2.5 qt/l) with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Put a microwaveable lid or dinner plate on top and microwave on HIGH for 7-8 minutes. Let sit in the closed oven another 20-30 minutes to soak up, add more water if there’s less than an inch above the lentils, then microwave again for another 7-8 minutes. Wait another 10-15 minutes and test for doneness. The lentils should be soft.

2. Meanwhile, sauté one of the onions with the spices in a little olive oil for a few minutes, add the chopped tomato and half the garlic and cook a few minutes, adding a drizzle of water if it starts to dry out.

3. When the lentils are done, pour them in with some of the cooking water, stir up, heat, and add the lemon juice and the pineapple. Cook a few more minutes until it starts to thicken.

3. Put the cooked lentils back into the pyrex bowl, add the remaining vegetables and the rest of the garlic, a little water, maybe a little more lemon juice, the wine, and a drizzle of olive oil. Cover at least partway (maybe with a small gap to let alcohol from the wine boil off) and microwave 5 minutes more or until the vegetables are tender.

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