Azo Family Chocolate Cake
Amanda Hesser's Butternut Squash Curry

Michel Richard's Collard Greens and Lentils


Welcome to 2007! It's not that bad so far, is it? Well, it's oddly warm here, which is mildly terrifying, and I'm currently nursing the combination of both a hangover and a small case of jetlag, which actually manages to be even worse than it sounds, but on the whole I'd have to say that I'm looking forward to this new year of ours.

In the grand tradition of Italians, Southerners and apparently the Irish, we prepared for the end-of-year festivities yesterday by eating a lunch of stewed greens and lentils. I thought the tradition was just in the lentils (legumes equal money, didn't you know), but it turns out that leafy greens carry the same significance in other cultures. And do you know who I learned this from? Mark Bittman! On the Today Show this morning! Yes, this is what waking up drunk and jetlagged on New Year's Day will do to you: you will find yourself watching Ann, Al and Meredith stuffing cabbage with the Minimalist as you sit bleary-eyed at home on your couch, marveling at their composure (and ability to walk a straight line), while wishing you'd had the wherewithal to have an actual dinner before, or even after, consuming those numerous glasses of Champagne the night before.

As that last sentence might indicate, I'm not sure I've entirely recovered.

But anyway, our lunch. The recipe came from an impressive article in the LA Times a couple years ago about a fantasy Thanksgiving feast that would be made up of contributions from famous chefs (Judy Rodgers' bread salad, Sherry Yard's pumpkin torte, Thomas Keller's shrimp appetizer, and so on, you get the picture). Michel Richard, the famous man behind Citronelle in Washington DC and the author of Happy In The Kitchen, contributed a recipe for long-cooked collard greens and chewy lentils that to me seemed far better suited for a simple weekend lunch than as a side player on the Thanksgiving table.

A plateful of this stewy stuff with a piece of cracklingly fresh bread - why would you want anything else? On some days, that's all you need. It was just so good. So simple and earthy and good. There's just enough prep work to make you feel happily industrious, but then the bulk of the cooking is done in the oven while you are free to contemplate a pedicure or finish that book you started two weeks ago, or draw up a list of thank you cards to write or just sit and gaze at your boyfriend because for a week you couldn't and now you can again. Then you pull out the pot, stir in the balsamic vinegar (which really makes this dish) and think that while the lentils and greens might bring you fortune, you're already quite happy with all that you've got.

So, isn't that extra nice? A good meal and some deep thoughts? I think this recipe's a keeper. (My only caution to you all is that the original recipes says this will serve 6 as a side course, but Ben and I polished it off for lunch alone and - er - sort of battled each other for the last spoonfuls. Those greens really cook down.)

And now I've got to go figure out my dinner plans and take about seven Advil. It's a good thing New Year's Eve comes but once a year.

Collard Greens and Lentils
Serves 2 as a main course

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/4 pound bacon, cut in thin strips
1 pound collard greens or mixed collard and mustard greens, ribs removed, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup green Le Puy lentils or other lentils
Salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar

1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or ovenproof pot and saute the onion over medium heat until it becomes translucent and begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the bacon and cook until it softens, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and remove any excess oil by patting the bacon with a paper towel.

2. Return the pot to the heat and add half the greens. This will fill the pot, but as you cook, stirring frequently, the leaves will wilt and shrink. When there is enough room, add the remaining greens and the chicken stock. Stir to mix evenly.

3. Cover the pot and place it in the oven to cook until the greens are well stewed and deeply fragrant, about 1 and 1/2 hours.

4. Add the lentils, stir, cover and return the pot to the oven until the lentils are tender but still a little chewy, about 40 to 45 minutes.

5. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Taste and add a little more vinegar if necessary. Serve immediately.