Christmas and Holiday Gift: Lentils for Good Fortune

Lentils are a new favorite around here.

I figured out that if you cook them with a nice ham hock, they taste great. My friends gave me a gift last year that included a lentil recipe and the dry ingredients with which to make it. I've included a vegan version, too.

Here's my version of that same gift. Throw in a bottle of wine for good measure. It can be included in the stew, or drunk alongside it.

A great celebration, La Festa di San Silvestro takes place in Italy at New Year's that features the humble lentil. It is thought that lentils bring prosperity and good luck in the coming year. You can read about it here, and be happy that you can share this tradition with your friends via this wonderful gift.

First up, is my lentil butternut squash with ham stew. I stumbled upon this when I was trying to make split pea soup with ham. I figured one dried small legume was the same as another. I was right. Nice and nutty, this is a wonderful recipe. You can include walnuts, chicken stock, bay leaves, curry powder and lentils for this version.

Below is another variation, that involves lentils, rice and saffron. Again, and always with beans, in my opinion, include a bay leaf or two, and chicken stock. I love to present gifts in the pot or pan you might cook them in. Place the lentils and all the dry ingredients in a saucepan with a lid, add a bow and you're set. I've also included a mason jar of rice with the same ribbon. Print out this recipe and attach it to the bag or basket the gift is in. Voila! Instant holiday meal.


Cooked Lentils with Saffron


  • 1/2 cup dried lentils
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 to 8 ounces saffron
  • 1 cup cooked rice, according to your taste: basmati, jasmine, pearl
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place lentils, water, saffron and bay leaf in a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, add salt and pepper.
  3. Reduce to medium-low, let simmer, stirring occasionally for 20 to 30 minutes, until softened.
  4. While the lentils cook, brown the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft.
  5. Mix together the onions, garlic and lentils. Remove the bay leaf, add salt and pepper if needed and serve over rice.

Lentil Butternut Squash Walnut and Ham Stew

It's amazing how little it takes to make lentil butternut squash and ham stew.

My Saturday walk brought me to my local produce market. I picked up a butternut squash, it being Fall and all, and grabbed a few other things. On my way back home, I stopped off at the butcher shop where I spotted this lovely ham hock (see above). As I walked home, I wondered what I might make with the squash, when I recalled the lentils in my cupboard.

I'm not generally a fan of lentils, but I had a big bag of them in the cupboard waiting to be made into something, anything actually, since  in general, I'm not a huge lentil fan. I do really like lentils in Indian food, but had yet to find a way that I enjoyed eating them in a home cooked meal.

When I opened the cabinet to get the lentils out, a bag of curry powder fell onto the countertop. I figured this was a sign of some sort and so, I proceeded to build a dish around the lentils, curry powder and ham hock. The ham hock and beans made me think of my favorite soup, split pea with ham, so I also grabbed some nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon to round out the spices for the recipe.

Roasting the squash with the shallots for awhile, before adding the par-boiled lentils and ham hock, softened it just enough to allow some caramelization to begin, before the stewing began.

I've always wanted to try walnuts with squash, so figured it being a time of experimentation, why not do it now? The walnuts kept their crunch and the flavor combination was great.

A combination of slow and low cooking time, and the blend of warm, earthy spices make this stew perfect for the shorter and cooler days that are upon us.

Lentil Butternut Squash Walnut and Ham Stew


  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
  • 2 shallots, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup lentils, cooked until soft, 20 minutes in water
  • 1 ham hock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, or 10 whole cloves


  1. Place the butternut squash, shallots, curry powder and olive oil in a heavy ovenproof pan and mix to coat all the squash pieces with oil and spices.
  2. Cook in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 25 minutes, until the squash begins to soften.
  3. While the squash cooks, heat a pot on high heat, add the ham hock and brown on all sides.
  4. Add the cooked lentils to the ham hock, with enough water to cover halfway up the hock.
  5. Remove the squash from the oven, add the squash to the lentils and ham hock and stir in the walnuts.
  6. Add enough water to cover the mixture in the pot and place in the oven, covering the pot halfway with a lid.
  7. Cook for 20 minutes, stir, return to the oven and cook another 20 minutes.
  8. The stew is done when there is a slight film over the top of the beans, showing some glossiness, but with a  bit of liquid left in the pot.

They're Supposed to be Green (Beans)

Have you ever tried a green bean salad from a salad bar? The beans are usually somewhat grey, dressed with too much oil and not enough vinegar, and often times they are covered in some weird herbs.

I'm here to share with you a really good, quick and easy green bean salad recipe. The key is in how you prepare your beans. You can make any number of dressings for the beans, once they've been cooked properly. If you over cook them no matter how you dress them, they just won't taste right.

If you follow these very simple steps, the most important being to rinse the beans in cool running water for a bit to stop the cooking, you will be ever so pleased with the results.

I'm thinking that a version of this recipe will also end up as one of the Cooking for One series I've been working on. I figure you can cook all the beans at once, store them in air tight containers in portion sized servings. Then, when you're ready to eat the green beans, you can add any number of a variety of sauces. One is included here, just a basic lemon, olive oil and caper combination.

Green Bean Salad

serves 2


  • 1 pound Green Beans (or yellow), tips cut off
  • 3 tbsps Salt
  • 1/2 of a Lemon
  • Olive Oil to sprinkle over the cooked beans
  • 1/4 tsp capers, drained
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • Boil a large pot of water with the salt in it.
  • Place the green beans in a steamer basket.
  • Submerge the basket in the boiling water.
  • Partially cover the pan, leaving enough space for the steam to escape.
  • Cook the beans for 6 minutes.
  • Take the steamer basket out of the pan, and rinse under cold water for one minute.
  • Put the beans (about half the cooked amount will do for two) in a shallow bowl and squeeze the lemon over them. Sprinkle some olive oil on top and add the capers, salt and pepper.
  • Mix it up and enjoy!

Ribollita: It's A Stew & Soup All-In-One!

"How many more days are we going to be eating this?" Ah, the familiar refrain from many years ago, of me questioning Gran Fran about the never-ending quantity of our beloved Ribollita.

Literally reboiled, this stew-y soup got us through many a cold evening. Gran Fran started making it when I was in college and the last one I made was very recently, seeing as it goes from 90 degrees to 40 degrees from one day to the next, out here in San Francisco lately.

And so, I am now the proprietor of many plastic lidded containers to friends and family of said soup. I cannot make fewer than 15 servings. No matter how hard I try, how small the pot is that I use, or how many ways to Sunday that I reduce all of the ingredients, I always, always end up with a huge pot of soup. The only saving grace in having gallons of this soup is that I have plenty of friends, vegetarian, vegan or otherwise who seem to never get enough of my Ribollita.

I would gladly eat this hearty soup for every meal, especially since you can alter the flavors just by adding or subtracting herbs, changing the kinds of beans you use or sometimes adding a little red wine. But, the issue here, is not the awesome taste of all the ingredients coming together. No, it's the huge amount of carbs included in the recipe, which of course makes the soup even more tasty. Not only are there beans, pasta and potatoes, but also a good hunk of white or Italian bread.

Remember when only doctors or scientists used the term "carbs"? Sometimes you'd hear about it on the news, but it made no never-mind to me. I just wanted me some good, filling soup, you know? Now, I have to worry about all manner of ingredients and how they come together to create some kind of evil within. It was nice to come home and see Gran Fran working on her soup, without a care in the world about whether or not she might be struck down for combining bread with pasta, let alone then adding potatoes.

Well, all I know is that when I moved out to San Francisco 17 years ago, I had to get some recipes stored up for inexpensive, filling meals. And, if they reminded me of Gran Fran and Joe, then all the better. So it was that the Ribollita became my first foray into large scale cooking for roommates and a revolving cast of characters. At 22, I had no worries about weight or nutrition, but plenty to worry about when it came to cashflow.

I kid you not, for a mere $6.00 a pot, you can easily feed 8 people. And, it's veggie and vegan friendly, so as the new one in the house, it made for a great first meal to be able to cook for the varying diets of my roommates. I recall having Gran Fran on the phone (well before my cell phone made an appearance so of course, the phone had a cord, which flowed from my tiny room through the hall into the kitchen) advising me how to make the tomato paste puree with the herbs, oil and garlic.

All the while, Gran Fran would ask things like "Are you making a nice roast beef to go with it? Or, of course you could serve tofu, but, you know, I don't go in for those sorts of things." I knew then, just as much as I know now, how important it is for us to cook "together". All these years later, we still call each other when we're cooking, going over ingredients, temperatures, serving suggestions.

Enjoy your Ribollita tonight, tomorrow night, the next, and maybe well into next week. Oh, and don't think about the carbs, just the excellent goodness of the soup!!

Serves 8

3 large Idaho or other baking potatoes, peeled, sliced, washed and dried 3 carrots, peeled, washed, diced 1 large onion, minced 5 Tbs. Olive oil Salt and pepper 16 to 18 cups boiling water 1 cup elbow macaroni or other small pasta. 1 package frozen corn 1 package frozen peas 1 can chick peas, drained and well rinsed 1 can pink kidney beans, drained and well rinsed 1 can cannelini beans, drained and well rinsed 2 slices country bread

Seasoning Ingredients: 1 large bunch basil, stems removed, finely minced or 1 ablespoon dried basil 2 T tomato paste 6 T olive oil salt pepper crushed red pepper flakes 2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Optional Garnish: Shards of Reggiano Parmigiano or Asiago cheese Additional crushed red pepper flakes

1. Soup: Heat olive oil in a heavy, nonreactive stockpot. Add potatoes, carrots, and onion. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Add bay leaf. Cook vegetables over medium heat, stirring often, until golden. 2. Pour boiling water over vegetables. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir. Reduce heat to medium low. Partially cover pot and simmer soup for 45 minutes 3. Bring soup back to the boil over high heat. Add pasta. Stir. Reduce heat to medium. Cook for 8 minutes or until pasta is almost cooked. 4. Add corn, peas, chick peas, cannelini, and kidney beans. Stir and cook for about12 minutes over medium heat or until corn and peas are cooked and beans are hot. 5. Break bread into very fine pieces bread .Crumble into soup. Stir, incorporating bread bits into soup by pressing them against the side of the pot. Remove soup form stove. 6. Seasoning: In a small bowl, combine tomato paste, olive oil, basil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and garlic. Fold seasoning mixture into soup. 7. Serve soup, with grated cheese if desired