Vegetarian Potato Casserole with Green Lentils (Mercimekli Patates Oturtma)
Back in the 80s, when I was in the elementary school, to support farmers who couldn't sell their produce Turkish government had bought hard-to-melt-down amount of lentils. The government's solution for agricultural crisis created another problem: warehouses stocked with lentils.
Government's solution to this new lentil crisis was Ayşe Baysal, professor of nutrition and dietetics, aka "auntie Ayşe" or "auntie lentil." Auntie lentil appeared every single day, seriously, for months on TV, on the only channel of the time--the state's channel TRT1, and gave a lentil recipe. Behind this obsessive non-stop lentil recipe creation was, of course, the determination of government and auntie Ayşe to reduce the national surplus of lentils.
Turkish public learned from "auntie lentil" that 100 gr. lentils is equal to ? gr. ground meat; how to make phyllo dough pastries (börek) with lentils; or how to make dolmas with lentils. Some of these recipes inspired Turkish people to cook more with lentils, and some scarred us; they became a nation's nightmare or a part of its dark collective unconscious like "baklava with lentils"!! The idea annoys me to this day. (I wonder if anyone tried)
I remembered auntie lentil a couple of days ago when I wanted to make a traditional Turkish recipe, potato casserole, which requires ground meat. I am not really fond of ground meat and I was thinking about how or with what to replace it when I clearly remembered auntie lentil saying over and over again that lentils are perfect substitute for ground meat. And here we go...
1 cup green lentils
5-6 potatoes, cut in 1/2 inch rounds (This time I used red potatoes, but any potato is fine)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 big red Italian sweet peppers or 2 green chilies, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup chopped parsley
3 - 4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
crushed red pepper flakes
ground pepper and salt
-Boil green lentils with 1 tsp cumin, 1 bay leaf, and 5 cups of water until cooked. Rinse.
-Boil potato rounds in salty water for approximately 10 minutes. Don't let them get mushy; they should be cooked but firm.
-Heat oil in a pan. Add onions and garlic. Cook for 5-6 minutes until onion is softened.
-Add peppers and cook for 3 minutes.
-Add tomato paste and cook for 2 more minutes.
-Stir in tomato and lentils. Add salt and pepper (and optional crushed red pepper flakes).
-Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes. (Add a little bit of water if it dries out)
-Grease an oven dish and place potato rounds. Cover potato rounds with lentils. Pour 1/4 cup of water.
-Bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 20-25 minutes.
-Sprinkle parsley on top before you serve.
The recipe turned out really good. We tried it with yogurt the first day; we loved it. And next day we heated it up in the oven with cheese on top. That was delicious, too.
This lentil recipe with my favorite herb parsley is for "auntie lentil" as well as for Simona of Briciole, my favorite lexiconist food blogger who is hosting Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging.