Intro to Meatless Monday: Salmon with Lentils

During World War I, the government urged American families to eat less wheat, meat, sugar and fats, to aid the war effort. “Meatless Monday” was introduced. An estimated 10 million families and 7,000 hotels jumped on board, saving over 100 tons of meat in just one week. The campaign returned in World War II, when rationing was used to help feed countries in need in Europe. Over the past several years, Meatless Monday has been reintroduced in numerous communities across the country. The goal is to bring awareness about meat consumption and its effect on our bodies, as well as the environment.

Even I, your friendly neighborhood carnivore, know that there is such a thing as consuming too much meat. Our bodies can use a few meatless days now and then, giving us a chance to explore different grains, vegetables and other foods we may have not thought to try before now. That’s why I’m jumping on board with Meatless Monday. You can read more about the movement at the official Meatless Monday site.

In honor of my first Meatless Monday, here’s an easy, delicious recipe that will leave you feeling light, yet satisfied. Sauteed salmon over lentils is not only a simple dish, it’s one that’s good for you. Salmon is chockfull of Omega-3 fatty acid, which is essential for normal growth in children. It’s also known to have cardiovascular benefits and may even help improve memory.

When I went to shop for the ingredients for this dish, I originally intended to purchase salmon steaks. When I got to the fish counter of my local market, I instantly fell in love with the fresh Alaskan sockeye on display. The gorgeous pink color was unbelievable and I felt a little sorry for the other salmon. I mean, they just seemed dull in comparison! Of course, I asked the fish monger to filet me a few pieces, which I happily brought home.

I paired this delicious salmon with Beluga lentils, but you can easily substitute them for whatever lentils you have on hand. I chose black lentils because they contrast nicely with the pink of the salmon. The compound butter can be prepared ahead of time, even a day or two in advance. Any leftover butter can be used on chicken or a juicy steak. Make sure to print out a copy of this recipe, because it will definitely be a “go to” when you’re expecting company! The presentation is amazing and no one has to know that it required little effort!

Salmon with Black Lentils and Mustard-Chive Butter

What You’ll Need:

For the Butter:
6 tablespoons salted butter, softened
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Lentils:
1 cup Beluga lentils
4 cups water
1 tablespoon Mustard-Chive Butter (see above)
A pinch of Kosher salt

For the Salmon:
4 pieces skinless salmon fillet (Preferable Alaskan Sockeye)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

To make the butter, mash all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Transfer the butter to a sheet of plastic wrap. Shape the butter into a log about an inch in diameter, using the plastic to help mold the butter. Wrap the log tightly, then chill.

Bring lentils, water and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Once the water begins to boil, reduce the heat and simmer the lentils for about 15 to 20 minutes. Almost all the water will have evaporated and the lentils should be tender. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the mustard-chive butter, then remove the lentils from the heat and cover to keep warm.

Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the salmon for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. I like my salmon medium-rare, but if you prefer yours closer to well done, increase the cooking time by 1 or 2 minutes, total. Overcooked fish is a sacrilege.

Spoon some of the lentils onto a plate, then place a salmon filet onto the lentils. Top with some of the mustard-chive butter. Enjoy!

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Mustard Braised Pork Belly

Ever heard of or seen pork belly and wonder, “What the heck is that?” Yeah, me too.

At work, I go through dozens and dozens of invoices each week, looking over the product sent to us by wholesale distributors. We go through hundreds of boxes of pork belly each month and I always used to wonder, “What do people use this for?” It wasn’t until fairly recently that I discovered most of the restaurants and cuchifritos we supply cut the pork belly into small chunks and deep fry. Talk about a coronary on a plate!

Picture Courtesy of Wikipedia

Pork belly is exactly what it sounds like — the meat from the belly of the pig. It’s very fatty and definitely not diet food. Besides being commonly used in cuchifritos, I discovered that pork belly is extremely popular in Korean and Chinese cuisine. Hmmm, I guess I’ll have to check for that the next time we order from Oriental House!

When I saw Anne Burrell braise a piece of pork belly on Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, I said to myself, “Hey, I’ve seen pork belly! I know what that is!” My inner foodie jumped at the chance to make it. This is definitely not part of a low calorie, low fat diet. Don’t check your Weight Watcher’s Points Calculator, unless you want to pass out. This is a delicious, once-in-a-while, “wow, I made that?” dish. Start it in the morning and let it braise while you do a few loads of laundry, mow the lawn, whatever. The result will be a succulent piece of pork that falls apart in your mouth. Yum.

Mustard Braised Pork Belly

Mustard Braised Pork Belly

Adapted from Anne Burrell

Dry rub:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons dry mustard powder
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 tablespoon sugar
zest of one lemon
2 sprigs rosemary, picked and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
3 pounds pork belly, skin removed
Pork belly:
extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
kosher salt
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
2 cups chicken stock
fresh thyme bundle
3 bay leaves

Combine all the dry rub ingredients in a bowl. Massage the rub all over the pork belly, then cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Coat a large, high-sided pan with olive oil and put over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic. Season the vegetables with the crushed red pepper and salt, to taste. Cook the vegetables until they start to soften, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the wine and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in the mustard and chicken stock. Add the pork belly, then toss in the thyme and bay leaves. Cover and put in the preheated oven. Braise the belly for 6 hours, checking occasionally and rotating the pan half way through the cooking process.

After the 6 hours, remove the lid and set the oven to broil. Broil the pork belly for a few minutes, until it gets a nice golden color. Transfer the pork belly to a cutting board and cut into portions. Arrange the pork on a platter, or serve onto plates and pour some of the braising liquid on top. This goes nicely with mashed potatoes or rice, and some wilted greens, such as kale or mustard greens.