I first made this recipe to go with some simple grilled fish and set it all on a bed of spinach. But since then I've made it again and again, more often than not as a homey vegetarian main course. Served over toast, it resembles a lentil-based sloppy joe; over mashed potatoes, it's comfort food extraordinaire. I like to use black lentils in this dish, since they hold their shape--I figure lentils are humble enough without them bursting and turning to mush. —Cara Eisenpress
Bring the lentils to a boil with 3 cups of water, 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, the bay leaf, and the whole clove of garlic. Simmer, uncovered, 30-35 minutes, until the lentils are soft but hold their shape. Toward the end of cooking, add 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and minced garlic and saute until soft and slightly brown. Add the sweet potatoes and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cayenne and ginger, tossing to coat the vegetables, then add the ketchup, mustard, sugar, vinegar, and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, and bring to a simmer.
Drain the lentils, reserving the cooking water, and add them and about 1/2 cup of cooking water to the pan. Keep simmering until the sauce coats the lentils and is no longer soupy. Taste for balance of flavors, adding more sugar, vinegar, salt, or cayenne as necessary.
I'm the founder, editor, and head chef at the blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen (www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com), a site dedicated to easy-to-execute recipes and stories from a quarter-life kitchen. I'm also the author of In the Small Kitchen published in 2011.