I've always loved to listen to Ina Garten cook. If you close your eyes and just listen to her talk through the recipes, it feels like one of those perfect Saturday mornings, when you have the whole weekend ahead of you, and you're sitting with your steaming cup of coffee with nothing to do but ponder all the possibilities. She never rushes about the kitchen. There's no deadline hanging over the boiling pot, no hand of the clock counting down to the plating. She strikes me as down to earth, despite her obviously comfortable lifestyle. She enjoys cooking for family, particularly baking for her husband, and is thoughtful toward friends. Ms. Garten never spouts off expensive brands and she's not above short cuts. No time to make chicken stock from scratch? Just a good can of store bought stock will do. May be her easy style in the kitchen is due to her previous career as a nuclear policy analyst for the White House. I imagine an experience like that will teach you to stay cool in most circumstances.
I heard and watched Ms. Garten make green lentils and salmon many years ago on her Food Network show. I wasn't cooking much back then, but just beginning a dalliance with food porn. When my husband Tim (then boyfriend) came back for leave from Iraq, I suddenly wanted to make him something ... a meal! I was visiting his parents' house, and I asked his mother if it would be okay if I cooked lunch for the family in her spotless kitchen. Bold move. But then, all I could think to make was Ina Garten's salmon and green lentils. To my surprise, my mother-in-law invited Tim's grandmother, Nan, who was all about microwave meals and chocolate. At one point while I was in the thick of it preparing the meal, all burners going, salmon skin popping in the olive oil, Tim ducked into the kitchen just to yell, "The pressure is on!"
I kept my cool, I think. Everyone enjoyed the meal and Nan exclaimed after having seconds, "Did you ever think I'd be eating lentils!!??" I've loved making this meal ever since. If I make it on weeknights, I do so when I have more than 30 minutes to get dinner on the table. After all, the pleasure of cooking this meal is being able to channel Ina Garten's lightness of being, and not be my usual harried self. And every time I've prepared this dish since that first time, Tim reflects over his plate before taking a bite and says, "This reminds me of a meal, I once had..." Nan, died last December. She was 94. —GSmodden
French green lentils
good olive oil plus more for the salmon
chopped yellow onions
ground black pepper
red wine vinegar
good canned broth
salmon filets (Garten says skin off; I like a crispy skin)
Boil the lentils in water for 15 minutes, and set aside. Heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
While the lentils are cooking, heat some olive oil in a deep pan. Saute the garlic, leeks, and thyme. When fragrant, put in all the other veges. Lower the heat a bit so the vegetables don't burn and let them soften. Mix in the tomato paste. Then put in the lentils and stock. Add salt to taste. Cook until the lentils have softened (but not mushy) and until the consistency isn't soupy.
Salt and pepper the fish. In a separate pan, heat some olive oil, and saute the fish for a few minutes, and then place the fish in the oven. Garten recommends 5 to 7 minutes in the oven to keep the salmon rare, but I keep it in for about 10 minutes so the skin becomes really crispy.
Spoon a mound of lentils on each plate, and place a salmon filet on top.