Last month I promised to share my recipe for Ecuadorian menestra adapted from the original potato-version. In South America lentils are used just about daily in one dish or another. The most common is called “Menestra,” which is like a veggie stew and means a mix of vegetables—usually containing lentils along with other spices, vegetables (usually potatoes) and broth—it’s one of the irreplaceable dishes in Latin America—served as a main dish or an accompaniment. It is so satisfyingly filling (true comfort food) that I often make it my main meal. I was raised in California eating lentils as a main dish in a Latin family. But since relocating my Health Sciences to Ecuador, I’ve become not only more fond of them but have come to appreciate their health-enhancing qualities and versatility. I hope you will too! If you visit this unforgettable country (my new chosen homeland) of amazing people, spectacular scenery, celebratory festivals, diverse music, and colorful ancient customs, the one thing you’ll find everywhere is the national dish—menestra. Most often made with lentils, you may also see it with chickpeas, red or pinto beans.
You will only find it made from scratch (NOT in a can or frozen), and it often accompanies meat, rice and fried plantain. For vegetarians, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for it with an egg instead, and vegans will find that Ecuadorians have no problem serving it without meat or egg and instead give you a bit of extra menestra and rice—I find them very accommodating for even the most sensitive allergies or food preferences; it just takes a positive respectful attitude and a little education.
LENTIL STEW RECIPE
- 2–3 TB. coconut or avocado oil
- 1–2 red onions, diced
- 1 large white sweet potato or 2–3 parsnips (peeled and cut in small cubes)
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp. cumin powder
- 1 tsp. achiote (annatto) powder (a wonderful substitute for paprika without adding an ingredient known to cause inflammation)
- 4 TB. chopped cilantro
- 7 cups chicken or vegetable broth or until broth covers lentils by about an inch
- 1 lb. lentils (brown, red or any color available), well rinsed and soaked—preferably overnight
- Salt/pepper to taste (DO NOT add salt until lentils are soft)
- Green plantain—optional (see notes at the end)
- Fresh lime juice for serving
- Heat the oil on medium heat in a large saucepan.
- Add the onion, garlic, cumin, sweet potato/parsnip, salt, achiote and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro to make a sauté for the stew.
- Cook, stirring occasionally until all the ingredients have softened.
- Add the broth, increase heat, bring to boil.
- Add the previously soaked and well-rinsed lentils and reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially and cook until lentils are tender. Taste. If salt is needed DO NOT add until lentils are soft or it will delay their cooking. Stir in the remaining 2 TB. of cilantro, remove from heat.
Serve with your choice of rice or quinoa, carne or pollo frito (stir-fried thin beef or chicken strips), fried ripe plantains or fried green plantains, and a small salad or avocado slices.
Dr. Gloria's Kitchen Notes
- To add a green plantain, peel and grate it using a fine grater, stir the grated plantain into the menestra during the last 15-20 minutes of cooking, mix it well so it integrates into the stew—you will notice how it thickens the dish and adds a slight plantain flavor. This is a great way to thicken a dish without corn or flour. Plantain does not have flavor, per se, but rather takes on the flavor of what it's added to.
- If desired, and you love limes as much as I do, squeeze the juice of a lime into each dish when serving—Kit adds a delightful savory punch.
- Lentils come in a variety of colors, mix and match, each has a bit of a slightly different flavor.
From my Ecuadorian Health Sciences Kitchen to Yours, Dr. Gloria
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Gloria Gilbere, DAHom, PhD
Known as The Health Detective, Dr. Gloria is a Certified Dental Professional, Doctor of Natural Health, Homeopath, Certified Dietary Supplement Counselor, EcoErgonomist, Wholistic Rejuvenist and a Certified Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis Practitioner—renowned worldwide for her work in identifying and implementing natural and nutrition-based solutions to chemically-induced and inflammatory disorders, multiple chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and digestive disorders that defy conventional diagnosis and treatment.
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