When you're entertaining, especially when the guest is your mother, timing matters. You don't want to be stuck in the kitchen (or perhaps if you have strained relations, you do, but maybe Sunday you can get past that and join the party). This requires planning.
A doable, typical American Mother's Day lunch might be salmon, salad and something starchy or eggy like rice or rolls or strata. I started with this nice, safe menu, but as usual thought, what if. . . And that's where things took a wild turn and lunch went from American to Indian. Fortunately, my mother's game when it comes to global cuisine. I like to think this has been because of my influence.
The basics are the same -- salmon (I'm going with smoked, so there's no work) and salad, but peppery arugula and sweet mango just now in season here replace the standard lettuce and tomato. I'd add nuts to the salad, but the only nut my father likes is me. The eggy thing is a green chutney souffle, courtesy of Niloufer King's terrific book My Bombay Kitchen. The souffle goes in the oven when my folks arrive, the salmon's already done, the salad can be tossed right before we eat. There'll be mom's favorite sauvignon blanc with lunch and cardamon shortbread, apricot cream, fresh berries and chai for after.
This would be ample, but for the vegan at the table -- me. Plus, as my mother taught me, it's always nice to offer a little something extra. So -- red lentils and tomatoes. It's a relish, it's a side dish, it's a main. It's layered and complex in flavors and amazingly quick and easy. Lentils are a great nutritional deal, high in protein and fiber, low in calories and fat, rich in folate and magnesium. Plus they're your friendliest of legumes, needing no presoaking. Red lentils, the weensiest members of the lentil family, cook up in minutes. Really. The only risk is not trusting me on this and letting your lovely red lentils overcook and so go to mush.
The beautiful thing about this dish is you can make it a day or two before. It allows the flavors to deepen and means no last-minute scrambling in the kitchen. Served with the salmon, the red lentils and tomatoes give your table a pretty pinkness, pleasing the eye as well as the palate. You'll impress your mom, you won't break a sweat, it's a win-win. Happy Mother's Day.
Mother's Day Red Lentils and Tomatoes
1 cup of red lentils, rinsed
2 cups water or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons canola or coconut oil
1-1/2 tablespoons chickpea flour (also called besan)
1-1/2 teaspoons turmeric
3 tablespoons dried unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons tamarind paste (in desperate straits, substitute a tablepoon each molasses and fresh lime juice)
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved if large
sea salt to taste
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
Pour water or broth into medium saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat. Add red lentils. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes, by which time the lentils will have plumped and turned tender. Remove from heat and let them cool to room temperature.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in chickpea flour, turmeric, coconut and ginger, stirring for about 3 minutes, until mixture is toasty and fragrant. Add tomatoes. Stir well to coat. Turn off heat.
Gently stir lentils and tamarind paste into coconut and ginger mixture. Have a kind hand so as not to mushify lentils. Season with sea salt.
Refrigerate overnight. Best enjoyed at room temperature. Stir in chopped cilantro just before serving.
Serves 4 to 6.