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Plan meals for traveling

January 8, 2013

By Alix Hui
For Starkville Daily News

As I write this column in the increasing light of a still-optimistic January morning, I think of my new favorite quote, by Thoreau of all people:

“Rise free from care before the dawn and seek adventures.”

Check and check. Now to find some adventures…

Having just now returned from two weeks of bopping around Costa Rica in a Daihatsu mini SUV though, I should probably just focus on prepping for classes. 

Long ago, I determined that the key to successful international travel is to pack lots of snacks. Getting flung across an ocean in a small metal tube is tiresome enough. The portioned and sealed “food” only adds further indignity to the process. I now try to bring some combination of nuts, crispy produce like an apple or snap peas, cheese and crackers, and so on. 

One time I even brought a cloth napkin on the plane to underscore the haughty, don’t-you-dare-try-and-initiate-conversation-we-have-a-9-hour-flight-here-and-it’s-unlikely-that-either-of-us-are-interesting-enough-to-keep-the-discussion-from-getting-awkward-so-let’s-just-agree-to-not-even-try look I attempt to exude at all times.

Also, it’s always good to pack snacks if one is arriving in a foreign land on a Sunday or a holiday. Without proper planning, one could, say, be forced to live off of pretzels for a day. Which is not the end of the world but it is a lot of sodium.

And road trips. Good to have snacks on road trips. I once worked my way through an entire quiche while driving up the eastern seaboard (well, the last quarter or so of it I had to throw away because the dog stepped on it).

Anyway, when I have time for advance planning, I try to prep some travel food. The recipe that follows is something I made up as a travel snack but alongside a salad, makes a great meal. Or, if you don’t have the time or energy to make the dough and bake the little buggers, you can just serve the lentils with some crusty bread. But, if you do have the time and energy, make a double batch. These freeze well so you’ll have lunch for a week. Filled with zingy braised lentils and vegetables, it’s a little pocket of protein and fiber and adventure!
 
Lentils A Go-Go or “What’s that in your pocket?” Pockets
Serves 4
Time: 3.5 hours total, ~1 hour active
 
The dough
2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup each of white whole wheat and regular whole wheat flour (or, if you only have regular whole wheat, use an entire cup of that)
1 1/2 tsp. yeast
2 tsp. salt

About 3 hours before serving, whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add 1 1/3 cups of lukewarm water and stir with a wooden spoon until a sticky mess. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 3 minutes. Sprinkle the bowl with more flour, add the dough, sprinkle it again with more flour, cover with a damp towel, and set aside for 2 1/2 hours.
 
The lentils
(from Mark Bittman’s recipe for Spanish Style Braised Lentils)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. crumbled saffron threads (optional – I left them out)
1 Tbsp. smoked Spanish paprika (spicy, if you can find it)
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 cups vegetable stock or water, possibly more as needed
1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed and picked over for rocks
salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped parsley
 
90 minutes before serving, warm the oil in a medium-sized pot to medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften, a couple minutes. Add the garlic, saffron and paprika. A wise Bulgarian once told me that the key to good lentils was to always double the garlic. So if you want to toss in three more chopped cloves, do so knowing that somewhere, out there, a bearded man named Boris is nodding his approval. Stir continuously so that the garlic doesn’t burn. 

After a minute or so add the bay leaf, wine, stock, lentils, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat until the mixture bubbles gently. Partially cover and cook until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes. Stir it occasionally and also check to make sure the lentils aren’t sticking and burning. If so, add more stock or water, 1/4 cup at a time. When the lentils are saucy not soupy, taste for seasoning, take off the heat and stir in the parsley.

If/When you’re ready to construct the pockets, preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a pizza stone if you’ve got one. On a floured surface, divide up the dough into 4-6 balls. Press each out into a 1/2-inch thick disc, 5-7 inches across. Gently place these on either parchment paper or a lightly greased cookie sheet. Divide up the lentil mixture by the spoonful in the middle of each disc, about 3/4 cup in each. 

Now, gently fold the dough over the lentil mixture and fold and pinch the edges closed. Place in the oven and bake until lightly golden, about 30 minutes. When finished, if you like, brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Eat them right away or let them cool before readying them for transport. Then, seek adventures.
 
Alix Hui is an Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University.  She can be contacted at alixhui@gmail.com.

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