When I was in my 20s I decided to live alone, finally, after sharing homes and apartments with an ever-changing stream of roommates. That first year in my solo apartment was the genesis of my desire to learn how to cook well. I knew how to follow a recipe, but I realized there’s so much more to becoming a cook at ease in the kitchen. I remember staring at a pile of brown and wilted vegetables in my fridge and thinking how recipes are nothing more than the gleaming tip of the iceberg, shiny and alluring, but not signaling the many demands they make on a cook: how to shop, how to plan, how to make the most of the ingredients in your fridge and pantry every single day.
There were a few recipes that got me through those early days of starting to acquire the 95% of kitchen knowledge that isn’t found in recipes. No matter how empty my fridge, I always had eggs, lentils, and spices, and maybe you do too. If so, this is the simplest weeknight meal — homey and comforting.
I ate this many, many times in my solo apartment days (most memorably, I had a dish slowly over-baking in the oven while on the phone with my now-husband, who had finally called to ask me out).
It’s a simple and forgiving dish, made with lentils cooked with shallot, garlic, and toasty Indian spices. I like to use a mix of red lentils and yellow split peas. The red lentils cook quickly into a mash of comfort food, but the split peas stay a little more toothsome, adding a nice balance of texture to the dish.
The best thing, though, is that you can make the lentil mix ahead and refrigerate or even freeze it. Then it’s ready and waiting for you to plop an egg on top and bake until it’s a little crisp on top, with warm soft lentils beneath, and a gooey egg for you drag your fork through.
It’s a dish for one, two, or more. I’ve skipped the spices, and the cilantro, at times, substituting more garlic or a handful of fresh rosemary or parsley. You could add sun-dried tomatoes or a splash of coconut milk. Think of it as your own vessel for using up what’s in your own pantry and stretching your wings as a cook.
As long as you have lentils and eggs, it will fill you up and make you feel right at home in your kitchen, as it did for me.