Tuesday, January 26, 2010

French Lentil and Ham Hock Stew

Yesterday in my post about meaty matters, I made reference to the Three R's.

Reduce, refine, and replace the amount of meat you eat.

We'd apply the Three R's for health, budgetary and ethical reasons.

One way to reduce our meat consumption is to prepare meals so that meat is not the feature but instead a side or a flavor enhancer.

If you've cooked with smoked ham hock you'll know that it's a great flavor enhancer in soups, stews and casseroles.

Refining your meat consumption involves choosing humanely farmed meat. And refining your pork (or ham hock) consumption, means choosing pork that has been:
  • raised without antibiotics and hormones
  • fed a vegetarian diet, perhaps even an organic vegetarian diet
  • raised according to the Animal Welfare Institutes Pig Husbandry Standards
  • born and raised on local farms and processed at USDA inspected facilities
Now that's a lot to keep in mind when choosing pork, but with minimal online research I found that Niman Ranch adheres to the above protocols in their farming practices and as a result produces All-Natural pork, beef, lamb and poultry.

Look out for their brand or using the above protocol, research the brands available in your grocery store before purchasing protein items. Choosing what the Humane Society calls Higher Welfare animal products is a great start to refining your consumption of animal protein.

Replacing the amount of meat we consume is as easy as preparing meals along lines of yesterday and today's recipe. Make meat less a feature and more a topping or a side by adhering to the less-is-better rule of 3 ounces or less of animal protein once or twice a day.

When preparing something like the following lentil and ham hock stew chances are you'll consume less than 3 ounces of pork in one sitting. The ham hock I used was about 8 ounces and several ounces of that was bone.

With the addition of one cup of lentils, vegetables, and 4 cups of water the resulting volume was about 10 cups or at least 8 bowls of stew which means in each bowl there was probably less than an ounce of ham.

Despite how little ham is actually in each serving, this is a thick and filling stew because lentils are an excellent meat protein replacement.

Low in fat, and high in digestible fiber and protein they're a great healthful option for a weekly meal plan that isn't meat focused.

French Lentil and Ham Hock Stew
1) I chose French lentils for this dish because they have a nuttier flavor than regular lentils. I used one cup.
2) Pour the cup of lentils into a large pot; add your choice of chopped vegetables, i.e. an onion, clove of garlic, carrots, celery, sweet or regular potato, 2 bay leaves (optional) and 4 cups of water.
3) Add the ham hock whole and simmer the lot on low for about 4 hours.
4) Allow to cool before removing the ham hock and trimming the meat from the bone and the fat from the meat. Put the meat back into the pot and taste test, adding salt and pepper to your liking.

To Serve: Pour an ample cup of stew into a bowl and serve with a side salad of greens, say arugula, with something like sliced avocado and perhaps a chunk of crusty bread.

I elected to add arugula to my bowl of hot stew, stirring it through until the arugula wilted. The following day I did something similar with a large handful of winter greens, consisting of spinach, arugula, kale, curly kale, and chard.

I sauteed the greens slightly and then poured half a cup of lentil and ham hock stew into the skillet, gently heating the lot. I served it in a bowl topped with half an avocado which I'd mashed together with a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of walnut oil, and then I sprinkled halved, toasted walnuts over the lot (pic at top).

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