Sailor Fodder

Picture this: you try to bring a massive pot of water to boil to cook some rice. The meal was supposed to be served 15 minutes ago, and the water still refuses to boil. Suddenly, the floor lurches from underneath your feet, you are violently thrown against the cooker and only a small miracle saves you from third-degree burns. Eventually, you manage to put some rice into the water, and after another half an hour there is some hope it might have softened a little. So you remove the pot from the cooker, as only one cooking vessel can fit on it at a time, and start frying onions. The cooking space is cramped, there is no window, the hot oil splashes around and makes all surfaces greasy, constant roll, the stifling air of confined kitchen make you retch every now and then. Finally, you serve the food, and your crewmates, ungrateful swine, have the nerve to complain that the rice is too al dente or the sauce is not salty enough. This is what cooking on a sailing yacht is like.

Anything other than an eintopf is a major challenge. The typical lunch set involves a carb core – be it rice, pasta or potatoes – and something on top that is meant to provide the remaining nutrients, and the taste. With limited cooker space and the necessity to cook one thing after another, we end up with sticky, lumpy rice, either under- or overcooked pasta, or cold sauce. There is a neat trick though: buy rice that is cooked in bags, then cook it together with something else in the same pot of boiling water. What can this “something else” be? Lentils.

Lentils, being highly nutritious and keeping for ages, are an excellent yacht food. You could sail the world around just on rice and lentils, plus perhaps some preserved vegetables and fruit as a source of vitamins. Now, a vegetarian meal is a tricky proposition at the sea. The sailors like their meat. Fortunately, sailors also like spicy food, so a modicum of skill in throwing various powders and herbs into the pot can help us avoid the embarrassment. Described below is a luxury, landlubber version of the thing. Feel free to adapt it to seafaring by all means of simplification and corner-cutting, but make sure you don’t skimp on spice.

Start by frying diced onion and three red chillies, sliced. While this fries, add lots of spices: fenugreek, turmeric, cumin, coriander, nutmeg – anything of that ilk. Heaps of it. Mix well. Towards the end of frying, when the onion starts turning golden-brown, add some chopped tomatoes and three or four pressed garlic cloves. Let it fry for a while, then add whole green lentils, two cups. Add some boiling water and tomato puree, then cook for a couple of minutes. Now, add a cup or two of mung beans, some more water and again cook for a couple of minutes. Finally, two cups of red split lentils. These will dissolve into a mash after a while and provide thickness to the bean stew. Now, keep on adding water and cooking for further 30 mins or so. Mix frequently and thoroughly. Be careful that there is enough water – too little, and the stew will start burning at the bottom of the pan; too much is less of an issue, worst case you’ll end up with a soup instead of a stew. Timing is important as well, cooking for too long will turn the entire dish into a mash – not bad per se, but a bit bland in terms of texture. Towards the end add some chopped coriander leaves – these can also be added when the dish is served. Serve with brown rice.

Thanks go to Agnieszka Szczepkowska for introducing me to this way of cooking lentils (and being an inspiring quartermaster in general).