Recipe: LVC-Inspired Cheesy Lentil Bake

Some of my closest friends were a part of Lutheran Volunteer Corps.

In fact, I almost joined Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC) right after college. I withdrew from the process to be closer to family while my mom was in hospice, since I wouldn’t have necessarily been placed in the Twin Cities.

Volunteers may vary in age (though most are recent college graduates) and are placed all over the United States where they hold full-time positions in nonprofit organization. They are paid stipends and their essential needs are cared for including housing and basic health insurance. Most share houses with other volunteers

My two friends lived in house that used to be located along a busy stretch of Lowry Ave. in North Minneapolis. As part of their intentional communities, housemates took turns cooking dinner on designated evenings. My friends’ housemates preferred to pool part of their monthly stipend into a grocery budget. Therefore, they became very adept at preparing creative and affordable meals, many of which were vegetarian.

Several years after college, I shared a house with my LVC friends near Theodore Wirth Park. I relished the recipes and cost-saving strategies they shared with me. One housemate introduced me to her version of spicy Kushari which I make occasionally as comfort food. The other mentioned her favorite meal had been baked lentils with cheese. She recently gifted me with a copy of the LVC Cookbook from which both friends frequently cooked. I was thrilled to find the baked lentil dish she had mentioned years ago and promptly adapted it for a weeknight dinner.

This recipe is vegetarian and obviously not vegan, due to its substantial layer of gooey cheese. It’s savory enough to satisfy those like my husband who aren’t used to eating dinners without meat.

Cheesy Lentil Bake
Adapted from the recipe for Baked Lentils with Cheese, from the Emmaus House 1999-2000, Simply LVC.

Feel free to add your own combination of vegetables and herbs.

Ingredients:
1 2/3 cup of lentils, rinsed and examined for stones (I used organic, green, French lentils)
2 cups water (can substitute stock or incorporate stock/flavor base/bouillon)
1 bay leaf
Salt, starting with about a teaspoon. Be careful if your stock is salty.
Black pepper
1/8 teaspoon marjoram
1/8 teaspoon sage
1/8 teaspoon thyme
Cayenne to taste
A little honey or brown sugar
Canned tomatoes or tomato puree (I just had one 12 oz. can on hand. Use whatever you have and adjust water/stock accordingly)
1-2 onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
Shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a baking dish, combine the lentils, water, salt, pepper, herbs, cayenne, honey, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Taste for seasoning. If the liquid tastes bland, try boosting it with soy sauce or Worcestershire. Keep in mind that the bland lentils will soak up the liquid. I aim to strike a sweet and savory balance.
  3. Cover and bake for about 30 minutes.
  4. Add the sliced carrots and celery and stir. Cover and bake for another 30-40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. If there is too much liquid, uncover and bake until it evaporates.
  5. Top with shredded cheese and bake until it melts. If you want a more crusty and golden brown top, broil.

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