January is in full swing and decadence has left the building. Yes, welcome to the month where cooler heads, common sense, and will power prevail…Or at least, that’s the plan. Depending on who you are, January might compel you to skip the booze, bid adieu to meat, or clip a few extra coupons. But even if don’t subscribe to dry January or the like, the beginning of a new month, new year, and a new decade has likely left you contemplating the state of the foot you’re putting forward. Is it all that it could be? Well, with that spirit in mind, allow me to introduce you to these Gochujang Lentils with Mozzarella Grits. They’re meat-free, healthy-ish, and easy on the wallet. In other words, they’re the ultimate January-friendly food.
Gochujang Lentils – A Pantry Miracle
The first time I made these Gochujang Lentils I was desperate. I was home alone one October evening and the sky had opened up. The streets outside my house were being pummeled by a deluge of cold rain. Now, I wouldn’t call myself a dainty dame. I can handle most of what the weather throws at me. But there is no precipitation I despise more than cold rain.
With nothing but the icy wet to greet me outside, I knew there was no way I was leaving the house. I also had no interest in inviting the inevitable financial guilt that comes with ordering takeout twice in one week. With my alternatives exhausted, I went digging in my kitchen cupboards and emerged with a bag of red lentils and some brown rice. I hit up the fridge and found gochujang and, well, you can see where this is going.
In the end, my pantry gifted me with a kick-ass meal that tasted like I’d planned to make it all along. And when Bae finally came home and tore into the leftovers, he convinced me it was blog-worthy. I wasn’t sure it was fancy enough and he pointed out that that was exactly the point.
If you Build the Pantry, the Meals will Come
When I started this blog I seemed to have a lot to prove, which is hilarious because I couldn’t do much of anything. But I really wanted to go above and beyond and somewhere in that mission towards perfection, I lost the way Bae and I really eat. Yes, we do go the extra mile in the kitchen a lot because we honestly love to cook as much as we love to eat. But that isn’t every night and I nurse an A&W onion ring dependency just like every other North American. Sometimes our dinners are not pretty, sometimes they’re cheap, and sometimes they’re apple crisp. Sh*t happens.
I say all this to make a very simple point. Dishes like today’s Gochujang Lentils are not planned, nor are they initially craved or wanted. But learning to cook well while building a solid pantry, can make a legend out of a mess. This is genuinely one of our favorite meals now and it never graced a meal plan or a specialty diet. I know January is all about establishing better-for-you routines but I would urge you not to lock yourself so soundly in. Allow for a little spontaneity, it’s good for the soul and, occasionally, the stomach.
Where Do the Grits Come In?
Now, having praised being spontaneous and embracing imperfection, I should mention I cleaned these Gochujang Lentils up a bit. Today’s lentils are identical to the ones I made on that blustery October evening. But I nixed the brown rice and went for cheesy Mozzarella Grits instead. I thought the two would play nice and I thought it would be a nice nod to the Korean habit of melting cheese on all sorts of spicy and delicious things.
And my sprucing didn’t stop there. The first bowl of lentils was entirely garnish-free, which reflected the sad state of my fridge that evening. As you can see, I stepped things up with this bowl. I added thinly sliced scallions, coarsely chopped peanuts, and a perfectly runny poached egg. Yeah, sometimes planning is your friend. Sometimes planning gifts you poached eggs.
Now, obviously the dish has more moving parts than it did in its original form. But each part is not difficult to pull off. Plus, the grits and lentils cook in pretty much the same amount of time, so no component needs to be put on hold while the other catches up. And if you find your poaching skills to be lacking (full disclosure: I had to poach two eggs to get one that was photo-worthy) swap it out for a fried egg or even scrambled.
So, that’s pretty much everything you need to know about these Gochujang Lentils with Mozzarella Grits. This bowl of vegetarian comfort will see you through the worst of winter without breaking the bank.
Gochujang Lentils with Mozzarella Grits
- 2 ½ cups water
- 1 cup red lentils
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 3 tbsp gochujang
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 ½ tbsp honey
- 3 tbsp all-natural crunchy peanut butter
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups 2% milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup white corn grits
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 cup mozzarella shredded
- 1 cup baby spinach tightly packed
- 4 eggs
- 1 splash white vinegar
- 2 scallions thinly sliced
- ¼ cup unsalted peanuts coarsely chopped
- Pour the water and the lentils into a large, deep skillet and set aside. In a small bowl whisk to combine the garlic, gochujang, soy sauce, and honey. Add the mixture to the skillet and stir to combine.
- Place the skillet over high heat and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover. Let simmer for 15 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Take the lentils off of the heat and stir in the peanut butter until fully integrated. Keep warm until ready to serve.
- While the lentils are simmering, make the grits. Pour the milk and water into a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring the mixture up to a spirited simmer and slowly pour in the grits, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk for 30 seconds to prevent the grits from clumping.
- Add the salt and reduce the heat to low and let the grits simmer, stirring frequently, for 15-20 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the grits are glossy. Take the grits off of the heat and stir in the butter, mozzarella cheese, and spinach.
- **In the last 5 minutes of cooking time, take a small, shallow saucepan and add roughly 4 inches of water. Bring the water to a gentle simmer. While you're waiting for the water to simmer, crack one egg in a ramekin and set aside.
- **Once the water is simmering add the white vinegar and then, using a whisk, whisk the center of the water to form a sort of vortex. Bring the ramekin to the surface of the water and pour in the egg. Quickly crack another egg into the ramekin and repeat. Repeat until all the eggs are in the water. Let simmer for 3 minutes before removing with a slotted spoon. Place the finished eggs on a plate with a bit of paper towel.
- Spoon some grits into 4 bowls and top with the lentils. Place a poached egg on top of each serving and finish with scallions and peanuts. Serve immediately preferably with beer.