A Flaming Idiot’s Comfort Food

Diana Helfand
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Wednesday - November 09, 2005
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The hilarious Brenda Lee Hillebrenner is featured in Manoa Valley Theatre’s upcoming Flaming Idiots, a contemporary farce about two hapless restaurateurs.

Brenda says, “Flaming Idiots is side-splittingly funny, but what really cracks me up is that I play a deaf-mute chef. Ask anyone: I rarely stop talking! But an even bigger acting challenge is that I almost never cook. I am the true flaming idiot when it comes to the culinary arts.”


There is one dish, however, that Brenda enjoys preparing. It’s a hearty, protein-packed comfort food perfect for cooler weather. What little she does prepare from scratch has to be not only easy, but healthful. “I grew up in New York City in a house of German descent,” says Brenda. “My mother often prepared this dish during cold winter months. Lentils are considered good luck, so we almost always had this for New Year’s dinner.”

Brenda loves this dish served with Jewish rye bread, a cold garden salad, and most important, a good, cold German lager or dark beer. She adds with a twinkle, “A great dining experience is almost always enhanced by the right liquid accompaniment.”

Flaming Idiots plays at Manoa Valley Theatre Nov. 16-Dec. 4. Call 988-6131 or visit www.manoavalleytheatre.com for tickets.

Lentils have been consumed since prehistoric times and are thought to have originated in central Asia. They are mentioned in the book of Genesis, and archaeologists have found lentil seeds dating back 8,000 years.

Lentils are divided into two groups, large and small; there are dozens of varieties of each type.

Lentils do not have to be soaked, but should be washed carefully, as they often contain small stones. Lentils that have been plunged into boiling water are easier to digest. Dried lentils are used to make nourishing soups and also can be added to salads and main dish entrees. They are frequently eaten with rice, as the combination enhances the nutritional value of both foods; their amino acids are complementary. They are an excellent source of folic acid and potassium and a good source of iron and phosphorus. They also contain magnesium, zinc, thiamine, copper, niacin, vitamin B6 and pantothenic acid.

PORK TENDERLOIN IN LENTILS WITH PASTA SHELLS

* 12 ounces lentils, rinse and drain, soak in cold water four hours before dinner to add fullness
* 16-18 ounces Hormel Smoked Pork Butt Tenderloin
* 5 medium to large bay leaves
* 1/2 cup of white vinegar
* 8 ounces large pasta shells
* sliced Jewish rye bread

Fill pressure cooker one-third with water and place on medium heat.

Unwrap pork butt; leave in red sleeve for cooking and place in pressure cooker; add bay leaves. Put lid on pressure cooker; when steam rises through valve, add the full weight to cooker. Continue to cook for 30 minutes on medium to high heat. After 30 minutes, remove cooker to a cool burner; when steam and valve have gone down, open lid.


Drain lentils if needed and add to cooker. Add 1/2 cup white vinegar. Close lid, place back on burner on medium heat. When steam rises through valve, add the full weight to cooker. Continue to cook for 20 minutes.

Boil 3 quarts of water for pasta shells; add shells and return to boil. Cook for 15 minutes; drain in colander.

Remove cooker to a cool burner when steam and valve have gone down; open lid. Remove pork butt from cooker onto cutting board.

Divide cooked pasta shells on dinner plates. Top shells with a ladle of lentils from cooker. Depending on level of liquid in lentils and preference for lentil gravy, you may use a straining spoon for less gravy.

Slit sleeve surrounding pork butt and carve pork into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place a slice of meat on top of lentils on plate and top with more lentils, if desired.

Makes four servings.

Preparation and cooking time: approximately 1 hour.

(Diana Helfand, author of “Hawaii Light and Healthy” and “The Best of Heart-y Cooking,” has taught nutrition in the Kapiolani Community College culinary arts program.)

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