Southwestern Chicken and Lentils


When I found chicken thighs on sale for less than 60 cents a pound, it was an easy decision to buy a “family pack” of 12 thighs. Braising them all meant that there would be lots of meat in the refrigerator to try out some new chicken options.
Along with plenty of prepared chicken, the pantry also held far more bags of lentils than necessary (story too long to tell here),  so I decided to find a way to use both chicken and lentils in a single main dish. 
My first thought was a curry (lentils always seem to make that an easy decision), but I couldn’t quite get excited about that. A little searching for ideas on the internet brought up some Mexican-themed dishes, and I started looking in that direction. Chiles, tomatoes, corn; I had all of those, so why not try to make a dish that used lentils instead of the more typical beans? 
A little of this, a little of that, and I ended up with something that was not really a stew but not your typical Minnesota hot dish either. I served this with the homemade bread I had already baked, but this would probably be even better with warmed or crisped tortillas. Either way, it is a great main dish with lots of flavor and nutrition without a lot of effort.
Southwestern Chicken and Lentils
¾ c brown lentils (the kind most commonly found in grocery stores)
1 ½ c chicken broth
salt to taste (only if the broth is not salted)
chicken fat OR canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
½ red bell pepper, diced
2 carrots, sliced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, to taste, chopped or minced
1 15 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
4 oz can green chiles
1 to 2 t cumin, to taste
1 t oregano
salt to taste
1 T cider vinegar
3 cooked chicken thighs, cut in large cubes (see method below for precooking, or use a rotisserie chicken if desired)
1 c  cilantro, chopped (see NOTE)
2 c  corn–if using frozen corn, no need to thaw first
2 to 3 c grated cheese–while cheddar or Colby can be used, there are many blends of “Mexican” or “taco” cheese that are especially good here
1.  Combine lentils and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat and allow lentils to simmer until very soft, about 20 to 25 minutes.
2.  Meanwhile, sauté the onions, bell peppers,  garlic, and carrots using some of the fat reserved from the chicken or canola oil. Cook on medium to medium high heat until the carrots are just beginning to soften. 
3.  Stir in the tomatoes, green chiles, cumin, oregano, and vinegar and return to a slow simmer. Continue cooking for about 10 to 15 minutes.
4.  Stir in the cubed chicken, lentils, cilantro, and corn. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, and continue cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes.
5.   Just before serving, stir in the cheese or, if you prefer, pour the mixture into the serving bowl and sprinkle the cheese over the top. 
Serves 5 to 6.
With no fresh cilantro in the house, I used frozen cilantro here, so the color is not as bright as it would otherwise have been. Frozen cilantro does not seem to be as flavorful as fresh, so I actually used a little more than a cup.
Preparing Chicken Thighs for Later Use
canola oil
chicken thighs with bones and skin
poultry seasoning
seasoning salt
1.  Remove most of the skins from the chicken thighs and place in a large skillet, along with a small amount of canola oil. Cook the skins over medium-high heat until they are crisp and brown. Lift the pieces of skin out of the oils, allowing to drain a bit over the pan. Discard.
2.  Place the thighs into the hot oil and sprinkle each piece with poultry seasoning and seasoning salt, to taste. Cook until well browned (about 5 to 7 minutes) and turn. Brown the second side and then add a few teaspoons of water, lower the heat to medium,  and cover the pan. Continue to simmer the chicken until it is tender, to the point of falling off the bone if desired. Remove from heat.
3.  Set the chicken pieces aside to cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut the meat off the bones and cut into pieces for later use.
4.  Pour off any juices left in the pan and set aside to cool. The fat that rises to the top may be used for sauteeing onions, and other vegetables as in the recipe above. The liquid will be a very concentrated chicken broth that is also a great resource for all kinds of dishes.
This method can be used for as many pounds of chicken as you wish, so consider cooking up a large amount and freeze the boned chicken in recipe-sized portions for later use. The chicken needs to be tightly wrapped (preferably double-wrapped) and used within only a month or two for best quality.
I prefer bone-in chicken thighs to other parts, as the meat is not as dry as chicken breasts, and the thigh bones are much easier to remove than those of drumsticks. Bone-in pieces are usually much lower in cost, and the bones add extra flavor as well.

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