I grew up in a really tiny town.
Actually, that’s not even right. I grew up in the countryside between two equally tiny towns. One had a bustling population of 1400, a gas station, a grocery store, a bank and no stoplights or delivery pizza. The other was home to 800 people and was so small that if you blinked on the highway, you might miss it. Neither of them had any chain restaurants, big box stores, supermarkets or movie theaters.
For those things, we had to drive the 30 minutes to the Indiana suburbs of Louisville. At the time, the drive didn’t seem like any big annoyance. We drove that 30 minutes five or six times a week. My after-school job in high school at Target was even 25 minutes away. It was just what we did.
One of those things that we drove 30 minutes to get to was Mexican food. Right across the four lane highway from my Target store was an always-packed Don Pablos. My friends from high school and I would meet there at 9 or 10pm for dinner after we all got off work from our various minimum wage jobs. We’d stuff our faces with warm chips and enchiladas and drink a million Cherry Cokes while giggling about our cute waiter. Then, we’d all pack up into our cars and drive the 30 minutes back to our sleepy little Southern Indiana towns. My paycheck from Target went 50% to gas, 25% to clothes at Target and 25% to Don Pablos. Oh those were the days…
Because of these fond memories, Mexican food will always and forever be one of my biggest comfort foods. I no longer frequent Don Pablos (I don’t even want to think about the calorie counts or nasty stuff in that food), but I do love diving fork-first into a nice pile of warm, spicy food. And even though I’m over a decade removed, it always brings me back to flirting with our waiter with my girlfriends.
I’m not sure I could say enough marvelous things to do this dish justice. This is one of the, if not the, most flavorful, delicious and decadent vegetarian dishes I’ve ever made. You could serve this to a meat eater without a peep of complaint. Lentils make such a great ground beef substitute (you’ve seen me use them before) and this dish is no exception. The lentils soak up all the complex flavor of the cumin and chili power while adding a powerful punch of fiber, iron and protein.
I am head-over-heels in love with this dish.
Mexican Lentil Stuffed Shells
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 6-8 servings
The easiest way I’ve found to fill shells is the ziptop bag method. Spoon the filling into a large ziptop bag, cut off one corner of the bag and then pipe the filling into the shells just like you would with frosting.
- In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add in onion and garlic and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add in taco seasoning, lentils and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until lentils are very tender and water is absorbed.
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Once lentils are cooked, remove from heat and stir in salsa and cream cheese.
- Spread 1/4 cup of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ baking dish.
- Stuff each cooked shell with the lentil mixture, placing each shell, seam-side-down in the baking dish.
- Once all shells are stuffed, pour remaining enchilada sauce over top and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese.
- Bake in 350° oven for 20-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- Serve with sliced green onions and sour cream.
Did you have any go to restaurants or hang-outs in high school?
Other than Don Pablos, we also found ourselves at Dairy Queen a ton. I even sang Baby Got Back to a giant group of senior citizens during Karaoke Night at our local DQ. Yup. That was one of my prouder moments.