I L.O.V.E this meal. Menestra is a traditional Ecuadorean lentil stew, although I remember eating menestras made with black or pinto beans as well. Menestra uses aliño and refrito as a base; this is where all the flavor comes from.
My nana used to soak the lentils overnight, but I have found that as long as I soak them for at least an hour, the lentils will be soft and cook relatively quickly.
The menestra is served with white rice and grilled meat. It can also be accompanied by fried sweet plantains, or “smashed” green plantains, known as “patacón” (pah-tah-COHN) or “patacón pisa’o”!
I tend to favor flank steak – carne de falda – when making any type of grilled meat, especially for this dish. Flank steak is such a tender cut of meat, it practically melts in your mouth. However, flank steak can get pricey. You can find thin fillets of round which will work as well, but sometimes these cuts of meat are a bit tough. Regardless of whether using flank steak or other cuts, I always season them with aliño and lemon juice. The acids of the lemon tenderize the meat. If possible, season and marinade the meat for an hour – even better, overnight. You can substitute beef for chicken breast: pound the chicken breasts thin, and marinate and season the same way. And if you are a vegetarian, substitute your meat protein for a couple of fried eggs. My uncle used to eat his menestra this way. Enjoy!
Arroz con Menestra y Carne Asada
For the menestra:
Makes 4-5 generous servings
1-2 tbps achiote-infused oil
1 tbsp aliño
1 small tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
1 small pepper, diced
1 small red onion, diced
2 cups of lentils, soaked and drained
4 cups of water
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbps chopped cilantro
In a large sauce pot, heat the oil and add the aliño. Sautee for about three minutes; add the diced tomato, pepper and onion – remember you can process these ingredients if you rather have a smooth consistency to the refrito. Sautee for about 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Add the lentils and the water. Turn the heat down to medium low and cook until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. If you start noticing that the stew is drying up, add a little bit of water. Check for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if necessary. Add the chopped cilantro and stir. Remove from the heat.
For the Carne Asada:
Rub the aliño to both sides of the steaks. Pour lemon juice and marinade in the fridge for at least an hour. Grill outdoors or indoors. Serve with the menestra.