Barbecue sauce has several obvious uses — ribs and chicken immediately come to mind — but if you think of it only as something to slather on meat that’s headed for the grill, you’re really missing out.

As a marinade, sweet, tangy barbecue sauce is as good on a rich salmon fillet as a delicate slice of tofu.  Its bold, smoky flavor pairs well with meaty vegetables, like eggplant and mushrooms, and with beans and legumes.  It loves corn in all forms (think cornbread, polenta, fresh kernels in salads, or grilled on the cob), onions, and stone fruits (especially peaches).  When combined with vegetables or beans and cheese (especially smoked gouda, provolone, and cheddar), barbecue sauce makes a novel topping for pizza or filling for a burrito.

You can serve this simple eggplant and lentil dish over rice, polenta, or couscous, with a green salad, green beans, broccoli, or a simple cabbage slaw on the side.  Or wrap it in a burrito with brown rice and shredded provolone or gouda.  Or layer it in a casserole dish with cooked rice or polenta, top with shredded cheese, and bake at 375 until cheese melts and lentils are bubbling.  I double the recipe and freeze half (those burritos make an awesome lunch).

Barbecue lentils and eggplant

Adapted from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook

Yield:  Makes about 6 cups, serving at least 4

1 c. dried lentils, rinsed and picked over

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 eggplant, peeled and diced into 3/4″ cubes (about 3 c.)

1 small red onion, quartered and thinly sliced

1 c. finely chopped, canned plum tomatoes (or use fresh if they’re in season)

3 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 c. barbecue sauce (whatever kind you like)

1 tbsp. soy sauce (I use tamari)

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp. honey

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley

Put lentils in a medium saucepan and cover by 2-inches with cold water.  Add a generous pinch of salt and bring to a boil over high heat.  Skim any froth from surface, lower heat, and simmer lentils until just tender, about 20-30 minutes (cooking time depends on the kind of lentil you’re using).  Drain, reserving cooking liquid.

Warm a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add eggplant.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, adding a few tablespoons of water as needed to prevent eggplant from sticking.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Stir in onion, tomatoes, and garlic, and cook 5 minutes more.  Add barbecue sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice, honey, and drained lentils.  Simmer 10 minutes, adding lentil cooking water as necessary if sauce gets too thick.  Stir in scallions and parsley, and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve immediately, or let cool and refrigerate up to 5 days or freeze up to 3 months.

Make it vegan: Substitute the sweetener of your choice for the honey or — if your barbecue sauce is on the sweet side — just leave it out.

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