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Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Lovely Lentils: another storecupboard special for a winter day

This simple and easy lentil recipe is another store-cupboard meal, good at any time of year, but perfect for the cold weather.  It’s very adaptable, so play with the flavourings as you wish.  You can use any kind of lentil: red lentils, green lentils, brown lentils, puy lentils.  If you use Asian or Indian spices, you are making a daal, dhal or dahl.  Using herbs such as thyme and bay will give you a more European result.

You may need to pick through the lentils for small stones etc before use: tip them onto a roasting tray to make this easier.

8 oz/250g Lentils – any kind
I small onion, diced small
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed or sliced very finely
Herbs and spices as you like or have available
Boiling water
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
A little oil for frying (or oil and butter)

Method:  sweat the onion and garlic in a little oil (or oil and butter) in a saucepan over a gentle heat until they soften and begin to take colour.  You can let the garlic take on a golden hue, which will add a lovely nutty flavour to the dish, but don’t let it brown or there will be a nasty, bitter taste.  If you want to control this perfectly, then cook the garlic first until it is just right, remove from the pan and return once the lentils go in.

Add your herbs and/or spices (last night, I used a commercial Thai 7 spice blend that I just happened to have in the cupboard, but use anything you like), stirring well into the onion/garlic mixture, then the lentils.  Grind in some fresh black pepper: no salt at this stage.  Add enough boiling water to twice the depth of the lentils, bring back to the boil, then reduce to the gentlest simmer.  Use a heat-diffusing mat if you have one.  Stir well from time to time.

Add more boiling water, a little at a time, if needed.  You can judge this better once the lentils start to soften and break up.  You can control the consistency to get the result you like – a dryish porridge, a looser mix similar to a risotto or paella, or even a soup.

Cooking times vary depending on the type and age of the lentils: something between half to three quarters of an hour is a ball-park estimate.

Add the salt at the end of cooking: lentils will take a lot of salt.

You can use this as a side dish, perhaps to a curry: if you use the more herby flavourings, it is brilliant with any kind of pork, including sausages.

Or serve it as the main event, with any kind of bread to mop the lentils up.  Bread and lentils is a marvellous combination that goes so well, and is ridiculously more-ish.  Perhaps it is that together they make a complete protein, and our bodies instinctively know this.

If your image of lentils is as some kind of bland and virtuous hippie-food, think again.  Lentils, as with all pulses and legumes, are cheap, versatile, nutritious, tasty, filling, fat-free and low on the glycemic index.  They keep for ages in your cupboard, so there is no excuse not to have a bag or two in store.

As with beans, I usually cook much more than I need for one meal, and portion and freeze the rest for later use.

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