These edible seeds used to suffer serious stigma. But quite rightly, pulses, once associated with hirsute folk who played the acoustic guitar, are now having a moment. Gluten-free, low in calories, the lentil has it all. Being protein-rich, it makes a worthy alternative to meat, which is why chefs now place it proudly on menus, rather than have it hidden away in soups. Take, for example, the famously irreverent Lentils are Better than Caviar dish by chef-legend Massimo Bottura where lentils masquerade as caviar - the potential of the pulse is huge. Here are some of my favourite ways to use them.
I learnt about Koshari from food legend Anissa Helou who set up a fabulous hole-in-the-wall serving it to diners in Soho a few years back. Koshari is a classic Egyptian street food; apparently it’s one of the most popular street bites in Cairo. Back here, for me, it makes the perfect nourishing after-work dinner.
On a low heat, simmer a handful or two of rice, then add some macaroni pasta for the final 8 minutes (check cooking times on the packet). When cooked, drain. Season. Slice an onion. Fry in a pan. Pour a tin of tomatoes and a tin of drained lentils and 1 chilli - this is a dish with heat - to the frying pan. Season with salt and feel free to add a pinch of ground cumin and coriander. Taste. Transfer the rice and macaroni onto the plates. Pour over the tomato mix. Scatter with fresh coriander leaves.
A 20-Minute Curry
When you’re hit by post-work fatigue, all you want is something quick but wholesome. Lentils are your friend - particularly this instant, scratch-made curry stuffed with legumes.
Pop the rice in a pan and simmer in water with a pinch of salt.
In a Nutribullet, drop 4 peeled garlic cloves, 1 onion and 1inch ginger, peeled. If it’s a bit dry, a tablespoon of water will help. Whizz.
Heat oil in a pan and sizzle the blended mix until the aromas are released and it’s cooking but not browned. Sprinkle in 1tbsp curry powder. Now add 3-4 chicken thighs or turkey fillets. Season. Pour in a tin of coconut milk and some water if it starts to dry out. Simmer until the chicken is cooked. In the final 5 minutes, add 1 x tin of drained lentils. Other peas and pulses, including green beans or mange tout, would equally enhance. Drain the rice when it’s cooked. Season everything and taste to check you’re content with the balance of flavours. Serve. Of course, add fresh coriander as a garnish if you wish.
Mediterranean-Style Lentil Salad
I make this almost weekly. All you need is a tin of lentils (green, red or black) or Merchant Gourmet does corpulent packets of ready-to-eat puy, and the following: sun-dried tomatoes, herbs, a soft white cheese, and you’re away.
In a salad bowl, pour in your lentils. Finely chop sun dried tomatoes and herbs. Thanks to a fecund bush of fennel growing by my front door I’m often trimming it for this. But thyme, chives, coriander, mint, would all be beguiling. For a cheese component to sprinkle in, think goat, sheep, soft, creamy, or caramelised halloumi.
If you stop here, it’s all good. If your dalliance hasn’t finished, there’s olive oil, a squeeze of lemon (grate in the lemon zest too), a tsp of red wine or cider vinegar to include. Season, stir, taste. To expand, you could serve slices of (cooked) Toulouse-style sausage on top.
Spicy Lentil & Chorizo Soup
Here’s a goof-proof one-pot recipe and a warming, satisfying lunch or light supper.
First, fry some garlic and onion. Then in the mix goes 1 knob peeled ginger, finely chopped. Include some ground coriander and turmeric if you have some. Pop in your lentils. Cover this melange with vegetable stock and simmer until everything is cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Blitz to a consistency you like. To finish, stir in some Greek yoghurt and sprinkle over the chorizo or some cooked bacon bits. If you’ve a butternut squash festering in the fridge, you could roast and it would march along perfectly as an addition with this spiced soup.
I’m hooked on dal, so luxurious and creamy. As a self-employed writer, I eat it for lunch often. Not only is it alive with flavour but it’s good for you and easy to whip up. Black urad dal is my personal preference.
In a large pan, heat 1tbsp oil, ghee or butter and add 2tsp ground cumin, green chillies to your taste, 1tsp turmeric. Then add 2cm ginger, peeled and finely chopped, one onion, finely sliced, 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced. Cook until just caramelising. Pour in a tin of tomatoes, 1tbsp tomato puree and the cooked lentils. Simmer in a little vegetable stock until it breaks down. Taste and adjust with salt. You want a creamy consistency, add a little water if too thick. At the end, don’t skimp on stirring in butter or ghee. I can’t get enough of this with yoghurt and fresh coriander leaves, sometimes a chutney. I also enjoy roasting onion slices and sprinkling on top.
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