I realise lentils aren’t the coolest member of the food kingdom, but the way they combine being laughably cheap with disproportionately astounding health benefits means they’ll always have a secure place in my heart at least.
Lentils come in a few different varieties and if you really want the history of each you know where Wikipedia is. But your basic guide runs thusly: Brown lentils hold their shape when cooked and have a pleasant, earthy, slightly nutty flavour. They are ideal for forming into burger patties and for adding to, or being the main body of, soups and stews. Red lentils are small and bright orangey-red and dissolve into a yellow, slightly grainy mush when boiled in water. This property makes them perfect for mixing in with minced meat to stretch it further and add goodness, as well as making them a useful ingredient in thick soups.
Puy lentils are dark, dark green and have a savoury earthy flavour. They too hold their shape when cooked and tend to be more expensive than your regular lentils, which makes them useful for when you want to impress someone with your cooking. A favourite dish of mine is puy lentils, peas, and copious amounts of feta cheese, dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar and served at room temperature. Who said lentils weren’t sexy? Then there’s the yellow and green lentils which are also known as split peas, because they are in fact, dried peas, not lentils. But they perform much the same tasks as lentils: providing nutrients and bulk to a meal, scaring away small children.
An obvious, but delicious, thing to do with lentils is make dhal. There’s no one way to make it but this is what I did the other night, inspired by a recipe on CrazyBakingGirl’s blog, and it turned out pretty flipping delicious.
2 Tbs olive oil
1 red onion, finely sliced
2.5 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 garlic cloves finely sliced
1 large green chilli, finely chipped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cumin
250g (1 cup) red lentils. I used a mix of what I had in the cupboard – yellow and green split peas and red lentils.
1 tbs lime juice
Heat a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat and add the olive oil.
- When hot, add the onion, ginger, garlic, chilli, salt and cumin and cook for 10 min, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft.
- Add the lentils and 750ml (3 cups) of water and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20min until the lentils have dissolved.
- Remove from the heat and stir through the lime juice.
- Top with coriander leaves and serve with naan.
The mix of lentils that I used produced a lovely texture, but really use whatever you have, bearing in mind that lentils can sometimes take what seems like forever to cook. Just keep them at a low heat, stir often, and taste occasionally. I bought some naan bread from the Indian takeaway down the road and served the dhal over rice with a dollop of cool, creamy yoghurt on top. It was a perfect winter meal, not to mention inexpensive, very healthy, and – sans yoghurt – could suit a vegan (although let’s face it, your vegan friends probably already have a definitive recipe for dhal.)
Enjoy! And if you like what you read here – and even if you don’t, I’m not that fussy – feel free to read more of my delightful exploits over at my blog, Hungry and Frozen. I’ve just updated it today so there’s one fresh from the oven for you.