I’ve had another love for quite some time now. It is a deep love. A warm affection and a constant yearning.
I. love. lentils! Lentils would be my favourite of the pulses closely followed by a perfectly cooked chickpea. For those of you who are still to be convinced that the humble lentil is a winner, may I be so bold as to urge you to buy and try the queen of lentil’s – The Puy lentil? Puy lentils are a tiny dark French lentil grown in the Auvergene at Le Puy, France. In days gone by, you would have had to befriend a Frenchmen to get your fix but thankfully these days they are readily available at most good deli’s and food stores and even most good supermarkets. This is a result of everyday people, like you and I, repeatedly requesting for certain great products to be stocked – shopkeepers and buyers eventually do take note if they hear the nagging – e hem – requests, often enough. This is the kind of nagging that I wan’t my girls to know is a-okay as they grow up. The other kind…well……I’d appreciate if that stopped thank you all the same!
If your memories of eating lentils is a bowl of sludge that took you several hours to force those horrid gloopy spoonfulls down, you are going to be in for a wonderful surprise. Puy lentils have less starch than other lentils and as a result, they hold their shape perfectly. They have a gorgeous bite and a wonderful nutty flavor. They are such a super protein source which is why they became known as vegetarian ‘hippie food’ but hippie or no hippie, vegetarian or not, these lovely nutty little stars should be enjoyed by all and often.
We have a dinner similar to this most Monday’s. I am not a cook who has lentils Monday night, fish on Tuesday’s, curry on Wednesday’s – I am sure I would die of cooking boredom not to mention a little too much freaky planning ahead but Monday’s are a little different. Some weekends one might kick up their heels a little more. One might have eaten half a side of a cow (if one were that way inclined) and by Monday, this style of food is what we need….what we crave. Monday’s are known as ‘meatless Monday’s’ in our house. I urge you to try it too – really great for you and far kinder to our planet.
Lentils go beautifully with many things. The abudance of root vegetables this time of year make great pairing – parsnips, carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes… anything goes really. Lentils are great in soups, salads, a starring side dish, under roasted meats or fish and I adore left overs served at room temperature or under my perfectly poached eggs for a very nourishing breakfast. The list goes on with these versatile babies so knock yourself out and experiment – Have fun.
This is a very basic braised lentil recipe to which you can play around. Add root vegetables, add some fennel, leave out the meat, on a ‘meatless Monday’ but whatever happens, I hope these Puy lentils win your hearts and find a place in your pantry so they can be enjoyed time & time again.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
2 celery sticks, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 rashers of pancetta, diced (substitute for chorizo for a completely different take or leave all meats out for a completely vegetarian meal)
2 cups of dried Puy lentils
1 fresh bay leaf
Half a small bunch of fresh thyme
1 litre of vegetable stock
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
2 ripe tomatoes, diced (only if in season)
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Freshly chopped parsley leaves, to serve
To speed up this dish, I place another pan on the stove and I start cooking the Puy lentils in rapidly boiling water to speed up the cooking time.
Heat a heavy based frying pan and add the olive oil. Sautee the onion for a few minutes and then add the celery, carrot and garlic. Add the pancetta, if using and cook to soften a little. Add the lentils (drained if you have already started cooking them in your separate pot for a speedy dish) and fresh bay leaf and stir to combine all the ingredients. Add your stock and tomato plus a little extra boiling water, if needed. Cover and simmer gently for approximately 20 minutes if your lentils had no pre cooking or approximately 10 minutes if they did get a little earlier cooking time. Taste to see if your lentils are tender. Cook a little longer, uncovered now to reduce the liquid just a little. Serve with a good drizzle of olive oil or hazelnut oil as well as the chopped parsley. Serve on its own or with any of the suggestions pre recipe. Also beautiful with goats cheese crumbled on top.
I sincerely hope you enjoy.