Monday, 15 November 2010

Never a dull moment with lentils

The Young Ones may never have had a dull moment with lentils, but I imagine that the rest of us have. Lentils have a bad reputation, not altogether fully deserved I believe. I have made and loved a brown rice and lentil soup for 15-20 years. I'm well aware that it does sound Rather Awful. But everyone who has tried it always wants the recipe.

Lentils are low gi wonders. They are nutritional powerhouses- full of protein, fibre and nutrients. And they are tasty too. There are different varieties to play with as well. I used some Australian grown Puy style lentils that I had lying about the house.

Browsing through the Essential Ingredient recently I noticed they have some black lentils, which I think they called Lentil Caviar. That is possibly going a bit far, but I know what kind of lentils I'll be trying next.

So my eyes lit up when flipping through the latest issue of Cuisine (a marvellous food mag from New Zealand) and I saw Ray McVinnie's current Quick Smart article. More a series of food suggestions than actual recipes, this month he features lots of delicious suggestions for grains, pasta and pulses- all right up my low GI alley.

Lots of fabulous suggestions- Spicy Quinoa and Pork, Barley and Asparagus Bake, Orzo with Roast Pumpkin and Kumara. The one that really caught my eye first was Lentil Egg Salad. It looked the perfect weekday work lunch suggestion. Easy to prepare ahead, yummy, and an excuse to have some bacon and eggs, and call it healthy.

Lentil Egg Salad

Boil some green or brown lentils in plenty of water with half an onion, a carrot and a stick of celery until the lentils are tender. Drain, discard the vegetables, toss the lentils in a little extra virgin olive oil, season and serve in a salad with cos leaves, soft-poached eggs, watercress sprigs, crisp bacon, capers, walnuts and a dressing made by pouring a big splash of red wine vinegar into the fat in the hot bacon pan after the bacon has been added to the salad.

I cooked up a batch of lentils and then made it into quite a different lunch each day for the week.  I think it's quite a hangover from my (lengthy) student days that I can quite happily eat the same thing for 3 or 4 days in a row. By day 5 though even my tolerance is wearing a bit thin. This lunch was good for padding out a week, it was reasonably different each day depending on what left overs I had to play around with. One day I used the leftover mango and blueberry salsa.

Another day I had some chopped mushrooms, corn and capsicum. It was quite the production in the staff dining room, cutting my egg and avocado and shelling pistachios.

I forgot to take photos of the first few days, which I thought were the best with leftover asparagus and mashed kumara. You could use basically anything and get a different, tasty, low GI lunch every day.


  1. hi Louise,
    were those caviar lentils Puy lentils from France? If you haven't tried them they really are the best kind- they don't go mushy. They are also spectacular with sherry vinegar. here is my favourite lentil salad recipe - very delicious and very tolerant of tweaking! Hilary

    (via Claudia Gross, from Robin Hooper, after Deborah Madison: The Green Cookbook)

    1 ½ cups small French lentils (Puy lentils)
    1 carrot, diced
    1 onion
    1 bay leaf
    1 clove garlic, finely chopped
    ½ tsp salt

    Put in saucepan, cover with water and bring to boil. Simmer for 20-25 min, until lentils are tender but still a bit firm and holding their shape. Then drain.

    In the meantime, roast with skin-side up halves of 2 red peppers until the skin is blackened. Scrape off skin with a knife (but do not rinse) and dice.

    1 large lemon (juice and peel; can be much more)
    ¼ tsp paprika
    1 pinch cayenne
    1 clove garlic (not more)
    1 ½ tsp salt
    6-8 Tbs/90-120ml olive oil

    Cut lemon zest finely, put together with 3 Tbs lemon juice, paprika, cayenne, garlic and salt into a bowl and whisk. Whisk in olive oil and taste. Adjust for tartness and oil.
    Add vinaigrette to warm lentils.

    2 tsp mint chopped
    3 Tbs / ¼ cup chopped herbs – parsley, marjoram, cilantro, thyme or others (can also add more)
    Black pepper
    Sherry vinegar
    200g feta cheese

    Add herbs, red peppers, pepper and salt.
    Just before serving, add vinegar to brighten colours. Cut feta cheese and fold through. Garnish with some more herbs and peppers and olive oil.

  2. Oh, that sounds fabulous Hilary. I'll have to try that soon. I love feta and roasted capsicum. I don't know why people persist in giving instructions to grill them though, it's so much easier in the oven I reckon. Maybe I'll try it with some of the caviar lentils. I think the caviar lentils were actually from Canada. They were similar to a puy lentil, with more of a shell-like appearance, and they looked like they'd hold their shape rather than dissolve like a red lentil. I was just thinking that though these are all called lentils, that a red lentil and a puy lentil must be from reasonably different plants.

    Wiki to the rescue! I love that the biological name for a lentil is Lens culinaris- it makes perfect sense. And you could knock me down with a feather but Canada appears to be the biggest lentil producing nation in the world. Making 25% more than India does. Who knew?

  3. indeed, who knew? So, are there any famous Canadian lentil dishes then?
    I used to do my capsicums straight over the flame when I cooked on gas - nice and quick. Now I have induction I either do them in the oven or face down in a chargrill pan (or on the barbie if it's on). That reminds me that I have a fantastic bbqd chicken, eggplant and capsicum salad recipe that you might like - unless of course you have 'Eat' by Ray McVinnie?

  4. I'm not sure about famous Canadian lentil dishes. Seems they mostly crank them out from Southern Saskatchewan. I like that they have their own pulse marketing board.
    They have a recipe section, with some good stuff, but even I think that Lentil Apple Muffins is a bit of a stretch.

  5. Oh, and I don't have Ray McVinnie's book Eat. Does sounds a nice salad. It's safe to say that I don't eat all that much eggplant. I do make a nice eggplant cream to go with lamb. But I don't often do it as a vegetable.

    And how au courant am I? The NYT is all over lentils this week too

  6. oooh, thanks for the New York Times link - very interesting! I like the sound of walnut oil with lentils.
    I don't cook eggplant much, although I do like it - it isn't much of a side vegetable really. I usually bake it (in slices) or bbq it - I have had it steamed too, with a dressing, very delicious. I will send you the chicken eggplant recipe and you could also look up the cuisine website for twice cooked lamb with eggplant YUM!! here it is here: pageId=50994 (you cook the lamb shoulder chops in the oven and then bbq them and serve w eggplant, white beans and spinach and a gorgeous dressing).

  7. They look wonderful! And my parents tasted lentils for the first time a couple of years ago and they were really impressed with how delicious they were! :D