Veggie food has had a makeover.
Gone are the days of the broccoli flan in soggy wholemeal pastry. On the menu now is anything from technicolour Buddha bowl salads to courgetti spaghetti. Even lentil recipes are sexy. So, how can you cook up amazing vegetarian lentil dishes that are easy to make - and good for both you and the planet?
Just like other pulses, lentils are a great way to keep up your protein intake. There are so many amazing lentil recipes out there to experiment with. Play around with ingredients such as seaweed, miso, dried mushrooms and parmesan to give your dishes a depth of savoury flavour and come up with your own exciting lentil meals.
My top 3 easy lentil recipes
- Southern Indian Sambar. A zippy vegetable and lentil curry. This is as cheap and simple as they get, and the kids love it.
- A very English baked Quince, Bath Blue & lentil salad. A great, fresh dish made from classic British flavours. The green lentils will fill you up too – serve with bread for an even more fabulous feast.
- One of my all-time favourite recipes – Middle Eastern style lentils – check out the recipe below. The depth of flavour from such simple ingredients is amazing. These lentils can make a stand-alone dish but are great with a poached or fried egg on the top too.
If none of these amazing lentil dishes float your boat, don't forget that lentils can replace pasta or rice in most dishes and are a great base for stews and soups – and lentils make a great addition to salads too. We can't decide if we love Jamie Oliver's red lentil and sweet potato soup or his rice and lentil stuffed aubergines the most.
Cooking lentils the Middle Eastern way:
I usually make up a double quantity of these lentils. The flavour gets even better as they sit and they can form the basis of so many meals. Serves 4 as a main with bread.
Before we get started, let's clear up a couple of lentil myths. Do you need to soak lentils for hours? No. And does it matter if you can't get the right colour lentils? Not really. Find out the difference between red, green and yellow lentils from the Kitchen – and then carry right on using whatever colour lentils you have in the cupboard to cook this middle eastern lentil recipe.
- 4 brown onions, sliced finely
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 200 g/7 oz brown or green lentils (Did you know? These lentils will provide almost 20g of protein, and there's no need to soak them first)
- 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and then ground
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 pinch of chilli flakes
- 1 small bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped
- juice of 1/2 –1 lemon
How to cook your lentils
- Begin by frying the onion in a large saucepan. Keep the temperature fairly low and allow the onions to soften, sweeten and turn gold, this may take about 20 minutes. Be patient.
- Set aside half of the onions from the pan, turn up the heat and throw in the garlic, cumin and chilli. Stir and, as soon as you can really smell the garlic, add the lentils and enough water to cover them by about 5 cm.
- Bring the pot up to the boil and then turn down to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook until the lentils soften and begin to break down. You may have to add a little extra water from time to time if they are getting dry but go carefully, remember that you don’t want to drain away any delicious juices later.
- Once the lentils are really soft (after an hour or so), have a taste and season with salt, pepper and enough lemon juice to really freshen the dish up. Stir in the coriander leaves and garnish with the remaining sweet fried onions.
- Serve piled onto toasted wholemeal bread with a good dollop of natural yoghurt or goat’s cheese. A poached egg is the absolute icing on the cake for me.
This is the second in a series of blogs from the amazing Jenny Chandler, author of Pulse. If you fancy cooking more low-meat meals, sign up for more inspirational tips.