It is a very very cool summer’s day, full of storms and we are all reaching for our unused jackets to keep warm. We look for something more substantial and comforting today from the kitchen.
I love the lentils of India and the Middle East, and I love the lentils of the West (although a much more limited range). Commonly, lentils soften much more quickly than most dried beans and peas, and take only 20 – 40 minutes to cook. While red lentils (masoor dal), fall apart in the cooking (so making them perfect for soups), brown and green varieties hold their shape, making them a very good base on which to layer other foods. A pan of cooked lentils – braised with carrots, onions, celery, hard herbs and vegetable stock – is a useful thing to have in the fridge, ready to for the basis for turning yesterday’s leftover dishes into a whole new meal.
You might also like to try Puy Lentil Stew with Eggplant, Spicy Beluga Lentils, Citrusy Beetroot with Puy Lentils, Indian Du Puy Lentil Sundal Salad, Kosheri – Rice with Vermicelli and Lentils, and Du Puy Lentil Soup.
Ottolenghi says of the lentils of the West: “The most prized lentil has smaller, more rounded seeds and so a finer texture: the slate-green French lentille de Puy leads the way here, followed by the chic black beluga and the robust green pardina from Spain. Holding their shape and holding their own, their natural nuttiness can be enhanced by the addition of nuts in a salad or with a creamy cheese dotted on top. I love them teamed with another pulse such as chickpea, or with a mix of grains.”
The flavours of puy lentils are dark, grounded flavours, almost meaty. I love to pair them with lighter, airier flavours particularly those of crunchy salad greens and late summer tomatoes.
Whichever colour you go for, whichever cuisine, lentils love to absorb other flavours: dress them while they’re still warm, so they really take on any sharpness or spice that’s been added. Unlike many other legumes, a lot of lentils don’t need soaking, but do give them a rinse before cooking, to remove any starchy dust. If you are cooking them for salads or other dry dishes, cooking them in too much liquid will mean that their nutrients leach out, so use just enough liquid to be soaked up during cooking.
Crushed Du Puy Lentils with Tahini and Cumin
This sustaining meal-on-a-plate is a little bit like hummus, though much easier and quicker to prepare. Eat with warm flatbread and a side salad.
200g du puy lentils
30g unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
4 medium tomatoes, cut into 0.5 cm dice
25g coriander leaves, chopped (about 1 bunch)
4 Tblspn tahini
2 Tblspn lemon juice
Salt and black pepper
0.5 small red onion, peeled and sliced very thin
0.5 tspn paprika, for dusting the top (optional)
Bring a medium pan of water to a boil. Add the lentils and cook for 15-20 minutes or more, until completely cooked. Drain and set aside.
Put the butter and oil in a large sauté pan and place on a medium-high heat. Once the butter melts, add the garlic and cumin, and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes, 20g of coriander and the cooked lentils. Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes, then add the tahini, lemon juice, 70ml of water (if required), a tspn of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Turn down the heat to medium and cook gently, stirring, for a few minutes more, until hot and thickened.
Roughly mash the lentils with a potato masher, so that some are broken up and you get a thick, porridge consistency.
Spread out the lentils on a flat platter, run a fork through to make a wavy pattern on top, dust with paprika, scatter on the sliced onion and the remaining coriander, and add a final drizzle of olive oil.
This is so delicious, and a perfect base for luncheon wraps with greens, roasted tomatoes, Persian feta and other goodies.
recipe notes and alternatives
This is a perfect recipe for using coriander paste in place of the fresh coriander, if you have made some and have it in the fridge. Keep your leaves for sprinkling on the top of the finished dish.
I used some onions that had been slightly pickled on the top, as I had these in the fridge. They were gorgeous. Spring onions (scallions in the US) or salad onions (spring onions in the US) can be used as well.
You can blanch and skin the tomatoes, but I prefer not to. I dice them small, and as this dish mashes the lentils at the end, any stray pieces of tomato can be mashed with the lentils.
Use a hand held blender to mash the lentils. Use carefully, you do not want to create a paste, just to blend perhaps half of them.
I have also made this with other lentils – such as whole red lentils (masoor) – and it is just as divine. In the picture above I topped them with onion, diced roasted beetroot and home grown lentil sprouts.