Lentils can get an unfair press. Sometimes derided and dismissed as being worthy or hippy, the humble lentil has a huge amount to offer. Helen shows how they are cheap, delicious and take on flavours easily. She also shares a recipe for an adaptable red lentil loaf.
The word lens (as in optics) is derived from the Latin lens - which means lentil. Lentils contain the third highest level of protein of any legume, after soybeans and hemp, and so are a versatile and thrifty addition to many diets, but are particularly useful to meat reducers and vegetarians. The lentil plant originated in North Africa and Asia and is and ancient source of food.
There are many sorts of lentils available, and today I take a look at the red spilt lentil which with no husk is especially quick to cook making it perfect for a base of a dal or thickening and finishing soups and stews, as well as in many other dishes. As they cook so quickly they need no special preparation other than a examination to remove any stray stones, then a rinse. 140g of dry lentils will yield about 350g cooked, which is about twice the volume.
This lentil loaf is a regular on our table, is highly adaptable and is perfect for using up the last of your “fridge bottomy” vegetables – those left languishing, unloved, at the bottom of the salad drawer the night before the weekly shop.
You can enjoy this loaf as it is, sliced straight from the oven, fry leftover slices and serve with an egg, or BBQ and serve in a burger bun. Ring the changes with different seasonings and vegetables. I used onions, garlic, spring onions, pepper and tomato – other additions could be peas (fresh or frozen), sweetcorn kernels, grated root vegetables and squashes, the last pieces of antipasti in a jar. Add some finely grated cheese rinds for extra flavour.
This does take some time to cook, so it makes sense to have something else in the oven at the same time. Make sure that the lentils are well drained, the loaf should then firm up a little quicker.
Adaptable Red Lentil Loaf
Perfect for using up those unloved vegetables from the bottom of the fridge this loaf is both filling and relatively frugal, use whatever vegetables you have available.
Serves 2 generously
200g red lentils
400ml vegetable stock
1 tbs vegetable oil
1 onion – finely chopped
1 clove garlic – chopped
1 spring onion
½ green pepper – chopped
1 egg - beaten
Spices, salt & pepper to season
Place the lentils and stock in a saucepan and gently simmer until the liquid has been absorbed and the lentils are soft. Strain into a sieve and stand to allow excess liquid to drain.
Whilst the lentils are cooking fry the vegetables until they are starting to turn golden.
Place the lentils, cooked vegetables (add any grated root vegetables at this stage) and egg into a bowl and mix. Season well with some herbs, spices and salt and pepper.
Pour the mixture into a lined and greased 500g loaf tin and bake at GM5 / 190C (fan 180C) for 40 – 50 minutes until risen, golden brown and firm to the touch. Allow to stand for 5 minutes and then turn out.
Serve sliced, or let it cool and fry to use as a burger.
Other recipe ideas using red lentils
Zesty Red Lentil Dal with Kale – perfect for when you have over indulged and a winter staple in my kitchen.
Naan bread dal “pizza” - it sounds a fusion step too far but it is surprisingly good.
Lentils add texture, protein and dietary fibre to a tomato sauce that can be used on pizzas or with pasta
A wintry red lentil, carrot and coconut soup from Tinned Tomatoes
For more delicious lentil recipes visit Great British Chefs collection