Destitution Cooking (Lentils, What can you do with them?)

19 Feb

You can make almost any kind of soup if you start off with a small onion and a rasher of bacon and some vegetable oil, but lentil soup’s cheap and filling and it thickens if you keep it in the fridge so you can add water and make it go even further.

Simply chop the onion and bacon as finely as your knife skills allow (Not very, in my case). Or run them through a food processor of you’ve got one.

Heat the vegetable oil (I wouldn’t go for olive oil, I think the taste would be a bit too strong) and then add the onion and bacon. You don’t want the oil too hot, you’re aiming to soften the onion and bacon, not fry them.

Once the onion is translucent and soft, you can start working variations. (What that means is chuck in anything you’ve got that’s lying around and you think will taste nice add the stock of your choice, bring to the boil and then simmer until the ingredients are cooked and you’ve got soup).

For a basic lentil soup I’d put in anything up to 2 pints of chicken stock and about 200g of red split lentils and one chopped carrot. (If you don’t have a carrot, try a small tin of mixed, chopped vegetables. You could also try any number of other root vegetables if you’ve got them lying around and you think the taste would be suitable).

Then all you have to do is bring  it to the boil and let it simmer for 20 – 25 mins or until the lentils are soft. (The key to using any dried ingredient is to make sure it’s properly cooked. You really don’t want this stuff rehydrating in your digestive tract, that can be distressing to those near and dear to you).

You can puree the soup if you want a smooth texture, but I never bother. I like my food rustic and I can’t be bothered anyway.

If you have any left over, it can always be reheated later, but I wouldn’t keep it for more than about three days unless you can freeze it. Even if it tastes alright, it’s liable to sit in your stomach like concrete.

One word of caution, however, lentil soup looks terrible when it’s cold, (pretty much like vomit, in fact), but don’t worry, it’ll look and taste fine once it’s heated up.

(Serves 3-4 depending on how hungry they are).

When it comes to green lentils, the first thing you need to do is go through them carefully to remove any little bits of grit. (Rick Stein has apparently never found any, but he’s wise to go on checking because they do turn up from time to time and finding them in your mouth is really not a fine dining experience).

Once you’ve picked through your lentils, you need to wash them thoroughly.

Having done that, I would put them in a saucepan with plenty of hot water and bring to the boil, then simmer for about 35 mins, or until they’re soft. (Green lentils retain a certain amount of texture unlike their red counterparts which soften into mush).

The instructions on the package suggest boiling green lentils for 10 mins, then simmering for a further 35, but when I tried this method I felt they were over cooked. (If all this makes you nervous, then you can always use tinned green lentils).

The problem with green lentils is that they taste pretty bland on their own, so you need something to go with them. (They do have lot’s of sodium and fibre and all kinds of other stuff that’s apparently good for you and, as per my general theory of destitution cooking they can make more interesting and expensive ingredients go a lot further).

My suggestion would be reverting to my personal Holy Trinity (olive oil, garlic and a tin of tomatoes).

In this particular case I also added in some onion and smoked pork sausage (veggie options might be chopped potatoes, maybe chick peas or mushrooms. But then again if you’re a vegetarian you can probably think of more and better meat substitutes than I could). If you’ve got some left over chicken or something you could use that instead of the sausage. I’m not sure I’d use chorizo for this recipe, I think it might be overpowering, but you can always give it a try if you feel like it..

So while the lentils are simmering what you can do is chop your onion and garlic while a little olive oil’s heating in a small pan. (Don’t let it get too hot). I always put the onion in before the garlic, because I want the onion to cool the oil a little. If you’ve ever tasted burnt garlic you’ll understand.

When the onion’s softened, add the tinned tomatoes. (If you’re using fresh tomatoes and you’re not blessed with a really warm climate then you should probably add a little sugar).

I let the tomato sauce simmer until the lentils are ready and then added the sausage. (If you’re using the Traditional British Banger, then I would definitely brown them a bit in a frying pan, or the oven or under a grill and make sure that they go into the tomato sauce early enough to cook through properly. If you don’t brown them first, they’ll cook in the sauce and probably taste fine, but they’re liable to look horrible and I would find the Freudian imagery off-putting).

Once the lentils are ready, simply drain off the water and then add the tomato sauce and sausage mix and serve.

(Also serves 3 -4 adults depending on appetite)

There are plenty of other things you can do with lentils, but these are two suggestions that work for me.

(And by the way, if you know of a recipe that uses red lentils for something other than soup I’d be interested to hear about it, but please note, I had an unfortunate childhood experience with curry and it’s left me with an irrational dislike of Indian cuisine. It’s a prejudice I’ll really have to overcome some day).

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2 Responses to “Destitution Cooking (Lentils, What can you do with them?)”

  1. Colin 22/02/2012 at 2:27 pm #

    Ok, the “unfotunate childhood incident with a curry” deserves a post. You can’t leave us hanging like that.

    • fekesh 22/02/2012 at 8:27 pm #

      Unfortunately the story’s nothing like as interesting as it might sound. (Although it does involve raisons). Someday all may be revealed, but you’ll be disappointed if it is.

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