These lentils have become a firm resident in my fridge at home. I make a big batch up at the weekend enjoy the aromas of bacon rosemary and red wine wafting around as I potter about the apartment; satisfied that a week of good meals awaits. Not only do I love this way to cook lentils but I have started somewhat of a love affair with these little pebbles and even Don seems relatively content despite the lack of a big steak or chop on the table. It starts with the smell of pancetta filling the air as it renders it’s fat. Then the holy trinity of carrot, onion and celery meddles in the mix- that homely smell that always leads to random visitors peeking into the kitchen and then an enthusiastic glug of red wine a spoonful of dijon and a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme carry the party through until the lentils are satiated. You may find it hard to believe that it’s not a beef stew simmering on the stove.
I confess, it was only recently when I, post-run and collapsed on the sofa, that I was lazily grazing my eyes through Nigella’s Feast cookbook that I thought to cook them. This was one part curiosity, one part already having all of the ingredients and one part knowing that I wouldn’t have to leave the sofa and stand on my aching legs for very long. That’s the irony of all this running- I spend half my day Saturday running and the other half unable to move. Talk about balance.
I always knew that I liked lentils- the way they could absorb flavours, the fact that they could be saucey or dry and the way that they comfortingly fill a hungry belly. I’d always been happy to order lentils off the menu, and there was that one lentil salad recipe that I made back in cooking school that still lingers in the back of my head itching for recreation; but I’ve never actually hunted down the recipe. I guess they just never screamed make me as loud as rib roasts and chocolate cakes do. Now all they do is scream.
Lentils are far from the timely, cancel your weekend plans and plan far ahead category that I had previously placed them in. In fact lentils arrive in a whole different category of cooking and one that I assure you is quite pleasant and not half as time consuming as one would think. The beauty of this recipe is that it can either serve as the base for a more complex meal or you can eat them as they are. I’ve turned them into soup by adding extra broth and blending half of them, I’ve made salads with roasted sweet potato and feta, stirred through caramelised onions and walnuts- you get the idea. But be warned once you start making them- they won’t stop screaming.
Wintry red wine lentils
Based on the recipe from Nigella Lawon’s Feast cookbook.
Serves 6-8 or 8-10 as soup
Diet Facts: fiber, protein and red wine sounds like a winning combination to me
1 Tbsp olive oil
100g/4 oz pancetta, diced (or smoked bacon)
1 carrot, diced
1 stick celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
500g/1 lb 2 oz green lentils, brown lentils just not red lentils
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of rosemary or thyme
1 heaping Tbsp dijon mustard
300 ml/ 1 pint red wine
1 Litre/4 cups water
1/ Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the diced pancetta and sauté to release the fat until the pancetta begins to look golden- about 5 minutes. If there is a lot of fat you can drain all but 1-2 tbsp off.
2/ Add the carrot, celery and onion, stir to coat in the oil and then turn the heat to medium low and let the vegetables soften- about 10 minutes. Stir the lentils into the pan and then stir in the bay leaves, rosemary sprigs and dijon mustard.
3/ Pour over the red wine and water and bring to a simmer. Cover and let simmer gently for about 40 minutes (some lentils will take longer and require more water so check by tasting one after 30 minutes). If the water level gets too low then add some more and bring back up to the boil. I found using brown lentils required more water and longer cooking time. Once cooked, check the seasoning and remove the bay leaves and rosemary branches to serve (most of the leaves will have fallen off at this point)
4/ If you want to turn these into soup puree half of them (or all if you want it completely smooth) this will thicken them so you will want to add more water to serve. Drizzle with good olive oil to serve. If you want to serve cold as a salad try folding through some chopped nuts, roasted squash or sweet potato, feta cheese and chopped parsley.