Lentils for breakfast- welcome

Here is your invitation to sample beautiful recipes that are good for you, good for the planet and good to eat. They mainly feature plants, because that's what I try to eat the most. I am not a fancy cook, but I believe that food is one of our greatest pleasures and deserves to be celebrated. Real food, whole food, kind food. Welcome to the feast!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Crazy as a coconut

Naturally, lentils have a natural affinity with certain tastes. In the magisterial Cook's Companion, Stephanie Alexander gives her list: onions, garlic, olive oil, butter, parsley, coriander, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, ginger, chillies, carrots, spinach, lemons, tomatoes. And because this is Stephanie the gourmet omnivore we're talkin' about, she also lists bacon, salt pork, sausages, rabbit, hare, squab pigeon, venison and guinea fowl. These latter ingredients are unlikely to ever make their way into my breakfast, but thought you might like to know in an FYI kind of way.

And one ingredient not in Stephanie's audit that totally rocks the lentils is coconut. Not namby-pamby, low-fat coconut milk, but sweet, creamy, delectable, premium coconut cream. This is a new ingredient for me, and I'm a believer.

Coconut is a vexed fat. It is derived from a plant but contains palmitic acid, which is a saturated fat, and therein lies the source of vexation. Saturated fats are more stable than their skittish counterparts, monounsaturates and polyunsaturates (especially diva-like). This means coconut oil can be heated to a high temperature (smoke point: 170 C) without damaging its nutrients, which makes it a desirable fat for frying for some health-minded cooks, like Jude. She calls it 'fabulous and flexible' and praises its antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial properties. She also states that it does not require emulsifying with bile acids from the liver, but is digested in the gut and provides energy while not contributing to weight gain.

So much for the coconut cheer squad. For most dietitians, when it comes to saturated fat - animal or plant - the message is always just don't do it. Well, certainly limit it. The NHMRC Dietary Guidelines for Australians does not single out coconut oil per se, but states that when palmitic acid predominates in dietary fat, this tends to raise plasma cholesterol. The Healthy Food Guide of the Dietitians Association of Australia advises eating 'minimal amounts of saturated fat' and points out that coconut cream is high in such fat. The Heart Foundation of Australia nominates coconut milk and oil in its list of 'unhealthy fats'. No mention from these august bodies about its nutritional excellence.

Not that I'll let that stop me. I don't eat a great deal of saturated fat as I don't eat red meat or commercial foodstuffs like pies or cakes or ice cream. So, a little bit of coconut cream in my lentils doesn't trouble my conscience. On the other hand, I'm a bit sceptical about the claim that it coconut oil/cream does not require emulsifying with bile acids (plan to investigate that further) and I wouldn't eat anything just because it has antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial properties. They're a nice little bonus, I suppose, but not the point. The point is flavour and texture.

And coconut cream is beautiful with red lentils. This dish is one of my new favourites. It comes from Jude's fascinating and thoughtful cookbook for the littlies, Wholefood for Children. I riff freely with this recipe and don't use all her suggested ingredients - in particular dulse flakes and 1/2 an apple. The dulse flakes add extra minerals and I'll add them if and when I ever buy any. The apple is to off-set astringency, and mirin works just as well.

Vegetable and red lentil coconut dal

1 cup red lentils
Ghee or coconut oil (I used cultured butter because I live dangerously)
A couple of shallots
Bit of grated ginger
1 teaspoon each cumin, coriander, turmeric and garam masala
Pumpkin and/or sweet potato (roasted first, as I do)
2 cm kombu (to help the lentils soften: this recipe is designed for toddler palates)
I cup vegetable stock
1 cup star ingredient
Chopped coriander
Green beans
Mirin, tamari, squeeze of lemon or lime juice at the end

Heat the butter over low heat. Add onion and ginger and cook for 2-3 mins. Stir in spices, carrot, lentils, kombu, stock, premium full-fat coconut cream and some coriander. Make sure kombu is submerged in liquid to do its softening thing, cover with a lid and simmer gently for 15-18 mins. Add cauliflower and  green beans, the simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until vegetables are tender. Add roasted pumpkin or sweet potato and peas. Mash any bits of kombu into the mix and splash in the mirin, tamari and lemon juice.
With boiled egg and a spoonful of 92% fat free natural yoghurt for breakfast.

Jude recommends cooking up leftovers for breakfast in a small frying pan, making a clearing in the middle and frying an egg. Don't mind if I do.

Didn't manage to get my fried egg in the middle!

So, are you all assiduous sat fat-avoiders? Do you think the official prescription should be to avoid crap, processed junk and loadsa cheap meat instead? (leading question, sorry!). Leave a comment and let me know what you think.


  1. Hi Jill - this sounds truly marvellous. I am a big coconut oil fan - having been converted by Dr Mercola - who I follow pretty closely. Will try this soon as I am also trying to avoid bread for breakfast which has been a staple for so many years.

  2. Sue, I don't know Dr Mercola but have made a note to check him out. Let me know when you try this recipe. Would love to hear how you enjoy the lentils for breakfast experience!