No recipe today, folks. Thought this was a good point at which to pass on what I have learned so far about lentils. Surprising how little I knew about them when I started, and how much wiser I am now. A few unappetising breakfasts will do that for you.
The authority from whom I have learned the most was, surprisingly, Stephanie Alexander. Surprising because I always considered her approach to food and cooking to be so different from my own - but perhaps our philosophies are closer than I realised. She does seem to be a genuine authority in the mould of Mrs Beeton or Julia Child and she certainly outlined a couple of eternal verities of the lentil kind that have improved my understanding. And, as I apply them, my cooking, I hope.
6 things about cooking lentils
Here beginneth the lesson.
1 Use the right lentils for the recipe. They are not endlessly interchangeable, but have their special qualities which must be respected. If the recipe calls for brown lentils, you can use green or Puy or beluga as they all keep their shape as they are cooked. You can't use red or blonde or split peas. Won't work.
2 If you cook the lentils in advance, or open a can, you may require less liquid than stated in the recipe. It's preferable to start with less and add more as you go, rather than trying to soak up or make evaporate excess liquid at the end. Trust me. Not a nice way to spend Sunday afternoon: devising ways to reduce unwanted lentil liquid.
3 Keep your eye on them. As Stephanie points out, 'they can take a surprisingly short time to cook' - and this 1 observation revealed to me my greatest failing. I used to think lentils could boil away merrily for ages, but I am now more circumspect. Particularly with dals. Don't dilly-dally with the dal.
4 Brown lentils etc are great for European style dishes: soups, salads, shepherd's pie, as a vegetable accompaniment, anything flavoured with thyme, rosemary, parsley. Red lentils and Indian lentils (like urud dal) are excellent as dals with Indian or South Asian flavours: ginger, coriander, coconut, mustard seeds, turmeric. Split peas are not lentils but pulses, and adapt well to both types of flavouring, but turn to a puree like red lentils.
5 Dals are the more appetising style for breakfast. There is something about the taste of onion and thyme that is not breakfast but another meal entirely. But spicy ginger and coconut is perfectly acceptable, even pleasantly palatable, on the morning palate.
6 Do not start eating lentils for breakfast in the expectation of losing those pesky couple of kilos. You will introduce more fibre and slow-release carbs into your diet, and if you add vegetables you will also benefit from the antioxidants and phytochemicals. Lentils are fantastically healthy. But if you want to lose weight you may also have to reconsider the 2 glasses of wine a day or the full-fat cheese on an oatcake before dinner or the 4 squares of dark chocolate after dinner. Just a thought.
Here endeth the lesson.
Apposite to finish with a plug for Droptober, a campaign designed to raise funds for Kids for Life. Participants pledge to lose 2 kg. I have registered and plan to pursue my slow-carb principles to effect my weight loss. That was always the original intention, and it's time to take that effort more seriously.
One last item: I was in Perth recently and had breakfast with my dear friend Jude. I always relish our conversations - a mix of publishing, nutrition and recipes. Here we are. Her new book will be on wholefood baking, and given the debates raging on the toxicity of sugar, it will serve as a reminder that delectable goodies can be wholesome too. Jude believes strongly that the deliciousness of food arising from the quality of the ingredients and the method of cooking contributes materially to its nutritional value.
What do you think? Any tips on cooking lentils you can pass on? Any ideas for slow-carb lunches? (I'll need 'em!). Anyone want to join me in Droptober? Let me know your views.