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!

Monday, 31 October 2011

Karen Martini's dal

Karen Martini's divine go-to dal.

Having said that I had found my perfect breakfast dal with Sarah Wilson's recipe for lentils, I saw this one from Karen Martini in SundayLife magazine and thought I'd give it a whirl. Bit more work - onion chopping - and I adjusted the quantities freely, even though the recipe serves 4, which is the number of breakfasts I'm hoping to get out of it, if not 5.

1 tbsp olive oil (I used unrefined sesame oil)
2 brown onions, finely diced (I only bothered with 1; don't know about 'finely' diced)
3 cloves garlic (I used 2)
5 cm piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped (mine was probably smaller than that)
1 green chilli, split
3 tsp cumin (2 tsp)
3 tsp coriander (2 tsp)
2 tsp turmeric (1 tsp)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (don't have any)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper (I used paprika as, again, don't have any)
2 L vegetable stock (I used 750 ml)
350 g red lentils (I used 1 cup)
350 g can kidney beans (don't like kidney beans; used black beans)
2 tsp salt (didn't measure, just sprinkled)
3 tbsp tomato paste (I used a sachet, which yields 2 tbsp)
2 handfuls fresh coriander, chopped

In a medium pot, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion, garlic and ginger, stirring often, for about 6 mins. Add chilli and spices and cook for 1-2 mins or until fragrant. Add stock, lentils, beans and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer soup for about 20 mins, or until lentils are tender. Stir in tomato paste.

Note Karen refers to the 'soup'. I like my dal fairly thick, and I find that most recipes I try call for more water than I like. That is why I now start with less than stipulated, and add more as the mixture cooks if needed. That's one of the reasons I like Sarah's lentils: no measurements.

The result was really pleasing. I paid attention while I was cooking and applied all my hard-won lentil skills. I added some spinach, and will probably add some peas when I cook it up for breakfast in the morning. I think the cumin slightly dominates the overall flavour, but that might be my sloppy, careless, relaxed measuring. But the tomato paste certainly contributes a sweet richness, and is a lovely addition.

Beans and lentils, rinsed and ready to go. The beans add protein and will make the dish more filling.

Weights and measures
One of the problems with presenting recipes is making a creative, intuitive process intelligible and capable of being reproduced again and again. Recipe writers, testers, copy editors and proofreaders go to great lengths to make sure each instruction works and the recipe can be proudly described as 'fail-safe'. I've written lots of blurbs and sales materials for cookbooks in which I've said things like 'guaranteed to thrill your friends and family'. Note that term: 'guaranteed'. Lots of diligent effort underpins it.

But in the act of creating a dish, many cooks don't bother with the measurements. They just know. The measurements are imposed later to create order. They don't have to be obeyed. Because - you might not have all the ingredients to hand, you might not like particular ingredients, you might have a moral objection to something, etc ad infinitum. But you can't put any of that in a cookbook or magazine or website. Imagine: olive oil (or whatever you prefer); 1 tsp cumin (unless you loathe it); 2 onions (or as many as you want to dice today). Not workable.

Spices all measured up carefully roughly and ready to go, sitting on top of Karen's recipe. She had a better stylist (Caroline Velik) than me.

Jamie Oliver started with fairly loose instructions in his early books: 1 glug of olive oil. I'm sure there would have been editorial discussions about it. His style is still very conversational and intimate, as much as possible like he's in the kitchen with you. Which is annoying or delightful, depending on your view of Jamie Oliver.

But some cooks hate looseness: they want direction and instruction. When I told my husband I was making this recipe he said, 'But you don't have any cardamom.' I felt like such a free spirit saying, 'I don't care.'

So, what do you all think about weighing and measuring and following recipes to the letter? Do you have dusty packets of bonito flakes, porcini mushrooms, star anise, saffron, cream of tartare and other exotics bought to supply the demands of a single recipe and never touched again? I do. Confess!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Sarah Wilson's lentils

Well, you can all relax. I think I have found my perfect recipe for breakfast lentils.

Perfect because it's just about foolproof for me to make. No onion chopping. No measuring. No hovering and checking, unless I stop paying attention and let the lentils boil over at the beginning. And the result is very pleasing.

I found the recipe on Sarah Wilson's website. She is a no-sugar convert and eats some fairly unconventional breakfasts. For example, she likes lentil sprouts lightly steamed with a little walnut oil stirred through. That sounds lovely, but not exactly filling and it would require lots of chomping.

And with this lentil recipe she whisks them once they're cooked before adding the spices in oil (or butter, a la Stephanie as I like them). I tried whisking the first time I had a go at this recipe, but couldn't tell if I was making the lentils creamy, as she said it would. I've made it a couple of times since, no whisking.

I add roasted sweet potato and a green vegetable as usual for my breakfast, plus a boiled egg and a couple of spoons of yoghurt to serve. The first time I made paneer marinated in yoghurt with a spoonful of tandoori mix stirred through. It was a lovely addition: chewy, flavoursome and filling. A pleasant change from a boiled egg. Peas make a great addition while it's heating in the morning as well.

Without further ado . . .

Sarah Wilson's lentils

1 cup red lentils
clove of garlic
butter or oil
cumin seeds
lemon juice

Rinse the lentils and put them in the saucepan with a finely sliced garlic and a teaspoon of turmeric. Cover with water. Bring to the boil. Skim (yuck), and then turn down the heat. Simmer for an hour, maybe 50 mins if you think the lentils look ready. Keep topping up the water (or I've used vegetable stock, which was lovely). Once the lentils are thick and soupy, heat the butter in a small saucepan. Add a teaspoon of cumin seeds and the chilli and heat until fragrant. Stir into the lentils with a squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkle of salt. Voila.
The paneer has taken over this pic. There are turmeric-golden, non-whisked lentils under there somewhere.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

North Indian Lentils

I saw Stephanie Alexander (my newly discovered lentil goddess) recently at a talk given as part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House. She was talking with a languid chef and writer from New York, Gabrielle Hamilton, on the subject 'Why are we poisoning our children'. Given the emotive tone of the title, it was a curiously tepid affair and neither of them seemed fully engaged. Lots of talk of what they ate growing up, yawn. There were some smart questions from members of the audience later, showing that it was a group who was aware of all the issues. Shame the same level of commitment wasn't apparent on the stage.

Stephanie's North Indian lentils
Still, there is so much to admire about Stephanie. If 'admire' is strong enough a word to capture my respect for her immense talent and vast knowledge. Love this recipe for North Indian lentils.

350 g red lentils (I used 1 cup)
500 ml water (I didn't use as much as this)
2 cloves garlic
2 slices fresh ginger
fresh coriander leaves
1 tablespoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I don't have any, so just added chilli as usual)
lemon juice
oil (I used butter)
cumin seeds

Put lentils and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Skim (horrible job, never seem to manage the technique and end up stirring foam back into the boiling water), then add garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric and chilli. Cover, leaving lid slightly ajar, then lower heat and simmer for about 1 hour. Stir occasionally, checking each time if lentils have collapsed in a near-puree. Add salt and lemon juice. The finished dal will be like a thick soup.

Thick, soupy, fragrant dal.

In a small pan, heat oil (butter) and cook cumin seeds gently until darkened. Pour over dal.
Here is my finished result, with steamed spinach added.

Stephanie then fries onion until dark brown and scatters over the dish before serving, but I didn't bother with this. I'm terrible at frying onions until dark brown, but terribly good at frying them until they are black.

I've concluded after all these various lentil breakfasts that this type of recipe makes my preferred one. It's easy to prepare and I enjoy the taste first thing in the morning. No grain, no sugar, lots of fibre and protein . . . it's a great start to the day.

But have I lost any weight?! I didn't weigh myself this week as planned as I only got to the gym once. And when I was there, I was in an irritable temper and actually abandoned my workout and left. And I was sure I wouldn't be satisfied with the result if I did weight myself and decided that would only make my mood worse.

Still, onwards and upwards, chaps. Keep at it.

How about you? Anyone else walked out of Fitness First out of sheer irritation? I've walked in, changed and then left because I couldn't stand being there. Am I the only one?!