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!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Simple summer lentils with grilled onion and red pepper

Market fresh red onions, with the gorgeous pic by Toby Glanville of allotment grilled onions behind them.

This recipe comes from Moro East, a beautiful book by Sam & Sam Cook, the husband-&-wife team who own Moro restaurant in Exmouth Market in London.

 The food at Moro is inspired by a cuisine that has its roots in Spain and the Muslim Mediterranean, which they describe as Moorish. Two great culinary traditions drawn together in the marriage of saffron and cinnamon. Doesn't that sound ancient, mysterious and exotic? I'm quoting the website, which is worth a peek.

The inspiration for the recipes in this sophisticated collection comes from a little closer to home for Sam and Sam.

For 7 years they grew vegetables and herbs in an allotment in Victoria Park, 'high over the river, looking across to a bank of wild plums, elderflower and blackberries'. There they met a diverse group of allotment gardeners, Cypriots, Kurds and Turks, who taught them new things about cooking from old traditions.

(The exquisite photography by Toby Glanville adds atmosphere and a wonderful sense of place. Wish I could treat you to one here.)

There is something about the idea of the allotment that is as appealing as the Moorish influence. Growing my own fresh vegetables and herbs is one of my perennial fantasies, especially when there's no coriander or nice lettuces left at the not-terribly-good fruit and veg shop near work that I only go to when I'm desperate.

But happily yesterday we went to the farmers markets and came home with a stash of allotment-worthy produce, newly picked and smelling heavenly. I decided to make this inviting salad (even though I've been on a lentil hiatus recently) as it will work well as a take-to-work salad.

And I can transport myself to foreign places when I eat it!

1 cup Puy lentils
handful of young, red onions
1 red pepper
generous handful of parsley leaves, roughly chopped (I used about 10 sprigs)

4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs red wine vinegar + 1 tsp sugar (but the Clarks recommend sherry or Pedro Ximenez vinegar instead, which would add a special rich sweetness that lentils love)
small garlic clove, crushed to a paste with a pinch of salt

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and season to taste with salt & pepper.

Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover generously with water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer  and cook for 15-20 mins until lentils are just cooked but still firm. Remove from heat, season with a little salt and set aside.

Grill the onions and pepper. I did this under the grill, but you could grill them whole on the barbecue or directly on the naked flame of a gas hob (never been brave enough to try this method). The pepper takes about 8 minutes, but I left the onions charring away for about 15 mins until the flesh was very soft.

When cool enough to handle, pick off the blackened skins and slice or tear into strips. Put the vegetables and parsley into a bowl. Drain the warm lentils, reserving 3 to 4 tbs of liquid. Add to the bowl with the reserved liquid and the dressing. Toss well and check for seasoning.

The grilled vegetables are very soft and sweet, and adding the dressing while the lentils are warm means the flavours are well combined. The dressing softens the texture of the lentils. There is something about the addition of fat that makes pulses and legumes so much more palatable!

I expect the salad to last well for 2 to 3 days, with additions of extra vegetables every day for variety and interest. And, of course, it would also be a delicious accompaniment served warm and just-made with some fish or chicken. Will certainly be having more Moro.

Flecks of parsley, sweet onion and peppers, rich dressing. Nature's harvest!

Do you find the idea of growing your own produce on an allotment terribly romantic and back-to-nature? Let me know your pastoral fantasies! Please leave a comment if you try this recipe, or if you even make a note to try it sometime. You'll find that Moorish is very more-ish.


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