Winter warming food…mmm…the only drawback is that so much of it comes with lashings of cheese and cream. Whilst deeelicious, you may as well just spread those dishes on your thighs and be done with it. Which is where the lovely lentil comes in: it’s a superfood, with 30% of its calories coming from protein, and is packed with essential amino acids, iron, minerals, fibre and no fat or empty calories.
When I first started eating a vegetarian diet, I feared the lentil. They weren’t something we ate as children, and I disliked their wholefood hippie credentials. What a fool I was: all those years missing out eating what has become one of my favourite foods. And I am not alone. I am dedicating this dish of cooked lentils – dahl as it is called in Eastern cookery – to my lovely agent Richard who always makes happy noises when I say ‘lentils’, and who says that he might attempt to cook this.
And here’s my secret weapon:
One day I had no spices in the house for my dahl and I reached for the cinnamon, figuring that it might work. Cinnamon is a vital part of the Indian household spice garam masala, and through necessity I discovered that it’s almost alchemical in dahl: adding both flavour and warmth but none of the festive sweetness we associate with cinnamon when it’s in a pudding.
This dish of food is all about the smooth almost chewy quality of the lentils against the sweet & soft & crispy onions, the creamy, sharp yogurt and the nutty grains.
It’s super, super simple. For two people take a large onion. cut it in half across its width. finely chop half of it, and sweat slowly (cook over a low heat) in a neutral vegetable oil like rape. When it starts to become translucent, turn up the heat, add a teaspoon of turmeric (for its antioxidant properties), and one of cinnamon and cook for a minute, stirring. Then add two large cups of small red lentils and cover them with boiling water. I also add a heaping teaspoon of Marigold Vegetable Bouillon Powder.
Cook for about 20-30 minutes over a low heat until the lentils have broken down. Make sure the lentils simmer but don’t rapidly boil, as the lentils will stick quicker than you can imagine.Add more water if you think it’s getting too thick – you can always boil it down if you add too much at the end.
Whilst the lentils are cooking, heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan, slice the other half of the onion finely & horizontally so you get thin concentric rings, and add the onions to the hot oil. Fry until they are brown and crispy. Drain onto kitchen paper, and season with Maldon Salt.
I like the lentils served with either brown rice or quinoa for the contrast against the smooth lentils. If brown rice, start cooking it when the lentils go on. If quinoa it only takes 10 mins or so. Serve with yogurt. (I like Yeo Valley Organic, sprinkled with a little cinnamon.)
One large onion
Small red/orange lentils
Marigold Vegetable Bouillon Powder or vegetable stock cube