Ask Peter: Budget-beating lentils
I’m trying to teach my student kids how to cook well on very little money. We’d love to use more lentils, as they seem a cheap form of protein. But honestly, after variations on dahl, we’re running out of ideas. What sort of dishes can you suggest for lentils that pack a good flavour and variety of textures so we don’t get sick of them?
I’m a lover of pulses of which lentils are but one of many. For all of the following suggestions, you can substitute other pulses (the dried seeds of any legume — so chickpeas, kidney beans, borlotti beans etc). Lentil “soups’’ are pretty much a Western word for Indian dahl, and the great thing about soup is that it is a brilliant way of using up leftovers.
I’m not sure how you’re making your dahl, but for a punchy soup try the following:
Caramelise 2 sliced and peeled red onions along with a tablespoon of chopped ginger and 4 sliced, peeled cloves of garlic. Add ½ teaspoon fennel and cumin seeds, ½ teaspoon sweet smoked paprika, 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary and cook for another minute, stirring. Add 1½ cups rinsed lentils and 1 litre water and bring to the boil. Rinse ½ cup red split peas and leave to soak for 10 minutes, then drain, rinse again, and add to the pot. Add 2 grated carrots and cook rapidly until the lentils are cooked. Once cooked, stir in ½ cup plain yoghurt and a grated apple (use the skin, discard the seeds) and then season. I’d suggest you get the kids to keep some miso paste in a covered container in the fridge as this is like adding instant umami to anything — including mashed potatoes.
If there’s any left-over meat or fish in the fridge (even the meat clinging to a roast chicken or joint of lamb) then add this to the soup as well. Sliced left-over potatoes work a treat with lentils — in fact potatoes and lentils are a match made in heaven. You can extend the soup by adding extra stock and oven toasted croutons from left-over stale bread or also bulk it out with canned tomatoes.
For something completely different, make fritters. Rinse 2 cups of lentils really thoroughly then boil in unsalted water to which you’ve added a small handful of shredded fresh herbs. Once cooked, leave to cool then drain. Sprinkle on ¼ cup flour, ½ cup toasted desiccated coconut and season with salt and/ or miso paste, and coarsely ground black pepper. Add 3 large eggs and 100ml coconut milk (freeze the rest for another time or use cow’s cream). Mix into a sludge then cook fritters in oil or butter, cooking over medium high heat till golden on both sides, and keep warm in the oven. Serve topped with a salad of greens, toasted nuts, diced cheese and a vinegary dressing.
For a chunky salad, boil 1½ cups of lentils as described above. Roast chunks of 3-4 unpeeled but scrubbed kumara in olive oil with a cup of olives, lots of fresh rosemary and thyme, and 8 sliced peeled garlic cloves. Blanch and refresh 200g frozen peas or green beans. Toast 4 tablespoons pumpkin or sunflower seeds with a teaspoon olive oil. Whisk 4 tablespoons tahini paste with 4 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons lemon, lime or orange juice and add salt to taste. Toss the still warm kumara with the lentils, peas and 100g roughly diced feta. Pile on top of salad leaves or steamed broccoli and drizzle with the dressing and scatter on the seeds.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.