Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Breaking the Lentil Barrier

I recently consulted to a retirement home where I was asked to implement a new menu. One elderly lady took issue with a lentil dish I had suggested. “When you’re old like me you won’t want to eat these new fangled foods either!” she told me witheringly. I forbore to tell her that not only have lentils been around longer than she has, but they date back to the ancient Egyptians. Lentils are often looked upon with suspicion or considered the preserve of vegetarians, so many kids miss out on their wonderful earthy flavours and distinctive textures.
Apart from being packed full of goodness, they are incredibly versatile. They can be thrown into soups and stews, made into great burgers and dips, and puy lentils, which hold their shape during cooking, are fantastic for salads. Lentils are perfect for busy parents as, unlike other legumes, they need no soaking.
If your kids have never tried them, start by simply adding a handful of red lentils to pumpkin or vegetable soup or using them in a tomato based pasta sauce. Then move onto the stronger flavoured brown lentils and add some to casseroles or stews, use them in place of beef in spaghetti bolognaise or make lentil and vegetable pies. When the brood is ready, try offering dahl or even lentil burgers. I created a pumpkin dahl recipe one night when I was in the mood for something warm and nourishing, and deliberately kept it light on the spices. It’s been a big hit with my kids – who love it - and me - it is so easy!

Pumpkin Dahl

Serve with basmati rice, a dollop of yoghurt and pappadums.

Serves 4

2 tblsp olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin seeds
400g pumpkin, diced
¾ cup red lentils
100g spinach, chopped
¼ cup fresh coriander, chopped
3 cups water
½ tsp sea salt

Sauté onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric and cumin seeds in oil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add pumpkin, lentils, spinach, coriander, salt and water.
Cover and simmer 1 hour, stirring regularly.

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