Lentils, lovely lentils. It's impossible to cock up a big pot of lentils. The worst that can happen is lentil soup. This thought is comforting me right now because I've just made a complete mess of my kitchen trying to make calamari. Deep-frying in a wok on an electric hob is not as straightforward as it might seem. Just try and maintain the oil at a steady temperature without ending up with greasy mush or a house fire. Go on, try it. Bet you can't.
Lentils pose no such dilemma. I was particularly pleased with a big dish of them I cooked on Monday (veggie night in anticipation of Tuesday evening's meat-fest), so I thought I'd share the recipe.
Little packets of pomegranate seeds were on offer in the supermarket. I was planning on cooking lentils anyway, and the pomegranate reminded me of a recipe for Syrian Lentils that calls for pomegranate molasses. I wondered if adding fresh pomegranate to the finished lentils would make an interesting alternative, and so it proved. Think of tender, earthy lentils with a hint of smoky cumin freshened up with coriander and little bursts of fruity pomegranate.
Serves 2-3 as a main meal with some bread, 5-6 as a side dish, or maybe more as part of a mixed mezze.
What you will need:
250g brown lentils
2 medium onions
4 fat cloves garlic
a small bunch of fresh coriander
2 heaped teaspoons cumin seeds
a large pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 tsp palm sugar (or demerara)
a handful of pomegranate seeds
salt and black pepper to taste
What to do:
1. Finely chop the onions.
2. Warm a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pot over a low heat, then add the onions.
3. Cook the onions slowly so they soften without colouring. Give them a good 15-20 mins to allow them to sweeten.
4. In the meantime crush the garlic, and finely chop the stalks from about a third of the coriander bunch. Also prepare the lentils by giving them a good rinse in a couple of changes of water.
5. When the onions are soft and sweet make space in the pot, turn up the heat a notch and throw in the cumin seeds. Let them fry for a minute or so, making sure they don't burn.
6. Add the crushed garlic, chopped coriander stalks and pinch of chilli to the pot, and fry for a couple of minutes. Boil the kettle.
7. Add the lentils then pour over enough boiling water to just cover them. Bring to the boil then turn down to a gentle simmer.
8. Simmer until the lentils are soft and just starting to break up. The time this takes varies wildly from one batch of lentils to the next. These took ages, around 70 minutes in total. Check the pot every now and again and add a little more water if it looks a bit dry.
9. When the lentils are ready have a taste. They will need a generous grind of salt and pepper, then take them off the heat and add the juice of the lemon.
10. Roughly chop the coriander leaves, then add the pomegranate seeds and as much coriander as you like to the lentils. Serve immediately, ideally with some flat bread.