Sunday, January 13, 2008


Braised Lentils

My angelheart Eric and I welcomed in last year with a very simple yet rich lunch of Alaskan Colossal Crab Legs and Eggs Benedict. It made a nice change to dashing around to attend this, that and the other breakfast-brunch-lunch and sipping mimosas (which along with Bloody Marys seem to be the favoured brunch drinks in Southern California). This year, I couldn't even tell you what I ate on New Year's Day. No, I wasn't hungover; I just wasn't in the mood to mark the occasion. I simply ate (maybe a bulgur wheat salad?) and saw the day through. Perhaps the funk rested in the apprehension of the year to come - so many changes, all of which are exciting and nerve-wracking. I have finally decided that it is time to officially accept that the new year has begun, so now I must embrace the changes to come and get on with the show.

I have decided to start with adapting an approach to dish design that I read about in Skye Gyngell's seasonal celebration, A Year In My Kitchen. She has created for her restaurant menu a series of culinary accents that she uses to complement and round out her dishes: a "Culinary Toolbox". The items sit like notes on a scale, from woody herbs at the low end, bright herbs at the top, to agra-dolce (the sweet-sour application in Italian cookery), which sits in the middle. On the low end of the scale also sit Skye Gyngell's staple of Braised Lentils.

Lentils are legumes that develop an earthy and rich flavour when cooked. Making lentils is a fitting way to start my posts for 2008, for many cultures use them as symbolic representations of the year they hope to come. Shaped like a coin, lentils suggest prosperity; circular, they are a symbol of new beginnings and good luck. The most known of new year's dishes is Italy's cotechino con lenticchie - pork sausage and lentils.

Before embarking on any lentil recipe, first tip the amount of lentils you are going to use for your dish onto a baking tray or other flat container. Thus in a single layer, it is easier for you to sort through the lentils for any small stones, fibres and discoloured or misshapen lentils. Place the lentils into a colander or sieve and run cold water through them. For braising, you will need whole lentils, so Puy (sometimes called "French lentils" in New Zealand) or Castelluccio are best - you need them to be cooked through but retain their bite. Red, brown or yellow split lentils will quickly turn mushy; consequently, they are used for soup dishes.

Braised Lentils
(largely adapted from Skye Gyngell's A Year In My Kitchen)

345g/12oz Puy lentils
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, peeled and cut into three chunks
1 red chilli, left whole
3 small cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole (use 2 if the cloves are large)
2-3cm/0.7-1" fresh root ginger, peeled (made easy with a teaspoon) and left whole
5 sprigs of parsley
3 bay leaves, fresh
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil

1) Rinse lentils and place in a deep saucepan with all ingredients except the vinegar, tamari or soy and oil.
2) Add enough water to completely cover lentils and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Over too a high heat, the gentle flavourings of all the elements will not be encouraged to be extracted; instead they will be shocked.
3) Lower heat and simmer until lentils are cooked but still retain a bite, approximately 20 minutes.
4) Remove from heat, drain in a colander and tip lentils into a bowl.
5) While still warm, dress lentils with the vinegar, soy and oil.
6) Once cooled, the lentils can stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to one week. Bring them to room temperature before using.

The Braised Lentils are to be used when required. They can be scattered over a dish to lend depth and nuttiness when such elements are otherwise missing, or to complement other nutty elements of a different texture. You could also use the lentils as a base onto which you set the rest of the dish, as Skye Gyngell does with pan-roasted chicken supremes (breast with wing still attached), basil oil, slow-roasted tomatoes, topped with aioli.

There are other elements of Skye Gyngell's culinary toolbox, all are items which can be stored for a few days or up to one week. I think this is a good idea for the home cook, like myself, to "finish" or "dress" meals for the home cook. I'm excited to have tried this, and though I'm sure to tweak it further to serve as my own nutty and earthy low-note, the concept is inspiring. I wonder what other seasonal toolbox items I will create throughout the year to have on hand in the kitchen?

I thank Pille of Nami-Nami for recommending A Year In My Kitchen to me as a comforting and inspiring read during a particularly hard time of writing my thesis.

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I seem to be collecting lentil recipes at the moment. Think I'll try this recipe with my roast chicken tonight. Thanks! :)
Hi Shaun, and a happy new year to you.

Lovely, healthful beginning to your culinary year. I too have looked through Skye's book and been seduced by that amazing toolbox. This is a simple, but stunning addition to almost dish - I can imagine a spoonful or two stirred through a little garlic-scented cream for some pappardelle, maybe a few precious, re-constituted porcini or morels the only other addition. Wonderful lentils!
...pan-roasted chicken supremes (breast with wing still attached), basil oil, slow-roasted tomatoes, topped with aioli. - this sounds so good with those lentils, I'm definitely going to make it soon.

Happy New Year to you and the angelheart, Eric.
Best wishes for the new year from both me and K!
I'm so glad you like the book - I've tried adding her spice mixture couple of times, and it really makes a difference. Also, I've got some black lentils (we call them beluga lentils, as they look similar to black caviar:), and have been wondering what to do - thank you for a great tip!!
This sounds like a nice, simple dinner to nurture yourself with- good choice.

And a belated happy new year.

By the way, while my food blog has become a "when I feel like it" endeavor, I added a rosemary breadstick recipe that I think might appeal to.
I think the "tool-box" is a great idea. Did you order your book thru Amazon? I checked our Amazon and it is not available here. I will check a few other booksellers here in the US. Sounds like a great book!
Salads have been on my "kitchen roster" since the new year. I bet these lentils would taste great in a salad since you have used red wine vinegar, ginger, etc. - hum, I guess I might just have to get creative!
Shaun, you alluded to this as a simple lentil dish, but there are flavors and textures here that lift it from a mess of porridge. This recipe straddles the Euro w/ the with Asian . It would be ideal with a hunk of buttered crust & a red onion salad.
Wendy ~ The mineral quality of puy lentils pairs well with chicken that has been roasted with herbs. In your part of the world, I should imagine, too, the lentils are being used in everything, especially soup. They are a substantial food though never stodgy.

Lucy ~ Happy `08. I hope you enjoyed New Zealand. Indeed, the coupling of these lentils with parpadelle, garlic cream and morels or porcini would be divine. Less nutty than the Castelluccio lentils, these also add a mineral element to a dish, working especially well with the aforementioned garlic. I'm almost done with the lentils now...Must be time for me to think about the aromats and herbs.

Cynthia ~ Skye Gyngell has incredible dishes, each of great integrity. Not over-complicated, each ingreditent necessary for wholeness. Happy 2008 to you, too!

Pille ~ We also call them beluga lentils, and, in fact, I did think of making this recipe with them. The spice mixture does sound incredibly good as does the tea-smoking, but I don't know if I'll ever do it - it sounds easy enough, but I don't want to deal with all the smoke.

My very best wishes for `08 to you and K.

Charles - Yes, I noticed that you have decided to tend to your blog when the moment suits - but it is your blog, so you can do whatever you want. It is nice to know you're out there, championing good techniques and some forgotten/little known recipes. A very happy 2008 to you.

Deb ~ I actually bought my copy of Skye Gyngell's book in New Zealand. You can buy it through Amazon UK, though...It is coming out in paperback later this year. I'm sure it will be released in the US eventually, and it is worth the wait. It is an elegant book filled with many simple though sublime recipes, for which the toolbox is the backbone. Yes, of course, you can throw these into a salad. Just allow them to come to room temperature first, if you make surplus to keep in the fridge (they'll keep for about one week).

Susan, lovie ~ Red onion salad? You're game. Seriously, I've never had a salad that had onion as its main ingredient. But I wouldn't shy away from it, of course. In fact, the idea sounds very good and would provide the upswing, the sing, that the lentils do not have. The luxury would come from the creamy butter on great bread. I've already eaten lunch, but you've made me hungry again.
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