Happy New Year! I’m a little late to the party, it being February and all, but here we are! I’m not much of a resolutionist nor a fan of the January detox frenzy, but I do have a goal or two, like keeping this blog up to date and going for regular runs. Excuses for slacking on both fronts always seem to pipe up — too tired, too busy, it’s too cold outside, it’s raining… So the other day, while the sun was intermittently gracing us with its presence and I had a day off, I ignored those annoying little voices, donned my running shoes and headed out. And just like that, everything for this post came together almost effortlessly in my head as I spread my wings and took off down that old airport runway (there’s an awesome old airport-turned-park close to my place, thanks Berlin!). Thing is, there’s always some logical-sounding justification for not undertaking those small (that run) or big (follow that dream) quests; justifications which slowly, imperceptibly, turn into regrets. And finding the strength to push away those excuses, wipe the slate clean and do one little thing, may open the door to the next thing.. and the next.
Resolutions and slates aside, I have some exciting news: the UN has named 2016 the international year of the pulses! This makes this legume-lover very happy. Pulses are the dried seeds of pod-enclosed plants (legumes), including dried beans, lentils and chickpeas. Besides being a major source of protein for a significant percentage of the population, they foster sustainable agriculture, protect the soil, are highly water efficient, and they’re of course, delicious! So you should go take the pulse pledge and incorporate some more of them delightful beans in your diet. I’ll help you out by posting more pulse recipes here, highlighting common and unusual varieties. There are so many that I’m not sure a year is enough, but we’ll give it a go. Ready? Let’s start with a quick overview of the ones I have kicking around in pantry at the moment, and a recipe with one of them. Clock-wise from top-left in the photo above:
Borlotti beans: these speckled beauties have a nice, creamy texture and work well in Italian style stews, casseroles or salads. I used them to make hoppin’ jon when I couldn’t find black-eyed peas.
Lupin beans: I have these in a bulgur-like format and they’re quite new to me, so stay tuned for more info!
Broad/fava beans: the king of beans. Love these in all forms (also have some fresh, green ones in the freezer). Pictured are the shelled, dried variety which can be used to make a delicious molded paté which must be doused in good olive oil and liberally topped with chopped fresh dill.
Red lentils: these become a wonderful, comforting pile of mush when cooked, good for creamy dhals, for example. A favourite soup recipe featuring red lentils and yellow split peas is here.
French/green lentils: these lovely, dark beauties are also known as “Provençale” lentils, which gives them that sophisticated French je-ne-sais-quoi. They are easy to source and retain their shape and a bite when cooked, making them a good choice for salads or non-pureed soups. I chose them to feature a first very versatile salad/pie recipe below.
A couple of quick, general notes about cooking with pulses which I’ll be coming back to in future posts. One of my biggest bean inspirations is Tamar Adler’s book An Everlasting Meal. She says to view beans as tomorrow’s meal, not today’s — to accept that they’re going to take some time to soak and cook. Most dried beans require an overnight (or at least 8-12 hour) soak, while most standard lentils do not, making them a good choice if you need a meal today, not tomorrow. Drain the pulses, put them in a pot with water to cover and bring to a boil. Then add a generous amount of some oil, salt, spices, a quartered onion, a garlic clove or two, stalks from fresh herbs… whatever you have hanging around that looks like it’ll make a delicious broth. When pulses cook in a tasty medium they absorb tastiness — pretty straightforward, I think. And yes, I’ve heard the arguments that you shouldn’t salt water for beans because they won’t get soft which in my bean-cooking experience is just not the case. I get the most beautiful, soft, delicious beans this way. Lastly, you can cook up a big pot on the weekend when you have time and are hanging around being lazy at home anyway, and store them in their broth in the fridge or even freezer. Then a quick, tasty week-night meal is only a bean-grab away.
Creamy, herby lentil salad. Or pie!
This is a pretty versatile recipe: use whatever greens you have on hand. And if you don’t have roasted garlic (instructions below), just use a clove of regular garlic instead. The pomegranate molasses in the dressing is also optional, I just love its sweet-tang. Don’t be afraid to use lots of fresh herbs and lemon zest as well, they really brighten the earthy flavour of the lentils.
Large handful of toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
Put the lentils in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Add the rest of the lentil ingredients: you want to make a good-tasting broth for the lentils to cook in. Cover and let simmer until the lentils are al dente: try not to overcook.
For the veggies, add a good glug of olive oil to a pan and saute the onion, carrot, tofu/tempeh, thyme and rosemary until soft and a little brown. Then deglaze the pan with some white wine, if you have it, and add the paprika, salt and pepper. Add the greens, cover, and cook just for a minute or two until they’re bright green: try not to overcook.
Combine the dressing ingredients and blitz with a stick blender or whatever whipping device is available until smooth and creamy. Taste and season well with salt and pepper: it should be quite strong tasting, almost too salty/sour/oily, because the lentils soak up a lot of flavour.
When the lentils are cooked, drain, and while they’re still hot, combine with the veggies and the dressing. Let cook to room temperature and just before serving, top with the parsley, lemon zest and toasted walnuts. At this point you have a pretty decent lentil salad. However, if you have some puff pastry or phyllo dough lying around, you could turn this into an impressive-looking Mediterranean-style “upside-down” pie in 5 minutes: dump the salad into a baking dish, and cover with the puff pastry or several sheets of phyllo dough. Brush with a little soy milk and sprinkle some za’atar or whatever spices/seeds you have: whole cumin, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds. Bake at 200 degrees Celcius for 15-20 minutes, or until deeply golden on top. Try to let cool for a few minutes before devouring.
Roasted garlic: take a head of garlic and slice off a little of the tops. Drizzle a little olive oil inside, then wrap in aluminium foil and roast in the oven at 180 degrees Celcius for 20-30 minutes until the garlic is very soft and getting caramelized. Unrwap and let cool before squeezing out the soft cloves.