I know it’s taking a bit of a risk, kicking off a vegetarian blog with a lentil dish. Lentils aren’t the sexiest of ingredients, and I suppose they remind some people of the sort of dishes that have undeservedly given vegetarian cooking a bad rap.
To be honest, my eyes don’t light up as soon as I hear the word lentils, either. Unless I am thinking of dishes like dhal, made with any combination of lentils and pulses, or this delicious cheese and lentil loaf.
I was given this recipe on a food forum years ago as something to cook for those times when you’re struggling to make ends meet but still want to eat something tasty. Meaning the end of pretty much every month in my house. I don’t think I had ever cooked lentils before but I was intrigued (and skint), so I decided to try it and loved it. I have made this countless times since then, and it has never received anything but praise, even from the most lentil-phobic carnivores.
I wish I could remember the name of the person who gave me and the other forummers this recipe, so I could thank her. Because, frankly, I think it’s brilliant. It can be a perfect, easy weekday meal for 2-3, a light starter for when you have guests over and, baked in a round tin and cut into triangular wedges, served as a snack with drinks. And any leftover bits make a great filling for a sandwich, drizzled with Sriracha sauce, or any sauce you like.
Another bonus is that you can play around with it as much as you like. Sub the coriander I’ve used here with basil, chives, oregano, you name it, either fresh or dried. Or grate in that last carrot that’s been haunting the fridge (thank you for experimenting with this recipe, Hazzer), the end bit of a bag of frozen peas or a few handfuls of spinach. But don’t go overboard because if you add too much extra liquid, you might end up with lentil porridge instead of a nice cheesy loaf.
This loaf is made with red lentils, my pulse of choice. I love their smell as they cook, their earthy flavour, and the fact that they cook into a paste. Beluga or Puy lentils, which hold their shape and are often used in salads, etc, are not my favourites. Red lentils also work really well cooked with their slightly sturdier cousins, like yellow split peas or mung beans.
Now for the moonblush tomato sauce.
When I’m in a hurry or just can’t be bothered to roast tomatoes, I briefly fry a grated clove of garlic in a bit of olive oil, add a tin of cubed tomatoes, any fresh or dried herb, some pepper and salt, and let it cook down a bit until thickened. When I do go the extra mile, I make Nigella Lawson’s moonblush tomatoes from Nigella Express (http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/moonblush-tomatoes-58) and blitz them into a sauce. What I love about these tomatoes is that, in the evening, all you have to do is crank up the oven to high, halve the tomatoes, sprinkle and drizzle, bung them in, and turn the oven off. The next morning, you have a batch of perfect, homemade, semi-dried tomatoes.
Moonblush Tomato Sauce
500 g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tsp (Maldon) sea salt (or to taste)
¼ tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp olive oil
– Preheat the oven to 220°C.
– Lay the tomatoes on a lined baking tray, cut side up. Sprinkle with the salt, sugar, thyme and olive oil.
– Put the tray in the oven, and immediately turn it off. Leave the tomatoes in the oven overnight or for a day without opening the door.
– Blitz the tomatoes into a sauce, using a stick blender or (mini) food processor.
Cheese and Lentil Loaf
I bake this in a silicon 24 x 9 x 6 cm ‘tin’ that is completely non-stick. You’d need to line a metal tin.
175 g red lentils, rinsed and drained well
350 ml water
110 g mature grated cheddar or Gouda cheese
3 spring onions (or 1 small onion), chopped finely
3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander or any fresh or dried herb you prefer
Sriracha sauce/harissa/sambal or whatever hot sauce you like, to taste (optional)
squirt of lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
– Put lentils and water in a smallish pan and bring to the boil. Cover, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes until you have a stiff lentil paste. Check after 10 minutes to see if it’s not drying out too much.
– Take the pan off the heat and stir in all of the other ingredients.
– Put this ‘batter’ in the tin and bake for 45-50 minutes until golden and set.
– Leave the loaf to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes while you heat up the sauce.
– Slice the loaf and serve with the sauce and a salad.