Category Archives: lentils

Asparagus Days are Here

Our glasshouse is bursting at the seams and the only picture I have of it is photo of myself and a friend enjoying a breakout glass of wine – Semi al fresco, the door was open

There are crowds of seedlings waiting to move to a more spacious location to continue growing. We have just re-covered the tunnel that was destroyed in one of the winter storms so the tomatoes can relocate and the other tunnel is full of infant spinach, chard, herbs and baby beans.

The potatoes are peeping up and the fruit trees are in blossom. It’s such an exciting time of the year in a garden yet the pickings are fairly slim as last years green crops shoot for the sky and go to seed and the new ones aren’t quite ready to be picked.

One vegetable that’s coming into season is Irish asparagus. Sadly we don’t have any in our garden anymore – I dug it up in frustration. After several years of nursing the plants and trying to keep them weed free then only getting a couple of spears at a time I gave up.  I should have researched growing asparagus before wasting so much time as I have discovered that not only do the seedlings need three years on a weed free bed, it also hates slugs and needs warmth and sunshine – a minimum of eight hours sunshine a day! 

I take my hat off to the Irish growers who supply us with this seasonal treat as it takes so much time and effort and ideally a tunnel or covered growing area that is designated to this use.

The Irish asparagus season is short, there are six weeks in May/June when these plants do their thing, growing up to 18cms in a day and funnily enough it’s the male plants that shoot up the spears, the female plants provide the seeds – kind of reverse to humans.

I always enjoy the asparagus when it’s in season here in Ireland. It’s such a seasonal treat and one of the most nutritionally balanced vegetables packed with vitamins and antioxidants.

It’s best cooked simply. My favourite way is grilling on a cast iron pan but I have also discovered roasting in a very hot oven can produce a similar result. The heat seals in the flavours and the asparagus still has a little bite.

We have plenty of fresh eggs and a big bunch of Dunworely asparagus at hand so this month’s recipe is a plate of roasted asparagus over Puy lentils with herb hollandaise. The lentils are simply cooked then seasoned with salt and dressed with the best olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar to brighten them up.

Sublime!! It’s very easy to prepare and well worth seeking out the local asparagus for, infinitely superior to asparagus that has been flown half way round the world and sold for next to nothing. Help save the planet, buy local!

Roasted Asparagus with Puy Lentils and Herb Hollandaise

Serves 3-4

1 bunch asparagus –  4 spears per person

200g ripe cherry tomatoes

200g Puy lentils

200g butter

2 egg yolks

Juice of half a juicy lemon

A handful of fresh soft herbs – chives, basil and/or chervil

Salt and cracked black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Pre-heat the oven 220c

Put the lentils into a saucepan and cover with at least twice as much water. Bring to the boil, turn to simmer then cook for 20 minutes. Check them by tasting a couple and if they are still a little hard cook for 1-2  minutes longer but be careful as they should be just done. Drain the lentils, rinse with hot water then dress with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a little salt. Put the lid back on to keep them warm and put aside.

Whilst the lentils are cooking prepare the asparagus. Wash the spears then trim the woody end. You could snap them but I usually lightly run a sharp knife over the stem working from the stalk up and the knife cuts like butter as soon as you pass the woody bit. Line a baking tray that’s big enough to accommodate the asparagus in one layer with parchment paper. Dry the spears then put them in the tray and drizzle over olive oil. Sprinkle over a little salt and cracked pepper then roll them about so they are all lightly dressed,.

Wash the tomatoes and dry then put them into a baking tray with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.

Put the tomatoes and asparagus into the oven and set the timer for 7 minutes, toss both then cook for a further 5 minutes.

The Hollandaise is made using a held blender which is a clever trick – no whisking over a bain-marie, just instant Hollandaise.

Put the egg yolks into the beaker or a jug with the lemon juice.

Gently melt the butter and heat until hot.

Chop the herbs finely

Put the blender into the beaker and buzz the yolks and lemon juice together. Add the hot butter in a slow steady stream. When it has emulsified season with salt and pepper and stir in the chopped herbs. If it is too thick, thin with a little warm water. If you are not ready to serve you can keep the sauce warm by putting the jug into a bowl of hot water.

To assemble the dinner put a big spoonful of lentils onto each plate, lay the asparagus on top and pour a little hollandaise across. Put the roasted tomatoes around the sides.


Bring on the Beans

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The shorter, cooler days of November give me the opportunity to indulge my bean and lentil obsession. Beans and lentils grow where the climate is warm and sunny yet I’m inclined to eat them more often when it’s cold. A bowl of thick, creamy lentils or beans is an inexpensive source of protein which will slowly release energy to fuel your body and comfort your soul.

 

Dal Markhani is a recipe from the north of India, which uses both lentils and beans served in a sauce of fragrant spices. Markhani is a sauce of butter, tomato and cream but in order to slot this recipe into my ‘live to be one hundred’ recipes file I have used coconut milk and vegetable ghee/oil instead of the dairy but feel free to swop it back.

 

The original recipe also uses black urad dal, a type of black mung bean, which takes an overnight soaking and then three or for hours to cook. Healthy as urad dal might be it’s not really in synch with our fast paced lives so they have been dumped in my recipe in favour of black beluga lentils, which are one of the gems of the lentil family. Black, round and robust they cook in 20-25 minutes and keep their shape whilst doing so. No mealy mass even if you forget them and decide to walk the dog whilst cooking.

 

There’s a fast version and a slow version for this dish, both have their merits but I’m going for the fast version and opening a can of beans. The lentils I cook from scratch.

 

Dal Makhani

 

1 large onion

50g vegetable ghee or oil

25g fresh ginger

3 cloves garlic

2 cardamom pods

3 cloves

2tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp turmeric

1 can tomatoes

½ tsp salt

1 can kidney beans

200g beluga lentils

150mls coconut milk

chopped fresh coriander to serve

 

Put the lentils into a saucepan with three times the volume of water. Bring to the boil then simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Put aside.

Peel the onion then chop finely.

Heat a medium saucepan then add the vegetable ghee or oil and the onions. Cook on a medium heat without browning until they soften.

Peel and chop the ginger and garlic then stir into the onions. Bash the cardamom pods with the back of a wooden spoon so they crack open then add to the pot together with the cloves. Cook gently for a couple of minutes then add the ground coriander, ground cumin and turmeric. Stir and gently cook for a few minutes more then stir in the tomatoes and salt. Allow the sauce to come to the boil then simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Drain and rinse the kidney beans.

Add the beans, the beluga lentils and residual cooking liquid to the tomato sauce. Cook gently for 15-20 minutes. Stir in the garam masala and most of the coconut milk then taste . It’ll probably need a little more salt. If it’s too thick thin with a little water

Serve with chopped coriander and a swirl of coconut milk to garnish.

Eat with rice or mop up with naan bread.


Birthday Bean Feast

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Birthday cakes are obligatory in our household. When the kids were small they would pour over the ‘Special Occasions’ cookbook and request cakes in the shape of houses, robots  and trains. The trains involved swiss rolls which made excellent wheels. There was also the ’emergency’ cake which was an upended tub of ice cream embellished with chocolate buttons, smarties and candles – a guaranteed success  which was always eaten. The ingredients didn’t get  much scrutiny unlike today where we are super aware of what we eat. I now realise why all the kids were stuck to the walls at the parties – all that sugar and fizz….

The birthday boys request this time was for a cake with lots of different layers and flavours – you can tell our kids grew up in a restaurant, they are very good at ordering food – and with all the dietary restrictions of the gathered party people the cake needed to be gluten and dairy free.

Inspired by Emma Galloways black bean torte I  made a bean and lentil cake  Beginning with a black bean and chocolate sponge  followed by butter beans and beetroot for a pink layer and red lentils, turmeric and orange for a golden yellow layer.

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It worked a treat. The layers were sandwiched with coconut cream and chilled in the fridge

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– before being enrobed in Chocolate ganache.

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The cake looked like top hat and tasted delicious – everyone enjoyed it and there were no’ ughh’ lentils or beans comments, in fact it would have been difficult to name the ingredients

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A mighty cake!