In some quarters it is regarded somewhat scornfully as a badge of vegetarianism, but the lentil is actually a pretty amazing vegetable which does not deserve to be treated with such disdain.
It has one of the highest proportions of protein of any plant and yet contains just 1% fat. It also has a high proportion of dietary fibre, and is a good source of iron, copper, phosphorus, potassium and calcium, as well as vitamins A, B1 and C.
Countries such as Spain and Italy, where the traditional diet is rich in lentils and beans, have significantly lower rates of cardiovascular disease than countries like the UK and USA which consume less pulses.
Like other members of the legume family, the protein-packed lentil has the ability to trap nitrogen from the environment, in the process adding nutrients to the soil which promote natural plant growth (contrast this with the meat industry, which is not only an incredibly inefficient way to create protein, but which causes soil erosion through overgrazing and is the single biggest net contributor to greenhouse gas emissions of all human activities).
The lentil used to be a much more prominent part of the English diet in times gone by, and was once grown widely in the south of the country, before so many farms turned towards rearing livestock. Lentil production in the UK has since virtually disappeared. I am, however, planning to start my own mini revival by attempting to grow lentils on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, next year. I will keep you posted as to how I get on.
I am using lentils in this recipe, the eighth of my recipes created in association with Suma Wholefoods. Under the arrangement with Suma, every two months I choose a number of products from the extensive Suma range, which Suma supply free of charge and which I then use to create a recipe.
For this recipe I am using some lovely organic dark speckled lentils supplied by Suma, but any variety which holds its shape after cooking would be fine. Alongside gluten-free red Caramague rice, lentils form the wholesome and nutritious base of this spicy salad, full of healthy plant protein and great natural flavours.
spiced red rice and lentil salad
80 g lentils (I used dark speckled lentils)
80 g Camargue red rice
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 red pepper, finely sliced
1 courgette, halved lengthways and finely sliced
1 large carrot, grated
60 g organic dried apricots, finely chopped
80 g pistachio kernels, dry fried and then roughly chopped
2-3 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1½ tbsp black mustard seeds
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp sea salt
75 ml water
2 tbsps fresh coriander, finely chopped
3 tbsp groundnut oil
1. Wash and rinse the Camargue rice and place in a pan, covered with sufficient cold water to cover the rice by a couple of centimetres. Bring to the boil over a medium heat then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until the rice is just tender. Drain and rinse under cold water and set to one side.
2. While the rice is cooking, wash and rinse the lentils and place the in a separate pan. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the lentils for 25 minutes, or until they are just tender. Strain through a fine sieve and refresh under cold water. Set to one side.
3. Make the dressing by placing a large frying pan or skillet over a high heat and adding the oil. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and the cumin seeds. Stir, and allow them to sizzle for 30 seconds before adding the chilli, garlic, ginger, ground coriander, ground cumin, salt and turmeric. Stir to combine and then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Leave to cool.
4. In a bowl combine the lentils, red rice, carrot, courgette, red pepper, red onion, apricots, pistachio and fresh coriander. Pour over the cooled dressing and stir it through the salad before serving.