Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Braised Lentils

Lentils have been cultivated for many thousands of years across the world. They even rate a mention in the first chapter of the bible - in Genesis (the one where one begat another begat another) Isaac, son of Abraham, marries Rebekah who subsequently begets twins, who even in her womb, struggle against each other. She went to Jehovah and asked him why. He told her Two nations are in thy womb, And two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels. And the one people shall be stronger than the other people. And the elder shall serve the younger. Rebekah birthed her babies Esau and Jacob (in that order) and they grew into men. Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field. Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison. And Rebekah loved Jacob. And Jacob boiled pottage. Esau came in from the field, and he was faint. He said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage. For I am faint. Jacob said, Sell me first thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am about to die. What profit shall the birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me first. And he sware unto him. And he sold his birthright unto Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils. And he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright.

You could read it as an explanation of why lentils are popular in both eastern and western cuisines - or you could just read it as a great little story of everyday folk having lunch. Either way, lentils are wonderful in endless varieties of dishes. They are high in protein and carbohydrates, don't need soaking and taste good. Puy lentils are considered the finest but my favourite is mostly the humble brown Egyptian lentil. I made a particularly fine dish of braised lentils last night to go with guinea fowl and fennel - with leftovers for tonight.

Braised Lentils

200g lentils, washed
75g smoked pancetta, in a piece
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
the fennel stalks that stick up like fingers from the top of the bulb, finely chopped
bouquet garni of bayleaf, rosemary and thyme
2 tbspns olive oil

Chop the pancetta into thin pieces and fry gently in the olive oil till golden. Add the garlic and chopped vegetables. Stir to coat with oil and cook for a few minutes to soften a little. Add the lentils, stir and add the bouquet garni. Add enough cold water to completely cover. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a low simmer, cover and cook for about 30-40 minutes, checking occasionally that the liquid hasn't evaporated. Season generously with salt and pepper then serve.

God knows they are good.

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