Lentils are a cheap and nutritious source of protein and fiber. The black variety hold together well when cooked and can look particularly attractive on the plate – sometimes referred to as beluga lentils (as in the most sought after type of caviar), they glisten on the plate and act as a wonderful palate for other colours and flavours.
Lentils are also a food associated with mourning in Judaism, their shape being associated with the life cycle. Going back to the time of the forefathers, Jacob famously purchased his brother’s first born birthright with a bowl of lentil stew, prepared for his father Issac who was in the mourning period. In the run up to the fast of the 9th of Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, many Jews don’t eat meat and so lentils would seem to be a natural choice to use as a substitute in this period which ends this weekend.
Lentils are easy to prepare – simply boil in stock or water for approximately 20 minutes or until softened. Cooking time will depend on the type that you’re using and how long you’ve had them stuck in your store cupboard! Black, Green and Puy are common varieties which can be used whilst orange lentils will simply disintegrate so are no use.
Lentils have an earthiness to them which is perked up by the use of an acid and lots of green herbs. In this case I used lime juice but lemon juice or a cider or white wine vinegar would do the job nicely. I also finely chopped in a variety of fresh vegetables for both colour and texture based on what I had in the fridge and I felt would complement the dish well. Pretty much any mixture of vegetables would work but I do feel that fresh herbs turn this into something special both in terms of taste and how it looks on the plate.
1 cup of black (or other) lentils, checked for grit
Juice and zest of 1 lime or lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
handful of mixed herbs – I used parsley and spearmint (nana), finely chopped
half a medium red onion, finely diced
2 small cucumbers, seeded and finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
Bring a pot of water or vegetable stock to a boil
Add lentils to the pot, bring back to the boil and reduce to a simmer for approximately 20 minutes until softened.
Drain lentils and add lime or lemon juice
Once cooled add the zest, olive oil, herbs and vegetables
Serve at room temperature, preferably on a white plate so that the lentils stand out!