There is nothing more satisfying than tucking into a big bowl of spiced creamy lentils for dinner on rainy Autumn nights. Lentil soup often gets the spotlight when it comes to this versatile pulse, but there are so many other wonderful dishes where split red lentils can shine! This recipe is my favourite one at the moment, followed closely by lentil “bolognese”, a vegan spin on the classic meaty pasta dish.
I found an interesting excerpt from a newspaper printed in August 1851 about lentils in Scotland, saying that they were originally grown in Britain as feed for cattle as far back as the 1545. It seems as though the cultivation of lentils in Scotland was tended to by monks, and was abandoned during the Reformation.
With a distinct chill in the air, warming spices are my favourites to use – ginger, turmeric, cardamom – and of course the fresh chillies that came in my veg box! Normally I add in whatever veg I have to hand, which this week was butternut squash and kale, both fantastic sources of vitamins A and C, as well as fibre. Red lentils themselves are also very high in fibre, as well as Potassium and B-vitamins.
I used Malaysian curry powder, which is a balance of sweet and spicy, however you can use whichever curry powder that you have to hand. If you’re feeling up to the task, you could even make your own curry blend using a combination of ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, chillies, cumin, pepper, fenugreek, bay leaf – there are so many variations depending on the culture whose cuisine you are making.
This dish can either be made on the stove top as I’ve outlined in the recipe below, or in the slow cooker (after sauteeing the onions and cooking off the spices, of course). If making in the slow cooker, you can toss in the cubed squash without roasting, though I do love the added sweet savoury flavour of a roast butternut squash.
Yield: 6 – 8 servings
1 large onion, diced
2 Tbsp oil, divided
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
2tsp Malaysian curry powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp turmeric (ground or 4tsp fresh grated)
2 tsp ginger powder (or 4tsp fresh grated)
6 green cardamon pods, whole
1 tsp chilli flakes or 1 small red chilli minced
3 tsp salt
2 tsp cracked black pepper
300g well rinsed red lentils
1 tin coconut milk
2 tins water
1/2 small butternut squash, cubed and roasted
3 large leaves of kale washed and torn into small pieces
Preparation (about 20 minutes prep, plus 30 minutes cooking time)
1. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 6, 400F or 200C and line a large baking/cookie tray with greaseproof paper.
2. Toss cubed butternut squash with 1 Tbsp oil, salt and pepper, and roast until softened and starting to colour – about 20 minutes.
3. In a hot wok, pour in the rest of the oil and allow to heat up – this helps create a non-stick layer (hot pan, cold oil). Add onions and sautée until beginning to colour. Add in garlic and spices, cooking for a few minutes until fragrant.
4. Add lentils, coconut milk, water and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent lentils from catching, for 20 minutes or until lentils are mostly cooked.
5. Add roast squash and continue to cook until lentils are done.
6. Add washed kale and cook for another 3 minutes, making sure the kale stays bright green but is slightly softened.
This can be a meal all on its own, but also pairs beautifully with soft boiled or poached eggs, as well as white fish or shellfish.