Thursday, 16 August 2012

Simple Recipes With Lentils And Rice

Source for this image here.

For years now, green lentils and brown rice served together in one form or another has been a regular at our dinner table.  We all enjoy this, even served simply as it comes with no embellishments.  The mixture of textures between the soft, earthy green lentils and the chewy, nutty brown rice, is very satisfying, and the combination of flavours which is pleasant but not overwhelming, is lovely too.

Lentils and rice are also extremely cheap and nutritious, and even when they have been dressed up a bit with other ingredients they still make a simple but delicious addition to many meals.  I'm going to share here today some of the different ways that I serve this dish for our family to enjoy.  To make straightforward lentils and rice, all you need of course, is some green lentils and brown rice!

Lentils come in 3 main forms, small yellow or orange lentils (these are not the same as split peas), the small brown or dark green puy lentils, which are a little more expensive, and the larger, flat, round green lentils which are what we like best.  They are not strictly green but a sort of dusky khaki colour in truth.  In the supermarkets near where we live, they actually aren't that easy to find, for some reason nowadays.  So instead I tend to get them from a health food store in the town, or from the more expensive supermarket that we rarely shop at.  I stock up whenever we go so that we have plenty in store.  They keep well and unlike other pulses, lentils don't need to be soaked before cooking - though I do choose to do this. 

Rice is a staple food for many millions of people all around the world.  Brown rice is the same as white, it simply hasn't had the outer husk removed.  For this reason it is heavier than white rice but a bit more nutritious, with more fibre and B vitamins in it.  It's cheap and easily found in most supermarkets, and also stores well (though do ensure, as with lentils also, that the packaging or storage receptacle that you use is tightly sealed.  If it isn't you can get nasty wee creepie crawlies in your grains which you don't want at all!).

To serve 4, I currently use 2 cups dry rice and 2 cups dry lentils.  These I soak in a bowl of water with a drop of apple cider vinegar added for about 8 hours.  After this, they can be drained and cooked as usual.   The 2 grains will take the same length of time to cook which makes preparation easier.  Sometimes I add a stock cube and a diced onion to the cooking water, sometimes I cook the grains just as they are, and serve them with no other additions.  But it's also fun to enjoy them served in other ways.  For example ...

I often make a delicious lentil and rice salad which can be served either warm or cold.  To the basic grains I add a diced red onion, some diced tomatoes, perhaps some celery, some chopped parsley and then a dressing made from the juice of a lime, a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar, a teaspoon honey, a teaspoon mustard and some salt and pepper.  This is so tangy and delicious!

The lentil and rice base can also be used to make a simple broccoli casserole which is great with cooked meats - especially gammon or ham.  Simply sautee a chopped onion in some oil or margarine in a large pan, then add some cooked broccoli (about 2 cups - I sometimes cook extra if we are having it for another dish so that the next day I can use the leftovers for this recipe), about 1 cup grated mature (sharp) cheddar cheese, and 1/2 cup milk.  Place the mixture in a casserole and cover.  Put in a medium oven and bake for about 45 minutes or until the cheese is golden and bubbling.

I also make this veggie loaf sometimes - usually for dinner (lunch) rather than our evening meal.  Start with half the amount of your lentil and rice base and to this add, mixed together ...

3 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I make my own in my mini chopper)
1/2 cup celery, chopped
2 tablespoons finely diced onion
1/2 chopped green pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup margarine, melted

Place the mixture in a greased and lined loaf tin and place this in a roasting dish which has about 1 inch hot water added to it.  Bake in the centre of a medium oven for about 1 hour or until set (test it as you would a cake, with a knife inserted into the centre of the loaf.  If it comes out clean then it is done).  You may need to cover the top of the loaf with foil while it bakes to stop it getting burned.
This is lovely served with other salad and a cheese sauce.  I sometimes also serve it with cauliflower baked in a cheese sauce, especially on cold, frosty days!

If you omit the liquid ingredients from the recipe above, and replace them with 2 cans chopped tomatoes, this makes a simple cheesey version of "Spanish rice" (of course as it has lentils also it isn't strictly the same recipe).  If you choose to cook this it can be made on the stovetop and simmered slowly until the cheese has melted.

Sometimes I'll make the basic lentils and rice recipe when we have lots of bits and pieces in the fridge that need using up.  I'll sautee whatever veggies we have, perhaps add a can of mushrooms or some pieces of chopped cooked meat, and maybe even a few bits of cooked potato or some hard boiled eggs, and stir all this into the lentils and rice base to create a twist on "egg fried rice".  I may add a dressing as for the lentil and rice salad described above, perhaps with a splash of light soy sauce.  It's so versatile that really there are endless ways to make this dish just how you want it to be!  I haven't yet tried it with anything sweet - but the possibilities are only limited by my imagination ...

Happy eating everyone!