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I began writing this blog in October 2010 as a new father documenting food in his family. Before I knew it, I was in the final of MasterChef 2012. Now cooking is no longer just a hobby.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Lentils, leeks, goats cheese and hazelnuts

Lentils with leeks, goats cheese and hazelnuts

As you may know I have given up meat for Lent. Most people are skeptical when I tell them I don't have to observe this on Sundays. Lent lasts for forty days because, according to the Gospels, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert. But there are forty six days between Shrove Tuesday and Easter Sunday so most Christians don't count the six Sundays of Lent.

On the fifth Sunday of Lent, I roasted a fore rib of beef (for about twenty minutes too long, if I'm honest). We served it with saffron roast potatoes, parsnip gratin, eight hour braised carrots and shredded spring greens stir fried with garlic, chilli and crushed peanuts. I couldn't find fresh horseradish anywhere, but I found some freshly grated in a jar at a stall in Chapel Market. Horseradish is a member of the mustard family and unlike chilli, which burns the mouth, it irritates the sinuses. This one, like a strong wasabi, cleared the nose and made the eyes water with just a sniff.

After Sunday, it was back to vegetarian dinners. On Tuesday, we had fresh pasta with parsley pesto. I had the most enormous bunch of parsley from the North End Road market and blitzed it with garlic, chilli, parmesan, and almonds (instead of pine nuts). I used olive oil and the juice of half a lemon to loosen the pesto.

Jemma and I are going through a chilli phase. Perhaps it is because it imparts interest to meals that lack the flavour of meat, perhaps it is just because we enjoy the self-inflicted heat on our palate. This evening, I had half a chilli left in the fridge. I could have left it out entirely, but it added some colour to the dish and I figured that goats cheese is delicious with tomato chilli jam.

Goats cheese also pairs well with caramelised onions. Goats cheese and onion tarts are a ubiquitous gastropub vegetarian option, because the acidity of the sweet and juicy onions cuts through the dry, crumbly tartness of the cheese. I had leeks in the fridge, so substituted them for onions and used up some hazelnuts, for texture. There is protein in the goats cheese, but I served it with protein-rich Puy lentils dressed in vinegar and honey, with chopped tomatoes, thyme, mint and parsley, for freshness.

Ingredients (serves 2)
100g Puy lentils
2 tablespoons of vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons of oil (I used olive oil and walnut oil)
1 tablespoon of runny honey

1 tomato, finely chopped
1 large handful of chopped herbs (I used parsley, mint and thyme)

2 washed leeks
2-3 slices of goats cheese

50g whole hazelnuts
1 dried chilli
1 tablespoon honey

1. Rinse the lentils and simmer for 15 minutes in plenty of water.
2. Cut the leeks into lengths of 7-8 cm and steam over the simmering lentils.
3. Put the oven on at a low heat (120c) and cut the hazelnuts in half.
4. Crush the dried chilli and mix with the honey and a little salt.
5. When the leeks have softened, slice them lengthwise and caramelise them over a low heat in some butter.
5. Blanche or steam the leeks before caramelising to soften them.

6. Coat the hazelnuts in the chilli, honey sauce and toast for 10 minutes in the oven.
7. Drain the lentils and dress them while they are still warm with the vinegar, oil and honey.
8. Mix in the tomatoes, herbs and add salt and pepper to taste.
9. Assemble the lentils with the caramelised leeks, sliced goats cheese and sticky, toasted hazelnuts.
10. The hazelnuts should be quite fiery, but if you can handle some extra heat, add some shredded red chilli for colour.

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