I don’t know what the allure of cooking lentils at New Years is for me but I always like to start the year cooking a warm bowlful of them.
It’s not as if I’m looking for something warm and filling as the weather has been sunny and mild over the holiday period and I’m stuffed after eating so much.
So what is it that draws me to cooking lentils at this at this time of year?
Maybe it’s their versatility? Lentils can be cooked by themselves or added to vegetable, meat or fish dishes. They can be served as a side, as with salmon and lentils or as the main component as in a lentil salad or stew. They come in a range of colours and with it bring their own textures and tastes. Some lentils such as red split lentils boil down to the consistency of mashed potatoes whereas other hold their shape and retain their nutty bite even after boiling them for 45mins as with green lentils. My favourite variety are Puy lentils also called French green lentils – which are slate green/blue in colour and have a peppery warmth to them.
For some, lentils have a hessian weave hippie vibe about them; vegans rave about them whilst for others they are just austere, peasant food. After all, the original lentil stew, mess of pottage, was biblical in origin. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily consider lentils austerity food but after the expense of the Christmas foodathon they are very welcome on my pocket!
Italians, consider lentils to be lucky as their small coin-shaped form invites prosperity. Perfectly partnered with pork increases their success; the pig known for pushing forwards, makes it a symbol of progress. Lentils with pork sausages are considered particularly auspicious.
But perhaps it’s the ease with which the stew comes together. It’s so personal it’s not really a case of following a recipe it’s more about getting the quantities right of lentils to water and packing flavour. And lentils are great at taking on flavour. There is also very little for the cook to actually do. After mass catering over the holidays and following strict recipes and cooking times, just throwing things into a pot of water is quite liberating and relaxing. It’s also a great way to use up veg you’ve got knocking about in the back of the fridge. There are no stages or steps to follow and other than not letting your lentils dry out as they boil, there really isn’t much danger of the dish going wrong.
I tend to favour lentils cooked with chorizo as the paprika from the sausages oozes out into the stew giving everything great body and depth – maximising flavour with very little effort. This time I had a rasher of streaky bacon and two sausages leftover from new year’s breakfast that I decided to add to the pot as well as pumpkin and chorizo. At the very end of the cooking process I wilted shredded spring greens (leftover from Christmas Eve’s dinner) in the residual heat of the pot.