I know that I’m guilty of sometimes turning my nose up at short cuts, criticising the inglorious stock cube for instance, but sometimes short cuts have their place and really will do as well. I couldn’t buy a box of dried puy lentils one day in the supermarket so settled – rather uncertainly, it has to be said – for some ready-to-eat ones. Well, they were Merchant Gourmet and their foods are very good. And it turned out, so were these puy lentils; they were very good indeed. I was wanting to serve them with some salmon, remembering a lovely Jamie Oliver dish I used to cook a lot years ago – and that’s when I discovered my The Return of the Naked Chef had gone AWOL, and since I believe no cookery shelf should be without a copy, I ordered another (used) hardback copy from Amazon. In the end, I didn’t really do Jamie’s dish, but the idea of serving the salmon with puy lentils started with his recipe, as is the dollop of natural yogurt on the lentils at the end.
It was one of those occasions when a seed of an idea takes shape as you go and there I was, thinking, how about some celery? How about some balsamic vinegar? I think I’ll use red onions. And the following is what emerged from my kitchen. My daughter Nicola was around and loved it and I instantly bought another pack of ready-to-eat puy lentils and have been meaning to make it again. This makes plenty – certainly enough for 4 – but it’s great cold as well. And I guess, lentils being so good for you, it could be a meal all on its own.
Puy Lentils with Tomatoes, Red Onion, Herbs & Balsamic
Finely chop a medium red onion and put in an ovenproof dish. Chop a stick of celery (about 5mm pieces) and add to the onion. Chop about 200g tomatoes. I had lovely little baby plum ones, which are ideal for this dish; cut them into halves or quarters, depending how small they are. Add these to the other ingredients with 1 thinly sliced garlic clove. Now add some herbs. It really depends what you have to hand and – it being winter – my fresh herb supply is limited but I put in some fresh thyme that I have growing in a pot on the windowsill and a little chopped basil. I also added some dried oregano – I had a big pot growing in the garden last summer and dried some as autumn was setting in. The smell and taste are wonderful. Now, pour over a reasonable glug of olive oil – maybe 4-6 tablespoons – season with salt and pepper and give everything a nice gentle mix with your hands. Put in a 200C/180Fan oven for about 20 minutes. Stir a couple of times as it cooks as it’s best not to let edges of the vegetables burn. When it looks as if the onion is soft and the tomatoes are slightly breaking apart, gently stir in 1 packet (250g) ready-to-eat puy lentils. Put back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes; just enough time for the lentils to warm through. Take from the oven and sprinkle over a little balsamic vinegar and stir.
I served with some roasted salmon and spooned just a little natural yogurt over the lentils. The lentils have a wonderful deep earthy flavour; there’s the sweetness of the vegetables; a slight bite to the celery, and the balsamic cuts through making an almost sweet-sour taste.