Saturday, 11 January 2014

Lentils with Caramelised Onion and Mushrooms

I love lentils. Yes, I know it's a bit of a stereotype, a lentil-loving vegetarian, but if you are vegetarian and don't already love these pulses, then I would suggest that you get out there and start to love them! In all seriousness though, vegetarian or not, lentils are a great food - they are packed with protein, very filling, and really tasty. They are also versatile, though many people instantly associate them with lentil soup, and then can't think of anything else they could make with them.

I mainly use red and brown lentils, but puy lentils are another type that I mean to try (whenever I see a recipe calling for puy lentils, I tend to substitute brown ones - but I should really get out of this habit!). There are plenty more types to discover, but the main thing I find you should bear in mind, is whether the recipe you are planning to make calls for lentils that will go mushy when cooked (like red lentils) or hold their shape a bit better (like brown and puy lentils) - then if you want/need to, it's easy to substitute another lentil that will cook in the same way.

When David and I moved into our first flat, the previous tenant had left behind a few books, including a Lebanese cook book (the Australian Women's Weekly Lebanese Cooking). Of course, I added it to my collection immediately! One of the meals that I discovered from the book was Megadarra, which, although it sounds like some sort of dinosaur or maybe some sort of robotic monster in a Hollywood blockbuster ("Oh no, it's....Megadarra - RUUUUN!!!!") is actually a lentil-based dish. I have altered it a wee bit to my own tastes, but a few years on, it is still very much part of my kitchen repertoire, and so I thought I would share it with you.

It is an easy recipe, but you need to focus on your timings, as you have to monitor two different pans at the same time. If you don't want to do this, you can make your onion and mushroom mix in advance, then make the lentil mix and combine the two at the end - just make sure you properly heat the whole thing through at that stage. This is a lovely dinner (you can serve it with a side salad of your choice) or a satisfying lunch (especially good since it can be eaten cold if you don't have a microwave to heat it up).

Lentils with Caramelised Onion and Mushrooms

(serves 2)


100g brown lentils
650ml water (plus 2 tbsp water)
2tbsp oil
1 onion, sliced
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
100g mushrooms
100g mushrooms, finely sliced
50g long-grain rice
1/2 tsp ground allspice*
1/2 tsp ground dried coriander leaf
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp black pepper

*Confession: when I first looked for this, I accidentally bought something called 'all spices', which is a kind of spice mix - but you actually want a spice (not spice mix) called allspice. Confusing, I know! If you can't find allspice, try using cinnamon and/or nutmeg in its place.


Combine lentils and 350ml water in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are just tender (do not overcook - the lentils will continue cooking after this stage!). 

As soon as you have your lentils on, start frying your onions: heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, then add the onions and sugar and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add the balsamic vinegar and one tablespoon of water. Cook, stirring, for 10 minutes. Add another tablespoon of water and cook, stirring, for a further 5 minutes or until onions are caramelised. At this point, add the mushrooms and cook until they are nicely browned. Take off the heat and place to one side.

When the lentils have been cooking for their initial 20 minutes, add the rice, 300ml water, the allspice, coriander, salt and pepper to the lentils and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the rice is tender and the liquid has gone. 

Add the onion and mushroom mixture to the lentil and rice mixture, heat through, and serve either warm or cold.
Mushrooms just added to the pan
Mushrooms browning nicely!
Aim for a nice reddish-brown mushroom colour

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