My favourite food: el lentejas

Look, chili poppers and salmon roses aside. The one meal that really does it for me is a big ol bowl of lenils.

When I was studying up up at UCT – living here, in Observatory, for the first time – like most students, I had fokall cash. Unlike most students,  I was also crazy about cooking. And to be fair, my monthly food budget of about R 300-R400, in those days, got me some quality ingredients to smack about the pan. But about 2/3rds of the way through each month, I would be on my arse having invested what little pocket change I had into my then affliction, Gandalfs. So, I would have this ready-steady-cook situation with whatever was hanging about the shelf, which typically included ingredients such lentils, eggs, gem squash, and chillies. Lentils were about R2 a packet back then, fueling several meals.

Fast forward 10 or so years later and lentils are permanently back on my menu. 

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The truth is, as I discovered much later, that I cannot tolerate wheat. For the ignorant out there, that’s things like most breads and baked goods, pasta and products that use flour as a thickener – soups, sauces, etc.

Although I am continually trying to avoid wheat-based products, I cheat constantly and continually suffer the consequences. This comes in the form of lethargy, bloatedness, rash, among many others things. There is plenty of debate as to whether wheat is even a good choice for the tolerant folk out there. I would say not, as there is always the temptation to combine it with an insurmountable plethora of other rubbish as well as a number of other reasons that other, probably less hypocritical, people have taken the time to investigate and explain.

Anyway, long story short,  I have discovered that lentils are the most satisfying and healthiest alternative to wheat. IF and ONLY IF prepared correctly.  They are not as starchy as potatoes, as heavy as rice or as expensive as rye (non to mention the host of other non-wheat bread alternatives). Maize crackers are fine, but due to the intrinsically addictive and satisfyingly crunchy nature of crackers in general (think chips; think popcorn), I personally can chug back a packet in two sittings. I also love my fruit and veg, but alone, I do not find them filling or sustaining enough and I do not wanting to be thinking about my next meal every 20 seconds. The main points are that Lentils:

  • Keep me full
  • Don’t make me tired
  • Keep me regular
  • Taste good (to me, when prepared my way)
  • Cost bugger all

They are also a low fat source of protein, a damn side cheaper the protein shake.

Now, personally, I think the basic boiled lentils recipe – cooked in water, drained and onto the plate – tastes pretty shit. The raw bean taste is way too prominent. But I go with two methods. The first one is lentil burgers I mentioned in a previous post. (I since then discovered that split peas are quite high in calories, so go lite if that concerns you). The second is one is a sort of Lentil & Chilli Stew, I guess. Here’s how you roll:

  • Boil lentils until soft
  • Drain
  • Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pot
  • Add (tons of) chillies
  • Add (tons of) garlic
  • Add (ample) lemon juice
  • Add the lentils back
  • Add cayenne pepper, herbs, spices, salt, pepper, curry power, whatever
  • Cook and stir for a few minutes
  • Then attack the mixture with either a blender or potato masher until you have a consistent, thick paste
  • If you feel like something fresh: add avo or fresh tomato

To me, it tastes phenomenal and does wonders for the breathe (keep some Listerine handy).

I usually cook up about two bags worth at a time (+-R11 per bag), portion the into measures of about 1.5 cups, and freeze the suckers. Ill take the motherload to work and aim to chow about two portions each day.  It does entail a bit of defrosting, but it beats the mission to the shop to blow R 15 on two uninspired slices of bread. The two bags would give me about a weeks supply. It costs plus minus:

  • Lentils: +- R 22 for two bags
  • Garlic: Max R 11 (in my case Ill use an entire little tub)
  • Chillies: Max R 5
  • Lemon: Max R 3

This comes to about R 41. Divided by 10 meals, you are paying about four bucks per meal.

 

 

Lentil Burgers That Actually Kinda Taste Like Beef

Ok, enough stuffing about. Here it is:

  • Boil a mix of lentils (not the orange ones, which quickly turn mushy) and split peas – 45 minutes works
  • Drain mixture & mash it up real good into a paste
  • Add beef stock or beef soup or bovril or marmite (anything to hide the overt lentil taste)
  • Add peanut butter, seasoning, cayenne pepper & herbs
  • You can also add grated or blended vegetables if you like, such as onions or carrots
  • Cook in Microwave for 3 odd minutes – it should be a thick, malleable paste now
  • Form into burger shapes
  • Dust in flour (you can use any type of flour, wheat free etc)
  • Shallow fry for about 2 minutes each side, preferably in olive oil

My primary motivation for this dish is cost savings (my fridge was empty, I was broke & all I had was lentils and peanut butter). Its extremely cheap to make a lot of it and it tastes good. AND its healthy – crazy.

An alternative to frying them is to put them in the oven on the grill.

My Big Ol Box a Lenils