Braised food

Recipe: Braised lentils and silver beets

Take the time to build your base with an aromatic soffritto – the depth of flavor will be worth it.

Nicolas Galloway

Take the time to build your base with an aromatic soffritto – the depth of flavor will be worth it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, lentils are wonderful, but they need extra care when cooking to soften their earthiness. Here, I’ve used vegetable aromatics such as onion, celery, and carrot, sometimes called mirepoix (in classic French cuisine) or soffritto (in Italian cuisine) to create a flavor base.

Cooked until softly caramelized and sweet, the time well spent in this step pays off in depth of flavor to spice up the lentils. It’s a simple dish but one that I find very grounding and nourishing as the weather gets colder. Serve with crusty bread or creamy polenta to soak up the juices.

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Braised lentils and silver beets

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4-6 as a side dish or light meal

Ingredients

1 cup (200g) brown lentils (or 2 x 400g cans brown lentils)

2 cups vegetable broth or water

1 bay leaf

3 tablespoons of olive oil

½ teaspoon salt plus more for seasoning

1 onion (about 150g), diced

1 stalk of celery (about 100 g), diced

1 carrot (about 100 g), diced

400 g silver beets, stems and leaves separated

2 tablespoons of tomato paste

1 teaspoon paprika

Pinch of chili flakes (optional)

A handful of coarsely chopped parsley

To serve:

Crusty bread or polenta

lemon wedges

Method

Cook the lentils. To improve digestion, I like to pre-soak the lentils in a bowl of water for 6-8 hours (I do this in the morning), then drain and rinse well in a sieve (or skip this step). Pour the rinsed lentils into a saucepan and add the 2 cups of broth or water, the bay leaf and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove the lid and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the lentils are just tender.

Once the lentils are ready, remove the pan from the heat, stir in ½ teaspoon of salt and leave to infuse while you prepare the vegetables.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrot.

Finely chop the silver beet stems and add them to the pan. Sauté for about 10-15 minutes (the longer the better) until everything is softened. Add the tomato paste, paprika and chili flakes and cook for another minute.

Remove the bay leaf and add the lentils with the cooking liquid to the pan. Cook for a few minutes for the flavors to blend, then roughly chop the silver beet greens and add them to the pan. Cover and cook, 5 to 6 minutes, until the silver beet is wilted. If the mixture seems dry, add a little boiling water. Salt to taste then pour into a serving dish and sprinkle with parsley.

Serve as a side dish or as a lunch with bread or polenta. A drizzle of lemon at the table completes this dish perfectly.

Nicola Galloway is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and culinary tutor.

www.homegrown-kitchen.co.nz