This recipe isn’t authentically Middle Eastern – but it’s authentically credit crunch-friendly. And, let’s face it, we could all do with a few of those right now!
Normally, when I go out for food shopping, I automatically reach for green leaves and brassicas (which I simply can’t get enough of), or buy glamorous veggies like aubergines, artichokes, asparagus or wild mushrooms. So my rather idiosyncratic new year resolution is to try and incorporate more root vegetables in my diet. After all, they are tasty, healthy, filling, and economical.
The tempering technique used here is found in Middle Eastern as well as Asian cuisines. So if you want this stew to have, say, Indian flavour, omit the thyme and parsley, and replace them with fresh coriander leaves (cilantro). Then cook in water rather than vegetable stock, and add a little red chilli powder and garam masala to the onion-garlic mixture. Again, not totally authentic, but delicious nonetheless.
In fact, that’s what I like about this recipe – that you can change its identity completely by changing the flavour profile. Which just goes to show how connected cuisines from different parts of the world are, and how historically they have influenced each other.
Eat the stew with warm pita bread, and some green salad if you like. Serves 3 to 4.
1.5 lb/ 750g mixed root vegetables: choose any combination of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, swedes (rutabaga), kohlrabi, and celeriac (celery root)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 sticks celery, peeled and sliced
150g/ 6 oz dried split red lentils, rinsed and drained
1.5 pints/ 750 ml vegetable stock (instant is fine)
2 dried bay leaves
8 oz/ 200g tomatoes, peeled and chopped (canned ones are fine)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (optional)
Salt and pepper
Juice of half a lemon
For the tempering:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 level tablespoon ground cumin
1 level tablespoon ground coriander
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Lemon wedges, to serve
1. Trim, peel and dice the vegetables in even-sized pieces, so that they all cook together consistently. (You can boil the discarded peel and trimmings with water to make vegetable stock – or not, as you prefer).
2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and cook the onions until they are slightly golden. Add the garlic and celery, and sauté for a few minutes, taking care not to burn.
3. Add the prepared vegetables and lentils, and sauté for a further 5 minutes.
4. Add the stock, bay leaves, tomatoes, and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan with a lid, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the lentils cooked.
5. Meanwhile, for the tempering, heat the oil in a small frying pan on medium heat. Add the sliced onion and fry for 5 – 10 minutes until it’s golden brown.
6. Add the garlic until it’s tinged with light brown colour. Add the spices, and let them sizzle for a few seconds until they are cooked and they perfume your kitchen. Remove from the heat immediately and set aside.
7. Add the seasoning and lemon juice to the stew, and mix well. Then pour in the spice tempering (or, alternatively, the tempering could be poured onto individual servings). Garnish the stew with chopped parsley, and serve with lemon wedges.