French Lentil & Mushroom Casserole

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Lentils and mushrooms make for a somewhat brown combination, but together they really complement each other and create a nutritious, delicious stew. Puy lentils are probably the tastiest lentil out there and hence, over the years, the French have seized on them for their cooking, so they’re often known as French lentils. As a legume (the seed of its plant), they really are powerhouses of protein, but so often they’re served as a side dish. This seems silly to me because a thick, warming lentil casserole is such a hearty, satisfying meal all on its own – it deserves to be the main, the focus of your plate. Taking inspiration from the lentils’ link to France, this casserole is bursting with French flavours, from the red wine to the rosemary and mushrooms.

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most nutrient-rich mushrooms out there. They’re a fantastic source of bioavailable iron and protein, which is always good news for vegetarians and vegans. They also have a strong antiviral effect – perfect for the colder months of the year when our bodies are naturally more disposed to catching viruses. But the best thing about these shiitake mushrooms is that they were grown here in the UK, so they are local fungi through and through. The chestnut mushrooms also come from a few counties away, and the rosemary’s from a little bush in my garden, so as a whole this casserole is a local pleasure.

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Serves 6:

  • 50g dried shiitake mushrooms (porcini also work well)
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms
  • 120g shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 medium onions
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 litre of hot vegetable stock
  • 150ml red wine
  • 400g of puy lentils
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A sprig of rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons of miso paste

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First, give your dried shiitake mushrooms a quick rinse before placing them in a large bowl and pouring over the hot stock, leaving them to soak for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the onions and crush the garlic cloves through a press. Chop both the fresh shiitake and chestnut mushrooms into discs, making them all a vaguely similar size. Place the lentils in a sieve and give them a thorough rinse.

When the dried shiitake mushrooms have soaked for twenty minutes, use a slotted spoon to take them out, letting as much liquid as possible drip off so they’re fairly dry. Chop these mushrooms, discarding any hard stalk ends.

Place a large casserole dish (I like to use Le Creuset) over a medium to high heat and pour in the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil’s hot, tip in the onions and fry for a few minutes until they’re starting to soften. Add the garlic and a few rosemary leaves and allow to cook for another couple of minutes, turning the heat down to medium. At this point add all the mushrooms and fry for approximately 5-10 minutes until they’ve all softened and shrunk down, cooked through.

Pour in the mushroom vegetable stock and the red wine, give it a good stir and then add the lentils. Stir once more, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle in the rest of the rosemary leaves. Make sure all the lentils are down in the liquid before placing the lid on and reducing the heat to a simmer. They should take about 45-60 minutes to cook, but every 10 minutes check it’s gently simmering and give the stew a good stir. You may find you have to add a little more liquid as the lentils soak it up – do a small amount at a time as you want a thick casserole by the end.

Once the lentils are soft and the flavours have all come together, mix up the miso paste with a tiny bit of water and then stir into the mix, turning the heat off. Serve with rice or roast potatoes for a traditional winter supper, or try it in a lunch bowl with some roasted vegetables and salad.

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