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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Warm Winter Sprout & Quinoa Salad

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Quinoa is a slightly contentious topic in the food world at the moment (as this article highlights), due to the west’s sudden love and demand for this little grain. There’s no doubt that quinoa is one of the world’s greatest foods, especially for vegetarians and vegans out there: it’s a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, it has almost twice as much fibre as most other grains and it’s packed with magnesium. In most ways, it trumps all other grains, but when poor Bolivians and Peruvians can no longer afford their staple food because of US and European demand raising prices, it’s not an easy or particularly acceptable thing to buy a packet of South American-grown quinoa and simply shrug and ignore this unethical fact.

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But here in Britain we have the perfect solution – Hodmedod’s British quinoa from the fields of Essex. A truly local grain grown in English soil which has only travelled a few miles and hasn’t cheated South American farmers and civilians out of their food – what can be better than that? And, pairing this with Brussel sprouts and a few swirls of carrot, which are both in season, this salad is a local and seasonal bowl of rainbow-coloured goodness. Sprouts receive an unfair nose-wrinkling bad name, but they can be so delicious if cooked in an imaginative way, rather than simply boiling all the taste and nutrients out of them. Infusing this warm winter salad with rosemary and chilli flakes gives both the quinoa and sprouts an aromatic flavour, and topping it off with lightly toasted sunflower seeds adds a crunch which makes every mouthful a protein-packed, plant-filled pleasure.

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Serves 3:

  • 2 cups/310g of Brussel sprouts
  • ½ cup of quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup of sunflower seeds
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 3 teaspoons of chilli flakes
  • Sea salt

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Preheat your oven to 170°C. Start by chopping the bottom end off the Brussel sprouts and removing the outer leaves. Give them a good wash before cutting them in half. Then place them on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and toss until evenly coated. Roast them in the oven for approximately 20 minutes.

Whilst they’re baking, bring a pan of water to the boil and add the quinoa and apple cider vinegar. Give it a stir and reduce to a simmer, letting it cook for about 15 minutes, or however long your specific quinoa takes.

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At this point, peel the outer skin of the carrots off and then use the peeler to make thin strips, from one end to the other. Strip the rosemary leaves off their stems. Once the sprouts have been in the oven for 10 minutes take them out and sprinkle over the chilli flakes and rosemary leaves. Give them a stir to make sure they’re roasting evenly and return them to the oven for about 10 more minutes, or until they’re starting to go golden brown and slightly crispy.

Using a dry pan, turn it up to a medium heat and gently toast the sunflower seeds, tossing them about a bit to make sure all sides go lightly brown. Once your quinoa’s cooked, drain any excess water and remove the sprouts from the oven. Toss all the elements together and serve – I like mine sprinkled with a few extra chilli flakes for a mildly spicy tang.