If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably got an impression of a variety of exotic spices and subtle flavours. You no doubt see me as some sort of culinary master, spending hours slaving away in the kitchen to find the perfect recipe. Most likely you’ve even thought “Wow, that David is godlike in his mastery! I must bear his children!”
Alas, I am here to tell you that this simply isn’t true. Behold my deep, dark secret: Some times I simply can’t be bothered. I don’t have the energy, the ingredients, or the time to put something fancy together, so it’s time to just throw everything in a pot and see what happens. Occasionally, this works.
A frequent theme of this sort of cooking is lentils. It is very easy to produce something edible with lentils – you take a bunch of lentils, you stick ’em in a pot of water, you add stuff for flavouring. Cook until, well, cooked.
The following is an example of this. I won’t even pretend I was measuring things…
What I used:
Garlic, lots (say about 5 cloves)
Coarse sea salt
Green lentils. I guess about 300g, but I’m only going on packet size here.
Very lazy chillies (these appear to be chopped semi-dried chillies preserved in white wine vinegar. They appear to be about two months past their use by date, so I’m doing my best to use them up)
Bay leaves, handful (4? 5?)
About a third of a bottle of sainsbury’s tomato passata
What I did:
Pretty much what it says on the packet. Take lentils, stick them in water. Add a stock cube.
At this point I now hunt around the kitchen for other things to add. You don’t think I planned this do you?
So, first thing I do is add garlic. I roasted this before hand (that’s what the olive oil was for) and crush it slightly before adding it in. Whenever I roast garlic I add a fair bit of coarse sea salt to it as well to draw out the juices.
Now, to give it some flavour I added the bay leaves and thyme.
One of my standard tricks for improving the flavour of stocks is to add marmite to them. If you are unlucky enough to not be British (or Australian, which is practically british but with a better tan) then you might not be familiar with marmite, so let me explain this concept.
The classic ad for marmite which I always remember is you see a man walking along with a sandwich. He passes a homeless person and, feeling sorry for him, gives him half of the sandwich. The homeless person in question takes one bite of the sandwich, spits it out and starts yelling at the man.
Yes. This is an advertisement for the product. Their slogan is “You either love it or you hate it.”
Allow me to clarify further. Marmite is an evil foul smelling black goop with the consistency of tar and the salt content of the dead sea. For reasons of cultural insanity the british choose to spread it on bread and willingly consume it.
It’s actually quite nice.
Basically it’s a yeast extract – originally from the leftovers from making beer. It’s extremely salty and has a nice rich flavour to it when sufficiently diluted (or spread realllly thinly over warm toast and margarine). Consequently when added to a stock it really adds a lot of flavour to it.
I add a dollop of it. A few moments later I happen to notice the vegetable stock packet I’ve used, which proudly declares that it is guaranteed to be yeast free. That’s nice. I add another dollop of marmite for good measure.
Finally, rummaging through the fridge I found the aforementioned lazy chillies. Checked the sell by date, confirmed that they were not now radioactive and decided that the lentils could use a bit of a kick to them. I added them to the stock and left it to cook for a bit longer.
About 10 minutes later I came back to the lentils, tasted them and decided they needed a bit more of a kick, so I added another dollop. At this point the lentils were getting cookedish, so I added the tomato (random bit of trivia: Tomato slows down the cooking process for lentils, so you shouldn’t add it too soon. Of course, so does salt. At this point I suspect the marmite and roasted garlic had contributed enough salt to preserve a rhino). I left it to cook for another 10-20 minutes more and then served.
It was still very liquidy, so it was more of a lentil soup than anything. I took a sip.
Then I coughed and spluttered for a bit and drunk a lot of water to recover.
A bit of a kick? Try a mule’s worth. These lentils kicked my ass. I bravely made a few more attempts at eating them, but simply couldn’t do it.
So, I adopted the standard aga owner’s approach to dealing with culinary disasters. Bung it in the simmering oven and forget about it.
I came back to it the next morning. The water had entirely evaporated off, leaving a slightly moist thing that was nothing so much as bits of brown in brown goo. Still, I shouldn’t judge. Some of my best fr… err. what I mean is that I have a very nice pumpkin and brown lentil stew recipe which resembles nothing so much as raw sewage. You can’t always tell if something is going to be awful by looking at it. So, I plucked up my courage and steeled myself for a bite.
Hey. That’s actually pretty good.
For some reason the extra cooking really mellowed the spiciness. I think this is because the spice was all in the broth and the lentils weren’t getting much of the flavour, but as it cooked the flavour soaked into the lentils. Still, this was by no means a subtle dish – the overriding flavour was garlic, with a strong complementary chilli flavour. Oh yes, and salt. Don’t get me wrong, there were other flavours, but when you’re reduced to considering marmite to be a nuance you know that this here recipe is not for food snobs.
I’ve actually made this again since, and simplified certain steps. Rather than roasting the garlic I just fried it (takes less time and saves washing up), cutting out the salt. I also cut out the thyme and bay leaves because, frankly, you couldn’t taste a thing, and cooked it on a much higher heat than the simmering oven so it didn’t take all night to cook.
So, all in all a nice and simple addition to the recipe book. Takes a while to cook, but it takes a while of being ignored to cook. Definitely one for future nights when I can’t be bothered.
David ~ you are bloody brilliant with the words, even if I can’t vouch for the cookin’… but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
I have never heard of Marmite. Such an education you provide.
How does that compare with the (better-tanned) Aussies’ Vegemite?
Thanks very much.
Marmite and vegemite are very similar in concept, but the implementation is different. Personally, when I’m using one as a spread I’ll go for vegemite. Vegemite has a mellower flavour (not weaker mind you), which works better on its own or with margarine. Also, it spreads better – Marmite is gloopier.
That being said, for stocks and sauces I almost invariable use marmite – it dissolves into the sauce better and seems to be much closer to the pure yeasty flavour I want to add. Also, in England, it’s cheaper. Vegemite (or even generic yeast extract) is a perfectly viable substitute for these purposes, but it won’t produce quite the same flavour.
As you can probably imagine, this is a subject in which both (or all really, as there’s also promite, bovril and a dozen other similar forms of vicious black goop which people subject themselves to) sides have extremely vocal advocates and declare all other forms to be inferior copies.
Hmm. Also, as some googling has just revealed to me, Marmite is is produced by a company wholly owned by the Seventh-day Adventist church.
That’s kindof disturbing.