The Italians and Hungarians have a tradition of eating lentils at new year to bring coins and prosperity for the coming year.
With my end of year tax bill due I embraced this practice with great gusto. I’m really not into that whole “new year, new you” notion, especially as it comes after being completely bombarded by rich, indulgent food adverts. I would love one of the many diet companies, now saturating our television screens, to buck the trend and do healthy eating adverts in November instead of closing the gate after the horse has bolted.
Lentils have suffered from a bad image in the past and have been considered “hippy” food. But in reality they are low in calories, help to reduce cholesterol, are great for heart and digestive health, will stabilize blood sugar and are an excellent source of non meat protein.
Lentils are seeds from the pods of a bushy plant which comes from the legume family. They’ve been part of the human diet since Neolithic times – archaeological evidence shows they were eaten up to 13,000 years ago.
They come in yellow, orange, green, brown and black varieties. They are apparent in cuisines from regions as diverse as India, the Mediterranean, South America and all over Europe.
My friend Romy Gill, originally from West Bengal, in India, who now runs her own restaurant Romy’s Kitchen in the historic village of Thornbury outside Bristol, combines her love of local produce with a passion for her culinary heritage. Indian food can be quite calorific but Romy has a lightness of touch, using British rapeseed oil instead of butter and good local, seasonal produce. Her dal, an Indian lentil dish using orange lentils, is especially warm, comforting food on a dull day. I had it with her roti bread, cooked in a tandoor oven and lamb kebabs. It was one of my food highlights last year. Typical of her true Indian generosity of spirit she gave me the recipe and I’ve included it this week.
One of my new year’s resolutions this year is never to eat anything from garages. Because I’m on the road a lot, sometimes I grab a sandwich and bag of crisps and eat them at the side of the road. My second recipe is one that I’m making right now to have in a tub to take round the country to fill the gaps! Green lentils with grated beetroot, ginger, onions, kale and tomatoes will take on the convenience store any day of the week. It’s tasty on its own or with grilled chicken, pork or fish.
Because life’s too short to diet all the time I’ve included the lentil dish that I cooked at New Year. It includes Peter Hannan’s guanciale ( pork cheek bacon and available at the Meat Merchant in Moira) cream, garlic, breadcrumbs, butter and cheese so it’s not for everyday use but will gladden your heart as a treat with roast beef or chicken on the odd Sunday.