If you watched The Young Ones you will know that Neil, the depressed hippy vegetarian, only eats lentils. The rest of his house mates hate them.
It’s a shame Neil is the designated cook. Lentils have this image of being boring and tasteless, a bit like Neil, but I think they are a fabulous ingredient to have in your store cupboard.
There are many different varieties to choose from. They are cheap, easy to store and do not need soaking before cooking.
Some varieties break down with cooking and are great in dhal-style curries which thicken the sauce.
Others keep their shape when cooked and are suitable for salads or accompanying fish meat and poultry.
Lentils are high in protein, carbohydrate and calcium which makes them an important staple in a vegetarian diet. Buy dried lentils and give them a quick wash in cold water before cooking to remove any dirt and grit.
In this recipe I’ve used green lentils and Indian spices to accompany roast chicken breast and parsnips. It’s easy to prepare and cooks in about 30 minutes, so makes a great midweek dinner.
Lentils with chicken and parsnips
4 chicken breasts (skin on)
1 onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
Small knob ginger peeled and chopped
220g green lentils
Teaspoon cumin seed
1 bird’s eye chilli finely chopped
Pinch black pepper
Teaspoon fennel seeds
1 litre chicken stock
6 small parsnips peeled and cut lengthways
1. Pan-fry the chicken breast in a little olive oil to colour all over. Then place in a pre-heated oven 180C/gas 5 for 20 minutes along with the parsnips (turn the parsnips after 10 minutes).
2. While the chicken is cooking start on the lentils by heating a large pan on a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook for two minutes.
3. Add the cumin, chilli, pepper and fennel seeds and cook for one minute.
4 . Add the lentils, saffron and chicken stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
5. Remove the breasts from the oven and make sure they are cooked. Allow to rest. Check the parsnips are cooking. They will need another 10 minutes while the chicken is resting.
6. The lentils will be cooked at 30 minutes (if all the liquid has gone add a little water).
7. Taste and season the lentils and spoon into bowls.
8. Top with the parsnips and chicken and serve.
• Lawrence Murphy’s restaurant is Fat Olives, Emsworth fatolives.co.uk on 01243 377914.