The family and I were in Marrakesh recently. One midday, we found ourselves walking down a dusty street just outside the medina walls; it was school lunchtime, and lots of boys – all around 5- to 7-years – were snaking past us, dressed up in little white shirts and grey shorts, jangling copper coins in their hands. Most of them disappeared into an opening a little ahead of us – an opening which, when we came to it, we saw was a hole-in-the-wall: a small concrete room (complete with grey rubble) with a loosely rigged up counter, this bearing primus stoves and huge aluminium steaming vats. These vats contained lentils, which men in grungy white aprons were spooning into bread buns (crusty affairs, a bit like ciabatta, only a little denser)… We waited our turn, anyway – and, after handing over the equivilant of 10p, were passed two portions of the nicest, most melting lentils that I’ve ever tasted.
All of which was a long way around to saying that, whilst I was rooting around on the Net the other night, I came across Christine Benlafquih’s excellent web site on Moroccan cooking (http://moroccanfood.about.com/), and was delighted to find that she had a recipe for stewed lentils. I was also pleased to see that I had most of the ingredients in the cupboard (barring the parsley, this is a great store-cupboard recipe), and thought I’d give it a whirl.
The result isn’t quite the same (there’s not much that’s going to compete with a chipped terracotta bowl on a dusty street in Africa), but this will definitely be something we’ll be eating again. (Particularly as – joy of joys – a lot of Moroccan cooking seems to involve just chucking everything in a pot and letting it cook. So it’s a great standby number for those nights when you can’t really be arsed.)
Oh – final additional notes: I chose parsley over the coriander options in the recipe; we also didn’t have any ground ginger handy, so I grated some fresh – which I imagine makes a difference to the flavour. For lentils, I used green. To finish, I served it with a dollop of Greek yoghurt, a sprinkle of spiced-salt, and flour tortillas. Yum.
2 cups lentils
2 or 3 tomatoes, grated
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or pressed
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or coriander
2 1/2 teaspoons cumin
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika (some hot, if desired)
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup olive oil
Mix all ingredients in a pot. Add 2 litres of water, bring to the boil and then simmer for about one and a half hours, until the lentils are tender and the sauce is ample (but not too watery). Adjust the seasoning if desired, and serve.