Store-cupboard suppers no. 1: Moroccan stewed lentils

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 (, 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.

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11 Responses to Store-cupboard suppers no. 1: Moroccan stewed lentils

  1. Chrissie Waddington says:

    Ooo a store cupboard recipe that actually has things I have in my store cupboard (the only slight hinderance is that this week is the one week in 26 that I don’t have a hunk of ginger root in my fridge at the mo cos we’ve gobbled it all… so have to go buy…).

    Shall try this recipe soon once ginger bought and herb patch savaged with scissors: as it sounds very yum!

  2. BenS says:

    Sounds great. I like recipes where I don’t have to go to the shops and I don’t have to do too much! Only thing for the culinary challenged (such as myself) is how to grate a tomato? Freeze them? Ours are pretty gooey inside…

    • Karim Rashad says:

      I imagine ‘grate’ probably actually means ‘concasse’, no? You dip the tomatoes in boiling water for ten seconds, pull them out, and remove the skins. You cut the peeled tomato into quarters and scoop out the seeds. You take the resulting tomato flesh, and chop finely with the usual rocking technique you’d use to finely chop green herbs.

  3. ellymillar says:

    Ah – Ben – I should have said. I couldn’t grate mine either, so I settled for chopping the fuck out of them…

  4. Luke says:

    This sounds delicious, Elly. I’m guessing if you used red lentils it would turn out much mushier and dahl-like?

  5. ellymillar says:

    Luke – yeah – the picture on the recipe web site was definitely boasting something that looked like green or brown lentils, and I wanted something that would keep their shape. (For red lentils, I have a Simon Hopkinson recipe for dahl that just can’t be topped, so I always stick to that.)

    Chris – do you have ground ginger? I only used fresh cos’ there was no ground in the house…

  6. Christine says:

    Thanks for the shout out for the Moroccan food site! My family loves these lentils. The same method is used to cook white beans.

    To clarify the technique for grating tomatoes…you cut the tomatoes in half cross-wise and grate the flesh and pulp side against a standard grater or shredder. The skin will be left in your hand. This photo may help clarify:

  7. ellymillar says:

    Hi Christine – just got back from a day trip to Cambridge and was so delighted to see your message! … Your recipes are marvelous – I can’t tell you how often I make your kefta and eggs. (I’m also keen on trying out the chicken rfissa but haven’t been able to find anywhere in the UK that sells smen – do you think it will make a huge difference?) Many thanks for the tomato grating tip!

  8. Christine says:

    Smen does add a distinctive flavor layer to rafissa, but the dish won’t disappoint without it, particularly if you’re not familiar with the taste of smen to begin with. I don’t have a smen recipe up on the site yet — a bit remiss of me given the frequency with which some Moroccan cooks use it — but an internet search should cough up a recipe or two for you. If you’re able to start with homemade or locally made (farm fresh) unsalted butter, chances are you’ll end up with a more authentic (and pungent) smen.

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