It’s dark when we wake up and the evenings are short.
I’m always excited to get back to work, though sometimes I feel a bit like an old clock being wound back up to full speed. What helps add a little spring to your step is some super-healthy, nourishing food. It makes all the difference so you can stick to your good intentions.
To keep you going through those long first few days back at work, it’s a great feeling to know you have a tasty lunch waiting for you. That way you won’t be tempted by unhealthy snacks throughout the day. One of my favourite ingredients for this time of year is the lentil – it’s so good for you and fantastically versatile. The best you can buy are puy lentils.
I spent many years working in some of the finest restaurants in the world, and I was astounded by how much chefs worship the lentil. It is used throughout the year, and even in the most exclusive restaurants it features on the menu – used to make soup.
Lentils have been the basis of the Scottish diet for years, and I know some will see it as a slightly old-fashioned ingredient, known for bulking up dishes during the war. But give me a bowl of lentils and I will be delighted – and usually won’t need much more to eat. Lentils are also inexpensive and very easy to prepare. A couple of my favourite recipes are lentil and ham hock soup and lentil, feta, red onion and watercress salad.
The great thing about lentils is that you can use them in so many different ways: you can make a vegetarian dish by adding root vegetables or add meat to make a stew.
The classic way to start a soup is to caramelise the lentils in a pan to get a lovely salty flavour. Then add the carrots and onions whole. You can cut the onion into quarters, but take care not to remove the root so you don’t lose any of the flavour. Next add your bouquet garnet, followed by the chicken stock. Remove the vegetables, then blend your soup. It will taste simply delicious. Red lentil soup is also lovely with ham hock. Once the lentils are cooked you can take half of them, peel them and make them into a salad for a packed lunch at work. Simply add feta, red onion and watercress for a really tasty, healthy, filling meal. You can then purée the rest of the lentils and they will do for supper.
These kinds of dishes are also great if you are on a New Year health kick as they are wonderfully good for you and are very filling. They will keep you going all day, so you won’t get hungry around 4pm or 5pm and be tempted to snack.
Lentil, feta, watercress and red onion salad
300g puy lentils
1 bouquet garni
2 cloves garlic
1 red onion, sliced
1 bunch watercress
100g feta cheese, cubed
1 tsp grain mustard
1 tbsp chopped chives
To begin, wash the lentils under cold water and place in a pot. Cover with water and bring to the boil.
Add salt, bouquet garni and garlic to the pot and simmer on a medium heat until the lentils are soft, but not overcooked.
When the lentils are ready, strain and leave until they have cooled.
Now place the lentils in a bowl, adding the onion, watercress and feta, and toss together.
In a separate bowl, mix the grain mustard with the olive oil and the chopped chives to make a light dressing. If you wish, you can keep this separate until ready to serve.
Garnish with the watercress.
Lentil and ham hock soup
1 large onion, cut into four but keeping the root on
2 carrots, cut in half lengthways
1 ham hock, smoked
1 bouquet garni
2 garlic cloves
500g puy lentils
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the oil and pancetta and fry until coloured, then add the onion and carrots and sweat gently for three to four minutes. Add the ham hock. Cover everything with water, adding the bouquet garni and garlic. Continue to cook, on a medium heat, for one and a half hours.
Wash the lentils under cold water and place in the pot with the ham hock. Cook for a further 30 to 35 minutes, or until the lentils are done.
Once ready, remove the ham hock and the vegetables and blend the remaining liquid, adding a twist of black pepper.
Chop the ham hock into pieces and place in a bowl, then add the soup. Serve with croutons and chopped parsley.
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