As I was eating my dinner and watching Game of Thrones this evening, I thought: I really shouldn’t be doing this. Either eat, or watch Game of Thrones, but don’t do them simultaneously because the onslaught of viscera is decidedly not food-friendly. This has nothing to do with anything, I just wanted to make the point.
Anyway, it’s my birthday tomorrow! But you get the presents! In the form of a recipe for braised lentils. Birthday Eve, I call it, and as such, one’s thoughts turn to reflection. Ha. I live every day like it’s the contemplative lead-up to further aging, and reflect upon everything I’ve ever done so much that, like a long-running TV show, the whole process should be able to go into syndication so I don’t have to come up with new stuff any more. Instead, just looping around without any effort from me, while I take time out to snooze. I got to have a late, long lunch with the fantastically high-achieving and welcoming Marianne Elliot from La Boca Loca on Saturday, and we talked about everything – the names people will call women but not men to bring them down; standing by things you’ve said; tacos; and this sense of constantly running towards the next thing having barely achieved the last thing. The latter was oddly heartening, in that basic way that recognition of something can be. I have recently been getting back into that troubled but utterly addictive musical Chess, and there’s this line that I never even noticed before that Josh Groban doesn’t so much sing as massage into the air with his throat: “Now I’m where I want to be and who I want to be and doing what I always said I would and yet I feel I haven’t won at all – running for my life and never looking back in case there’s someone right behind to shoot me down and say you always knew I’d fall“. Heavy! And yet I was like whoa, Josh Groban, way to pluck words from my brain with your rich vanilla scented-candle of a voice and articulate them perfectly via a convoluted musical that can’t even commit to its own plot.
And yet, and yet. I received some final pdfs for my cookbook that I’m driving you all away from with my angst and lentils; and oh wow. As you know a lot of time has been put into proofing the proofs (if you didn’t know, the proofs are like, here’s what your book will look like but on hundreds of pieces of paper which you will immediately drop, and as they hit the floor they will both papercut the tender vamp of your bare foot and shuffle themselves out of order with the impeccable swiftness of a Vegas croupier.)
The proofs were really beautiful, and I felt every late night and early morning and email back and forth between the publishers and the whipsmart feedback of my friends and team, photographers Kim and Jason and stylist Kate, and every thought Tim had pretty much ever had since he’s good with wisdom-requiring stuff like this…was not only worth it, but completely evident in the soon-to-be real pages of this book. Which is out in September so sure, put a circle round that month on your calendar but also don’t go rushing into bookshops just yet – she says optimistically – because September is still some significant distance away. As I was reading through it I thought to myself: this book is amazing and you’re such a good writer and you deserve this. A surprisingly nice thing to think about one’s self. And also…a nice thing to think about a consumer item that you have to eventually put your name to in the public arena and sell copies of.
The word braised: I first heard it when I spent a couple of years at boarding school. It essentially means roasted but in significant liquid, but when the kitchen said “braised steak” was for dinner, they essentially meant wet beef, boiled cheerlessly in a weakly tomato-based sauce. And so…it’s not a cooking method I go out of my way to use. I’m not sure what I’m even thinking, trying to braise lentils, second only to tofu as far as maligned leguminous foodstuffs go. But word associations can change, and plus, something about the wilful ugliness of it all makes it almost head back round again to appealing? Well, whatever it sounds like to you – and I mean, it does help if you don’t entirely hate lentils in the first place – this is really very delicious. Simple and easy and surprisingly full of rich, bold flavour from the lemon, mustard and herbs, as well as a lot of oil and salt.
A lot of this can be changed for what you have to hand, although while I want to offer options it would be unhelpful not to have some kind of base recipe that I stand by. If you don’t have hazelnuts, almonds would be perfect, something like carrots would be fine instead of parsnips, use more rosemary instead of thyme, and so on and so on. But hazelnuts and thyme – my favourite herb – are rich and resinous, parsnips have a natural caramelised sweetness, and in a dish like this, cardamom is one of those stealth spices that lets you know flavour is present without revealing how or from where. But you could just leave it out.
Braised Lentils and Vegetables with Hazelnuts, Lemon and Thyme
Serves two, with some leftovers. A recipe by myself.
1/2 cup dried brown lentils
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of one large lemon, or two of those stupid tiny near-juiceless ones that tend to dominate the supermarket
1 tablespoon dijon mustard (or wholegrain. I could eat either with a spoon.)
Pinch of ground cardamom, or seeds from two cardamom pods
1 teaspoon dried rosemary (or “rubbed rosemary” as my packet calls it. Which made me laugh. That said, if you don’t have it, dried oregano, sage or marjoram is also fine.)
Good pinch salt
1/3 cup whole hazelnuts
A couple of stems of fresh thyme, or a couple of teaspoons of dried thyme leaves
Place the lentils in a bowl and cover with freshly boiled water. Leave to sit for an hour – although the longer the better, really. An hour is fine though, and certainly makes the whole thing more feasible straight after work or at the end of a long day.
Drain the lentils, and tip them into the base of a medium sized oven dish. Trim anything inedible from the vegetables and slice them into fairly uniform strips/sticks, then lay them on top of the lentils in the oven dish. Set your oven to 180 C/350 F.
Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, cardamom, rosemary, and a generous pinch of salt. Pour this over the vegetables and lentils, then pour over a cup (250ml) of hot water. Place in the oven and cook for an hour. At this stage, taste the lentils – they should be firm, but cooked through. If not, return to the oven for a little longer. Then, turn the oven up to 200 C, scatter the hazelnuts and thyme leaves over the top, and return to the oven for a further ten minutes. Serve, turn the oven off and leave the door open to try and heat your house up.
Some facts about my birthday:
I’m turning 27. This is an age where people will still say “so old” but also “so young” at you, depending on the person. I’m not sure when that will stop.
Victoria Beckham is born on April 17. When I was in my deadly-fervent Spice Girls phase, sharing a birthday with one was seen as some kind of ancient sacrosanct blessing. (Seen by me, and me alone.)
Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke with Pharrell and TI. I am addicted to this song like wo. And also reminded of the massive crush I used to have on Pharrell.
Birthday, Sugarcubes. Ones thoughts also turn to songs with the word birthday in the title. Bjork’s soaring, growling belting here is outrageously amazing. Extra fun in Icelandic!
Next time: Hoping to have another I Should Tell You interview up on Friday. Who’s it going to be? Why, who do you think I am, some kind of organised person?