Yotam Ottolenghi’s lentil recipes (2024)

A day after Black Friday and with just a month to go until Christmas, now is a time I turn to lentils. Lentils are, for me, the culinary equivalent of the calm before the storm, a simple, clear and perfect moment before the party kicks off.

For better and for worse, the next four weeks are a marathon that we all forget properly to train for. Diaries are packed with plans and wallets are emptied, with little heed paid to how much of a toll it’s all taking. It’s irrational, of course, but somehow hard to resist the logic that sees the need for more stilton sparking the need for more wine, which sparks the need for more nuts (and then yet more stilton, wine and nuts).

We’re all pretty defenceless in the face of this annual onslaught, but what we can do is prepare. And cooking a batch of lentil soup is my way of battening down the hatches; doubling the quantities and freezing half makes me feel ready for the storm ahead. Then, when my internal SOS call goes up in a couple of weeks’ time – a need for the exact opposite of that stilton-wine-nuts combo – I’ll know that the solution is within quick and easy reach. Today’s lentil and aubergine stew and the fritters are comforting and frugal antidotes to the month-long spending and social spree that began yesterday.

In Italy, oddly enough, little black beluga lentils are traditionally eaten when the party is in full swing, on New Year’s Day. These hold their shape when cooked and don’t collapse, which is why they’re said to look like tiny coins and are traditionally eaten to herald a prosperous year ahead. So much for my association of lentils with frugality, then: turns out they’re as good a way to see out the party as to protect us from it.

Curried lentil and coconut soup

Serve this with lime wedges for a welcome citrus kick. Serves four.

2 tbsp coconut oil or sunflower oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
1 tbsp medium curry powder
¼ tsp chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
150g red lentils, rinsed and drained
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
25g coriander stalks cut into 2cm pieces, plus 5g picked leaves, to garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
400g tin coconut milk
Lime wedges, to serve

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan on a medium-high flame, then fry the onion for eight minutes, stirring often, until soft and caramelised. Add the curry powder, chilli flakes, garlic and ginger, and fry for two minutes more, stirring continuously. Add the lentils, stir through for a minute, then add the tomatoes, coriander stalks, 600ml cold water, a teaspoon of salt and a very generous grind of pepper, and leave to heat through.

Pour the coconut milk into a bowl and gently whisk until smooth and creamy. Set aside four tablespoons – you’ll use this when serving – then tip the remaining coconut milk into the soup pot. Bring the mixture up to a boil, turn down the heat to medium and leave to simmer gently for 25 minutes, until the lentils are soft but still hold their shape.

Divide the soup between four warmed bowls, drizzle over the remaining coconut milk, scatter the coriander leaves on top and serve with lime wedges for squeezing over.

Puy lentil and aubergine stew

The ingredients here are very familiar, but the result is a bit magic and unexpected – a little like Christmas, in fact. Serve as it is, for a light meal, or bulk it up by spooning on top of slices of grilled or toasted sourdough. It’s at its best served warm, but is also very good at room temperature. Serves four.

4 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra for serving
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
1 medium red onion, peeled and finely diced
4 tsp picked oregano leaves, roughly chopped
Salt and black pepper
2 small aubergines (about 420g in total), cut into 5cm x 2cm chunks
200g cherry tomatoes
180g puy lentils
500ml vegetable stock
80ml dry white wine
100g creme fraiche
1 tsp urfa chilli flakes (or ½ tsp regular chilli flakes)

Heat half the oil in a large, high-sided saute pan on a medium-high flame. Add the garlic, onion, half the oregano and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, and fry for eight minutes, stirring often, until soft and golden, then tip into a small bowl.

Put the aubergines and cherry tomatoes in a separate bowl and season with a quarter-teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. On a medium-high flame, heat the two remaining tablespoons of oil in the same pan (don’t bother wiping it clean) and, once it’s very hot, fry the aubergines and tomatoes for 10 minutes, turning them often, until the aubergine is soft and golden-brown and the tomatoes are beginning to blacken.

Return the garlic and onion mixture to the pan, then add the lentils, stock, wine, half a litre of cold water and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to medium and leave to simmer gently for about 40 minutes, until the lentils are soft but still retain a bite (after this time, there will still be some liquid at the bottom of the pan, but that’s fine).

Serve the stew warm topped with a spoonful of creme fraiche, a drizzle of oil, a sprinkling of the urfa chilli and the remaining chopped oregano leaves.

Sweet potato and puy lentil croquettes

Yotam Ottolenghi’s lentil recipes (1)

While making these, you’ll need to freeze the mix a couple of times so that the croquettes are easier to shape and coat. It’s a bit of an effort, admittedly, but well worth it for the lovely light texture of the end results. Serves six as a main course.

2 large sweet potatoes (800g)
170g puy lentils
1 large onion, peeled and cut into 2cm-wide wedges
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp picked thyme leaves
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp smoked paprika
30g parsley, roughly chopped
10g mint leaves, roughly shredded
Salt and pepper
200g feta, crumbled into 1-2cm pieces
3 eggs, gently beaten
80g plain flour
150g panko breadcrumbs
Sunflower oil, for frying
2 lemons, cut into wedges, for serving

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Put the sweet potatoes on an oven tray and bake for about an hour, until cooked through and soft inside. Once the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off and discard the skins, then put the flesh in a large bowl (you should end up with about 530g). Mash roughly, then leave to cool.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for winter vegetables as standalone mealsRead more

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil, then add the lentils, onion, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Turn down the heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes, until the lentils are cooked and starting to fall apart. Drain, discard the bay leaves, then tip the lentils, onion and garlic into the sweet potato mash. Add the cinnamon, paprika, parsley, mint, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, mix well, then gently stir in the feta so it’s incorporated but remains in chunks.

Divide the mixture into 12 balls, put these on an oven tray lined with greaseproof paper, then freeze for 30 minutes, so they stiffen up. Shape each ball into a round, 7cm-wide x 2cm-thick patty, then return to the freezer for at least two hours, to firm up (at this stage, you can also cover the croquettes and keep them in the freezer for up to two weeks).

Put the eggs in one bowl, the flour in another and the breadcrumbs in a third. Take the patties from the freezer and one at a time roll them first in the flour, then the egg and finally in the breadcrumbs, to coat, then leave at room temperature for an hour, until partially defrosted. It’s essential they defrost, or they won’t cook through before the crust starts to burn (if you don’t want to fry them at this point, store them in the fridge for up to 24 hours, so they’re ready to fry when you are).

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Fill a medium frying pan with enough sunflower oil to come 2.5cm up the sides. Put the pan on a medium-high flame and leave to heat up for five minutes, until the oil is hot. Turn down the heat to medium, then fry the croquettes in batches for about four minutes, turning them once, until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to an oven tray and bake for eight to 10 minutes, to cook through. Serve hot with the lemon wedges.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s lentil recipes (2024)


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