One pot dish ready in minutes; it’s vegetarian and it has masses of molten cheese on top; it’s pleasantly spiced up and delicious. What more would you want from a lentil recipe?
Lentils go well with cheese
Vegetarian, spicy, cheesy, earthy and healthy – that’s what this dish is about. Who knew how well lentils went with cheese? It makes me think of so many new possibilities: lentils with cheese on toast, lentils on pizza – or maybe not.
Lentils don't have to be soupy
I’m not sure why the majority of classic lentil dishes are soupy of nature. I disagree on behalf of lentils: they feel much better in a casserole, with a blast of crispiness rather than in a soup.
I still have nightmares of my Grandma serving me lentil soup: a bowl of what looked like mud and tasted like swamp (sorry, Granny). It wasn’t until I tasted them, much later, in an un-soupy environment that I started to really enjoy lentils.
Still, I can’t say it’s my all-time favourite food, we have a bit of an on-off relationship, lentils and I. I go through spells of constant lentil cooking when I make a casserole of sorts every other day and then I forget and go without them for months, with a half-empty packet sitting in the cupboard.
How to cook dried lentils
Lentils, unlike dried beans, don’t need to be soaked; just rinse them or not and boil in plenty – three times as much – water. After twenty minutes’ simmering, they will be tender with only a little bite – which is appropriate in this instance as they will cook further in the pan and oven.
The ease of the cooking decided that I should use lentils in the dish, instead of the original black beans in the recipe by Ali Slagle in NY Times Cooking. I have also added herbs and Pecorino for extra cheesy crispiness.
What cheese to use in the dish?
My preference is for hard, meltable type of cheese like Gruyere. But a mix of odds and bits that you can find in the fridge might be even better.
Parmesan or its cousin Pecorino is optional but adds a bit of sharpness to the dish.
Can I open a tin instead?
For a very good reason, I think it's perfectly all right to use tinned chickpeas in dishes but lentils - not so much. Perhaps it's because they cook so easy as shown above, or perhaps it's because they overcook even easier - and if that happens, we are in my dreaded soup territory. Chickpeas do not dissolve into mushiness but lentils might.
Can I add bacon?
Would it be all right to add bacon or diced ham? What a silly question: I can’t think of many things that won’t be improved by adding bacon. But it will whack up the calorie content and there is all that cheese already.
So the answer is: yes, but be cautious of how much you want to eat.
One pot dish
The dish cooks in one pan only and can be served in it too so the washing up is minimal. It takes fifteen minutes to put together, plus cooking the lentils beforehand – or opening a tin if you really insist and promise not to turn them into a soup.
How to cook spicy cheesy lentils?
I like to use my cast iron pan but any ovenproof skillet will be just as fit for the purpose. Once the lentils are cooked all it takes is to sweat the garlic with the spices and tomato paste, then stir in the lentils and smother it all with cheese.
The video below shows the whole process.
More lentil recipes
My very first lentil recipe, with red peppers, spring onions and a handful of dried wild mushrooms, is still very much my favourite.
The one above is vegetarian, this is spicy and meaty: lentils with chorizo.
More pulses recipes
Small haricot beans, or whatever kind you like, out of a tin and into a pan will make delicious veggie chilli in about half an hour.
Crispy popping chickpeas and roasted red peppers, spiced with chilli flakes and fennel seeds, make an excellent brunch dish or a vegetarian main course.
Pulses are filling, nutritious and easy to prepare: check out this butter bean and chorizo recipe, it could be a keeper.