With its subtle spices and zesty lime leaves, this dish is both comforting and uplifting. It was inspired by one of my running friends who loves lentils and her wish to pack even more power and nutrition into a speedy meal. Cue chia seeds. Yes, these are enjoying a bit of notoriety at the moment as the latest health food craze, but – from reading various articles – they seem to have a more diversified following rather than just the hemp trousers and nut cutlet brigade. Non-vegetarian runners are embracing chia seeds as a hydrating tool – chia seeds absorb a terrific amount of water and slowly release it into the body. They also steady the breaking down of carbohydrates in the stomach, helping to mitigate a sugar crash and promoting endurance. More claims to fame include great sources of both omega 3s and protein and virtually all the carbohydrates in chia seeds are fibre (which doesn’t require insulin to process).
For this dish, use whatever vegetables you have to hand to bulk up the lentils in this dish; you will see the long list of suggestions, based on what I usually have lurking in my fridge or store cupboard. One thing definitely worth having, however, is fresh lime leaves. Ocado now have these, store in the fridge or freezer and throw them into curries and soups as you would with bay leaves – the candied-lime punch they pack is incredible. Finally, I recommend adding a can of coconut milk to your boiling liquid to really enhance the flavour of this lentil dish but if you are watching your fat intake, water – preferably with some good quality stock – is just fine.
Ingredients (4 servings)
2 large onions
Oil for frying
2 fresh chillies/chilli flakes or powder
3-4 cloves of garlic
Cumin (seeds or ready ground)
200g red lentils
Fennel and/or caraway seeds
1 bulb of fennel (this works really well)
400g of coconut milk
2 teaspoons of vegetable bouillon powder
4-5 lime leaves
Juice of 1-2 limes
1 cinnamon stick
Chia seeds – around 4 tablespoons
Coriander to garnish
Fresh tomatoes to garnish
1 red onion to garnish
- Dice the onions and reserve some to add into the dish at the end. Fry with a splash of oil/teaspoon of coconut oil. Add the garlic, chilli and spices apart from the cinnamon stick if using.
- When the onions turn a golden brown, add your desired vegetables and stir well to stop the mixture catching whilst you fry for another couple of minutes.
- Rinse the red lentils under the tap before adding to the pan. Stir well to integrate with the vegetables. Pour in the coconut milk and 200 ml of boiling water, with the vegetable bouillon powder, and bring to a gentle simmer. If omitting the coconut milk, you will need an extra 400 ml of water. Throw in the lime leaves and cinnamon stick.
- Simmer for around 20 minutes until the lentils are soft and all the water has been absorbed – you are aiming for a runny porridge/very thick soup-like consistency. You may need to add more water on the way, give the mix a stir every so often to make sure it’s not catching on the bottom of the pan.
- Taste for salt and spicing and add your chia seeds, lime juice and garnish with finely chopped red onion, fresh coriander and tomatoes before serving (remember to fish out your lime leaves and cinnamon stick).