Monday, 28 February 2011

Roasted Roots with Puy Lentils

I've had a lovely relaxing weekend, and actually haven't been cooking the main meals. I did pick up my wedding dress in London - then gave it to my sister for safe-keeping until the wedding. After a long walk in the surprising February sunshine, lunch today was reheated laksah, still delicious after the flavours had mellowed together a touch. I'd like to write about another dinner that works well as lunch to reheat: roasted roots with puy lentils.

You can use any mixture of roots here, but I find potatoes always take longer than other roots and tend to be overwhelmed by their stronger flavours, so are better not included. The lentils are also up for substitution: puy lentils are the most delicious and hold their shape after cooking, but the cheaper brown or green varieties also work well here. You can also adapt the herbs and dressing depending on what you have to hand. I like to leave the garlic unpeeled so it roasts without burning; it turns into a delightful squidy savoury burst of flavour, hiding underneath the papery skin. I love the sharp contrast between the smoky garlic and the sweet ruby beetroot.


  • 1 sweet potato
  • 2 parsnips
  • 3 carrots
  • 4 medium beetroot, including stems and leaves
  • 1 large leek
  • 1/2 large head of garlic
  • Small bunch of thyme
  • 1 tsp coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • olive oil
  • 200g lentils
  • 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Remove the stems and leaves of the beetroot and set aside, discarding the bitter join between the stems and the roots. Scrub or peel the roots, remove any sprouts or odd bits, and chop into largeish bite-sized pieces, about 2-3cm in size. Remove the cloves from the large head of garlic, but do not peel. Put the vegetables and garlic in a roasting tin, or two if needed, making sure the vegetables are in a single layer and not stacked, or those underneath will steam instead of roast. Lightly crush the coriander and cumin in a mortar and pestle, strip the leaves from the thyme, and add to the vegetables. Toss with enough olive oil to give the vegetables a fine coating, about 2tbsp. Roast in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until crisping at the edges and tender on the outside, turning the vegetables about halfway through. Be careful not to break up softer roots like sweet potato.

Meanwhile, cook the lentils according to their packet instructions: I use 4:1 water:lentils, simmering, without salt (adding salt causes the lentil shells to harden before the insides cook through). Halve the leeks lengthwise and wash throughly, then chop into 2cm-wide strips. Remove the leaves from the beetroot stems. Chop the stems into 1cm lengths and sautee with the leeks in a little olive oil or butter over a low heat, until the leeks are soft and just edging golden. Then stir in the beetroot leaves, and switch off the heat; they will cook, like spinach, in mere residual heat.

When the root vegetables and lentils are done, drain the latter, and throw the leek mixture, roots and lentils together in one of the roasting tins. Toss with balsamic vinegar and a splash more olive oil if you like. Season with black pepper and serve! If you're extra-hungry, you can add some chunks of goats cheese, some snippets of grilled streaky bacon, or a few broken-up cooked chestnuts (pictured here). Toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds would also work deliciously well.

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