Friday, 8 January 2016

Mushroom and lentil bake

For a writer, I'm pretty rubbish at naming things. My twelve-week writing course was called, for the first four years, "the twelve-week course", before in a fit of uncharacteristic brilliance and after four years of writing emails in which I explained that it covered the key elements of stories, I renamed it "Story Elements". The follow-up course I created at my students' request is now in its fifth year of being known as "the follow-up course". Occasionally, this troubles me.

I called this dish "lentil bake" for years before I had the epiphany to make it sound at least a tiny bit nicer by mentioning another of its key ingredients, so now it's "mushroom and lentil bake". But in my defence, most dishes are named after their ingredients, it just sounds fancier when you're naming them in French or Italian or Hindi or Urdu. So feel free to rename it champignons et lentilles cuits, funghi e lenticchie al forno, masharoom aur masoor kee daal bekd (shoot Google translate, not me), or indeed مشروم اور دال پکایا. (The original recipe is from Rose Elliot's Bean Book, but I can't remember what she called it.)

It's much tastier than its name suggests and it's also a good one for the leftovers list because you could substitute whatever leftover veg you like, in the place of the mushrooms, and it's an absolute winner for using up old bits of hard cheese and even edible rind.

The ingredients are in a table, because I have a scrappy bit of A4 with varying quantities scribbled on it, which gains a new column every time I have a different quantity of mushrooms. Quantities adjusted to human because writing "2.5 eggs" would be the mark of a madwoman. Also, I'll repeat the quantities in the instructions, because I've been using my own blog to look up recipes, and realise how annoying it is when I don't, so - sorry about that, will try to fix the posts already up as well! (Pick your colour and I'll repeat slices of the table as we go through.) The first quantity serves 3-4.

Cooking and prep time: 20-45 mins depending on how fast you chop
Oven time: 45 mins

Onions 1 2 2.5 3 4
Mushrooms 175g 350g 450g 530g 700g
Stock 350ml 700ml 875ml 1 litre 1.4 litres
Butter 50g 100g 125g 150g 200g
Eggs 1 2 3 3 4

And a generous stalk or two of rosemary!
Rosemary Elliot used parsley; I prefer rosemary; feel free to try out whatever you fancy / have available.

Serve it with a salad or just some baby greens. (Mine usually goes on a bed of baby spinach.) Leftovers make a yummy lunch, hot or cold.

Context for quantities: The red portion fills that casserole dish on the left (a bit too thickly for my preference) and serves 3-4. Orange fills that bread tin as well and serves 6-8. Yellow fills that casserole dish twice over (I have another pot the same size) and serves 8. Green and blue are going into insane quantities, BUT it does very well for baking it in a large oven tray and cutting into smallish squares as part of a family buffet or picnic.

I tried making a vegan version without the egg but it really didn't work as well; if you know of a vegan substitute that will bind a bake well, go for it.

TL;DR: simmer the lentils in the stock; fry the onions and mushrooms and add the rosemary; mix everything together with the cheese and egg; spread it in a greased dish about an inch thick; cook it at 180 for 45 minutes.

... With spicy tomato sauce. Rose Elliot suggested serving it with that, so I made up a recipe, which is in a separate post. I don't think it's essential; Will thinks it is. If you're going to make it, get that on first because it takes longer to cook and reduce. Feel free to make up your own version.

And now! In pictures!

Ingredients line-up! I'm making Orange quantities, so the onions and eggs come two by two, hurrah, hurrah...

Get the lentils on first, so boil some water for the stock. (I use powdered vegetable bouillon for the stock.)

Put the oven on to heat as well. Sometimes the oven looks at you, but sometimes it blows you a kiss...

Measuring my lentils - 350g is about 300ml. 


 A bit of the bouillon powder to make the boiling water into stock - I use half the amount they advise on the side, otherwise I find the flavour dominates. That's a great make, by the way, one of the few bought stocks that doesn't have that icky bought-stock cuppa-soup taste.

Hot stock, ready to join the lentils!

Stock350ml700ml875ml1 litre1.4 litres

 Mix the stock and lentils in a pot, put it on a low heat, and leave it to simmer until all the water's absorbed. That's usually about 10 minutes. Meanwhile you can set about slicing the onions and mushrooms.


It's easier to peel onions if you chop them in half then pull the peel off from the not-hairy end.

Slice them don't dice them, holding onto the hairy end. (Or, in this case, onto the camera.)

Slice up your mushrooms. Rosemary just makes the photo prettier at this stage!


Melt the butter and ghee in a nice deep frying pan - if your frying pan isn't deep enough to hold all of it, you can just fry the onions first then the mushrooms.

Get the onions going first, until they're just starting to soften...

Then add the mushrooms:

While that's going on, I'll get the cheese and eggs ready, pausing occasionally to stir.


I think I'm weighing that beautiful bowl because I'm going to grate the cheese directly into it to weigh the cheese. I'm using such a big mixing bowl because all the ingredients will end up in it.

And now, a brief disquisition on using old bits of cheese.

~ Brief Disquisition On Using Old Bits of Cheese ~

This bake is lovely with excellent cheeses, but using fine cheeseboard-quality cheese to bake with makes me whimper, but it doesn't matter if the once-cheeseboard-quality cheese is a bit past its best, and getting all hard, and needing dodgy bits cut off it, and even the edible rinds are delicious in the bake, making little nuggets of slightly harder cheesiness. So if you're lucky enough to have a box of wonderful cheeses going past their best, get it out, have a good root through, and weigh up an assortment.

Look how beautiful they are! Look at all that rindy goodness! (I saved some of the rinds specially for this.)

Grate what can be grated, chop what can't into small bits, and sigh with wonder at the glorious cheese, which shall not be wasted.

~ We Have Now Finished The Brief Disquisition On Using Old Bits of Cheese ~

Crack the eggs in with the cheese (or before, as you will) and give it all a good stir together.

Check the lentils: pull them aside with a spoon and if there's no more water at the bottom, they're done.

You really don't need to own a mezzaluna, but I do own one, so I use it. Sometimes becuase there's a massive bundle of herbs to be chopped, sometimes because I just feel like saying the word. Mezzaluna...
Absent mezzalunas, a sharp knife with a curved blade does the job just as niftily. One hand holding the handle, the other on top of the blunt edge, and rock it up and down, back and forth, like a cheffy pro. 

 Sprinkle the rosemary into the just-about-cooked mushrooms. When mushrooms are cooked, they release a lot of water, so you want to keep cooking these until they've released all their water and most of it has evaporated. (Otherwise the bake ends up too wet.)

Grease your dish(es) and/or tin(s). I save old butter wrappers (preferably with some butter attached) and keep them folded up in the fridge, and then tear them in half for greasing the pan.

In case you're in any doubt what a greased pan looks like, there it is. Very much like marble.

My mushrooms have evaporated most of their water, the lentils are already cooked, the cheese is grated and mixed with the egg - time to add everything together!
NOTE: I didn't add the lentils to the egg & cheese yet, as their heat might cook the egg, so I add all the hot things to the egg & cheese together.

Now the size of that bowl comes into its own. Since watching the staff at Taylors make salads, using massive metal bowls to tong the ingredients together, I realised the wisdom of oversized mixing bowls: why carefully scrape and fold, to avoid a full bowl overfilling, when you can stir vigourously?
Bigger bowls!

 Scoop the mixture into its dish(es) - use a ladle if you have one, otherwise a cup does well - to about an inch thick. Pop them in the oven and set the alarm for 45 minutes! If you're parbaking one to freeze, take it out after 25 minutes.

 It's a schlepp to wash all those dishes - the lentil pot, the frying pan, and the mixing bowl - after all that cooking, BUT it's way more of a schlepp if you leave it, as the lentils are a mission to scrub off once they dry. Soldier on, mes braves!

This one's parbaked after 25 minutes, out the oven to cool, and will be frozen in that dish.
If I want to take it out the dish before freezing (I don't want my blue casserole dish in the freezer until we eat it), then I cook it right through, as it won't hold together nicely when it's parbaked.

Mushroom and lentil bake, on a bed of baby spinach, with a side salad as well, and a spicy tomato sauce on top.

Oh, look! Leftover bake! That'll be...

Lunch! Reheated because it was a cold day and I wanted something hot, some butter smeared on top to keep it from being a bit dry, served on some dressed lettuce, glowing in the angelic light of its own virtue.

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