EAT MORE LENTILS

Lentil Ragu with chestnut Mushrooms and Spinach

One of the first things we advise our patients with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or excess weight is to reduce the consumption of low-fibre starchy carbohydrates. We are now consuming these foods in excess, usually as the main bulk of our meals. These foods are quickly digested into their simple sugar building blocks (along with excess add sugar in our diets) and lead to peaks in blood sugar/ insulin response which is a great way to store fat and trigger cardiovascular risk factors. Typical examples in the UK are white flour products (e.g. bread), pasta, white rice and potato. Now, it’s important to be clear — we are not against these delicious foods but most of us are too reliant on these as our main staple.

What we are finding is that most of our patients respond with, “What then do we eat?”. The concept we want to highlight is of “CARB SWAPS” where we start to substitute some of these low-fibre, starchy, easy to digest carbohydrates with ones that are rich in protective fibre. Good for your cardiovascular system and increasingly recognised to be fundamental for the health of our microbiome (which in turn appears to be linked to everything from immunity to cardiovascular health and even mood).

Here we want to showcase a great CARB SWAP — LENTILS. We should all eat more lentils. They are delicious, cheap, easy to prepare and one of the highest fibre containing foods you can consume. This Lentil Ragu is a perfect illustration which can be eaten on its own as a vegetarian delight but works beautifully with chicken, fish or beef. In this case we have used cheap skirt steak to enhance the thrifty nature of the meal. The photo makes it look rather rare (which we do like) but perfectly acceptable to cook more.

Ingredients (this was cooked for 2.5 people):

  • Onion, one medium white or red finely chopped
  • Carrot, one finely chopped
  • Swede, same amount roughly as the carrot, finely chopped
  • Celery, small stick finely chopped
  • Garlic, 3 cloves finely chopped
  • Chestnut Mushrooms, double handful sliced
  • Spinach, large handful
  • Green or Puy Lentil, 40g per serving (3 handfuls for 2 people)
  • Extra-virgin Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Salt and Black Pepper
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Bunch of Parsley (if you have it)
  • Chicken stock (if you have it) or water to cover
  • Skirt steak in this case or chicken thighs would also work really well

Method:

  1. Wash the Lentils and then boil in plenty of water for around 15–20 minutes (depending on the instructions) until half to 2/3rds cooked. Drain and put aside.
  2. While the Lentils are cooking, heat a knob of butter with a drizzle of olive oil in a non-stick deep pan. Season the steak (or chicken cut into strips) and brown on both sides. Continue to cook the steak to your liking but the aim is to get some nice browning on the meat as this will add flavour to the main dish. Remove and put aside to rest.
  3. In the same pan (which should have some crispy meat residue bit and the reserved butter/ oil), soften the onion, carrot, swede, garlic and celery without too much colour (turn the heat down if required). After 5 minutes add the Mushrooms and cook until soft. Season to taste with Salt and Pepper.
  4. Now add the Lentils to the mix and cover the whole things with a large glass of chicken stock if you have it (or water if not). Good stock will give extra depth of flavour. Add a bunch of Parsley as a bouquet garni, cover and allow to cook together for around 15 minutes.
  5. By now the liquid should have reduced. If not cook uncovered for a little longer. You can then remove the Parsley and add the spinach. Once this has wilted and the lentils have a little ‘sauciness’ but not too much liquid add a knob of butter which will thicken the sauce and give it a rich shine. Now drizzle a little balsamic vinegar to give the whole things a turbo boost of flavour — once this has cooked out you do not want to taste any vinegar, just a mellow sweetness
  6. Check the seasoning and if the Lentils are tender you are ready to serve. Pile onto a large platter and finish with a drizzle of good extra-virgin Olive Oil. Place the meat on top and everyone can serve themselves at the table.

You have to try this one. Easy, delicious, versatile and healthy. Perfect with a side veg of steamed broccoli.

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