…and lentejas Or embutits and llenties if we’re staying all Catalan, but spiced sausages and lentil stew are such pan-iberian staples that it seems best to stick to the more familiar terms.
This is comfort food and convenience food both. Lentils offer all the wonderful, winter-warming goodness of other legumes but without the need to be organised enough to plan ahead and soak them. If I’m on top of my game enough to do that I’ll probably make some escudella or something else with chickpeas but, let’s be honest, usually I’m not. When I need a quick, store-cupboard special to feed the family and my wife also needs leftovers for a tupperware lunch the next day, lentils come to the rescue.
Convenience food for me means not having to go to the shops. That means having certain ingredients in all the time and for lentejas, the best option I’ve found are packets of embutido from Biobardales (www.biobardales.com).
These are sold under the title of preparado legumbres and are a very high-quality quick fix. Consisting of organic pancetta, morcilla (blood sausage) and chorizo (paprika pork sausage), they tick all of my right-on, handwringing liberal foodie boxes: organic, from animals reared under high standards of welfare, no hidden nasties (sea salt is the only preservative here), delicious and long-lasting — the vacuum packs will keep perfectly for 5 or 6 months. The only downside is, obviously, price. A pack of two small sausages and a chunk of pancetta sells for €3.45 which is not exactly a comfortable fit with the whole peasant chic vibe of lentejas but my attitude in this instance tallies with Adriá’s: “Better a good sardine than a not-so-good lobster.” €3.45 is hardly a bank-breaker and a little goes a long way.
I buy mine at Biospace (www.bioespacio.com, C/ Valencia 186), which in many respects is a mecca for Barcelona foodies. You will find the best organic meat counter in the city, it is (to the best of my knowledge) the only place to buy organic pig’s trotters and other offal and generally it’s a bit of a cornucopia of gastronomic treats. It’s also expensive. Brutally, crushingly, expensive.
Allow me a blog meander here. I’m a flag-waver for organic food. It’s better for the environment: I’m all for that. It often, though by no means always, tastes better. It may be better for us though I’ve yet to see any convincing evidence. When my daughter was in the womb and extremely young I erred on the side of caution and fed her (and her mother) pretty much exclusively clean, organic, un-messed-about-with food. Now she’s a bit older, and has to have an immune system robust enough to deal with the pollutions, stresses and strains of normal city living, I don’t worry as much. I don’t think we as a species are that fragile. Nevertheless, as a family we still eat a fair amount of organic produce. Generally this has nothing to do with its “organic” label and more to do with what really matters to me, namely: ethical production — was it humanely reared and slaughtered? (in Spain this is incredibly difficult to ascertain with the majority of meat and poultry. Organic suppliers are usually more transparent) and flavour — does it taste good? Many organic producers become so because of their desire to create a superior product.
So there’s no idealogical bias from me but I do have a strong predisposition towards favouring this stuff. Unfortunately, reality — in the form of a freelancer’s income and the need to plan for the future of my family — precludes taking a gung-ho, bank-manager-be-damned hardline on such matters. I simply can’t afford to regularly buy much of what is on sale at Biospace, regardless of how good it may or may not be. For me it is a place to pick up a few choice ingredients.
And, seguing back into what I was saying, one of them is the Biobardales embutido.
Telling you, dear reader, how to make lentil stew is almost certainly commensurate with teaching granny how to chupar los huevos, should she be that sort of good old girl, but for the sake of blog completeness, here’s a rough guideline with which to start.
For 4, or 2 plus lunch the next day, and enough to feel a toddler too if you have some nice bread and maybe a dessert, which I’d suggest anyway. Oh, it’s stew: a pan-full.
- 250g pardina lentils.
- 1 onion, one stick of celery, one large or two small carrots — diced.
- One packet of Biobardales preparado legumbres. Sliced, diced or whatever takes your fancy.
- A clove or two of garlic.
- Tomato? Be my guest. Optional but will do no harm at all.
- Potato? Likewise. Add 1/2hr from the end of cooking if you must. Those who say potatoes and lentils must never mix have never been to Spain.
- Some ground cumin — freshly ground for preference. Half a teaspoon-ish.
- Cloves. Easy now. A tiny pinch of ground or maybe 2 or 3 whole if you’re grinding your own.
- A pinch of dried chilli. Unless you’re adapting this and using spicy chorizo, in which case, well, use your own judgement.
- A bay leaf.
Should you find yourself in the happy position, as I did recently, of having some chopped-up iberico ribs to go in too, then you should certainly use them. On the other hand, if you are truly pressed and you find yourself lacking certain vegetables or spices then I would recommend these:
Also from Biospace. I’m not a professional chef. I neither fear nor denigrate the stock cube. These, with no added salt, no artificial flavours or colours and with a deep vegetable flavour — plus the wonderful advantage of staying good for months in my fridge — have come to the rescue of many a meal. Ideal? No. Probably not for dinner parties but for a Wednesday supper they’ll do a great job.
You don’t need me to tell you how to make lentil stew. Dice the pancetta. Fry until the fat runs then brown the ribs if you have them. Remove, add the veg and soften. Add lentils and stir through. Season, add sausages, add spices then put the ribs and pancetta back in the pan and cover the lot with water or stock. Give it an hour and a half on a low simmer, checking for seasoning all the time.
This is different every time I make it. Sometimes I’ll have some some sofregit to give a rich, sweet depth to it. Sometimes I’ll add some garam masala and liven it up a bit. It’s home cooking, not restaurant. Get some good bread and tuck in. A big bowl of this, some crusty bread and a bottle of cheap but decent red like this Somontano…
…and you’re set for the evening. Kids love lentil stew too: the strong flavours, hidden meaty treasures and finger food — the ribs – -seem to keep them happy.
This post isn’t a recipe, just a vaguely-waving hand of direction towards a meal that anyone can make, simply, cheaply and quickly. It’s muy autentico, very tasty, very healthy and very cheap. Get stuck in.