Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Finger on the pulse

We've just returned from a fab fortnight in the Auvergne (Central France). Despite the snobbery with which the food here is viewed in other parts of France ('peasant food' they say) well- call me a peasant but, reader, we ate really well.

The charcuterie served in the auberge on the plateau d'Ally was superb, their cheeses went down well with our group
and the vegetables everywhere were always prepared in the most delicious ways.

However, it was the Puy lentil which was the star of the show and this healthy little pulse is going to get a blogpost pretty much all of its own today.

A colleague at work asked me if I could feature some gluten-free recipes for her daughter who was recently diagnosed coeliac, and so, step into the spotlight please Mr Little Green Lentil.

Not only do these versatile little things make a lovely vegetable accompaniment or salad, they also grind down to make a gluten-free flour (similar to buckwheat in taste) so great for savoury pancakes and blinis.

Let's start with those crepes.
I got this recipe from the farmer at the local market in the village where we stayed. When I bought the flour from his stall he gave me a handmade recipe book, with his flour featured on each page. 
You can see more on his website:
100g lentil flour
100g corn flour (maizena)
2 eggs
400 ml milk
generous pinch of salt

Mix all together and beat well with a balloon whisk.
Heat a frying pan until smoking with a very small amount of flavourless oil and fry thin crepes, turning once with a palette knife. Stack on a plate until ready to use.
Lentil flour crepes

These pancakes are good with savoury fillings like ham and cheese, or mixed with cooked lentils, chopped spring onion or sweetcorn to make savoury drop scones. As blinis they go well with salmon or with a poached quail's egg on top (same farmer at the market was selling these.)

They are also lovely served galette-style as here in the picture, spread with pesto, pine nuts, ham and tomato.

Cooked Puy lentils make a delicious salad. To add a bit of interest, and texture, try serving them in a basket (as in this pic).

The basket here is made from filo pastry (not gluten free)- but you can achieve the same effect using one of the crepes above moulded over a tin or bowl and baked in the oven for 8-10 minutes at 160 degrees.

Once cool, fill with cooked lentils chopped spring onion and some lemon creme fraiche mixed together.

And now for the leftover lentils.

I love them as an accompaniment to sausages- meaty Toulouse ones are good- or topped with a salmon fillet.
Lentils with sausages

Salmon with lentils

Soften some onion and garlic, stir in the cooked lentils, add a chopped and peeled tomato, plenty of salt and pepper and a cupful of stock (a dash of mustard or Worcester sauce is good too) and simmer until all the stock has been absorbed.

Incidentally, you could achieve the crepe recipe with chick pea (gram) flour if that is easier for you to get.
If using this, you might like to try a Southern french delicacy- panisse.

These are particularly good if you crave something a bit indulgent and fattening. (If, like my colleague's daughter, you have only recently converted to a gluten-free diet- the lack of doughnuts, cakes and biscuits may seem particularly harsh.)

This is basically a chickpea dough, cooled and rolled into a log then deep fried and seasoned with loads of salt and pepper. It doesn't have to be log shaped however- you can cool it in a loaf tin and slice it into fingers or slices.

  • 1 litre water
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 1/4 cups (285g) chickpea flour
  • olive oil, for frying
  • coarse salt and freshly-cracked pepper, for serving
1. Lightly oil a 9-inch (23 cm) square cake pan, or similar sized vessel.
2. Heat the water with the oil and salt in a saucepan. Once hot, but not boiling, whisk in the chickpea flour.
3. Whisk over medium heat until the mixture thickens, about three minutes.
4. Switch to a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes until very thick and the batter holds its shape.
5. Scrape into the oiled pan and let cool.
6. To fry the panisses, unmould the solidified mixture on a cutting board and slice into batons about as wide as your fourth finger and as long as your middle one.
7. In a heavy-duty frying pan, heat 1/4-1/2 inch (1-2 cm) of olive oil. When shimmering hot, fry the panisses in batches, not crowding them in the pan. Once the bottom is nicely browned and crisp, turn with tongs, frying the panisses until they are deep-golden brown on each side.
8. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels, sprinkling them very generously with salt and pepper. Don’t be stingy with either. Continue frying the rest, heating more oil in the pan as needed.
Thanks to David Lebovitz for this summary of the recipe.

Loads of other gluten-free ideas by the way on

In the meantime- let's hear it for the lentil!

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