cabbage with lentils and peperoncino

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Yes, yes. I know. The first time I saw this recipe header, my eyes skipped straight to the next page, too: lentils? and cabbage? I can think of far nicer things to put in my mouth, thanks, like for starters this lamb, beer and black bean chilli right across the page. It turns out, though, that this harsh judgement was grossly unfounded. Far from being the boring health-fest that I’d imagined – you know, the kind of thing that people on the cabbage soup diet might eat as a treat, if they were feeling really naughty – this has become one of my favourite weekday, easy-to-knock-together meals. Instincts, you have failed me. (Yes, again).

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After dismissing the recipe as fit only for masochists, I happened to pick up the same recipe book a bit later on in the month (like, three-days-before-payday later), and suddenly – in the way these things do – the whole idea seemed much more appealing. Something to use up that manky half head of cabbage in the fridge? Plus a 57p tin of lentils, and that half a lemon that’s been knocking around for longer than I’m prepared to publicly admit? Fantastic! And oh, what I’d been missing.

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I’ve made this both with spring greens and Savoy cabbage, and although you can use whatever’s in the fridge, I much prefer this with Savoy. The peperoncino dressing – made up of olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, parsley, and salt and pepper – clings perfectly to the crinkles in the shredded leaves, providing a bright, delicious contrast to the lentils.

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cabbage and lentils with peperoncino

From Diana Henry’s Food from Plenty. Don’t worry about finding fancy lentils – I have made these with super-cheap no-name lentils and with posh ones (I was in a farm shop and they called out to me. What? This doesn’t happen to everyone?), and I preferred the cheap ones.

Enough for 2.

1 x 400g tin brown or puy lentils (or 125g dried)
1/2 head spring greens, or 1/4 small Savoy
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes, or to taste
1 tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
juice 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

If you are less lazy than me, and using dried lentils, cook them in enough water to cover for around 20 minutes, until they are tender but not mushy. Otherwise, drain the tin and rinse well.

Meanwhile, remove the tough ribs from the cabbage leaves and cut into 1-2cm strips. Heat 1 tbsp oil over a medium heat in a large frying pan or wok (I always use a frying pan, and always wish I’d used a wok. You would think I would learn, but apparently not). Add the shredded cabbage, and stir fry for a couple of minutes before adding the garlic and chilli flakes. Continue stirring for around 4 minutes, until the garlic is pale gold and the leaves have wilted.

Drain the lentils, add to the pan with the cabbage, and – if using tinned – heat through briefly until warm. Dress with the remaining ingredients. This can be served hot, warm or at room temperature. I am perfectly content to eat a bowlful just on its own.

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