Out of all the recipes I have in my files (and there are A LOT of them!), there are a select few that come under the heading of “really useful”. That doesn’t mean the others are no good. Not at all. It’s just there are some which are so adaptable you can create a fabulous range of dishes using just one base recipe. This delicious lentil ragu is definitely a key player in that group.
Easy to make, full of accessible ingredients and packed with flavour, this ragu can be used for:
- pasta dishes like spaghetti bolognese, lasagne or stuffed cannelloni.
- stuffing veggies like squash or courgettes.
- creating bakes with aubergine and sweet potato
- a simple baked potato filling
There’s enough ideas there to keep you going for a couple of weeks! Not that I would suggest you have the same thing every day as both you and your gut microbes would get a bit bored. But you get the idea 😉
I like to use Puy lentils or these lovely coral lentils from Hodmedod’s** in my ragu because they keep their shape, are dark in colour and provide a little texture. However, you can use any type of lentil depending on what you have to hand, although I suggest avoiding split red lentils are they will just go mushy and affect the texture. Which I think is important in ragu.
Lentils are a fabulous ingredient to include in your diet. Indeed, all pulses are as they provide key nutrients essential for a healthy plant-based diet. And as they are a whole-food, lentils really are nutrient-packed as nothing has been taken away.
Here’s some headline facts about lentils:
- they’re a great source of plant protein – roughly 12g in a 125g portion of cooked lentils which makes a great contribution to your daily intake of this important macro nutrient.
- lentils are gluten free, which makes them a great inclusive ingredient to use when you are cooking for someone with a gluten allergy or intolerance.
- packed full of fibre, a 125g portion provides roughly 9g of fibre which is a third of the daily recommended amount (although 21g of fibre a day isn’t really enough for a healthy gut, but that’s for another day). If you want to know more about why fibre is so important, check out this blog post.
- lentils are a good source of non-haem iron, ie: iron that comes from plants not from animals. Non-haem iron is less inflammatory for the body which is good news. However, it can be hard to absorb for some people so being aware of which foods are a good source is important when following a plant-based diet.
- as well as iron, lentils are a great source of folate. This water soluble B-vitamin is important for healthy red blood cells and nerve cells. Anaemia can be a problem for many people (not just non-meat eaters either!) so consuming a food that contains nutrients like iron and folate can help prevent anaemia, particularly in women of child-bearing age.
- lentils are also a good source of potassium. Consuming enough potassium is just as important as reducing salt intake when it comes to blood pressure management.
Isn’t it wonderful that you can eat awesomely tasty food AND look after your health at the same time?
The downside of using harder lentils like Puy is time – they do need a bit of soaking before cooking. If you’re organised, you can leave them to soak overnight or before you go out to work in the morning. Soaking in hot water can reduce this time. If you forget, you can use unsoaked lentils, but you’ll need to allow for a longer cooking time.
If you just don’t have time for all that, then tinned cooked lentils are a good alternative. Try finding Puy if you can. Cooked green lentils also work, but can go mushy quite rapidly, so only add these right at the end of cooking the sauce. Make sure you give them a good rinse and drain before adding them to the pan too.
Another option is to buy packets of cooked Puy lentils like these ones from Merchant Gourmet. They’re not the most cost-effective option (buying uncooked lentils, soaking and cooking at home are the cheapest) but they are the most convenient. They’re often on offer in the supermarkets, so it’s worth stocking up when the opportunity arises.
I’ve included a good dash of red wine in the recipe, but if you can’t tolerate it or just want to omit it, then feel free to do so. Replace it with vegetable stock. I find it helps to deepen the flavour, but still tastes wonderful without.
And as for flavour, this is one of those recipes where making it in advance is a real advantage as it develops over time. Which is great if you’re busy and like to batch cook. It also freezes well, so you can cook double or even quadruple amounts and then have portions in the freezer ready for when you need them. Of course, that’s as long as no-one comes along and eats it all before you can get it there!
I hope you enjoy this delicious whole-food, nutrient-packed, gluten free plant-based ragu (yup, ticked all those boxes!) and that you feel inspired to create all sorts of tasty dishes with this awesome base recipe. Do let me know how you get on.
** If you’ve not come across Hodemedod’s before, do go and have a look at their website https://hodmedods.co.uk. . They sell an amazing range of UK grown beans, pulses and grains, many of which are normally grown overseas. I bought this lovely lot last week and am thinking up all sorts of recipes.
They’ve found a way of growing them in Britain, making them more sustainable. Which is very exciting and I really want to spread the word so more people know about their fabulous products and buy them. Which will encourage more farmers to do the same and make our plant agriculture more viable and an increasingly attractive option to animal agriculture, which has a huge impact on the environment (see this latest report to show just how much difference it makes). My passionate rant is now over!
- 1 medium sized onion finely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large stick celery finely chopped
- 1 large carrot finely chopped
- 2 fat garlic cloves finely diced or grated
- 1/2 bunch flat leafed parsley chopped
- 100 g dried green or brown lentils or 250g cooked Puy or green lentils
- 100 ml vegan red wine
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 400 ml passata
- 300 ml vegetable stock omit if using cooked lentils
- salt and pepper to taste
- If you are using uncooked lentils, rinse them in a sieve under running water then place in a large bowl. Cover with plenty of water and leave to soak for around 2 hours. Drain and rinse again - they're then ready to use in the recipe.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of water in the base of a large pan and add the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaves. Sauté for 10 minutes on a low heat until soft. Stir from time to time and add a little more water if needed so it doesn’t stick.
- Add the garlic, chopped parsley and cook for another couple of minutes.
- ** If you are using tinned or cooked packet lentils, do not add them to the pan at this point but add the other ingredients (except the vegetable stock) to create the sauce.**Add the soaked and drained lentils to the pan with the dried herbs. Stir well, then add the wine. Let it bubble for a couple of minutes then pour in the passata, vegetable stock and paprika. Stir well.
- Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on for 15-20 minutes until the veggies and lentils are cooked and the sauce has thickened. Season with salt and pepper.**If using tinned or pre-cooked lentils, once the veggies in the sauce are cooked, stir in the lentils and simmer for a couple of minutes. That's all they'll need.**
- Leave to cool if you're not using immediately and store in an air-tight container in the fridge. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves before using the ragu sauce.