Dried chickpeas and lentils are long-life essentials for any pantry
Don’t panic if your supermarket has been cleared of all the cans of chickpeas and lentils in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The dried versions of these protein-rich pulses are cost-effective, easy to prepare and — last time we checked — there were plenty in store.
Chickpeas and lentils offer a great way of bulking up almost any dish; they're also delicious on their own when prepared with herbs, spices and olive oil.
Yes, it's more time-consuming to prepare the dry varieties from scratch but if you have a pressure cooker it’s done in a third of the time.
Once cooked, both types of pulses freeze well. Portion them into plastic containers or bags with amount required by your family. You could also cook them up with onions, garlic and tomatoes before freezing — this mix makes a handy base for the start of a soup or stew, can be added to pasta, and is tasty all on its own.
Think beyond hummus: chickpeas have a neutral flavour and so pair well with other ingredients. Use them to stretch meat and chicken dishes; they're particularly good in a tomato-based stew.
Roasted spiced chickpeas also make a wonderful snack: toss drained and cooked chickpeas in a little olive oil and then mix in the spice of your choice. Spread them on a baking tray and roast at 180°C till golden brown and a little crispy around the edges.
HOW TO COOK DRIED CHICKPEAS
On the stove:
It's best to soak chickpeas overnight in a large bowl of cold water, allowing space for the chickpeas to expand.
Drain the next morning, rinse well and place in a deep pan with enough water to cover. Add a pinch of bicarb (this makes them soften more quickly), a bay leaf, chopped onion and carrot, and boil till tender — this will take about 45-60 minutes. Add salt 20 minutes before the end of cooking as salt can cause the chickpeas not to soften.
In a pressure cooker or instant pot:
Cover the dried chickpeas with water, adding a pinch of bicarb (this makes them soften more quickly) and cook under pressure for 12-15 minutes. Drain, rinse well and season with salt.
Brown lentils are the most common variety, but there are red and green lentils too.
I find the red lentils to be the most versatile; they add a beautiful hue to any dish and are said to be the nuttiest. Use them to make dhals, a lentil curry or soup, or to thicken a dish. Bear in mind that they can lose their colour and become soft and mushy if cooked too long.
Green lentils are stronger and earthier in flavour. They take longer to cook than other varieties of lentils and don’t lose their firm texture. They're good for salads or added to casseroles and stews.
HOW TO COOK DRIED LENTILS
A cup of lentils will feed 6-8 people, depending on whether they are eaten on their own or the type of dish they're added to.
Before cooking these dried pulses, it's essential to rinse them in a sieve under running water and pick through them to remove any stones or foreign objects.
To cook them, place the rinsed lentils in a deep pot, adding 3 cups of liquid (water or stock) for every 1 cup of lentils. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and cook for 20 minutes if using for whole lentils; split red lentils will cook in about 10 minutes and green lentils may need another 10-15 minutes until they're tender. Salt can stop the lentils from softening, so it's best to add it at the end of cooking tip. Once cooked, drain and rinse the lentils before seasoning to taste.
Remember, dried lentils can also be added directly to a stew or soup after you've rinsed them. Add red lentils to a dish 15 minutes before the end of its cooking time; brown lentils 20 minutes before, and green lentils 30-40 minutes before. If salt has already been added to the dish, keep in mind that the lentils may need extra cooking before they are tender.