Some people say everything tastes better with bacon. For others it’s chocolate. For me, everything tastes better with – well, okay, butter of course, but I’m trying to make a different point here – with company. Eating is a profoundly social activity and I am a very social eater. I hate eating alone, even if it is the tiniest snack (my snacks are never tiny, but anyway). Apart from the actual eating (which I love), I so much enjoy the talking, laughing, caring for each other, and spending time together, that sharing a meal is as well. However, every now and then, a solitary supper all by myself, cuddled up in bed with a bowl of spoonable goodness can be a true solitary pleasure.
Sharing a meal is not only more fun than eating alone, it allegedly has some considerable further benefits: it is good for your health, it makes you happier (you also eat 30% more in company, but hey), and it also helps if you – say – want to unify Europe or something (true story). Yet sometimes, eating on your own simply can’t be avoided. So what to make of this? The best, I say. For turning the torture of having to eat alone into a treat I have come up with a routine. For my solo suppers I mostly prepare dishes that my usual and faithful co-eater and husband doesn’t care about or downright despises. Since I rarely cook them for the both of us and consequently eat them much less often than I would like to, spending an evening in their company is all the more gratifying. So whenever he’s out (like today) – there is things like horseradish, brothy dishes, curries, hot food, and most of all and regularly: lentils on my stove and plate.
These braised lentils tick all my personal boxes for a perfect solo supper: They are absolutely no-fuss, quick, and – key criterion – spoonable. In my vocabulary this means that you are able to eat something with a spoon only and that you also want to eat it with a spoon, because it’s just so delicious that you want to keep diving in. The recipe is from my friend Anka who prepared a huge wok of these lentils for her birthday party a few years ago, in her then tiny student’s one room & one person-apartment. I usually spend most of the evening in the kitchen when I’m at a private party. With Anka’s flat I could do that and simultaneously be in the living room. In-between all the people and conversation, I instantly and privately fell in love with Anka’s dish: the honest earthiness of the lentils with the crunch of the celery and the freshness of the tomatoes just wowed me, and when Anka (after I had, greedy as always, eaten my first spoonful before she deemed my plate complete) added Parmesan shavings and a good drop of fresh, green olive oil on top, she had me.
I stay completely true to the original simplicity of Anka’s recipe here. The only change I make is the lentils themselves: instead of using what are called “Tellerlinsen” (‘plate lentils‘) in Germany, I opt for the beluga variety. I love their blackness and wonderful nutty flavor. I do use salt in the broth for cooking, since I have never found that it stops lentils from softening, as is so often said. Nevertheless, I use it carefully, since I love to scatter crunchy flakes of salt on top of the drizzled olive oil later. From there it’s only this, a spoon, and me. Three’s good company.
Braised Beluga Lentils w/ Celery & Tomato
Active time: 5 minutes, cooking: 30 minutes
Ingredients (for 4, or 1 really greedy person)
2 cups beluga lentils
2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
whole thai chilies (dried or fresh, to your taste)
4 cups stock (I use vegetable stock)
4 branches celery
1 can (400 ml) tomato pulp
Parmesan cheese & additional olive oil for serving
Chop the onion and garlic in lentil size and sweat vitreous in olive oil. Add a pinch of salt from the start. Rinse the lentils under hot running water in a sieve, drain and add to the onions & garlic. Throw in the chilies and cover with stock and lid. Braise for about 15 minutes (don’t boil the lentils too fiercely, because this is what can eventually make them hard). Meanwhile wash and clean the celery, pull off any stingy bits and chop in pieces of about 1 cm. Add to the lentils with the tomatoes, add more water (washing out the can with it), if needed. Braise for about another 15 minutes until lentils are tender, season to taste with black pepper and – if needed – salt. Serve with olive oil drizzle and Parmesan shavings.