Happy weeekend, guys! I hope the sun is out for you and you have some nice things planned? We’ve just come back from a DIY store with some wall fixings as we plan to hang our 16 kg mantelpiece mirror on the wall of our living room today. We hope to do so without dropping it on any of our feet or it taking a chunk out of our newly restored floor. Wish us luck! We’ve obviously done our research and bought wall screws and plugs more than capable of sustaining the weight required, but it’s still a little nerve-wrecking, I won’t lie to you…
We’ve also ordered some DIY window shutters as our living room window is positioned in such a way that there is no room for a curtain pole above it. The current window pole is fixed within the architrave and it looks awful so we won’t be doing that. The shutters seem like a good idea and we can only hope that we have measured everything correctly and that our planned modifications to the windows (without which we would not be able to install shutters either) will work out, it’s a bit of a gamble but we took a long time to think about and we are confident that it will work out.
DIY aside, we are both on a bit of a fitness kick lately, doing a fair amount of HIIT and core exercises alongside running and it’s been a great strength and mood booster. I certainly notice that every time I finish, even if I had to drag myself to start in the first place, I’m on a massive exercise-induced high. I am working towards getting stronger and fitter, but losing a few excess kilos would be a nice bonus too. Duncan, who has been an exercise addict for a long time, is doing some crazy difficult Frank Medrano routine after he comes back from his runs and it is very motivating and impressive seeing how disciplined (without going overboard) about it he is. Something I’ve been trying to learn from him as I have not had great role models in this regard.
So because of our healthy living project and because most of you seem to prefer healthier savoury options also, I’m gravitating towards healthy, fibre-rich recipes lately, like this lentil and roast red pepper salad. Don’t worry, a cake or a cheeky little dessert will happen eventually, but I want to capitalise on this fitness streak as long as I can. This lentil salad is easy to make, perfect for batch prep and really satiating as it’s full of fibre, plant protein and slow release carbs. It can be served on a big serving platter as a salad or made into individual salad bowls where each component is kept separately when served. Whichever way appeals to you more, I hope you’ll enjoy its flavours and textures and incorporate more lentils into your diet.
- 150 g / ¾ cup dry black speckled lentils* (Puy)
- 2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dry
- 4″ / 10 cm square piece of kombu (optional)**
- 2 Ramiro red peppers
- ½ cup walnuts
- ¼ red onion, diced very finely
- small bunch of fresh parsley, chopped very finely
- a few sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
- 100 g / 3½ oz salad mix (I used red leaf and rocket / arugula)
- vegan feta, homemade (see below) or shop-bought
- 45 ml / 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tsp extra for peppers
- 45 ml / 3 tbsp quality balsamic vinegar***
- salt and pepper, to taste
VEGAN FETA (make a day in advance)
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 small garlic clove
- 3 tbsp unsweetened plant milk
- ½ tsp salt, adjust to taste
- 100 g / 1 cup flaked almonds, soaked in boiling water for at least 30 min
- 2 tsp white miso paste
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 2 tsp agar powder or 2 tbsp agar agar flakes (optional, see point 4 in vegan feta)
- Combine olive oil and balsamic vinegar together in a bowl, whisk them both well to obtain a viscous emulsion.
- Season to your taste.
- Rinse the lentils, place them in a medium pot with bay leaves and kombu (if using). Don’t add salt as it will make your lentils tough. If using kombu, be sure to remove it after about 10 minutes as it will eventually become slimy and fall apart and stick to the lentils.
- Bring the lentils to a simmer. Simmer, on a low heat, for about 20-25 minutes – keep an eye on the lentils towards the end of the cooking time to make sure they do not overcook. Test one to be sure they are done to your liking, drain and set aside to cool.
- Heat up a griddle pan on a low-medium heat. Brush the peppers with a little oil and place them on the hot pan. Grill for a few minutes on each side until nicely charred, take off the heat and place on a plate covering with a big, upside down, bowl – it will make skin removal easier. If you don’t have a griddle pan you can roast your peppers under an oven grill instead.
- Toast the walnuts on a dry frying pan, tossing them now and then so that they do not burn. They are ready when lightly charred and fragrant. Set aside to cool and chop roughly.
- Remove the skins from the peppers, deseed them and slice them diagonally across.
- Combine cooled lentils, with finely diced onion, most of the parsley and thyme – leave some for decoration. Dress with some of the prepared dressing, adjust seasoning to taste. Scatter on a platter with salad leaves and roasted peppers. Decorate with chunks of feta and roasted walnuts. Drizzle with the remaining dressing and scatter with leftover herbs.
VEGAN FETA (make a day in advance)
- Place the lemon juice, garlic, plant milk, a good pinch of salt and rinsed almonds in an blender (Ninja blender works well here).
- Blend until smooth, using a spatula to return the mixture that stays on the walls of your blender back to the centre. The mixture will eventually get really thick and the blender will struggle. I have a little trick to combat this, but please be very careful as it requires you to have the lid off while the blender is running. I slide my spatula flat against the wall of the blender and ever so slightly push the mixture into the centre, which sort of feeds it back into the blades again and prevents an air bubble from forming underneath the surface. I keep on doing that while the mixture is blending, being extra careful that I go nowhere near the blades. This technique allows me to get the mixture super smooth and creamy, but use it at your own discretion.
- Taste and adjust the amount of salt and lemon juice to taste. Add miso and nutritional yeast at this point if using. Don’t worry if the mixture tastes quite strong at this point, it will mellow out during the next two stages of preparation.
- Prepare / activate agar in 3 tbsp of water, according to the instructions on the packet. Add the resulting gel to the ‘cheese’ mixture quickly and blend until smooth. Alternatively, if you don’t have agar agar, allow the mixture to drain and then bake it as in this recipe.
- Transfer your mixture to a cheesecloth-lined container (I used this tofu press for this) and place in the fridge overnight to set.
**Adding a piece of kombu (sea kelp) to pulses makes them easier to digest and minimises unpleasant symptoms that pulses are so famous for 😉 . I don’t bother with chickpeas as they don’t give me any trouble, but lentils seem to agree with me less and simmering them with kombu really does the trick. Kombu can be found online or in an Asian grocer’s.
***For a salad dressing, I highly recommend buying high quality (65% of grape must) balsamic vinegar as it’s much more flavoursome. It is considerably more expensive than the cheap stuff but its flavour is so concentrated that a little goes a long way.