Arabesque Lentil and Tomato Braise with Mint Labne
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Standing time: overnight
Cooking time: low 8–11 hours, high 4–5 hours
These lentils, spiced with cinnamon and cumin and sweetened with fresh dates, are given a sharp tangy burst with the addition of preserved lemon just before serving. Lentils come in a rainbow of colours, if somewhat muddy in tones, yellow, salmon pink, brown, grey and bush-green. Red lentils, which require no soaking before cooking, will fall quickly into a bland mushiness soaking up the flavours that surround it. Brown and green lentils, which will hold their shape and thus are better used in salads and stews, have a gutsier and often spicier taste, and can have their cooking time sped up by pre-soaking for 3–4 hours beforehand. Lentils contain a whopping 25% protein, making them nutritionally valuable to keep on hand, if only to thicken a casserole. To balance this spicy sweet lentil dish I made labne, a fresh yoghurt cheese flavoured with mint, and served it with crispy pita toasts. Labne is easy to make, requiring only a night in the fridge to drain, and can be used as a spread or dip.
- 500 grams plain unsweetened yoghurt
- 1 teaspoon dried mint
- 2 cups green or brown lentils
- 3–4 firm ripe pears, quartered
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 4 cups vegetable stock or water
- 2 x 400-gram cans Moroccan flavoured tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons cumin and lemon seasoning
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 preserved lemon, halved
- 12 fresh dates, stoned and halved
To make the mint labne, stir the yoghurt and mint together. Place a clean cloth or muslin square into a sieve and place it over a basin.
Spoon the yoghurt mixture into the cloth. Bring the ends together and tie the cheese into a tight ball, securing with string. Tie knots in the end of the cloth so you can hang the bag from a wooden spoon over a deep bowl.
Place in the fridge to drain overnight. The next day, season the mix with salt to taste. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container and use within one week.
To make the braise, turn the slow cooker on to low to pre-warm while gathering and preparing the ingredients.
Wash the lentils and drain well. Peel and core pears if wished.
Into the pre-warmed slow cooker put the lentils, pear, garlic, stock or water, tomatoes, cumin and lemon seasoning, bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Stir well to mix the ingredients as evenly as possible, and cover with the lid.
Cook on low for 8–11 hours or on high for 4–5 hours, or until the lentils are tender. Season with salt before serving.
Wash the lemon well. Scoop out and discard the soft pulpy flesh. Slice the peel finely and stir into the lentils with the dates.
- If you do not have the cumin and lemon seasoning, use 1½ tablespoons ground cumin and the grated rind of 2 lemons.
- Use dried beans such as baby lima or navy beans in place of lentils. Don’t forget to soak them overnight and adjust the cooking time as required.
- Add extra stock or water if required.
- Add 4–5 quartered artichoke hearts before serving.