“Bakes” were the thing to cook back in our student days. We often made them for parties or family gatherings. At the time I chose lentils instead of nuts because not only were we nuts about stretching our student grant as far as it could go (nuts seemed expensive) but also preserving our waistlines. This long-forgotten recipe came flooding back as I told the following story to my friend.
It was in 1985. We were in the middle of a Halloween pot luck party at our student digs in Manchester when two young girls knocked on the door to “trick or treat”. They were both dressed in a black garbage bag and stripey pop socks. When asked to trick they boldly said; “Naw, we wont’ muney”. Being students, we didn’t have any so we invited them in and offered them an apple or candy. In fact, anything they wished for from the long, candle-lit table abundant with food and wine. They stood at the far end looking a little perplexed and alas, repeated point-blank “Naw, we wont’ muney”. The two girls sadly departed both disappointed and empty-handed, with neither trick nor treat to be given nor had.
Coming back to now and Zen, this story reminds of one of my favourite koans from the Mumonkan, Seizei the Poor.
Seizei, a zen student, comes to Master Sozan and asked, “I am poor and destitute. I beg you, oh Master, please help me and make me rich.”
Sozan said. “Venerable Seizei!”
“Yes, Master,” replied Seizei.
Sozan remarked, “having tasted three cups of the best wine, do you still say your lips are not yet moistened?”
The simple interaction between these two characters shows us we’ve always been rich. No need to go door to door dressed in a black garbage bag feeling poor and destitute.
It turns out that all these years later, Lentil Bake is just as popular now at Zen River as it was then in Manchester. These days I serve it with a home-made tomato sauce and lightly cooked carrots dressed in olive oil, parsley and a little fried garlic.
This recipe also happens to be vegan – unless you use eggs as the binder instead of chia seeds – and gluten-free. (If it sounds familiar, it was also published in the spring/summer 2016 Zen River Newsletter.)
200 g (1 cup) brown rice
200 g (1 cup) split moong dal (mung lentils) with skin, or other lentils with skin
825 ml (3½ cups) water
4 bay leaves
1 medium red onion
1 bell pepper
1 celery stalk
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons chia seeds and 120 ml (⅓ cup) hot water, or 2 eggs
140 g (½ cup) tomato paste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, or soy sauce
2 tablespoons fine cornmeal / polenta
- Rinse the rice and lentils with fresh water and drain through a sieve. Place them in a rice cooker with the water and bay leaves and turn on or; put in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil over a medium flame, turn down low then simmer, covered, until all the water is absorbed, about 20–25 minutes. The lentils and rice should be tender when done.
- Deseed the bell pepper and small-dice
- Peel the onion and small-dice.
- Peel and mince the garlic.
- Small-dice the celery stalk.
- Small-dice the bell pepper.
- Line a 30 cm (12 inch) loaf tin with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 190 °C (375 °F).
- Combine the chia seeds with the hot water and leave to soak until they become quite thick and gloopy, about 5 minutes.
- In a frying pan on medium flame, heat up the olive oil and stir-fry the onion, bell pepper and celery until they turn golden.
- Stir in the garlic and continue to stir-fry until fragrant. Next, add the basil and stir-fry for twenty seconds. Turn off.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the fried vegetables with the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, soaked chia seeds or eggs, and cornmeal.
- Next, mix in the cooked lentils and rice. Season to taste.
- Scoop the lentil mixture into the loaf tin, sprinkle with grated cheese if desired, and bake for 30–35 minutes or until golden on top.
- Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before taking out of the tin.
- Make the Tomato Basil Sauce while the lentils are baking.
Tip: Be sure to refrigerate within four hours of coming out of the oven. Slices well the next day. Re-heat thoroughly.
Tomato & Basil Sauce
400g (14 ounces) ripe vine tomatoes or 400 ml (1½ cups) diced, canned tomatoes, (about one can)
1 medium red onion
50 g (¼ cup) golden sultanas
240 ml (1 cup) water
1 tablespoon dried basil or 20 g bunch fresh basil
½ teaspoon chilli powder
Salt to taste
- If using fresh tomatoes, put them in a heatproof bowl, prick with a knife and cover with boiling water. When the peel splits – after about 1–3 minutes depending on their ripeness – take the tomatoes out and cover them with cold water. Peel and quarter. Set aside.
- Peel and roughly chop the onion.
- Place the tomatoes, onions, sultanas, water, basil and chilli powder in a pot. Set over a low flame and simmer 15–20 minutes.
- Whiz with an immersion blender or food processor until fairly smooth.
- Season to taste with salt.
- Serve with the Lentil Bake. Any leftover Tomato Sauce makes a great soup base or spaghetti sauce.