Today I started listening to music from my teenage years after Spotify suggested I listen to lo-fi band Low’s song Sunflower, which I use to love but had forgotten about over the years. Hearing it made me so moved that I started compiling a playlist of songs from that time of my life. I added a few songs by Bjork, PJ Harvey, Gillian Welch, and Sparklehorse… And even just listening to those few tracks was almost too much to bear, nostalgia wise. OTT nostalgia session! It’s amazing how the brain makes connections to music, and that it can bring back old memories that make you feel as strongly as if they were happening today. You can totally forget about a favourite song, but hear it again and you’ll remember all the lyrics and melody in an instant.
Leek is a bit of a forgotten veg, an afterthought of the onion world. Whenever I use them I remember all the great meals I’ve made with them: leek-filled Chinese dumplings, roasted leeks, ginger and lime fried leeks and Brussel sprouts, countless soups. I remember how beautifully tender and creamy they become when cooked, their sweet onion flavour and beautiful hue. But every year when their season comes around I don’t even think to get leeks until they turn up in my vegetable box… Then just one recipe and I’m reminded about all their cooking virtues, and consequently go on a bit of a seasonal binge.
This lentil and leek ragù is no exception. The leek gives this sauce a creamy and sweet undertone to counter balance the heartier lentil. A good dose of garlic is added towards the end to amp up the flavour and antioxidants, making this meal both moreish and good for you! What’s more, my partner Kirk even says this is the best pasta I’ve ever made – and we eat our fair share of pasta!
I like to use all parts of the leek, not just the white and light green parts that are more commonly used. I just find it so wasteful to only use the white part when there must be loads of vitamins in the dark green leaves – plus, they taste great! Just remove any yellowing leaves and trim them of any dry ends.
Parmesan has always been an ingredient I have avoided. It’s not because it doesn’t taste great, but because I’ve never found a animal rennet-free variety. This sunflower and cashew parmesan works wonders as an alternative – it’s super tasty and once you’ve made a jar, you’ll find yourself putting it on absolutely everything from pizza to salads! Just a little warning! Xx
Lentil and Leek Ragù with Sun Cashew Parmesan
You can use any type of lentil that keeps their shape once cooked – I have listed my two favourites below but you could also use a varietal such as red persian lentils or similar. Any amount of pre-soaking in cold water will speed up the cooking times of the lentils, as well as make them easier to digest. Lentil cooking times also depend upon their size and how old they are. I often cook lentils in large batches ahead and refrigerate / freeze them in portions for using in recipes such as this one – it makes it so much quicker! You can also use canned lentils in a pinch – you’ll need about 1 and a half 400g cans. I use the whole of the leek as I believe it’s wasteful to leave the darker green ends, and they taste great! Trim the ends of any dry bits and make sure you wash them well to avoid any grit. I add garlic at the end of cooking for both flavour and health properties, feel free to add at the beginning of cooking if you prefer a more mellow flavour – add in the last minute of cooking the leeks.
Parmesan recipe adapted from Minimalist Baker.
Serves 4 and about 1 cup of parmesan.
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 40 min
Lentil and Leek Ragù
115g | 1/2 cup dried beluga or Puy lentils (preferably soaked) ** see note
325g | 1 large leek, both white and green parts halved lengthways and cut into 1 cm slices
50ml | 2.5 tbls olive oil
2 x 400g cans diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp sea salt (+ more to taste)
A handful of fresh spinach, chopped (optional)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Black pepper, to taste
Fresh basil leaves, to serve
Sun Cashew Parmesan
75g | 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
65g | 1/2 cup raw cashews
15g | 3 tbls nutritional yeast flakes
3/4 tsp sea salt
To make the ragù: Rinse the lentils well and bring them to a boil with plenty of fresh water in a covered medium saucepan over high heat. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook until just tender, but still retaining their bite. Test them regularly so as to not overcook them, unsoaked lentils will be done in about 20 min, soaked lentils closer to 12 min. Drain well.
Meanwhile, thoroughly wash your leek by submerging the slices in a large bowl or sink filled with water. Rub them between your hands to remove dirt, and let them soak a little till the dirt sinks to the bottom of the water. Drain well in a colander.
In a deep fry pan (skillet) or wide saucepan, cook the leeks with 1 tbls of olive oil till soft and fragrant – 5 min. Add the cooked lentils, tomato, and salt and bring to a boil before lowering to a simmer and cooking, uncovered for 10 min, stirring regularly. This will reduce the ragù for a richer flavour by removing excess water.
Stir in the spinach (if using), and cook for a minute to let it wilt. Use your spoon to make a well in the centre of the pan and add the remaining olive oil and the garlic. Cook for a further minute or two till fragrant and then stir through the ragù. Taste and season with plenty of black better and any additional salt, if desired.
Serve over your favourite pasta (buckwheat rice pasta is pictured above), your favourite grain, polenta or a baked potato. Top with fresh basil leaves and plenty of sun cashew parmesan.
Keep any remaining ragù in an airtight container refrigerated for up to 5 days. Freezes well.
To make the parmesan: Whizz up all the ingredients in a food processor till a fine powdery crumb. Taste and add more salt if desired. Store in an airtight jar in the fridge, will keep for at least a month. Sprinkle on top of pasta, pizza, salads, roast veg, or anywhere else you’d use regular parmesan!
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