Lentils with chorizo could be Spain’s national dish – often found cooked at home, on the menú del día in restaurants and out in the fields with farm workers and drovers. It’s thought the dish originated in the province of Ávila and spread throughout Spain during the 19th Century. You will find many variations, depending on the family, region and what’s to hand. The secret to making it right, is to keep it simple stupid – don’t throw the kitchen sink in there!
Beans and pulses are incredibly popular in Spain – in previous centuries, they sustained the poor, while the nobility feasted on meat, fish and game. Lentils (Lens Culinaris) are probably the oldest domestic pulse crop, originating in the Middle East and Asia, which makes them one of our earliest food sources. There are (surprisingly) far more varieties than the common, brown, green and red. The annual bushy plants produce a lens shaped seed, hence lentil. These nutritious seeds can be dried and will last for years if stored correctly, making them a perfect food in a time before cans and refrigeration. In Spain, Pardina Lentils are one of the most popular varieties – they have a nutty flavor, can be cooked from dry (without soaking) and hold their shape during cooking (instead of turning to mush). These days they are grown in huge quantities in America and Spain imports about 95% of the Pardina lentils it consumes.
Pardina Lentils and Chorizo recipe (serves 3 – 4):
1 chorizo picante ring (sliced)
3 rashers of streaky bacon (sliced)
a piece of jamón serrano (or small ham bone)
1 large Spanish onion (chopped)
6 pieces garlic (finely chopped)
1 sweet red pepper (chopped)
1 large potato (cubed)
1 carrot (sliced)
4 large tomatoes (grated)
1/2lb dry pardina lentils
1 teaspoon pimentón de la vera dulce
2 bay leaves
extra virgin olive oil
a splash sherry vinegar
1 1/2 pints water
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Peel and slice the chorizo, then brown it slightly in extra virgin olive oil. You could just throw it in with all the ingredients, but caramelising it first adds an import dimension to the flavour of the stew. Once browned, remove to a plate. When times are hard, people use a small piece (an inch or two) of chorizo as the flavouring for this dish, instead of it being a the main feature. A chorizo ring can go a long way on a tight budget.
Similarly, brown the bacon and add it to the chorizo plate. Bacon is an optional extra here, for those not having jamón serrano to hand (or a ham bone).
Using the same (now flavoured) olive oil, gently caramelise the onion until it goes sticky and starts to melt.
When the onion is caramelised, add the garlic and grate in 4 tomatoes to make a sauce.
This is the process of making a sofrito (sofregit in Catalan) and building up flavour.
Mix in the chopped carrot, red pepper and cubed potato, followed by the chorizo, bacon and pimentón.
Add the rinsed lentils, plus bay leaves, a piece of jamón serrano
and pour on 1 1/2 pints of water.
The piece of jamón serrano (or bone) in the dish is for flavour. This is normally an off cut and not the finest meat (people keep end bits in the freezer specifically for this purpose). Whole air dried country hams, in a rack (jamónera), are a common sight in Spanish kitchens and in the market, one can buy tacos (small pieces) of jamón, cheaply – these are the pieces that can’t be sliced nicely off a ham. Outside of Spain, a regular ham bone or bacon will suffice. The jamón will fall apart during cooking.
Bring the lentils and chorizo to a simmer and add salt and pepper to taste, along with a splash of sherry vinegar (red wine vinegar or balsamic can be used as a substitute). Cook covered, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. This dish can also be cooked in a pressure cooker (on high) for 15 – 20 minutes, but do fry the chorizo and caramelise the onions before putting the lid on.