AUSTRIAN SWEET AND SOUR LENTILS
by Diana Henry
The French do lentils, the Italians do lentils and—joy of joys—the Austrians do, too, in their own inimitable way. If you have some home-cooked ham (and its stock), this dish is a knockout: you can flake some and stir it into the lentils instead of bacon. Just make sure your stock isn't too salty (sometimes it's unusable, in which case use chicken stock). This makes a great old-fashioned supper with sausages and buttered cabbage, and it's very good with roast pork for Sunday lunch.
Serves 8 as a side dish
For The Lentils
• 1 tbsp vegetable oil
• 6 oz bacon,chopped
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 carrot, diced
• 1 tbsp caraway seeds
• 2 tsp hot paprika
• 2 tsp sweet paprika
• 2¼ cups brown or green lentils
• 3 1/3 cups ham (preferred) or chicken stock
• 3 thyme sprigs
• 2 bay leaves
• 3 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
• good squeeze of lemon juice
• salt and pepper
• 1 tbsp superfine sugar, or to taste
• 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
• sour cream
• paprika (optional)
• 2 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
• 1 tbsp butter (optional)
1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan and add the bacon, onion, and carrot. Saute until the bacon is well-colored and the onion soft and golden. Add the caraway and paprikas and cook over a medium heat for another minute, to release the fragrance. Now stir in the lentils, making sure they get well coated, then add the stock, thyme, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 25-35 minutes, until the lentils are tender and the stock has been absorbed (brown lentils lose their shape more quickly than green ones so make sure they aren't overcooking).
2. Add the vinegar, lemon juice, and seasoning (you won't know until now how salty your lentils will be, as it depends on your stock and bacon). Add sugar to taste; the dish should have a good balance of sweet and sour, so go carefully. Stir in the parsley.
3. Serve with sour cream drizzled over the top (dilute with a little milk so it's a bit thinner). Either sprinkle the cream with a little paprika or fry the caraway seeds in the butter & drizzle that over.
Any extras can easily be made into soup (it's a good idea to plan leftovers so you can make this). Simply add water or stock and puree. If you prefer a chunky soup, add diced carrots, stock, and—later—frozen peas or canned drained and rinsed white beans. Lovely with a swirl of sour cream and a big handful of chopped fresh dill.