Lentils are so useful in the kitchen. I add the little red split ones to all sorts of things to bulk them out, stretch them further or just to add a different dimension of texture. A spoonful or two in a stew thickens the gravy nicely as it cooks, without the need for any artificial jiggery-pokery, and you can stretch a small quantity of minced beef further if you add half the quantity of lentils to whatever you're cooking and simmer with some stock. Pulses are cheap, especially if you buy the bags of dried ones which you soak and cook for yourself. More and more, too, I find that my children adore pulses of all kinds and will enthusiastically devour just about anything that is accompanied by lentils, chock-full of chickpeas or studded with red kidney beans.
For a meal or side dish, though, you'd be hard pressed to beat the beautiful, pebbly, French lentilles de Puy. Once a recherché resident of upmarket and continental grocers, they can now (thanks largely to Merchant Gourmet) be found in even the smaller supermarkets. This little one-pot meal shows them off to their best, cooked simply with sausages for an unfussy, but still somehow rather special, family supper.
Sausage & Lentil Braise
The pork chop was added really because I had one that needed to be used; you could easily leave it out, though I do think it adds to the flavour of the juices and to the 'feastliness' of the meal as a whole.
1 leek, shredded
50ml vermouth (or white wine)
250ml Puy lentils
1 or 2 pork chops, bone-in please
6-10 coarse pork sausages
Heat a little fat in a flameproof casserole and soften the leeks with some finely chopped fresh thyme. Add the lentils to the pan, stirring to coat them in the fat, then pour in the vermouth or wine and allow the alcohol to bubble away. Pour in 500ml water, then lay the pork chop and sausages in the pan. Bring to the boil, then cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve straight from the pan, possibly (if you can stand the extra carbs) with some nice bread for mopping up the juices.