During my childhood, there were many influences on what we ate, and one of them was definitely the counter culture of the 1960s and 70s. [also the subject of a fantastic book I read recently, Hippie Food, that I highly recommend if you’re interesting in the full story of how we’ve all come to be eating rye bread, organic veggies and miso] My parents unsurprisingly had many friends also interested in alternative lifestyles, and we regularly had visitors to our bush property, for varying periods of time.
One of those who stayed for a few months was my parents’ friend Siobha, who lived on an ashram at the time. As a child of about 10 at the time, I was quite fascinated by her beliefs and practices, and would get up at dawn to help her collect the twigs and dry cow manure for the small fire she would build and then chant the Agnihotra mantra over, at sunrise, and at sunset. In fact I still remember the mantras to this day!
One of the meals that she cooked for us, and that then became a family favourite, was this dish of lentils and miso. I’m not sure what the exact derivation is, as spiced lentils are a pretty classic Indian dish, but the miso certainly isn’t, but wherever it comes from, the result is classic comfort food – a warm, spicy, umami filled bowl, with the contrast of the nutty brown rice. I love leftovers for breakfast or lunch with a fried egg and chives, as pictured at the top.
If you make it, feel free to vary the spices to your taste, the two key pointers are to use a dark miso (the exact type isn’t critical as long as it’s one of the darker styles) and to not add any extra salt as the salt in the miso should be ample. If you don’t like to use much salt, perhaps halve the miso, and check the flavour balance at the end before adding more. As always with these pulse based dishes, the flavour improves over time, so it’s a great one to make ahead, or use a planned leftovers. So confession time – what’s your favourite ‘hippie’ food?
Lentils and miso
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 2 medium onions
- 1 1/2 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 3 Tbs dark soy or barley (hatcho or mugi) miso
- 350g brown lentils
- 1 L water
- 2 bay leaves
- parsley and/or chives to serve (optional)
- brown rice to serve
Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and add the diced onion. Cook gently for about 10 minutes until soft, then add the spices and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the miso, until it’s mixed through evenly, then add the rinsed lentils (check for any small stones when you rinse), water and bay leaves.
Increase the heat, bring the the boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until lentils are tender and mixture is thick, about 30-40 minutes. While the lentils are cooking, cook the brown rice.
Serve lentils over rice, topped with chopped parsley. Leftover lentils are wonderful plain or with a fried egg and chives, and last well in the fridge.
Serves 4, plus leftovers for lunch