Lentily Lecho Laghman

21 October 2021

Greetings from Tashkent, Uzbekistan where KCC has been based for the last three weeks on a foodie fact finding mission. Uzbekistan is the land of plov, but is also home to a wide range of pasta dishes such as manti (dumplings), laghman noodles and many cousins of ravioli.

The autumn pickling and preserving season is in full swing with vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes and aubergines cheap and abundant. Our friend gave us a jar of her homemade lecho, a pepper, tomato and onion stew, with herbs and spices added according to your taste. Lecho originated in eastern Europe, so you should be able to track down a jar in your local Polish shop.

We decided to cook up this lecho with some courgettes and protein-rich red lentils to make a tasty laghman noodle sauce. One of the advantages of being in Central Asia is the ready availability of fresh, hand-pulled noodles in the shops, but if you don’t have access to laghman noodles where you are, then try making your own. Check out this laghman recipe here – it’s a bit time consuming but rewarding!

Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)

  • 125 g fresh noodles per person
  • 2 small courgettes
  • 1 large red onion
  • 100 g red lentils
  • 250 g lecho
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon red chilli flakes

Method

  • Wash the lentils until the water goes clear and then soak for around 30 minutes. While the lentils are soaking, fry the thinly sliced onion in the olive oil and add the cumin seeds. Cook over a medium heat for ten minutes and then add the courgette that has been grated or cut into 1 mm thick,  5 mm long slices. Cook for ten more minutes over a low heat.
  • Take the red peppers from the lecho and cut into thin slices and add to the pan with the onion and courgette mix. Cook for another ten minutes over a low heat and then drain the lentils and add to the pan along with the red chilli flakes and the liquid from the lecho. Cook until the liquid has been absorbed and the lentils are chewy not mushy.
  • Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and then turn off the heat and put the noodles in for a few minutes, Drain and then add the noodles to the sauce and stir well. Serve straight away with a flat bread of your choice.

Operation Lentil

23 February 2017

It was on this day back in 1944  that the Chechen and Ingush  people of the North Caucusus had one of the darkest moments in their troubled history. Accused by the Soviets of siding with the Nazi forces, the entire population was herded onto cattle trucks and deported by force to Central Asia.

The mission was codenamed ‘Operation Lentil’ – after chechevitsa, the Russian word for lentil, which shares its first two syllables with Chechen. By way of commemoration of this tragedy that befell the Chechen and Ingush communities, who refer to the deportations as Aardakh, the exodus, this time around we’ll be sharing a recipe for the Turkish dish mercimek köftesi – a versatile red lentil patty.

lentil-patties
Mercimek köftesi – red lentil patties, served with green salad and cole slaw

These spicy, lentil patties are easy to prepare and are delicious when rolled up in flatbread, like lavash, with fresh cole slaw and a green salad. We used ajika sauce from Georgia on the other side of the Caucasus mountains, a fiery blend of red chili peppers and tomatoes, to flavour the patties – but if you can’t find this locally, then a mix of tomato paste with chili flakes will do nicely.

Ingredients (Makes around 20-24 lentil patties)

100 g red lentils (one cup)

150 g fine bulgur wheat (1.5 cups)

500 ml water

6-8 teaspoons of ajika sauce (see above)

5 spring (green) onions – chopped

A handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

One teaspoon of cumin seeds

One teaspoon red chili flakes

Black pepper

25 ml olive oil

Juice of one lemon

Method

Wash the lentils until the water goes clear and then place in a pan with the water. Bring to the boil and simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes or so. The lentils should be going mushy and there should be about 1 cm of water covering the lentils – add more water if necessary.

Add the washed bulgur wheat to the cooked lentils and the ajika sauce and blend well. Allow to stand for 30 minutes or so and then add the olive oil, lemon juice, spring onions, parsley, cumin, red chili flakes and black pepper and mix well.

Allow to stand for a few hours to let the flavours combine and then mould a walnut-sized piece of the mix in the palm of your hand and use your fingers to form a  sausage-shape (see picture above).

Serve rolled in flatbread or stuffed into a pita with a cole slaw made from shredded cabbage, grated carrot, pomegranate seeds, spring onion and capers and  a salad of lettuce, sun dried tomatoes, pear and spring onion.