Red lentil loaf is almost a vegetarian cliché in the vein of nut roast. But, to me, it is the ultimate in comfort food. I've always had a fondness for dishes that actually take the place of meat as a centrepiece in a meal. Many of us do. It's one of the reasons vegetarian fake meats are so popular. Those of us who grew up with our plate divided into sections of meat and vegetables can find it difficult to make the mental switch to a diet that doesn't appear to have an obvious replacement to fill that part of the plate.
This is a dish that brings me back to family roast dinners when I still lived with my parents and had "the vegetarian in the family" status. Dishes that fitted with the rest of the family's meal were always preferable. Roast dinner meant a thick slice of red lentil loaf made by me, served with a vegetarian gravy or tomato sauce and my mother's potatoes and vegetables.
That's still how I like to serve it. My basic recipe is still much the same. You can vary the herbs or add some vegetables. Fried mushrooms are good. If there are leftovers, it's also good cold with chutney.
200g/7oz/1 cup of split red lentils
360ml/13floz/1½ cups of water
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
125g/5oz/1 cup of grated cheese (a simple cheddar is good)
Juice of half a lemon
Set the oven to 200C/400F.
Grease a loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper or parchment paper, brush with oil.
Put the lentils, water and onion into a large saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15- 20 minutes until the lentils are tender and all the liquid absorbed. The mixture should be quite thick.
Stir in the thyme, grated cheese, lemon juice and egg and mix well.
Spoon the mixture into your prepared tin, cover will foil and bake for about 1 hour. Remove the foil and cook for another 15 minutes until the top of the loaf is golden. Remove from the oven and leave it to stand in the tin for at least 10 minutes before serving.
To serve, run a knife along the edges to make sure that it hasn't stuck at the sides. Place a large plate or flat serving dish on top of the loaf pan, then carefully turn the pan upside down to slide the loaf onto the plate. Cut into thick slices and serve.