A light yet substantial gluten-free and easily vegan meal bowl featuring beluga lentils, spring asparagus, pan-fried halloumi cheese, avocado, pea shoots, and seeds.
Spring produce is starting to appear in my corner of the world.
I made a rhubarb crumble this weekend past, the first of the year, and damn was it ever good. When I did my last produce run on Sunday evening I discovered local (ish) ramps for sale, so I bought a bunch and sautéed them in butter and we ate them on toast alongside our Sunday soup. And asparagus, although not quite local yet, is at least coming from neighbouring countries to the south.
Today I’m sharing a meal bowl that, while still reasonably sturdy, celebrates both the flavours and the lightness of spring. There’s something about the way the ingredients layer together: peppery arugula, vinegary lentils, salty halloumi, crisp asparagus, creamy avocado, crunchy sunflower seeds, and tender pea shoots. If that doesn’t scream spring in a bowl, I don’t know what does.
It may seem as though there are a lot of components here, and there are, but none that can’t be prepared in advance with the exception, perhaps, of the avocado if you’re planning on packing this for your lunch. The lentils can be cooked, seasoned, and stored in the fridge, the greens washed and spun dry, the seeds toasted, and the asparagus lightly steamed. You could, as a matter of fact, create a ‘build your own bowl’ buffet line and just let people pick and choose what they want. You could also add in other things as you see fit – that’s the beauty of being the boss of your own cooking.
Asparagus is a great source of vitamin K, folate, vitamin B1, vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin B2, and B3. Asparagus also contains a good amount of phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B6, dietary fiber, vitamin E, and manganese. All that goodness? Who cares if it makes your pee smell funny!
Let’s talk about lentils! These lovely little legumes are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering dietary fiber. The soluble fiber in lentils helps to keep blood sugar stable, while providing a steady source of energy. But the energy benefits don’t stop there, lentils are a rich source of iron, as well as being a good source of plant-based protein, which is good news for us veg heads. They’re also a great source of heart-healthy folate and magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, potassium, and B6.
Halloumi is a semi-firm unripened brined cheese from Cyprus made from a mixture of goat, and sheep, and cows milk. It has a high melting point so it can be pan fried or grilled and does not fall apart. If you can’t find Halloumi (check specialty food stores or Greek markets) then cubed and pan fried feta would be a good substitute.
Two years ago: Game Changing Hummus
- 1 cup beluga lentils, or other small lentils such as du puy
- ½ a yellow onion, peeled, but root intact
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- salt to taste
- 8 cups mixed greens (I used arugula and baby spinach)
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 200g halloumi cheese (vegans, leave this out)
- 1 avocado, sliced
- ¼ cup toasted sunflower seeds
- 1 cup pea shoots
- Check the lentils over for stones and give them a good rinse, then set them in a pot with 1½ cups of water, ½ an onion, the smashed garlic clove, and the bay leaf.
- Bring to a boil, uncovered, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer with the lid ajar for about 20 minutes.
- Start checking them at around the 15 min mark and check every few minutes after that. The lentils should be just barely tender, and still slightly toothsome. Almost all of the water should be absorbed – add more if you need to along the way, the pot shouldn’t run dry.
- When the lentils are done, fish out the onion, garlic clove, and bay leaf, and drain well.
- Place the lentils in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp olive oil and 2 Tbsp of red wine vinegar, and a little salt. Stir, then let stand for 5-10 minutes.
- Give the lentils a taste and decide if you want to use the rest of the oil and vinegar (I usually do). Remember that these are going into a bowl with a lot of flavours, so it isn’t essential that they have huge flavour, but nor should they be bland. Set aside, or refrigerate if you’re not making the bowls immediately.
- While the lentils are cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Toast the sunflower seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until they smell nutty and fragrant and are just barely browned – but watch them carefully so they don’t burn – then set aside to cool.
- Trim the woody ends from the asparagus and chop it into bite sized pieces. Heat a pan over medium-high heat and add the asparagus along with a couple of tablespoons of water. Place a lid over the top, and allow them to steam for 3-5 minutes, until just barely tender. Remove the asparagus from the pan, and set aside to cool.
- Heat one Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cubes of halloumi cheese and pan-fry until golden on one side – about 5 minutes. Turn the halloumi and cook for another few minutes until just barely golden on the opposite side. Remove from the heat.
- Slice the avocado, rinse and dry the greens and pea shoots.
- To assemble the bowls divide the greens evenly among four bowls. Top with a generous serving of the cooled lentils, and then layer the asparagus, halloumi, avocado, sunflower seeds, and pea shoots over top.
- Serve immediately, or cover with a lid if you’re packing these for your lunch.