Winter Lentils with Chestnuts and Star-anis

Lentils with Star-anis

My mother loves lentils – and so do I – and she also loves to share her new lentil creations with me like her all time favorite lentils with chard (a variation which I will post another time). So for many, many years she has sent me her recipes by fax, written on a type writer, as she doesn’t like emails and computers. I have a folder full of faxes from her with wonderful recipes and always signed with a sweet motherly note.

Today’s lentil creation is something new, I need a soul warmer, with typical winter spices. I bought some French chestnuts and brought out the star-anis and cloves inspired by my last baking sessions. I will use very aromatic lentils from Swabia in the South of Germany sent to me – of course – by my mother. They are cultivated by an organic producer group called “Alb-Leisa” ( which recovered this treasure from oblivion. These re-cultivated lentil types had disappeared abruptly in the 1950s due to costs and extensive work. Luckily the Alb-Leisa work is well appreciated, their production has expanded and we can now buy aromatic lentils with old-fashioned names like “Späth’s Alblinse I and II”.

Lentils with Star-anis

 Lentils with Chestnuts and Star-anis

Here comes the soul-warming recipe, enough for 4 people. I use small lentils which don’t need pre-soaking.

lentils 300g / 10.5 ounces
small leek, cut in thin slices, 1
carrots, sliced in half and chopped, 3
small onion, chopped, 1
garlic clove, cut in half, 1
olive oil
broth or water 1l
thyme, a bunch
star-anis 1 (single, not a whole star)
bay leaves 2
cloves 2
allspice, whole not ground, 2
chestnuts, a hand full
salt and pepper

I prepared the chestnuts earlier as they don’t need to be warm. Preheat the oven to 200°C / 390°F and place an ovenproof   bowl filled with water on the bottom of the oven. Cut a cross on the curved side of the chestnuts and put them in the oven on a baking sheet 10 minutes or until they get dark and their crosses start curling up. Take them out of the oven and cover them with a wet tea towel immediately. This makes it much easier to peel them. Take them out of their outer hard and soft, inner skin while they are still warm. Mind your fingers as they can still be hot.

Warm olive oil in a pan and fry the leek, onion, carrots and garlic on medium heat. Add the lentils and pour the broth on top. Add the thyme and the spices (star-anis, bay leaves, cloves, allspice) but don’t season with salt yet or the lentils won’t cook and stay hard. Some people put the spices in a disposable tea filter which makes it easier to get them out later. I don’t mind them, I prefer to add them unwrapped. Close the lid and let it simmer. The cooking time depends on the lentil type. Mine need 20 minutes. After 10 minutes check if there is still enough liquid. When the lentils are soft, season with salt and pepper. Take out the thyme, bay leaves and the spices you can find.

Serve the lentils in deep bowls with broken chestnuts on top and enjoy this soul warming treat.