Faux Gras, or ways with walnuts

Mushrooms, lentils and walnuts make a great pate

YOU can hardly hear yourself think these days for the noise of trendy young beardies jumping on the vegan bandwagon and boasting about their “plant-based” lifestyles. Since when did that perfectly adequate word ‘vegetarian’ drop out of fashion?

Some of we carnivores have been cooking vegetarian and vegan dishes for years only we didn’t make a noise about it or even realise meat was absent.

So hang on, I’m jumping on that wagon, if only temporarily. Here’s an old post on how to make walnut, lentil and mushroom pate. And as the trendies tuck into their highly processed fake meats and sausages, this, too, is fake.

It’s supposed to be the veggie answer to foie grass!

Writing about the Foie Gras Liberation Front the other day reminded me of a pate I made recently. I had been lured by a website’s promise that it was a vegetarian foie gras. You could call it faux gras! That proved to be rather a lot of hyperbole and wishful thinking but it did make for a very good pate.

It’s made from lentils, mushrooms and walnuts, of which I get a plentiful supply from my brother’s tree in Norfolk, so I gave it another go. I am trying to come up with every possible recipe using them.

The recipe is from David Lebovitch, a protégé of Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in California and can be found at http://www.davidlebovitch.com while he credits it to Rebecca Leffler in her book Tres Green, Tres Green, Tres Chic. I don’t know whether he has adapted it although I have with his version.

I have cut down on the amount of walnuts simply because I got fed up with shelling and toasting them and I have added a few little extras like paprika and balsamic vinegar for ultra richness. I also doubled the amount of mushrooms. Once you have cooked your lentils it can be made in 30 minutes. Lebovitch recommends green lentils not Puy but I used the latter because I had a very much out of date packet! Just don’t use red lentils which go quickly to mush.

Lebovitch promises a smooth texture but my cheap food processor couldn’t give me that and the slightly grainy finish is appealing.

200g mushrooms, sliced
Small onion or shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
170g uncooked green, brown or Puy lentils
70g shelled walnuts, toasted
2tbsp butter
2tbsp olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon thick soy sauce (kekap manis)
Plenty of herbs: I used sage, thyme, rosemary, bay and celery leaves
2 teaspoons brandy (optional but advisable)
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Pinch of cayenne
Big pinch of paprika, sweet or smoked

1 tsp ground mace

Cook your lentils without salt and drain. Toast the walnuts. Gently fry the onion and garlic in the oil and butter and after five minutes add the sliced mushrooms. I just trim the stalks and use them as well: no point in waste. Season. Cover the pan because the cooking juices add moisture when processing. I used half the herbs while frying.

Blitz the nuts first to small grains and then add the lentils, blitz some more, then the mushrooms, rest of the herbs and the rest of the ingredients.

Taste and adjust to your liking: perhaps adding more herbs, salt or lemon juice or, if you’re feeling flush, more brandy. Scrape out into pots. It’s ready to eat immediately but will1. keep, covered, in the fridge for a week. It also freezes.

I made this for hardly much more than a quid as I had all the other ingredients. If walnuts are not your thing you could try pecan or cashews although I haven’t.

This recipe contains plenty of fibre so you’ll want to use it regularly!

The main ingredients

Walnut whip?

Walnuts with walnut pesto

Walnuts with walnut pesto

First, a little gentle misogyny. Have you heard the rhyme which goes: “A woman, a dog and a walnut tree; the harder they are beaten, the better they will be”? Well, perhaps not gentle as far as the first two are concerned but beating the tree is supposed to knock off dead branches which could spread disease. I suppose you’d call that the original walnut whip. Ouch!

Every Christmas my brother Adrian in Norfolk sends me an eagerly anticipated box containing a bottle of single malt whisky and several pounds walnuts from the tree in his back garden. I have noticed the size of the bottle decrease but the quantity – and quality – of the walnuts increase. The current crop is excellent and he keeps me in walnuts for half the year.

He reports the crop was especially plentiful this year, as opposed to the previous one, largely due to winning a little war with the neighbourhood squirrels. I shall draw a veil over what happened.

I use them in salads and in English pesto, instead of pine kernels. The herb is still basil in the winter but I replace that with sage, mint and marjoram when my pot herbs are flourishing in spring and summer. They also go well in cakes and artisan bread. I’m about to experiment with a Doris Grant no-knead loaf with walnuts.

I have no idea whether my brother beats his tree but the quality is good. You can crack the shells open with one hand (even my granddaughters can do it) which is a good sign that they are not too old. It’s best to leave the kernels in the shells until needed because they keep better. I think the kernels you buy must be treated.

The English walnut, Juglans regia, comes from Persia and was presumably brought here by the Romans, another good thing they did for us. Walnuts usually only appear in the shops around Christmas but you can find them quite easily in continental grocers such as Ozmen on London Road. Persian cooking uses a lot of walnuts, often roasted and ground and partnered with pomegranates in stews. My dad used to like pickled walnuts (done when they are still green) but that is an acquired taste.

Of all nuts, walnuts are said to be the best for health, being particularly good for the heart and memory loss, so I shall keep nibbling. Thanks for the nuts Adrian and the whisky is very good, too.