Look at them, ganging up on me with their nutritional valueLentils. There they are, in one of those giant bags no one can honestly ever hope to use the whole of on their own- I used to get through one a week when I was cooking for four or more most nights but really, it turns out there is a limit to the amount of dhal one woman can eat. Huge great bags of orange or yellow or black lentils, satisfyingly coloured, especially once you’ve transferred them into empty jars so you feel like you’re some sort of domestic superhero for ten minutes before the simmering bastards overboil and you end up picking grotty pulse-foam out of the hob again.

Oh yes, look at them. Look at the shiny gorgeousness of the orange ones, the grim shrivelling of lentilles vertes so that you’re never quite sure if they’ve atrophied in the bag or whether they’re still ok to eat and do you really want to find out? I nearly made this post a Cheap Food We Love because lentils most certainly are ideal if you’re on a budget- £2.49 I paid for my giant bag of orange ones and have I got halfway down it in three months? Have I hell. Do I love them, though? Well… they’re always there. And they’re good if you need to make a big thing and can’t be bothered to think beyond chucking some stock and spices together but is that …good? Let alone loveable?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m big on pulses. The humble mung bean made up a significant part of my diet for two months, the stalwart chick pea is what’s got me through some troubled times and tinned, skinned and chilli-soaked fava beans on toast is a treat I try to reserve for when I’ve really weakened in the Lebanese supermarket. When you need to eat some protein, you can’t afford meat and you’re lactose intolerant the pulse is the place to go. And not just in those circumstances, of course- pulses are tasty and versatile and can do an excellent carb/protein combo for when you only have one pan. I ate them by the bucketload when I lived in a bedsit with a single hob and I still do now. They’re cheap, yet not so unwholesome that you’d feel unfair serving them to guests (provided you cook ’em nice like) and they’re no bother to store.

Most pulses, though, require eight hours of soaking from their dried form. Eight hours! I know, theoretically, that I could put them in some water before I go to work, then boil ’em up when I get back in. I have done this. I know that, like walking to work, it is something that I could get a handle on quickly if I just made myself and it’d become as much part of my routine as brushing my teeth or having a cup of coffee.

Thing is, though, I have some mornings when brushing my teeth or having a cup of coffee are immensely challenging. Sometimes everything can just EFF OFF and then where does that leave my aduki bean schedule, eh? Not to mention then you come home and you’ve got to stand over a pan for 40 minutes scraping the gross, primordial foam that murks off any sort of pulse in boiling water. I won’t lie, that sort of procedure is exactly the kind of thing that puts you off eating the finished product- ‘oh dear god it’s covered in green foam such as wot you get at the side of polluted ponds, also it smell like a drain’ is not something that immediately makes you want to eat a thing. And have you flipping SEEN mung beans? They’re small and green and …well, kind of gross. And I say that as an enthusiast of all things vegetable-based and few things meaty, honestly, there is a not a lot to love about them other than the fact they go really well with curried mustard leaves.The best thing about all this, of course, is that if you in any way fluff the process you can give yourself horrendous indigestion or indeed, poisoning for the next week. Awesome! I’m starting to see why they’re cheap…

Enter the lentil. I spent half an hour in the (not exactly extensive) wholefoods section of my local Tesco Metro a few weeks ago reading the back of every pulse packet. Nothing, nothing was available to me without the overnight soak except lentils. Sure, aduki beans seem like a good idea (or at least, have an interesting name and I think I’ve eaten some at some point) but do I really want to be chained to a bowl of the fvckers until I finally give in and attend them with my slatted, foam-scrapey spoon? Real talk now: no of course I bloody don’t, no one in their right or wrong mind wants to do that, it is a process that at best is a means to a meal and at worst is a means to throwing the whole lot down the loo and getting a kebab.

Lentils, though, a mere 20-30 minute boil (admitedly, with the foam scraping and subsequent washing but at least this event is shortened and lessened if you rinse them loads beforehand) and you’ve got ’em. Then fry a bit of onion, add spice and stock and you’ve got yourself a serviceable dinner. Slice a bit of tomato on top and squeeze lemon juice in if you feel like you deserve it; om nom nom. Eat it on toast for fusion cookery or stuff it into an oiled squash or marrow and bake for a delicious thing to impress your colleagues with when you reheat it for lunch the next day. Slosh them into soup and grate carrot and ginger all over them if you fancy showing Covent Garden kitchen how it’s done. Or add cooked apple or mango and raisins, a bit of honey and you’ve got some sort of fibrous dessert that you could probably serve with chilli ice cream and pass off as Blumenthal-level wizardry to the culinarily impaired.

They’re great, they really are. I can’t really think of anything I couldn’t eat with lentils (admitedly this is probably because I’m thinking about lentils so haven’t considered the potential difficulties of, eg: steak) but still, there they are. Sitting in my cupboard in their lovely jars, in tupperware in my freezer because I’m incapable of portion control when cooking and lurking in the fridge at work, waiting for me to re-heat them for lunch. They should be reassuring, like bread but instead they fill me with guilt and a mild sense of horror- yes, they’re really versatile and I’ve got lots of them and yet I ate a Tesco Value Fishfinger sandwich for dinner last night rather than defrost my stored green lentil curry; what is wrong with me?

Perhaps its because you can’t get gourmet lentils- they’re never going to be any nicer than they are. You can get different brands but the lentil is all, basically, the same; bread from Paul is substantially different from a Morrisons Value wholegrain loaf but there’s no artisanal lentil merchants that I’ve heard of. That doesn’t seem to ring true, though -I’m no food snob so maybe it’s just the massive quantities that lentils almost have to be bought in or perhaps I’m just really that lazy that if toast is there, I’ll eat that rather than do anything where I have to put the hob on, however much I like cooking.

Either way, lentils, I’m sorry. You’ve been there for me before and no doubt will again but I’m afraid that you’ll always been my back-of-the-cupboard food, shoved aside as soon as a can of chickpeas comes to light or buy an aubergine.