Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Joys of Seasonal Eating

As Summer Draws to a Close, a New Larder Opens...........

It is with a heavy sigh that I find the cricket season drawing to a close. This is not just a sporting matter for, as the final ball is bowled, no doubt batted nonchalantly to a close fielder, the umpires will signal not just the end of  another match but the demise of summer itself. Temperatures are already starting to cool and the days drawing shorter, fingers crossed in hope of an “Indian Summer”. However, for the committed “foodie”, passionate about seasonal eating, the autumnal skies come with a silver lining. There are many virtues to cooking and eating according to appropriate seasons and one of them is definitely this – just as you need solace for summer’s passing, and the impending cold and dark, we are blessed with the finest food season of them all.
The main harvest is underway and nearing completion of the yields of wheat and barley. Here, in England, late summer presents us with more and better seasonal fruits than the (supposedly) hotter weeks and this overlaps into autumn to complement the arrival of a multi-coloured harvest festival of autumn fruit and veg. Wild mushrooms are in season, root vegetables, nuts and squashes in classic autumn hues colour the market stalls, we have seafood back with an “R” in the month (see my last blog), and game birds such as pheasant and partridge, given summer respite to breed, are back on the menu. 
Wild blackberries, or brambles, adorn hedgerows alongside apple and pear trees. As the first apples ripen there should be an abundance of brambles to complement them in pies and desserts. Blackberry and apple is one of the food world’s great combinations and so I find my taste buds trembling in anticipation as I see them growing together. The apples will be around long after the brambles have gone, but these juicy berries do freeze especially well. 
One of my favourite English classics is a blackberry and apple crumble. Slice enough cored and peeled apple to almost fill an ovenproof dish. Bramleys are, of course, the best cooking apple but even better to include a crunchier variety such as cox’s. Any apples or pears will work. Mix in at least two handfulls of blackberries and 3 tablespoons of sugar. For the crumble topping put 6oz (170g) of plain flour, 5oz (140g) of cold butter (diced up) and 2oz (55g) of sugar in a bowl and mix with the tips of your fingers until it combines to resemble breadcrumbs. Spread the topping over the fruit, dot with a little more butter and bake in the oven at 200 degrees C (400 F, gas mark 6) for 45 minutes. It’s that simple and it’s fantastic. Traditionally served with hot custard, but I like it with ice cream.

Braised Pheasant

Roast pheasant is most certainly delicious, but pretty much impossible to get the tough leg meat tender without overcooking and drying out the breast. To cope with this, many years ago, I experimented with a slow cooking method and came up with this pot roast, or braised, version. It also works very well with partridge and may well work with other birds, though I’m yet to try it with them.
Serves 4-6
4 Pheasants, oven ready
4 medium sized apples
4 medium sized onions
A large bunch of thyme or rosemary or both.
300 ml (7fl oz) Chicken stock (pheasant stock, if you have any, would be even better)
8 Rashers of streaky bacon
250 ml (1 cup) of dry cider
4 Beurre Manie balls (ping pong sized) made by mixing together equal quantities of butter and plain flour.
Roughly dice half the apples and onions and cut the rest into thick slices. Insert the chopped apple and onion, along with two sprigs of herbs, into the cavities of the pheasants.
Place the sliced apple and onion in the bottom of a dish suitable for roasting. Pour on the stock and then sit the pheasants on top of the apple and onion. “Bard” the pheasants by draping the bacon over the breasts. Then place in the oven, pre-heated to 170 degrees C (325 F, Gas mark 3). Cook for four hours.
Pour the cider into a saucepan and bring, gently, to a simmer. Strain the juices from the roasting pan through a sieve in to the saucepan and stir into the cider. Thicken by whisking in the butter and flour balls to make a sauce to pour over the pheasant.
Best served with roasted root vegetables, as well as the apple and onion slices from the roasting pan.

Butternut Squash Curry

This is a very simple recipe for delicious vegetable curry. If you insist on meat, you can separately cook some cubes of diced chicken or lamb, either fried or in a very hot oven, and add them at the end. It will work with just about any squash or pumpkin, but I prefer the slightly buttery, nutty, version that lives up to its name. Like most of my recipes the quantities feed two, but can easily be double, tripled, etc.
1 Butternut squash, seeds removed and diced into roughly three quarter inch (2cm) cubes.
! teaspoon each of ground cumin and paprika.
1 Red pepper, halved lengthways, seeds removed.
2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil.
1 Medium sized onion (red ones are best), finely chopped.
2 Cloves of garlic.
2 Teaspoons of grated fresh ginger.
2 tablespoons of Rogan Josh curry paste.
Juice of half a lemon.
1 Can of plum tomatoes.
Salt, to taste.
1 Tablespoon of natural yoghurt.
A handful of chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves.
First, pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C (400 F, Gas Mark 6). Place the diced squash, dusted with the ground cumin and paprika, and red pepper in a roasting dish, drizzled with half the oil. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes.
Heat the rest of the oil in a deep frying or saute pan or wok. Gently fry the onion until translucent. Then add the garlic and ginger for 1 minute, before stirring in the curry paste and cook for another minute. Squeeze over the lemon juice, then pour on the tinned tomatoes. If the tomatoes are not already chopped, chop them up with the edge of a spatula. Give it all a good stir and leave to reduce on a gentle simmer for about 25 minutes, until it has reached your preferred curry sauce consistency.
Take the roasting dish from the oven, cut up the red pepper (however you like it) and stir into the curry. Take the curry pan off the heat and stir in the yoghurt. Sprinkle over the coriander leaves and serve with naan bread or rice.

Mushroom Orzotto

Orzotto is, essentially, the same as risotto but made with pearl barley instead of rice. You can certainly make this with wild mushrooms while in season. You can use rehydrated dried mushrooms and use the soaking liquid in the stock (but do strain out the grit through muslin or a tea strainer). However, it will also work well with cultivated mushrooms. The brown varieties are the best.
Soak the barley in water for at least three hours before, or it will take forever to cook.
Serves two
40 grams (1.5 oz) of butter
1 Teaspoon of olive oil
Mushrooms, roughly chopped (see text). Enough to cover the bottom of a wide saucepan.
2 Cloves of chopped garlic
80 grams (3 oz) of pre-soaked pearl barley
750 ml (2.4 fl oz) Chicken stock (vegetarians can use a vegetable stock, but chicken is best)
Thyme (leaves stripped from four sprigs
1 Tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
On a low heat, melt the butter in the saucepan, and add the olive oil which helps prevent the butter from burning.
Stir in the mushrooms, coating them with the butter. When the mushrooms appear just cooked, stir in the garlic. Cook for another minute before adding the pearl barley to the pan. Give it another stir then pour over the stock and add the thyme. Leave to simmer, lid off, until the barley is nice and tender –  30-40 minutes.

Stir in the parmesan and season to taste.

Crab Pasta

I am lucky enough to live in the fine county of Norfolk, home to the famous Cromer crab. I recently acquired a dozen claws, conveniently ready cracked which made separating the meat from the shell very easy. Any good fishmonger should do this for you. I was determined to utilise the shells, which I knew would be full of flavour. Usually for me this would mean a risotto made with a broth from boiling the shells, or perhaps a soup. However, this time I came with this pasta dish.

Wherever in the world you live, I’m sure your local crabs will work well in this recipe.

12 cracked crab claws
1 tablespoon of lardons (finely chopped cubes of fatty bacon)
2 cloves of garlic, sliced or crushed
1 heaped teaspoon of paprika (hot or sweet, it’s up to you)
2 tablespoons of soured cream (you could use crème fraiche)
80 grams (3 oz) of linguine (or whatever pasta you prefer)
A few basil leaves

First separate the crab meat from the shell, using a dinner knife.

Put the shells in a saucepan and cover with just enough water, bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes to make a stock.

While the stock is simmering, in another saucepan fry the lardons until nicely coloured. Turn down the heat to low, then add the garlic and cook for another minute, before stirring in the paprika and cooking for another 30 seconds.

At this point, put your pasta on to boil.

Pour over the crab shell stock, straining through a sieve. Leave to reduce until there is only about a tablespoon of liquid at the bottom of the pan. Be careful not to let it boil dry. Take the pan of the heat and stir in the cream.

Serve with the pasta and tear over the basil leaves.

Late Summer Pudding
Or: Autumn pudding or “Indian Summer” Pudding

Summer pudding is an English classic and a wonderfully simple idea. Replacing the heavy stodge of most of our traditional puddings that use a sponge or suet pastry base to keep us warm in our cold, damp, climate, with slices of stale bread provides a lighter pudding for the warm, hopefully hot, summer days. Using dark red and purple fruits, whose juices are then soaked up in the bread crust also makes his one of the most visually stunning of all puddings.
However, the truth is that, for the seasonal cook, the ideal ingredients don’t really come into being until the very end of summer. I like to include an apple or a pear, or two. It gives the soft fruits a little more substance. Wild blackberries appear in August, but the early ones are sharp, it takes a little more time to develop their full sweetness (just as English strawberries are nowhere near their best until long after Wimbledon is over). So, the recipe I have given here, of a pudding that I made on the 6th of September, is one that I prefer to call “Late” Summer Pudding. The ingredients listed are what I had to hand on the day. Don’t be afraid to improvise.
You’ll need a bowl ideally in a classic curved pudding bowl shape. For this, I used one 6 inches in diameter at the top and 4 inches deep, tapering down to 3 inches diameter at the base (an inch is 2.5 cm if you insist on metric). This should feed two gluttons, or four people comfortably with a generous helping of clotted cream or ice cream. You can, of course, double up the size of the bowl and, therefore all the ingredients accordingly. Heck, make it as big as you can!
1 medium sized Apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped.
1 large red Plum, roughly chopped and stoned.
10 Strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthways.
70 grams/2.5 oz Raspberries
70 grams/2.5 oz Blackberries
55 grams/2 oz  Redcurrants and Blackcurrants
10 dark red Cherries
80 grams/3 oz White Sugar
6 slices of slightly stale white Bread, crusts removed.
Put the apple in a saucepan over a medium heat with a tablespoon of water. Cook for about 5 minutes – until the apple pieces are soft to touch. Then add the other fruit and the sugar and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the bread to form an inner lining for the bowl. Cut a disc to fall into the bottom of the bowl and shape the rest so that it will line the sides and form a lid on top.
When the fruit is cooked, strain through a sieve, reserving the juice. Dip the bread slices, lightly, in the juice and line the bowl with them. Then spoon in the fruit and place the “lid” on top. Pour any remaining juice onto the top of the pudding, then place a saucer or small plate on top, and then a weight of about 400 grams (1 lb). I used a can of butter beans.
Leave in a cool place overnight and then place your serving dish over the bowl and flip over so that the pudding, encouraged by a sharp shake, falls onto the dish.

As the days get darker, temperatures drop and the leaves begin to fall from the trees, i hope you can find solace in the wonders that nature brings to the table at this time of year.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Mussels - from simple steaming to the exotic in a few easy steps.

Flexing Those Mussels

No recipes here, exactly, rather a process that shows how starting with one ingredient cooked simply and just building piece by piece and then making slight adjustments you can develop a range of tasty, and simple to cook, dishes.

The turning of the month from August to September always signals one thing to me immediately – there’s an “R” in the month! This simple matter of spelling that, in the English language, we have a continuous run of months – May, June, July, August – lacking the 18th letter of the alphabet might not seem to have much significance at first. Until you realise that this is when seafood, such as oysters and mussels come back into season, having been left alone to breed undisturbed through the summer months.

For me this has a special significance as I live happily close to a stretch of the North Sea that produces the finest mussels I’ve tasted. I am unashamedly partisan in this. On the other side of the sea the Belgians have understood this and celebrated the quality of their mussels for centuries. I have eaten, and enjoyed, these succulent molluscs around the world. The Pacific certainly produces wonderful, large, juicy, specimens. But, you can’t match those shellfish that lurk in the shallow band of the North Sea between East Anglia and Belgium. This is not a lagoon of clear, blue, sparkling water but rather a murky marine soup, and there’s the whole point. It is that “murk” that provides the mussels, along with other shellfish such as the famous Cromer Crab, with the nutrients that develop a subtly sweet flesh that can’t be matched anywhere else.

But, enough of my local pride. You may have guessed by now that I am a great fan of the humble mussel. Wherever you live, you can probably find very tasty mussels at least some of the year. I find it strange how so many people seem daunted by the prospect of cooking mussels. It really is very easy. Throw them in a pan with a little liquid and let them steam open. All, seemingly more complex, recipes are just a few stages along from this simple start. If you are concerned about poisoning yourself and others with less than fresh examples, again it just takes one simple stage. If open, make sure they close when given a sharp tap. If closed, make sure they open when given a sharp tap, It means they are still alive. You can’t get any fresher than that. Do discard any that don’t pass the test.

Here I have started with a method with steamed mussels – a single instruction rather than a recipe – and then demonstrated how, by building bit by bit, this develops into eight very straight forward, and quick to cook, recipes.

To cook mussels, put them in a saucepan, add a splash of boiling water straight from the kettle, cover with a lid for about three minutes until all the mussels have opened. Discard any that refuse to open.

Now, rather than using plain water, try a splash of dry white wine instead. As you’re using cold wine instead of boiled water this will take a little longer, about 5 or 6 minutes. You could start things off by softening some chopped shallots by very gently frying in butter for three minutes, maybe add some crushed garlic for a minute before putting the mussels and wine in the pan. Then finish with a little chopped parsley. So far, so simple, but that’s it – you’ve just made moules mariniere. For the creamy classic version moules mariniere a la crème, all you need to do is take the pan off the heat and, when the liquid stops bubbling (this way the cream shouldn’t split), stir in some double cream or crème fraiche. It really is that simple.

Beyond the classic version, there a whole range of mussel dishes that can achieved by a few simple changes to the above.

Instead of wine, use dry cider. Now you’ve got moules Normandie.

Or rather than wine or cider, use beer (ideally a Belgian blonde beer or a golden ale) and you’ve got the Belgian classic moules flamande. A typical Belgian trick is to use leek, sliced to roughly the same length as the mussels and then into ribbons, instead of shallot. As the shells open, the ribbons of leek drape themselves over the mollusc inside.

Moving on to something just a little more complex, throw a shot of orange liquer into the pan before pouring in the wine, squeeze the juice of half an orange on top of the wine and grate in the zest of the same orange. Moules a la’orange.

You can travel all the way to South East Asia. In addition to shallots and garlic, some grated ginger or galangal, chopped lemongrass and chilli give you that taste of the orient. Coconut milk instead of cream and coriander (cilantro) leaf replacing the parsley complete the transition. I have eaten this in Thailand, but suspect the origin may be in Vietnam, where colonial history often leads to French/Asian fusions.

Leave out the lemongrass, and instead use garam masala for an Indian mussel curry. You could also add some cubes of white fish.

Starting with the most basic steamed open shells and building up just a little, and with a few twists and tweaks, and you’ve got eight delicious and simple mussel dishes to your repertoire. There’s nothing to stop you using your own imagination and inventing another. Or adding other seafood, or even replacing mussels completely with clams, cockles or whatever shells end up on your fishmonger’s ice.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Fingers on The Pulse: recipes and Ideas on Lentils

Oxfam have recently launched a campaign "Enough Food for Everyone IF" to persuade governments to act on world hunger. To support this campaign go to:

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Lentils, those ubiquitous legumes found in the culinary heritage of many cuisines  around the globe were brought to my attention recently by a friend posting a request on Facebook. He was asking for lentil based recipes.  Ah, so he must be a vegetarian you might assume. A recent convert in need of plant matter that can replace the protein previously found in dead animal flesh. Or maybe a student, or someone hit in the wallet by our ongoing financial crisis, in need of a more economical means of calorie intake? Certainly lentils are an attractive prospect in either of these cases. However, these versatile pulses should not be limited as a meat substitute. In fact lentils often make great partners in meat dishes, with an especial affinity with bacon.  This call for recipes was fuelled by circumstances of a more demanding nature. My Facebook friend, currently working for Unicef in New York, has previous experience of working in Syria, a country devastated by civil war. The question here is how will the country feed itself? Both in its current state of conflict and in the aftermath of war.

It is no surprise to me that this question raises thoughts of lentils. Indeed for any mention of the lentil immediately invokes memories of my time in India. Obviously, India’s propensity towards vegetarianism plays a great part in the amount of lentils grown and consumed in that predominantly Hindu country. But lentils have a greater significance than culinary or spiritual choice. For many, these proteinous vegetables are relied on for simple survival. During field research across India, I came across many families whose diet from day to day consists of little more than lentils cooked in water (often of dubious quality) with chapati (or rhoti as these basic flatbreads are more commonly known in India) if surviving in a wheat growing region or a small portion of rice where paddy fields dominate.

For me, lunch in India would often consist of a more substantial dahl, such as Dahl Maa Ki, the “mother of dahls” made with rich black lentils and a good helping of butter. For a westerner, easily affordable fare as delicious as it is nutritious. But sadly out of the reach of many people who live next to the fields where the black lentils are grown. We should certainly not rely on the lentils capability to sustain life minimal support from other foodstuffs, but see it as an incredibly versatile accompaniment  to many other ingredients. But where there is need to find solutions to provide a range of nutrients with very limited resources, the lentil emerges as a superfood to rival all others.

Is there any ingredient that encapsulates such a range of the nutritional spectrum as the humble lentil? It’s a vegetable, and so has all the nutrients we typically associate with our veg – vitamins, fibre, anti-oxidents. But then these simple pulses are also a source of protein, with some carbohydrate content to boot. They also happen to be a very useful crop for farmers and horticulturalists – as legumes, they have a wonderful habit of returning much needed nitrogen to the soil.

The usefulness of lentils doesn’t stop there. They are usually very inexpensive, the French Puy lentil being the notable exception there, in their dried form they keep for ages and they are very simple to cook. Unlike dried beans, lentils do not need to be soaked overnight. The packet instructions on all the dried lentils I buy seem to be consistent – boil rapidly at full power for ten minutes, then reduce to a simmer for twenty minutes. This works for me and most of the recipes here are based on this principle. One word of caution, though, about packet instructions. In my experience the amount of water recommended is woefully inadequate. I use about a litre and a half (nearly three pints) of water to 50 grammes (2 oz) of lentils, and even then it’s a good idea to have a kettle boiled ready for back up and to keep an eye on the pan.

On the subject of pans, for many of my lentil dishes I use a saute pan. If you’re not familiar with such a utensil, this is similar to a frying pan (or skillet) but wider, heavier and deeper than the average frying pan and comes with a lid. My saute pan is 12 inches in diameter (30 cms) and just over two inches (5cms) deep. If you don’t have one, then a large saucepan will usually work, or a flat bottomed wok (if it has a lid) or a flameproof casserole dish.

A word on herbs. In the recipes here I have often listed thyme or rosemary. You can substitute with dried herbs, especially oregano, remembering to use half the quantity of dried herbs compared to fresh. However, the best herb to use in most lentil dishes is savoury. I have listed rosemary or thyme in the recipes because savoury is strangely difficult to buy. But it is easy to grow. It’s a great herb for many dishes involving pulses not only for the flavour, but it also has anti flatulence properties as well!

One very useful tip when cooking any pulses, such as lentils. Don’t add any salt until the very last minute. Cooking them in salted water toughens them up a little.

So, here are my recipes that are based around the lentil. Inspired by the colder climate, a comforting soup and two stews; one that provides an alternative to meat in a recipe that I originally created for meatballs, one that makes use of the complimentary qualities of lentils and bacon. Inspired by India, I have included recipes and ideas for Dahl and Dhansak.

The quantities given here are for dishes that serve two people. Cooking for four, six or more can be simply done by doubling, trebling, etc. all the ingredients.

Country Vegetable Soup

Not a hard and fast recipe – you can use any root vegetables such as turnip, celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke, etc. Pearl barley goes well with this, but takes longer than anything else here to cook, so you have to boil the pearl barley for half an hour first before adding the lentils. You can also use any dried pulses, such as split peas, chick peas, and any type of dried bean. But this is the most typical recipe that I use.

50 grammes (2 oz) Brown or Green Dried Lentils
2 large Carrots, sliced
2 main crop Potatoes, chopped into 1-2 inch cubes
Half a small Swede (US: Rutabaga), chopped into half inch (1 cm)cubes
2 Parsnips, sliced
1 medium sized Onion, roughly chopped
1 medium sized Leek, sliced
12 button Mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
3 sprigs of Thyme and/or Rosemary, leaves stripped from stalks and chopped.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Put the lentils in a large saucepan on a high heat with plenty of water. Boil rapidly for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Add all the other ingredients (except salt and pepper) and simmer, with the lid on, until the root vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, remove roughly half the vegetables and set aside.
Using a hand blender, blend the ingredients left in the pan until smooth.
Then return the set aside vegetables to the pan and stir together.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.

NB: when cooking pulses, such as lentils, only add salt at the very end as salt will make the lentils go tough.

Lentils and Bacon

On cold winter days, when you come home from the biting chill and freezing winds, what could be better than a nice comforting and warming stew. The only problem is that such stews and casseroles generally need long, slow cooking, over many hours, while what you need is something with that same comfort food feeling on the dining table as soon as possible.  This recipe takes a little over half an hour and still has that “stick to your ribs” sensation that will drive even the most bitter wind chill factor out of your system. Best enjoyed by a roaring fire while wearing your favourite old sweater.

50 grammes (2 oz) Brown or Green Dried Lentils
125 grammes (5 oz) Diced bacon
4 New Potatoes, halved lengthways
2 large Carrots, sliced
8 button Mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
1 medium sized Onion, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon Paprika
1 teaspoon Cumin
3 sprigs of Thyme and/or Rosemary, leaves stripped from stalks and chopped.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Put the lentils in a large saucepan on a high heat with plenty of water. Boil rapidly for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover with a lid.

Meanwhile, in a saute pan, heat the oil and add the bacon and fry, uncovered, until coloured all over.

Push the bacon to one side in the pan and add the potatoes and brown on the cut sides.

Turn down to a low heat. Add the carrot, mushrooms and onion and cook for further 5 minutes, with a lid on the pan

Add the spices and herbs to the pan.

By his time the lentils will have had, at least, their ten minutes rapid boiling. Add the lentils  and their cooking liquid to the saute pan and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through.

Dahl Maa Ki

Dahl is the great staple of India. Many Indians, who may be described as the “poorest of the poor”, survive day after day on a diet of a simple dahl – lentils cooked until tender and served with either rice or rhoti, depending on whether they live in a paddy or wheat growing region. On a good day maybe another vegetable, such as a tomato or onion may be added. While this situation is reprehensible, and something that all humanity should be ashamed of, it does nevertheless demonstrate the life saving nutritional possibilities of the humble lentil.

For most of us, dhal needn’t be stripped down to the bearest essentials, but can still be a very low cost meal full of flavour. Ownership of a hand blender can make this a reasonably quick dish to conjure up. Soften a chopped onion in some oil, add the spices of your choice (you can use a favourite curry powder) then throw in some lentils (any dried lentils work for a simple dahl), cook according to packet instructions and blend to a smooth consistency. Season to taste with salt at the end.

For a taarka dahl, put some oil or ghee with some whole spices in a metal ladle and heat the ladle over a gas flame. Pour the hot, infused oil over the dahl.

Dahl Maa Ki, which means “mother of dahls”, is a more sumptious dish, but still simple and inexpensive. It should be made with black lentils (Urad Dahl), but if you can’t get these use the darkest brown or green lentils you can find. It works well with Puy lentils, but these are expensive, while most lentils are very good value for money indeed.

Vegetable oil or, to be really authentic, Ghee
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons, Garam Masala
1 cm (half inch) piece of fresh Ginger, finely grated
2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
50 grammes (2 oz) Dried Black Lentils (Urad Dahl)
10 grammes Butter
Small bunch of Coriander (optional)

Warm the oil (or Ghee) in a large saucepan and cook the onion gently for 5 minutes, until softened, without browning.

Add the Garam Masala and Ginger and garlic andlet this cook for half a minute to release the aromas.

Then add the lentils and water, cook at full heat for 10 minutes, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.

Using a hand blender, blend until smooth. Then stir in the butter. Finish with coriander leaves.

“Poor Man’s” Dhansak.

Dhansak, often served as a vegetable side dish in UK Indian restaurants, is a dish of Persian origin, and a favourite of the Parsees – followers of the Zoroastrian religion who fled Persia to avoid religious persecution and settled in India, especially Mumbai and Gujarat. For Parsses, Dhansak is a dish often reserved for special occassions and cooked with oppulent ingredients such as lamb marinated for several days, or even lobster.  The name comes from dhan, which means rice and sak, which means vegetables, and so it really should be served with rice.

My version is not of the oppulent type, though you can of course add meat, fish or seafood if you wish, including long tern marinated lamb. It is an economic recipe, and fairly simple to cook, but still full of flavour.

Tamarind is an essential ingredient for a true Dhansak but, as this is a “poor man’s” version, if you can’t get any tamarind, substitute a generous splash of Worcestershire sauce.

Half a butternut Squash, diced to 1 inch cubes (or you can use Pumpkin)
Vegetable oil
1 Red Pepper, halved lengthways
75 grammes (3 oz) of Dried Lentils – the greater the mixture of types and colour of lentil the better
1 medium Onion
2 cloves of Garlic, chopped
Teaspoon each of Garam Masala, grated fresh ginger, ground cumin, turmeric and fenugreek
Chilli powder to taste
1 tablespoon of Tomato puree (tomato paste)
! tablespoon of Lemon juice
25 grammes (1 oz) Tamarind paste
Salt and Black Pepper
Small bunch of Coriander (optional)

Steep the tamarind paste in 100 ml (3.5 fl oz) of boiling water for at least half an hour.

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C.

Place diced squash and red pepper (cut sides down) in a roasting tin, season with a little salt and drizzle with oil. Roast for 25 minutes.

Put the lentils in a large saucepan with plenty of boiling water on a high heat and boil rapidly for 10 minutes.

In another wide saucepan, saute pan, or  a flat bottomed wok, warm the remaining oil and gently cook, with the lid on the pan, the onion and carrot for 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent but not browned. For the final minute add the garlic and ginger.

Add the ground spices and allow the aromas to be released by cooking for 30 seconds before adding the tomato puree and lemon juice.

Stir into the pan the lentils, which have been rapidly boiled for 10 minutes, along with their cooking liquid. and the infused Tamarind water. Top up the water, if required, and simmer, covered, for a further 20 minutes.

Chop the roasted red pepper into pieces about half an inch (1 cm) square and stir the pepper and squash pieces into the lentil stew.

Season to taste

Finish with coriander leaves sprinkled on top.

Lentil “Meat” Balls

75 grammes (3 oz) of brown or green dried lentils.
2 cloves of crushed garlic
Leaves of 2 sprigs of thyme, chopped
2 teaspoons of dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons of allspice
2 teaspoons of paprika
Large pinch of salt

Cook lentils according to packet instructions (usually rapid boil in plenty of water for 10 minutes, then simmer for 20 minutes).

With a slotted spoon, remove half the lentils, then using a hand blender smooth the remaining lentils into a smooth paste.

Stir the reserved lentils into the lentil paste, along with garlic, herbs and spices, salt and soy sauce.

Roll the mixture in wet hands into balls about 1 inch (2.5 cms) in diameter.

Heat the oil in a wok. Test to make sure the oil is hot enough with a small piece of the meat ball mixture to make sure that the oil sizzles on contact.  Then fry the balls until nicely browned.

Meatball Stew

I devised this recipe for use with Swedish meatballs that can be bought ready cooked, however it also works with the lentil balls from the previous recipe. You can substitute the meat stock for the vegetable version from the recipe below.

This is a great “one pot wonder”.

Flat mushrooms are best, but button mushrooms also work well.

20 meatballs, already cooked
8 New Potatoes, sliced  into half inch (1cm) pieces
100 grammes (4 oz) of Mushrooms, chopped
1 medium sized Onion
2 medium sized carrots, sliced
2 cloves of Garlic, chopped
1 pint (half a litre) of chicken or beef stock
2 sprigs of Rosemary or Thyme, leaves stripped and chopped
Heaped teaspoon of Corn Flour (Corn Starch), “slaked” (blended in a little water to a smooth paste)

In a large saucepan, warm the oil and then add the potato mushrooms, onion and carrot. Cook for 5 minutes, adding the garlic for the last minute. 

Pour on the stock , add the herbs, and simmer gently, covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Put the meatballs in the stew to reheat.

Thicken with the slaked cornflour.

“Meaty” Vegetable Stock

1 tablespoon of Olive Oil
A handfull of Mushrooms, roughly chopped
A handfull of brown or green Dried Lentils
1 Onion, roughly chopped
1 Large carrot, roughly chopped
2 sticks of Celery
2 Bayleaves
Tablespoon of Dark Soy Sauce

Warm the Olive Oil in a large saucepan and cook the mushrooms for 5 minutes. Then add the lentils and a litre and a half ( two and a quarter pints) of water. Put all the other ingredients in the pan and simmer with a lid on for an hour. Then strain the stock through a sieve.