Spiced Red Lentil, Orange and Ginger Soup

I first made this recipe (from Maria Elias’ excellent ‘The Modern Vegetarian’) because I was intrigued by the flavours it promised. I will make it again and again because it is superb.

The addition of orange may be unusual, but it makes its present felt in subtle ways. If you are a wine buff you would say it has ‘a long finish with citrus notes’ – a perhaps pretentious way of saying that it has a delicate perfume that stays with you after every spoonful.

The Greek yogurt adds a little tang, and takes the edge off the heat of the spice – which I then add back in by sprinkling each bowl with a little dried chilli, which is entirely optional.

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RECIPE serves 4

250g red lentils

3 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped

1 red chilli, (deseeded if you don’t like heat), finely chopped

2 fat garlic cloves, crushed

50g (or a fat thumb) fresh root ginger, grated

4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp paprika

a pinch of cayenne pepper

2 tsp vegetarian or vegan bouillon

2 tbsp tomato puree

1 long cinnamon stick

2 large oranges

4 tbsp Greek yogurt

fresh mint leaves, to garnish

a sprinkling of dried chilli flakes, to garnish


METHOD

Put the lentils in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Drain in a fine sieve/colander and rinse with cold water. This step cleans the lentils of any impurities. Set aside.

Finely chop the onion, celery, carrot and chilli. You can roughly chop them then blitz them in a food processor if you have one. These ingredients are there to give you a deep flavour base, not to add any texture.

In a large saucepan, add the chopped onion, celery, carrot and chilli together with the ginger and garlic. Saute over a medium heat for around 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Meanwhile, put the cumin, turmeric, paprika and cayenne pepper into a small bowl, add a little water and mix to make a stiff paste.

Add the spice paste to the sauteed vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, for around 2 minutes until aromatic. Now add the lentils, bouillon, tomato puree, cinnamon stick (left whole) and 750ml just-boiled water.

Finely grate the zest from one orange into the pan, then cut off the top and bottom of each orange and cut away the skin, leaving only the flesh. Cut the flesh into small pieces and add to the pan. Bring to the boil then reduce to a gentle simmer for around 30 minutes until the lentils are meltingly soft. You may need to add a little water to keep it loose as it cooks.

When cooked, remove the cinnamon stick from the soup and then blend using a hand blender. You can leave it slightly chunky, or blend until smooth, it is entirely up to you.

Adjust the seasoning to taste, then stir in the Greek yogurt. Serve topped with a few lightly shredded mint leaves and a light sprinkling of dried chilli flakes, alongside rustic bread.

Spiced Yellow Split Pea Soup

‘Tis the season to always have a hearty soup to hand, and this is a BIG soup in every way. It’s filling, warming, comforting and delicious, as you would expect, but this recipe makes 20 portions so you’ll need a very large pot.

I have made it with half the quantity of split peas, adjusting the spice quantities down by a third, but – for some otherworldly reason that defies logic – this is just a better soup in every way when it is made in a larger quantity. Perhaps that is why Paul Merrett, from whose ‘Spice Odyssey’ this recipe came from, specifies it be made this way. Not to worry, this is a soup that disappears very quickly once you’ve made it, and you’ll be asked to make it again.

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RECIPE serves 20

100ml olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

5 fat garlic cloves, crushed

a large knob of ginger, grated

4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 celery sticks, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp cardamom seeds

1.5 kg yellow split peas

1/4 tsp asafoetida

fresh coriander leaves, to serve


METHOD

First, cut away any ugly rough bits of the skin of the ginger, but otherwise leave it unpeeled. Most cooks peel their ginger but I don’t think you need to; many also advise against grating ginger because of its fibrous nature, but I find that I end up with a soft mound of ginger flesh and a handful of fibres which are full of ginger juice, which I always squeeze into the dish. Ginger gives spiced dishes excitement, so I’m always generous in how much I use.

Prepare your other ingredients, and put the cumin, garam masala and ground coriander in a small bowl with just enough water to make a loose paste.

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a very large pan and add the onion. Fry gently until translucent.

Add the ginger and garlic and continue cooking for a minute or so, stirring frequently.

Add the tomatoes, celery and carrot, cook for another minute, stirring.

Now add the spice paste, chilli flakes, fennel and cardamom seeds, turn the heat up and – stirring constantly – cook the spices for a minute or so until they are strongly aromatic.

Now add the split peas and 5 litres (!) of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the age of your split peas.

You may find some grey scum forms on top as it cooks, it’s not harmful but it should be skimmed away using a large shallow spoon. More likely, you will get a more colourful foam, with a white base – no need to skim this, just stir it back in occasionally.

When the split peas are tender but retain their shape, remove from the heat, add the asafoetida and use a stick blender to blitz the soup to your desired consistency. We like it slightly rough, with plenty of whole split peas remaining, but this is entirely a matter of choice. Asafoetida powder is made from the gum of a variety of giant fennel and adds a slightly sulphurous, onion-like depth to a dish. Its effects when cooked are subtle but dramatic, if that makes any kind of sense, and it is perfect for lentil dishes because it marries beautifully with them and also acts as a digestif that helps to combat flatulism!

Now season carefully, remembering that this will take a lot of salt because there is so much of it, and also because split peas take a lot of seasoning anyway.

To serve, add the fresh coriander into the soup so it wilts and releases its essential oils, or if you have a coriander-hater in the house you can bring it to the table in a bowl and allow your guests to add it to their own servings.

Miso Ramen

Chicken soup has the (deserved) reputation of being a universal pick-me-up when you’re feeling under the weather, but I reckon Miso broth sits right alongside it. In Japan, many start their day with a bowl of Miso broth for the benefits that it is said to bring to digestive and gut health. Because Miso is a fermented paste, it brings beneficial bacteria to the gut – and there is overwhelming evidence to show that when your gut is happy your physical and mental well-being are also positively affected.

It’s also deeply delicious, and very easy and quick to make. The very essence of umami, it is warming and comforting and will accept almost anything that you wish to add to it – within reason of course. The recipe below is to get you started, so don’t feel constrained by the ingredients listed. Feel free to use tofu, shredded chicken, any vegetables you like (or have to hand, waiting to be used up) more of one thing, less of another, with noodles, without noodles, whatever, it’s the broth itself which is the real star here.

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RECIPE serves 4

15g dried wild mushrooms, such as porcini

1.4 litres of just-boiled water

2 tbsp dark soy sauce, plus extra to serve

1 vegetable stock cube

4 tbsp brown miso paste

150g mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, enoki, or just chestnut) thinly sliced

200g medium dried egg noodles

4 large free-range eggs

2 pak choi, roots trimmed, leaves separated and washed

200g tenderstem broccoli

100g fresh beansprouts, rinsed and drained

6 spring onions, trimmed, very thinly sliced

50g roasted cashew nuts, roughly chopped

a fresh red chilli, finely sliced


METHOD

Rinse the dried mushrooms to get rid of any grit, then put into a large, heavy-based saucepan and cover with the water. Add the soy sauce, stock cube and miso paste and stir until the stock cube has dissolved. Add your fresh mushrooms. Set aside for 30 minutes to infuse.

I use dark soy sauce here because it has a deeper, less brash flavour than light soy sauce, and it is less salty. Feel free to use either, noting the difference between the two.

Meanwhile, half-fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add the noodles and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until just tender, stirring occasionally to break up the strands. Drain well, then rinse under running water until cold. Set aside.

Half-fill the same pan with water and bring to the boil. Add the eggs to the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the water, and cool under running cold water to stop them cooking. Set aside.

Bring the mushroom broth to the boil. Reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering, add the noodles, pak choi and broccoli and continue to simmer for a further 2-3 minutes. Stir in the beansprouts and spring onions, remove from the heat.

Crack and peel off the egg shells, then cut the eggs in half along the long axis. The yolks should still be soft and runny.

Divide the broth, noodles and vegetables between 4 serving bowls. Top with the eggs. Sprinkle over the cashew nuts and chilli. Season with extra soy sauce.

To make this vegan, leave out the eggs and use wholewheat noodles (adjusting the cooking time for the noodles as necessary).

Hasselback Sweet Potatoes with Caper Salsa and Feta

Sweet potatoes make perfect autumn food, but I tend to just bake them whole or make crispy roasted wedges with them. I’ve been missing a trick – slicing them very thinly, but not all the way through, gives them a delicious combination of crispy skin and melting flesh. Augmented by the sharp, salty flavours of capers, vinegar and feta, this might just be the best side dish I have discovered this year.¬†

We have these as an accompaniment to seared tuna steaks or grilled sea bass fillets, alongside a crisp green salad dressed with a little lemon juice.

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RECIPE serves 4

4 tbsp olive oil

4 large sweet potatoes

a small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

a small handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp capers, rinsed

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp white wine vinegar

100g feta, roughly crumbled


METHOD

Heat your oven to 230C/ 210C fan/ gas 8.

Cut into the potatoes at 5mm intervals, but only cut about 3/4 of the way through, as the picture shows. An easy way to do this quickly is to lay a couple of wooden spoons alongside your potato and wedge the potato between them, then cut down straight until the handles of the spoons stop you going any further.

Drizzle 2 tbsp of olive oil all over the hasselback sweet potatoes, working it down into the cuts and all over the skins. Bake in the oven for around 40 minutes until the skins are crispy and the flesh is meltingly soft.

Meanwhile, combine the parsley, mint, capers, garlic, chilli flakes and vinegar to make the salsa. Stir well and set aside until the potatoes are ready.

To serve: drizzle the potatoes with the salsa, and scatter the feta over that. Serve immediately.

Dry-Spiced Potato and Cauliflower (Aloo Gobi)

It doesn’t sound exciting, but potatoes and cauliflower pair extremely well with spice. This makes a great side for Bengali curries, or as a delicious lunch all by itself – whatever the weather.

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RECIPE serves 4

450g waxy potatoes

1 cauliflower, broken into small florets

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp black peppercorns

6 tbsp coconut oil

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

a small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

a big knob of ginger, finely chopped

1 medium-hot green chilli, finely chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

a handful of fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

METHOD

Cut the potatoes into small pieces around 2cm across. Cook in lightly salted water until just tender.

Dry-fry the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and black peppercorns until just aromatic (this takes 60-90 seconds), allow to cool slightly then grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder that is only used for grinding spices.

Heat the oil over a medium hot flame, add the cauliflower florets and fennel seeds. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the florets are starting to brown.

Add the onion, garlic, ginger, salt and green chilli. Stir well, turn the heat down to low, cover and fry gently for around 5 minutes until the onions have softened.

As an aside, most recipes that use ginger specify that you peel it first. I have never found this necessary, I just chop off any dry exposed ends and cut out any rough and ugly protusions. I have also seen it said that you shouldn’t grate ginger, because it is too fibrous. Again, I disagree. I regularly finely grate ginger and I generally end up with just about all of the fibres in the hand I am grating with. Give those a fibres a good squeeze to extract the juice they are holding (you will be surprised!) then discard them – or pop them in a small jelly bag with your peelings and pour hot water over them to make the most enervating ginger tea.

Add the potatoes, the spices that you ground earlier, turmeric and cayenne pepper. Stir gently and cook uncovered over a low heat for a few minutes to heat the potatoes through. Add the coriander leaves, toss together, and serve.

As an alternative, I have also made this with new potatoes. I steam the potatoes for around 15-20 minutes until just tender, then lightly crush them so the skins split. The rest of the method is the same.

Cumin Flatbreads

I’m a big fan of flatbreads. Naan, rotis, pitta (or pied) or pizza, they are all so versatile, so easy to make and so filling. Rather than just serving them alongside a curry or as part of Middle Eastern mezze, they can be torn into strips and served under chilli instead of rice, torn into chunks as part of a salad, dipped into soups, used as a kind of spoon to gather up dal or sauce, split open to form a pocket for whatever filling takes your fancy, they can even be used as a plate. The next time you’re bored with the usual rice or potatoes, turn your thoughts to flatbreads.

These can be made with all kinds of spices: chilli flakes, coriander seeds, mustard seeds or cardamom. Cumin is my favourite though; it’s a heady, masculine spice with the aroma of hot desert about it, and bread is it’s perfect partner.

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RECIPE makes 8, but can easily be halved

1 tsp dried yeast

1 tsp sugar

250ml lukewarm water

400g plain flour

1 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for cooking


METHOD

Combine the yeast, sugar and water in a small bowl. Make sure your water is just lukewarm – too hot and it will kill the yeast, then you’ll end up with thin, flat rotis rather than airy, puffed-up bread. Set the bowl aside in a warm place for about 15 minutes until it starts to foam slightly, that’s the yeast feeding on the sugar.

In a dry pan, warm the cumin seeds over a medium heat for a minute or so until aromatic, then tip onto a cold plate to stop them from cooking.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and cumin seeds, and mix well with your hand. Add the oil to the yeast mixture, then make a well in the middle of the flour and pour the yeast mixture into it. Forming your fingers into a kind of claw, drag the liquid through the flour, mixing and picking up dry areas as you go. Within a minute or so it will have formed a cohesive dough that will still be quite sticky. Work the dough in the bowl for a few minutes more and you will find that it starts to become less sticky and will start to form into a ball, pulling dry and sticky bits from the side of the bowl as it comes together.

Now turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and start to knead the dough. The idea is to fully hydrate the flour and develop the gluten that gives the finished bread its structure and strength. You will have to knead the dough for about ten minutes, until it is smooth, elastic and not sticky (or at least not too sticky). I’m not going to deliver a masterclass on how to knead a ball of dough, if you do need some guidance YouTube is full of great video tutorials.

Roll the dough into a tight ball and place in a lightly-oiled bowl, covered, in a warm place for an hour or two until doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knock it back and divide into 8 balls.

Heat a ridged griddle pan until it is scorching hot, and roll the dough balls out into rough circles 3 or 4 mm thick. Turn the griddle pan down to a high but not furious heat, brush  one side of the rolled-out dough lightly with olive oil, then place oiled-side down in the griddle pan. Cook for about 1 minute per side, until you see bubbles of air forming on the top side and the bottom surface is golden and darkly-lined from the griddle. Brush the uncooked side lightly with oil, then flip over and cook the other side. Place in a large piece of cooking foil, big enough to fold over and around all of your cooked flatbreads to keep them warm.

Repeat with the other balls of dough, storing them as you go in the foil packet that you have made. This is a job that is much easier when two of you are doing it, you can get a production line going. If you are doing it by yourself, hard-won experience tells me it is better to concentrate solely on cooking them so get all your rolling-out done before you heat the griddle pan, then cook them one after the other keeping a close eye on them – they go from raw, to charred, to burned in remarkably short order.

I generally heat my oven to 100C then turn it off, storing my foil packet of cooked flatbreads in the warm oven until the rest of my cooking is complete and ready to serve.

Sweetcorn Polenta with Cream of Corn, Sauteed Mushrooms and Tenderstem Broccoli

The first time I made it, I had real reservations about this recipe from Maria Elia’s ‘The Modern Vegetarian’. I had mixed feelings about polenta, creamed corn didn’t sound like something any of us would like, and what the hell would I pair it with?

It’s a great book though, full of interesting textures and flavours – vegetarian (and vegan) cooking is definitely no longer the preserve of the bland and boring – and having marvelled at the way she combines the unexpected I bit back my fears and decided to challenge my preconceptions. I have modified it slightly from the original, but only slightly, and I hope you do the same – written recipes are only a starting point.

The results were simply sensational. For a little effort and forethought, this is a dish for which you would happily pay a lot of money in a very good restaurant. I’m not blowing my own trumpet; this is within the reach of any competent cook that can read a recipe and follow instructions.

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RECIPE serves 4

For the polenta:

375ml cold water

125ml full-fat milk

1 bay leaf

1 tsp sea salt

1 corn cob, husk stripped away

125g corn meal

40g unsalted butter, cut into thin slices

75g Parmesan, very finely grated

For the cream of corn:

1 corn cob

25g unsalted butter

1 large banana shallot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/4 of a nutmeg, very finely grated

200g milk

250ml creme fraiche

To serve:

250g shiitake or chestnut mushrooms, sliced

25g unsalted butter

1 tsp dried thyme

tenderstem or purple sprouting broccoli


METHOD

Put the water and milk in a large saucepan, add the salt and the bay leaf, then bring to the boil. Add the corn cob and cook until tender, this will take around 20 minutes.

Remove the corn cob and allow it to cool until you can handle it. Bring the liquid back to a rolling boil and remove the bay leaf. It has done its job and if you leave it in it will get broken up as you whisk, leaving you with unappealing ‘bits’ in your finished polenta.

Measure the corn meal into a bowl big enough to get your hand into, and when the liquid is boiling take a small handful and let it slowly sift through the fingers of one hand into the liquid while you whisk vigorously with the other hand. Keep doing this until all of the corn meal has been incorporated and there are no lumps. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, continuing to whisk it constantly.

You will see the mixture transform from a loose slurry to a thickening paste over the space of five minutes. Make sure the polenta has properly thickened before you stop whisking, though it will still be a loose mixture at this stage.

Now put your pan on a heat-diffuser, over the lowest heat that you can. Pop a lid on the pan (this is sacrilege to many Italians, but it works) and let it cook very, very gently for around 30 minutes. Every five minutes, go back to the mixture and give it a good whisk. When it comes to the point that it is too thick to whisk, take a wooden spoon to it.

The polenta is done when the texture becomes creamy and amalgamated. When you taste it there should be no hint at all of graininess from the corn meal.

Meanwhile, stand the cooked cob upright and cut away the kernels from the cob by slicing down the sides behind the kernels with a sharp knife. Be careful! Set the kernels aside for now.

When the polenta is cooked, turn off the heat and dot the butter around the top of the polenta, then stir it in until it has almost all melted, then add the finely-grated Parmesan. Stir again, then add the corn kernels, stir yet again, check the seasoning and pour into a baking tray (approx. 10cm x 7cm) that has been lined with plastic film. Smooth the surface and leave it to stand and firm up for at least 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the cream of corn: cut the kernels from the other, uncooked corn cob in the same way as above – still being careful with that knife. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat and when it is foaming add the shallots and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, nutmeg and corn, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the milk, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the corn is tender – this is likely to take between 20 and 30 minutes.

When the kernels are tender, keep the heat on low and stir in the creme fraiche, until it is fully amalgamated. Bring back up to just below boiling point, then turn the heat off and allow the mixture to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Puree the mixture in a small blender or food processor; I like a bit of texture in mine, but you can process it until it is completely smooth if you wish. Check the seasoning and set aside until needed.

I have found that the cream of corn gets better if it is made a few hours in advance, as the flavours relax into each other. Just warm it through to serve, you can proceed straight on though…

Heat the oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ Gas 7. Do this when you add the kernels to the milk for the cream of corn, if you want everything to be ready at more or less the same time.

Turn the cooled polenta out onto a chopping board and cut it into 4 equal-sized pieces. Take care, the polenta is firm but not solid so it will need to be supported throughout.

Place the polenta onto a lightly oiled baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil on the exposed surfaces, and place in the top third of the oven for 15-20 minutes until hot through, with a crisp, golden crust.

Meanwhile, prepare the accompaniments: for the broccoli, steam it for 4 or 5 minutes. For the mushrooms: heat a large frying pan until very hot. Add the butter, and when it is foaming add the mushrooms with a little salt and the thyme. Saute until the mushrooms have given up their liquid, then squeeze a little lemon juice into the pan. Keep cooking to evaporate all the liquid, stirring frequently. When the mushrooms take on a golden hue they are ready.

To serve: place a piece of polenta onto a warmed plate, with some cream of corn on top. Scatter mushrooms over it, then arrange some broccoli on top. I serve this with a big bowl of rocket leaves, dressed with a little lemon juice, alongside a courgette and chilli salad. The salad was a shot in the dark, but the sharpness it brings contrasts really well with the rich butteriness of the dish.

Courgette and Chilli Salad

I’m lucky enough to have a pick-your-own farm nearby. I say lucky, I’m notorious for picking more than we can reasonably eat. With that in mind, I have a growing collection of speedy side dishes that I can put together in a hurry and that allow us to savour the freshness of just-picked vegetables.

This one is superb: extremely simple, delicious and elegant. The sharpness of the lemon and mustard powder make it a great accompaniment for oily fish such as mackerel or salmon. Last night we had it alongside a rich polenta dish, purely because that was what I was making. I had a good handful of small, sweet, tender, green and yellow courgettes, so – as often happens – I thought what the hell and put this together on the off-chance that it would work with the buttery polenta. It did, and how.

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Picture Credit: Jamie Oliver


RECIPE serves 4 as a side dish

4 large, or 8 small courgettes, a mix of green and yellow looks great

1 fresh red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

the zest and juice of a lemon

extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp English mustard powder

a few sprigs of basil, with small leaves


METHOD

Wash the courgettes then, using a potato speed-peeler, make long, thin ribbons. Add the chopped chilli and toss together.

Zest and juice the lemon into a bowl, and add roughly the same amount of extra-virgin olive oil as you have lemon juice. Stir in the mustard powder and a pinch of flaked sea salt, whisk it all together and pour over the salad. Toss thoroughly, then pick off the basil leaves and scatter over the top. Serve immediately.

Masala Turmeric Dhal

I have made a lot of different lentil dishes over the years, all of them lovely, all of them incredibly moreish. I have slightly adapted this one from a Rick Stein recipe, and it stands head and shoulders above every other dhal recipe I have ever used. It’s that good.

It’s subtle, with the merest glow of warmth from the chilli and exquisitely perfumed by the turmeric. You will find yourself tasting it as you go along, and struggling to stop yourself having just a little bit more. Then something truly magical happens…

Just before you serve it you temper it with gently fried onion, ginger, green chilli and tomato, stir it through, taste it, and stand back in astonishment. The temper adds new layers of vibrant flavour, while underlining the perfume of coconut and turmeric. If forced to choose just one dish to eat for the rest of my life, this would be an extremely strong contender.

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Photo Credit: Dropping The V Sign

RECIPE serves 4

250g red lentils

600ml water

225g onions

225g tomatoes

100g coconut oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp ground turmeric

1 tsp hot chilli powder

400ml coconut milk

1 tbsp black mustard seeds

a fat thumb of ginger, finely chopped

2 green chillies, finely chopped

A pinch of asafoetida (optional, but essential in my opinion)

a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with the water and leave to soak while you work on preparation.

Coarsely chop half of the onions, finely dice the other half.

Coarsely chop half the tomatoes, finely dice the other half.

Heat 50g of the coconut oil in a large pan then gently fry the coarsely chopped onions and coarsely chopped tomatoes with the garlic, for around 8 to 10 minutes until softened into something resembling a paste. Add the turmeric and the chilli powder and cook on for a minute or so.

Add the lentils together with their soaking water, stir well and bring to the boil. Add the coconut milk and bring back to boiling point before reducing to a low simmer. Leave it to cook until thickened and the lentils are fully soft; this may only take around ten minutes, depending on the age of your lentils. When cooked, season and set aside. I generally find that lentils of any kind will appreciate more salt than you might think, but only when they are fully cooked.

At this point it is always good to leave the dhal to sit for a few hours to allow the base flavours to develop and mingle, but you can of course go straight on to serving if pushed for time.

To finish the dish: gently re-heat the lentils to just below boiling point, and heat the remaining 50g of coconut oil in a large pan that has a lid. When the oil is hot, add the black mustard seeds and cover the pan. When the seeds start to pop, which will only be a minute or so, add the ginger, finely diced onion and finely diced tomato, the green chillies and asafoetida. Cook gently for around 5 minutes until softened but not coloured, then add to the warmed lentils and stir through. Add the chopped coriander and allow it to wilt in the dish as you bring it to the table.

Rick Stein serves this with fish marinated in turmeric and oil, and it’s lovely, but it really doesn’t need anything other than some naan bread or, even better, roti. You’ll love it.

Panzanella (Italian Bread and Tomato Salad)

It’s been a lovely summer here. Lots of warm evenings sitting outside eating great cheeses and amazing bread. There has been some cooking going on though, and once again I find myself apologising for not blogging for the longest time. In my defence: I’ve been busy eating lovely food and enjoying life.

The discovery of the summer for me has been the Italian bread and tomato salad, Panzanella. Dismissed by one family member as soggy bread salad, he was merely echoing my own expectations. When we actually tasted what I had made (courtesy of Claudia Roden’s ‘The Food of Italy) we very quickly revised our opinion, and now I find myself hoping I have some stale sourdough left over so I have an excuse to make it.

This is best made when tomatoes are at their ripest, so if you’re going to make it, make it now. The bread you use also makes a huge difference – ensure you use a slightly stale (one or two days old) sourdough or country loaf, with a good thick crust.

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Photo Credit: Scott Phillips

RECIPE serves 4

250g stale bread, cut or torn into rough chunks

600g ripe tomatoes, cubed

1 red onion, diced

1/2 cucumber, diced (peeled if you like)

2 stalks of celery, finely diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

a handful of basil leaves, torn

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Start with the tomatoes, and salt them in the bowl to encourage their juices to flow.

Now add all the other ingredients and stir well so everything is coated in everything else. Leave it to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle and develop, check the seasoning, and that’s it!

For variation: you can take the crusts off the bread, which gives a more uniform but, I think, a less interesting texture. You can also lightly toast the bread beforehand. Try different ways of preparing the bread, and try different types of bread as well, the way you like it is the way it should be prepared.

You can further augment this with whatever takes your fancy and works: if you’re having it with grilled fish, for example, try zesting a lemon into it and using the juice of half a lemon in place of a tablespoon of the red wine vinegar. Or you could turn it into a summer vegan main course by slicing avocado into it. Let your imagination run wild, it’s how you discover lovely things.