I love dahl. I love it I love it I love it. It’s the most comforting of all South Asian dishes. It has the ability to warm you on a cold evening and cool you after an abundance of chilli. It can be a robust main, a complimentary side or a spiced, thick soup. Heck, it can do anything it wants. It could be the school cricket captain and play lead guitar better than anyone else around. I even saw it get off with a girl I fancied after a disco once. And it will grow up to be an astronaut. I can’t find room in my heart for jealousy though, it’s just too charming.
Dāl (or dahl) is a derivative of the Sanskrit verbal root dal, which means ‘to split’ (*pushes glasses back up nose*). It basically means it is a dish made from pulses which have been husked and split so, theoretically, you can make it with pretty much any pulse you like (as opposed to what Christopher Woodhead told me). For me though (and to avoid an overnight soaking and hefty cooking time), I prefer red lentils. They have such a great texture and tend to look after themselves when cooking. I do find that they take on a fair amount of salt though, so be warned.
I was trying to think of something to serve with the dahl and decided I would like to try Pilau rice. I’d never cooked it before but had a reasonable idea what spices to use to get a good result. I did a small amount of research online and, needless to say, there seems to be around 100,000 different ways to go about it. Taking advice from Fleetwood Mac, I decided to go my own way with the rice and so, recipe drawn in my head, I headed home to make my spicy feast. Then I passed a market stall and I saw my first ever Globe Courgette.
Have you seen one? They’re hilarious! Small, perfectly spherical little squashes crying out to be stuffed and roasted. A beautifully testicular member of the courgette family. Indeed, if you were to sit two alongside a normal courgette it would probably be enough to tip me over the brink of gaiety into a useless, tearful collapse. Me and all the other ten-year old boys. Anyway, with all thoughts of testicles aside, I sliced them open and stuffed them.
This serves 4. Easily.
Pilau stuffed courgette with red lentil dahl
For the stuffed courgette:
4 globe courgettes, tops removed and centre scooped out (keep this!)
300g basmati rice, well washed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
3 tsp cumin, toasted and crushed
3 cardamom pods
For the dahl:
200g red lentils, well washed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin, toasted and crushed
4 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tblsp tomato puree
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped (optional)
Handful spinach, roughly chopped (optional)
Handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped (optional)
Preheat the oven to 190C. Make the rice first. Fry the onion in a little oil until softened. Add the cumin, cardamom, turmeric and cloves and mix well. Add the rice and mix so the rice is coated in the spices. Add the bay leaves and then around 600ml boiling water. Bring it to the boil then turn it down very low and cover with a lid. Simmer until cooked – around 15-20 mins or so. In the meantime roughly chop and then fry the leftover courgette with a pinch of salt until cooked through. When the rice is cooked remove from the heat, take of the lid and leave for a minute or two to let any excess moisture steam away. Mix in the courgette and then spoon into the prepared squashes. Put the lids back on and place on a baking tray in the centre of the oven. They’ll take about 35 – 40 mins.
For the dahl, fry the onion, garlic, chilli and ginger until softened then add all the spices at once. Mix in the tomato puree and then the lentils and mix to coat. Pour in the water, bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer. Stir occasionally so it doesn’t stick and cook until the lentils are tender and the dahl is thick and oozy – you may need to add a splash more water. At this point check for seasoning (can take salt!) and mix in the tomato, spinach and coriander leaves if using.
Your baked courgettes should be just about ready (test with the tip of a sharp knife or a skewer) so put a healthy portion of dahl on a plate, drizzle with yoghurt and top with a juicy squash! I want it again.
Right, that time of year is upon us. Time to polish of the old trowel and get digging. Time to create life! When Laurel and I moved into our house the garden was a forest of weeds, rubble and general detritus. It took me ages to sort out. Every time I dug the garden over and removed the weeds they would grow back and I’d have to do it all over again. It was infuriating and endlessly boring but, finally, with the garden as ready as it would ever be, I bit the bullet and ordered turf, topsoil and fertilizer off the internet and waited for delivery.
Unfortunately I forgot which day it was all arriving and accidentally went out the night before on an epic, friend’s birthday mash-up. My lawn arrived at 8am in a gigantic lorry and I was awakened by a gruff, rotund weeble violating my doorbell. He made a couple of indistinguishable noises and gestured to two huge pallets of turf and soil which he had parked in the middle of the road. My groggy mind was still trying to grasp what was happening when he thrust a sheet of paper into my hands, barked twice and drove off into the distance. I can’t remember exactly what happened next but I think I wept.
That was two years ago and now, after all that hardship, disaster has struck. I have managed to seriously damage my lawn. I let it grow so long that it started to die and then left it that way over winter. Needless to say it requires a good deal of care now if I’m to pull off a miraculous resurrection. I am not, though, the main protagonist in the calculated murder of my lawn – I am merely an accomplice. The guilty party, M’lud, is Mr Flymo Mow n Vac.
The term ‘Lawnmower’ indicates that you have a tool with the ability to cut, scythe, shear or trim an area of grass. Not so with a Mow n Vac. It has the ability to do nothing. Does Mow n Vac mean it will be as easy as hoovering the lawn? Again, no. It neither rolls nor hovers so is impossible to push and if you leave it in one spot too long it bores a spiral into the ground. It would be more productive had I crawled around and nibbled at the grass with my teeth. It cost around £50. I would have been better off spending the money on roller blades or a vaulting pole or something else with which I lack the ability to use.
With all this in mind, I have launched ‘Operation Brockley Market Garden’, a nod to the keen and inspiring growers at my local food market and a cheap pun on a military mission in 1944. It focusses on bringing life to the garden in time for summer and supplying homegrown produce for my cooking. I have been treating my lawn and nurturing it back to life. I’ve sowed (sown?) beetroot, peas, broad beans and onions. I have even planted 3 raspberry canes, a gooseberry bush and an apple tree! I’m feeling positive about the garden’s chances this year and, with a new mower, reckon I can have a lovely sunbathing spot which is perfect for barbecues and growing my own ingredients for future blog posts.
I’ll keep you posted.
(Good gardener? Any tips? Please tell me. Please.)
I was recently watching Saturday Kitchen and had to question myself. Why do I keep watching this program? I can’t for the life in me figure out why I like it. Yes, the cooking is great but there are so many things I can’t get my head round. The interviews are completely nonsensical, crowbarred in around hectic cooking and constantly interrupted by bedraggled cooks trying to tiptoe around James Martin’s luxurious form. The Omelette challenge is easily the least exciting segment of any show on television, anywhere in the world, ever. Except for when Ken Hom does it with chopsticks. That’s quite good. And who are those two random people each week who just sit quietly for an hour before fighting for scraps with a minor celebrity? Are they prize winners? Did they compete for this honour?
There are probably many reasons (which escape me at this moment) why I watch it, but the big one has to be the enigma that is James Martin. Scruffy haired, dead-eyed, cyclist hating, housewives’ favourite James Martin. Let us admit straight away, he is not a natural presenter. He is stiff and awkward at times and there is always that addictive and dangerous feeling that something is about to go horrendously, irreparably wrong. He does, however, normally keep it together and if something does go awry he shrugs it off with charm and enviable nonchalance.
Plus, he really can cook. He cooks in a way that makes me think he would be a forceful albeit tender lover. When I mentioned this surprising observation to Laurel she agreed that it was an eerily accurate description of her view on James as well. I think there is a problem here.
Anyway, I recently had a look through his 1373 recipes on the BBC website and stumbled upon a host of brilliant meal ideas. I was inspired by one and decided it would be a perfect Pancake Day treat. Ah, well, better late than never…
Squash and goat’s cheese pancakes
300g squash, cut into small dice
100g crumbly goat’s cheese
1 sprig thyme, leaves picked and chopped
3 or 4 sage leaves, finely chopped
200g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
A good pinch of salt and pepper
Mix the flour, baking powder, herbs, salt and pepper together in a big bowl and make a well in the centre. Mix together the egg and milk and pour into the bowl. Whisk well to create a smooth batter. Put in the fridge for a bit.
Fry the squash in a little olive oil for about ten minutes until tender. Add to the batter and then crumble in the goat’s cheese. Mix well.
Heat a bit of oil in a nonstick frying pan and fry the pancakes for about 3 minutes on each side. You want them to be crisp and golden, although I like them on the verge of burning so the edges are satisfyingly crunchy. I ate them with some cooked potato left over from the day before mixed with a drizzle of oil, scoop of mayo and dollop of mustard.