Pilau stuffed courgette with red lentil dahl

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

5 cloves

2 bay leaves

3 tsp cumin, toasted and crushed

3 cardamom pods

2 tsp turmeric

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

1 tsp coriander seed, toasted and crushed

4 cardamom pods

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1 tblsp tomato puree

650ml water

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.

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German pea soup

It’s been a while since my last post. I haven’t been away or anything – I’ve barely even left my sofa – I just work strange hours which limits the amount of cooking I do. Saying that, it has been an eventful couple of weeks. We’ve had snow. Not much but enough to make it feel like a proper year. I have given up drinking for the month of February. I feel good and I’ve got much more money! Charlie broke my pasta machine so I’m eagerly awaiting a brand new one and a gnocchi board to go with it.

Ok, maybe ‘eventful’ was slightly over the top (a lie) but it has felt very busy. Add to that the ongoing cold weather and endless tedium of the East London line and I found myself hankering after something warming and comforting to eat in front of ‘Arrested Development’ wearing my idiotic slippers. Also, there is nothing more reassuring than food which has the ability to invoke good memories.

Between the ages of 6 and 14 I lived in Germany. I have lots of great memories of living abroad but one of my favourite things was the Germans’ love of winter markets. Wandering the wood-shack stalls to browse handmade toys, giant gingerbread houses, nutcrackers and the like (incidentally, these are all items which, viewed out of context, can be terrifying) was an annual family event and we all happily braved the cold to go. There were two ways of warming up. For the adults you could get a cup of Gluhwein – a heavily spiced and sweetened wine served hot – or, if underage for booze, you could get hot pea soup.

This wonderfully sweet and heartily mushy concoction warmed you to the very marrow of your bones. It seemed to change texture as you ate, from a broth to a puree with a hint of mint and sometimes a kick of chilli or lemon. And the joy when you found the sliced frankfurter floating around somewhere near the middle! Glorious. I decided to try and make a veggie version using meatfree frankfurters and it proved successful. The main reason being that veggie frankfurters taste exactly like meaty ones. Better actually because you know they aren’t filled with pigeon or shoe leather or dog trotters or something.

Pea soup

400g peas (I use frozen garden peas)

200g veggie frankfurters, cut into chunks (I use Tivall frozen ones)

1 carrot, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 onion, finely chopped

1 litre stock

A good pinch of mint or basil, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

Fry the onion, garlic and carrot in a little olive oil until softened. Add 300g of the peas and stir well. Add around 3/4 of the stock and simmer for 10 mins. Blend well. Return to the heat in a clean pan and add the cut up frankfurter and the remaining peas. Check the seasoning and consistency; if it’s thick add a bit more stock. Heat until the sausage is cooked and then stir in your herb of choice. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt or cream and, if you fancy, a pinch of chilli or lemon zest. Or both. And croutons.


Fennel and leek soup

When I’m poorly I tend to fall back on childhood favourites in an attempt to make myself feel better, almost using memories as a placebo. I think everyone has their traditional sickness staples they can rely on to make themselves more comfortable; mine always included a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream, a bottle of Lucozade and a pile of Iron Man comics. And of course soup.

If I felt nauseous, my mum would make me drink a pint of milk. It took me many years to realise that it just made me almost instantly sick; a pretty old-school remedy with a slightly cruel edge but better out than in I suppose. It’s this harking back to my youth that makes me always crave soup when ill.

Cream of chicken soup to be exact. I’m certainly not the only one to go down this route. The Spartans pretty much only ate ‘black soup’ (pig’s legs, blood, salt and vinegar) and they were pretty healthy. Steinbeck mentions its healing reputation in East Of Eden. Even Gandhi’s son was prescribed chicken soup when diagnosed with pneumonia. Couldn’t eat it though – vegetarian.

Managing to crawl to the fridge (like a slug) I found a potato, a couple of leeks, some old dill and a bulb of fennel. Is that right? A bulb? Or is it a head? Anyway, a pretty good haul for some healthy, re-energising soup to clear the head and vitalise the soul. Or something.

Not much needed for this one. Let the ingredients do the talking.

Fennel and leek soup.

1 bulb/head fennel, sliced

2 medium leeks, sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1 medium potato

A handful of dill, chopped

1 tsp oregano

1 litre vegetable stock

Ground black pepper

Melt a bit of butter in a pan and add the leek, garlic and fennel. Simmer until softened. Add the potato and oregano and mix well. Pour in the stock and then simmer for around 20 minutes until the potato is cooked through. Blend the mixture until smooth.

Quick aside here – at this point my blender broke. When I tried to detach the top, the bottom snapped off pouring soup all over the worktop. It was so frustrating I nearly cried.

Pour the mixture into a clean pan and bring back to temperature. Taste and season – I found that it didn’t need any salt – and stir in the dill. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt or a drizzle of cream and garnish with a bit of that fluffy stuff from the top of the fennel or a sprig of dill.


A soup to cure your weekend excesses.

This Monday I started a new job. Sitting around on Sunday evening with an impending early start, I was reminded of times past when I had slightly overdone it on the previous two days. No matter how you spent your Sunday afternoon, you could never escape the drained, dehydrated and lethargic feeling you get after a heavy weekend. Not exactly how you want to be feeling when you have to board a tube with 4 million other people, crush your face into someone else’s armpit and then try to impress your new employers.

This brought to mind an old soup recipe I tried a while ago which, eaten on a Sunday evening, purges and re-energises. I served it with a simple loaf of homemade soda bread.

Carrot, ginger and orange soup.

To feel better, you will need;

400g carrots, sliced

1 large onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

100g red lentils (about half a ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ mug)

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

A large knob of Ginger, about 50g, finely grated

Juice of 2 oranges

1 tsp ground cumin

3/4 litre vegetable stock

Salt and pepper

Heat some oil in a saucepan and cook the onions until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a further few minutes. Sprinkle in the cumin and mix well. At this point I normally squeeze the grated ginger into the pan so that you get the flavour without the ‘dog hair’ like fibres. You could use muslin to do this but I didn’t have any so I used a cloth napkin. Add the carrots, half the orange juice and the lentils and mix well. You could swap half the carrots with butternut squash but, again, I didn’t have any. Mix well, season with salt and pepper and then add the stock. Put a lid on and let simmer for around 30 mins or until the carrots are tender and the lentils are cooked through. Put the soup in a blender, whizz until smooth and then pour into a clean pan. It should be quite thick at this point, which is where the remaining orange juice comes into play. Add a little bit at a time, stirring all the while, until you have a consistency of soup that you like. Taste and add a bit more salt and pepper if it needs it. Ladle into bowls, top with a scoop of yoghurt and a sprinkle of chilli and serve. Some torn coriander (cilantro for you Americans) tossed on top would’ve been nice too but I didn’t have any.

Soda bread.

The easiest bread ever. Delicious hot out of the oven and also makes great toast the next morning. Most recipes call for buttermilk but I think it’s much nicer with yoghurt. Tastes less like a scone.

Slightly undercooked! Oops....

500g plain flour

400ml live yoghurt

2 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp salt

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda together in a bowl. Stir in the salt. Add the yoghurt and mix until you have a basic dough. It is good if it’s a tiny bit sticky. Tip onto a floured work surface, knead for a minute or so and form into a rough ball; it should look scruffy! Place on a floured baking tray, dust with flour and, using a serrated knife, score the top with a cross. You can go pretty deep – about a third of the way through. put in the oven and bake for 40-45 mins. It should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Nomnomnom.