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.


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.


Beetroot burgers with chive tzatziki

Saturday mornings are a glorious thing. I was due to be working but that got cancelled so I got to have a wonderfully lazy day. Up at 9, tea and toast and an hour of Battlefield 3 before a hung over Laurel surfaced. Off to the market we went.

Last year some lovely, crafty and foodie folk decided to start a food market in Brockley. It has proved to be a massive success, selling amazing coffee, fresh fruit and veg, breads – well, you get the idea. My plan was to take a load of pictures, buy some beautiful vegetables and write a post about it. However, I forgot my camera so I will do a post about it next week. In the meantime I did get a large bag of great looking beetroot and some fresh herbs. I had been wanting to make a veggie burger for a while, so that’s how I spent my afternoon.

I found some great looking recipes online for burgers, ranging from beanie burgers to roast vegetable patties. I especially liked the look of this walnut beanie burger, and considered making these but ultimately decided to try something new using my market purchases. I’d never used beetroot in a burger before and just decided to try to combine it with things I thought complemented it.

Beetroot burgers with chive tzatziki

300g beetroot, grated

100g breadcrumbs (I used old rye bread. Went with the beetroot well.)

1 410g tin red kidney beans, slightly mashed with a fork

1 apple, cored and grated

50g pearl barley

6 small spring onions, chopped

A good handful of dill, roughly chopped

A handful of parsley, roughly chopped

1 large egg, beaten

A pinch of chilli flakes

Salt and pepper

For the tzatziki;

1 cucumber, quartered and deseeded

Zest of 1 lemon

1 clove of garlic, mashed

A big handful of chives, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

2 or 3 tablespoons of natural yoghurt

Couldn’t be simpler this. Cook the pearl barley as per packet instructions and set aside. Meanwhile, combine the rest of the burger ingredients in a big bowl and mix well.

At this point I tried frying a small burger to see what it was like. It was good but was more like a little beetroot rosti than a burger, so I blended half of the mixture and mixed it back in. This improved the texture somewhat. Up to you though.

Mix in the pearl barley (just for texture) and put the burger mix in the fridge for half an hour or so. Grate the cucumber and wrap in a clean tea towel. Squeeze out as much of the moisture as you can and then put in a bowl. Add the chives and lemon zest and mix well. Add the yoghurt 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing all the while, until you have the consistency you desire. Taste and season – it can take salt well! Fry the burger in a little oil over a medium heat until nicely coloured on each side.

I served the burger in a fresh roll with a dollop of tzatziki, a couple of slices of feta and some watercress. I think a bit of fresh horseradish might have been good in it but I didn’t have any. Eat it in front of the telly with a pile of fries on the side.