Lentil dhal two ways

Irene made this dhal last weekend when my niece was staying, and we had it again last night, with different accompaniments. The recipe started with Anna Jones’s killer Dhal with crispy sweet potato and quick coconut chutney, but Irene adapted the method slightly to follow her mother’s practice. She cooks the onions first, then the garlic, ginger and chilli, and finally the spices to ensure they are thoroughly cooked before adding the lentils and stock. The two versions I give here are Dhal with sweet potato, and Dhal with roasted beetroot and greens.

The crispy sweet potato is very good with it. I have mixed feelings about the coconut chutney – I know you’re supposed to temper the dhal with spicy oil, but I quite like it just with some fresh coconut and coriander on top. How do I get fresh coconut? My little local Indian shop sells frozen grated coconut, which is incredibly convenient, as you can just break off what you need, and I think it has a better texture than desiccated coconut. While I’m on useful tips about coconut, I recently discovered coconut milk powder, which is an absolute boon for anyone who regularly cooks for one or two (or indeed six). Most recipes are for 4 servings and call for a 400ml tin of coconut milk, so I was forever ending up with half or three-quarters of a tin of coconut milk left over from a recipe and having to think of something else to cook with it in the short window before it went off. Coconut milk powder means you can make up just as much as you need, and you can make it thicker if your recipe calls for coconut cream (or indeed thinner if you’re trying to cut down on fat). All that, and it’s lighter to carry home from the supermarket too!

Yesterday we had dhal with roasted beetroot, stir-fried beetroot leaves and yoghurt. I had bought a lovely bunch of beetroot with fresh leaves from the greengrocers, but you could use chard or spinach if your beetroot doesn’t still have its leaves. If you don’t eat dairy, I think coconut yoghurt would be a really good alternative to greek yoghurt here, and you could add some chopped cucumber and a little ground cumin to it if you wished.

For both versions, start by roasting the vegetable accompaniment, then get on with the dhal while the vegetables are in the oven.

IMG_6072For dhal with sweet potato you will need:

  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • rapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 6 tbsps grated coconut (or to taste)

Heat the oven to 220°C/200°C Fan/Gas 7. Give the sweet potatoes a good wash – I use a soft vegetable brush – as you are going to cook them with their skins on. Roughly chop them into 1.5cm cubes and toss them with a drizzle of oil, some salt and pepper and the seeds (the fennel seeds are nice but not essential). Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes by which time they should be soft, and well browned and crispy.

If using frozen grated coconut allow it to defrost. Alternatively, soak some desiccated coconut in boiling water to soften. Serve the sweet potatoes with the dhal, a good scoop of coconut and some chopped coriander. (The rather messy photo above shows the dhal and sweet potatoes with Anna Jones’s coconut chutney – and added broccoli!)

Dhal with beetroot and greensFor dhal with beetroot you will need:

  • a bunch of beetroot (4 large or 6-8 small)
  • Beetroot greens or a bunch of chard or 200g spinach
  • rapeseed or olive  oil
  • 150ml Greek or coconut yoghurt

Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/Gas 6. Cut off the tops of the beetroot, keeping the greens if you are using them (you can also eat the stems if they are in good condition) and trim the root end. Wash, and if using large beetroot cut into halves or quarters – small beetroot can be cooked whole. Put into a roasting dish into which they fit snugly, add 50ml of water and cover with foil. Roast for 40-50 minutes until the beetroot are tender to the point of the knife.

Once the beetroot are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins, which should slip off easily. Drizzle over a little oil, and season with salt and pepper.

While the beetroot is roasting, wash the beetroot or chard/spinach and slice roughly. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan or wok. Once it is hot stir fry the greens for a few minutes until wilted and glossy green. If you’re using the stems, add them first and cook them for a couple of minutes more than the greens. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve the beetroot and greens with the dhal, a scoop of yoghurt and some chopped coriander.

The ingredients for 4 generous portions of dhal are:

  • 1 onion
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a large thumb of fresh ginger
  • 1 green chilli
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 200g red lentils
  • 400 ml coconut milk (from a can or powder)
  • 400ml vegetable stock (we used vegan Marigold bouillon)
  • 50g spinach (unless you are having greens separately)
  • a small bunch of fresh coriander
  • juice of 1 lemon

Put the oil to heat in a large saucepan. Roughly chop the onion and cook over a slow heat – I started it at 5 and then turned down to 4 on my induction hob – for at least 5 minutes until the onion is soft and golden.

Grind the cumin and coriander seeds, add them to the pan with the turmeric and cinnamon and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring, until the scent of the spices rises. Now add the lentils and stir them about so that they are coated with the spicy onions.

Add the coconut milk and stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook gently for 20-25 minutes. If you are having spinach, wash it and stir it in until it has wilted – Anna Jones specifies two handfuls of spinach but I tend to make those rather generous handfuls, so you can decide how much you want. Finally, add the lemon juice and chopped coriander – keeping some back to garnish the dish – and serve with your chosen accompaniment.

You could, of course, serve the dhal with brown rice for a more substantial meal, with your favourite curry, or with other roasted vegetables – cauliflower roasted with cumin is next on my list to try!

Root vegetable tagine

My niece came to stay this weekend, and we cooked this delicious vegetable tagine together. Aside from onion and carrot the selection of vegetables was far from authentic, as I used winter vegetables – sweet potato, parsnip and swede – but the result was just as tasty as tagines featuring mediterranean vegetables. My niece had seconds, so I think it has the seal of approval!

I used red onion, but regular yellow onion would be just fine. These quantities serve 4 generously and I didn’t use all of the swede pictured. You can easily up the quanties, remembering to increase the amount of spices, to serve more people or make sure you have leftovers for tomorrow’s lunchbox. Having browsed a number of different recipes online and in my cookbooks, I decided that the important things were to soften the onions and cook the spices slowly at the beginning, then turn the chopped vegetables in the spicy onions, and finally add the liquid and chickpeas. You could add crushed chillies or a fresh chopped chilli with the rest of the spices at the beginning instead of using paprika.

Rather than serving the vegetable tagine with couscous, we had brown rice, which made it a really satisfying meal. To thicken the sauce – and up the protein content, particularly useful if you are vegan – you could add 100g red lentils just before adding the stock.

  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil (or similar neutral oil)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 thumb of root ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 parsnips
  • 1 small swede
  • ½ tin chopped tomatoes
  • 600 ml vegetable stock
  • Large pinch saffron
  • 8 soft dried apricots
  • zest and juice of ½ orange
  • 400g can of chickpeas
  • 1 red chilli or 1 tsp harissa
  • a handful of coriander leaves
  • To serve: brown rice or couscous with 50g pine nuts to garnish

Start by peeling and chopping the onion, crushing the garlic and peeling and finely chopping the ginger. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed casserole or pan with a lid, large enough to take all the vegetables comfortably. Peel and chop the carrot, sweet potato, swede and parsnip into even, fork-sized chunks.

When the oil is hot, cook the chopped onion, stirring from time to time, for about 5 minutes until it is starting to soften. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for another couple of minutes before tipping in the cumin, cinnamon, coriander and paprika. Stir for a few minutes until the scent of the spices rises.

Add the rest of the vegetables and stir them about in the spicy onions – this is where you’ll be glad that you chose a nice large pan! Then stir in the tomatoes. Heat the stock, or make up from 1 rounded tsp of Marigold vegan bouillon powder and boiling water. Add the saffron to the stock and pour into the pan. Finally, chop the dried apricots into quarters, and add them to the pan together with the orange zest and juice and drained chickpeas.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Put on the rice or couscous and we toasted some pine nuts to sprinkle over the rice. Once the tagine is cooked, stir in the harissa, if using. Serve with the rice or couscous, and garnish with chopped coriander and sliced red chilli, if wished.

Beetroot and red onion tarte tatin

This glistening, deep-red tart would make a showy centrepiece for Sunday lunch, and is useful if you or those you cook for are vegan or trying it out for Veganuary. I made it the other evening for an omnivorous friend with high culinary standards, who gave it the thumbs up, so meat-eaters won’t be disappointed either.

There seem to be various approaches to caramelising the vegetables before finally baking them under their crust. I decided that baking the beetroot with olive oil and basalmic vinegar and cooking the onions on top of the stove gave the best combination of ease and deep flavour. If the beetroot you have are small you may need more than four and in this case, they will just need to be quartered or halved. Remember to choose a puff pastry that is vegan.

You will need a solid baking tin – don’t use a spring-form tin or you may end up with the juices firmly caramelised onto your oven. I used a 20cm round one, but a square pan would be absolutely fine if you have a dish or board the right shape to turn it out onto. And you use a rectangular tin a bit smaller than your piece of pastry then you won’t need to faff around cutting it to size (though you may need more beetroot and onions)! Note that you need to rest the tart for 10 minutes before serving, so build that if you timing is critical. This quantity feeds 3-4 people, depending on what side dishes (or other courses) you serve it with – you could, of course, easily scale it up to make a big tart for a crowd.

  • 3-4 medium beetroot
  • 4 tbsps rapeseed or olive oil
  • 1 tbsp basalmic vinegar
  • 3 red onions
  • 1 tsp soft brown sugar
  • half a pre-rolled sheet of puff pastry
  • handful of parsley (optional)

IMG_6062Unroll the sheet of puff pastry, upend the baking tin on it, and cut a piece 1 cm larger than the tin. I needed to roll the pastry a bit to get it to the right shape, and I should have allowed a bigger rim to tuck in (as you can see, it was not 1 cm larger than the tin). Re-wrap the pastry and put it back in the fridge in its bag. Line the baking tin with greaseproof paper. Heat the oven to 180°F fan/200°F/Gas 6.

Wash, trim and peel the beetroot (use rubber gloves if you want to avoid Lady Macbeth hands). Cut them into 6 or 8 wedges from top to tip and put them in a bowl (yes, it is worth the extra washing up!). Toss with about 2 tbsps oil, 1 tbsp basalmic vinegar, salt and pepper.

img_6063.jpgNow arrange the beetroot wedges on their sides in a circle around the edge of the tin, fitting them snugly together (mine could have been closer together) and fill the centre with a few of the smaller pieces. Put into the pre-warmed oven and cook for 30-40 minutes until a knife goes through them, remembering that they are going to get cooked a bit more later. If you have any beetroot left over (I did) just tip them into a separate baking pan, cover with foil and pop them in the oven at the same time. They will make a lovely beetroot salad with watercress, chicory and sliced orange.

img_6064.jpgPeel the onions and slice fairly finely. Heat the remaining 2 tbsps oil over a medium heat in a large frying pan with a lid.

Stir the onions regularly and when they start to soften add the 1 tsp brown sugar, season with salt and black pepper and put the lid on. Cook the onions slowly for a further 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until they are meltingly soft and caramelising. Leave to cool – this makes it easier when you come to add the pastry. You can prepare everything a few hours ahead up to this point.

img_6065.jpgWhen the beetroot is ready spoon the onions over them, filling any gaps between the wedges to give a relatively smooth surface. Carefully unroll the pastry over the top and tuck the edges down over the filling.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is nicely browned, turning the tin half way if your oven is like mine and browns the back half of the pastry more quickly. Take out of the oven and rest for 10 minutes – this allows the tart to settle and avoids you emptying scalding beetroot juice over your hands when you turn it out!

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Gently slide a spatula round the edge of the tart to loosen any sticky bits. Now firmly clamp your serving plate over the top of the tart, using a cloth as the tin will still be hot, and swiftly turn it over. The greaseproof paper will probably stay in the tin but if not just peel it off – it will have done its work of stopping the filling sticking to the tin. Sprinkle over some chopped parsley, if you wish. It really needs to be served with something green – broccoli is good or a watercress or rocket salad – and you could add new potatoes if you want to make it more substantial.

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Squash caponata

I thought I should start the New Year as I intend to go on, after too long a gap, by sharing this recipe, which has already become a keeper. Here’s to enjoying more delicious food in 2020…

I have always liked caponata, so when I spotted a recipe by Anna Jones for a winter version made with roast squash I immediately tore it out of the Guardian Feast section to try. It was so delicious that I made it on repeat at home, and then again when I went to stay with my vegan brother. It is blissfully easy to make, and can be eaten as a vegan main course, with a salad and good bread, as a starter or side dish.

I think the flavours are best when it is eaten warm or at room temperature, but it is good hot from the oven too.  It keeps well in the fridge for a few days and is also really easy to scale up and down, whether to make enough for a crowd or just use up that piece of squash that has been lurking in your veg drawer. 

  • 2 tins plum tomatoes
  • 1.1kg squash (or pumpkin)
  • 3 medium red onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 4 tbsp basalmic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 50g black olives
  • 3 tbsp capers
  • 50g raisins
  • 20g parsley

Heat the oven to 240° C/220° C Fan/Gas 9. Peel and deseed the squash, and chop it into roughly 2cm chunks. Peel the onions and cut each into six pieces. Peel the garlic cloves and squash them with the side of a knife.

Empty the tinned tomatoes into a large baking tray, breaking them up with a spoon or your hands (you can use tins of chopped tomatoes if you prefer, though you lose a bit of texture). I still use my mother’s sturdy roasting pan for this sort of dish. Add all the prepped vegetables, then drizzle over 3 tbsp each of basalmic vinegar and olive oil and grind over some salt and pepper. Put into the oven and roast for 35 minutes. 

While it is cooking pick off the leaves of the parsley – they are part of the salad, rather than a garnish, so don’t stint or chop them. When all the roasted vegetables are soft and starting to char at the edges add the olives, capers and raisins, mix well and return the pan to the oven for 15 minutes.

When the caponata comes out of the oven stir through the remaining 1 tbsp of vinegar and the parsley leaves. Either serve straight away or leave to cool a little. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Happy New Year!

 

Perfect ice cream

These days one can buy such good ice cream that I don’t often make classic, custard-based ice cream myself, particularly since I discovered how easy it is to make semifreddo. When we were on holiday in Verona many years ago we had a divine nougat semifreddo. So, as soon as we got home, I looked for a recipe in Claudia Roden’s wonderful The Food of Italy and found one for semifreddo al miele, which I have used ever since. She also gives recipes for chocolate and wine semifreddos, with slightly different methods.

Semifreddo is just a form of Italian ice cream which is rich enough with eggs and cream not to need churning, and I find it very easy and quite quick to make. This quantity is for 4-6 people – if you want to make less, it works fine with 1 egg and 2 egg yolks, and half the quantity of honey and cream. You can use whipping cream instead of double to make it slightly lighter.

  • 1 egg
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 100g orange blossom or acacia honey
  • 300 ml double cream

Bring some water to a brisk simmer in a medium saucepan. Put the egg, egg yolks and honey into a heat-proof bowl that will fit on top of the pan without touching the simmering water. Put the bowl onto the pan and whisk the mixture until it becomes thick and pale. I use a balloon whisk for this, but you could use a hand-held mixer. When it is ready you should be able to write your initial with the mixture dropping off your whisk, something which gives me a child-like pleasure.

Whip the cream until well risen and fold it into the eggs and honey. Pour into a plastic container and freeze for 6 hours or overnight. See what I mean about simple?

However, sometimes I want a classic ice cream and then I have turned to this recipe by Travel Gourmet, which is flavoured with brandy and sherry. If you have an ice cream machine it really isn’t difficult, thanks to Delia’s tip of using a little cornflour (or custard powder) to avoid the risk of the custard splitting, though it does need cooling and then churning so the preparation takes a bit longer. It is a delicious way of using up milk or egg yolks left over from other recipes. The vanilla ice cream below uses Travel Gourmet’s base, and is here to encourage me to make it more often!

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 300ml whole milk
  • 300ml whipping cream
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste

Beat the egg yolks, sugar, custard powder and vanilla with a whisk until thick and smooth. Heat the milk until it is just about to boil and then pour it slowly onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time.

Rinse out the pan if there is any sign of milk sticking to the bottom, then pour the mixture back in and heat it, stirring diligently with a spatula or wooden spoon until it thickens. Pour into a large bowl to cool. When the custard is cold, whip the cream until it is risen but still floppy, rather than stiff. Fold carefully into the custard using a large metal spoon or spatula. At this stage you can add any additional flavourings.

Unless you have a very fancy ice-cream maker, I find it helps to put it into the fridge for an hour or so to get really cold before you churn it. Then churn the ice cream until it is softly frozen, spoon into a container and put in the freezer to firm up. Remember to take it out of the freezer for about 10 minutes before serving to make it easier to scoop.

Carrot and bean dip

I was prompted to post this by my friend Sue, who asked me for the recipe after we made it during our holiday in the Auvergne. It is very easy to whip up and is a pleasant change from ordinary houmus. Irene originally found a recipe for it online, but we could never find that recipe again, so this is a reconstruction, informed by some online browsing.

If you’re pushed for time you can boil the carrots rather than roasting them, though roasting does give a sweeter flavour, and it is incredibly easy, especially if you pop them into the oven when you’ve got it on to cook something else. You could use crushed raw garlic, if you prefer.

This quantity makes enough to accompany drinks for 6 and, as part of a selection of four different nibbles or snippets, it was enough for a drinks party for 20 last night.

  • 1 tin cannellini or butter beans
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1½ tsp coriander seeds
  • sea salt and black pepper

Heat the oven to 180°C (or thereabouts – just adjust the cooking time if you’re cooking them with something else that needs a slightly different temperature). Scrub or peel the carrots, trim the ends and cut into rough chunks. Sling into a roasting pan with the garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes until tender to the point of a knife, then put into a bowl (if you’re using a stick blender) or the food processor. Alternatively, boil in lightly salted water for about 10 minutes.

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds, shaking the pan occasionally, for a few minutes until you start to smell them (do not leave them, as they can burn quickly). Tip out, allow to cool for a few minutes, then crush to a powder in a spice mill or mortar and pestle. You can, of course, use ready ground spices if you haven’t got seeds or are in a rush – but it really is worth the bother if you have time.

Drain the tin of beans and tip into the bowl or food processor on top of the carrots. Add the lemon juice, tahini, 3 tbsps olive oil, ground spices and a good grind of black pepper. Squeeze the garlic out of its paper cases (or peel and crush in a garlic press if you’re using it raw) and pop that in too. Then blend or pulse until you have a puree – you can decide how rough or smooth you prefer it. Taste for seasoning – you may need more oil, salt or lemon juice.

If you’re feeling a fancy you can add some chopped parsley or coriander as a garnish. Serve with bread sticks, crackers, flat bread or – my current favourite – fennel tarralini for dipping.

Thanks to Sue for prompting me to post the recipe and for all the (very professional) photographs.

Sweet potato cakes

These sweet potato cakes are dead easy to make, and perfect for brunch or supper. You could also make smaller cakes and serve them as a snack with some salsa or chutney. We had them for brunch with a poached egg on top and a fresh, crunchy salad. To keep it vegan, serve a sliced avocado or a good dollop of coconut yoghurt alongside the potato cakes instead of the egg. This is a very useful recipe when you have left-over roasted or boiled sweet potato – sometimes you can only get enormous ones, which are far too big to get through all at once.

The potato cakes are very soft – you could use more cornflour and chill them for longer if you want firmer, neater patties – but I don’t mind them being a bit wonky, and they held together fine in the pan. Adjust the chilli content to your taste, and chilli flakes would work too if you don’t have any fresh chilli. You could, of course, omit the ginger and chilli and use parsley and lemon zest instead of coriander and lime zest if you wanted a milder, more soothing brunch. Serves 2.

1 large sweet potato (about 300g)
2 spring onions
1cm ginger
1 clove garlic
1 red or green chilli
zest of 1/2 lime
6 sprigs coriander
1 tbsp cornflour
salt and black pepper
2 tbsps quick-cook polenta
1 tbsp olive oil

Salad
2 tomatoes
5cm cucumber
6 radishes
1 stick celery
Coriander leaves
juice of 1/2 lime
2 tbsp olive oil

To serve (optional):
2 eggs or 100g coconut yoghurt
1 avocado

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Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Peel the sweet potato and cut into small chunks. Add to the boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes until tender to a fork, then drain thoroughly in a colander.img_5453.jpg

 

Trim and finely chop the spring onions, peel and grate the ginger and garlic, de-seed and finely chop the chilli and put into a bowl with the zest of lime. Finely chop the coriander, including any soft stalks, and add that too. Tip the drained sweet potatoes into the bowl and mash them into the other ingredients.

 

Add the tablespoon of cornflour and mix well. Then spread the polenta onto a plate. Take a quarter of the mixture, shape into a pattie and dump on top of the polenta. Carefully turn it over (using a spatula helps) so that it is completely coated in the polenta.

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Move the potato cake onto a plate or board and do the same with the rest of the mixture to give four sweet potato cakes. Pop them into the fridge to firm up for a few minutes while you clear the decks, make salad and lay the table.

 

For our salad we just diced the vegetables listed and dressed them with lime juice and olive oil. Diced red pepper or red onion would also be nice, as well as or instead of the ones listed. Or you could just prepare a regular green salad.

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Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. If you’re having poached eggs put a shallow pan of water on to heat.

When the oil is hot use a spatula to transfer the potato cakes into the pan and leave to cook undisturbed – resist the urge to fiddle with them – on a medium heat for 5-7 minutes until the bottom is crisp and golden. Turn them over carefully with the spatula and cook the other side.

Slice the avocado, if having, and squeeze over a few drops of lemon or lime juice to stop it discolouring. If you’re having poached eggs, about 3 minutes before the potato cakes are ready crack each one into a cup and slip into just simmering water. Cook for 3 minutes or until done to your taste. Use a slotted spoon to scoop each one from the water and blot any excess moisture with a kitchen towel.

Serve the potato cakes with their sides and salad for a satisfying, spicy brunch.

Sweet potato cake and egg