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!

IMG_6066

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.

IMG_6068

 

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!

 

Baked Squash with leeks

I saw a wonderful display of squash outside a greengrocers the other day and couldn’t resist buying a couple. Rather than chop them up and roast them, I thought it would be nice to cook them whole. An internet search threw up a recipe for Squash stuffed with leeks by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, which turned out to be in his River Cottage Veg Everyday cookbook, which I actually have on my shelf. It is ideal for enjoying small acorn or harlequin squash that are around now, but you could serve one larger squash between two people, remembering to give it more time in the oven (another 10-20 minutes at a guess).

The leeks are sweated in a little butter, then a little mustard, cream and gruyère added to give an unctuous filling which makes a nice contrast with the soft orange squash. I have tweaked the recipe by halving the quantity of cheese (to make it a big less rich) and adding nutmeg. I also used goat’s cream, as I happened to have some, which worked well, and you could use a hard goat’s cheese rather than the Gruyère. I think blue cheese might be worth trying too.

Aside from the slight fiddle of preparing the squash – much aided by making sure your knife is nice and sharp – this is a very straightforward recipe. Just right for an autumnal lunch this weekend. Quantities are for two people. I forgot to take a photograph of the finished dish, so I will try to remedy that next time I make it, as I am sure it will be back on the menu soon.

15g butter
1 large leek
½ teaspoon English mustard
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
30g Gruyère
2 small squash (about 400g each)
2 sprigs of thyme
Salt, black pepper & nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5. Trim the leek and slice it finely. Heat a good nut of butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add the leeks, stirring them about. Once they start to cook, turn the heat down, cover the pan and cook very gently for about 10 minutes, until very soft. Grate the cheese and stir it into the leeks with the mustard and crème fraîche. Season the mixture well with salt, pepper and a grating of nutmeg, remembering that the squash won’t have any seasoning.

Cut a small slice off the base of each squash so it will stand up securely. Using a strong knife and a steady hand cut a cone out of the top of the squash to make a lid. I found that trying to cut a flat slice was more tricky and didn’t go through to the centre of the squash. Put the lids on one side, and use a small knife and a teaspoon to scrape out all the seeds and fibres.

Spoon the leek mixture into the two squash, leaving a little room for the filling to bubble away,  and pop a sprig of thyme into each one. Replace the squash lids and stand the squash on a large baking tray.

Bake for 50 minutes, and then poke a knife into the flesh inside to check that the squash is nice and tender. Serve in solitary glory, though a crunchy salad (chicory and watercress?) might be nice before or afterwards.

Aubergines, Chickpeas, Walnuts & Dates

Ten days ago I was lucky enough to be given Diana Henry’s book Simple: Effortless food, big flavours, and I have been obsessively cooking my way through it ever since. It really lives up to the promise of the title: lots of recipes that are simple enough to tackle when you’re  tired after a busy day, yet taste good enough to revive you – or fool guests into thinking you have been slaving over a hot stove for hours. I’m also delighted to find that Diana Henry has lots of recipes on her website (as well as those behind the Telegraph’s paywall) if you want to check them out before you commit to buying a book.

This satisfying combination of aubergines, chickpeas, walnuts & dates has the most wonderful tahini dressing, which I am planning to use for lots of other grain-and-vegetable salads in the near future. Aleppo pepper is also known as Turkish pul biber, which I found in Waitrose, but you can substitute a mixture of cayenne and paprika if you can’t find it – or don’t want another container in your spice drawer. The original recipe had a little date syrup drizzled over the dish at the end, which I omitted (though I did wonder about using pomegranate molasses instead). This is a perfect recipe for the sunny but autumnal weather we’ve been having in London, when you want something warm and reasonably substantial yet with the flavours of warmer climes.

These are the quantities for 4. As I was cooking just for me, I made it using a third of the quantity and had enough for one generous portion, plus a side for the next day, when it was just as delicious. The first day I served it on a bed of rocket, and second time round with quinoa and salad – the quinoa was particularly good with it. Henry recommends serving it with couscous or alongside lamb or grilled mackerel.

3 aubergines (about 750g)
3 smallish onions
6 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp pul biber/Aleppo pepper
salt & pepper
400g can chickpeas
squeeze of lemon juice
half a small packet of coriander leaves
5 Medjool dates
15g walnuts

Dressing:
50ml tahini
50ml extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
4 tbsp Greek yoghurt (or Dairy-free alternative)
juice of ½ lemon

Heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5. Cut the aubergines across into fat slices and then halve the larger slices. Peel the onions and cut them vertically into wedges. Put both into a large roasting tin and mix together with all but 1 tbsp of the olive oil, the cumin, pul biber, salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes, turning everything about half way through.

Put all the dressing ingredients into a small blender or a bowl with 50ml of water and either blitz or whisk until it’s thoroughly blended and the consistency of thick cream. Check the seasoning, adding more lemon if necessary.

Pit and chop the dates, roughly chop the walnuts and toast them for a few minutes in a hot frying pan if you have the energy (I didn’t). Pick the coriander leaves off the stems and chop.

Five minutes before the aubergines are ready heat the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil in a pan. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and heat them through in the oil for a few minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and tip onto a serving platter – over rocket, couscous or quinoa if you wish. Spoon the cumin-roast aubergines and onions on top, generously drizzle with the dressing, then scatter over the coriander, dates and walnuts.

And there you have a delicious, exotic dinner on the table in 45 minutes, of which at least half can be spent reading the paper or, in my case, doing your piano practice.