lentils

Yotam Ottolenghi’s puy lentils

puylentilstahini

I celebrated the end of a vegetarian Lent with scampi and chicken bites at Scarborough’s wonderful Clock Café. This is my favourite cafe in the world, it’s fabulously old school with a menu that probably hasn’t changed in 40 years.

The next day I ate battered fish with chips at Whitby’s Quayside restaurant and was very happy.

The week before all that, when I was still being a vegetarian, I finally managed to make an Ottolenghi recipe work. I’m a big fan of red lentil dhal, which is a staple of mine, but this was the first time I’d attempted to cook with puy lentils which I’ve been told are tricky.

It was very tasty (even though I forgot the tiny sliced onion which I’d painstakingly prepared) but this is not surprising considering the amount of butter and oil involved. The cold hardboiled egg garnish really worked well with the hot lentils.

I have one more vegetarian recipe to tell you about next week. Bet you can’t wait.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s puy lentils

Serves 2

  • 200g of puy lentils
  • 30g of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 3 medium tomatoes, skinned and cut into 1cm squares (I used a third of a tin of tinned tomatoes, chopped)
  • 25g of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of tahini paste
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Salt and black pepper
  • ½ a small red onion, peeled and sliced very thin
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered

Bring a pan of water to a boil. Add the lentils and cook according to the pack instructions until completely cooked, drain and set aside. Yotam suggested that this would take 15-20 minutes. My packet suggested cooking for 60 minutes but I found they were done after half an hour. If you can squash a lentil easily between your fingers then they are done.

Put the butter and oil in a frying pan and place on a medium-high heat. Once the butter melts, add the garlic and cumin, and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes, 20g of coriander and the cooked lentils and cook for a couple of minutes stirring all the time.

Then add the tahini, lemon juice, 70ml of water, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Turn down the heat to medium and cook for a few minutes more, stirring all the time until hot and thickened. Roughly mash the lentils with a potato masher, so that some are broken up.

If at any time it looks too thick then you can add a little more water.

Serve on a platter with the sliced onion, the rest of the coriander, a drizzle of olive oil and the hard boiled eggs on the side.

Serve with homemade flat bread (or bought naan or pitta if you can’t be bothered).

Frugal cooking – Dhal with a sort of ‘naan’ bread

Dhal 2

This is one of the savoury dishes that I first learnt to cook (spaghetti bolognese being the obvious other). My home economics teacher was so surprised that I even knew what lentils were, let alone how to cook them, that she gave me a special achievement award at the end of term! That was the kind of school I went to – learning to spell was less important.

It was actually quite a challenge to write this recipe down because I cook it from instinct. I’ve listed the ingredients in terms of what is essential and what is optional, just in case you don’t have any of the later in your cupboard. This is because dhal is an excellent standby for when you’ve not had a chance to go shopping, or when you’re on a really tight budget, and I don’t want to put you off making it just because you don’t have one of the spices or some fresh coriander.

This is another recipe for my daughter Elizabeth who has been eating dhal with gusto since she was 4 months old.

Dhal

Serves 2 with leftovers for the children

Essential

  • 250g split red lentils
  • ½ litre of cold water
  • 2 dessert spoons of ghee (you can use less if you’re being good)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 onion finely chopped or sliced finely
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon salt (I use at least 1 teaspoon but then I love salt)

Optional

  • ½ teaspoon of ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of ground coriander
  • ½ tin of tomatoes
  • A good handful of fresh coriander, chopped

Begin by cooking the lentils. I like to rinse them first (I find this reduces their wind inducing capacity). Put them in a medium size pan and top with cold water. Swirl the water around with your hands and then drain. Do this about 3 times or until the water is a lot less cloudy when you swirl. Add the ½ litre of cold water to the pan and bring to the boil.

Simmer on a low heat until the lentils are soft and have absorbed most of the water (this should take about 30 minutes), you don’t need to drain them. Add the tomatoes (if using) in the last 5 minutes of cooking.

In a pestle and mortar crush the garlic with the salt and dry spices (turmeric, ground cumin and ground coriander).

Heat half the ghee in a frying pan until smoking hot. Add the onions and fry until well coloured. Then add the dry spices and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes stirring well. Finally, add the remaining ghee and when the mix is really hot add to the lentils. Stir until everything is well mixed and check the seasoning. Add most of the chopped coriander and then ladle into bowls.

Garnish with the remaining coriander and serve with a naan style flat bread (as below) or rice.

NOTE: You can cook the lentils in advance but it’s best not to add the hot spice and ghee mix until just before serving. This is because lentils have a strange quality that absorbs all flavour and dulls it down so you’ll just end up having to add more salt and spices later to get the taste back.

A naan style flat bread

I’ve tried several different recipes for naan and they have all come out tasting like a dry flat scone –just not right at all. Bizarrely the recipe below is the most naan-like even though it’s just a regular bread mix rolled flat and cooked in a dry frying pan. Because of the addition of yeast the texture is lovely and soft. You could brush them with ghee once cooked if you wanted a more authentic taste.

Makes 4

  • 275g strong white bread flour
  • 3g yeast
  • 5g salt
  • 175ml of tepid water (you may not need all this amount)

Mix together all the dry ingredients then add the water a little at a time until the mix comes together in a soft dough.

Knead for 10 minutes until the dough is nice and elastic. Cover and set aside to prove for at least an hour (although 2 is better).

Divide the dough into four portions and roll each out with a rolling pin to form a thin disc. You will need to flour your work surface and pin liberally to stop the dough from sticking.

Heat a frying pan until it is very hot and then cook the flat bread for about 4 minutes on each side until golden. Don’t worry if it catches a little and don’t add any oil to the pan. Once cooked keep warm under a tea towel while you continue the process with the remaining three portions.

NOTE: I find that using an old frying pan where the non-stick has come off works a treat for flat breads.

Elizabeth’s chicken curry

chicken curry with Elizabeth

My daughter Elizabeth is a good eater at home but she doesn’t really like school dinners. I think they’re a rite of passage so I make her have them. It may also be because I just can’t be bothered to make sandwiches every morning and, if I’m totally honest, I think I take some vain pleasure in the fact that she talks about how they just don’t compare with mummy’s cooking.

There is one school dinner however that she raves about – chicken curry. And I have to say that this really got under my skin because she would never eat my curries. So in a mindless attempt to compete with Nottinghamshire County Council’s catering department I set about trying to emulate the school dinner curry from her vague description. I knew that it must be very mild so I had to really hold back with the amount of spice I would usually use. I waited with baited breath for Elizabeth’s verdict. She wolfed it down and then declared that my version was even nicer that school’s…but only because it had coriander on top.

As a curry loving adult this recipe is still very nice, especially if you’re in the mood for something mild and creamy. It would be a good dish to cook for the type of people who say they like curry but only eat Kormas.

Elizabeth’s chicken curry

Serve 4

  • 3 large chicken breasts, cut into largish chunks
  • 100ml of lentils, cooked in 400ml of water. Bring to the boil then simmer until soft (about 30 minutes). The lentils will absorb the water so there is no need to drain them. You can do this part well in advance if you like.
  • ½ tin of coconut milk

Marinade

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of mild or medium curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon of ground coriander
  • The inside of 4 cardamom pods crushed with a pestle and mortar
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tiny onion, grated
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste

To serve

  • A good handful of fresh coriander, chopped

Put the chicken in a bowl with all of the ingredients for the marinade. Give it a good mix, cover with cling film and leave for at least two hours I usually do this in the morning ready to cook for dinner.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add the chicken. Cook over a high heat until the chicken is brown making sure to turn each piece over so that it is nicely brown on both sides. It doesn’t need to cook completely through at this stage.

Add the lentils and coconut milk and simmer for about 5 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve with a handful of fresh coriander and lots of rice (to cook rice see my post Nice Rice).

Chicken browning in the pan - you want to get a nice golden colour.

Chicken browning in the pan – you want to get a nice golden colour.

A close up of the finished dish.

A close up of the finished dish in an adult’s bowl.