Red Tomato Dhal

Take a few simple ingredients, add a little heat and a little time and a whole evening of satisfied fullness will follow. Dhal is rapidly becoming one of my go-to meals when it’s cold outside and I’m lacking inspiration – after eating it I wonder why the hell we don’t have it every night. I have over twenty different dhal recipes in my notebook, they are all amazing but this is one I made the other night and it’s my current favourite – until I make the next one…

By the way, this is a very low-calorie meal – around 200 calories or so per serving. You’ll be amazed at how full you feel.

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RECIPE – serves 2

1/2 tsp rapeseed oil

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

75g red lentils

600ml vegetable stock or water

a few good handfuls of baby leaf spinach

fresh coriander, leaves and stalks chopped separately


METHOD 

in a small bowl, add a little water to the ground turmeric and cumin to make a paste, set aside for now.

Put a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat and brown the onion for 5-10 minutes until well coloured, then add the chilli flakes and black mustard seeds and fry for a further 15 seconds before adding the turmeric and cumin paste with the garlic. Cook on for a further 30 seconds or so then add the lentils and tinned tomatoes. Stir in the vegetable stock (or water) and the chopped coriander stalks. Bring to the boil before reducing to a gentle simmer for 30 minutes to an hour until the lentils are soft (depending on the age of your lentils). Add more water if necessary to prevent sticking.

Season, then add the spinach and allow it to wilt into the sauce. Scatter over the chopped coriander leaves and serve alongside Basmati rice and an onion salad.

Vegetarian Enchiladas

A very slight tweak on the original recipe by The Hairy Bikers, this is a filling, healthy and low-calorie meal that is so amazingly delicious it comes as a real shock to realise that each enchilada comes in at under 200 calories – that’s less than 400 calories if you manage to eat two; I defy you to achieve that without bursting!

The cocoa powder adds a delicious, rich edge to what becomes very much more than the sum of its ingredients. Losing weight has never been more pleasurable.

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RECIPE – makes 8, serves 4

1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
400g Quorn mince
1 tbsp cocoa powder
400g can of red kidney beans
3 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
600ml vegetable stock
spray oil
8 soft corn tortillas
50g mature Cheddar cheese, finely grated
150g half-fat crème fraiche
3 tbsp tomato salsa
fresh coriander, chopped, to garnish
lime wedges, to serve


METHOD 

Put a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and lightly fry the onion for 5 minutes until softened, then add the garlic and cook for a further minute or so until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the Quorn mince and cocoa powder, stir thoroughly while cooking for another few minutes, then add the kidney beans, tomato purée and chilli flakes. Stir thoroughly, then add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer gently for 25–30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has reduced right down. you don’t want too much liquid in your enchilada as it will just make the dish soggy.

Please take the time to prepare and use your own vegetable stock. There is little here in the way of spicing and though the dish doesn’t need it and is delicious using just bouillon or a good vegetable stock cube, using your own richly flavoured stock makes the flavour nothing less than WOW! I have provided a link to my own stock recipe above, so use that or your own favourite recipe, you will be amazed.

When the sauce has reduced, season carefully with sea salt and a good grinding of black pepper.

Heat the oven to 200°C/ fan 180°C/ Gas 6. Spray a large shallow ovenproof dish with oil (or brush it with a tiny amount of sunflower oil).

Spoon an eighth of the mixture down the centre of each corn tortilla, sprinkle with a little cheese roll up and place in the greased dish.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 15–20 minutes or until the tortillas are piping hot. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time for a lovely crunchy bite to the tortilla wraps. Spoon the crème fraiche and salsa sauce over the tortillas and garnish with fresh coriander. Season with more black pepper and serve with lime wedges for squeezing. All this needs by way of accompaniment is a light salad dressed with a little freshly squeezed lime juice.

Hake with Tomatoes and Puy Lentils

The trouble with always trying to make something new is that you often forget the gorgeous things that you have made in the past.  That’s why I keep a recipe notebook, in which I write down the final versions of everything that I make that I wish to one day make again. Pushed for time and inspiration last night I was flipping through the book and came across this richly delicious, and ridiculously quick, dish that I haven’t made in a couple of years.

What was I thinking? This is fabulous. I wish I knew where I initially found it, credit is most definitely due.

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RECIPE – serves 2 or 3

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
150ml vegetable stock
400g can chopped plum tomatoes
1 heaped tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
1 tsp hot smoked paprika (pimentón picante)
210g dried Puy lentils OR 400g can Puy lentils
2 or 3 skinned hake fillet (or other firm, white fish)
flat-leaf parsley, chopped to garnish


METHOD 

If using dried lentils, submerge them in clean water and agitate to rinse them, pick out anything that looks like it doesn’t belong then add to a large pan and cover with around 1 1/2 inches of cold water – DO NOT ADD ANY SALT or anything with salt added, it will make the skins tough and essentially inedible. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes (depending on the age of the lentils) until they are just soft enough to eat. Drain and leave to cool on a plate.

Heat the oil in a large, nonstick sauté pan or cast iron casserole with a lid. Add the onion and fry over a medium-high heat for 10 minutes or until browned, turning up the heat a little if necessary. You want the flavour that a well-browned onion will give you so be brave!

When the onions are almost done, add the sliced garlic and fry for a couple of minutes until the garlic also browns, moving it around just enough to ensure it doesn’t catch. Burned garlic is bitter and ruins a dish, so be brave but take care to keep a close eye on things. You can always arrest the cooking by adding the stock…

Ah, the stock. Please, please, please, make your own. I have provided a link to my recipe in the ingredients list, so use that or use somebody else’s but whatever you do using a stock cube or bouillon powder should be your absolute last resort – the difference between home-made and powdered in the final dish is like the sun and the moon.

Lay the fish to dry on kitchen paper, and pat the top side of each fillet dry as well. Lightly season with salt and pepper and allow to sit for a few minutes while you carry on.

Add the stock to the onions and garlic and let it bubble for a few seconds, then tip in the tomatoes followed by the sun-dried tomato paste, paprika and lentils. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes before seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Lay the fillets on top of the tomatoes and lentils, pressing them lightly into the sauce without submerging them, then cover the pan. Simmer over a very gentle heat for 10 minutes or until the fish is just cooked. The fish will poach on the underside and steam on the top side because of the lid, and will remain tender even if you slightly overcook it.

Serve in warmed bowls with crusty sourdough or wholemeal bread.

 

Christmas Cake

I know, Christmas is seven weeks away so why post a recipe for Christmas cake now? Well, the truth is that if you haven’t already made yours, you’re in danger of it not being as good as it can be.

A good Christmas cake needs time to sit and develop, and you need time to ‘feed’ it. Feeding your Christmas cake is simply brushing it with alcohol several times before the big day. More details below, so let’s get cracking with this luscious recipe that is the culmination of years of experiments. This is the one that always gets eaten, and eaten fast!

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RECIPE 

250g sultanas

100g currants

400g raisins

75g mixed peel

zest of a lemon, finely grated

juice of 1/2 a lemon

zest of an orange, finely grated

80ml sherry

175g butter, room temperature

175g dark muscovado sugar

25g black treacle

3 medium eggs, room temperature, beaten

225g plain flour

1 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp cinnamon

40g ground almonds

165g glace cherries

25g glycerine


METHOD 

The day before you plan to make the cake, place the sultanas, currants, raisins, mixed peel, finely grated lemon zest, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, the finely grated zest of an orange and the sherry into a large bowl. Mix together thoroughly to combine, cover with cling film and set aside for 24 hours.

Heat the oven to 140C/ gas 1. Line the base and sides of a 20cm spring-form cake tin with baking parchment, leaving at least four inches of parchment standing above the level of the tin. Also, put baking parchment around the outside of the tin, also standing about 4 inches proud of the top of the tin and tied off with string. This prevents the top of the cake from drying out and burning.

In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to beat the butter, muscovado and treacle until it forms a smooth paste. Mixing with a spoon prevents air being beaten into the mix, air in the mix of a fruit cake is a disaster as it allows the fruit to all sink to the bottom.

Now gradually add the beaten eggs to the butter mix, a little at a time to prevent the mixture from curdling. If it does curdle, just add a spoonful of your flour and beat it in.

When all the egg has been incorporated, mix the flour, mixed spice, cinnamon and ground almonds in a separate bowl. Drop the glace cherries into the flour and ensure they are fully coated – this gives them a coating that provides enough friction to prevent them from dropping to the bottom of the mix while it is baking. Now add the flour mix, with the cherries, to the butter and eggs. Fold in gently with a large metal spoon.

Add the glycerine to the soaked fruit and stir well, this will help to keep the cake moist. Add the fruit to the cake batter and gently fold it through until it is evenly mixed.

You will now have quite a stiff batter – don’t panic, this is as it should be. Spoon it into your lined cake tin and level it off with a spatula.

Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately two hours. Check it is cooked by inserting a skewer in to the centre of the cake, if it comes out clean then your cake is ready. If it comes out with some cake mix stuck to it then cook for a further 15 minutes, repeat the process if necessary, but do not cook your cake for longer than 2 1/2 hours.

Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack, in the tin.When the tin is warm to the touch you can remove it, but leave the parchment on the cake and the cake on the rack until it is fully cold.

When the cake is fully cold, use a pastry brush to generously brush the top and sides of the cake with sherry, Cointreau, rum, brandy, Calvados or any spirit of your choice. Don’t drown the cake, but don’t be frugal either. Here is the important bit:

DO NOT PIERCE YOUR CAKE!

It is the single biggest reason for dry, inedible fruit cakes. The alcohol will soak in quite happily – there is no need to dig holes in your cake so all of its moisture can evaporate more easily.

Wrap the cake in a large sheet of baking parchment, then cover that with a large sheet of baking foil and wrap it tightly. Store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

To feed your cake, brush it as above, A MAXIMUM OF THREE MORE TIMES using your preferred fortified wine or spirit. Leave at least a week between each feed, and allow at least seven days after the last feed before you decorate the cake.

Now isn’t the time to give decorating tips, I will leave that until nearer the time…

Vegetable Stock

There really is no secret to creating great-tasting dishes; if you use good-quality ingredients and cook them well, then finish with a sympathetic garnish, you are already 80% of the way there. To raise a dish from the great to the fantastic you will need to find the final 20% though, and that’s where getting the basics right really counts.

If you start your dish with a great home-made tomato sauce or stock the results can be unbelievable. Suddenly, restaurant-quality food will start to emerge from your kitchen. There is a reason that professional chefs of any quality never use stock cubes or powders and it is for this reason that this, of all the recipes I will ever publish, is without a doubt the most useful and most important.

Sure, it takes a little time to make a great stock, but apart from the five minutes it takes to roughly chop the ingredients you can spend all that time doing something else – like sitting down with a cuppa and reading a book.

Try and find dried limes in the international section of your local supermarket, they are cheap as chips and add a whole other dimension of flavour. Just pop them in whole, or crush them in your hands.

I make two versions of this stock, a dark stock for use with heavier, darker stews and soups, and a light version for use making soups such as minestrone and tomato, and risottos, where a dark coloured stock would adversely affect the look of the finished dish. To make the lighter version simply omit the mushrooms and make sure you remove the skin from the onion.


RECIPE – makes approximately 1.5 litres

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried thyme

2 bay leaves

1 large onion, unpeeled, roughly chopped

1 leek, well rinsed, chopped

5 medium organic carrots, unpeeled, chopped

1 large orange sweet potato, unpeeled, roughly chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

5 dried shiitake mushrooms

3 litres water

1 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

2 dried limes (optional, but awesome)


METHOD 

Heat the oil in a large stock pot and add the dried herbs and bay leaves while you start chopping the veg. As you chop each ingredient, toss it straight into the pot and agitate it to get the oil and herbs coating everything. Add the shiitake mushrooms whole, then cover the whole thing with a cartouche and cook over a gentle heat for twenty minutes.

The smaller you chop your vegetables the more flavour you will generally be able to extract; don’t overdo it though, root vegetables only need to go as small as 1/2 cm cubes while the leek, onion and celery only need to be 5mm thick at a minimum. Take as long as you have, and if you’re in a hurry don’t worry about it.

*Tip: Sweating vegetables under a piece of parchment is known as using a cartouche. It is a way of cooking that simultaneously sweats and steams the vegetables, extracting maximum flavour in minimum time.

Cut a square of baking parchment that is slightly larger than the surface area of your pan, push it down so it sits on top of your sweating vegetables and then tuck the sides down so the vegetables are completely covered. Keep the heat low and after a few minutes check to see that nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan, then re-cover and continue to sweat them until they are as soft as you need them to be and the aroma is filling your kitchen.

After twenty minutes remove the cartouche, add the water and fish sauce and bring to the boil, then simmer very gently for between 60 and 90 minutes. The long, slow cooking is crucial to extract maximum flavour and nutrients from the vegetables.

Strain and remove all the vegetable matter and you now have a basic vegetable stock; the real test is that it should make a delicious broth when seasoned with salt – good enough to drink out of a mug and leave you wanting more. At this point you can use it as it is in any recipe that calls for stock, or you can reduce it further, concentrating the flavour and storing it in the fridge for later use.

Banana Oat Mini-Muffins

I hate wasting food. Okay, sometimes there will be a piece of past-its-best veg sitting in the fridge that has been forgotten because it has been buried under something else, but it’s rare that a use can’t be found for it. Vegetable peelings and trimmings, and not quite at their best leeks, celery, carrots and the like can always be pressed into service to make a stock. As for fruit, anything on the turn can be turned into cake fillings or immersed in alcohol and soaked for a few weeks to make a wicked punch, while bananas are (to my mind) at their most useful when the skins are seriously spotted with black but the fruit is still quite firm. From these you can make banoffee pie, banana bread, or these lovely little muffins.

Small enough to eat in two bites, loaded with flavour and (whisper it) they’re healthy as well. Made with a minimum amount of sugar and sunflower oil rather than butter, they are a great guilt-free treat, and are also great as part of your breakfast. They freeze well, so there’s no need to worry about eating them all in a hurry.

The ones pictured below have no topping or garnishing, but you can sprinkle a little demerara sugar over the top five minutes before they come out of the oven for a crunchy topping and a little extra indulgence.

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RECIPE – makes around 30 small muffins, or 15 large

100g oats

200g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/4 tsp fine sea salt

100g soft light brown sugar

4 large ripe bananas

1 large egg, beaten

60ml sunflower oil

75g chopped walnuts

demerara sugar to finish (optional)


METHOD 

Heat the oven to 180C/ gas 4. Line a cupcake tin with paper cases of the appropriate size.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar. Mix well.

In a separate large bowl, mash the bananas until smooth then add the beaten egg and sunflower oil and mix thoroughly. Now add the dry ingredients and the walnuts over the top of the banana mix, fold through until all the ingredients are just combined; take care not to overmix.

Spoon the mixture into the pastry cases then bake for 15-20 minutes (for small muffins) or 20-25 minutes for larger muffins. They are ready when the tops are browned and firm, and when you insert a skewer or cocktail stick it comes out clean.

If you wish, five minutes or so before they are finished, sprinkle a little demerara sugar over the top of each muffin to add little crunch.