Spiced Red Lentil, Orange and Ginger Soup

I first made this recipe (from Maria Elias’ excellent ‘The Modern Vegetarian’) because I was intrigued by the flavours it promised. I will make it again and again because it is superb.

The addition of orange may be unusual, but it makes its present felt in subtle ways. If you are a wine buff you would say it has ‘a long finish with citrus notes’ – a perhaps pretentious way of saying that it has a delicate perfume that stays with you after every spoonful.

The Greek yogurt adds a little tang, and takes the edge off the heat of the spice – which I then add back in by sprinkling each bowl with a little dried chilli, which is entirely optional.

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RECIPE serves 4

250g red lentils

3 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped

1 red chilli, (deseeded if you don’t like heat), finely chopped

2 fat garlic cloves, crushed

50g (or a fat thumb) fresh root ginger, grated

4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp paprika

a pinch of cayenne pepper

2 tsp vegetarian or vegan bouillon

2 tbsp tomato puree

1 long cinnamon stick

2 large oranges

4 tbsp Greek yogurt

fresh mint leaves, to garnish

a sprinkling of dried chilli flakes, to garnish


METHOD

Put the lentils in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Drain in a fine sieve/colander and rinse with cold water. This step cleans the lentils of any impurities. Set aside.

Finely chop the onion, celery, carrot and chilli. You can roughly chop them then blitz them in a food processor if you have one. These ingredients are there to give you a deep flavour base, not to add any texture.

In a large saucepan, add the chopped onion, celery, carrot and chilli together with the ginger and garlic. Saute over a medium heat for around 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Meanwhile, put the cumin, turmeric, paprika and cayenne pepper into a small bowl, add a little water and mix to make a stiff paste.

Add the spice paste to the sauteed vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, for around 2 minutes until aromatic. Now add the lentils, bouillon, tomato puree, cinnamon stick (left whole) and 750ml just-boiled water.

Finely grate the zest from one orange into the pan, then cut off the top and bottom of each orange and cut away the skin, leaving only the flesh. Cut the flesh into small pieces and add to the pan. Bring to the boil then reduce to a gentle simmer for around 30 minutes until the lentils are meltingly soft. You may need to add a little water to keep it loose as it cooks.

When cooked, remove the cinnamon stick from the soup and then blend using a hand blender. You can leave it slightly chunky, or blend until smooth, it is entirely up to you.

Adjust the seasoning to taste, then stir in the Greek yogurt. Serve topped with a few lightly shredded mint leaves and a light sprinkling of dried chilli flakes, alongside rustic bread.

Apple and Blackberry Crumble

When I need a recipe that is fuss-free and easy, yet guaranteed to be delicious, Nigel Slater is who I generally turn to. He’s an ace at puddings. This is mainly, I think, because he uses lots of what makes them lovely. That makes sense, you don’t eat the dessert course if you are on a diet so why take half-measures when you are allowed?

As I put this into the oven, my wife came up behind me and asked if I had followed the recipe exactly. I had indeed. “You used all the butter? And all the sugar?” Again, I had indeed. I don’t see the point in denying the pleasure of eating something as wickedly rich as this, especially when it’s cold and miserable and you just know that this will make you happy. This made all of us happy, so happy that I’m making another later today…

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RECIPE 

450g cooking apples

a little caster sugar

450g blackberries (fresh picked are always best)

100g plain flour

175g fridge-cold unsalted butter

50g rolled oats

100g demerara sugar


METHOD

Heat your oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Peel, core and cut the apples into eighths. Put them into a large pan with a good pinch of caster sugar and a tablespoon of water, then cook over a medium heat for around 5 minutes until they start to soften. Add the blackberries and mix thoroughly, then transfer everything to a suitably-sized pie dish.

Chop the cold butter into small cubes and put into a food processor with the flour. Pulse the processor until the butter and flour resembles breadcrumbs, taking care not to go too far – we are making crumble after all, not dough. Stir in the oats and sugar and scatter the crumble topping over the apple and blackberry mixture.

Bake for around 30 minutes until the jammy interior is bubbling through a crisp, golden topping. It’s wonderful hot, or warm, with ice cream or cream – and definitely not for anyone on a diet.

You can vary this almost infinitely, changing the fruit, and incorporating slivered pistachios or chopped pecans into the crumble, or using granola instead of rolled oats. Whatever you try, I’m sure you’ll love it.

Spiced Yellow Split Pea Soup

‘Tis the season to always have a hearty soup to hand, and this is a BIG soup in every way. It’s filling, warming, comforting and delicious, as you would expect, but this recipe makes 20 portions so you’ll need a very large pot.

I have made it with half the quantity of split peas, adjusting the spice quantities down by a third, but – for some otherworldly reason that defies logic – this is just a better soup in every way when it is made in a larger quantity. Perhaps that is why Paul Merrett, from whose ‘Spice Odyssey’ this recipe came from, specifies it be made this way. Not to worry, this is a soup that disappears very quickly once you’ve made it, and you’ll be asked to make it again.

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RECIPE serves 20

100ml olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

5 fat garlic cloves, crushed

a large knob of ginger, grated

4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 celery sticks, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp cardamom seeds

1.5 kg yellow split peas

1/4 tsp asafoetida

fresh coriander leaves, to serve


METHOD

First, cut away any ugly rough bits of the skin of the ginger, but otherwise leave it unpeeled. Most cooks peel their ginger but I don’t think you need to; many also advise against grating ginger because of its fibrous nature, but I find that I end up with a soft mound of ginger flesh and a handful of fibres which are full of ginger juice, which I always squeeze into the dish. Ginger gives spiced dishes excitement, so I’m always generous in how much I use.

Prepare your other ingredients, and put the cumin, garam masala and ground coriander in a small bowl with just enough water to make a loose paste.

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a very large pan and add the onion. Fry gently until translucent.

Add the ginger and garlic and continue cooking for a minute or so, stirring frequently.

Add the tomatoes, celery and carrot, cook for another minute, stirring.

Now add the spice paste, chilli flakes, fennel and cardamom seeds, turn the heat up and – stirring constantly – cook the spices for a minute or so until they are strongly aromatic.

Now add the split peas and 5 litres (!) of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the age of your split peas.

You may find some grey scum forms on top as it cooks, it’s not harmful but it should be skimmed away using a large shallow spoon. More likely, you will get a more colourful foam, with a white base – no need to skim this, just stir it back in occasionally.

When the split peas are tender but retain their shape, remove from the heat, add the asafoetida and use a stick blender to blitz the soup to your desired consistency. We like it slightly rough, with plenty of whole split peas remaining, but this is entirely a matter of choice. Asafoetida powder is made from the gum of a variety of giant fennel and adds a slightly sulphurous, onion-like depth to a dish. Its effects when cooked are subtle but dramatic, if that makes any kind of sense, and it is perfect for lentil dishes because it marries beautifully with them and also acts as a digestif that helps to combat flatulism!

Now season carefully, remembering that this will take a lot of salt because there is so much of it, and also because split peas take a lot of seasoning anyway.

To serve, add the fresh coriander into the soup so it wilts and releases its essential oils, or if you have a coriander-hater in the house you can bring it to the table in a bowl and allow your guests to add it to their own servings.

Salmon and Leek Pie

My lovely wife insisted that I blog this recipe. When I first told her what we were having for dinner she wasn’t convinced, it only took one mouthful to change her mind. “This is the definitive fish pie”, she declared.

Everybody swooned over it, and reheated the following day it was almost as good. The best thing about it? Just look at the meagre list of ingredients. This is a fish pie that has its simplicity as its strength, and it is incredibly easy to make. 

You can top this with puff pastry if you prefer, but there’s just something about mash…

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RECIPE serves 6

500g salmon fillet

1 pint of milk (I use semi-skimmed, use what you prefer)

55g unsalted butter

40g plain flour

1 large leek, washed, halved and cut into 1cm slices

a small bunch of parsley, chopped

a quantity of dry-mashed potato (see method)

freshly ground black pepper

Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, finely grated

olive oil


METHOD

Heat your oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Place the salmon, skin-side uppermost, in an ovenproof dish. Pour over the milk, cover with some foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes until the fish is only just cooked and is starting to flake.

Remove the fish from the milk using a slotted spoon and set aside. Remove the skin from the fish, it should easily peel off. Retain the milk for use later. When the fish is cool enough to handle, break it into largish chunks – it will break up further when you assemble the pie.

Meanwhile, prepare your mashed potato: I have not specified an amount of mash here, people like different quantities of mash on a pie like this, so use your own judgement. I prefer to steam potatoes for mash, rather than boil them; it keeps them a little dryer and takes about the same length of time. When you come to mash, allow yourself a little milk to slacken the mash if you need to, but no butter. This needs to be a firm, dry mash so it holds peaks on the top that will char, and will soak up the juice from the pie underneath. When you have made your mash, set it aside for now.

Now make the sauce: melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat, then gradually add the flour whilst whisking constantly. Gently cook the resulting paste until it bubbles and has the first hint of brown, then remove from the heat and begin to add the milk.

Add the milk a little at a time to begin with, whisking all the time. As you add the milk it will be absorbed into the paste, which will become looser the more milk that you add. Return the pan to a gentle heat after adding around a quarter of the milk. When you have added around half of the milk, it has all been absorbed and there are no lumps in it, you can add the rest of the milk all together. Turn the heat up, keep whisking often, and bring the sauce to the boil. As it gets hotter, stir more frequently. Just as it starts to boil, drop the heat to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes, whisking often. Your aim is a smooth, glossy sauce.

After two minutes simmering, take the sauce off the heat and allow to stand whilst you bring everything together.

The leeks need to be steamed for a couple of minutes, just to soften them. This is an easy task that you can fit in while working on the other elements.

To assemble the pie, add the parsley and leeks to the sauce, and stir well. Then add the salmon and stir thoroughly, breaking the larger chunks down. Now carefully check and correct the seasoning.

Transfer everything to a 3-pint ovenproof dish, then add your mash over the top. It is best to work from the edges, working all the way round, then gradually working your way in to the centre using the outer layer of mash as a support – this is why you need dry mash. Fluff the top up into peaks and swirls using a fork, then give the entire surface a generous grinding of black pepper. Now grate a fine layer of Pecorino (preferred) or Parmesan over the top, and drizzle lightly with a little olive oil.

Bake for around 30 minutes until the top is nicely browned and charred in places, and the pie is piping hot.

We particularly enjoyed this alongside steamed tenderstem broccoli, and a very good Chardonnay.

Miso Ramen

Chicken soup has the (deserved) reputation of being a universal pick-me-up when you’re feeling under the weather, but I reckon Miso broth sits right alongside it. In Japan, many start their day with a bowl of Miso broth for the benefits that it is said to bring to digestive and gut health. Because Miso is a fermented paste, it brings beneficial bacteria to the gut – and there is overwhelming evidence to show that when your gut is happy your physical and mental well-being are also positively affected.

It’s also deeply delicious, and very easy and quick to make. The very essence of umami, it is warming and comforting and will accept almost anything that you wish to add to it – within reason of course. The recipe below is to get you started, so don’t feel constrained by the ingredients listed. Feel free to use tofu, shredded chicken, any vegetables you like (or have to hand, waiting to be used up) more of one thing, less of another, with noodles, without noodles, whatever, it’s the broth itself which is the real star here.

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RECIPE serves 4

15g dried wild mushrooms, such as porcini

1.4 litres of just-boiled water

2 tbsp dark soy sauce, plus extra to serve

1 vegetable stock cube

4 tbsp brown miso paste

150g mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, enoki, or just chestnut) thinly sliced

200g medium dried egg noodles

4 large free-range eggs

2 pak choi, roots trimmed, leaves separated and washed

200g tenderstem broccoli

100g fresh beansprouts, rinsed and drained

6 spring onions, trimmed, very thinly sliced

50g roasted cashew nuts, roughly chopped

a fresh red chilli, finely sliced


METHOD

Rinse the dried mushrooms to get rid of any grit, then put into a large, heavy-based saucepan and cover with the water. Add the soy sauce, stock cube and miso paste and stir until the stock cube has dissolved. Add your fresh mushrooms. Set aside for 30 minutes to infuse.

I use dark soy sauce here because it has a deeper, less brash flavour than light soy sauce, and it is less salty. Feel free to use either, noting the difference between the two.

Meanwhile, half-fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add the noodles and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until just tender, stirring occasionally to break up the strands. Drain well, then rinse under running water until cold. Set aside.

Half-fill the same pan with water and bring to the boil. Add the eggs to the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the water, and cool under running cold water to stop them cooking. Set aside.

Bring the mushroom broth to the boil. Reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering, add the noodles, pak choi and broccoli and continue to simmer for a further 2-3 minutes. Stir in the beansprouts and spring onions, remove from the heat.

Crack and peel off the egg shells, then cut the eggs in half along the long axis. The yolks should still be soft and runny.

Divide the broth, noodles and vegetables between 4 serving bowls. Top with the eggs. Sprinkle over the cashew nuts and chilli. Season with extra soy sauce.

To make this vegan, leave out the eggs and use wholewheat noodles (adjusting the cooking time for the noodles as necessary).