Bruschetta con Funghi (Creamy Mushrooms on Farmhouse Bread)

This is one of the earliest recipes I ever mastered, but I’ve been so busy cooking new stuff that I have neglected it for years. Foolish me, this is absolutely sensational.

You can use pretty much any mushrooms for this. I used a mix of oyster mushrooms and bog-standard supermarket chestnut mushrooms, but it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference to the final dish.

My plan for dinner last night was for this sauce to do double-duty for two – as a starter on toasted sourdough rubbed with a garlic clove, and then with pasta stirred through the remaining sauce alongside a large bowl of peppery rocket. It was a valuable learning experience.

On sourdough the sauce is rich, deep and luscious, spiked with the warmth of raw garlic. After that, the pasta was delicious – but it lacked the drama that we had just experienced. Had we just had it with the pasta we would have been swooning, but the bruschette was an impossible act to follow. The lesson here is: make the textures and flavours of each course substantially different from one another. Variations on a theme are all very well, but in a meal it doesn’t always work.

One final word though… do try this sauce with pasta, you won’t be disappointed.

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RECIPE serves 4 as a starter

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

500g mixed mushrooms, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp olive oil

a squeeze of lemon juice

150ml of single cream

a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

a splash of balsamic vinegar


METHOD

Heat the oil over a medium heat and saute the onion, mushrooms and garlic for 5 to 10 minutes with some salt and pepper until softened, the liquor has come out of the mushrooms and is mostly cooked off. Shortly before you think it is ready, squeeze some lemon juice into the pan and stir through – lemon juice accentuates the flavours of the mushrooms, but you don’t need much, it should be undetectable in the final dish.

Meanwhile, lightly toast some rustic bread, sourdough is perfect here. Rub the surface of each slice of bread with a raw garlic clove.

Add the cream to the mushrooms and heat gently until it is hot. Stop short of the boiling point, your cream may curdle. Stir in the fresh parsley and a splash of balsamic vinegar – if you’re happier measuring then a use 1/2 tsp balsamic – then taste and adjust the seasoning and add more balsamic in tiny amounts until it is perfect.

Serve spooned over the toasted bread, with a bowl of undressed rocket alongside it.

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.

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.

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).

Rarebit Puffs

I generally steer clear of processed foods, but I have two big weaknesses: pork pies and cheese puffs. If I’m travelling and find myself hungry it is one of these that I reach for from the cooler in the petrol station. I haven’t ever tackled making pork pies (yet) but I do make delicious cheese puffs. Now all I have to do is remember to make some before setting off on a long trip…

These are wonderful as they are, but you can add anything you like. Caramelised red onions, or some ham – or both – are my favourite additions, but these are so simple to make you can experiment to your heart’s content. The next time I make these I intend to try adding some dry, roughly mashed potato – no butter or milk added – to the cheese mixture.

You can also make these as individual slices, just cut the pastry into the appropriate number of smaller oblongs – not forgetting that for eight slices you will need sixteen oblongs. I did this to begin with, but I found that for me there wasn’t quite enough filling in each one to make them truly satisfying.

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RECIPE serves 6

30g unsalted butter

3 garlic cloves, crushed

100g mascarpone

50g Parmesan, finely grated

2 tsp English mustard

1 block of all-butter puff pastry

1 egg, beaten


METHOD

Melt the butter in a pan and gently fry the garlic for a minute or so until it is just golden. Tip the butter and garlic into a mixing bowl and set aside for a little while, until it is cool enough to not melt the mascarpone.

Heat your oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7.

Mix the mascarpone, Parmesan, mustard and a little salt and pepper into the butter and garlic.

Roll out the pastry until it is about 4mm thick (if you are using a pre-rolled sheet it should already be at this thickness). Cut the rolled out pastry into two equal oblongs. When you cut the pastry, bring the knife directly down rather than pulling it through, to avoid the pastry being dragged and interfering with the way it rises.

Spread the cheese mixture equally over one of the pastry halves, leaving a good inch clear all around the edges. Brush the exposed edges of the pastry with some of the beaten egg, then lay the other half of the pastry carefully over the top and firmly crimp the top and bottom edges of the pastry together. Brush with the remainder of the beaten egg, then finely grate a little more Parmesan over the top. Pierce the top of the pastry case a couple of times with the point of a knife, to allow steam to escape, then bake in the middle of the oven for 10-15 minutes until puffed up and golden.

Leave to cool for a few minutes, then cut into portions and serve alongside a crisp salad.

Hasselback Sweet Potatoes with Caper Salsa and Feta

Sweet potatoes make perfect autumn food, but I tend to just bake them whole or make crispy roasted wedges with them. I’ve been missing a trick – slicing them very thinly, but not all the way through, gives them a delicious combination of crispy skin and melting flesh. Augmented by the sharp, salty flavours of capers, vinegar and feta, this might just be the best side dish I have discovered this year. 

We have these as an accompaniment to seared tuna steaks or grilled sea bass fillets, alongside a crisp green salad dressed with a little lemon juice.

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RECIPE serves 4

4 tbsp olive oil

4 large sweet potatoes

a small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

a small handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp capers, rinsed

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp white wine vinegar

100g feta, roughly crumbled


METHOD

Heat your oven to 230C/ 210C fan/ gas 8.

Cut into the potatoes at 5mm intervals, but only cut about 3/4 of the way through, as the picture shows. An easy way to do this quickly is to lay a couple of wooden spoons alongside your potato and wedge the potato between them, then cut down straight until the handles of the spoons stop you going any further.

Drizzle 2 tbsp of olive oil all over the hasselback sweet potatoes, working it down into the cuts and all over the skins. Bake in the oven for around 40 minutes until the skins are crispy and the flesh is meltingly soft.

Meanwhile, combine the parsley, mint, capers, garlic, chilli flakes and vinegar to make the salsa. Stir well and set aside until the potatoes are ready.

To serve: drizzle the potatoes with the salsa, and scatter the feta over that. Serve immediately.

Dry-Spiced Potato and Cauliflower (Aloo Gobi)

It doesn’t sound exciting, but potatoes and cauliflower pair extremely well with spice. This makes a great side for Bengali curries, or as a delicious lunch all by itself – whatever the weather.

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RECIPE serves 4

450g waxy potatoes

1 cauliflower, broken into small florets

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp black peppercorns

6 tbsp coconut oil

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

a small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

a big knob of ginger, finely chopped

1 medium-hot green chilli, finely chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

a handful of fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

METHOD

Cut the potatoes into small pieces around 2cm across. Cook in lightly salted water until just tender.

Dry-fry the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and black peppercorns until just aromatic (this takes 60-90 seconds), allow to cool slightly then grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder that is only used for grinding spices.

Heat the oil over a medium hot flame, add the cauliflower florets and fennel seeds. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the florets are starting to brown.

Add the onion, garlic, ginger, salt and green chilli. Stir well, turn the heat down to low, cover and fry gently for around 5 minutes until the onions have softened.

As an aside, most recipes that use ginger specify that you peel it first. I have never found this necessary, I just chop off any dry exposed ends and cut out any rough and ugly protusions. I have also seen it said that you shouldn’t grate ginger, because it is too fibrous. Again, I disagree. I regularly finely grate ginger and I generally end up with just about all of the fibres in the hand I am grating with. Give those a fibres a good squeeze to extract the juice they are holding (you will be surprised!) then discard them – or pop them in a small jelly bag with your peelings and pour hot water over them to make the most enervating ginger tea.

Add the potatoes, the spices that you ground earlier, turmeric and cayenne pepper. Stir gently and cook uncovered over a low heat for a few minutes to heat the potatoes through. Add the coriander leaves, toss together, and serve.

As an alternative, I have also made this with new potatoes. I steam the potatoes for around 15-20 minutes until just tender, then lightly crush them so the skins split. The rest of the method is the same.

North Atlantic Prawn Pilaf

I love the versatility of this recipe, which I found in Rick Stein’s book ‘Coast to Coast’. It is excellent with prawns, chicken or pork – and I reckon it would also work well with tofu marinated in sweet chilli sauce. If you are using it for anything other than fish, use chicken stock. Leave out the protein and serve it in place of boiled rice and you have the perfect accompaniment to aromatic curries, or serve it alongside grilled fish.

There is no chilli or hot spice here, just the warming perfume of cloves, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon and coriander. It is exquisite.

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Picture Credit: The Happy Foodie


RECIPE serves 4

400g North Atlantic prawns

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

1 small carrot, roughly chopped

½ tsp tomato purée

700ml fish stock

350g basmati rice

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

3 cloves

the seeds from 3 green cardamom pods (about 1/2 teaspoon)

1 cinnamon stick, broken into 4 pieces

¼ tsp ground turmeric

a small handful of chopped coriander leaves

3 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

If you are lucky enough to have whole prawns (with the heads and shells), you will need more than 400g in total weight, so judge accordingly. Peel them but keep the heads and shells for use in the broth you are going to make. Put the prawns on a plate and set aside.

Heat 25g of the butter in a large pan, add the onion and carrot and fry over a medium heat for 6-7 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the prawn heads and shells if you have them and continue to fry for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomato purée and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain into a measuring jug; if there is more than 600ml, return it to the clean pan and boil rapidly until reduced to this amount. Season carefully.

If using uncooked prawns, drop them into the boiling broth for a minute or so until they just turn pink. Remove from the broth and set aside on a broad plate to cool.

Meanwhile, cover the rice with fresh water and leave to soak while you prepare the next stage. Drain well before using.

Melt the rest of the butter in a saucepan and add the shallots, garlic, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and turmeric and fry gently for 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir well to coat the rice with the spicy butter. Add the stock to the pan, bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down to the slightest simmer, put a lid on the pan and leave to cook gently for 10 minutes. Don’t lift the lid during this time.

Uncover the rice and gently stir in the peeled prawns, coriander, diced tomatoes and some seasoning to taste. Re-cover, this time with a teatowel between the lid and the rice, and leave for 5 minutes to warm through. Then spoon into a warmed serving dish and serve.

If using chicken or pork, the meat will need to be cooked before stirring through the rice.

Sicilian Tuna in Stemperata Sauce

Stemperata is a Sicilian sweet and sour sauce of capers, olives and vinegar. It is one of those sauces that only reveals its true nature when eaten at room temperature, the flavours having room to express themselves without the distraction of heat. And what flavours! The briny olives, sharp capers, sour vinegar and sweet raisins rolling together, accentuating and contrasting with each other.

This is a recipe I found in Diana Henry’s ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’. I love Diana Henry’s books; they’re full of exciting flavour combinations and her books are so beautifully and evocatively written they are a joy in themselves.

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RECIPE serves 4

For the tuna:

1 tuna loin steak per person

olive oil

balsamic vinegar

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:

4 celery sticks, plus the leaves, finely chopped

1/2 large, or 1 small, red onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves, crushed

150g pitted green olives, some whole, some halved, some chopped

175g capers, rinsed of their brine

75g raisins, plumped up in a little hot water and drained

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried)

freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

First make the sauce: saute the celery and onion in the oil until soft and just beginning to turn golden. Add the garlic, olives, capers and raisins and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the vinegar, oregano and some ground pepper and cook until the vinegar has evaporated. Set aside and leave to cool to room temperature until you are ready to eat.

When you are ready to eat, rub olive oil, salt and pepper on each side of the tuna and heat a ridged griddle pan until very hot.

Cook the tuna, allowing 1 minute for each centimetre of thickness of the fish; so a 2cm thick tuna steak will have 2 minutes per side. This should give you a seared exterior and an interior like a rare steak, pink and meltingly soft – perfect. In the final seconds of cooking, add a slosh of balsamic to the pan and ensure it travels under the ridges of the pan to give a lovely glaze to the fish. Turn the fish over again briefly and add a little more balsamic if necessary.

Serve immediately alongside the stemperata sauce, with a light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil anointing the tuna. This goes brilliantly with some steamed new or baby potatoes, lightly crushed and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

Masala Turmeric Dhal

I have made a lot of different lentil dishes over the years, all of them lovely, all of them incredibly moreish. I have slightly adapted this one from a Rick Stein recipe, and it stands head and shoulders above every other dhal recipe I have ever used. It’s that good.

It’s subtle, with the merest glow of warmth from the chilli and exquisitely perfumed by the turmeric. You will find yourself tasting it as you go along, and struggling to stop yourself having just a little bit more. Then something truly magical happens…

Just before you serve it you temper it with gently fried onion, ginger, green chilli and tomato, stir it through, taste it, and stand back in astonishment. The temper adds new layers of vibrant flavour, while underlining the perfume of coconut and turmeric. If forced to choose just one dish to eat for the rest of my life, this would be an extremely strong contender.

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Photo Credit: Dropping The V Sign

RECIPE serves 4

250g red lentils

600ml water

225g onions

225g tomatoes

100g coconut oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp ground turmeric

1 tsp hot chilli powder

400ml coconut milk

1 tbsp black mustard seeds

a fat thumb of ginger, finely chopped

2 green chillies, finely chopped

A pinch of asafoetida (optional, but essential in my opinion)

a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with the water and leave to soak while you work on preparation.

Coarsely chop half of the onions, finely dice the other half.

Coarsely chop half the tomatoes, finely dice the other half.

Heat 50g of the coconut oil in a large pan then gently fry the coarsely chopped onions and coarsely chopped tomatoes with the garlic, for around 8 to 10 minutes until softened into something resembling a paste. Add the turmeric and the chilli powder and cook on for a minute or so.

Add the lentils together with their soaking water, stir well and bring to the boil. Add the coconut milk and bring back to boiling point before reducing to a low simmer. Leave it to cook until thickened and the lentils are fully soft; this may only take around ten minutes, depending on the age of your lentils. When cooked, season and set aside. I generally find that lentils of any kind will appreciate more salt than you might think, but only when they are fully cooked.

At this point it is always good to leave the dhal to sit for a few hours to allow the base flavours to develop and mingle, but you can of course go straight on to serving if pushed for time.

To finish the dish: gently re-heat the lentils to just below boiling point, and heat the remaining 50g of coconut oil in a large pan that has a lid. When the oil is hot, add the black mustard seeds and cover the pan. When the seeds start to pop, which will only be a minute or so, add the ginger, finely diced onion and finely diced tomato, the green chillies and asafoetida. Cook gently for around 5 minutes until softened but not coloured, then add to the warmed lentils and stir through. Add the chopped coriander and allow it to wilt in the dish as you bring it to the table.

Rick Stein serves this with fish marinated in turmeric and oil, and it’s lovely, but it really doesn’t need anything other than some naan bread or, even better, roti. You’ll love it.