Yellow Tarka Dahl

Dahl is perhaps the simplest yet most reliably gorgeous curried dish that you can make. Though lentils have a bad reputation: dismissed as the preserve of hippies and vegans, they are packed with protein, vitamins and trace elements and are low calorie as well. They also make for a very filling dish so they are ideal if you are on any kind of diet. Did I mention that they are delicious?

This dahl is made with chana dahl, which is very similar to the yellow split pea but cooks quite differently. Chana dahl will hold its shape well when cooked, while yellow split peas will go mushy when cooked. That said, for this recipe they are easily interchangeable so substitute one for another if you cannot find chana dahl on your supermarket shelf.

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RECIPE – feeds 3, with rice and a side salad 

250g chana dahl

1 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil if making it for a vegan)

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 onion, peeled and diced

3 whole green chillies

a large knob of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp hot chilli powder

2 tsp ground coriander

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped


METHOD

Rinse the lentils thoroughly in three changes of water; the water will turn milky and you will know when they have been sufficiently rinsed because by the third rinse the water will be much clearer.

Cover the lentils with clean water, allowing a good inch of water above the level of the lentils. Bring to the boil, and skim off any scum that forms on the surface. Simmer for around 45-60 minutes, topping up the water as necessary, until the lentils are tender. Drain and set aside.

CAUTION: Do not season the water, the lentils will never be tender if they are salted before they are fully cooked.

If you have a pressure cooker the chana dahl will cook perfectly in around 18 minutes, but consult the instructions for your particular device.

Using a sharp knife, cut four small slits in each whole chilli, this will allow the sauce to penetrate and will flavour the sauce as well as tenderising the chilli. It makes them great to eat whole as part of the dish.

Put the ground turmeric, garam masala, hot chilli powder and ground coriander in a small bowl, add a little water and mix to a paste. Set aside.

Heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a large pan, when hot add the cumin seeds and fry for 30 seconds or so until aromatic, then add the onions, ginger and chillies and fry for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are starting to go brown. Add the spice paste and stir thoroughly so everything is coated.

Meanwhile, put the tinned tomatoes and crushed garlic in a blender and blitz to a puree, then add it to the onion mixture. Combine well, add a further 100ml of water and bring to the boil. Season and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the cooked lentils to the sauce, adding a little more water if necessary. At this point you can allow the dahl to sit for a few hours so the flavours can infuse.

When ready to eat, heat through thoroughly and garnish with the fresh coriander.

Serve with some plain steamed or boiled basmati rice. This goes perfectly with a side of onion salad.

Onion Salad

You might think that an onion salad is the last thing you want to eat. Though I love the harshness of raw onion, I don’t appreciate the fact that I can still taste it several hours afterward. It stops my wife from kissing me as well…

Fear not, this delicious onion salad is not at all harsh, the underlying sweetness of the onion is accentuated and the harshness completely obliterated just by marinating in lime juice for 30 minutes or so.

This is a great side dish to serve alongside any curry or spicy dish, and if you ever partake of the poppadom starter before having an Indian restaurant meal you will be very familiar with it.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 with a starter, 2 with a main meal

1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced

1 large ripe tomato, skinned, de-seeded and finely diced

4 inches of cucumber, peeled, de-seeded and finely diced

a generous splash of lime juice

a small pinch of salt

a small handful of fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

1 tsp of nigella seeds


METHOD

Slice the onion, not too finely as you want the good texture that a thicker slice will give you. Put into a bowl and ensure the onion is fully broken up. Splash generously with lime juice and using your hands ensure that every piece of onion is coated. Season with a small pinch of salt and set aside.

Boil a kettle, score a cross through the skin at the base of the tomato, put the tomato in a large mug or small bowl, pour the boiled water over it until it is fully submerged and leave it for 15 seconds. Empty the water, immediately refill it with cold water, empty it again, now insert the point of a sharp knife under the scored tomato skin and pull the skin away from the flesh; it should peel off cleanly in large sections.

Caution: Don’t leave the tomato in hot water for more than 15 seconds or it will begin to cook. This will mean that the skin will re-adhere to the tomato flesh and you will have a hard job getting it off.

Cut the tomato into quarters or eighths, cut away the seeds and discard them, then finely dice the tomato flesh. Place on top of the onion.

Peel the cucumber, cut it into quarters or eighths, then slice away the seeds from the middle (they will make your salad too soggy). Finely dice the cucumber flesh and place on top of the onion.

Chop the coriander, place on top of the cucumber and tomato and set aside to sit for at least 30 minutes.

When you are ready to eat, toss everything together thoroughly, scatter the nigella seeds on top and toss again, then serve.

South Indian Fish Curry with Chick Peas

There is an awful lot of flavour in this delicious, warming curry. It isn’t a fierce curry, instead it is enlivened by layers of spicing and moderated by a little sugar. The real star of the show though is the tamarind; it adds a deep, sour tang to the dish which balances the sweetness without smothering it while the addition of a little lime juice at the end gives it an aromatic freshness. Though I love vindaloo, there is much more to a great curry than just a lot of heat.

The sauce is very bold, so it needs an equally bold flavoured fish, mackerel is easy to obtain and delicious.

A note about the use of fresh ginger: most recipes call for the ginger to be peeled but by doing so you are throwing away a lot of flavour. Instead, ensure the skin is clean, chop away any rough bits and the grey-looking wounds from previous cuts, then chop it keeping the rest of the skin on. You will only know it is there because of the flavour that it brings with it.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/4 tsp ground fenugreek

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

a large knob of ginger, trimmed but not peeled, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tin of chopped tomatoes, and 1 tin of water

1 tin of chickpeas

1 fish stock cube

2 tsp tamarind concentrate

1 tsp caster sugar

350g mackerel fillets

lime juice to taste

fresh coriander, stalks and leaves separated, chopped


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and sweat under a cartouche for ten minutes or so until softened but not coloured.

*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.

Add the turmeric, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ground fenugreek, chilli flakes, ginger and garlic, stir-fry for 30 seconds then pour in the tomatoes, refill the tin with water and pour that in as well, add the chickpeas and crumble the fish stock cube into the sauce. Simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Now add the chopped coriander stalks – never throw the stalks away, again they are full of flavour that you would otherwise lose – stir in the tamarind concentrate and sugar and adjust the balance of the two by adding a little more of either until it is as you like it. Season very carefully with salt and a little ground black pepper.

At this point you can leave the sauce to sit and infuse for a few hours, or overnight. It’s an old cliche that curries taste better the day after, but it’s true. It’s almost as good if you carry straight on though…

With the sauce at a gentle simmer, cut your fish into large chunks and gently push them into the sauce so they are just submerged. Poach gently for around 8 minutes (the exact time will depend on the thickness of your fillets).

Adjust the seasoning if necessary, add a couple of dashes of lime juice (fresh is always best) and garnish with the chopped coriander leaves.

The population seems to divide equally between those who love coriander and those who think it tastes like soap. Personally I love it and use it in huge quantities – in the picture above I have used only a little, but when it went on the table you couldn’t see the sauce for the coriander. It’s best to be aware that some people might not like it before you use it!

This goes very well with steamed or plain boiled basmati rice, and carrot and ginger salad.

Seared Tuna Stir-Fry

Stir-fried food is the ultimate fast food, taking literally less than 5 minutes from hot oil to finished dish. Obviously, that means that once you start cooking things move fast so you need to be well organised and have all your ingredients weighed-out, measured and chopped before you even think about turning on the gas. There really isn’t much that goes into this dish, but even so it is absolutely packed with flavour. Preparation should only take 10 minutes even if you take your time.

If Chinese takeaway food is your only experience of Chinese-style cooking then you are in for an extremely pleasant surprise, and this dish is a quick and easy way in to a delicious, filling and healthy cuisine. The sauce is what really makes this dish sing, the interplay of the various aromatic components is just divine. Hoisin sauce is the only ingredient that you might struggle to find, though it is now readily available from larger UK supermarkets.

I have specified Ramen noodles here, just because they go extremely well with stir-fries, but feel free to use whatever you have, or perhaps serve it with Beijing rice. The Ramen noodles I use have a cooking time of 4 minutes, at which point either serve them immediately or plunge them into cold water to stop them cooking. If you want to ensure you don’t have too many things going at once it is a good idea to cook them in advance. They can be heated again when you are ready to use them by plunging them into a pan of boiling water for a few seconds. Always make sure you know how long your noodles take to prepare by reading the instructions on your particular packet.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

2 tuna steaks

dark soy sauce

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 servings of Ramen noodles (approximately 160g dry)

For the sauce:

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp hoisin sauce

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

For the stir-fry:

1 tbsp groundnut oil

a large knob of fresh ginger, cut into thin matchsticks

2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium red chilli, finely chopped (seeds left in if you like it hot)

2 red peppers, chopped into 1.5 cm chunks

3 fat spring onions, finely sliced at an angle

For the garnish:

a bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped


METHOD

Fill the bottom of a dish large enough to hold your tuna steaks with dark soy sauce to a depth of 2 millimetres. Crush two garlic cloves into it, stir thoroughly then place the tuna steaks in the soy sauce, turning until it is completely coated. Cover with cling film and chill in a fridge for 30 minutes.

Prepare all the other ingredients.

Combine the sauce ingredients, stir thoroughly and set aside.

Heat a wok over a high heat, and a ridged griddle pan also over a high heat.

Get a large pan of unsalted water to a strong rolling boil, add the noodles and cook for 4 minutes. Set a timer – everything moves fast from here…

When the griddle pan is very hot, scrape any pieces of garlic and excess soy sauce from the tuna steaks and lay them in the pan. Cook for approximately 1 minute per centimetre thickness on one side, and half that on the other – to make that clear, a 2 cm thick tuna steak would be cooked for 2 minutes on one side, then flipped over and cooked for a further 1 minute. Do not move the tuna while it is cooking, it is likely to stick until it is properly cooked, and you want well-defined char lines where the ridges are. Cooking it this way should ensure the outside is well-sealed and the very middle is still quite rare, the tuna steak will cook on even when it is on your plate though.

At the same time as the tuna is cooking, when the wok is smoking hot add the groundnut oil and swirl it around the wok to coat all surfaces. Add the ginger, cook for a few seconds then add the chilli and garlic and stir fry for around 15 seconds, then add the chunks of red pepper. Stir-fry for 1 minute then add the spring onions and the sauce and bring to the boil, by this time your noodles should be ready so tip them in to the wok and toss everything together. Garnish in the wok with chopped fresh coriander leaves, and serve the tuna steaks on a bed of the noodles and stir-fried vegetables.

Hake Gratin Dauphinois

My recipe notebook has a note beside this recipe: ‘indescribably awesome’. It is.

Perhaps the ultimate comfort food, a fish pie is difficult to beat when the weather is autumnal and the central heating is on – and it’s the end of June.

This one is a bit different though, rather than a mash topping it uses Dauphinois potatoes layered over the top of an onion base with a fish and basil cream filling. Simple to make, and just delicious, it is so moreish it is not a dish you can eat if you are on a diet!

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RECIPE – feeds 3 

500g floury potatoes (Roosters, King Edward, Maris Piper etc)

2 large onions, peeled, halved and finely sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

3 hake fillets or loins (or other firm white fish)

300 ml double cream

a bunch of basil, leaves only, shredded


METHOD

Slice the potatoes to the uniform thickness of a pound coin. Use a mandolin if you have one, it makes the job much quicker and accurate, just be sure to use the guard – I managed to slice my thumb while making this.

Put the sliced potatoes into a large pan in just enough slightly salted cold water to cover them, and bring to the boil. As soon as the water is just at the boil, turn the heat right down until bubbles just break the surface and poach the potatoes for five minutes.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and set aside.

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ Gas 6.

Finely slice the onions and fry them gently in a large pan, in the olive oil, for around ten minutes until softened but not coloured. I use my risotto pan for this, I can then leave the onions in it and layer everything on top before I put it into the oven. Use whatever you have though, a large ovenproof dish is perfect.

Spread the onions out in an even layer in the bottom of your pan or dish. Cut the fish into large chunks and season lightly with salt and pepper, then place them evenly on top of the onions. There will be gaps, this doesn’t matter.

Stir the basil into the cream, season lightly with salt and pour evenly over the fish and onions. It will look as though you don’t have quite enough cream, but you do. Don’t be tempted to use more.

Now start laying the potato slices over the fish and onions, slightly overlapping them, until completely covered. Drizzle more olive oil all over the top – not too much – or dot it with butter.

Bake for around 40 minutes until the potatoes have lightly browned and are starting to char at the edges.

Serve with a simple green salad.

 

Salmon Fishcakes

Made well, fishcakes are one of the most delicious meals on the planet. Simultaneously soft and crunchy, mellow yet full of flavour. Made poorly, they can be flabby, soggy, oily and tasteless. It’s obviously best to ensure that they are made well then, and the best starting point is a great recipe.

This recipe was inspired by the Michelin-starred Tom Kerridge, so as you would expect they are full of flavour but do involve a fair bit of work. As a result these are best made on an afternoon when you haven’t much else to do, though I guarantee that once you have found the time to make them you will be yearning to repeat the experience.

Most fishcake recipes involve shallow frying, I have often found though that you need high heat to avoid them getting oily, but then the breadcrumbs tend to burn before the middle of the fishcake is cooked. Far better to bake them, it keeps the breadcrumbs crunchy, ensures even cooking and it also gives you a wider margin for error. It also means they are that much lower in fat and therefore even healthier than they already are.

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RECIPE – makes 6, feeds 3 people easily

3 or 4 baking potatoes – you will need 350g of potato flesh

350g salmon fillets

2 tbsp capers, drained

2 tbsp dill, chopped

2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 tbsp English mustard powder

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

finely grated zest of a lemon

100g smoked salmon, chopped

150g plain flour

2 eggs, beaten

150g panko breadcrumbs


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan /Gas 6. Bake the potatoes for between 60 and 90 minutes until soft. Allow them to cool, and when they are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and scoop out the flesh. Pass the flesh through a potato ricer or just mash it, without adding any butter or liquids. Weigh out 350g of the flesh and set aside for now.

*Tip: When you make mashed potato, make as much as you can (far more than you will need) and freeze the excess. It freezes well and it is always useful to have some mash ready-made for fishcakes, or toppings for fish pie or shepherd’s pie.

Season the salmon, wrap it in kitchen foil and place on a baking sheet then roast for 8-10 minutes until just cooked and the salmon flakes easily. Set aside.

Put the potato in a large bowl, then add the capers, dill, parsley, mustard powder, cayenne pepper, salt and lemon zest, then mix in the smoked salmon. Mix thoroughly, then flake the salmon fillets into the mix and fold in.

Divide the mixture into 6 balls, then shape them into cakes. Cover with cling film and put into the fridge to chill for at least an hour.

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When ready to cook, place the flour, eggs and panko breadcrumbs each into an individual deep plate. One by one, coat the fishcakes with flour, egg and finally the breadcrumbs. You can use regular breadcrumbs here, easily made by putting stale bread into a food processor and blitzing until crumbed, but be careful not to go too far or you will end up with dust. Panko breadcrumbs are far superior, being dry and crunchy and bringing a lovely textural difference to the finished fishcake.

Place the coated fishcakes on a baking sheet, and bake at 200C/ 180C fan /Gas 6 for approximately ten minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown and beginning to char.

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These go extremely well with tartare sauce, roasted sweet potato wedges and a simple green salad.

The empty baked potato skins can be deep fried and served as a starter with sour cream and chives, or your favourite crispy skin dips and fillings.

Cod, Fennel & Potato Traybake with a Tomato Salsa

Think of this as jazzed-up fish and chips and you will get a very good idea of the kind of flavours to expect. Roast potatoes in any way and they will be delicious, roast a fennel bulb and it will also be delicious, roast a piece of cod… you get the idea.

There’s a lot going on here, lots of flavours and lots of lovely scents. Tying it all together and adding the sharp tang of vinegar is the salsa. It turns what is already a delicious meal into… um, what is more delicious than delicious?

Just try it, you’ll soon find out; it’s so simple to make and though it takes a little time in the oven the preparation is minimal.

One other thing: my wife commented that the fennel and potatoes are so delicious on their own with the salsa that you don’t actually need the fish to complete the dish. This makes it an ideal tummy-filler for vegans and non-fish eating vegetarians, without cheating anybody of flavour.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

300g new potatoes, or floury potatoes like Roosters, cut into 5mm slices

2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced, retain the fronds

2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges

1 tbsp fennel seeds

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cod fillets or loins (or similar firm white fish)

another 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 banana shallot, finely sliced

another 2 medium tomatoes, de-seeded and diced

a handful of basil leaves, shredded, set aside a couple of small sprigs

a small handful of pitted black olives, quartered


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan /Gas 6. Slice the potatoes, use a mandolin if you have one, it will make the job much faster and more precise.

On a large baking tray, scatter the potatoes, fennel bulbs, wedges of tomatoes and fennel seeds. Season with a decent pinch of sea salt, then drizzle all over with olive oil and toss it all together, using your hands, ensuring that everything is coated and the fennel seeds are distributed evenly. Spread out into a single layer on the baking tray, otherwise the potatoes are more likely to steam than roast and they won’t be as good as they can be.

Roast for 25 minutes or until the potatoes are golden and just about cooked through.

Meanwhile, make the salsa: combine the shallot and vinegar in a bowl and set aside while you chop the tomatoes; then add the tomatoes, basil and olives. Combine well, season lightly and set aside for now.

Remove the tray from the oven, place the fish on top, season the fish lightly and scatter the crushed fennel seeds over them, drizzle with a little olive oil and return to the oven for 7-9 minutes until just cooked through.

Pour the salsa evenly over the hot fish and potatoes, scatter the fennel fronds and reserved sprigs of basil and serve. All this needs by way of accompaniment is a pile of rocket leaves.

Thai Green Prawn Curry with Indian Baby Aubergine

We have lately become addicted to Thai green curry, the creamy, spicy sauce is very vibrant and when mixed with plain steamed or boiled rice makes the most deliciously moreish meal. We could quite happily just knock up a batch of the sauce, pair it with a bowl of rice and tuck in.

With such a promising beginning you can only make it even better by adding more flavours and textures. Flicking through another of my favourite books, ‘Rosa’s Thai Cafe’ by Saiphin Moore, I spotted a green chicken curry that uses pea and Thai aubergines. Interesting.

I have only slightly tweaked Saiphin’s recipe, so credit where it is due. Raw, tail-on king prawns are a match made in heaven for green curry, as is chicken, so use whatever you fancy. I swapped the pea and Thai aubergines for Indian (baby) aubergines, purely because they were the only ‘exotic’ variety available when I popped into my nearest international supermarket. They were perfect, and based on that experience I would recommend that you use whatever aubergines you can find, even the regular large Black Magic variety that are ubiquitous in UK supermarkets. Do try and use the smaller, more interesting looking varieties if you can though, just because they look more interesting. After all, the first bite is always with the eye.

You can have this on the table within 15 minutes from heating the oil, that’s quicker than a takeaway, with much more flavour.

Please, please, please make up your own Thai green curry paste. It is infinitely superior to anything you can buy ready-made in a jar. It freezes well so make up a large batch and put some aside for when you make this again, which you will…

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

1 tbsp vegetable oil

3 tbsp Thai green curry paste

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

1 tbsp of palm sugar or jaggery

2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

3 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried, shredded

300g raw, tail-on king prawns or 300g skinless chicken breast in bite-size pieces

100g Indian (baby) aubergines, cut in half

100g cooked bamboo shoots, cut into bite-size pieces

a handful of Thai or regular basil, leaves only, shredded

a couple of sprigs of basil to garnish

2 long red chillies, sliced thinly lengthwise to garnish


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan over a high heat and add the green curry paste. Stir-fry for ten seconds or so until it is fragrant, then reduce the heat to medium and add half the coconut milk. Cook for a couple of minutes until the curry paste splits and the oil becomes visible.

Now add the remaining coconut milk, palm sugar, fish sauce and lime leaves. Season carefully, bearing in mind that the fish sauce brings saltiness.

At this point you can remove the sauce from the heat and allow to sit and infuse for a few hours if you wish, this will deepen the flavours. Otherwise, add the aubergines and bamboo shoots and cook for 5-7 minutes until the aubergines are tender. If you are using chicken then add this with the aubergines.

If using the prawns, add them just before serving, along with the shredded basil leaves and cook very gently for a few minutes until the prawns are just pink.

Ladle into serving bowls, garnish with the thinly sliced red pepper and a sprig of basil each, and serve alongside bowls of steamed or boiled rice.

Cajun Meatballs

My wife is vegetarian which means that by default my own diet is largely vegetarian as well. Some of my friends pity me, “don’t you miss meat?” they ask. The short answer is no.

I could, if I wished, prepare vegetarian and meat-based versions of the same dish by dividing the sauce, or I could cook entirely separate dishes for the two of us. Much as I enjoy cooking, why would I make more work for myself? No, I would rather concentrate on creating one dish that works because it is delicious; if it tastes good then you will be thinking about what is good on your plate rather than thinking “I wish this was steak”.

I am a real fan of quorn meatballs, they have a good firm texture and ‘mouth-feel’, and more importantly they carry flavours really well. My default dish for quorn meatballs is to cook them in a great tomato sauce and serve them with spaghetti. I thought it was time I did something different with them though, so I turned to another cuisine which is big on flavour – the cajun cuisine of the deep south of the USA.

Reliant on green peppers, celery, white pepper and dried herbs to give the sauce a kick, and a very dark roux to give the depth of flavour and thicken the sauce, the flavours can be surprisingly varied just by modifying the relative quantities of green pepper and celery.

Be careful with the white pepper, it is quite fiery and an early version of this dish had me sweating profusely because I was a bit too liberal with it. Be sure to cook it in and the flavours will mellow; experiment with it and tweak it to your own taste. This one is perfect for me.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 with leftovers

For the seasoning mix:

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried thyme

For the sauce:

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

1 stick of celery, finely chopped

1/2 green pepper, finely chopped

3 tbsp vegetable oil

3 tbsp plain flour

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 400ml tin of chopped tomatoes

1 vegetable stock cube

200ml water

a dash of tabasco or hot pepper sauce

300g Quorn meatballs

4 spring onions, very finely sliced on an angle

a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, chopped


METHOD

Prepare all of your ingredients before you do anything else, and combine your seasoning mix in a small bowl. Also combine the onion, celery and green pepper in a small bowl.

In a large pan, over a high heat, heat the oil until it just starts to smoke. Add the flour gradually while whisking constantly, keep it on the heat. Keep on whisking over the heat until the flour and oil are fully combined and smooth, by now you should notice that the roux is starting to change colour. The longer you cook and whisk it the darker it will go. You need to get the colour to a very dark brown, the colour of a hazelnut; be brave, just keep on whisking and if you think you are ever in danger of burning it just lift it away from the heat for a few seconds – just keep on whisking.

When your roux is a very dark brown remove it from the heat and immediately stir in your combined onion, celery and green pepper, and half the seasoning mix. Keep on whisking it all together until the roux and the pan have cooled sufficiently that you can safely leave it for a minute or two and nothing will burn. That should only take a minute or so.

Now add the tomatoes, water, stock cube and tabasco; bring it to the boil and keep on stirring until the sauce has thickened, then simmer gently for ten minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer for a further ten minutes.

If you have the time, this is a dish that benefits from resting for a few hours to allow the flavours to develop. If you do so, add the meatballs and turn the heat off. They will cook very gently as the sauce cools and when you are ready to serve just reheat as you normally would.

Add the remainder of the seasoning mix and stir well, then remove from the heat and serve. Garnish with the chopped spring onions and fresh coriander leaves and serve in a bowl alongside Cajun rice.

Middle-Eastern Spiced Vegetable Soup

I have made a lot of spiced soups over the years, every time I make a new one it seems to be an improvement over the previous one. Then I go back into my notebooks and make one of my earlier spiced soups only to discover that the earlier ones are fabulous as well. You could put it down to experience: the more you cook, the better your ‘touch’ becomes. Actually though, I reckon it is just that you can’t go wrong with a spiced soup, especially when it’s raining outside and the wind is howling, like it was here last night. The thick broth is filling and comforting while the flavours make you want to eat and eat well beyond the point where you should stop.

I am well aware that I declare every recipe that I blog about to be delicious, fabulous, outstanding or some other superlative. The thing is, I don’t blog about everything that I cook, only the dishes that are truly outstanding – like this one, my favourite soup of the moment.

The soup is great on its own, but the garnishes take it to a whole other level, adding more flavour and texture. They don’t take long to prepare so use them if you possibly can.

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RECIPE – feeds 8 easily

olive oil

1 butternut squash, flesh chopped into rough 1.5 cm chunks

2 large onions diced

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

3 medium leeks, trimmed and finely sliced

3 medium floury potatoes, washed but not peeled, roughly chopped

4 large vine tomatoes, roughly chopped

4 heaped tsp ground cumin

1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp sweet smoked paprika

1 tbsp chilli bean sauce

2 tins of chickpeas

1 large courgette, finely diced

For the herb oil:

olive oil

a handful of flat-leaf parsley

a handful of dill

a handful of pistachio nuts, crushed

a squeeze of lemon juice

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the garnishes:

a small onion, very finely sliced

2 tbsp groundnut oil

goats or feta cheese, crumbled


METHOD

Heat a very large soup pan, pour in enough olive oil to thinly cover the base and add the squash, onions, garlic, leeks and potatoes and saute for ten minutes or so until softened.

Add the tomatoes, cumin, cinnamon, sweet smoked paprika and chilli bean sauce, stir thoroughly so everything is coated in everything else then pour in enough just-boiled water to completely cover the vegetables. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, bring to the boil then simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. At this point the potatoes and squash should both be very tender.

Drain the tins of chickpeas, reserving the water from the tins.

Puree the soup either in a blender or using a stick blender. It will probably be very thick at this point, so add the reserved chickpea water to loosen it, adding more from the kettle if required.

Set aside a handful of the chickpeas to use as a garnish later, bring the blitzed soup back to a simmer and add the rest of the chickpeas to it together with the courgette. Simmer for 20 minutes. At this point you can turn the soup off and allow it to sit for a few hours (or, even better, overnight). The flavours will deepen and there will be more character to the soup, though it will still be fabulous if you plough straight on…

…so while the soup is simmering make the herb oil by crushing the pistachios in a mortar and pestle, then adding all the ingredients including the pistachios to a food processor and blitz until everything is combined, adding just enough olive oil to give you a consistency like pesto. Check seasoning and put to one side.

Fry the thinly-sliced onion in 2 tbsp of groundnut oil at a high temperature, stirring regularly so they go brown and crispy but do not catch and burn. Shortly before the onions are fully ready, add the reserved chickpeas to the oil and brown them as well. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper until ready for use.

Serve the soup garnished with a drizzle of herb oil, crumbled goats’ or feta cheese and the crispy onions and chickpeas.

This goes fabulously well with crusty bread, and if you happen to have some Focaccia with Middle-Eastern Flavours lying around then these two are a match made in heaven. Loosen your belt and tuck in!