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Coconut Dal (spicy lentils)

20 Aug

A simple soupy lentil dal flavoured with coconut milk, chilli, garlic and curry leaves. I love all kinds of dal or dhal and this one is a particular favourite with a soft rounded flavour sweet with coconut and warming subtle spices. Serve with rice or Indian breads such as chapati, some pickles and a dry meat or vegetable curry.

  • 1 cup split hulled orange lentils
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 green chilli
  • 4 cups water

Wash the lentils and cook in a roomy pan with the turmeric chilli and water. When the lentils are soft, about 30-40 mins, add coconut milk and season to taste.

final fry

  • 1 tbsp veg oil
  • Half an onion
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 3 small hot dred red chillis or sliced large ones
  • 2-3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 12 curry leaves

In a small frying pan heat some vegetable oil or ghee and throw in the onion when it begins to colour add the garlic and when it starts to colour finally throw in the dry chillis and curry leaves fry for a minute then pour the hot oil and spices into the lentils, stir quickly, cover and let the flavours infuse before serving. Stir in a handful of fresh coriander leaf and serve scattered with a little extra fresh coriander leaf or shavings of fresh coconut.


Cauliflower with Lentils

1 May

This is a delicious way of cooking cauliflower in a sauce of spiced lentils known as dal or dhal in Southern Asia. The combination is subtle, savory and wonderful. You can add nuts for protein to make this a complete meal or serve as a side for a meat dish or with any number of vegetable dishes for a vegetarian feast.

Make a batch of basic dhal

  • 1 cup red hulled split lentils
  • 1 litre water
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 large green chillis
  • 1/4 tsp fenugreek seed (optional)

Wash the lentils then put into a roomy pan with the rest of the ingredients. Cook for 30minutes or until the lentils are soft.

  • Half a cauliflower
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
  • 1tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 1/2 tsp fennel, nigella or cumin seed
  • 1 black cardamom pod (optional)
  • 1-2 dried red chillis
  • 3 cloves garlic sliced (optional)
  • pinch asefetida (devil’s dung)
  • a small piece of ginger grated (optional)
  • 1 thinly sliced fresh green chilli (optional)

Cut the cauliflower into bite size florets. Remove the green chilli from the dal and add the cauliflower, cover and simmer slowly, meanwhile…

In a small pan or skillet heat the oil then throw in the first 5 spices, when they pop add the garlic and as soon as it starts to brown add the asefetida and pour straight into the lentils and cauliflower, stir and continue to cook until the cauliflower is just tender but still has a fresh tasting bite. Stir in a little more fresh green chilli and ginger, if using, and some fresh coriander leaf if you have any then serve.

Serve with rice or chapatis or a lamb biryani , a grilled meat dish such as masala roast chicken, or a hot meaty curry like Beef Roganjosh or with Bombay potatoes or any number of vegetable dishes such as green bean Coconut Fry  for a vegetarian feast.

Cooks Note Add spices according to your taste, you could add nigella, fennel or cumin seed or indeed all three, use green cardamom instead of black for a more floral taste and use asefetida instead of ginger for a more earthy savory taste and vary the spicing and quantity of chilli depending on what the dish will be served with.

Chickpea Pancake (Farinata)

14 Sep
This is an Italian street food I first tried in Liguria, close to the southern coast of France. A kind of savoury pancake made from ground chickpeas made into a batter with water and seasoned with olive oil, black pepper, salt and sometimes with rosemary. It is a brilliant snack food and perfect for those who have an allergy to gluten and cannot eat wheat, particularly in pasta-eating regions where avoiding gluten can be a real challenge.
Traditionally Farinata is cooked in a wide flat copper pan with a 4-5 cm lip in a hot wood fired oven. In Nice, just back across the border in France, a similar dish called socca is made with the same ingredients and cooked in an oven or in a skillet over flames. I’ve never tasted the French version but this is what the Ligurian one tastes like. I got the recipe from the back of a packet of chickpea flour i bought in Liguria and have tweaked it to taste more like the local vendors.
  • 250g chickpea flour (about 2 cups)
  • 750g water (about 3 cups)
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • Sea salt (1 tsp)
  • Cracked black pepper (1/2 tsp)
  • Rosemary minced (optional)

Put the ckickpea flour in a large bowl or jug, one with a spout if you can so it will make pouring easier, add the water beating as you go. Beat the mixture until you have a lovely smooth batter then add the salt & pepper and oil. Set aside for an hour or more to allow the batter to mature it can be left overnight. Heat the oven to very high and put a metal baking tray or a large paella pan into the oven to heat. If you have one, a paella pan is the nearest thing to the sort of pan used in Liguria.

When the pan is really hot lift out and drizzle with olive oil, to coat all over, then pour in enough batter to cover the surface of the pan in a thin layer, tipping side to side to ensure an even cover. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pop it straight back into the oven. Cook for 10-20 minutes, depending on how hot you can get your oven, until the edges and bottom are brown and crisp and the top is starting to take some colour. remove from the oven and tear or cut into pieces.

Sprinkle with a touch more of salt and pepper then serve with a glass of chilled wine or beer and you have a lovely start to the evening. If you have friends round you might want to put the next batch straight in the oven, this stuff disappears quickly. The quantity here makes enough batter for 4 batches cooked in a paella pan

Variation If you don’t want to use an oven it works fine on a stove top, i find using a heavy cast iron skillet works best. Once it is crisp on the bottom, turn it over and cook to just colouring on the other.

Tips for best and most authentic results make sure that the oven is as hot as it will go, the pan you use is very hot and use plenty of olive oil and salt. My oven will only go to 240c but with fan assisted gets pretty hot, hot enough to get the farinata just right. For really crispy ones make the layer of batter as thin as you can.

Tomato and White Bean Soup

2 Aug

This is such a lovely soup. Tangy iron-rich tomatoes with almost sweet, velvety white beans to give it an extra special dimension. Great in the summer when there are plenty of tomatoes in the garden or market and particularly good if you grown your own shelling beans.

  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 500g tomato pulp (peeled and chopped)
  • 200g fresh white beans or 100g dry (steeped and boiled til soft)
  • 1 litre stock or bean liquor
  • 1-3 bay leaf
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • Fresh Herbs such as: thym, parsley, rosemary or oregano

Fry the onion in a little olive oil with a dash of salt until soft then add the garlic and when it is aromatic add the tomatoes, stock and bayleaf . Season well and cook for 30 minutes or so. At this point you can liquidise the tomato soup, or pass it through a sieve for a smooth soup, if you like it with a bit of texture leave it as it is and add the beans and fresh herbs. Cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the beans are tender and serve scattered with a few more herbs.

TIP This soup is also a great storecupbaord staple using dried beans and bottled tomatoes.

Variation you can also use green beans, the long French types or runner beans cut into short lengths.

Chickpea Spread [Hummus]

21 Sep
Hummus simply means chickpea in Arabic and that is the main ingredient in this delicious spread. A super fast nutritious food that is versatile and easy to make, particularly if you have a blender. 
Prep+Cook 10 mins
  • 300-500g cooked and cooled chickpeas or tinned chick peas
  • 2 fat cloves garlic crushed
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt

  • Paprika or cayenne pepper if you like it spicy.
  • Lemon zest

Drain and rinse the chickpeas if using tinned but keep the cooking liquid if you have freshly cooked chickpeas. Put everything into a blender and give it a wiz until you have a smooth paste, adding a little water or cooking liquor if necessary to get a good consistency. Pour into a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle a little more paprika on top and the grated zest of a lemon. Hummus will keep for about 1 week in the fridge.
Cook’s TIP To use dried chickpeas, which do taste better, soak in water overnight then simmer for about 1 hour until they are tender, use the cooking liquor to thin the hummus.
Variations you can add fresh coriander, crushed cumin, preserved lemon, tahini or sesame seeds to the blend for extra flavour or variation.
Nutrition Hummus is also high in fibre and said to help reduce cholesterol.
This recipe was originally posted on on 15/6/2006, I’ve just harvested our first crop of chickpeas which remonded me to update this recipe with a new picture and text.

Green Lentil Salad

20 Nov

This tart and surprisingly juicy salad of mediteranean green lentils is dressed with a sour-sweet pomegranate molasses and aromatic cumin. This dish can be served as a side or as part of a mezze or tapas of small dishes.

Prep 10min Cook 30min Serves 4

  • 250g green lentils 
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • salt/pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp cumin freshly roasted and crushed
  • handful chopped parsley or coriander
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • Juice of half a lemon

Wash the lentils and boil in a large pan of water for 20-30minutes until the lentils are just soft but completely intact, drain and set aside. Meanwhile fry the onion in olive oil until translucent, add garlic and cumin and when the aroma rises add the drained lentils and stir to coat. Take off the heat stir in the pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and chopped parsley. Season with a touch of salt and pepper and serve.

Cook’s Tip Pomegranate Molasses can be found in middle eastern shops and good food stores. It is also very easy to make and we are lucky enough to have a mature sour Pomegranate bush and make our own in November when the fruit is ripe.
Recipe Source This recipe was inspired by a plate of vegetarian tapas, I had at Tate Modern London a few years ago, the lentil dish stood out and I wanted to make something similar and this was about right for me.

Chorizo & White Bean Stew

18 Nov

This is Rachel’s dads’ favourite dish, the one he cooks for himself when he is left to his own devices in the kitchen and I can understand why, it is so easy and so delicious. He usually makes it with a jar of white beans, cooking chorizo and tomato passata. It is a Spanish store cupboard classic, great for camping or cooking on the hoof.

Serves 2-4 (as a starter or main)

  • 4 cooking chorizo
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • Large jar white beans or freshly boiled butter beans 
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 250g passata (home made tomato puree) 
  • Fresh flat leaf parsley

Slice the sausages and fry in a good slug of fruity olive oil until starting to crisp around the edges, add the garlic and when the aroma rises add the paprika, tomato paste and cooked white beans. Cook for 10 minutes more until the sauce is all glossy and the flavours have infused. Sprinkle with bright green chopped parsley and serve in individual bowls to be mopped up with bread, or as one of a number of Tapas dishes.
Variation An equally good variation is to use potatoes instead of white beans to make another great Spanish dish add a few green peppers and cook until the potatoes are done.

Tunisian Chickpea Soup

7 Oct

It is pepper and chilli harvest time so I’ve been making batches of home made harissa paste which is a fundamental ingredient of this soup. In North Africa this would be called Lablabi, a popular every day dish from Tunisia; filling, nutritious and lip smackingly good. Pared down it is chickpeas in a broth seasoned with cumin, olive oil and harissa paste, simple food that tastes divine.

It can also be varied enormously with seasonings and garnishes; this one is garnished with; olive oil, cumin, lemon, and a poached egg.

Wash the chickpeas well and put into a large pan. Fill with cold water, leave to soak for 12 hours.Discard some of the water leaving just enough to cover the soaked chickpeas. Put the pan over a high heat and bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for one and a half hours or until the chick peas are tender. Stir in a good slosh of olive oil, a few cloves of crushed garlic, some ground cumin, some chopped parsley and lots of harissa to taste, cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes. Spoon the soup into a dish, give it a squeeze of lemon, a little more olive oil and a sprinkle of crushed cumin seeds. Serve with bread croutons spread with more harissa or some tuna, a poached egg, or olives, whatever takes your fancy on the day.

Try it with a bit of tuna too.

Variations: There are very many variations of this simple soup because Lablabi is a traditional dish so it has been around for a long time. The chick peas can be cooked with meat bones. Stale bread can be broken into pieces and used to line the serving bowl before pouring the soup over it or the bread can be served as croutons spread with harissa paste.

Topping: The basic soup is served topped with olive oil, cumin, and a dollop of harissa but for a more substantial dish the soup can be served topped with; fish such as tuna or sardines, egg, bread croutons, capers or olives.

Cooks TIP
The soaking and cooking of chickpeas takes a long time so save it, and cooking fuel, by cooking up a large batch then freeze or bottle in ready to use portions. I freeze cooked chickpeas drained for salads and small dishes like Spicy Chickpea Salad, Spinach and Chickpeas and hummous or in bags with their cooking liquor for soups like this one.

Recipe Sources
Mirage Blogspot
La Cuisine Marocaine
Cuisine d’Afrique

This recipe was originally posted on on 14/10/2008.

Chayote Urid Dal

21 Sep

Chayote or vegetable pear cooked in a lentil broth flavoured with a spicy, coconut masala paste. The chayote works extremely well cooked in the dal so there is lots of scope for experimenting with other members of the cucurbit family and using summer squash or gourds and varying the spices or the types of lentils.

  • 1-2 Chayotes (green vegetable pear)
  • 1/2 cup urid dal (black lentils split, skinned, washed)
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 large green chilli
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Masala paste

  • 1 tsp mustard seed
  • 10 dried curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp urid dal
  • 2 dried red chillis
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp grated coconut or unsweetened desiccated coconut

Fry the masala ingredients in a little oil, set aside to cool and then blitz in a coffee grinder to a rough paste. If the chayote are young cut into bite size pieces but if the chayotes are older peel the skin off, as it can be quite stringy and tough, then cut onto pieces.

Put the dal and water in a pot, with the turmeric and sliced green chilli (use only half a chilli if you don’t want it to be too hot) cover and simmer until the lentils are nearly cooked about 45 mins. I like to leave the lentils with some shape but you can mash them to make a smoother dal. Add the pieces of chayote and a good pinch of salt and continue to simmer covered until the chayote is cooked, this takes about 10 minutes. Stir in the masala paste, turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 5 minutes or so before serving. Drizzle with a little home made chilli oil and serve with rice and a sweet chutney such as Sweet Bengali Tomato Chutney or Fig and Tamarind Chutney or any Indian pickles.

Recipe Sources
In India a dish like this would be called Chow chow kootu. I looked at several recipes for Chow Chow Kootu and ended up making the version above, which is a combination of two or three recipes I found.

see the discussion on this forum
see recipe on Indobase 

Cook’s Tip
Cooking small quantities of lentils like this is a waste of fuel for a single 2 serving dish so I tend to cook up larger batches and freeze in portions, which can be used to make dishes like this quickly. The Masala paste can be made in batches and will store for several months in an airtight jar.

Lentil Soup

17 Sep

A classic lentil soup is hard to beat when you want something warm, nutritious and comforting to eat. It is such a simple soup, using basic ingredients, but I love it and it will always be a favourite. This is the way I make a basic lentil soup.

Serves 4 prep 7mins cook 30-45mins

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic sliced (optional)
  • 1 cup red lentils washed and drained
  • 1 litre good vegetable stock ( or stock cube works fine)
  • 2 bay leaves, fresh if you can get them
  • salt to taste
  • Lemon to taste

Gently fry the onions, black pepper and garlic in the oil without browning until soft. Add the lentils, bay leaves add stock and stir. Cover and boil for 30-45mins or until the lentils are soft. Season to taste adding salt now if necessary. I usually give this soup a wiz with a hand blender to get an extra creamy texture, but make sure to remove the bay leaves first. Serve with a squeeze of lemon and a slice for extra flavour.

Variations for a non vegetarian version fry lardons or cubed bacon with the onion for extra flavour or give it a kick an serve with a swirl of home made chilli oil or a squeeze of lemon juice.

TIP do not add salt when cooking pulses as they will be harder and take longer to cook.

This recipe was originally posted on  25/09/2006