Lamb and Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

Lamb and lentil shepherd's pie

Lamb and lentil shepherd’s pie

Tomorrow is my birthday and I had hoped this week would be a little quieter than usual so that I could have some time to prepare myself for becoming a year older.  In fact, the opposite happened and I have been busier than ever.  Such is often the way.  This also means that I have not had time to write up a shepherd’s pie that I cooked a couple of weeks ago that was more successful than I anticipated.

It started with us cooking a the lamb shawarma from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem for a family Sunday supper.  I usually look to Ottolenghi for my vegetarian recipes, but could not resist this lamb.  It has had a post-it marking the page for longer than I care to admit.  If you have the book, it is worth making for an alternative Sunday roast: it is marinated in no less than 11 spices and slow roasted for about four and a half hours.  We served ours with the usual array of kebab accompaniments – shredded iceberg, pickled chillies, hot sauce and a little hummus – and with a butternut squash, lentil and feta salad on the side.

Of course, we had some lamb left over, although not a great deal as we were all rather hungry.  Once I had shredded it from the bone, there was about 250g of meat, which would make a very skimpy Shepherd’s pie indeed.  I almost popped it in a tupperware to use for sandwich meat, and then remembered that I used to pad out vegetarian ‘shepherd’s’ pies with lentils and that it could also work well with the lamb.  As it happens, it worked perfectly.  Not only did it stretch the filling to make a pie for two people with a little leftover, but it added another dimension of texture to the shredded lamb. I was worried that the spices from the shawarma would overpower the dish a little, but in the end I could barely taste them, save for a bit of extra heat.

Food waste is one of my biggest bete noires, so the thrill of creating a new meal from old leftovers is pretty unrivalled as far as culinary thrills go.  I have always found more satisfaction in creating something from the odds and ends of the fridge than having a whole supermarket full of ingredients at my disposal.  This is partly why I shop daily rather than do a big ‘weekly shop’ – it is far easier to see what you already have, and then figure out something to do with it.  A shepherd’s pie, or cottage pie, is a perfect way of using up leftovers: the meat, old bits you have lurking around the veg drawer, and the ends of bags of potatoes.  As far as the filling goes, you can add in more or less anything you like.  The idea of creating this as a completely new dish seems like an odd one.  Some people do this with mince, which I prefer not to use if I can help it.

Lamb and Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

100g dried green lentils
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp dried thyme
100ml red wine
250g leftover roast lamb
100ml chicken stock
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper
750g potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 tbsp salted butter
Grated cheese, for topping

Cook the lentils according to packet instructions and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, and cook the onion, carrots and celery over a medium heat until soft but not browned, approximately 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and thyme in the last two minutes of cooking.

Pour in the wine and increase the heat a little to let it bubble.  Cook for a couple of minutes until it has reduced a little.  Add the lamb, stock, Worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup, tomato puree, salt and pepper.  Cook on a medium heat for around 15-20 minutes until the mixture has thickened and most of the liquid has been reduced.  Stir in the lentils and transfer to a suitable pie dish.

Meanwhile, cook the potatoes until tender.  Drain and mash with the butter and a little milk until smooth.  Check the seasoning.

Pipe or spoon the mash over the lamb mixture and top with a layer of grated cheese.  Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes until the top has browned and the edges are bubbling.  Serve with green vegetables.

One Year Ago:  Cornish Pasties

Toad in the Hole for British Sausage Week

Toad in the Hole

Toad in the Hole

This weekend I visited two south-east London markets in one day.  ‘Double-marketing’ as my friend Jassy called it.  I went to the brand new Peckham Market and then walked down the Queens Road, through New Cross and on to Brockley Market, one of my long-time favourites.  Needless to say I ate far too much.  More on that later…

At Brockley Market, right on the far side, is a stall called The Butchery, at which I am a frequent visitor.  Their moniker can leave you in no doubt as to what they sell, but gives little clue to the fact that they are one of the best butchers in London.  To discover that, one has to try them for themselves.  I first discovered them when their shop appeared on Forest Hill’s London road a couple of years ago, before that they had a pop-up shop that was part of the SEE3 project, supported by Mary Portas, to regenerate parts of Forest Hill and Sydenham.  Since then, I have visited them mainly at their stall at the market which has a good selection of their full range.  Their excellent bacon makes it into my shopping bag with some regularity, and I find I can pick up some excellent cheaper cuts too, like the beef shin I used in my beef shin, black bean and chipotle stew.

This weekend, I was after some good sausages, with this week being British Sausage Week.  I must have been on the same wavelength as my fellow shoppers as, by the time I had arrived at Brockley Market and scarfed down my lunch (beef short rib braccos from The Roadery, if you’re interested) there was only one packet left in the whole market:  a packet of some rather sizeable pork sausages from The Butchery.  So large were they, in fact, that the cost of £6.60, nearly double that of supermarket sausages, barely caused me to bat an eyelid.  I was happy to pay this and to take them home.

These sausages had a very special purpose:  they were going to be made into one of my childhood favourites, a dish that I had not eaten in some time but had been craving ever since the weather turned cooler.  Toad in the Hole.  With such an unappealing name, it is easy to see why those who are unfamiliar would turn up their nose.  For the rest of us, mainly those of us who grew up in Britain, went to a British school or have British relatives, the combination of sausages and Yorkshire pudding, doused in gravy, is the ultimate in comfort food.  My mother, undisputed queen of all things batter, makes an excellent one.  Her secret is to make sure the fat in the pan is very, very hot before you add the batter.  She also makes excellent yorkies and pancakes using the same principle.

There’s not much else I can add except to say to use the best sausages you can find.  Make friends with your local butcher.  If you’re making a veggie one, Cauldron sausages are by far the best.

Toad in the Hole

6 sausages
Olive oil
150g plain flour
2 eggs
2 egg whites
200ml whole milk
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220ºc and lightly oil a tin or baking dish large enough to accommodate all of the sausages with some gaps in between.  Whilst the oven heats up, make the batter.  Beat the eggs, egg whites and milk together in a jog.  Place the flour in a bowl and gradually whisk in the wet ingredients until you have a smooth batter.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Place the sausages in the dish, add a little more oil and shake gently to coat.  Bake the sausages in the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove the sausages from the oven.  The fat should be spitting hot.  Stir the batter a couple of times and then pour it into the tray around the sausages.  Return to the oven for 20 minutes until the batter is puffed and golden.

Douse with gravy and serve with green vegetables.

One Year Ago:  Instagram Round-Up: October 2013

Lamb Rogan Josh

Lamb rogan josh

Lamb rogan josh

Things have improved vastly in the past few days, so much so that I am writing this post from the number 12 bus on my way into the office.  My shoulder has almost completely recovered and the sun is shining in through the window.

Now I am no longer injured, I will be able to go ahead with my plan to go indoor climbing on Friday evening.  Wednesday was Ollie’s and my nine-year anniversary.  We decided a while ago to scrap this one as we now have a wedding anniversary to celebrate each June, but shortly after reconsidered and decided instead to use it as an opportunity to do something in London that we have never done before, something perhaps a bit crazy and off-the-wall.  So Friday you will find me scrambling up a wall in a disused biscuit factory in Bermondsey.  How I love making new traditions.

As well as this, I followed an old tradition of asking Ollie what he would like for dinner that evening.  Asking that of somebody who loves food so much often gets an unpredictable answer, but this time he said exactly what I expected him to say:  he wanted a curry.

Curries are so perfect for this time of year, not only because they are warming, but because autumn produce lends itself so well to being cooked in this way.  Take a little look at the Eat the Seasons blog and you’ll see listed there a number of vegetables, meats and fish just dying to be cooked up in spices.  I decided to make a lamb curry, as we had eaten two chicken dishes earlier in the week, and to make the most well-known lamb curry of all: the rogan josh.

The problem with making curry on a weeknight is that you need one that can be cooked in a relatively short time.  Unless you want to eat at 11pm, slow cooking or lengthy marinading is out – best to leave those for the weekend.  This recipe, based on one by Anjum Anand, manages to get a deep rich flavour without either of these processes.  Lamb leg meat is the best for this type of curry, but it can be pricey, so use neck fillet instead if you are watching the pennies.  The lamb is cooked first in the spices, and then cooked down in water several times to create a deep rich sauce.  The whole cooking time is no more than an hour and can easily be reheated.  Best eaten with a cold bottle of Brewdog‘s Punk IPA.

Lamb Rogan Josh

Vegetable oil
10 black peppercorns
10 cardamom pods
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 onion, finely chopped
500g lamb neck fillet
6 garlic cloves
1inch piece of ginger, peeled and quartered
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground fennel seeds
1½ tsp garam masala
Salt
2 tomatoes, pureed
3 tbsp natural yoghurt
Bunch fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

Heat the vegetable oil in a very large saucepan and fry the peppercorns, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon for a couple of minutes until fragrant.  Add the onion and cook on a medium heat until translucent and starting to brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Add the lamb and cook for about five minutes until browned all over.

Puree the garlic cloves and ginger together in a food processor with a tablespoon of water until they come together in a rough paste.  Add to the lamb, stirring to coat, and cook for a further five minutes.

Stir in the ground coriander, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, ground fennel seeds, garam masala, salt, pureed tomatoes and yoghurt.  Reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid, cooking for 10 minutes.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of water to the mixture and cook on a medium heat for a further 8-10 minutes, stirring continually, until the sauce has thickened.  Add a little more water if the sauce begins to dry out.

Pour in enough boiling water to cover the lamb and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce is thick and the lamb is cooked and tender.

Serve with rice, naan, chutney and raita.

Serves 2-3.  Adapted from a recipe by Anjum Anand.

A Soup of My Leftovers

Roast chicken, kale and lentil soup

Roast chicken, kale and lentil soup

In the last few days I have spent a considerable time complaining about three things:  being ill, having a sprained shoulder and that our precious Mk1 Golf GTI has broken down again.  It seems 30-year old things break down occasionally, myself included.

On Sunday I made the simplest roast chicken: half a lemon in the cavity, a little olive oil and a lot of sea salt on the skin to make it really crispy, roast for two hours. That’s it.  I always buy a large chicken, even just for the two of us, as I love to have leftovers.  Even once we have made a huge dent on the breast meat and thigh meat, and have devoured a wing each (the best bit), there is usually still enough for another large meal and a couple of sandwiches.  I have made a number of chicken pies with the leftover meat, especially in the colder months; in the summer it ends up in salads, like my chicken and bread salad with harissa and pomegranate seeds.  This time, it was destined for a soup – just the thing for a warming weeknight supper.

This soup is, as the best chicken soups are, based on a broth of chicken stock.  Home made, of course, is best, but if you don’t have it, stock cubes are fine.  This time, my broth was a mixture of both.  I usually decant chicken stock into old plastic soup containers, which hold about 600ml of liquid.  I only had one left, and the soup requires about 1200ml of stock, so I made up the rest with a cube.

Also in this soup is a healthy mixture of kale, onions, celery, green lentils and pearl barley.  It can be made in under an hour and is best served with crusty bread.  The crustier, the better.

Roast Chicken, Kale and Lentil Soup

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Large pinch chilli flakes
1 bay leaf
1.2l chicken stock
100g pearl barley
100g green lentils
Leftover roast chicken
75ml natural yoghurt
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Two large handfuls kale, shredded
2 tbsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the onion, celery and garlic until translucent – about five minutes.  Stir in the cumin, cinnamon, chilli and bay leaf and cook for a further couple of minutes.

Add the chicken stock, pearl barley and lentils, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes until the barley and lentils are tender.

Add the roast chicken and the yoghurt and heat through without boiling.  Season with salt and black pepper.

Toss the kale in a little lemon juice then divide between two large bowls.  Ladle the soup over the kale, the heat will wilt it.

Serves two with extra for leftovers.  Adapted from a recipe by Gourmet Traveller.

One Year Ago:  Allspice-Roasted Pumpkin with Chickpeas and a Tahini-Lemon Dressing

A Few Things from Baden-Baden, Germany

I’m not quite sure how, but it is October tomorrow.  It doesn’t really feel like it as it is unseasonably warm in London at the moment, and I just got back from holiday.

For the past few days, Ollie and I have been in Baden-Baden.  If you’re not familiar, it is a little town in Germany’s Black Forest, south of Frankfurt and close to the French border.  It is famous for its thermal waters and its beautiful spas attract people from all over the region.  We spent quite a considerable amount of time at the Carcalla Baths.  It was a holiday after all.

As well as this, there was, of course, lots of eating and drinking.  Here are a few highlights:

 

Beer
Much to my constant dismay, I have never liked beer.  Fortunately, my husband is rather a fan and got to sample quite a few different beers during our time there.  With Oktoberfest imminent, a lot of the bars were promoting their own hausbrau.  Two of the best were at Amadeus and Lowenbrau.  The latter has a really nice beer garden.

 

image

Flammkuchen
This is an Alsace speciality that is also known as Tarte Flambee on the French side of the border.  It is a very thin, almost pizza-like dough, traditionally topped with sour cream, bacon and onions.  We ate at the Theaterkeller, where they have a number of different varities of flammkuchen, including this one with breasola.

 

image

Black Forest Cake
No trip to the Black Forest is complete without sampling the schwarzenwalden kirschetorte, the region’s most famous cake.  Many were put off by the old Sara Lee frozen desserts of the 1990s, but the real deal is a thing of beauty.  Light chocolate sponge, slightly-boozy-slightly-sour cherries and an abundance of blousy whipped cream.

 

image

Sausages
As ubiquitous in Germany as good beer, you never have to look hard to find a good sausage.  We found these at a farmers’ market in the small town of Buhl, just outside of Baden-Baden; three euros for a gargantuan sausage in bread.  We both opted for the feuerwurst, a sausage heavily spiced with paprika and chilli, and doused it in dijon mustard.  Three euros.

 

image

More Cake
You could eat cake every day for a year in Baden-Baden and never be satisfied.  I cannot help but love a place that takes baking so seriously.  This was another favourite cake from the trip, from a small riverside bakery in Buhl: a chocolate and almond cake topped with sweet apricots.

 

image

Burgers
Not really a German speciality, but I always like to try the local take on a burger.  This one was from Leo’s, a famous Baden-Baden restaurant where Bill Clinton apparently dined.  It was 18 euros, but it was also very good.  The meat was excellent quality and cooked medium (not quite medium-rare, sadly) and the other components worked well.  My husband had an excellent fillet steak for not much more money, that came with béarnaise sauce and dauphinoise.  A rare case of food envy.

 

image

Doughnuts
There’s only so many times you can quote Ich bin eine Berliner whilst holding a doughnut.  This one came from a bakery in a small village called Steinbach.  The only thing open on a Sunday morning for miles.  Luckily they did coffee too.

One Year Ago:  Five Spice Duck Legs.

The Best Meatballs Ever

Meatballs and spaghetti

Meatballs and spaghetti

As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, I find that I spend more time at home than I did in the heady days of summer.  For one, pub gardens aren’t as fun if you have to put a coat on and huddle together.  Also, I find that my credit card bills from the holidays and living it up at a variety of weddings, festivals and trips to the seaside are so obscene that I reining it in seems the only option.

One thing I like to do on these cold evenings is fill up my freezer.  It’s probably the instinct for stocking up for winter kicking in, and all of a sudden I am digging out all of the Tupperware and filling it with things that I can eat later.  Hearty stews, soups and casseroles to be defrosted on a cold winter’s day when a trip to the supermarket is just too much to bear.  My two favourite things to keep in the freezer are meatballs and homemade tomato sauce.

Meatballs are a godsend as you can freeze them after they have been cooked and then, once defrosted, just heat them through in the sauce for about 10-15 minutes before serving.  A little fresh pasta and a sprinkle of parmesan and you have an excellent meal. 

I have tried a number of different meatball recipes, but these from the Polpo cookbook are my favourite.  They use pork and beef mince, which give them an excellent flavour, and the addition of a little pinch of chilli gives just a smidge of warmth.  The best thing about these meatballs is that they are cooked in the oven, rather than on the stovetop, which means that they do not have the crisp edges that frying gives and remain soft all the way through.  Because of this, they tend to break up less than other meatballs when cooked in the sauce.

The sauce is also from the same cookbook and uses both fresh and tinned tomatoes.  It too contains a bit of chilli for that extra warmth, which you can leave out or adjust to your own taste.  I have adapted the sauce from the original recipe by adding a little red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce to give it a little more depth. 

This recipe makes about 50 meatballs, which is more than any family can eat in one sitting.

Meatballs

1kg minced pork
500g minced beef
3 medium eggs
½ tbsp fine salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
150g breadcrumbs
Pinch dried chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 220ºc / 425ºf / gas 7.  Lightly grease two baking trays.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients by mixing together with your hands until fully combined.  You can make the meatballs any size you wish, but I always weigh out 35g of the mixture for each ball.  Roll into a sphere and place on the baking tray.  Repeat until all of the mixture has been used up.

Bake the meatballs in the oven for ten minutes, turning once.  When ready to serve, poach in the tomato sauce for 10-15 minutes until heated through.  The meatballs can also be refrigerated or frozen at this stage.

 

Tomato Sauce

100ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp fine salt
¼ tsp black pepper
Pinch chilli flakes
750g fresh tomatoes, quartered
3 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Heat 50ml of the oil in a large pan and saute the onion and garlic until soft, approximately 10 minutes.  Add the salt, pepper and chilli and stir in.  Add the remaining 50ml of the oil and the fresh tomatoes and cook on a medium heat for a further 15 minutes.

Add the tinned tomatoes and simmer on a low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the oregano, caster sugar, red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce.  Taste for seasoning.  Puree thoroughly using a hand blender.

Recipes adapted from ‘Polpo’ by Russell Norman

Dinner for One

Chipotle Chicken with Tomato-Avocado Salsa

Chipotle chicken with avocado-tomato salsa

On the rare occasion that I find myself home alone for the evening, cooking dinner for myself goes out of the window.  I know that for many people, getting into the kitchen after a hard day’s work is their way to unwind, but I am usually rather grateful for a night off.  If I’m feeling particularly energetic, I will grill myself something to put atop a salad; if I really can’t be arsed, it’ll be marmite on toast or a trip to the chip shop (Seamasters on Forest Hill Road, just in case you’re interested).

I spend a lot of time cooking for others; whether it be a supper for Ollie and I, lunch for friends, or a birthday cake; and I love it, but I’ve always felt that there is no point in cooking an entire meal just for me.  When I was a student and Ollie spent large chunks of time on tour, I would make a pot of something and live off it for three or four days.  Some people might be horrified by this, but although I love cooking, I also love the thought of spending a whole evening watching Netflix and doing minimal dishes, from time to time.   It seems I’m not the only one.  Many of my friends, especially those with children, will seldom cook a meal when it is just for them.

I was reading an old article by Jay Rayner on the idea of cooking for one.  He argued that this was the perfect opportunity to cook things exactly as you want them, without having to consider anybody else.  He cites putting more heat in a Thai curry and sea salt on chocolate ice cream as his lone dining guilty pleasures.  For me, being home alone is the time to eat the kind of crap that others would turn their nose up at if you presented it as dinner.  For example:  I have one of those toasters with an egg poacher on the side, and love to poach a perfectly circular egg and put it in a split and toasted English muffin with two slices of slappy American cheese and a load of ketchup.  Pretty filthy, but so good.

This weekend Ollie was on his stag do and I was home alone.  Ordinarily, I would have stocked up on all kinds of junk and bookmarked some trash TV on my subscription services, but the image of the wedding dress I have to squeeze into in a little over a month was hanging over me like a giant warning sign.  ‘Dinner for One’ needed a new, healthy makeover.

When rooting through the cupboard for inspiration, I found a little pot of Mexican spice mix that I made back in February.  On sticking my nose in, I realised that it hadn’t lost its potency and, although I initially thought it would be ace in a grilled cheese sandwich, I decided to use it as the basis of something healthier.  When mixed with chipotle paste, lime juice and soy sauce and a little olive oil, it became a very punchy marinade for a lone chicken breast.  To accompany this, a summery salsa of ripe avocados and even riper tomatoes, mixed up with lime juice, chilli and garlic.  A very virtuous meal if ever there was one.

Chipotle Chicken with Avocado-Tomato Salsa

  • 1 tsp chipotle paste
  • Juice of 2 limes, separated
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 medium avocado, diced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Salad leaves

In a small bowl, combine the Mexican spice mix, chipotle paste, juice of one of the limes and the honey.  Place the chicken breast in a wide shallow bowl and pout over the chipotle mixture.  Use your hands to coat the chicken and leave to marinade in the fridge for at least an hour.

In the meantime, make the avocado-tomato salsa.  In a large bowl combine the avocado, tomatoes, spring onions, chilli and garlic.  Pour over the lime juice and gently stir until the ingredients are well mixed.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Chill in the fridge until needed.

Put a griddle pan over a high heat and, once hot, grill the chicken until cooked through.

Arrange the salad leaves in the bowl.  Slice the chicken breast diagonally and place the slices on top.  Spoon the salsa over the chicken.

Two Ways with Spring Greens

I am one of those awkwardly pretentious people who loves quotations.  I have a dictionary of quotations that my grandfather gave me when I was a teenager, and have  been drawing on it for inspiration ever since.  I have a number of them written in a little notebook I carry around, have them engraved into gifts and almost always write them in birthday cards:  something about age and wisdom for the younger ones and, for the older ones, something about how bloody old they are.

One of the most overused quotations is, incidentally, one of my favourite books, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  It’s been quoted in a number of terrible romantic comedies and sitcoms, but in the case of the week I’ve just had, it rings very true:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Last Thursday I organised a very fun and glitzy party that was scuppered somewhat by my waking up with the cold from hell.  This cold persisted into the weekend and on Saturday, with a red nose and sore throat, I celebrated my hen night with twenty of my dearest and, thankfully, healthy friends.  Of course, after a couple of gin and tonics start to blur your brain, it is easy to forget that you are ill until it hits you tenfold the next morning.  Let me be the one to tell you that martinis and decongestant tablets do not mix.

Since then, my cold has developed into a throat infection and a chest infection, which has rendered me more or less housebound for the past few days.  As is always the way when I’m ill, I go running for the same list of things that will make me feel better:  a box set of two or more seasons (this time it is House of Cards, which I am completely obsessed with), several bottles of original Lucozade, an abundance of tissues and as much fruit and vegetables as Ollie can carry back from the supermarket.  Ordinarily I would make my ultimate cold-buster, the Chicken ‘n’ Dumplings of my dreams, but south east London is a muggy old place right now, and jointing and stewing a chicken in my tiny kitchen seems far more unappealing than it does in the winter.

Stir fried lamb with spring greens

Instead, I have been upping my intake of green vegetables.  The wonderful thing about spring is the availability of more greens to break up the monotony of purple sprouting broccoli and kale we live on all winter.  I go crazy on asparagus, samphire, gorgeous peppery watercress from my home county of Hampshire and nettles, which I discovered a few years ago.  One of the best arrivals of the season, however, are spring greens, which have the benefit of being both versatile and cheap.  They are the first cabbages of the year and have a strong iron-rich flavour and robust texture that lends itself well to a variety of different dishes.  I have often used spring greens as a substitute for other leafy green vegetables such as spinach, pak choi or kale when I have been unable to get my hands on these, or simply have greens in the house.

Risotto primavera

Risotto primavera

I picked up a couple of these cabbages from the Co-op in East Dulwich for about £1 and had enough to make two main meals.  The first was a take on Nigel Slater’s stir fried lamb with broccoli (you can guess which ingredient I replaced) that took from my Asian storecupboard of chillies, fish sauce and lime; and the second was from Italy, a risotto primavera, which succeeded in using up some odds and ends of green vegetables I had in the fridge and freezer:  an old courgette, almost ready for the bin, a rogue celery stick and the ends of some bags of peas and broad beans lurking at the back of the freezer drawer.

The most important thing about cooking with spring greens, at least for me, it to remove the rough stalks in the middle of the leaves.  I can hardly ever get them to cook to a point where they are tender, and always end up picking them out.

Stir Fried Lamb with Spring Greens

  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 red birds-eye chillies, seeds removed (keep them in if you like it hot) and finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 350g minced lamb
  • Juice of 1½ limes
  • 1½ tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 head of spring greens, stalks removed and leaves finely shredded
  • Handful finely chopped coriander

Heat the oil in a large wok and stir fry the  spring onions, garlic and chillies for a couple of minutes until they are soft but not coloured.  Add the lamb mince, breaking up with a spatula, and cook until it is golden brown, about 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix together the lime, fish sauce and sugar then pour this mixture into the hot pan and stir through the lamb, cooking for an extra few minutes until some of the liquid has reduced.

Remove from the heat and check the seasoning.  Stir in the spring greens and half of the coriander and cover the pan for a few minutes until the leaves have wilted in the residual heat.  Sprinkle the remaining coriander on top and serve.

Serves two.  Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater.

Risotto Primavera with Feta

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 300g arborio rice
  • 150ml dry white wine
  • 1 courgette, diced
  • 1l vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 head of spring greens, stalks removed and leaves finely shredded
  • 1 handful broad beans, podded
  • 1 handful frozen peas
  • 25g butter
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 50g feta, crumbled

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or chef’s pan and gently cook the onions, celery and garlic until soft but not coloured, this should take about 10 minutes on a low heat.  Add the rice and stir thoroughly to ensure that the grains are coated in the oil.  Turn up the heat and add the white wine to the pan, letting it bubble until almost all of the liquid has been evaporated.  Stir in the diced courgette.

Keeping the pan on a medium heat, start adding the vegetable stock to the rice mixture, a ladle at a time, stirring regularly.  Add the next ladle of stock only when the previous one has evaporated.  Keep adding the stock, stirring as you go, until you have used three-quarters of it.  Taste the rice, it should be cooked but slightly al dente.  If the rice is still too hard, repeat the process of adding stock and stirring until it has reached the consistency that you like.

Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, seasoning, spring greens, broad beans and peas.  Put a lid on the pan and leave for a couple of minutes until the butter has melted and the greens have wilted.  Stir again and serve in large bowls, topped with the crumbled feta.

Serves two for dinner and then one for lunch the following day.

*Apologies for my photography – it’s terrible.

Maille Culinary Challenge: Harissa and Lemon Mustard Chicken

Harissa and Lemon Mustard Chicken with Date and Almnd Cous Cous

Harissa and Lemon Mustard Chicken with Date and Almnd Cous Cous

If you were to take a look in my perpetually overloaded fridge, you may worry that I have something of a mustard obsession.  At the very minimum I will keep four types in the fridge:  good old English mustard for ham sandwiches, wholegrain for salad dressings, Dijon for sauces and a bright yellow tube of French’s American mustard for squeezing over burgers or zig-zagging over hotdogs.  As well as this, I have a tin of mustard powder in the cupboard, which often makes its way into shortcrust pastry and my favourite cheese, chive and mustard scones, and a stash of both horseradish and wasabi.  I love the kind of heat that you get from those ingredients, the kind that, unlike the heat from chillies, blasts you in the nose and sends a pulse of fire through your sinuses.  I love it to the point of addiction, so was very happy to be approached by Maille to take part in their culinary challenge.

Maille is a brand of mustards, sauces and oils from France that started in the eighteenth century.  Despite the fact that they have, in recent years, branched out into other ingredients, it is mainly for their mustard that they are known.  Their boutique in the Piccadilly Arcade is like a mecca for condiment lovers – I never thought I would covet a £29, 125g pot of mustard with chablis and black truffles, but somehow I managed.

From the list of products they sent me, the one that caught my eye was a mustard with white wine, lemon and harissa.  The prospect of the dry heat of mustard combined with the chilli pepper punch of harissa presented the opportunity for some exciting flavours.  This recipe is for a a simple chicken in mustard sauce with the middle eastern influences of harissa, mint, lemon and oregano. It is a quick and simple dish that can be made in under half an hour, so is perfect for a weeknight meal.  The tomato and harissa cut through the cream and mustard and the nuggets of pomegranate seeds and the dates in the cous cous provide a sweetness that matches the flavours surprisingly well.  The dish would work perfectly well without the additional teaspoon of harissa but, if you live with a chilli fiend, as I do, it adds just that little extra punch.

As if the condiment shelf in my fridge wasn’t full enough, it seems I may have to make room for another.

In the bowl

Harissa and Lemon Mustard Chicken with Date and Almond Cous Cous

For the chicken:

  • 6 boneless chicken thighs, cut into strips
  • 3 tbsp Maille Mustard with White Wine, Lemon and Harissa Spices
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • ½ tsp dried mint
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp harissa
  • 180ml hot water
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp double cream
  • 1 tsp fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp pomegranate seeds

For the cous cous:

  • 125g cous cous
  • 10 dates, roughly chopped
  • Handful of almonds, roughly chopped
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Place the chicken thighs in a large shallow dish.  Spoon over the mustard and mix to coat the chicken thoroughly.  Cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate in the fridge for a minimum of two hours, but preferably overnight.

In a large saucepan over a medium heat, gently fry the onion in the olive oil until translucent, 5-10 minutes, be careful not to let it brown.  Once cooked, stir in the dried mint, dried oregano, tomato puree and harissa.  Pour over the hot water and stir until smooth.  Season with the salt and pepper and cook for 15-20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Whilst the chicken is cooking, make the cous cous by placing it in a bowl and then covering it with just enough boiling water so that it is submerged.  Cover with clingfilm and leave for ten minutes or so, until the water is absorbed.  Fluff the cous cous with a fork and stir in the dates and almonds.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Once the chicken is cooked through, lower the heat and stir in the double cream.  Check the seasoning.  Remove from the heat and sprinkle over the fresh mint and pomegranate seeds to garnish. Serve with the cous cous.

Serves 2-3 as a main dish.

Leftovers Love

I woke up this morning and almost turned off my alarm, believing I had another day off.  The cruelty of it all.  Judging by the expressions on the faces of my fellow commuters on the Peckham Rye – Victoria this morning, you would think the world, not the bank holiday weekend, had ended.

Much like, I expect, everybody else, I spent most of the weekend overindulging on food and drink.  One of the highlights was the great Ox Roast at The Ship who, in conjunction with Flat Iron, had procured a 250kg longhorn steer, fed it on a diet of London stout and roasted it on a spit for us all to enjoy.  For the bargain price of £12, diners were each given a plate of the ox meat, along with a baked potato and some salad, and a pint of the very stout the beer had been fed on.  My bovine pile of joy came from, as far as I could tell, different parts of the ox and had the wonderful combination of being quite rare in some places and rather well-cooked in others.  The flavour was phenomenal, with a deep beefy flavour and a massive whack of smoke.  Even eating it standing up in a slightly windy pub garden was a joy.

My plate from The Ship / Flat Iron Ox Roast

My plate from The Ship / Flat Iron Ox Roast

 As well as this, I was quite busy in the kitchen.  Especially on Sunday when we slow-roasted a whole lamb shoulder for lunch with my parents and dug out our Ottolenghi cookbooks to make a range of salads to accompany it:  cous cous with tomato and onion, spinach with dates and almonds and, my favourite of all, squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses.

As with many of Ottolenghi’s recipes, the title doesn’t tend to give much away about the structure of the dish.  ‘Squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses’, taken from his first and eponymous cookbook, is actually a plate of roasted squash, scattered with a medley of seeds and accompanied by possibly the best sauce ever:  one made of burnt aubergines and pomegranate molasses.  It is fairly similar to a baba ghanoush in the sense that it contains aubergines charred over an open flame (to give them a smoky flavour when you aren’t in possession of a smoker), lemon juice, olive oil and garlic.  The omission of tahini and addition of pomegranate molasses is where the difference lies, making it less nutty and far sweeter than the traditional middle-eastern dip.

On Easter Sunday, drizzled over the seed-encrusted squash, this sauce was excellent, but what really impressed me was its ability to bring the leftovers to life.  Pulling all of the clingfilmed bowls and tupperware from the fridge to cobble together a meal of leftovers can often be a bit uninspiring, but the addition of something fresh can perk it up a bit (my personal lifesaving ingredients are hot sauce, fresh bread or a poached egg) and a bowl of the burnt aubergine with pomegranate molasses did just that.  On Monday I found myself with some cold lamb shoulder, a few spoonfuls of cous cous and some squash wedges which, with a bag of salad leaves and the seeds of half a pomegranate, made a fairly respectable lunch.  What made it brilliant was covering it with huge blobs of the burnt aubergine sauce, dropped from a height with a spoon.

Leftover roast lamb with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses, pomegranate seeds, squash, cous cous and salad.

Leftover roast lamb with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses, pomegranate seeds, squash, cous cous and salad.

 I think there are few that would not agree with Ottolenghi’s ability to combine some of the most beautiful middle-eastern flavours to create dishes that home cooks can replicate.  Food from this region has been growing in popularity for some time and ingredients are becoming more widely available.  I am lucky to have the excellent Persepolis in my neighbourhood, which sells a huge range of gems from the middle east, but I am also reliably informed that you can pick up items such as pomegranate molasses in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.  Lamb with aubergine is not a new partnership, but it is a good one, and one that I keep coming back to in a multitude of ways.  Previously, any lamb that didn’t make its way on to the Sunday lunch plates would find itself in a shepherd’s pie; I think now it will find itself covered in a slater of this smoky, sweet, garlicky aubergine sauce.

Burnt Aubergine and Pomegranate Molasses

  • 1 medium aubergine
  • 150g natural yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1½ tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp flat-leaft parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Roast the aubergine over an open flame on the hob for around 10-15 minutes until the it softens and the skin becomes black and charred.  I usually place the aubergine directly on the flame and then use tongs to turn it every couple of minutes.   Once cooked, set aside to cool for a couple of minutes.

Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the cooked flesh of the aubergine and roughly chop it. Leave to drain in a colander for a few minutes and then transfer to a medium bowl.

Mix the aubergine with the other ingredients and serve.

From Ottolenghi’s ‘Ottolenghi’.