Dhal with panch phoran, carrot raita and chapatis

There are delights of dhal on a number of levels.  The foundation of lentils makes it nutritious. It is low in fat and very cheap to make.  Dhal is an authentic vegetarian dish (in this case vegan) that is very versatile and can be made reasonably quickly with a good range of store cupboard spices. You can ring the changes with the combination of spices and make it as fiery or temperate as you choose.

In this case, I included the combination of the Bengali five spice seasoning, panch phoran, a typical combination of spices used across east and north-east India. What makes this spice mix distinctive is that unlike most spice mixes, panch phoran is always used whole and never ground.  While all these benefits may encourage one to make this dhal, the pivotal reason is that it is delicious and the aromatic scent of the roasting spices gives much anticipatory pleasure during cooking.

A meaty week

Those (few) who follow me on Twitter will know that I have been kept extremely busy with the garden and as well as being engaged in a meat-fest of late, having taken delivery of half of a Gloucester Old Spot pig from my neighbour.  This, coupled with the end of the licenced greylag goose season and the start of the fly fishing season, means I have been involved in a time consuming frenzy of meat preparation.  We have butchered the pig, prepared, plucked, boned and cured goose, caught and prepared trout – I caught my first two brown trout of the season on Saturday. More on the Old Spot will follow in due course – we are currently curing the belly for bacon as a finale.

The freezer is so full of meat, and so overwhelming has the immersion in meat preparation been,  that I need the counterbalance of a significant amount of vegetarian dishes. As an ex-vegetarian, it is sometimes easy to overstep the mark with meaty indulgence. Dhal is therefore welcome and indeed mandatory!

Dhal with panch phoran

I have used this recipe, or variations of it for a long time, particularly when I was vegetarian.  It came from a book that was a really excellent resource for me and that I still use a lot: Mridula Baljeker’s unambiguously titled  ‘The Low Fat Indian Vegetarian Cookbook.’  Within 45 minutes, a delicious dhal can be served, important when you are busy, want to cook from scratch but don’t want an epic cooking experience.

Ingredients

125g red lentils

125g yellow split lentils

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp fresh coriander

1 tbsp groundnut or other flavourless oil

1/4 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/4 tsp onion seeds

1/4 tsp fennel seeds

8 -10 fenugreek seeds

4 small dried red chillis e.g. bird’s eye

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 small tomato, deseeded, for garnish

Method

  • Rinse the lentils and drain, place in a pan with 850ml water.  Bring to the boil and reduce the heat a bit and cook for 5-6 minutes.  Reduce the heat further to a slight simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
  • Add salt and lemon juice and beat the dhal with a wire whisk, adding water if it is a bit too thick. Add the fresh coriander and keep on a low heat while you prepare the spices.
  • Heat the oil in a small pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the mustard seeds.  As they start to pop, reduce the heat to low and add the rest of the spices and chillis, except the turmeric.
  • Let the seeds pop and the chillis blacken slightly. Stir in the turmeric and pour the spices over the lentils, scraping the mix off the saucepan. Keep warm until any accompaniments are ready. I served the dhal with fluffy basmati rice, carrot raita and chapatis. Garnish with fresh tomato and coriander.

Carrot raita

This refreshing  accompaniment for the dhal takes only 10 minutes to prepare and the zesty coolness of the raita is an ideal foil to the warm spicing of the dhal.

Ingredients

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

10 black peppercorns

150g natural yoghurt

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp caster sugar

175g grated carrots

juice of 1/2 a lemon

a few sprigs of fresh coriander, chopped

Method

  • Dry fry the cumin seeds and peppercorns in a small pan over a medium heat until they release their aroma.  Transfer to a plate to cool.
  • Mix the salt, sugar and lemon juice with the yoghurt.
  • Crush the spices with a pestle and mortar and fold most of them through the yoghurt together with the grated carrots.
  • Garnish with a sprinkle of the remaining spices and some fresh coriander.

carrot raita

Garlic, chilli and coriander chapatis

Chapatis are a quick and easy accompaniment to make. I like to add some complementary ingredients give additional flavour, this time, fresh red chilli, chopped coriander leaves and crushed garlic.

Ingredients

300g chapati flour (use plain or wholemeal if you can’t get this)

Water

pinch of salt

1 finely chopped red chilli

1 crushed garlic clove

handful of fresh coriander leaves

splash of groundnut oil

Method

  • Put the flour in a bowl together with the salt, chilli, garlic and coriander. Add just enough water to the flour to make a stiff dough.  Knead for 3-4 minutes then rest wrapped in cling film in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Divide the dough into 5 even-sized balls and roll until very thin (2 – 3mm).
  • Heat a frying pan over a medium heat, add a splash of oil and place the chapati in the pan, turning frequently until golden brown.

An alternative meat and two veg

For those readers fond of the double entendre, I should first say that by this I am referring to the meaning pertaining to food, i.e. the British stereotypical standard, run-of-the-mill, unremarkable dinner, with a meat and two kinds of vegetable.  It is still a bland dinnertime trap that it is easy to fall into in the UK, especially at home, but also when eating out.

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day and unusually, I was visiting my parents that weekend.  I don’t often see my mum on the day, as we live so far away, so I thought as a gift I would prepare dinner.  Considering all the stupendous meals my mum has cooked for family and friends over the years it’s the least I could do.

The problem with eating out on Mother’s Day, much like Valentine’s Day or Christmas is that it is not always advisable to visit any but the finest restaurants in my experience. Somewhat understandably, menus are more designed for mass catering on such days, restaurants are invariably busy and noisy and staff overstretched. Often generic  ‘Mother’s Day set menus’ are on offer that are not necessarily representative of what an establishment usually serves.

My alternative meat and two veg was delivered for main course consisting of sirloin steak, beetroot and sweet potatoes.  In a final attempt to purge Ottolenghi recipes from my brain (actually this is a lie, I will not be able to resist, but temporarily, at least), I chose to adapt  these from his column in The Guardian as I considered these to be as far from the bland meat and two veg image as a dinner could achieve – without actually removing the components that exemplify the concept.

Harissa marinated beef sirloin with preserved lemon sauce

I found this complement of ingredients irresistibly attractive. I bought local Aberdeen Angus sirloin steaks from a very good local butchers.The slices of steak were not too thick and were given no more than a flash fry and rested.  The flavour of this quality beef was exceptional. Although the sauce was described as preserved lemon, and this was the hook that drew me towards it, in actual fact, it predominated of tomatoes a bit too much for my palate.  That said, the addition of sweet roasted yellow peppers and some Hungarian sweet paprika as well as chilli flakes enhanced the depth of flavour and the preserved lemon gave a distinctive tang which accompanied the marinated steak well without overwhelming its flavour.

Ingredients

1½ tbsp harissa
4 beef sirloin steaks, trimmed (about 750g total)
Salt and black pepper
2 large yellow peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
400g tin chopped Italian tomatoes
½ tsp flaked chilli
¼ tsp Hungarian sweet paprika
1 tbsp preserved lemon skin, thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped parsley

Method

For the sauce:

  • Rub the harissa into the sirloin steaks, season with a quarter teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, and leave to marinade for at least an hour (or in the fridge overnight).
  • To make the sauce, roast the peppers in the oven for at 200C for 45 minutes until charred all over. Place in a bowl, cover with clingfilm until cool, then peel them and cut into long, thin strips. Discard the skin and seeds (my mum kindly did this bit while we were walking the dogs).
  • Heat the oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Fry the garlic for 30 seconds on medium heat, add the tomatoes, chilli, paprika, a quarter teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, bring to a simmer and cook for seven minutes.
  • Add the pepper strips, preserved lemon skin and parsley, and cook for seven minutes, until the sauce thickens but is still easy to pour. Set aside and allow to come to room temperature.

For the steak:

  • Preheat the oven to 100C. Place a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and, when smoking hot, add the steaks and cook for a minute a side.
  • Transfer to a baking tray and rest for 4 minutes, for rare, 6 if you prefer medium. Serve with the sauce.

harissa steak

Roast beetroot salad with yoghurt and preserved lemon

I have always enjoyed the pairing of beetroot with roasted cumin and the extra dimensions of the fresh dill and chicory delight and amuse the palate with contrasting and complementary  layers of flavour.

Ingredients

600g beetroot
2 tbsp olive oil
1½ tsp cumin seeds
1 small red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
20g preserved lemon skin, roughly chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
30g dill, roughly shredded
Salt and black pepper
3 tsp tahini paste
200g Greek yoghurt
1 chicory, cut widthways into 0.5cm slices

Method

  • Heat the oven to 220C. Wrap the beetroots individually in tin foil, place on a baking tray and roast for 30-60 minutes, depending on size and quality – check that they’re done by inserting a knife: it should go in smoothly. When cool enough to handle, peel, cut into 0.5cm-thick slices and transfer to a mixing bowl to cool down.
  • Heat the oil in a small frying pan and add the cumin seeds. Cook for a few minutes, until they start to pop, then pour the seeds and oil over the beetroot. Add the onion, preserved lemon, lemon juice, half the dill, a teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper. Mix well.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl. Stir the tahini into the yoghurt and add to the salad, along with the chicory. Give it a minimal stir, so the yoghurt and chicory mix in only slightly and there is still some clear distinction between the red and the white, with some pink ripple. Sprinkle over the remaining dill and serve.

beetroot salad

Roast sweet potato with red onion, tahini and za’atar

I have saved the best ’till last. I have made this roast sweet potato dish before and it is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the best vegetable side dishes I have ever eaten.  The colours of the dish are intense and appealing but as much as it looks delectable, the flavours combined are truly mind-blowing.  The first time I made this I served it with chicken, hazelnuts and rosewater. The fact that most of this side dish was demolished before we got round to eating the chicken is testament to its deliciousness .  It served yet again to remind me that vegetarian food can be more delicious than so many meat-based dishes.

Although the recipe can be found in ‘Jerusalem’ using butternut squash, I prefer sweet potato so substituted accordingly.

Preheat oven to 200C

Ingredients

700g of sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 large red onion, cut into wide slices
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 tsp Maldon salt
a few twists of black pepper
3 tbsp tahini paste
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, pounded into a paste
3 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp za’atar
handful coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Flaky sea salt

Method

  • In a bowl mix the sweet potatoes and onion with the olive oil, a teaspoon of Maldon salt and a few twists of black pepper.
  • Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet and roast in the oven 30 minutes, or until the vegetables have taken on some color and are cooked through and charred a little. You may need to pick out the onion earlier, lest it burn. 
  • While the vegetables are roasting, make the sauce. Place the tahini in a small bowl along with 2 tablespoons of water, lemon juice, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt. Whisk until the sauce is the consistency of honey. You might need to add more water or tahini, depending on consistency.
  • Toast the pine nuts in  a frying pan until golden brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the nuts to a small bowl.
  • Spread the vegetables out on a large plate or a serving platter and drizzle over the tahini. Sprinkle the pine nuts, followed by za’atar and the parsley. Add a few flakes of the Maldon salt and serve.

sweet potato

Brussel Sprout Pakora

The glut of brussel sprouts I have grown this winter has taught me to see this much maligned brassica in a new light and I have grown to love it. We have eaten them sliced with juniper and bacon, shredded and fried with shallots and folded through mash, but my sprout epiphany came this evening.

Mid week, mid January and we are living in Old Mother Hubbard’s house. The problem with our house is that we live in a world of ingredients, but there is sometimes not a lot to actually eat, especially if you are looking for something instant. So, admittedly the cupboards aren’t exactly bare, but are burgeoning with an enormous range of store cupboard ingredients; pulses, grains, rice, pasta, cous cous, quinoa, flours, jars of preserved fruits, pickles, chutneys, relishes, jams, dried fruit, nuts and above all else, spices.

I am a spice collecting addict.  I pick most up from Asian and African food shops in Glasgow and can’t resist buying anything I haven’t heard of before or topping up on things I do have, but imagine I am running low on. (e.g. I have a collection of many shades of mustard seeds in rather large quantities and enough turmeric to make a world record-breaking dopiaza).

All this but only a finite range of fresh ingredients – potatoes, onions, two carrots, brussel sprouts, a tomato or two, and a handful of herbs, some lemons and yoghurt.  It was starting to feel like a Masterchef invention test. Pretty weird selection at first glance but determined not to shop until at least this weekend, a vegetarian Ruby Murray banquet was conjured up.  The pakora features tonight and I will follow up with another post covering the rest of the aromatic and spicy veggie curry spread.

Brussel Sprout Pakora

Broccoli and cauliflower make wonderful pakora, so why not their cousin the sprout?  Sprouts need a bit of respect and careful cooking to bring out the best in them and I must admit, I wasn’t convinced this creation was a good idea.  The sprouts must be steamed and blanched first or they will be rock hard and cold in the middle. The bicarbonate of soda helps lighten the batter.

The pakora turned out to be rather good. the sprouts were cooked evenly and deliciously soft with the fresh sprout flavour coming through, cloaked in a blanket of firey and aromatic batter that complemented the humble sprout very well.

Ingredients

20 or so small brussel sprouts

150g gram flour

1 tblsp garam masala

1 tblsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp kaloonji (nigella seeds)

2 tsp sambal oelek

1 tblsp tomato puree

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp salt (optional)

a few twists of black pepper

water – enough to form a thick batter

ground nut or sunflower oil for deep-frying

Method

  • Peel the outer leaves from the sprouts, score the thick base with a cross using a sharp knife to ensure even cooking and steam for 5 minutes.
  • Blanch in running cold water and pat dry with kitchen towel.
  • Sieve the flour into a bowl and mix in all the other remaining ingredients, except the frying oil.
  • Add enough water to form a soft batter, making it thick enough to coat the sprouts.  You can test this as you go. Add more flour if it gets too thin.
  • Heat the oil, testing it is ready by dropping in a piece of batter.  It should float to the top immediately and should fizz enthusiastically, taking on a golden colour quite quickly without instantly burning.
  • Drop in a few sprouts at a time and deep fry for a minute or two until they take on a good colour.
  • Drain on kitchen paper.

Serve with dipping sauces, preferably something hot containing lots of chilli and a contrasting and cooling raita.

Brussel sprouts are delicious.  Really!

Brussel sprouts are delicious. Really!