Simple Lentil Dal

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I could live off Dal (I think quite alot of people do in India !)…  Isn’t it wonderful when “healthy” also falls under the heading of “comfort food” ?

Dal (daal, dhal etc.) is a broad term that refers to legumes (lentils, peas, and beans) that are cooked and spiced.  I’m sure there are an infinite number of recipes for Dal though one of its endearing qualities is the lack of need for a recipe.  Get the water to lentil ratio about right and play with it from there.  One of my favourites is this base, made with red (actually orange, go figure ;)) lentils.  PS :  red lentils are a great source of iron ….

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The most exciting bit of this dish lies just before serving. . . TEMPERED OIL. Once you try tempering spices in oil, you’ll be flavouring all of your curries this way….

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Oil, or even better Ghee is heated, spices are added and the whole sizzling lot is poured into your finished dish.  Total transformation, trust me 🙂

Dal

Simple Lentil Dal

  • Servings: 4 - 6
  • Difficulty: very easy
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  • 1 cup (200 g) red lentils (picked over if needed, and rinsed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 4 cups (235 ml) water

Tempering Oil

  • 2 – 3 Tablespoons oil or Ghee
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 or 2 whole dried red chilies
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds (lightly crushed in a mortar & pestle)
  • Finish the dish with the juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime if you like

Put the lentils into a large saucepan with the turmeric, salt and water.  Bring to a boil and skim the foam that rises.  Simmer, covered on a low heat until the lentils are soft, 20 minutes or so.  Add more water if necessary and taste for salt.  Some like their Dal thick some like it soupy, its up to you.

For the tempering oil, combine the oil, coriander seeds and the cumin seeds in a small pan and heat over a moderate heat, stirring until they colour slightly (1 minute).  Add the chilies and cook, stirring for another 30 seconds.  CAREFUL NOT TO BURN THE SPICES.  Pour the oil and spices into the Dal, add the lemon or lime juice if using  and simmer for another 5 minutes before serving.  Serve on its own, with rice or Naan bread, or as part of a curry feast.

Bon appétit !

Some yummy variations to play with:

  • Before adding the lentils, fry a grated onion until soft adding chopped ginger and garlic just before the lentils and water go in.
  • Add a chopped fresh tomato just before the lentils are done.
  • Replace half the water with coconut milk.
  • Top with fresh coriander (cilantro).
  • Play around with other spices, either added with onion at the beginning or in the tempering oil; cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, garam masala, black mustard seeds, curry leaves etc…
  • Top the dish with crispy fried onions or leeks just before serving.

Garlic Confit

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I suffer when garlic season gets to the point where the cloves become soft, dry and past their prime.  The green shoot in the middle changes the taste. . .   I love young garlic, or even “young-ish” garlic.  Since coming to live in France, I have never eaten so much garlic.  Our family of four easily get through 2 heads per week.

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In the spring I wait impatiently for the first fresh new garlic on market stalls.  Then the garlic party starts and we eat masses of it until its gone until the following year.  This is my favourite way to preserve garlic. This couldn’t be easier ! I may be addicted to this stuff.

I also freeze a bag of peeled cloves to use during the “down time”.  They can be grated (using my handy microplane) straight from frozen.  The fresh skins and stalks of new garlic can be kept in the freezer as well to pop into meat stocks.

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Peel one or two heads of garlic and place the cloves in a heavy bottomed pan.  Cover them with olive oil and slowly heat the oil.  Cook on a very very low heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour until they are knife tender.  Leave to cool, pour into a clean glass jar and store for several weeks in the fridge.  Make sure that the garlic is always covered with oil.  Don’t forget to use the oil for cooking when the cloves are all used up  🙂

A few ways to use your garlic confit (though you will easily find ways to use it !) :

  • spread the cloves on toasted bread and sprinkle with salt flakes and/or chili flakes
  • toss the cloves and some of their oil through pasta
  • mixed in with roasted vegetables
  • blended into a home made mayonnaise (very delicious)
  • spread over a piece of fish or meat
  • flavour soups, sauces, dressings and dips

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Solar oven notes: We do this in our solar oven whenever the sun is out and we have nothing else to cook.  Almost fill a jam jar with garlic and pour over enough olive oil to cover the cloves.  Place, uncovered in your solar oven just until some of the cloves start to rise to the top or they are knife tender.  This could take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours.  When I do this in the solar oven their is a thin film of yummy stickiness that forms on the surface and sticks to the sides of the jar.  My husband calls this “caramel d’ail” or garlic caramel 😉

 

Shakshuka !

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Besides really enjoying saying the name of this dish (note the exclamation mark), I’m in love with this. . .   Couldn’t be easier to prepare and has endless versions waiting to be created !

A summer favourite for a healthy lunch or dinner.  In France it it more common to have your eggs for those meals than for breakfast but I think this dish is sweeping the western world as THE brunch dish of the moment.

Shakshuka has its origins in Tunisia, but has been adopted by many other countries for so long now that they call it their own as well (Israel for example).  Basically it is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce made with peppers and tomatoes (sometimes onions) and usually cumin.  It is so forgiving, as you will see in my the photo of the finished dish here, I overcooked the eggs AGAIN and its still fabulous.  The above shot is from the book JERUSALEM by Yotam Ottolenghi and is how its supposed to look 😉

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This is the perfect time of year, with tomatoes and peppers nice and ripe.  I have tried a few versions of this recipe but come back this one (good old Ottolenghi) often. Harissa is nice, I’ve made my own but this is the best shop bought brand.

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Tip:  If you take some regular plain yoghurt and plop it into a cheese cloth or tea towel over a bowl and leave it to drain for a few hours (even an hour or so is enough), you get thick Greek style yoghurt which is great to top Shakshuka.

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Let me count the reasons to love a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, but one is that he often gives you the weight of an ingredient, such as eggs.  I find this so important for some preparations and here you will find the weights for the peppers and tomatoes.  If you could have seen one of my beefsteak tomatoes this summer, it was 800g on its own.  So what does “5 large tomatoes mean”?  Very helpful.

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After you have fallen in love with Shakshuka, as I have, here are some ingredients you may want to play around with:  onions, feta, chopped courgettes, potatoes, different coloured peppers, a touch of sugar, a touch of lemon juice, crumbled chorizo or merguez sausages, fresh chopped chili, parsley, paprika (smoked or not).

To be served simply with your favourite dipping vehicle such as crusty bread or flatbreads.

Shakshuka Servings=2 as a main meal

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons harissa paste (optional and use less if not big on spicy !)
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 large red peppers, cut into dice (2 cups / 300 g in total)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon toasted ground cumin
5 large, very ripe tomatoes, chopped (5 cups / 800 g in total); canned are also fine
4 large free-range eggs
1/2 cup / 120 g labneh or thick yogurt
Salt and a handful of chopped coriander (aka cilantro) to serve

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and add the  harissa, tomato paste, peppers, garlic, cumin, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Stir and cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes to allow the peppers to soften. Add the tomatoes, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for a further 10 minutes until you have quite a thick sauce. Taste for seasoning.

Make 4 little dips in the sauce. Gently break the eggs and carefully pour each into its own dip. Use a fork to swirl the egg whites a little bit with the sauce, taking care not to break the yolks. Simmer gently for 8 to 10 minutes, until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny (you can cover the pan with a lid if you wish to hasten the process). Remove from the heat, leave for a couple of minutes to settle, then spoon into individual plates and serve with the labneh or yogurt.

***Directly adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe in his book Jerusalem

Solar oven notes: If your solar oven is nice and hot (at least 120°C) you can follow the directions as above.  Good idea to use a transparent lid or none at all so you can monitor the cooking process with out opening the oven all the time.

Piedmont beans

With the late August heat, this has re-emerged as a “test” in the solar oven. Great results with a beautiful crispy top . . .

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GOOD food from the good life . . .

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Its late August and the garden is in overdrive !  We are now on our 8th continuous week of eating green (or purple 😉 ) beans numerous times per week…  I usually make this recipe at least once in the season when I want to “get rid” of loads of beans in one meal.

Its an interesting recipe as it seems a bit odd, on the verge of “will this work?”.  The ratio of beans to the other ingredients just doesn’t seem right.  Trust me as I trusted the original recipe, it does work.

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I’ve adapted this Italian inspired recipe to suit my tastes and the ingredients I can get here in France so play around with it, its a forgiving recipe.  I used a beautiful ground red pepper produced in the Basque Country called “Espelette Pepper”, that I’m quite addicted to which adds a bit more depth and a…

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Roast chicken with preserved lemon

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If I was to be condemned to a desert island tomorrow, a beautiful roast chicken would be on the list of possible “last suppers”.

Nice crispy skin and juicy meat and a jus that is begging to be sopped up with crusty bread, potatoes or rice. . .   For this slightly exotic version, bulgur or couscous would be nice too.

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The bird itself must be of the best quality.  No battery hens here.  I only eat one about once or twice a month, so I think I can afford the best !

Yotam Ottolenghi does it again with a great new twist for roast chicken, stuffing preserved lemons under the breast skin before roasting. . . The results were pretty amazing !  My dear friend Marie makes me a jar of preserved lemons once or twice a year (lucky me !).  But they are easy to make yourself if you can’t find them in your local shops.

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My solar oven is in full swing this week with gorgeous sunny days that seem to never end.  So this recipe was cooked in the solar oven.  See below for specific notes on solar oven cooking for this recipe.  (This is also why the photo of the finished chicken looks a bit “collapsed”.  I had poked and prodded the poor bird to see what state it was in after hours in the sun).

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Roast Chicken with preserved lemon servings=4

  • 70g unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tbsp thyme leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 small preserved lemon, pips discarded, flesh and skin roughly chopped
  • 1 red pepper sliced
  • 1 onion sliced
  • Flaky sea salt and black pepper
  • 1.5kg free-range chicken

Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Put the butter, thyme, garlic, preserved lemon,  half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper in a food processor or chopper. Blitz, then set aside while you tackle the bird.

Use your hands to loosen the skin from the breasts. Spread most of the butter mixture evenly over the breasts, under the skin, then smear the remaining butter over the legs. Put the peppers and onion in a medium-sized, high-sided baking tray with the chicken on top, sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper.

Roast for about 70 minutes, basting every 15 minutes or so, until the skin is golden-brown and crisp, and the juices run clear (stick the tip of a sharp knife into the thickest part of the thigh to check; if the juices are still a little pink, just give the bird five to 10 minutes more cooking). Remove from the oven, leave to rest for 10 minutes, then carve and serve.

***Directly adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe in the Guardian

Solar oven notes: I popped the bird in (out of the fridge an hour before) at 9:30am. The oven was at 140°C but dropped soon after to 120°C as the bird was still cool.  After 2 hours I basted the chicken.  After 3 hours it was nicely browned and falling off the bone when prodded.

 

KUKU (Iranian fritatta)

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How can you not want to try something with such a great name ?

This Persian Fritatta type dish is a keeper for summer picnics or potlucks.  Easy to make, transport and share 🙂  Add a  nice salad and you have lunch.

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I have seen and tried a few different versions of this dish, this being the latest and a way to use up all of those courgettes in the garden my son is turning his nose up at…  The main difference with a Fritatta or Spanish Tortilla is that there is usually alot more veg and herbs in proportion to the amount of eggs, and its usually simply baked in the oven.  Recipes vary widely…  Flour or not, baking powder ? Maybe.  Walnuts or barberries are a nice addition.  Spices AND herbs or just one or the other…  So flexible, therefore the fun is endless 😉

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This one was a biggie !  12 eggs and loads of veg…  Yellow and green courgettes (zucchini), new potatoes, coriander and spring onions.

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If you keep the approximate total weight of veggies for the same amount of eggs  the variants are endless !  I understand that saffron is expensive, so leave it out if you wish.  Lucky me, a friend brought be some back from Iran this year 🙂  PS  this works in my solar oven too !

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Courgette, Saffron & New Potato KUKU servings=8-10

  • olive oil
  • 12 large eggs
  • 500g courgettes/zucchini, grated and sprinkled with 1t of salt.  Leave for 10 minutes before squeezing out excess moisture
  • 400g potatoes, parboiled, cooled and coarsely grated
  • 1 bunch of spring onions, thinly sliced
  • a pinch of saffron threads, ground, then steeped in 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 2 T Greek yogurt
  • 2 T  flour
  • 2 heaping t baking powder
  • 1/2 t ground allspice
  • 1 heaping t flaky sea salt, crushed
  • large handful of chopped coriander (add some dill if you like !)
  • freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a  rectangular (approx.33 x 23cm)  ovenproof pan with parchment paper, then drizzle a little olive oil onto the parchment and rub it over the base. Combine the eggs, courgettes, potatoes, spring onions, saffron, yogurt, flour, baking powder, allspice and herbs and salt in a large mixing bowl, season with black pepper and mix until evenly combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, ensuring the mixture is at least 1 inch clear of the rim so it does not overflow during cooking. Bake for 35 minutes or until the top of the kuku is golden and begins to brown. To check if it is cooked, insert a knife into the center of the kuku – if it comes out clean of liquid but moist, the dish is done; if it looks wet and eggy, it will need a few more minutes.

Allow to cool slightly, then flip the baking dish upside-down and tip out the kuku onto a chopping board. Peel off the parchment paper and cut the kuku into pieces to serve.

*** Adapted from Sirocco: Fabulous Flavors of the Middle East, by Sabrina Ghayour © 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sun cooked rice

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I left my husband at home alone with no children for 3 weeks this summer (doesn’t that sound great ?) and he said he was going to “rough it” and only cook using the solar oven.  No sun?  Raw food diet !  Well it was a heat wave most of the time we were gone, so the raw food was not on the menu as often as he had hoped.

He did get inventive with the solar oven though….  From heating water for his morning tea to making . . . RICE !

I didn’t believe that the rice was not “over cooked” so he made us a batch the other day.  The most exciting part is that the little rice grains “stand up” to the sun like little soldiers 😉

He was right, I was wrong….  AGAIN and the rice was perfectly cooked !

1 part rice to 2 parts water directly into the solar oven without pre-heating.  How long?  “depends” is his answer… at least an hour, maybe more !

Bon appetît !