Spinach with Shallots, Green Raisins and Red Peanuts

IMG_2055

My latest addiction is spinach.

I know I know how crazy do I sound? I’ve always liked it mind you, but of late it’s gone up a notch or two. It’s probably my body screaming at me that ‘I NEED MORE IRON‘.

 I’m happy to eat it in all its incarnations for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s super versatile and is cooked quicker than the time it takes to get your bowl/plate and cutlery together.

IMG_2046

Recently I visit a local eatery called ‘The Little Taperia‘ in Tooting in the strip, which is fast becoming increasingly hip and cool. Sitting next to Soho House’s ‘Chicken Shop’ and virtually opposite the newly established the ‘Trafalgar Arms’, ‘The Little Taperia’ offers Spanish tapas at it’s best; I could literally eat the whole menu. It was packed on my visit with a wonderful buzz to the place. The decor (love the floor tiles) and general vibe was conducive to a relaxed, memorable evening, so if you have not yet been I urge you to get down there and experience it for yourself.

IMG_2046

Back to the spinach. You are probably wondering where spinach and ‘The Little Taperia’ fit together.  Well it was there that I ate a delicious spinach dish that inspired me to create my own version of the dish for you today. They used pine nuts and I can’t recall if they added raisins but I’m thinking they did as the dish had a subtle sweetness, which I don’t think was coming from the onions alone – but may well have been. Needless to say the dish was utterly delicious and I think the one that I have created for you equally hits the spot.

I’ve eaten it on a few occasions since and this time I accompanied it with my Indian dal with butternut squash. I don’t actually have that recipe up on my blog but a very similar one using marrow can be found here.

IMG_2049

I add a dollop of ghee – clarified butter – on the top but if you are off diary or watching your waist line then just omit that part.

Spinach with Shallots, Green Raisins and Red Peanuts

2 tbsp light olive oil

2 banana shallots, finely sliced

pinch of salt

35g red peanuts (works out to be a handful)

35g green raisins (works out to be a handful)

240g fresh spinach

1 tbsp ghee

  1. Heat a pan with the oil and when it is medium hot add the banana shallots and pinch of salt and leave to soften and begin to bronze, which will take around 5 minutes.
  2. Add the green raisins and red peanuts and move around the pan. After a minute add the spinach.
  3. Place a lid the pan so that the spinach wilts. After a minute give a stir and then add the ghee. Let it melt and then serve immediately.

It is perfect with meat or fish but in this instance I ate it with some of my butternut squash dal, which was hit the spot for a delicious vegetarian supper. My butternut squash dal is similar to my marrow dal but uses butternut squash instead of marrow. Check it out here.

IMG_2041


Moong Dal and a Secret Sri Lankan Gem

IMG_9210

 

My husband calls me a ‘cheap date’.

Why, you ask?

Well, if the truth be told I would far rather go to a restaurant that is probably unlikely to win any prizes for decor but the food is outstanding moreish and tasty, the kind of places that people who really love food and flavour go, rather than going to places purely to be ‘seen’. These places don’t cost an earth to be fed well – hence the ‘cheap date’ label. A couple of years ago I spoke about a wonderful little place up the Edgware road – see here 

IMG_9233

Don’t get me wrong I can also be a bit of a chameleon and like places that do have great decor, great food and are perhaps a little bit more expensive, but not crazily so – Mr B and I recently visited Bill Granger’s new restaurant, aptly names ‘Grangers’ in Clerkenwell and managed to chat to the man himself – very down to earth and charming. The restaurant ticks all my boxes – great food, ambiance, relaxed atmosphere and not going to break the bank.

IMG_9245

But over in Tooting there is a little Sri Lankan/South Indian restaurant called ‘Apollo Banana Leaf’ that’s a great find for all you spice lovers out there. Friend’s north of the river had mentioned it to us a while ago and spoke about how they made the trip especially to visit this restaurant. It had me thinking, friends making the effort to go to deepest, darkest Tooting – well it must be good!

Mr B and I have been a couple of times at lunch time and feasted on some wonderful Sri Lankan and South Indian food. Each time we are the only diners, but stuck to the window there are endless ‘Time Out‘ and ‘Harden’s reviews. I imagine in the evenings the restaurant is jam packed, but in the day time it feels like private dining.

IMG_9241

 

Their dal was warming and subtly spiced and keen to replicate it at home Mr B and I tried to work out what they had put in it. Hing – or rather asafoetida was definitely in it coming from the aromas of the dish and then we could see dried chillies, fresh curry leaves, black mustard seeds, and of course turmeric to give it it’s sunshine yellow colour. On close inspection of the menu I realised there was a little onion and fresh ginger in it, however I’ve been cooking it at home without the latter two ingredients. Try it yourself both ways and see which works for you.

It’s the perfect little dish to cook after a long day at work and you want some food that will give you the equivalent of a great big hug.

If you fancy a spice injection head on down to 190 Tooting High Street. I may well see you there for lunch.

 

IMG_9227

 

Moong Dal – Sri Lankan Style

Serves 6-8

450g  moong dal, cleaned

900ml cold water

1 tbsp vegetable oil

6 fresh curry leaves

1-2 tsp black mustard seeds

3 large dried red chillies

1/2 (half) tsp  asafoetida/hing

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp salt

******

1. Thoroughly wash the moong dal in a pan of cold water, using your hands. Carefully empty the water from the pan and repeat a couple of times so that the water runs clear.

2. Add 900ml of cold water to the pan holding the moong dal and bring to the boil and then let simmer for around 20-30 minutes. During this time white froth will form at the top of the pan. Using a large spoon skim off the froth that forms and discard. You may find that you require a little more cold water if it has all been soaked up, so just add a little, depending on how soupy you like your dal. When the dal is done it will be slightly lighter in colour and will will be soft to touch – be careful not to allow it to become too mushy through overcooking.

3. In a small pan heat up the oil on a low heat. When it is hot add the black mustard seeds. These will begin to pop almost immediately so be careful. Add the rest of the ingredients and move around the pan for 30 seconds.

4. Take a spoonful of the dal and place in the pan with the spices. Mix together and then pour all the contents of the spice pan into the other pan holding the dal. Place a small bit of water in the spice pan and swirl around so that all the spices are removed from the pan and put into the dal pan.

5. Stir in thoroughly to the dal and simmer for a couple of minutes. If it requires more salt then add a little more at this final stage.  Leave to cool slightly before serving.

 


Indian Toor Dal – one of my absolute favourites

IMG_7774

After the excesses of weekend feasting Monday nights in my household are vegetarian and usually include a dal of some sorts. This past weekend has been a whirl of celebration with my eldest daughter’s birthday sleepover followed by a large family lunch to celebrate, as well as squeezing in a celebration dinner in honour of our talented artist friend, Adele Henderson (you heard it hear first folks) who was displaying some of her charcoal paintings at the prestigious Mall Galleries in London.

IMG_7780

Like soups, which I am a huge fan of, dal is the ultimate homely and warming comfort food. There are hundreds of varieties from all over India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and each week I try and cook a different one from the week before. Some require soaking, and others you can cook straight away. This week I have used toor dal (similar looking but smaller in size to channa dal), which is one that does require soaking, preferably overnight. My usual routine is to soak the lentils on Sunday night and then to cook the dal on Monday morning. The whole cooking and preparation time takes no longer than 35 minutes so can easily be done prior to leaving the house, or returning later in the day.

This dal contains some wonderful flavours that work so well together. Asafoetida, or hing as it is also known, should be used with caution as it has a pungent smell, but adding a good pinch really adds a depth of flavour, which keeps you coming back for more. If you can use fresh curry leaves then use them, otherwise dried is fine. Fresh curry leaves are wonderfully fragrant and again really add great flavours to the dish. Then there is the sweet and sourness from the tamarind. I tend to opt for concentrate as it is easier to come by in regular grocery shops, however if you have some tamarind you can soak it and then strain it and add the tamarind pulp that is strained through the sieve.

IMG_7739

I tend to cook a generous amount of dal so that I can hopefully have some leftover to eat on Tuesday along with a fish curry; one less thing to prepare is always a bonus.

IMG_7742

Indian Toor Dal

400g toor dal

3 tbsp vegetable/sunflower oil

1 tsp of fenugreek/methi seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp black mustard seeds

10 fresh curry leaves

2 inches fresh ginger, finely grated/chopped

a good pinch asafoetida/hing powder

2 small chillies, chopped into three

2 tomatoes, chopped

1/2 tsp chilli powder

2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp tamarind concentrate

100ml water

2 tsp salt

1. Soak the toor dal in a bowl of water for 20 minutes. Make sure the water is sufficiently above the level of the dal. You rinse it through after so the exact amount is irrelevant.

2. Once the 20 minutes are up rinse the dal through a sieve and place in a large pan and cover with boiling water. This time the water should only be a little bit above the dal.  Gently cook the dal so that it softens, this will take around 20 minutes. You may need to add more water if it gets soaked up whilst softening. It’s not an exact science so don’t worry too much on water amounts – sometimes I have it more ‘soupy’ in consistency than others. Remove the scum from the top of the pan, which occurs when  cooking the dal.  When it has softened, leave to rest whilst you finish off preparing the rest of the ingredients. To test it has softened squeeze a lentil between your thumb and forefinger. If it soft it is ready for the next stage, however, if the lentil remains hard you will need to boil it a little longer.

3. In a large karahi or frying pan heat up the oil and then add the fenugreek/methi, cumin and black mustard seeds. They will begin to pop so make sure you keep the heat low. Move them around the pan for 30 seconds before adding the curry leaves and give a good stir.

3. After three minutes cooking time add the chillies, fresh tomatoes and asafoetida/hing,  fresh ginger, chilli powder and turmeric and mix in well together.

4. Once the tomatoes have softened – this will take a few minutes, add the tamarind concentrate and water and stir.  You now want to deposit the pan with the toor dal into your karahi/frying pan with the other ingredients, or vice versa, depending on which pan is larger.  Stir in well together and add a little extra boiling water to clean the pan and then turn that water into the main pan.

5. Add the salt to taste and leave to simmer for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with rice or Indian bread or simply on its own. I often like to squeeze in a little fresh lemon or lime as well.

IMG_7736Cumin seeds top right, black mustard seeds bottom and fenugreek seeds top left.


Panch Phoron – Bengali Five Spice and Red Split Lentil Dal

IMG_7307

From top right going clockwise: fenugreek, nigella, fennel, black mustard, cumin seeds

We’ve all heard, and no doubt use, Chinese Five Spice, but the Indian equivalent, Panch Phoron, for some reason is not given as much PR and voice in the West and yet across Bengal, it is a spice mix that is commonly used in every home and very much cherished.

When I launched my blog way back in 2011 one of the first recipes that I posted was my absolute comfort food – red split lentil dal. I cook it often as it is ridiculously easy and provides me with a quick-fix nourishing meal. You can choose whatever vegetable, if any, you need to use up, giving the dal a different twist every time you prepare it. A key seasoning to the dal, which imparts the unmistakable flavour, is panch phoron and whilst I am able to source it from a local Indian supermarket, I know that for some people getting their hands on this magic ingredient could be harder.

IMG_7292

So I wanted to show you how to make your own panch poron. Panch in Bengali is five and phoron is spices and these five spices are: nigella seeds (other wise known as black onion seeds, Kalonji or kalo jeera), fennel seeds (mouri or saunf), fenugreek seeds (methi), black (brown or yellow) mustard seeds (rai) and cumin seeds (jeera). The aromatic spices working together provide a  considerable depth of flavour to any dish and especially to dal.

IMG_7312

Unlike most spice mixes these are not ground to a powder but are cooked whole, either dry roasted in pan or placed in a little oil until they begin to pop and release their flavours – this is known as tempering. There are significant health benefits from eating the spices. In short: cumin aids digestion, fennel contains vitamin a, e and c as well as anti-oxidants, fenugreek aids metabolism, mustard seeds contains omega 3 fatty acids as well as being a good source of selenium and magnesium, nigella seeds balance the hormonal system and have healing qualities.

They store for months in an air tight container so if you make up a batch that should last you for some time as you only need a teaspoon or two every time you use it in a dish.

IMG_7321

There are a couple of lentils that do not require soaking over night and take a very short time to cook. Masoor dal or red split lentils, as they are more commonly known, are a staple in my store cupboard. From cleaning thoroughly to cooking, the dal takes no longer than 20 minutes to prepare – and that’s being generous – on average it’s a 15 minute meal to prepare and cook. Oooh Jamie Oliver would be so proud!

IMG_7322

Red split lentils are also very reasonable to buy so all in all this dish is healthy, speedy and economically friendly. A win win surely!

IMG_7358

I eat this dish all year round and like to change the consistency from a more runny, soupy dish to a thicker dal that may be eaten the Indian way, with your hands, accompanied by some rice or naan.  When the months turn colder I tend to gravitate more and more towards dals and soups to warm me up so this really is the perfect autumn meal to give me that inner glow.

Panch Phoron – Bengali Five Spice

Makes enough to last you for months

3 tbsp cumin seeds

3 tbsp fennel seeds

3 tbsp fenugreek seeds

3 tbsp mustard seeds (I tend to use black, but brown/yellow is also fine)

3 tbsp nigella seeds (black onion seeds)

1. In a bowl mix all the seeds together thoroughly and place in an air tight container.

********************************

Red Split Lentil Dal

Serves 2

200g red split lentils (masoor dal)

500ml of water, add more if you would like it a thinner consistency

1 tbsp oil (mustard,vegetable or sun flower oil)

1.5 tsp panch phoron

2 fresh chilli (red or green), chopped in half

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp salt

5 cherry tomatoes (or carrots, courgette, marrow, peas etc)

optional

fresh coriander, to serve

lemon wedge, to serve

1. Boil the kettle and meanwhile rinse the red split lentils under the tap so as to fully clean them. Then place the boiling water in the pan with the lentils. Boil for about 10 minutes on a low heat, the lentils will become less orange in colour during the boiling.  If you are going to add a carrot you need to add it to the lentils at this stage so that they are soft in time. Please note you may need to add more water if the water is completely soaked up by the lentils.

2. In a frying pan warm the oil and when it is hot add the panch phoron, fresh chilli and turmeric. Once the panch phoron begins to pop and release the flavours – this will be around 15 seconds, give it a quick stir and then add a ladleful of the watery dal into the frying pan and mix the ingredients together.

3. Now place the contents of the frying pan back into the main pot with the red split lentil and stir.

4. Add the quartered tomatoes (or peas, courgette, marrow, spinach) at this stage and simmer gently for a few minutes.  Add salt to taste.  If you want it more soupy, add more water and if you want it thicker, let it simmer for longer.


Marrow Dal and Fried Marrow Skin (Khosha Bhaja)

IMG_6968

My husband once asked a fellow foodie friend, who used to write for the food section of one of the large weekend newspapers here in the UK, for suggestions of ways to cook with marrow, to which her response was ‘you can start by throwing it in the bin’.  Ever so harsh but she is not alone! Many people often overlook the humble marrow and regard it as tasteless. I can tell you however, that marrow completely comes into its own cooked in Indian dal and even the skin need not be discarded as you can cook a completely separate delicious dish using it.

IMG_6961

In the hot sweltering heat of an Indian summer, eating marrow is the perfect way to cool down as it’s made pretty much made of water. So by combining it with red split lentils to form a dal is a wonderfully satisfying way to eat marrow in all it’s glory. Gardens here in England are bursting with marrows at the moment and although I have none growing in my postage stamp garden both my mother and mother-in-law are supplying me with endless amounts of marrow.

So dive in and give this glorious dal a go. I bet you’ll even surprise yourself as to how good it tastes.

IMG_7031

Marrow Dal

Serves 2-3

125g red split lentils

500g marrow, skinned and cubed (remember to keep the skin)

600g boiling water

1 tsp salt

half tsp turmeric

1 tbsp vegetable/mustard oil

1tsp Panch Phoran (Bengali five spice – see below)

2 green chillies, chopped in two

Panch Phoran is a uniquely Bengali (East India and Bangladesh) five (panch) spice mix. It has a magnificent aroma so I often use it in my red split lentil dals. If you cannot find a packet in your local Asian grocers you can make it yourself by mixing the following seeds together in equal parts: fennel, cumin, nigella, fenugreek and mustard. Store in an airtight container and it will last months. 

1. Rinse the red split lentils under cold water so as to clean them thoroughly. Repeat the process a couple of times.

2. In a saucepan add the cleaned red split lentils and 500g of boiling water. Add the turmeric and salt and leave to simmer for 7-10 minutes. If the lentils begin to dry out add a little more boiling water.

3. Add the marrow and stir into the dal. Add a further 100ml of boiling water and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes.

4. In a separate pan heat the oil and when it is hot gently add the panch phoran. They will begin to pop immediately so keep them moving around the pan. Add the chillies and mix in together. Now pour the marrow dal on top of the panch phoran and chillies and stir in together. Leave to simmer for a further minute. Let it cool slightly before serving. You may need to add more salt if required.

In India many people often add a little ghee (clarified butter) on top just before serving to give it that extra delicious taste. If you are watching your waste line simply ignore this step!

***********************************************************

Fried Marrow Skin – Khosa Bhaja

Skin of a marrow

1 tbsp vegetable/mustard oil

1 tsp nigella seeds

1 tsp salt

pinch of chilli powder (optional)

1 green chilli, finely sliced

1. Peel the skin of a marrow and slice into fine, small stripes. Place in a pan of boiling water and gently simmer for a couple of minutes.

2. Strain and place to one side. Heat a pan with oil and when it is hot add the nigella seeds. After a few seconds add the marrow skin followed by the turmeric, chilli powder, green chilli and salt. Cook on a low heat until the marrow skin begins to bronze.

Serve with the marrow dal above.


Mung Bean and Cumin Dal and Durga Puja Festivities

This past weekend has been one of celebration as it was Durga Puja. For Bengali Hindus (my husband’s side of the family) Durga Puja is the biggest religious festival in the Hindu calender. In Kolkata, which is the heart of Bengal, I am told it is taken to another level altogether, when families feast, dance and pray to the goddess Durga – the conquerer of good over evil and the mother of the universe, as well as her children: Ganesh, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kartik. Schools close and everyone takes time off work to celebrate.

The statue of goddess Durga on her lion fighting the demon Mahishasura in the Hounslow Pandal

Tooting Goddess Durga 

The making of the statues is a hugely lucrative business in India and at the end of the six day festival the statues are ceremoniously carried to the Ganges and left to drift away and be reabsorbed into the Ganges. The statutes themselves are made of straw and mud from the Ganges and then glazed with paint to give them that glossy shine; the craftsmanship and detail never ceases to impress me.

There are thousands of Durga Puja pandals, which are basically huge structures housing the goddess and her children, erected all over the different Kolkata neighbourhoods. It’s all hugely competitive and each pandal competes for attention in beauty and innovation. I visited two different ones in London – one in Tooting and the other in Hounslow and both were very spectacular in terms of colour and design, the latter I know had been shipped from Kolkata.

Ganesh – one of Durga’s offspring in the Hounslow Pandal

The banging of the drums, the blowing of the conch shell, the incense, the chanting of the prays and hustle and bustle of people coming and going really transports you to India. It’s all rather frenetic and yet very warm and inviting at the same time. In the Hounslow pandal alone thousands of visitors came and went over the course of a few days. Catering for that number must be rather daunting but I was very impressed by the taste and quality of the food and the fact that it was all hot. It was the longest queue for food I have ever witnessed, but it moved quickly and before long we were given a plate of tasty vegetarian food.

Some vegetarian cuisine given to those who attended the Hounslow puja in London

Back at home I have been cooking an endless amount of Indian dishes from: methi and pomegranate pork curry to amma’s chicken curry, red lentil dal with spinach, yellow dal with courgette, Bengali fish curry and mung bean and cumin dal.

It is the mung bean dal recipe that I wanted to share with you all today. Unlike red split lentil and some yellow dal it does require a little more forward planning as it needs to be soaked, ideally overnight.

It’s delicious, nutritious, cheap to make and other than the soaking of the mung beans, is very straightforward. My mother-in-law makes a completely different tasting mung bean dal, which I will post another time, but to get you started try this one and let me know how you get on. It’s perfect for a week night vegetarian supper.

Mung Bean and Cumin Dal

Serves 4

250g mung beans (also referred to as moong bean), soaked overnight

3 tbsp mustard oil

1 white onion, finely chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp turmeric

half tsp red chilli powder

half tsp garam masala powder

half tsp cumin powder

1 tsp salt

juice of half a lemon

fresh coriander to serve

1. Place the pre soaked mung beans in a pan and cover with water and gently simmer until softened. This will take around 40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, place the oil in a pan and gently fry the cumin seeds for a minute or so until they begin to bronze. Immediately add the onion and mix together with the cumin seeds.

3. When the onions have softened and become translucent add the cumin powder, red chilli powder, turmeric and garam masala and stir together.

4. Drain the mung beans and then transfer them to the pan with the onions and fold in thoroughly. Add the salt and lemon juice and simmer together for a further 5-10 minutes. You may need to add a little more water at this stage.

Whilst it is delicious to eat on its own or with a chapati it is also great to accompany it with a fish, meat or vegetarian curry (see my recipe library) if you wish to make a more substantial Indian feast.

Mung beans soaked overnight

Step 3 above