Hot Spiced Tomatoes with Spinach

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Cooking at the end of the day when you are tired and exhausted can be a bit of a chore. I always have loads of tomatoes in my fridge – probably my favourite ingredient of all time – so am often coming up with inventive ways to use them – Indian style tomato chutney anyone?

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This recipe uses them as the star ingredient and as I always like to eat greens, a handful of fresh spinach  complements the dish perfectly. If you have some fresh fish, place it in the oven for 10 minutes (you may need a little longer if you have a large fish/portion) then you can quickly whip this tomato side dish to accompany the fish. Easy and no fuss.

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It’s also great to use alongside more on an Indian feast if you are feeding a crowd. It adds zing and heat in equal measure.

Hot Spiced Tomatoes with Spinach

Serves 4 (accompanied with another dish or two)

2 tbsp rapeseed/vegetable oil

1 tsp brown mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

450g large tomatoes (works out to be about 6), quartered

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (less if you like it less hot)

1 tbsp jaggery (or sugar if you don’t have jaggery see note below)

1 tsp salt

100ml water

1 handful of fresh spinach

  1. Gently heat the oil and when it is hot place the cumin and mustard seeds into the pan. They will sizzle immediately. Keep the heat low. After 10 seconds add the quartered tomatoes and move around the pan so that the spices cover them.
  2. Add the spices, salt and jaggery and then after 20 seconds add the water. Keep on a low heat and simmer for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the fresh spinach and take off the heat. The spinach will wilt from the heat of the tomatoes. Do not overcook the tomatoes as you want them to have soften but still to have held their shape as much as possible.

Serve with freshly cooked fish or chicken or as part of a large Indian feast.

Jaggery – also known as palm sugar – check out the health benefits of using jaggery instead of sugar here.


Tuscan White Bean Soup

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Many years ago we arrived in Tuscany at the dead of night to our rented farmhouse, which was nestled on its own down a very long track. We were tired and hungry and when we stumbled in we found a note scribbled on a piece of paper alluding to some supper on the stove. Wandering over to the hob we found a white bean soup waiting for us. It was hearty and warming with garlic and tomato undertones. I suppose it wasn’t dissimilar to a grown-ups version of baked beans.

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It was exactly the kind of comfort food we craved after a day of travelling. I never managed to get the exact recipe but have tried to replicate it as best I could ever since. I think this version works pretty well. I tend to always opt for white beans in a glass jar – this variety works for me and I pick it up at a local middle eastern grocers near me. Sometimes I add rosemary and other times not.

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Bay leaves though are essential and add a lovely flavour to the soup. I also prefer to use fresh tomatoes, but if you are out, tinned will suffice. The trick is to put it on a low heat for 30-40 minutes if you can. You want the garlic to be completely soft and the liquid to have reduced a fair amount.

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With all the excess that December will bring I thought this soup was a good one to throw into the mix.

Tuscan White Bean Soup 

serves 4-6

2 tbsp olive oil

9 whole garlic cloves, peeled

2 bay leaves

650g fresh tomatoes, diced

2x400g jar of white beans

1 tsp tomato puree (optional)

300ml vegetable stock

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic cloves. Move around the pan for 30 seconds before adding the bay leaves and then add the fresh tomatoes.
  2. Allow the tomatoes to soften for a few minutes before adding the white beans.
  3. Add the vegetable stock, salt and pepper and leave on a low flame with the lid on, stirring from time to time.
  4. Remove the lid half way through cooking to allow the liquid to thicken. You can add more liquid if you prefer it more soupy. I tend to like mine thickish but still of soup consistency.
  5. When the garlic’s are soft and the liquid has been absorbed a little, turn off the heat and allow to rest.

This is great eaten the following day as well when the flavours have relaxed into one another.


Toasted Cauliflower with Freshly Ground Cumin, Lemony Tomato and Fresh Coriander

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Cauliflower has gained a bit of a renaissance in the last few years. Personally I love it and feel that it is a hugely versatile, tasty and nutritious vegetable to include in your diet. A few years ago I posted recipes for sweet piccalilli and cauliflower curry which are both delicious and straightforward to prepare.

Recently when I was in LA I was admiring a ‘salad’ and got chatting to the chef on how he prepared it. I noted it down in my head and have since prepared back to the UK.  It’s a hit folks, seriously it tastes SO good and takes no time to whip together.

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It is perfect eaten on it’s own or with another salad or perhaps with lamb, chicken or even fish. It’s a great little recipe to have in your arsenal. Give it a go and let me know what you think. I think you’ll find it will be a keeper.

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 Toasted Cauliflower with Freshly Ground Cumin, Lemony Tomato and Fresh Coriander

Serve 2-4 (depending on the size of your cauliflower)

1 cauliflower, greens removed and cut into florets

1 tsp of cumin seeds, toasted and then ground

10 baby plum tomatoes

1/4 lemon, juice only

1/2 tsp salt

handful of roughly chopped fresh coriander

  1. Heat a pan and when it is hot add the cauliflower florets and move them around the pan at intervals  for five minutes so that the cauliflower begins to char. Turn off the heat but leave in the pan.
  2. In a separate pan dry roast the cumin seeds for around 30 seconds so that the aroma of the cumin is released.
  3. Place them into a spice grinder to create cumin powder. Pour the cumin powder over the cauliflower and move around the pan so that the powder coats the cauliflower.
  4. In the pan you used to dry roast the cumin seeds, add the tomatoes and keep on a medium heat so that the tomatoes heat up and begin to char. Then remove from the heat and allow to cool enough so that you can hold them and peel off the skin. Place them in a bowl with the lemon juice and crush them slightly.
  5. Add the lemony tomatoes to the cauliflower and move gently move around the pan so that they are evenly distributed.
  6. Add the salt and the fresh coriander and serve either immediately or at room temperature, both work equally well.

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Indian Rasam – Spiced Tomato Soup

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There is nothing more sublime than a spicy hot tomato soup to warm you up and give you that inner glow. If you are feeling under the weather with a cold or fever, which invariably many of us do at this time of year, this is a great way to blast your system with goodness and help pull you through. Rasam, as it is known in South India, translates to ‘juice’ or in Sanskrit rasa means ‘taste’. I think ‘tasty juice’ is the perfect way to describe this warming, fragrant and flavoursome soup. Traditionally it is made with tomatoes or tamarind with a host of spices and fresh curry leaves giving it a comforting aroma and taste.  Being totally addicted to tomatoes I tend to make my rasam with tomatoes as the base note.

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Traditionally it is eaten in India at the end of a meal, but I tend to serve it the opposite way round and kick a meal off with a warming cup of this thin spiced tomato soup to whet the taste buds. It is often served in a mug or cup or can be poured over a bowl of hot steaming basmati rice. It’s also the perfect drink after a long, cold and invariably wet winter walk. With a roaring fire going and a cup of rasam you will feel a state of happiness surround you. Seriously try it and you’ll know what I mean.

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The only tricky (ish) ingredient to source is fresh curry leaves. If you go to your local Asian grocer they are likely to have some, or at least will be able to point you in the right direction. So what are you waiting for – give it a go and leave and comment below to let me know how you get on.

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Indian Rasam – Spiced Tomato Soup

Serves 4

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 heaped tsp of garlic paste/fresh garlic grated

1 heaped tsp of ginger paste/fresh ginger grated

2 large dried red chillies (1 if you prefer it with less of a kick)

12 fresh curry leaves

1/2 tsp of crushed black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

700g fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped

350ml water

a couple of sprigs of fresh coriander to garnish

black pepper to garnish

1. Warm the oil in a deep non-stick pan and when it is hot add the garlic, ginger, dried red chillies, fresh curry leaves and crushed black pepper and gently move around the pan so that the chillies darken and the ginger and garlic begin to bronze. Keep on a medium heat for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes, salt and sugar.

2. Move around the pan so that the tomatoes begin to soften and are completely covered in all of the ingredients. Then add the water and let it boil for a couple of minutes before lowering the heat and cover for 30 mins.

3. Using a hand blender blend the soup so that it is smooth and then pass through a sieve so that there are no pips or tomato skin and what remains is brilliant red, smooth thin rasam. Heat up the smooth rasam gently in the pan before serving.

4. Pour into cups and garnish with some fresh coriander and black pepper.

 

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Boneless Southern Indian Chicken Curry

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I am guessing that most households will eat chicken at some point in an average week and whilst I do cook a number of chicken curries on the bone, it is always good to have some boneless chicken curries up your sleeve that you can whip together relatively quickly on a given evening. Cooking meat on the bone allows the meat to be more tender and succulent, but that said I know that having bones in a meal can really put some eaters off. So I hope this curry will be a happy compromise in that it is tasty, quick and bone free, therefore perhaps appealing to a wider audience.

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Whilst it does contain coconut milk the tomatoes balance out the sweetness to the extent the coconut doesn’t dominate this dish, instead giving it a subtle creaminess. I also find that adding just two chillies allows my eldest child, who is 8 yrs old, to really enjoy eating it as she does not find it too spicy. So if you find yourself wondering what to do with some chicken breasts in the fridge over the course of next week give this south Indian curry a go, you won’t be disappointed.

Boneless Southern Indian Chicken Curry

Serves 4

650g chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite sized morsels

1 level tsp of turmeric powder

1/2 tsp of Kashmiri chilli powder

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 red onion, chopped

2 inches of ginger, peeled and finely grated

4 garlic cloves peeled and finely grated

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curry paste

2 green chillies, chopped

1 red onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 inch of ginger, peeled and chopped

1/2 tsp of black peppercorns

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

2 tbsp water

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5 tomatoes, peeled, skinned and chopped (put in boiling water for 3 mins then peel easily)

 2 limes, juice

250 ml coconut milk

salt to taste

fresh coriander leaves to serve

1. First marinate the chicken breasts at room temperature for up to an hour. Mix thoroughly with the turmeric and Kashmiri chilli powder and cover.

2. Prepare the chopping and grating of the onion, garlic and ginger for both the paste and the sauce and place to one side.

3. Place all the curry paste ingredients in a blender and blend into a smooth paste. Add a little more water if it needs help reaching a smooth quality. Place to one side.

3. Heat up a large pan with the oil and when it is hot add the mustard seeds. They will begin to pop within about 20 seconds  – move them around the pan to release the fragrance and then add the onion and stir into the oil and seeds. Cook the onions for 5 minutes, by which time they will begin to soften before adding the garlic and ginger. Cook for a further minute before adding the curry paste and stiring thoroughly. Let simmer away for a further couple of minutes.

4. Add the chicken and stir into the sauce so that it is coated and begins to cook. After 8-10 minutes the chicken should have turned white, with no pink bits remaining, and will begin to bronze in places.

5. Add the softened tomatoes (you can remove the pips but I tend to use it all up, bar the skin!), lime juice and coconut milk and simmer for a further 20 minutes to allow the flavours to work together and for the chicken to be thoroughly cooked through. Season to taste.

If the sauce needs to be juicier then simply add a little water. If it is too juice then cook with the lid off for a little longer.

Serve with fragrant rice or some Indian flat bread.

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Homemade Gnocchi with Basil Pesto and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

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Have you ever made homemade gnocchi? I am sure the cynics out there will say it’s way too time consuming and just buy a packet instead. Killjoys would be my response. Not only is it ridiculously straight forward and freezes really well but it is also great fun, especially if you get your children involved. Mine are on half term, so it was a perfect activity to do on a rainy morning. If you have ever made your own play dough then you will find making gnocchi super easy.

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After gently boiling 1kg of potatoes in their skins until they are soft – under an hour, you peel them and then put them through the mouli  when they are still hot and the skins now removed.

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Mix the potato, pasta flour, egg and seasoning on a clean surface using your hands – now this is the fun bit!

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It won’t take long before you will have created a large warm dough ball.

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Split the dough into small balls and then roll out into long stripes. You want then to cut them up into bite sized morsels – see photos above and below.

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Place the bite sized cubes onto a tray with greaseproof paper which is already scattered with semolina or flour. You can either freeze them like this on the tray and when they are frozen transfer into freezer bags. Equally if you are going to eat them immediately, prepare a pan of boiling water and then drop them into the water. When they rise to the top they are ready and you simply need to remove them with a slotted spoon.

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There are so many combinations that are so tasty to eat with gnocchi. If you fancy a sausage and fennel ragu then see my recipe here. Today we decided to make some homemade basil pesto and then roast some cherry tomatoes in the oven for a short while.

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A simple and most satisfying meal that is loved and cherished by the whole family. What sauces do you like to have with your gnocchi? Leave a comment below to let us all know.

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Basil Pesto

serves 4-6

40g fresh basil leaves

50g pine nuts

4 garlic cloves

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

30g pecorino cheese

salt to taste

1. In a blender add all the ingredients and whizz for 30 seconds. Season to taste.

That easy !

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Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

250g cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp olive oil

rock salt

1. Place the cherry tomatoes in a baking tray and pour the olive oil on top with a sprinkling of rock salt.

2. Place in an oven at 180 degrees for 20 minutes.

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Homemade Gnocchi

serves 4-6

1 kg floury potatoes (King Edwards, Maris Piper etc)

300g ’00’ pasta flour (you can get this in any supermarket)

1 egg

1 tsp salt

few twists of black pepper

1. In a pan of boiling water add the potatoes, with the skins on – this will make them less watery – until they are soft. Depending on the size this will take under an hour.

2. Drain the water from the pan and using a fork and knife peel the skin from the hot potatoes and place them in the mouli one at a time. Turn the mouli handle around so that the potato goes through the mechanism.

3. Turn the potato out onto a clean surface and add the flour, egg, salt and pepper. Using your hands fold the ingredients into one another so that you form a compact dough ball.

4. Split the dough into smaller parts and roll into a long sausage using your hands, so that the dough is roughly 2cm thick.

5. Using a knife cut the dough sausage into bite sized cubes and place on a tray with baking paper scattered with either a little flour or semolina.

6. If you are freezing then place then in the freezer like this until they are frozen, then transfer to a freezer bag.

7. If using immediately then boil a large pan of water. Add a little salt and gently place the gnocchi in the water. When they rise to the top you can remove them from the water using a slotted spoon.

8. When they are still hot mix thoroughly with the basil pesto and place on a serving platter, sprinkled with the roasted tomatoes.

Serve immediately when hot.


Indian Aubergine/Eggplant, Peanut and Tomato Curry

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Have you ever been a little ambivalent about aubergine/eggplant? On the one hand loving their smooth, shiny plum coloured exterior but never really in raptures about the taste. Well my other half, Mr B, tended to fall into this category, so a while ago I set out to prove him wrong.

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After mutterings of ‘you know aubergine is my least favourite vegetable, I prefer greens’, he tasted one mouthful and that completely shut him up. Murmurs of approval were given between mouthfuls and a 9/10 score (yes we regularly mark our food – is that unusual?). RESULT. Surprisingly my eldest child also adored it, surprising as it does have a fair amount of chilli in it! If you don’t like chilli, but like spice, just reduce or take out the chilli in the recipe below.

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The combination of aubergine, peanuts and sesame seeds works ridiculously well together so much so that you will have to restrain yourself from wanting to guzzle up the whole dish. Combine that with a spiced onion and tomato sauce and you have yourself a winning dish.  So put your assumptions to one side for a moment and give this recipe a whirl and I can assure you you will be more than pleasantly surprised.  I couldn’t resist the bijou aubergines on sale at my local market but a regular sized aubergine will work equally well. Just slice the aubergine into chunky chip sized pieces, keeping the skin on of course.

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Indian Aubergine/Eggplant, Peanut and Tomato Curry

Adapted from Sanjay Thumma’s Eggplant Tomato Curry

450g baby aubergine/eggplant (normal size is fine too), sliced lengthways or chunky chip sized if using a regular aubergine

cooking oil, enough to deep fry the aubergine

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 dried red chillies

1 small green chilli, finely chopped (optional)

5 curry leaves (fresh or dried)

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp of garlic paste

1 tsp ginger paste

1 white onion, finely chopped

200g chopped fresh tomatoes

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

2 tbsp salted peanuts

1 tbsp sesame seeds

150ml water

1 tsp salt (to taste)

1. If using baby aubergine/eggplant slice lengthways removing the stalk. If using a regular sized aubergine slice into chunky chip sized, again removing the stalk. Once sliced, immediately place in a pan of boiling oil to sizzle away and bronze. This should take no longer than ten minutes.

2. Remove the aubergine with a straining spoon and place on some kitchen roll whilst you prepare the next steps.

3. In a new large pan add the olive oil and when hot add the mustard and cumin seeds. They will begin to pop immediately so move them gently around the pan for 15 seconds before adding the dried red chilli, fresh small green chilli (optional), curry leaves (fresh or dried), turmeric, garlic, ginger paste and onion. Continue to cook on a medium heat for around 7 minutes by which time the onion should have nicely softened, but not bronzed.

4. Add the chopped tomatoes, coriander, cumin and Kashmiri chilli powder and simmer for a further 5 minutes, by which time the tomatoes will have totally softened and blended into the sauce. Return the aubergines to the pan and fold gently into the sauce.

5. In a small pan dry roast the peanuts and sesame seeds for a couple of minutes, making sure to constantly move them around the pan so that the heat is evenly distributed and they do not burn. They will begin to bronze at which point you need to remove them from the pan.

6. Using a spice grinder (definitely one of my most useful items I own in my kitchen) – this is the one I use – see here – grind the peanuts and sesame seeds together to form a paste.

7. Add the peanut sesame paste to the pan and stir into the curry, adding more water if necessary. As I used salted peanuts I only needed to add a little more salt. Simmer for a few minutes and serve. If cooking ahead and leaving to rest you will have to add a little more water when heating up.

Serve with rice or Indian bread and you have yourself a vegetarian – in fact vegan – treat. Try it and leave a comment below.

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Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach and Feta Soup

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With a guest over recently, I found myself improvising with some ingredients to bulk up lunch. It was an unplanned creation and hence the results were all the more exciting and satisfying.  I literally threw together some ingredients I already had in the house to make a very comforting and warming soup/vegetarian stew. It took under fifteen minutes from fridge to stove to table and the silence as everyone delved into their bowl with concentration, was deeply reassuring. As they came up for air, the verbal endorsements confirmed this.

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It’s important to be able to whip up a meal in a matter of minutes. We all need an arsenal of these for when we have little energy or inclination to cook but want to be nourished by good home-cooked food. You can’t beat home-made soups – not only do they taste better, but you can also monitor exactly what goes into them.

I always have a range of tinned lentils on standby to use for soups, stews and salads, so for this soup I used a tin of trusty chickpeas. Everything else I had in my pantry (aka pull out cupboard…buy hey we can dream!) or in the fridge. I always have a pack or two of feta in my fridge as it can last unopened for around three months.

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Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach and Feta Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 banana shallot (or small white onion), peeled and roughly chopped

2 large red chillies/chilli peppers (not the hot variety), chopped into inch pieces

4 fresh tomatoes, diced

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas

1 tsp of sweet paprika

1 tsp vegetable bouillon

200ml boiling water

1 tsp rock salt

pinch of black pepper

200g fresh spinach

100g feta, crumbled

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and when it is hot, but on a medium/low heat, add the shallot and garlic and gently fry.

2. After a couple of minutes add the chilli/chilli pepper and continue to stir for a further couple of minutes.

3. Add the fresh tomatoes and continue to cook on a medium/low heat until they begin to soften. Add the tinned tomatoes to the pan and stir into the other ingredients.

4. Now add the drained chickpeas, the sweet paprika, vegetable bouillon, salt and the boiling water. Give a good stir and let simmer for a couple of minutes.

5. Finally add the fresh spinach and place a lid on the pan. After a minute give a good stir and add a little more boiling water if necessary. Taste and season.

6. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with a liberal amount of feta.

All these steps will not take more than 15 minutes max to prepare and cook.

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Indian Toor Dal – one of my absolute favourites

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mexican Tortilla Soup

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It’s been half term this week so until now I ‘ve not had a second to sit down and actually write a blog post. I had wanted to put up one of my ‘en papillote’ recipes, but although I ended up eating three fish meals ‘en papillote’  this week each time it was in the evening and by the time the little parcels of deliciousness came out of the oven the lighting was frankly too dark to get a good shot. Lightening or rather natural lightening is key to good food photography and whilst I am still learning I feel it is important to heed this one basic rule. When I started food blogging two years ago, virtually to the day, my food photography was pretty appalling and whilst I have not got to where I want to be quite yet, it has at least improved. This shot was taken at night and I look back at it now and cringe – in fact I think I may even re blog the recipe – Chilli Crab Linguini – with more appealing photographs as the recipe is a keeper and perfect for a midweek supper.

Anyway I digress, the recipe for today’s blog is straightforward and perfect for a light lunch. It uses a spoonful of the chipotle sauce that I blogged about a couple of months ago – hands up whose attempted to make it? I made another batch of 7 pots the other day as all the others had finished. By all means buy a ready made chipotle sauce but if you have a little bit of time (it really does not take long) I really urge you to try making your own chipotle sauce – recipe here.  The chipotle gives the soup an earthy, delicately spiced flavour – for those who have not tried chipotle chillies before they are NOT ‘blow your mind’ type of chillies but more of a smokey, gently spiced chilli that keeps you coming back for more. My seven year old loves the soup and does not find it too spicy for her palate.

Mexican Tortilla Soup

adapted from Thomasina Miers – Mexican Food Made Simple

Serves 6

4 tbsp olive oil

2 onions, sliced

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 corn tortilla, broken up

1 tbsp of chipotle sauce

2 (400g) tins of tomatoes

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp fresh oregano (or dried)

1.5 litres chicken/vegetable stock

salt and pepper to taste

Garnish

2 corn tortillas, chopped into 1 inch strips

vegetable oil, for frying

4 pasilla dried chillies, deseeded and stems removed (or you could use ancho)

100g feta cheese, crumbled

handful of fresh coriander, chopped

half a lime per serving

(You can also add avocado and sour cream although I omitted them for this shoot)

1. In a large pan – I find my large casserole Le Creuset pot is perfect for this – add the olive oil and when it is hot add the onion and gently cook for around 10 minutes before adding the garlic and the broken up corn tortilla. Leave these three ingredients to cook for another five minutes.

2. Now add the chipotle sauce, brown sugar, tinned tomatoes, oregano and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Leave to cook for another 10 minutes before adding the stock and simmering for a further 10 minutes.

 3. Using a hand blender, blend the soup until smooth and then let to simmer gently for a few more minutes.

4. While the soup is simmering, place the pasilla chilles in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes and then remove the stems and deseed. Pat dry with kitchen paper.

5. Heat up some vegetable oil in a small pan. You want to make sure that there is enough vegetable oil so that the tortilla will float on the top. I find that 200ml is more than enough – (you can reuse this oil fyi!). When it is hot and small bubbles are rising to the surface, gently add the strips of corn tortilla. They will sizzle immediately and begin to bronze quickly so move them around the pan for a few seconds so that they are bronzed all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper before transferring to a bowl.

6. Delicately place the chillies in the remaining oil. If they are still wet at all they will spit so be vigilant when placing them in the oil. Move them around in the oil for a few seconds then also place on kitchen paper. Chop up into bite sized portions and place into a bowl.

7. Crumble the feta, roughly chop the coriander and half the limes. (if you are using avocado – chop this is up into small cubes). Place in bowls on the table so that the hungry masses can add whichever garnish they wish to their Mexican tortilla soup.

Also if you are using sour cream, place in a bowl so those who wish can an add a dollop to their soup. I had this all ready and then forgot to photograph the sour cream on the soup as well. A case of being hungry so quickly wanting to photograph the soup and then eat with the rest of the family!