ready-in-30 minutes red lentil dhal

{Image from Jamie’s recipe – you don’t want to see mine photographed}

So, I’ve been in a bit of a funk around cooking lately. My darling toddler has been extra clingy with me, specifically, and wants me to finish his bedtime routine off every evening. That takes 20 minutes out of my dinner making time (if we are going to eat before 9pm, and maybe, just maybe, squeeze in an hour of Masterchef!) All the normal things I make are ±45 minutes, and I’ve just not had time or been much in the mood for them.

A few weeks (or maybe months?) ago, I came across this recipe for red lentil dhal on Jamie Oliver’s site. After watching Save with Jamie last year (I also have the book), I have new respect for this guy, and my current funk persuaded me to follow the recipe (something I usually don’t do). It was amazing! Simple, quick and easy, and I’ve made it roughly once a week since that first time. It’s spiced without being spicy, though you could easily build the heat, and everyone from my lovely and fussy sister to my picky toddler loves it. It’s warm, comforting and the perfect thing to tuck into after a long day.

I have (OF COURSE) freestyled with it a bit, and I have to say, I think mine are improvements, not just tinkering for the sake of it. Make the recipe as stated in the link, but add in these things to take it to another level:

Extra ingredients:

  • 1 can coconut cream
  • 1/2 -1 tsp fenugreek
  • 1 tsp ground cumin

Optional ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas or 200-300g protein, like chicken breast or mini fillets
  • 1-2 diced carrots
  • 1/5 – 1 cup frozen peas

Method:

  1. When you’re cooking the lentils, I add in 2-2.5 cups of water to start*, then bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the top.
    • *My lentil cooking ratio is 1:2, so 1.5 cups lentils to 3 cups liquid, which I divide here between water and coconut cream, for a richer, tastier result.
  2. Then, when the initial liquid as cooked off and they are looking a bit dry, but not quite cooked yet, I add ± half a can of coconut cream, and cook until soft and porridgey.
  3. I never remember to buy cumin seeds, so I skip that step, and just add ground cumin to the onion/chillies mixture, along with some fenugreek, and a few lumps of asafoetida (which I picked up at Faithful to Nature ages ago, but which they don’t stock anymore). The asafoetida adds another onion-garlic flavour, and the other spices just add to the depth of flavour, instead of letting the turmeric run rampant.
  4. I cook the onion mixture at a fairly high heat for colour and caramelisation, but when it gets too dry, I splash in some more of the coconut cream.
  5. When the lentils are cooked, add them into the onion mixture, and cook until it is the desired temperature.
  6. If you are adding chicken or something that needs to be cooked, cut it into small, bite size pieces, and add it into the onion mixture, then finish cooking when you’ve integrated the lentils. If you’re adding chickpeas, just toss them in sometime towards the end, as they are cooked and will only need to be warmed through.
  7. You can also dice up some carrot, or toss some peas in, if you want to up the veggie ante, which I’ve done a few times.

Serve over basmati rice in a bowl, and eat with a spoon.

I have a problem with attaching guilt to food

So, this might be a bit of a rant, but I feel there’s a valid point to be made here, and Twitter just doesn’t have the space for me to air it.

I’m the first to admit that my relationship with food is not the healthiest. I have a long history of eating my feelings (for reference, the year we were planning our wedding and the daily cupcakes I ate as a way of ineffectively managing my stress levels). However, I’m seeing increasing references to “guilt-free” and “guilty” food from the media, bloggers, people, shops, everyone, and it concerns me. It concerns me deeply.

You see, there are two ways of approaching guilt:

  1. You imagine that eating “guilt-free” food gives you some sort of halo or immunity
  2. You imagine that eating “guilty” foods makes you some sort of demon

And neither of these approaches are healthy, to my mind at least. There’s been a huge movement towards “cutting out” food and “demonising” some food choices.

So here’s an idea:

How about we let people make their own choices about what to eat, how to eat and how to feed their families?

How about we look inwards, look at our own bodies, our own experiences with food and we let that be our guide as to what, how and how much to eat.

How about we stop looking at what other people are eating as a way of informing our choices?

What’s right for that girl on Instagram may not be right for you, and tying the negative emotion of guilt up in your food does nothing to improve your relationship with the very thing that nourishes you.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what food is. It’s been fetishised and over-analysed for so long that we’ve forgotten that the primary role of food is nourishment. Nourishment is a positive attribute. It prolongs and fosters life. It has the ability to prolong and foster relationships and friendships. And the more positive associations and relationships we have with food, the better off we’ll all find ourselves.

What I find healthy and what you find healthy may not be the same thing. I think we can all agree that we should eat more veggies, and if that manifests as veganism for you, well, that’s great. But assuming that eating “healthy whole grains and veggies” is healthy for everyone is just shortsighted. For people suffering certain dietary diseases and intolerances, the very thing you are touting as “guilt-free” and “healthy” may be just the opposite.

I can’t say it enough: what works for your body may not work for all bodies.

Your way is not the only way.

So, to end off, how about we stop attaching these negative emotions to food? How about we remember that it’s all about nourishment, and not about guilt? That would make the world a better place far quicker, at least to my mind.

Not Recipes and why I like them

I think it was Food52 who started Not Recipes. At least, that’s where I first saw the idea, and I loved it. You see, since I ‘learned’ to cook (mostly trial and error over quite a few years) I’ve been a ‘just wing it’ type of cook. I love cookbooks, I read them from cover to cover. I love looking up recipes, reading food blogs, and watching Masterchef. But I rarely follow a recipe to the T. For some reason, I simply can’t. And related to that is, I suppose, why I stopped food blogging. Do you know how hard it is to write a recipe when it’s completely counter to how you cook?

You see, the way I cook is driven by ‘Not Recipes’. I think of them as ideas for flavours that go together, little techniques and habits that form and inform the way I cook and what I make, and a mental list of successes in the past that I can build on. Occasionally, I’ll see a recipe that takes my fancy, and the first time I make it I’ll try to follow it, but usually end up substituting or changing the recipe somehow. Thereafter, I just wing it, then redo it from memory, until the outcome is how I want it to taste.

I was watching Masterchef Australia a little while ago, and in Nigella week, Nigella said something that so appealed to me, I wrote it down. She said, “you don’t feel like it, or feel like you’ll enjoy it, but the act of necessity, of having to get dinner on the table means you do it, and you enjoy it, and you get it done.” That quote might be a bit off the original, but what she was saying that it is the very act of necessity that means we do it, and in just doing it, we usually come to enjoy it.

I didn’t always love cooking. In my early 20s, when I was still learning, it was a pretty harrowing process which involved lots of packets you add water to and lots of over- and under-cooked food. Boiled chicken breasts and the mince I mistakenly added a ton of cocoa to (I had read about Mexican mole and was woefully under informed) are two of the major food lowlights of my learning days. But over time, the simple act of needing to be fed and then needing to feed other people meant that I got it done and, as I gained more confidence, I began to enjoy it.

So, while I plan to post more recipes here, you can be assured that they will probably remain badly photographed (because unless I can find a photographer/food stylist partner in crime, that ain’t gonna change), and they’ll be Not Recipes. Guidelines )that I hope you’ll have the confidence to try, but wing it where you need to) with lots of suggestions and variations. 

Because I think true enjoyment of cooking comes when your risks and trials are more successful than unsuccessful and you can have confidence in your ability to get a great meal on the table (and enjoy it).

Bliss balls not-recipe (without a food processor)

I don’t know about you, but seeing thousands of the same recipes for the same thing all across the internet can be a bit boring. Especially if they feature a piece of equipment you don’t have (Nutribullet/food processor/mincer/whatever). It can feel a bit limiting, like you can’t achieve those things without the equipment. 

Anyway, last friday was my son’s daycare Christmas party, and I know that these things involve Flings, chips, sweets and other crap, so it was important to me to send something that was delicious and sweet, without being full of sugar and other refined rubbish. Something I had a reasonable certainty my son, at least, would enjoy.

He’s a fruit bat. If it’s fruit, he’ll eat it, pretty much. He loves his ‘bapoo’ (apple) and ‘narnar’ (banana), and all other na-noms!! (Food he likes but doesn’t know the name of), and dried fruit (as long as it’s soft, is also a great favourite, especially when we are driving. 

After a bit of searching, I eventually came across a Bliss Balls recipe that used heat and a stick or jug blender to process the fruit, and I thought BINGO! I actually bought a food processor (at last!!) on the weekend, but last week when I made these, I didn’t have it. Come to think of it, though, I think I’d still use this method. It’s quick and easy, and there are minimal things to wash, which appeals to my incredibly lazy side.

Anyway, see what you think. These went down well with my boy, and the leftovers are living in the freezer for a sweet, healthy snack when we need one.


Makes about 44 1/2 inch balls

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 2-4 pitted dried prunes
  • Water (just enough to cover the dates)
  • 1/2 cup mixed seeds (I had pumpkin, sesame and linseeds, I think)
  • 1 TBSP cocoa or cacao
  • 1 TBSP agave syrup (or honey, but I wanted to make this accessible for the little babies too)
  • Roughly 1 cup desiccated coconut (divided)

Method:

  1. Put the dates and prunes into a small pot, and just cover with water. Bring the pot to a boil, and turn down to a simmer. You want to soften the dried fruit so you can blend it more easily.
  2. Stir with a silicone spatula, and when the dried fruit starts to go mushy, turn off the heat.
  3. Add the seeds to the mixture in the pot and, using a stick blender, whizz it all up to an even consistency (you can do this in a jug blender too, but that means more washing up. Meh.)
  4. This mixture will be quite wet, thanks to the mushy dried fruit, so sprinkle in a little of the coconut and add in the cocoa and agave and stir to mix. 
  5. Keep adding coconut, mixing in beteeen additions, until the mixture seems dry enough to handle, while being sticky enough to roll into balls.
  6. Sprinkle the rest of the coconut onto a plate, and set aside.
  7. Using a levered ice cream scoop (I use the smallest size of these for everything), scoop out balls from the mixture and place onto a baking paper covered plate. You can leave them that size, they are great for adults, but I cut them in half, as I intended them for the babies.
  8. Once the whole mixture is in balls, refrigerate them for an hour or so to firm up.
  9. Then, roll each one in the desiccated coconut, and pop them into a container.

You’re done! I’m calling this a not-recipe, because I think it’s fairly forgiving. You need dried fruit that can be rehydrated, something like coconut or cocoa (or both) that will help to absorb some of the moisture, and some seeds for added nutrition. I’d like to try this with Turkish apricots and chia seeds, or apple slices and flax, just to try.

Also, the balls can be a bit of a faff, so you can also press the mixture into a baking paper lined cookie sheet or oven dish, and just sprinkle coconut over the top. Press the coconut in, and refrigerate to set, then slice into bars or blocks. Just as tasty, and probably easier to handle. Think I’ll try that next time #lazyAF.

Coronation chicken meatballs

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was a food blogger. I was never particularly good, and definitely never famous. In the end it was my sincere dislike for food photography and a job that allowed me to write out all the things in my heart (and leave the photography to the professionals) that put paid to that.

I also found that, the more innovative and inventive I was with a dish, the fewer decent, free to use photos there were out there. Look, I haven’t found a solution for this (I am still a terrible, impatient photographer of food), but I want to post a few recipes, because they are worth having out there in the world, and at the very least, I would like to remember them (and the internet never forgets).

All that to say that these Coronation Chicken meatballs were, in the language of our time, EVERYTHING. I’ve made them a few times, a few different ways, and they are delicious. Coronation chicken, in case you’re unfamiliar, is generally a sort of cold chicken salad, with chutney, curry powder and mayonnaise. I like it, but it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea. This dish, however, is a little different. Using chicken mince, you mix in the flavours of Coronation chicken (curry powder and chutney) into the mince and form meatballs, then brown them in a pan. Use cream to deglaze, and add more of those flavours, and server over millet, cauliflower rice, or even pasta or rice, if that’s your thing. They are spicy, a little bit sweet, creamy and ever so moreish. Try it and see :)

Here are two terrible photos of just the meatballs that I set aside for my son, that are not quite as horrific as the ones I took when we ate this the other night. Those were so blurry, you could hardly see the food. If there are any budding food photographers and food stylists in the Southern Suburbs, I’m happy to cook if you want to practice making it look good!

Ingredients:
MEATBALLS:

  • 500g chicken mince
  • 1 medium to large baby marrow, finely grated
  • 1 medium to large carrot, finely grated
  • 1/2-2 TSP curry powder (I use Woolies Medium Curry Powder – use less or a milder version if you don’t like spice)
  • 2-3 TBSP chutney (I use a peach chutney from Zetler’s farm stall on the Spier road in Stellenbosch, but any will do)
  • 1 TSP salt (omit if making for babies under 1)
  • Generous grind of fresh black pepper 

SAUCE:

  • 250ml of cream
  • 1-2 TSP curry powder
  • 2-3 TBSP chutney
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Put all the meatball ingredients into a bowl, and mix using a butter knife. This will help to pull the ingredients through one another, without risking overmixing the meat and making the meatballs tough.
  2. Cover the mixture with cling film, pushed right down onto the surface of the mixture, and let is stand for a bit. 10 minutes is fine, or do it in the morning and put it into the fridge. This just helps the flavours to develop a bit more.
  3. Heat a non-stick pan and add a little oil or butter (I don’t believe there is a way to truly cook without fat, nor do I think it’s necessary).
  4. Put 1 tiny spoonful into the pan, and fry until golden on both sides. This is a taster, and is very important for ensuring the seasoning and flavours of your meatballs are good, and it doesn’t take long. Adjust your mixture as necessary, after tasting your taster.
  5. Using a small, levered ice cream scoop, or two spoons, drop balls of the meat mixture into hot oil, spacing them evenly without them touching in the pan. Stop when your pan is full – I usually have to do 2-3 batches.
  6. Let them cook on a medium heat, turning over when the bottom os golden brown, and cooking on all sides. Mine are quite small, probably just bigger than an inch in diameter, so they cook in just a few minutes. 
  7. Remove to a bowl as they cook, and fill up the space with more balls as you go.
  8. When all the meatballs are cooked, fry 1-2 TSP curry powder, depending on how hot you like it. I like it quite spicy, so I err on the side of hotter.
  9. When the curry is fragrant, which will only take a minute or so, pour in the cream and add the chutney, stirring it all together and heating through. 
  10. You can bring it to the boil, but there’s really no need. Just heat until hot, then add all the meatballs back to the pan, and heat them through, ensuring that they are all cooked right through.

Serve over rice, cauliflower rice, pasta or mashed potatoes with a fresh, green side and a glass of rose or Chardonnay to cut through all that spice and creaminess. Just delicious!

Varieties:

One thing I have loved about these meatballs is that they are so versatile. 

  • Making them for kids? Omit the curry powder, and use a bit of apricot jam instead to make fruity meatballs. My 1.5 year old loves them!
  • Sometimes I also just reduce the curry powder in the meat mixture, fry all the meatballs off (checking in the taster that they are ‘cool’ enough for my son) and remove some for him. Then I amp up the spice in the sauce to get the spicy flavours I’m after.
  • You can also add more or fewer veggies. Adding finely grated veg gets a few extra vitamins in, without really affecting the texture. You could add a bit more, but just check that the mixture still holds together in a ball before you add too much.
  • Chicken mince is also pretty sticky, which means I never have to use egg or breadcrumbs as a binder, which is great, because I don’t really eat bread. 
  • I’ve also chopped up a handful of dried apricots and mixed them in, for some added texture, which was delicious. 
  • Last night I added a cup of frozen peas to the sauce before adding the meatballs back in, and that was also yum.
  • If you can’t find chicken mince and have a food processor, you could easily do this with boneless chicken breasts – just add all the meatball ingredients to a food processor and pulse until the meat is minced and the other stuff is even;y mixed in.