Simple spinach dal gets its second run-out on this blog
Fourth in a vaguely self-important series of posts on cheap eating, in which I attempt to give inspiration to the moderately skint by preparing meals within a budget of around £2 a head per day.
If you’ve followed this blog over the last 18 months, you may have noticed that there are times when I appear to be promoting the joys of eating pulses with a near-suspicious level of zeal. This isn’t because I’m being paid to do so by the lentil-farming lobby; it’s because they offer (usually combined with rice) the cheapest and tastiest way of properly filling yourself up.
There’s one hurdle – pulses benefit from spices. For years I’ve spent 50p here, 70p there on bags of turmeric and chilli powder, cumin seed and cardamom pods – and eventually the more exotic likes of fenugreek and asafoetida – when I’ve found myself in the vicinity of an Asian grocer. For many recipes though, if you’ve got cumin, coriander, turmeric and garam masala you’re pretty much sorted – and for non-veggies, the small investment means you’re rarely stuck for a full-flavoured meal on weeks when shelling out on meat is out of the question.
As part of this week’s cheap eating exercise I’m making the basic spinach dal pictured above, featured here last year (cost: about £3 for four portions). I’ve previously covered mejaddara, and more recently have taken to its Egyptian cousin koshary – rice, lentils and pasta on the same plate may not sound appetising, but it’s a strangely addictive meal. As and when you can get your hands on more fancy-pants spices then the likes of this chickpea curry and this amazing recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi take things up another notch.
Best of all, these dishes taste even better the next day. So make twice what you need and take them to work, saving further pennies and avoiding one of my most hated tasks: preparing a sandwich pack-up when you’re knackered just before bed (or worse still, in the morning).
Soup, pasta or stew? Irrelevant: it's delicious.
So today is allegedly the most depressing day of the year aka Blue Monday. Indeed, one BBC Scotland piece
seemed to suggest that the combo of season and current financial uncertainty had created a candidate for the most miserable day ever.
I’m not sure I buy into any of this babble – I find much of the first six weeks or so of the year can be equally numbing. But with post-Christmas gloom and belt tightening on many people’s minds, genuine austerity cooking in Greece making international news and this blog recently looking at UK food poverty, it seemed appropriate to feature a dish that’ll give the winter blues a robust poke in the eye – owing both to the minimal impact it’ll make on your scrawny January wallet, and the fact that it’s healthy, tastes shit-hot and warms you up.
Culled and lightly adapted from Nadine Abensur’s ever-useful Crank’s Bible, this pasta e fagioli recipe packs in all the best aspects of a pasta dish (obviously), a soup and a stew.
There are many other variations to be found adding bacon, spinach or using different kinds of beans or pasta; strictly speaking you should be using dried beans, as this Telegraph recipe does, but for speed I’ve used tinned ones here. Either way, there are few more comforting meals to turn to during the darkest time of the year.
You will need:
- 2 cans borlotti beans
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 leek, sliced
- 2 tbsp oil
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
- A few fresh basil or sage leaves
- 600ml vegetable or chicken stock
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 medium potato, chopped
- 1 stick celery, chopped
- 200g pasta – small soup pasta are best but any short pasta will do
- 2 tomatoes, cut in six pieces
- Salt and pepper
- Fry leek and onion gently until softened before adding all other vegetables. Continue cooking for another few minutes.
- Add the borlotti beans, dried herbs and stock – you may want to include some of the can liquid from the beans for a thicker result.
- Simmer for at least 15 minutes; meanwhile cook the pasta until al dente and add along with the chopped tomatoes and fresh herbs.
- Give it another five minutes, check the seasoning and serve in bowls topped with grated Parmesan and the leaves from your celery, if there are any. Become a few degrees warmer and happier.
Megadarra: basically rice, lentils and onions, but far more than the sum of its parts
My writing of this conveniently ties in with an article about British and American meat addiction by Felicity Lawrence
in last Saturday’s Guardian
(surely the lentil-eater’s publication of choice).
The benefits of consuming less meat are many and have been repeated at length by millions. So I’m not going to parrot them here. However, it was interesting to read a persuasive argument against the myth that veggie diets are automatically second best in terms of taking on board protein.
So with immaculate timing, here’s another pulse-based winner, megadarra (aka mejadarra, mujadarra or moujadara, depending on where in the Middle East you’re eating it
As its main ingredients are just rice, lentils and onions, it costs virtually nowt and fills you up like a bellyful of warm cement. But it’s being included here because it tastes unbelievably good, provided you like onions: sweet and caramelised and spicy and comforting all at the same time – and it’s equally good cold the next day.
You will need:
- Approx 125g green or brown lentils.
- Approx 125g long grain rice (standard stuff is fine as basmati can be a bit too delicate).
- Three medium-sized onions.
- Approx 3/4tsp each of coriander, cumin and paprika. You could also try adding allspice.
- 6tbsp olive oil.
- Salt and pepper.
- Natural yoghurt, to serve.
- Put your rice in a bowl of cold water to soak.
- Rinse the lentils and boil them hard for 10 minutes in a good-sized pan of water, then drain.
- Meanwhile, finely chop one of the onions and fry in 2tbsp of oil until softened and slightly coloured. Slice the other two thinly and set aside for now.
- Add the spices and stir for a minute or so before seasoning and adding the drained lentils.
- Add about 600ml of water, bring to the boil and continue cooking for 10 minutes or so.
- Drain and rinse the rice and add to the lentils. Boil for another five minutes or a bit longer – most of the liquid in the pan should have disappeared.
- Now turn the heat down as low as possible, cover and leave undisturbed.
- Meanwhile heat the rest of the oil in a large frying pan until very hot. Fry your remaining two onions, stirring often, until they are brown and crispy, about 15 minutes. It’s very easy for them to go over and turn black, so keep a close eye on things.
- When the onions are done, tip the lentil mixture into a serving bowl and pour the onions and their oil over the top. Leave to rest for a few minutes so the flavours soak through.
- Serve with the yogurt spooned on top, and maybe some salad if you’ve got some.
A few weeks ago I decamped to Bristol for work, chalking up one final budget Cardiff chow-down at Chai Street
, Anand George
’s Indian street-food outlet on Whitchurch Road (the last bit of town you’d associate with street-food) before doing so.
This blog kicked off 10 months ago with an entry about traipsing through Grangetown
in search of the Vegetarian Food Studio
’s thalis, so it seems appropriate to end its Cardiff existence by reviewing a similar meal.
If I’d have been feeling more flush I might’ve headed next door to CS’s big brother Mint & Mustard
for a farewell blowout. But had I done so I’d have been deprived of a) one of the best returns I had on a tenner in South Wales and b) the chance to write it up here.
Hitting Chai Street rather than thali benchmark VFS gets you tightly-packed leathery seats, garish Bollywood meets pop art décor, and (obviously) a more aspirational postcode in which to eat your platter. These little luxuries mean you pay about a quid extra for your selection of small dishes, but getting change from £7 for a meal is still ridiculously reasonable.
And sad to say it, but it seems the best thalis in Cardiff are no longer being made west of the Taff.
Chai Street may be on the cramped side, but there’s no mystery as to why they’re cramming punters in. A creamy cow-pea dal, a dry, pungent potato dish and a rich, moist chicken one were all distinctively spiced, with curry leaves the most dominant – though not overpowering – flavour. Rice, bread, a shared side of lamb patties and cardamom-heavy masala chai rounded out a meal that’d suck me back regularly had I not so rudely skipped town.
In which I continue my quest to give props to lentils and the like. Cos I really love eating them.
Spinach and lentil curry
This one had its basis in Anjum Anand‘s Indian Food Made Easy and is hands-down my favourite dal recipe – it’s dirt cheap, quick and simple to prepare, goes well with rice or breads, and tastes AMAZING. Nuff said.
You will need:
- 150g skinned & split yellow mung lentils aka moong dal
- 750-900ml water
- A thumb-sized bit of ginger cut into small pieces
- Several chillies left whole
- 1tsp turmeric
- 2 or 3 regular toms, chopped
- 200g spinach leaves
- 2tbsp oil
- 1 onion, sliced thinly
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed & roughly chopped
- 1 rounded tsp coriander powder
- cayenne pepper, to taste
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- Put the lentils, water, ginger, chillies & turmeric in a pan, boil & simmer for 10mins.
- Put in the toms & cook for another 20mins then add spinach & salt.
- Cook for another 10mins or so – sometimes it comes out thicker, sometimes more soupy. Depending on how macho your guests are, you can leave the whole chillies in or fish them out at this stage.
- About the same time you put the spinach in, heat the oil in a fry pan and cook the onion on quite a high heat.
- When it starts getting crispy throw in the cumin seeds & garlic, then after a minute the other spices. Give it a good stir then chuck the lot into the lentil pan & mix it up. Ready!
Serves 2-3 as a main.
Writing a blog on eating good food, cheaply, I’ve long been trying to stave off mentioning truly lazy standbys. However, I’m going to cave on this occasion, because:
- I just ate Heinz Barbecue Beans for the first time, so *news*…
- It’s an excuse to plug Encona hot sauce, which is a product I am addicted to and would happily be sponsored by, and…
- If the likes of Nigel Slater can write recipes on how to make sausage sandwiches, and have people buy their books, then I’m in good company.
The Ultimate Beans On Toast
- Encona hot sauce, to taste
Toast your bread and butter it (obvs) >> slug hot sauce into your beans as they heat >> arrange cheese on toast & pour beans on top >>allow to melt for a few seconds then scoff greedily.
Here begins the first in an irregular series of posts in which I aim to promote the joys of the humble lentil and its brethren, through recipes which I eat regularly and with pleasure.
For the benefit of new readers or doubters, I’d like to state before going any further that I am not a vegetarian and cannot stand dull-tasting food. I just reckon that if you’re eating on a budget and are not doing fun things with pulses, then you are missing out.
Chickpea curry (Sindhi style)
The basis of this comes from Camellia Panjabi‘s ace 50 Great Curries of India. It’s got amazing depth of flavour due in part to the spice blend, and in part due to using onions cooked three different ways.
I can happily live on it for a week – this’ll serve three if you’re as greedy as me, up to six if less so. If you need to source ingredients then check my last post.
You will need:
- 2 cans chickpeas
- 3 onions
- A thumb-sized piece of ginger
- 3 cloves garlic
- 250g tomatoes, chopped
- 4 green cardamoms, cracked
- 8 cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 15 peppercorns
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- A pinch asafoetida
- 4 tbsp oil
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 3/4 tsp mango powder (amchoor)
- About 200g baby spinach
- Chopped coriander, to serve
Ingredients get busy in the wok
- Chop two of your onions, grate or process the third along with your ginger and garlic.
- Drain the stock from your chickpea cans into a pan and add one chopped onion, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, cumin seeds, a tsp of salt and the asafoetida. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer gently with a lid on.
- Meanwhile heat your oil in a big heavy wok or similar. Fry the remaining onion until brown, then reduce heat slightly and add your pureed onion, ginger and garlic followed by chickpeas. Saute for 10 mins.
- Add turmeric, garam masala and coriander powders, pepper and mango powder and stir for one minute before adding chopped tomatoes. Leave to cook for a few minutes before straining in the remaining liquid from the other pan, which will now be rich and spicy.
- Now put in your spinach leaves and leave to cook down for 10 minutes or so, while you make ready some rice or flatbreads to serve with the curry. Season if necessary and top with chopped coriander.
The finished article