Thursday, April 27, 2006

Curried Parsnip & Lentil Salad

Though spring has ostensibly started it hasn't really felt like it. There was snow in March in London and the weather has remained a little on the chilly side most days, even now. The first of the jersey royals and english asparagus are just appearing at Borough Market now but there is still the last of the winter veg as well. We had a great piece of rare grilled rump steak for supper on Saturday with nothing more than a crisp green salad and a piece of crusty bread. Bliss. But expensive.

I needed to have a few cheaper dishes up my sleeve to get us through the week. Flicking through a Vogue Food magazine recently I found this recipe for parsnip and lentil salad and it seemed to fit the hesitant mood of spring perfectly. It has a really fabulous mix of textures and flavours, the sweetness of the roasted parsnips balanced by the earthiness of the lentils and the green beans add crunch to the final dish. The always ideal combination of curry with parsnips rounded it out. The dressing is a bit of a faff to make - it takes about an hour - but it really makes the dish. It lasts indefinitely once made so you could always make it beforehand when you have more time and leave it in the fridge then this is blissfully simple to make.

Curried Parsnip, Bean and Lentil Salad

500g/17.5oz Parsnips, peeled and quartered lengthways
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs
200g/7oz green beans
100g/4oz green lentils
Small bouquet garni - parsley, thyme, bay tied with string
1 tbsp shallot, finely chopped
100g/4oz salad leaves

For the dressing:

150ml/1/4pint vegetable oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tbsp mild curry powder
1 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
1 tbsp mango chutney
Juice of 1 lime

To make the dressing put the oil, onion and garlic into a saucepan and cook over a gentle heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the curry powder and coriander and cook for five minutes. Tip the contents of the pan into a sturdy sieve and puush the oil through into a bowl with the back of a ladle. Discard the onion mixture. Leave oil to cool.

Put the mango chutney and lime juice into the bowl of a food processor. Season with salt and pepper and pulse until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the oil in a steady stream - you are aiming for the consistency of single cream. Refrigerate until needed.

While the oil is infusing preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Put parsnips, oil and salt and pepper into a roasting pan and mix thoroughly. Roast for 30 minutes, turning them after 15, till the are golden.

For the lentils, put them into a small saucepan with the herbs and cover with water. Bring to the boil then simmer for 30 minutes till tender. Season with salt and pepper after 20 minutes. Drain and discard the bouquet garni.

For the green beans, simply blanch them for a minute in boiling water then refresh under cold water.

Like all warm salads, this should be assembled at the last minute. Poach the eggs and place the beans, lentils, chopped shallot and salad leaves into a salad bowl. When the eggs are ready, add the parsnips and a couple of tablespoons of the curried dressing to the other ingredients and toss lightly but thoroughly. Divide between two plates and drape a poached egg delicately on top.

With a slice of crusty bread this is a wonderfully satisfying supper.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb

I love rhubarb - the fabulous colour, the acidic sharpness of it, the way that it is equally good with yoghurt for breakfast or topped with crumble for supper. It is also a harbinger of spring. Borough Market has been selling the pale stalks of forced rhubarb for about a month and is now selling deep red bunches of outdoor raised plants. The thing about rhubarb is that it is not so much dependent on warmth as light to spring back to life. The sight of rhubarb at the market means the days are getting longer so even in a miserable spring like we are having in London this year, rhubarb supplies hope that sunny days are on their way. I've been buying it for a couple of weeks and having it for breakfast - it wakes up my mouth up with a zing and puts a little joy in my day.

Stewed Rhubarb

1kg/2.2lbs rhubarb stalks
200g/7oz caster sugar
1 tablspoon finely grated ginger

Chop the stalks into 1 inch lengths. Wash them then put into a pan with the sugar, ginger and about an inch of water in the bottom of the pan. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally and simmer gently for about 10 minutes till the rhubarb collapses. Check for sweetness - it may need a little more sugar.

But don't eat the leaves - they are poisonous!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Packed Lunches and Poached Chicken

I am poaching a chicken. Not boiling a fowl as the lovely boyfriend seems to suspect. There is no violent bubbling of scalding water or great hissings and billowings of steam. Rather the whole flat is slowly filling with the gentle aroma of coriander and parsley, celery and onion studded with clove as occasional great fat bubbles mar the surface and the bird slowly acquires a delicately scented flesh from the aromatics. After an hour or so I will have a moist chicken and a litre or so of well flavoured stock.

The chicken is a corn fed bird from France, decent eating as the French are serious about their poultry. Sadly, with the discovery of bird flu their sales have been badly hit, so it is possible at the moment to buy one of these chickens for £5. A bargain not to be sniffed at.

It is for packed lunches this week. Turns out my sweetheart became bored with the little on offer around his office and so stopped eating in the middle of the day. I asked occasionally what he'd had for lunch and was getting increasingly vague replies - including 'I forget' ! Hmmm. There is no joy in all the overprocessed, under flavoured gunge that is served up by sandwich bars - chains or independent. As an occasional stop gap it might just pass muster till the hunger pangs recede but as a daily ritual it is untenable. It's not as if it's even cheap. So he'd stopped eating lunch all together. Not good.

My solution is to make lunch for him and me to take with us most days, if not all. But I don't want to have to get out of bed half an hour earlier (or even 5 minutes earlier!) than I have to. So, if I poach a chicken on Sunday it only takes a few moments to put it into a tub with some crunchy sugar snap peas, baby plum tomatoes, and organic carrots from Total Organics because, after trying the carrots from all the different suppliers at Borough these are undoubtedly the carrotiest - sweet, crunchy and smelling great. This is good till Wednesday, then rather than have the meat dry out, the rest can be made into sandwiches and frozen. Thawed by lunchtime back to freshness. With a couple of biscuits and an apple from Kent orchards, this is a great lunch, especially at work. And cheaper than a nasty thing from Pret. Smells better too.

Poached Chicken

1 free range corn fed chicken
1 onion, unpeeled, chopped in half and studded with 2 cloves
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
bouquet garni - thyme, parsley, coriander, celery leaves, bay leaf
12 coriander seeds
12 black peppercorns

Wash chicken thoroughly and place into a large stock pot. Add the rest of the ingredients and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer and skim off any scum or foam that rises to the surface. Simmer very gently, uncovered, for an hour. Allow to cool, remove the chicken from the liquid, cover and refrigerate till needed. Strain the stock and freeze for use another day.