Seizing the Day and Lucky Lentils

I’d be lying if I said that 2016 has got off to a great start; it’s one of those strange situations when Pete, Imi and I are doing fine but other people I truly care about just aren’t. There’s that wierd conflict between feeling sad and helpless in the face of other people’s tragedies and, realising how fragile life can be, seizing the day.

12565568_517857278397199_6466019848023937389_nChildren are so great at living in the now. I adore this picture of Imi in Bath last weekend. She skips, she sings and can’t resist a bollard- she’ll leap frog it or do a high kick and, whilst I don’t quite have her flexibility (or the flamingo legs to go with it), I can only hope to soak up some of her innocent joie de vivre.

Luck plays such a huge role in our lives; our destinies do seem to change at the role of a dice and so I’m going back to those lucky lentils that the Italians dive into every New Year. I’m just starting my year again and every one of those tiny seeds is going to bring us all good fortune. Superstition apart, lentils are genuinely capable of bringing prosperity and fine health; eating legumes is incredibly economical and they’re so very good for you.

I always prepare food that I like to eat rather than counting calories or assessing nutrients, if it happens to be packed with goodness, well, that’s a bonus. Lentils are loaded with fibre (keeping you feeling full, helping to regulate blood sugar levels and of course, keeping you regular). They provide valuable protein as long as you throw some grains into your diet along the way (it doesn’t have to be at the same meal) and cost a fraction of the price of meat. Consider all the calcium, iron, folate, zinc and potassium they bring with them and yes, we could give them that irritatingly clichéd title of a ……….SUPERFOOD!

There are a few lentil recipes for you to explore on my blog already, just give them a click.
How about?
Simple lentil salad

Quince, Bath Blue and lentil salad

Rhubarb and lentil curry

There are obviously dozens more to discover and enjoy in my book PULSE (how’s that for some shameless self-promotion?)

January’s been pretty full-on writing for all sorts magazines, blogs and campaigns, spreading the word about The International Year of Pulses (hence the “quiet” January on my own site), including Meat Free Mondays, Coeliacs Uk, The World Wildlife Fund and Borough Market.Jenny Chandler in Borough Market, photograph by Simon Rawles

I’m going to share the Borough Market lentil recipe that I created for their blog (I know that it’s a marketing faux-pas to send your readers elsewhere but hey, I’m generous like that and it’s a great place to go for ideas and a good read.  I love working for them; the monthly demonstrations are an excuse to explore, shop, eat and work in one of the world’s finest food markets.

Here’s a chance to use seasonal Seville oranges (be quick – they’re not around for much longer) if you really don’t require more marmalade. Imi and her Brownie friends got so excited last year that we over produced and still have a mountain to munch through. You can use sweeter oranges for the lentils too but you may require a bit of lemon juice to sharpen things up.

Tangy orange lentils

I’m using the little brown Spanish Pardina lentils because they seem an appropriate match for Seville oranges but any small, firm lentil will do.

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1-2 chillies, finely chopped (optional)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small sprig of of rosemary, leaves very finely chopped
250 g/9 oz Spanish Pardina lentils, or another tiny hold-together variety
Juice of 1-2 Seville oranges and zest to taste
1 tbsp grainy mustard
1 large handful of parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp Crème fraîche  or extra virgin olive oil

Take a large pan and fry the onion and carrots in the olive oil until soft.

Stir in the chillies, garlic and rosemary and continue to cook until the garlic just starts to colour.

Add the lentils, the juice of one orange, a good pinch of zest and enough water or stock to cover them by a couple of inches/5 cm. Cook until juicy and tender ( about 20-25 minutes), do keep an eye as you may need to top up the water.

Drain the lentils if necessary and then add the mustard, parsley, salt and pepper and enough of the remaining orange juice to balance the lentils. The crème fraîche or extra virgin olive oil are up to you, the creamier version is great with ham, lean pork chops, or just served as a salad with piles of watercress whilst the extra virgin olive oil works better with rich belly pork or duck.

 

One or Two Lentil Facts 

Legumes can keep you feeling full for an extra 2 to 4 hours, meaning that you’re less likely to be foraging in the biscuit tin.

Lentils are not just a cheaper source of protein than meat, gram for gram they have higher levels of protein than beef (as long as you also consume grains which contribute the missing essential amino acid). If you’re a resolute carnivore try adding lentils to stews, curries or cottage pie to eek out the meat. Better for you, better for the planet.

Red lentils are actually hulled and split brown lentils. So, since their protective skin has gone they collapse easily making them fabulous for dal or any creamy soup. They contain much less fibre (as that’s mainly found in the skin) and so are easier on the digestion making them ideal for baby food. Just cook up a pan-full in some stock until soft and mushy and add to different vegetable purées. 

Happy New Year …… of Pulses

2016 has been declared The International Year of Pulses by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation; at last I have even more reason to shout about lentils, chickpeas and beans.

This year I plan to write at least one post a month about a different legume amongst all of my other ramblings. Being a champion of pulses doesn’t mean that I’m focused on dieting or totally obsessed with healthy eating (you’ll find a few indulgent dishes and cakes amongst the recipes on my blog) I just write about the ingredients and food that I like to eat.

Luckily the pulses, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables that we regularly tuck into are incredibly good for us, it’s almost like a fortuitous accident. I’d better quickly add that I’m certainly not squeaky clean –  I happen to love pasta, smoked bacon, Stilton cheese and custard tarts amongst many other delights on the “nutrition guru’s” black list. It may sound very simplistic but, in my view, if your diet is predominantly made up of the unprocessed, slow-to-digest bits there simply isn’t room to fit in too much of the naughtier stuff.
Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” pretty much sums it up.

You could call us a “flexitarian” household (just a poncey way of saying that we have plenty of meals that don’t include meat or fish). Husband Peter and 9 year old Imi don’t even seem to notice whether a meal is vegetarian or not, they’re just as happy eating a chickpea pilaff as a lamb stew, it’s about tasty food. This way of eating happens to be cheaper, means we can afford great quality meat when we do buy it and most importantly to me it’s exciting and varied (Oh, and another added bonus, it’s good for us and the planet too)

I did mean to give you a lentil recipe to celebrate New Year – the Italians believe that each little lentil represents a coin bringing prosperity for the year ahead (Yes, please). Here’s a fab’ rhubarb and lentil curry recipe in any case. It’s just not that often that I have a little film up my sleeve………….
So here’s a quick video of how to throw together some very simple dips to set your pulses racing (sorry that had to happen just once)  that I filmed a couple of weeks ago with Rob Wicks of Eat Pictures. You’ll find the recipes below.

Black Bean and Chipotle Dip

Makes 1 medium-sized  bowl
Chipotles are smoked jalapeno peppers, traditionally you buy them dried or in adobo, a spicy sauce made up predominantly of tomato and onion. You could easily substitute the Chipotle paste or ketchup  that is increasingly available in supermarkets too. No Chipotles at all ? A spoonful of smoked Spanish paprika and a few hot chillis will taste great too.

Here’s a Tex-Mex winner to serve alongside Guacamole, tomato salsa and a few corn chips. Crack open an ice cold bottled beer, slide in the wedge of lime and let the fiesta begin.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1 x 400 g tin of black beans or 250 g home cooked beans
2 chipotle chillis in adobo sauce, stalks removed
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp soured cream
Juice of 1 -2  limes
1 tbsp freshly chopped coriander
salt and a few drops of tabasco to taste

Fry the onion in the oil until soft and golden. Now add the garlic to the pan and continue to cook until it smells wonderful.

Put the onion and garlic into a food processor with the beans, the cumin and just half of your Chipotle ( it’s always wise to tread carefully with any chilli). Whizz everything up and add the remaining chilli, soured cream, lime juice and salt by degrees until the dip is balanced.

Stir in most of the coriander, check the seasoning again and up the heat with a dash of Tabasco if you’re feeling fiery.
Serve with a swirl of soured cream and a sprinkling of coriander.

Roasted Pumpkin Hummus

Makes 1 medium-sized  bowl.
This makes a very welcome change from the more familiar hummus bi tahini. You could swap the pumpkin for other roasted vegetables too.

600 g peeled and roughly chopped pumpkin (or butternut squash)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 x 400 g tin or 300 g drained, cooked chick peas
2 cloves garlic, crushed
juice of 1 lemon
125ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toss the pumpkin in the olive oil and roast at 200 c/ 400 f/ Gas mark 6 for about 40 minutes

Place the chickpeas in a food processor with the garlic, lemon juice and roasted pumpkin. Blend for a moment or two before adding most of the olive oil. Now pulse the mixture, adding more oil and a little seasoning until you have a deliciously creamy paste.

Try adding :
a handful of chopped parsley or coriander
a couple of teaspoons of harissa, swirled through the top.

Cannellini and Beetroot dip

Makes 1 medium-sized  bowl
1 x 400 g/14 oz tin of cannellini, haricot or flageolet beans, drained
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
a pinch of salt and pepper

For the beetroot swirl
2 medium sized, cooked beetroots
2 sprigs of fresh dill
1-2 tsps of ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste

Whizz the beans, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning into a purée in a food processor or with a stick blender and then adjust the seasoning until you are happy. The creamed beans will be subtle but need to be balanced all the same.

Purée the cooked beetroot with the dill and ground coriander. Balance with salt and pepper.

Swirl the beetroot into the bean dip but don’t stir to much, it’s more appetising as a ripple effect.

You’ll find lots more pulse recipes on the official Pulses.Org website  here  and plenty of other inspiration on my blog – just click on the relevant legume in the ingredients list to the right.

AND, JUST ONE MORE THING – on January 6th people will be eating pulses all over the world to raise awareness of their health and sustainability benefits – you can join the social media party here or you may just prefer to sit down quietly with your friends and a big bowl beans.

Happy New Year!

Theatre Dal

A couple of weeks ago I gave a dal demonstration in a West Country theatre, it was part of a double bill with a one man show called Strictly Balti. Now, I really do try not to make a habit of apologising for failing to write my blog more regularly but this time I really AM sorry; Saikat Ahamed’s account of his childhood growing up in Birmingham with Bangladeshi parents is absolutely gripping, funny, emotive and one of the best things that I’ve seen in years and you’ve most probably missed it! If you do happen to read this today you may be able to get a last minute ticket to catch him in Shoreditch tonight or in  Chippenham on December 19th. GO if you can, it’s a gem.

And giving a demo’ at a theatre was a first for me, it’s what I absolutely love about my job….. one day I’m making chutney with a class of 9 year olds for the Duke of Gloucester, the next I’m writing about smokey lamb chilli for the Borough Market Magazine. I did promise to post the very simple recipe for the dal and here it is (finally) for those patient people who have sent me emails. Do pass it on to your friends.

To anyone who is not familiar with making or even eating dal, apart from the odd side dish at an Indian restaurant, I can only urge you to have try. We have a huge pot on the go at the moment – I make enough to last a couple of days, and add different Tarkas (toppings) to keep things fresh.

In Britain dal is often just thought of as a lentil dish but in fact a huge variety of hulled, split and even whole pulses are used depending on the country or region in Asia . Most common are masoor dal (red lentils), mung dal (hulled and split mung beans) and chana dal (skinned and split chickpeas) but  other legumes such as urad dal (split black urad beans), toor dahl (split pigeon peas) and even red kidney beans can go in too.

Last week I decided to tip all my almost empty jars into the same pot; a mixture of red lentils, urad dal and split chickpeas- it was perfect. Pete even had dal on toast with chutney for a quick lunch, it’s great stuff to have lurking in the fridge for a hungry moment.

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Tarka Dal

What gives this dal its character and kick is most commonly known in this country as the tarka or the tempering: a fried up mixture of spices and aromatics, and possibly onions, shallots or garlic that is thrown over the dal just before serving.

Serves 6 as a main with flat bread or rice, or 10 as a side dish

400 g  mung dal, masoor dal (red lentils), urid dal .
1 knob of ginger about 5cm, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 – 1tsp salt

Tarka
2 generous tbsp of ghee, butter or vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, sliced
3-4 fresh green chillis, sliced
2 tbsp fresh coriander, roughly chopped
squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

Wash the dal thoroughly and check for any tiny stones (I was once responsible for someone chipping a molar – I always check now).

Now place them in a large saucepan with a 1 1/4 litres / 2 pints of water. Bring them up to the boil and skim away any frothy scum.

Throw in the ginger, garlic and turmeric and simmer, with a lid ajar, on the lowest heat possible for about an hour and a half. A ridged griddle pan can help to difuse the heat if you have a particularly fierce gas hob, just put your saucepan on top.

You will need to give the pan a stir from time to time and add more water if the dal is getting very thick.

Season the dal with salt and add more water if you like a soupy consitancy, I prefer mine to be more like a loose porridge.

For the Tarka
Heat the ghee, butter or oil in a separate pan. The choice is yours but I would go for ghee or butter every time, the luscious creaminess is unbeatable.

Fry the onion until golden and then add the chillis for a moment or two.

Tip the tarka over dal, stir it in and then sprinkle with coriander.

You could add tamarind paste, lime juice or even sprinkle over a pinch of Amchuur (an intriguingly sharp powder made dried green mango) instead of the lemon. Or leave out the sharp altogether for something more mellow that would work alongside a zippy curry or pickle.

Different Tarkas
You can totally transform your dal by frying up a different tarka, the options are virtually limitless but here are some of my favourites.

Always start with the ghee, butter or oil and then fry onions or shallots if you are using them, followed by the garlic and spices. Use your nose and eyes, garlic and spices will take literally seconds to release their amazing aromas or to jump about the pan and then it is time to tip them over the dal.

Tarkas to try

  • 3 diced shallots or 1/2 an onion, 2 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger, 2 finely sliced cloves garlic,  diced flesh of 3 tomatoes
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds, about 8 curry leaves, 1/2 -1 tsp crushed chilli
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced

or any combinations of the above.

Tarka Dal - Pulse

And, just one more thing, the theatre – The Theatre Shop in Clevedon is the most amazing community theatre, utilising an empty shop unit in the town centre, it’s inspirational. They have loads of great stuff going on during the festive season including The Nutcracker ( Dec 19th – Early January) that I’m going to take Imi along to.

Thank you to Marie-Dominique Demers-King for her great pictures of the Theatre Shop event and to Clare Winfield for the beautiful dal photograph from my book PULSE

Roast Vegetable Hummus and the Simplest Flat Bread Ever

Okay, it’s been a while and sadly I’m not about to regale you with fabulous tales of holidays and adventures that have filled my days. It’s just that Peter (the husband) is away in Antarctica for a few weeks and my life seems to be a hectic (read chaotic) combination of working all over the place at funny hours (a result of being freelance that I usually embrace) and farming Imi out to wonderfully supportive family, friends and neighbours (three cheers for “Spare Granny” Sasha) at both ends of the day.

The amazingly bright autumn weather (not today – the S.A.D. lamp is definitely on), a few trips to The Bristol Lido to swim outside and some very special one-to-one time with Imi have thankfully made the chaos pretty wonderful too. I feel so blessed living in Bristol where I took these pictures just 5 minutes walk from the house. Last Sunday, the 1st of November, just felt like a bonus, an almost summery day, before we hit the colder weather – everyone was out (and I remembered that I really, really need a dog).

One of my Autumn highlights has to be the day spent at Victoria Park Primary School, in Bristol, helping with their Healthy Schools Week. I was working with Ramona Andrews: a school Mum, food writer, social media guru, producer (she’s a talented lass) and we a ball (a tiring one, but oh so rewarding). The idea was to get kids cooking, tasting and experimenting with simple recipes that happened to be healthy too, rather than the didactic approach.

With over 30 kids at a time, in the school art room, it wasn’t going to be individual soufflés so we settled on flat breads and hummus. It was all about tasty, simple and accessible recipes that the kids would most likely eat too and with Halloween looming we thought we’d throw some roasted pumpkin into the hummus. The room was filled with great wafts of garlic, cumin, baking bread and lots of noise (good noise, enthusiastic, excited noise).

One thing that I’ve learnt about cooking with children is that everyone wants, and needs, to be busy for every available second (I so, so appreciate you school teachers – it’s knackering). We had plenty of grating going on to keep everyone gainfully employed and made a massive bowl of salad. Radishes, beetroot, carrots, cucumber, apples, pears, seeds, herbs, lemon zest – it all went in, and of course there were a few doubters (some rather more vociferous than others) but pretty much everybody tried the end result and, best of all, most of them loved it.

So here you have my recipes from the day and though I do admit to buying hummus sometimes, and pitta bread too, this reminded me how simple, cheap and adaptable they are to make. The children were amazed at how easy it is to prepare the basic flat breads with plenty of scope to play around sprinkling with different spices They’re ideal for baking with some eager little helpers but worth throwing some together for yourself too.

Halloween may be over, pumpkin fever a thing of the past, but there are plenty of squash around in the markets and shops to experiment with. The texture is fabulous in hummus and the slightly nutty, caramelised flavour works well with Middle Eastern spicing or you could try some rosemary instead. The children devoured this, one even suggested that it would be good for “dipping KFC chips in”! (you can’t win ’em all) but the best thing was the palpable excitement  at eating something they’d prepared.

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Hummus

1 x 400 g can of chickpeas, drained
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin (roast and grind your own if you have time)
juice of 1/2 -1 lemon
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of salt and ground black pepper

Whizz up the the chickpeas in a food processor with the garlic, the juice of 1/2 the lemon and most of the cumin.

Blend for a moment or two before adding the olive oil. If the hummus is very stiff you can add 1-2 tablespoons of water. Blend again until you have a nicely textured, rather than smooth, paste.

Season with the black pepper. Have a taste and decide whether you want to add more lemon juice.

Coriander or parsley are great stirred in at the last moment (no earlier or your hummus will look a murky khaki colour.

Roasted Vegetable Hummus

600 g carrots or pumpkin, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
1 x hummus recipe above

Pre heat the oven to 200ºC, fan oven 180ºC, gas mark 6

Put the carrot or pumpkin pieces into a roasting tin and add the olive oil, tossing to coat the vegetables and sprinkling with a little salt. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until they’re beginning to brown and caramelise.

Add the vegetables (hot or cold, it doesn’t matter) to the food processor  (or whizz with a stick blender), purée until smooth and then stir in the hummus.

Tip: Try using other vegetables such as roasted peppers, onions or aubergines too.

Simple Flat Breads (12)

250 g self raising wholemeal flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
250 g natural yoghurt

Just mix everything together in a large bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Squash the dough around in the bowl with your hands until it feels smooth and then roll the ball in a little four to stop it sticking the bowl. Cover the bowl with a plate or tea towel for at least 20 minutes

Divide the dough into 10 (easiest to chop in half and then cut the halves into 5 each- get the Maths going) Roll out until they are the thickness of a pound coin and bake in the hottest oven possible or cook on a ridged griddle until baked through..

Brush with oil and herbs ( try za’atar : sumac, sesame, tried thyme and salt) or garlic butter and eat straight away.

Grated Fruit and Vegetable Salad

You don’t need a recipe really but here are a few suggestions – a great moment to empty the veg’ basket and fruit bowl. It’s a fab’ way to introduce new flavours to kids, pile in plenty of the familiar and then just a little of something new.

Dressing made with lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning1 apple/pear
1 beetroot red or golden or even candy-striped (the kids loved these)
2 carrots
1 -2 sticks of celery
Fresh herbs such as parsley, mint, dill or coriander.

Put your dressing into a bowl and grate the r fruit and vegetables into it (turning so that they don’t get a chance to brown)
Mix everything together ( it’s best to stir in beetroot at the very end or you will end up with a Barbie-pink salad – you may want to wear gloves whilst you are grating).

Taste and season , then add nuts, seeds, herbs whatever you fancy.

 

 

 

The Pinot Noir Harvest and Butter Beans with Chorizo

This week has been an absolute spin: recipe writing for Borough Market, cooking lessons at home and away, a W.I. tapas demo’ out in the wilds near Bath, a spot of local grape picking this morning followed by an afternoon whipping up a humungous pot of butter beans and chorizo for a friend’s party.

Things have changed so much since I was a child, for a start there’s absolutely no way that I’d have imagined that I’d make my living in the kitchen ( my father had high hopes of a rather more lofty professional career for me; I wanted to be a shoe shop lady). The idea of picking West Country Pinot Noir grapes for a very good rosé wine would have been pretty alien too, and as for popping along to the local supermarket to choose my chorizo from a selection of half a dozen, you were lucky to find a salami.

So here we are, some pictures of our couple of hours of grape picking. To be honest I spent more time chatting, taking pictures and losing my secateurs than any very fruitful labour – sorry Ingrid, but there will still be that magical moment when I take my first sip of Dunleavy 2015 and look back to today; that low hum of conversation amongst the vines, the sound of snipping  secateur’s and children’s voices – pretty idyllic really AND it just happens that the last two vintages have tasted fabulous too.

And now to the beans; I find myself cooking renditions of this dish time and time again. The beans are bubbling away downstairs as I write and I’ve already fried up a vast pan of onions, garlic and chorizo. It’s a brilliant dish to feed a crowd and any leftovers will taste fabulous (even better in fact) the next day.


Chorizo with Red Pepper and Butterbeans
Serves 4 – 6

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, diced
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
2 cloves garlic, diced
250 g chorizo, hot or sweet, sliced
500 g  butter beans ( 2 x 400 g tins – drained)
1 x 400 g/ 14 oz can of chopped plum tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp fresh parsley, roughly chopped
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Fry the onions and the pepper in a large pan until they soften and then add the garlic and the chorizo.

Once the chorizo fat has rendered down and the pan is swirling with its crimson juices then tip in the beans, stirring to cover them in the delicious oil.

Add the tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes. Now, if you do have time allow the beans to sit in the tomato sauce for a few hours, soaking up the flavours)

Sprinkle with the parsley and the olive oil before serving.

(Today I added some celery to the onions too)

Tips when cooking butter beans – 

  • Soak for at least 8 hours (the beans will cook through more quickly and evenly)
  • Drain away the soaking water, pour over cold water to cover. Do not season with salt but a couple of bay leaves do add some great flavour.
  • Bring up to the boil and skim off any frothy scum.
  • Simmer gently (for anything between an hour and two until the beans are soft and creamy when pressed between your finger tips – if the flesh feels at all granular just keep on cookin’)
  • Season well before the beans cool down.

The Best Vegetarian Brunch Ever – Lablabi

Today’s World Vegetarian Day and though I’m not a vegetarian myself I’m all for spreading the word about the fabulous veggie food that we should all be eating more of – it’s not just better for the planet it’s better for your waistline too. But you know all that, so I’m not going to keep banging on about why you SHOULD be eating this because quite frankly once you’ve tried it you’ll be wanting to make this again and again.

Lablabi is the traditional breakfast soup served in cafés all over Tunisia, it’s the kind of food that seriously sets you up for the day. This chickpea broth can be as fiery and spicy as you like but be sure to add plenty of lemon juice – it’s the tangy zing that really makes the dish. The recipe comes from my book Pulse  (which I must point out is not purely vegetarian but of course, since it deals with legumes, has loads of veggie recipes). The picture is by the very talented  (and gorgeous) photographer Clare Winfield

Clare Winfield, Pulse

I can just about manage a few tablespoons of muesli and a sweet (I know, appalling) coffee for breakfast first thing but from about 10.30 onwards I’m up for anything. Lablabi makes an amazing brunch and with chickpeas, bread and poached egg it’s pretty hearty and satisfying. You can poach eggs ahead of time for a crowd – here are some pretty comprehensive directions

The capers, olives , spices and harissa give the broth a multi- dimensional flavour. It’s up to you whether you serve everything together as we’ve done in the picture or whether you put all the garnishes in diddy bowls for people to zapp up their own serving as much as they’d like – either way you end up with a riot of Mediterranean colour and flavours.

Tunisian chickpea and lemon broth
Lablabi                                    Serves 4

If you do get around to cooking your own chickpeas their water will really enhance the broth.

For the broth
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
700 g/1  1/2 lb cooked chickpeas or 3 x 400 g tin of chickpeas, drained
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp harissa paste
salt
800 ml/ 1&1/2 pints vegetable stock or chickpea cooking water
Juice of 1 lemon

In the broth
2-4 slices of good, day old rustic bread, ripped into large pieces (I use sour dough)
4 eggs, poached
1 tsp wine vinegar

On the top
4 tsps harissa paste
1 tbsp parsley
2 tbsp capers
12 black olives, chopped
2 red peppers, roasted, skinned and cut into ribbons (optional)
1 lemon sliced into quarters
a dash of extra virgin olive oil.

Take a large saucepan and fry the onion in the olive oil until soft and golden.

Add the garlic and once your kitchen is filled with fabulous wafts throw in the chickpeas, cumin, harissa and  a pinch of salt, stir for a couple of minutes and then pour in the liquid. Traditionally this is the broth produced by the chickpeas as they cook but vegetable stock works well too. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Squeeze in the lemon juice and season with salt.

Place the ripped bread in individual soup bowls, ladle over the broth, throw in some chickpeas and place the egg on top.

Now for all the garnishes: I usually sit a small blob of harissa on top of the egg and serve some more at the table for anyone after the extra kick. Sprinkle over the other delicious bits and serve.

And if this kind of spicy breakfast brunch/breakfast is your thing and you just haven’t got the time to whip it up yourself here are …..

My Top 3 Brunch Spots
I make no apologies for the fact that two are in Bristol – it’s where I live and the food scene is just great (and ever evolving)

Bakers and Co on the Gloucester Road (Bristol) make the best huevos rancheros this side of Mexico (slow cooked pinto beans, salsas, tortilla and fried egg) and I defy you not to manage to squeeze in an amazing pastry too.

The Souk Kitchen on North Street, Bedminster (Bristol) does fabulous brunches on a Saturday and Sunday. Lots of fragrant North African flavours (as well as a good old English if you must), I had an incredible beetroot and cumin puree with my egg and sourdough last time we went. On Sundays there’s a great food market opposite too (1st Sunday in the month has lots of retro clothes etc too)

Honey and Co Warren Street, London Oh yes, it absolutely lives up to all the hype (haven’t heard the hype? Where the hell have you been?- certainly not reading my blog!) As well as having published 2 of my favourite recipe books ever, these guys serve up a simply amazing brunch . The shakshuka (eggs in a spiced tomato sauce) is to die for, their aubeginey-feta frittata just heaven, the cakes on the windowsill just can’t be resisted. GO. On weekdays there’s a great breakfast menu, on Saturdays it becomes a feast (closed Sunday).

Chassignolles and Simple Puy Lentil Salad

Jenny Chandler at ChassignollesI’ll try not to allow this post to sound like some completely over the top advert for a quite impossibly perfect place to go on holiday BUT, to be quite honest, our three night honeymoon (apparently rather nauseatingly known nowadays as a “minimoon”) was just heaven. We went to the Auberge de Cassignolles in the Auvergne, a small hotel with eight rooms and, most importantly, an utterly amazing restaurant.

I simply loved everything about the place: the jar of wild roses and blackberries by the bed, the crispy white bed linen, the shuttered windows opening out onto the village square with its medieval church (along with very loud bells), the fabulous art on the walls. It’s almost impossible not to bang on about it all but I’ll hold back and let Peter’s pictures ( well, I might have taken a couple) do the talking.

And, as to the food, it just couldn’t have been better. Peter Taylor (previously of The Riverstation, Bristol) owns and runs the show with his incredibly resourceful chef, Matt Robertson (American… Arkansas in fact, been cheffing in Paris and all over the place for years including Chez Panisse). The auberge vegetable patch provides most of the fresh produce along with eggs, goat’s milk (for the cheese, ice cream etc) lamb and pork. Unpasteurised cow’s milk comes from just down the road, as do all the amazing local cheeses, charcuterie is all made in-house (Peter visibly winced as I asked him if the veal boudin blanc was homemade – of course it was) so are all the fabulous jams. Breakfast is perfect, dinner is even better (sorry, I did tell you that I was going to go overboard in my excitement).

Every night Peter serves a five course meal (an absolute bargain at 25 euros) of the most stunningly balanced food, it’s all obviously so gloriously fresh and as he says “it’s what Matt doesn’t do to it”. Locals book tables for the upcoming evenings without even inquiring what will be on the menu; the blackboard goes up just before dinner.

Our first night will stay with me as one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever eaten- a citrus scented pumpkin soup, a fresh goat’s cheese salad with grilled courgettes and shaved radishes, then roast lamb with fresh chard, tomatoes and the creamiest flageolet beans, followed by local cheese and leaves from the garden and finishing up with a strawberry frangipane tart with incredible buttery pastry. It sounds as if we would need to have been stretchered off to bed but, incredibly, the plates were so carefully measured that I felt beautifully satisfied rather than stuffed.That’s the thing about a chef’s menu, as Sally Clarke’s been demonstrating for decades in London, they think about the balance so much better than we do when we select our favourites from a menu. So basically, if you love food just get to Chassignolles; it’s simply no wonder that it was recently listed by The Times in their Top Foodie Hotels of Europe 

A rather miraculous side to our trip was the lack of hang-overs or the slightest hint of an early morning fuzzy head – even if Mr Bassett does look as if he’s getting pretty pie-eyed on the Negronis. This has to come down to the natural wines that Peter serves, he’s brilliant too when it comes to introducing you to what is, for most of us, pretty new territory. SO, a gushing review about, what does just happen to be, some friends of our’s hotel but I’d like to add that it doesn’t make the positive report predictable at all, I have to admit that it makes me quite nervous going to a friend’s joint, it’s that awful feeling that you might NOT like it…. then silence is the only way.

We didn’t spend every waking hour eating and drinking at Chassignolles, we headed out in our diddy hire car to the market in Langeac – one of those proper French markets with producers bringing their own small selection of cheeses, charcuterie, fruit or veg. I came away with a few saucissons (finished last for lunch today) and some Mirabelles jam.

We pottered down country roads, got lost (I was map reading – more about my navigational skills later) but did find the lentil Mecca of Le Puy en Velay.  The volcanic landscape was stunning but not a lentil in sight (all harvested in August) but we still managed  to slip in a lentil salad for a light lunch beside the Cathedral.

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It’s so tempting to digress into talk of pilgrims, the trail to Santiago de Compostela, winding medieval steps trodden over centuries but I do need to get down to giving you a lentil salad recipe. I’m sure that you get the picture from Peter’s photos & I’m definitely getting back to Le Puy in lentil season next year, so more on that at a later date.

The salad recipe is as simple and straightforward as they come, all about quality ingredients and perfect seasoning; a lesson learnt in Chassignolles.

Simple Lentil Salad Serves 4
No photo I’m afraid – you’ve had more than the usual ration and I want to get this post out before the auberge closes for the winter. If you’re in Bristol then you’re in luck, as it seems that Peter and Max’s Bar Buvette is set to “pop up” again in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.

250 g/9 oz Puy or Castellucio lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 small red onion , finely sliced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
salt and black pepper
4 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

Place the lentils in a pan with the bay leaf and cover with cold water by about 5 cm/ 2 inches . Bring them up to the boil and then simmer for about 20-30 minutes until tender but still just intact (don’t leave them like little pebbles, or you’ll have a lot of fun digesting them)

Meanwhile pour the vinegar over the onion and leave to soak, red onion will turn fuschia pink and become softer in both texture and flavour.

Drain the lentils, reserving their cooking liquid, and whilst still warm add the vinegar, olive oil and season well with salt and black pepper, allowing the tastes to marry.

Once cool stir in the chopped parsley and add a little cooking water if the salad seems dry.

Try stirring in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard & serve with cold ham or a good pork pie.
Use as a base for any winter salads with roast vegetables and goat’s cheese.

Recipe from my book Pulse
Most of the pic’s by Peter Bassett – my husband!.

Oh, and just one word on my navigational skills, or travel planning. It’s wise to check maps and distances carefully on the internet. It transpired that Chassignolles is indeed just an hour from Limoges airport, just not the Chassignolles that we were going to…….. could have been the first marital bust up after 4 hours in the car BUT thankfully Peter was swept away by the auberge’s charms too.