Good company and an inspiring challenge

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Today’s been a lovely day. My friend Jo and I took our littler ones and went for a long walk in the autumn sunshine. We first met when we were both pregnant with our older children, both boys and both now in their first year of primary school. Jo now also has a wonderful, bright, chatty daughter and I have my sweet wee 4 month old baby boy. Good company and conversation built on the solidarity of shared experience meant that our walk was over all too soon and I’d managed the excellent trick of exercising without noticing.

A new Greek deli has opened at the bottom of Byres Road and we had a lovely chat with the friendly owners. I bought a spanakopita to munch as we walked and chatted. It was delicious even if the baby, strapped to my front in his carrier, ended up covered in a light dusting of filo shards. He’s fairly used to it – an occupational hazard of being carried everywhere. Further on we stopped for coffee and a scone at Kember and Jones and I coveted every one of the loaves. I resisted until another day as I knew we would never eat it today and it would be a tragedy for bread that nice to go to waste. Nearing the end of our walk we stopped into KRK in Woodlands Road where I bought some beautiful little aubergines for the curry I was planning.

It does me good on so many levels to get out in the sun and walk and talk. As the dark of winter starts drawing in I know I need to get out in the daylight as much as I can, to shore me up against the long nights that are coming. Sunshiny food, fragrant and warming, was the perfect end to the day.

Aubergine, coconut and tomato curry

Some of my best friends are vegetarians. Really. They’re kind enough to persist in reading my recipes on here and encouraging me despite the fact that for those amongst us who don’t eat meat it’s a bit of a thankless task. I had been feeling vaguely guilty about this anyway when my pal Fi commented on my last meaty blog post to Facebook “I dare you to make something vegan!” What could I do but accept that challenge?

I almost completely succeeded – until I added a dollop of natural yoghurt right at the end! To be fair, this was for the boy’s portion (he’d made me promise that next time I did a blog he’d get to “eat the photo”) and it worked well to cool it down a wee bit for him. It’s entirely optional so if you’re vegan rather than vegetarian it’ll still be good without it.

I won’t ever give up meat entirely but I would happily eat less. Making this recipe has inspired me to introduce my household to at least one meat free evening meal a week. I’m crazy for anything that’s a pulse at the moment so some brown chickpeas (also in my chicken double chickpea curry) made it in here too. Pulses are a fantastic veggie source of protein and with them in there I didn’t miss having meat at all.

About 600g of aubergine – I used 1 large and 8 smaller ones but 2 large would be fine
2 medium onions
2 generous handfuls of cherry tomatoes – about 250g
1 tin coconut milk
1 tin brown chickpeas
1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
2 fat cloves of garlic
1/2 – 1 chopped chilli depending on how hot you want it
1 teaspoon of medium curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
8-10 cardamom pods
2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Finely chop the onions, garlic and ginger and fry them in a little oil over a low heat. Once they are started cooking, put a lid on and leave them on the heat to soften for 10 minutes or so.
Meanwhile cut the aubergine into large chunks and cook it on a griddle pan or under the grill until it starts to brown.
Smash open the cardamom pods to get the black seeds from inside. Throw the outsides away and use a pestle and mortar to crush the seeds slightly.
Make a space in the middle of the onions and add the cardamom, cumin seeds, turmeric and curry powder to the pan. Let the heat toast them until the fragrance begins to release then stir them through the onions.
Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan along with the tin of coconut milk and the chilli.
Add the aubergine to the pan and cook with the lid on for half an hour until the aubergine is lovely and soft.
Add the drained, rinsed chickpeas and cook with the lid off for a further five minutes.
Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve with rice and Indian bread.

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Green lentil and polish sausage soup

The weather has started feeling a bit more autumnal where we live, there’s a wee chill in the air the last couple of days. The boy started school a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been taken back to that start of the school year feeling from when I was young. The last few summery days seem to have gone and in time honoured fashion the colder weather has turned my thoughts to making soup. I picked up some green lentils on a whim in Waitrose the other week and scanned the ‘net for some ideas. This is based on an Ina Garten recipe that appears all over the place. The original recipe suggests kielbasa sausage but by the time I got to the supermarket I had kabanos in my head so that’s what I bought.

 

  • 200 g green lentils
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, quartered and sliced
  • 1-2 teaspoons garlic puree (or 2 or 3 crushed cloves – I used puree from a tube because I’m lazy)
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1600 ml chicken stock
  • 1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 180g packet kabanos chopped into 1/2cm slices
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar if you have no balsamic)
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Soak the lentils in boiling water for 15 minutes then drain and rinse till later. I chopped my vegetables while they were soaking.

In a big soup pot (I have a low pressure-pressure cooker I use for this sort of thing), fry the onions and leeks with the garlic, a few twists of fresh ground salt and pepper and the thyme in the olive oil for about ten minutes or until the onions are translucent. Chuck in the carrots and celery and cook for ten more minutes. Pour in the chicken stock (homemade would be good but I just used stock powder), the tin of tomatoes, the chopped kabanos* and the lentils. Simmer covered until the lentils are cooked. In the magical low pressure cooker it took about half an hour, it might be longer in a ‘normal’ pot. Add the vinegar and give it another five minutes or so.

Serve with grated Parmesan and crusty bread (we had sourdough with lashings of butter).

*most versions of this recipe suggest putting the sausage in once the lentils are cooked but I got a bit carried away and put them in with the lentils and the smokey flavor right through the soup was lovely.