Thursday, 20 March 2008

Nigel's dal and pumpkin soup with chimichurri bread

It was the start of the YM's spring break, and already he was going stir crazy, so I sent him off to the local public library to get some books (and get out of the house for a bit). He insisted that if he had to go, I should have to, too. Fair enough.

I was in for a very nice surprise to find not only a great book on spices (a Japanese translation of a Dorling & Kindersley edition, it turns out), but also that the English language section has been greatly expanded since the last time I was there (admittedly too long ago). And best of all, what did I spy but my hero, Nigel's 2006 hardback, The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater!!! Ah, the joy of getting back together with an old flame! Ah, the familiar flutter of excitement and anticipation that gets you into the kitchen before you've even finished reading the recipes.

If you are familiar with Nigel, you'll know he offers up no-nonsense grub that does exactly as he says it will. Whether that be to "uplift", "excite" or, in this case offer up a soup that is "soothing, yet capable of releasing a slow build-up of heat from its base notes of garlic, chili and ginger; a bowl of soup that both whips and kisses." (Whoa, there!)

The only thing disconcerting about this book, is that my Nigel, as British as they come, is suddenly talking about cookies, cilantro and all-purpose flour and lbs and Fahrenheit. In short, he's speaking the American dialect, as this, apparently, is the American edition (could they not just have put the Americanisms in brackets like the rest of the world does?).

This soup is a joy, for all that (although I am guessing it will be called red lentil (or at very least dhal) and pumpkin soup in the non-localized edition (g)). And the caramelized onion topping simply moreish.

The Argentine chimichurri bread recipe is one I snaffled from Allrecipes years ago and is still my very favourite bread maker recipe. It is full of aromatics, and the smell as it bakes has me salivating every time. I often ramp up the amount of herbs (usually more than doubling the amount in the OR), and have added thyme and rosemary on occasion, too. If you have a bread maker, I really recommend this recipe.

Nigel's dal and pumpkin soup

1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
ginger, a walnut-sized knob
1 cup + 2 tbsp red lentils
1 1/4 tsp turmeric
1 1/4 tsp chili powder
2 cups pumpkin [S: a quarter of a Japanese pumpkin, or a piece the size of your cupped hands; don't peel or chop it yet]
1 small bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped

For the onion topping:
2 medium onions, cut into thin rings
2 tbsp oil
2 small hot chili peppers, halved, seeded and chopped finely (or to taste)
2 cloves garlic

Peel the onion and chop it roughly [S: but not too roughly; the cooking time is short]. Peel and crush the garlic and put it with the onion into a medium-sized, heavy-based saucepan. Peel the ginger, cut it into thin shred and stir that in too. Add the lentils and pour in 6 cups of water. Bring to the boil. then turn the heat down to an enthusiastic simmer [S: don't you just love Nigel's way with words!]. Stir in the ground turmeric and chili powder, season and leave to simmer, covered, for 2o minutes.

While the soup is cooking, peel the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and pulp, wrap in clingfilm and microwave on high for 5 minutes or until tender. Open the wrap to let some steam out, and when cool enough to handle, peel and chop the flesh into fat chunks. Set aside.

To make the onion topping, peel the onions and cut them into fine rings. Cook them in the oil in a shallow pan until they start to colour. Cut the chilies in half, scrape out the seeds and slice the flesh finely. Peel and finely slice the garlic and add it with the peppers to the onions. Continue cooking until the onions are a deep golden brown. Set aside.

Remove the lid from the lentils and turn up the heat, boiling hard for five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, then add the cooked pumpkin. Puree the soup in the blender (for safety, a little at a time) until smooth [S: or use a stick blender right in the pot], then pout it into a bowl. Stir in the roughly chopped coriander and check the seasoning. I find this soup likes a more generous than usual amount of salt.

Serve in deep bowls with a spoonful of the spiced onions on top.

Makes 4 good-sized bowls.

Argentine Chimichurri Bread

"Oregano, parsley, onions, garlic and a dash of cayenne pack plenty of punch in this bread machine loaf. Use it for sandwiches, or try it toasted."

1 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar [alcohol-free vinegar if making for Muslim friends]
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped onion
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
3 tablespoons wheat bran [or porridge oats]
3 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast


1. Place ingredients in the pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select Basic or White Cycle; press Start.


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