Brilliant cheap eats for under a tenner, including Meera Sodha’s Sri Lankan dal and Jane Baxter’s mussel, spinach and pea pasta

Sri Lankan dal with coconut and lime kale.






Sri Lankan dal with coconut and lime kale.
Photograph: Romas Foord for the Observer

Meera Sodha’s Sri Lankan dal with coconut and lime kale

This classic and soothing creamy red lentil Sri Lankan dal is offset by spiky “mallum”, or shredded greens cooked with onions, coconut and fresh lime. In Sri Lanka all sorts of nutritious greens are used to make mallum, from chrysanthemum leaves to turnip tops. I use iron-rich kale here because it works harmoniously with the coconut and lime, but feel free to play around with spinach, cabbage or whatever greens are in season.

Total cost: £8.34

Serves 4
red lentils 450g
cardamom pods 3
vegetable oil
cinnamon stick 1
whole cloves 3
brown onions 2, thinly sliced
garlic 4 cloves, crushed
ginger root 2cm, peeled and grated
green finger chillies 2, finely sliced
ground turmeric ⅓ tsp
kale 250g
tinned coconut milk 200ml
salt
mustard seeds ½ tsp
desiccated coconut 2 tbsp
lime 1, juiced
rice and plain yogurt to serve

Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear, then cover in water and leave to one side. Bash the cardamom pods with a pestle and mortar until cracked.

Put 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil into a deep lidded saucepan over a medium heat and, when hot, add the cardamom, cinnamon stick and cloves. Stir-fry for a minute, then add the onions. Cook for 10 minutes, until the onions are browning and soft, stirring frequently, then add the garlic, ginger and green chillies. Stir-fry for another couple of minutes, then remove a third of the mixture and leave it to one side.

Drain the lentils and add to the pan, along with the turmeric and 1 litre of hot water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the lentils are soft and creamy. In the meantime, wash the kale and chop the leaves into 5cm strips, discarding the thicker stems. When the lentils are ready, add the coconut milk and 1½ teaspoons of salt, cook for another 5 minutes, then take off the heat. Cover to keep warm.

Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil into a lidded frying pan over a medium heat and, when hot, add the mustard seeds. When they pop, put the reserved onion mixture into the pan and fry for a couple of minutes, then add the kale and desiccated coconut. Stir-fry for a minute, then add 50ml of water and put the lid on. Leave to steam for 4 minutes, then add the lime juice and ½ teaspoon of salt and stir. Put the lid back on and steam for another 2 minutes, or until the kale is soft and tender.

To serve, ladle the dal into bowls and divide the kale over the top. Serve with rice and yogurt.
Adapted from Fresh India: 130 Quick, Easy and Delicious Vegetarian Recipes for Every Day by Meera Sodha (Penguin, £20). To order a copy for £21.32, go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99

Uyen Luu’s hot and sticky sweet ginger chicken

Hot and sticky sweet ginger chicken.



Hot and sticky sweet ginger chicken. Photograph: Romas Foord for the Observer

My favourite midweek meal takes minutes to prepare. Ginger and chillies are great whatever season but when it’s cold, they’re extra comforting, whether for midweek dinners or in a weekend feast.

Total cost: £9.40

Serves 4
fresh ginger 1 thumb-sized piece
red onion 1
dried chillies 1 tbsp + 1 tsp, or to taste
soy sauce 8 tbsp
chicken thighs and drumsticks 1kg
jasmine rice 250-300g
cavolo nero 120g, sliced
runny honey 2 tbsp
butter 1 tsp + 1 heaped tsp
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Peel and finely chop the ginger and half the red onion (reserve the other half). Mix with 1 tablespoon of chillies, or to taste, and 6 tablespoons of soy sauce then use to coat the chicken. Place on a baking tray and roast for 40 minutes, basting halfway through.

Meanwhile, cook the rice according to packet instructions and wash the sliced cavolo nero.

Ten minutes before the chicken has finished, melt 1 teaspoon of butter in a saucepan then add the honey and 2 tablespoons of soy. Reduce for a few minutes. Take out the chicken and pour the honey sauce over the chicken evenly and cook for a further 5 minutes to brown. Remove the chicken from the oven, then leave it to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Finely slice the reserved half-onion and sweat in 1 heaped teaspoon of butter and 1 teaspoon of dried chillies, or to taste. Add the cavolo nero and fry for a couple of minutes, until wilted. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with the chicken and rice.
Uyen Luu is a food writer

José Pizarro’s lentils and goat’s cheese with caramelised walnuts

Lentils and goat’s cheese with caramelised walnuts.



Lentils and goat’s cheese with caramelised walnuts. Photograph: Laura Edwards

Kepa is an enthusiastic chap in his early twenties, producing the most amazing goat’s cheese. I met him at his farm in Amorebieta-Etxano. This is a really nice, simple salad I made using Kepa’s fantastic cheese. The caramelised walnuts are great as an aperitif with your beer – just add some flakes of salt and they are ready.

Total cost: £8.88

Serves 4
olive oil
onion 1, finely chopped
carrot 1, finely chopped
celery stalk 1, finely chopped
garlic clove 1, crushed
bay leaf 1
oregano a few sprigs
Spanish pardina lentils 300g
vegetable stock 600ml
ripe vine tomatoes 2, skins removed and chopped
caster sugar 75g
walnuts a handful
soft goat’s cheese 100g

Heat a little oil in a deep pan and gently fry the onion, carrot and celery for 15 minutes until really tender. Add the garlic and fry for a minute more, then add the bay leaf, oregano and lentils. Pour in the stock and add the tomatoes. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 30–35 minutes until the lentils are starting to break down and make a lovely thick sauce.

Meanwhile, put the sugar in a pan with 2 tablespoons of water and dissolve over a low heat. Bring to the boil and cook for 4-5 minutes until you have a golden caramel, then add the walnuts and mix together. Tip the walnuts onto a baking sheet lined with greased baking paper and leave to cool.

Spoon the lentils into four warmed bowls, add a scoop of goat’s cheese to each bowl, then top with the caramelised walnuts.
From Basque by José Pizarro (Hardie Grant Books, £25). To order a copy for £20.50, go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99

Jane Baxter’s mussel, spinach and pea pasta

Mussel, spinach and pea pasta.



Mussel, spinach and pea pasta. Photograph: Romas Foord for the Observer

Total cost: £9.86

Serves 4
olive oil 3 tbsp
spinach 400g
mussels 1kg
garlic 3 cloves, crushed
cooking white wine 100ml
red chillies 2, finely chopped
garlic 2 cloves, crushed
frozen peas 300g
conchiglie pasta 400g
parsley 1 tbsp, chopped
extra virgin olive oil 2 tbsp

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan, add the spinach, season and stir quickly until it has all wilted. Tip into a colander and set aside.

Clean the mussels, discarding any that are broken or open. Return the pan to the heat and leave for a minute until very hot. Tip in the mussels with 1 garlic clove and the wine. Stir quickly, then cover with a tight-fitting lid. Leave for a minute then give the pan a shake. After another minute, check the mussels – most should be open or starting to open. Give the pan a stir and tip out into a colander over a bowl to catch the juices. Leave to cool slightly.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan, then add the chilli and remaining garlic. Cook for a minute without browning before adding the mussel liquor. Bring it up to the boil and reduce the liquid to half its original volume.

Take the mussels out the shells. Add the peas to the reduced liquid and cook gently for 2 minutes. Chop the spinach and stir into the peas. Blend half the pea-spinach mix until smooth and return to the pan. Stir well, adding the mussels.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Drain well and add to the green mussel sauce with the parsley. Toss to combine, season well and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
Jane Baxter is a chef-food writer

Giorgio Locatelli’s spaghetti cacio e pepe

Spaghetti cacio e pepe.



Spaghetti cacio e pepe. Photograph: Lisa Linder

This is the classic store-cupboard-and-fridge pasta that every Italian teenager knows; the one you make almost on autopilot when you come home after a night out with your friends, and go straight to the cupboard or the fridge, desperate for some carbohydrates. But spaghetti is not just a convenient, quick and easy dish; it can also be seductively brilliant, a perfect example of how a dish can be so much more than a sum of its parts.

If you have some pecorino in your fridge, then the late-night spaghetti to make is cacio e pepe, literally cheese and pepper. First of all the age of the pecorino is very important. You need a very young one. A bit like some people, mature cheeses will have been on their own for a long time, developing their characters so they don’t necessarily welcome new flavours, whereas a young pecorino is still impressionable and likes to mix and melt. Pecorino comes from all over Italy, but pecorino romano is the best one to use for this, as it is less strong and salty than the Sicilian or Sardinian pecorinos. If possible use a microplane to grate it, which is much better than a regular standing grater – though if you only have one of these go for the smallest side. Don’t push the cheese, just caress it against the microplane or grater so that it falls like snow, as if you press and condense it, it will become grainy.

Because pepper is the only other ingredient, it also becomes very important. It isn’t there just for heat, but for real flavour, too. When I was cooking at Le Laurent restaurant in Paris, I first came across single-estate peppercorns, which were unusual and expensive at that time and came in little jars especially for a complicated carpaccio of scallops and black truffle. Peppercorns are grown on a vine. When they are picked young they are green and when they are allowed to mature on the vine and then sun-dried they become black. White peppercorns are black ones which are soaked to remove the outer dark casing.

Usually when you buy black peppercorns they are a generic mix of different varieties of peppercorns from various countries, but if you use a single variety from a particular region from India to Indonesia or Malaysia, it can make a great difference, and you can discover amazing aromas and flavours from citrus to nutmeg when you crush them. I prefer not to do this in a mill, but with a meat hammer, the end of a rolling pin, or the back of big knife, so that the peppercorns crack into irregular pieces, and I do this just before I use them, so that the aroma and flavour is really fresh.

Some people will swear that to make a good cacio e pepe you need to toast the peppercorns a little in the dry pan over a low heat like an Indian spice. I am not convinced of that. Yes, the peppercorns will release some beautiful oil and aroma, but that is exactly the problem, I don’t want these to be released yet, I want them stay in there and then release into the oil and water. But maybe I am wrong. It is a matter of opinion, so you choose. Personally I just warm the crushed pepper in a little olive oil and then add a ladleful of the cooking water from the pasta and stir it around so that the water becomes quite “scummy”, which is what you want, before you add the drained spaghetti.

Total cost: £5.10

Serves 4
pecorino 5 tbsp, or more to taste, freshly grated
spaghetti 500g
peppercorns 2 tsp

Grate around 5 tablespoons of young pecorino romano, or more to taste.

Start boiling your water for the pasta. Because this contains only cheese and pepper, the water becomes an important ingredient that binds these ingredients to the pasta, therefore you want as much starch from the pasta in it as possible. So only use 3 litres of water for 500g of pasta. This also means using less salt (a teaspoon) and stirring the pasta around in the water becomes pivotal, so that it doesn’t stick to itself. So give it your full attention: it is only for 5-6 minutes, until al dente.

Once the spaghetti is in, crush around 2 teaspoons of black peppercorns in a sauté pan using a steak hammer or the end of a rolling pin – it is easier to do this in the pan than on your work surface, otherwise the peppercorns will fly everywhere – add a little olive oil, stir in a ladleful of the cooking water from the pasta and bubble up.

Drain your spaghetti (reserving the cooking water), add it to the sauté pan along with the cheese and toss everything together well – the spaghetti will carry on cooking a little more, and so will release more starch into the pan.

Add a little more of the cooking water as necessary so that it combines with the melting cheese to give a creamy consistency.
From Made at Home by Giorgio Locatelli (Fourth Estate, £26). To order a copy for £22.10, go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99

All recipes serve at least four for dinner

All ingredients, apart from those in the ‘store cupboard’, below, were included in the total cost along with serving suggestions. Costings are based on the full price of a product, not the proportionate cost, ie, if 150g of butter is listed, the cost will be for a full 250g packet of butter.

We checked the cost of each recipe against nationwide online retailers.

All recipes came in at under £10 at the time of checking, but prices are subject to change.

Where possible, free-range produce was used.

Store cupboard

We allowed for the following: salt; pepper; dried herbs and spices (mint, sage, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, chilli, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander, paprika, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves); olive oil up to 50ml; butter up to 50g; garlic up to 2 cloves; stock cubes/powder/paste to make up to 1 litre of stock; plain white flour up to 50g; caster sugar up to 50g; light soy sauce up to 50ml; red wine vinegar up to 50ml



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