Saturday, March 20

Weekend soup: dal soup

I love dal. Yellow, spicy and yummy. When I cooked the yellow soup a while ago it occurred to me that it wasn't far off dal so I resolved to make a dal version. I cooked this in the pressure cooker, and while it would be perfectly possible to do it in a large pan be aware it would take a LONG time to cook down the lentils.


Itbsp oil (I used groundnut)
1 medium onion
1 clove of garlic, chopped
half a floppy head of celery (the floppy bit isn't entirely necessary, to be honest)
1 medium carrot
4 handfuls of red lentils (about 100 grams)
1tsp cumin seed
1tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp hing (aka heeng aka asafoetida powder. Not vital if you don't have any)
1/2 tsp chilli powder
5 curry leaves (available from Indian grocery shops. Not vital, but delicious)
salt and ground black pepper


Heat the oil in the pressure cooker (or a large pan) and gently fry the onions until they begin to go translucent. Put in the garlic and fry for a while, then throw in the cumin seed and wait until they begin to sizzle and release their scent. Have a good sniff, it's a lovely smell. Chop up the celery (leaves and all) and carrot and add to the pan. Fry for a few minutes (or until patience wears out) then add the spices and give it all a good stir. Add the lentils and the curry leaves, then pour in enough boiling water to cover the veg.* Add a good big pinch of salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Bring the lot to the boil, put on the lid of the pressure cooker and cook at high pressure for 15 minutes. When you open the lid you should find that the lentils break down completely when you stir the soup. Liquidise and serve. I sprinkled on some black onion seeds but that was mainly so that I could find the picture in my ever-growing collection of yellow soups.

*If you are not using a pressure cooker you will need about double the depth of the vegetables. You will need to cook the soup for at least 40 minutes (at least), and you'll need to check regularly that the water has not boiled dry. Buy a pressure cooker, already. No, I'm not working for the pressure cooker board, though if there's a job going....

Sunday, March 14

Primulas, potatoes and greens

We are in the middle of this at the moment. Although it is going to be great when it's done the mess involved is making me a bit miserable. I'm not the world's tidiest person but I do have trouble with dirty. Everything is currently covered in a layer of dust, and every time you wipe it away another layer descends. I hate it. Still. Great when it's done. Great when it's done. Great when it's done.

To cheer myself up I went to B&Q and got myself these. Those who know me well will laugh at the inevitable colour choice but these were the only ones available, honest! (Well, OK there were some white ones mixed in but I've potted them separately. Very tasteful they are too. Vita Sackville-West would be proud.) I planted a pot of them up with some Tete a tete daffodils for my Mum but I forgot to take a picture of those. You'll just have to close your eyes and imagine them.

My seed potatoes are busy chitting on the kitchen window sill. I didn't chit last year but everything I read implies that it is a Good Thing, so I'm trying it out.

We had this for dinner last night. It was bloody delicious. (Terrible photo, sorry.) It's Spring Green Gratin and the recipe is in April's Sainsbury's magazine. Basically it consists of blanched spring greens covered in a parmesan cheese sauce with toasted walnuts in it, and then an obscene amount of cheese on the top. The milk for the sauce is infused with onion, cloves and bay. It was very rich: so rich that neither of us could manage the seconds we had. Definitely one to do again.

Sunday, March 7

Weekend soup: broccoli and parmesan.

This soup was born of a happy accident involving week-old broccoli. Mostly I throw soup together from whatever is sitting in the fridge, and it's not often that the result sounds like something that came out of a recipe book.

Erin recently introduced us to the joys of adding our parmesan rind to soups. It's amazing how cheesy the soup comes out, and I now get quite excited when it starts to get low (yes, I do need to get out more). I actually saved this Christmas' cheese rinds to add to soup. Unfortunately I forgot all about them and when I found them again they were a bit greener than is strictly healthy.

Anyway: soup.


1 large onion
2 sticks of celery
1 large carrot
1 clove of garlic
1 head of broccoli
a parmesan rind (or you could add a finger's width of parmesan, or another cheese rind).
Stock (we've run out so I used Miso soup powder).
Salt and black pepper.


Fry the chopped onions in a glug of olive oil until they begin to soften. Add the chopped celery and carrot along with a goodly grind of black pepper and some salt, and fry them gently while you chop up the garlic and the broccoli. Stick those in the pan (I added the whole head of broccoli: stalk and all) and stir to coat them with the oil. Put in the cheese rind. It will melt entirely during cooking and leave cheesy dots in the soup. Add the stock and top up with water until the vegetables are just covered. (If you're not using a pressure cooker then you'll need slightly more liquid to allow for evaporation.) I cooked mine at high pressure for ten minutes, though I probably could have got away with seven. If you're not using a pressure cooker then put the lid on your pan and cook until the vegetables are tender. I'm guessing 15 minutes.

Blend and serve.

Saturday, March 6

Waking up for spring 2.

There. I've swept the path and hacked back the vinca which was threatening to overtake it. I'm planning to cut a channel down the grass side and then possibly sow lettuces in there, but that's a job for another day.

The tall things (taller than me) with the sticks are my broccoli trees. They are last year's purple sprouting broccoli, which I couldn't (and still can't) quite bring myself to pull up. I am now waiting to see if I'll get any more sprouting this year. I think there might be some coming. Oh how I love purple sprouting broccoli. There is a recipe in March's Sainsbury's magazine for PSB with pasta, pancetta and walnuts which I keep meaning to try. Yum!

Friday, March 5

Waking up for spring.

Thank goodness for a bit of sun.

I've cut back the lavender along my front wall this morning. It looks quite dead at the moment, but hopefully it will have escaped the ravages of winter and the evil evil rosemary beetle and will come back to life. There are buds on the fruit trees in the back garden. Let's gloss over the awful mess that the lawn is in. I'd dig it all up if I didn't like to sit in the garden occasionally.

We managed to order some seed potatoes a couple of days ago: Swift, Maris Peer and Charlotte. Marshalls do refill packs for the potato grow bags that we use, which is handy as I really didn't want only one type of potato growing. Or 75 spare seed potatoes. While we were at it some fennel seeds fell into the basket (easy to grow, apparently) and also red kale and yellow scotch bonnets. Vigorously sticking to my policy of only choosing things to grow because they are pretty or have the words 'easy' on them there. P also came home with some globe artichokes from the market on Berwick St, and I'm contemplating shoving one or two of those into the ground to see what happens (you can only buy the tubers in 25s from the seed people). Heaven only knows where I'm going to put it all. I was eyeing up the concrete path earlier and contemplating taking it up to get a bit more growing space. I'm resisting though as I'm pretty sure that would end in garden tears.

I'd post a picture of the garden but it's so untidy that I am too ashamed.

Monday, March 1

Growing Chillies

Yesterday I came over all efficient and sowed my chilli seeds. Usually I am the sort of gardener who decides to grow cabbages three months after they should have been sowed. I'm a bit of a fair weather gardener and usually only start thinking about planting in April, when I also happen to be on holiday and therefore can think things other than 'sleep' 'cake' and 'do I have to go there again?' However I read somewhere the other day (I really wish I could remember where) that chilli seeds could be sown from the beginning of March, and by some fluke I actually remembered. I had to buy compost and everything. Why yes my compost heap *does* need turning, thanks.

I've had varying results with chillies, but last year I put three plants on my south-east facing front window sill and I harvested a small selection (see above). Better than the previous year when I had them on the warmer but less sunny inside kitchen window sill. Given the terrible weather last summer I was not surprised that they didn't fully ripen (they should have been red), but I'm hoping that starting this year's off earlier will solve that. I'm also on the look out for some scotch bonnet seeds so we can have a go at those, too.

Now, if I can only get some potatoes in (last year's went in in MAY fer chrissakes) I shall feel really pleased with myself.