Lentils, rice, yum …

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khichdi3

Indian rice ‘n’ lentil khichdi

There are variations on this dish scattered through our various Indian cookbooks.

But I’ve never felt inspired to give any of them a go, mostly because they all seem quite complex.

Then I found this recipe at the wonderful blog Peri’s Spice Ladle, which I would describe as contemporary Indian with some American touches.

This khichdi is much more to our taste, more like the simple dals we prefer, very easy and enjoyable to make, and super healthy.

According to Peri, the consistency of this dish varies across India, but I already knew how we were going to like it … sloppy.

Like a very wet risotto.

Or a very thick congee.

Or like grits minus the monumental boredom factor.

And I reckon this would work wonders with young children normally suspicious of anything Indian, let alone anything even a little weird.

The range of vegetables you can add is pretty much unlimited, but add things such as potato or carrot real early on and things such as our peas very late.

We halved the recipe for just us two – double up on everything for the full deal.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup basmati rice

1/2 cup moong dal

canola oil

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 garlic cloves

1 inch piece ginger

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons butter

1/2 cup frozen peas

METHOD

1. Rinse and soak lentils and rice together in 3 1/2 cups of water.

2. Finely chop garlic, grate ginger and pound or whizz them together into a wet paste.

4. Heat oil then fry paste, cumin seeds and turmeric for about a minute. Watch they don’t stick!

5. Add lentils, rice and water.

6. Mix together and bring to boil.

7. Lower heat, cover and cook for about 20-25 minutes.

8. Stir briskly a couple of times near the end of cooking time.

9. Add peas, salt and butter fives minutes before end of cooking time.

10. Eat.

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Chick pea ‘n’ bean salad with smoked paprika

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salad2

This was inspired by a dip I bought for an at-desk work lunch.

I quite liked the oily tomato-based dip with harissa and smashed beans and chick peas.

But it had a nasty edge – as so many store-bought dips do.

So my immediate thought was: “OK, I can do better than this at home.”

So I did.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup of cannellini beans and 1/2 cup of chick peas, soaked overnight and cooked until tender.

ripe tomatoes – quantity equal to the combined pulses. If you don’t have very ripe tomatoes, make something else, as the tom juice is crucial.

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped.

salt.

pepper.

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika. Don’t spoil the salad by overdoing it.

heaps of extra virgin olive oil.

juice of one lemon.

METHOD

1. Combine all ingredients in the order listed. It should be really gloopy – almost like a really thick soup. And if some of the pulses get smashed in the process, so much the better.

2. Let sit for  couple of hours.

3. Gently re-mix and add even more olive oil

4. Eat.

We had this by itself as a light dinner with lavash bread.

But I reckon it’d be good with snags or grilled meat or fish.

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Shorbat adas

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Based on numerous comments on previous posts, I know there are pulse fans among the regular visitors to Consider The Sauce.

And among those, there are those who have their favourite uses for red lentils – be they dals or soups.

Well listen up – I hope you all try this killer recipe.

It may not supplant your favourite recipe(s), but it’ll impress everyone for sure.

Like everything I’m cooking at the moment, this recipe – slightly customised – comes from Nawal Nasrallah’s awesome Irqai cookbook, Delights From The Garden Of Eden.

She calls this lentil brew “the mother of all soups”, and it’s the bestest, tastiest lentil soup recipe I’ve ever cooked.

Funny thing – I used to be a bit sniffy about using curry powder. Too many lingering memories from childhood (sausages and sultanas), I suppose.

These days, I’m much more relaxed about using good-quality curry powders sourced from any of the many Indian grocers in our world.

In this case, the small amount of powder used means the soup does not taste of curry – or curry powder.

Rather, in combination with the other seasonings, it imparts a deep, rich and rather mysterious earthiness.

The addition of flour after frying the onions is the direct opposite of what I’m used to when cooking New Orleans or cajun dishes, in which a usually very dark roux is made and the vegetables then added.

No matter – the effect is similar, although that step could be omitted entirely as not a lot of flour is used.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups red lentils

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 noodle nests or equivalent amount of broken-up pasta

2 tablespoon olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 heaping teaspoon plain or wholemeal flour

1/4 cup lemon juice

chopped parsley

METHOD

1. Wash lentils and place in pot with 10 cups of water. Bring to boil and cook until done – about 30-45 minutes. Don’t worry, it’s pretty much impossible to overcook them – you’ll just end up with a different texture, that’s all.

2. When lentils are close to fully cooked, heat oil to low-medium and fry onions until a deep golden brown. This should take about 10-15 minutes. Stir frequently.

3. As onions are cooking, add to the lentils the pepper, salt, tomato paste, turmeric and curry powder. Keep on a very low heat and stir gently until the paste and seasonings are well integrated.

4. Also crunch/crumble noodle nests into the soup – doing this feels really cool!

5. Cook soup for about another 15 minutes or until noodles are soft.

6. About five minutes before noodles are soft, add flour to onions and continue to cook over a low-medium heat, stirring often. Cook for about five minutes or until flour is the same golden colour as the onions.

7. Slop a couple of ladles of soup mixture into onion pan, swirl around to loosen all the flour and return pan contents to soup.

8. Cook for another five minutes, stirring occasionally.

9. Add lemon juice, mix in.

10. Place soup in bowls, garnish with parsley.

11. Inhale.

Chick pea salad

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Like most folks, I’d normally use chorizo sausage when making this sort of salad.

But I just happened to have a segment of the superb Polish sausage available at Slavonija Continental Butchers in St Albans, so …

As with so many dishes, this can be made ahead of time. In fact, it needs some time – a few hours at least – for the flavours to combine properly.

But avoid refrigerating unless saving leftovers for the next day.

INGREDIENTS

About half a cup of dried chick peas, soaked overnight

Sausage – chorizo or Polish

Two small tomatoes

Small Lebanese cucumber

About a quarter of a small red onion

Flat-leaf parsley

Small amount of lemon zest

Lemon juice

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

METHOD

1. Boil chick peas until soft; drain and let cool at least a bit.

2. Slice and fry sausage in a little olive oil. Later use pan juices to fry pita bread for eating with salad.

3. Put sausage in with chick peas in a bowl.

4. Slice and chop cucumber, chop tomatoes, add both to the salad. Best to find a balance in which the pieces are a bit bigger than the chick peas – but not too much bigger.

5. Slice slivers of red onion and place in salad.

6. Roughly chop about a quarter of a cup of parsley and throw in salad.

7. Season with salt, pepper, lemon zest.

8. Dress with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. This salad requires a lot of dressing.

9. Let stand for at least a couple of hours.

10. Eat with pan-fried pita bread.

11. Try to avoid getting sausage grease on computer keyboard.

Minestrone

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It’s winter for sure.

The freezer is more or less empty.

It’s time for a great big pot of goodness called minestrone.

Bennie’s not a fan, but I sure am.

Oddly, this Italian soup’s ingredients overlap with a variety of other dishes we make at home, but it is quite different from them all.

Minestrone is minestrone and they’re not.

I’m sometimes tempted to order minestrone when out and about.

But mine is better.

If there’s one Italian dish I do that could be called authentic, this is it.

Anyone who makes this soup knows that it’s better allowed to cool and then reheated. It’s even better the next day.

And, somewhat surprisingly, it does freeze well. Just leave out the pasta and be gentle in the reheating and it’s fine.

Many recipes tell cooks to use stock. Go ahead. I don’t bother with it these days – unless there’s some already at hand. Certainly, don’t buy stock. Water is fine!

Flicking through the various Italian cookbooks I use, pondering which minestrone recipe to follow, I finally say to myself: “This is ridiculous – I know how to cook this!”

So I do!

INGREDIENTS

Olive oil

1 large onion

1 large carrot

2 celery sticks, leaves and all

flat-leaf parsley for cooking

2 courgettes (I have decided to use this term from here on in, because I can never remember how to spell zuch … whatever …)

1 good handful of green beans

1/2 small savoy cabbage

2 medium spuds

1/2 can cannellini beans, or 1/2 cup dry beans soaked overnight.

1 can tinned tomatoes

1 stubby dried-up heel of grana padano or parmesan

Salt

Pepper

1 small handful of short pasta or broken up bits of long pasta

Parsley for serving

Extra virgin olive oil for serving

Padano/parmesan cheese for serving

Good bread for serving

METHOD

1. Chop onion, carrot, celery and parsley – not too big, not too small. Throw in pot with plenty of olive oil and cook on medium heat until wilted.

2. Add spuds, courgettes, green beans – chopped likewise.

3. Add beans and chopped up tin tomatoes and their juices. These beans had been soaked overnight but not cooked before being added to the soup. They cook fine and tender in the time it takes for the whole soup to come together.

4. Add cheese heel.

5. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Add enough water/stock to cover by about an inch.

7. Cover and cook on a slow simmer for about an hour or an hour and a half.

8. Turn heat off and let soup cool for several hours if you have them available.

9. Reheat gently.

10. Add pasta 10 minutes or so before serving.

11. When pasta is cooked, ladle into bowls.

12. Garnish with more chopped parsley, drizzle with virgin olive oil and grate cheese over all if using.

13. Serve with some great bread on the side, grilled/toasted if you prefer.

Chick pea stew

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This unusual dish is a slightly tweaked version of the recipe found in Michele Sicolone’s 1,000 Italian Recipes.

Sadly, she doesn’t say where it comes from – it has all the hallmarks of some sort of regional food.

You could call such a dish homely or rustic.

You could also call it unappealing or even ugly.

I’ve found with such dishes that the trimmings – some chopped parsley, grated Italian cheese, VOO drizzled when the stew is in the bowl, good bread on the side – make all the difference.

Of course, it tastes better than it looks.

Plain but yummy …

INGREDIENTS

2 cups chick peas,

1 head silverbeet

1 onion

1 clove garlic

salt

pepper

virgin olive oil

parsley

METHOD

1. Soak chick peas over night

2. Next day, boil chick peas in enough water to cover until cooked, drain but keep cooking water.

3. Strip silverbeet leaves from stems.

At this point, the recipe is unclear whether, when it comes time to cooking the silverbeet,  it should be dry or still holding water from being rinsed.

In this case, the silverbeet is definitely gritty and in need of a wash, so … water it is.

4. Chop onion semi-finely. Peel garlic but do not chop.

5. Fry onion and garlic until golden – about 10 minutes.

6. Add shredded silverbeet and cook for 10 minutes until wilted.

7. Add chick peas and enough of the cooking to cover and then a bit more.

8. Add salt, pepper.

9. Cook and cover for 30 minutes.

10. By this time, some of the chick peas will have started to disintegrate. Mash some more of them with your wooden spoon against the side of the pot.

10. Throw in chopped parsley, turn off the heat and let the stew rest for five minutes

11. Place in bowls and drizzle with olive oil.

12. Eat.

Sadly, unlike many of the other pulse dishes we cook, this one doesn’t freeze well at all.

As we eat, I can tell Bennie isn’t digging on this – I presume because it isn’t the most kid-friendly stew going around.

“In actual fact,” he says, “it’s because I’m not exactly keen on chick peas …”

Sheesh – and here’s me thinking I know my own kid!

I dunno – maybe he did and now he doesn’t.

He does, however, dig on the fact it doesn’t freeze well!

Country style beans

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This is a straight rendition – with a few tweaks, noted below – of the foundation bean recipe found in Michelle Sicolone’s fabulous book, 1,000 Italian Recipes.

It’s also something of a departure for me.

I am so used to finely dicing aromatic vegetables and making them an integral part of my pot dishes that leaving them unchopped, using them for, um, aromatic purposes and then discarding them feels a little weird.

But I’m prepared to give it a shot.

Truth is, despite cooking a variety of pulse dishes drawing on South Louisiana, Indian and Italian traditions, I often find the textures, look and flavours do end up with a certain degree of same-iness because of the way I habitually use the vegetables.

This will be something different.

And if the beans end up as creamy and smooth as advertised, they may be a hit with Bennie.

INGREDIENTS

500g cannellini beans

1 carrot, trimmed

1 celery rib with leaves

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

2 tbsp olive oil

Salt

METHOD

1. Soaks beans overnight

2 Drain beans, place in pot and cover by at least an inch with water.

3. Bring to boil.

4. Reduce heat to low and skim off foam.

5. Add vegetables and olive.

6. Cover pot and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours, adding more water of needed, until beans are very tender and creamy.

7. Add salt.

8. Discard vegetables.

This is a batch of beans that is started before noon yet not destined for eating until our evening meal, so there is no rush and I can let things unfold naturally and observe with interest.

It seems to take a while for any great degree of assimilation to start taking place, but when it kicks in, it is comprehensive. What seems for a long time to be too watery by far ends up being just right.

When it comes time to discard the vegetables, I simply can’t go whole hog.

I finely dice the carrot and back in it goes, joining the obliterated celery leaves in providing some colour.

These are, indeed, by far the smoothest, creamiest beans I have EVER cooked – I only wish I could do so well with black eyed peas and, especially, red beans ‘n’ rice.

They are very plain, though, to the point of austerity – and that’s with the salt and a couple of non-recipe-mandated shakes of freshly ground black pepper.

As such, they’d be sensational as a side dish to, say, sausages or pork chops.

The second bean recipe in 1,000 Italian Recipes is Tuscan beans, in which the garlic is used but the other vegetables are replaced with rosemary or sage.

I like the idea of combining both recipes.

We have these beans with toasted Zeally Bay sourdough casalinga rubbed with garlic and brushed with virgin olive oil.

Cajun black eyed peas

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There’s an old joke regarding cajun cooking: “First you chop up the onion, green pepper and celery – then you decide what you gonna cook!”

This is the “trinity” at the heart of so much cajun and creole cooking from South Louisiana and New Orleans.

This differs quite significantly from the aromatic base of so much Italian cooking – the carrot (and sometimes leak) is replaced by the capsicum.

This is all quite odd, and I don’t really understand the science of it.

Some Italian recipes and cookbooks I’ve come across specifically warn against using capsicum in pot-on-stove recipes and stock spots lest it make the dish/stock bitter.

Yet in New Orleans and South Louisiana, the trinity is used incredibly widely – and not just in downhome food like red beans ‘n’ rice and these black eyed peas, but also in fancier fare and restaurant dishes.

This recipe is lifted, with a few tweaks here and there, from John Folse’s The Evolution of Cajun & Creole Cuisine.

Specifically, I use less meat than him – he calls for a pound of “heavy smoked sausage” and “half a pound of smoked ham”.

I use whatever is handy or easy to get hold of – in this case some smoked Polish sausage from Slavonija Continental Butchers.

Truth is, though, even a couple of bacon bones or a couple of crispy-fried rashers of bacon will do.

It’s not about the meat – it’s about the flavour.

And because the black eyed peas have a sort of built-in smokiness anyhow, you can go full-on vegetarian and still have a fine meal.

As with, I suspect, a lot of people, we don’t use a lot of dried basil in our cooking, but it gives this a nice sweetness and helps elevate the household cooking aromas to giddy heights!

Black eyed peas are eaten a whole less than ubiquitous red beans in South Louisiana, but for some reason I have much more success with the former than the latter in making an authentic gravy with the pulses available to me here in Melbourne.

These freeze really well – just thaw out and reheat nice and gentle.

INGREDIENTS

500g black eyed peas

olive oil

meat – smoked sausage, ham, bacon bones, bacon rashers or even bacon fat.

1 cup each approximately of onion, green capsicum and celery

3-4 finely chopped garlic cloves

1 tsp dried basil

bay leaves

salt

freshly ground black pepper

water

parsley

METHOD

1. Soak peas overnight or for the afternoon. Truth is though, black eyed peas cook pretty easily, so at a pinch you can get away without soaking them at all. It’ll just take a bit longer. These particular unsoaked pulses went on the boil at 4.30pm and were ready about an hour and a half later. But even though the peas were cooked through, generally things were still a bit runny and unintegrated, so I kept them going for another hour or so.

2. Put some primo cajun, zydeco or New Orleans R&B or gutbucket jazz on the sound system.

3. Turn up loud.

4. Heat oil and brown off meat or sausage, if you’re using any, at medium-high heat.

5. Finely chop – as finely as your knife skills will allow – the onion, capsicum and celery.

6. When meat is browned, turn down heat to medium and throw in the vegetables and garlic; cook and stir until wilted.

7. Add basil, salt, pepper.

8. Add black eyed peas.

9. Add water so the peas and vegetables are covered at least by an inch. As with dal, it’s important to keep this brew soup-like and watery in the pot so it doesn’t end up claggy and dry on the table.

10. Your black eyed peas are done when some of them start to break up and begin to form a gravy. You can hasten this process by crushing some against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon, but with these particular pulses it shouldn’t be necessary.

11. Cook a while longer to make a really fine and smooth gravy.

12. Just before serving, throw in and mix in a handful of reasonably well chopped parsley.

13. Serve over rice.

14. Add Tabasco or hot sauce of your choice to taste (optional).

Dal deluxe

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I learned this style of dal cooking from Yamua Devi’s book, The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking.

Sub-titled Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, this book details spiritually inclined Indian cooking that eschews – marvellous word! – garlic and onions.

Instead, many of the dishes use chillis, ginger, lemon juice and coriander.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups pulses

1 tsp turmeric

salt (optional)

good-sized chunk fresh ginger/galangal

1 fresh green chilli

3 ripe or very ripe tomatoes

1 tsp cumin seeds

oil

1 lemon

1 small bunch fresh coriander

Method

Unless using red lentils or moong dal, soak pulses overnight or at least for the best part of a day. In this case I use channa dal and urad dal because that’s what I have most of on hand.

Drain pulses, place in big pot.

Add turmeric and salt.

I know, I know – salt is Bad.

But I find if I don’t add it to my Indian cooking, it just doesn’t have anything resembling the sort of authentic Indian flavour I seek. Moderation is the key – in this case I use a teaspoon of salt. I suspect an Indian restaurant or household may’ve used 3-4 teaspoons!

Give the salt a miss and you’ll end up with a tasty meal that is of vegetarian nature rather than Indian. And that’s fine, too!

Cover with plenty of water, bring to boil and cook on low heat until pulses collapse into a near-mush.

It’s important at all stages to keep the water content very high – in fact, higher than you may think wise.

When served, dal always coagulates on the plate or in the bowl.

It it’s too thick in the pot, it’ll become an unseemly stodge when served.

So keep it really runny!

Meanwhile, dice the spuds into smallish bite-sized chunks and add to the dal about halfway through its cooking process.

You can keep the dal as a pristine dish if you’re cooking a proper Indian meal with other dishes.

But often we find adding spuds or carrots makes for an easier, quick-cook all-in-one meal.

Don’t worry about the spuds being overcooked – if they collapse a bit, it just adds to the texture. A bit like the spuds in beef rendang and the like.

As the dal mix becomes thoroughly cooked, slice the chilli, grate or chop the ginger/galangal and chop the tomatoes.

Sometimes I finely grate the ginger, but more recently I’ve taken to taking the time to slice it into thin strands.

This delivers more of surprising flavour hit and is inspired by the profoundly gingery dal I had at Maurya in Sunshine.

About this time, it’s a good idea to lower the heat under the dal mix even further if possible or take off the heat entirely.

Especially if you’re using gas, it doesn’t take much of a flame to have the pulses sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Heat oil until medium hot.

Throw in 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds and fry until fragrant.

Lower the heat a little and throw in the sliced chilli and ginger.

Stir and fry for 3-4 minutes.

Throw in the chopped tomatoes.

Stir and cook until the tomato pieces are just starting to break down but still holding their shape.

Throw tomato/ginger/chilli/cumin mix into the pot of dal.

Stir and let cook for five minutes or so until the flavours are emancipated.

When ready to serve and eat, throw in the coriander and, finally, squeeze in juice of a lemon.

We try to get small bunches of coriander and use the whole lot in one bang – stalks and all. It doesn’t keep very well.

Serve with rice, raita and your choice of breads and side dishes.

A Taste Explosion!

Dal-ing, may I check your pulse?

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Until very recently, the happily growing number of years we have spent in our current abode have found us – well, me actually – falling into slothful habits when it comes to food storage.

Thus it became routine when a new bag of pulses, beans, lentils were acquired from one of the Indian groceries in Barkley St, to fling the opened bag in a corner of our kitchen where it joined many others.

I was a little more careful with grains – rice and oats and so on.

But still, it was a sloppy look and it had to end.

The mice made sure of it.

I was finally spurred into action one recent night when I heard, while trying to fall asleep, a bunch of the little buggers obviously not just eating … but having a grand old time, a real party, as well.

I found four of them, immobilised and trembling with fear, behind one of our chopping boards.

They looked small and pitiful. But I knew, too, they were the party animals I had heard, for they were all wearing shades.

I did what I could that night, vowing to get some food container action going at the first possible opportunity – probably on the coming weekend.

In the ensuing few days I discovered, however, that while mice may prefer other goodies, when push comes to a shortage of yummy grains, they will indeed consume pulses.

In this case, they turned to a bag – yes, an opened bag – of those small, dark chick peas.

They were dragging them out of the bag, shelling them with paws or teeth and scarfing the innards.

The dark shells were washing up in the benchtop corner.

The resultant detritus reminded me of a bar near where I used to stay In New Orleans, in the days when I travelled there regularly.

O’Henry’s was not the sort of place in which me or my Crescent City friends frequented, it having none of the funky music or food we were into. It was a sort of burger ‘n’ beer place, and I only recall spending time there to watch major league sports events.

What they did offer patrons was an unlimited supply of peanuts in the shell, consumed in vast quantities along with equally vast quantities of beer. The peanuts were, of course, pristine but the shells were salted – meaning thirsts were inflamed.

By closing time, the shells were damn near ankle-deep throughout.

Happily, our storage woes were solved in a single stroke by Peter from Yoyo’s Milkbar, who provided us with two boxes of plastic containers that formerly housed Gum Balls.

I read somewhere a while ago that archaeologists examining ancient human remains can tell whether any given corpse is from the upper classes or the peasant class simply by amount of meat (in the former case) or pulses (in the latter) they have eaten.

We eat meat, but we’d like to think we keep the pulse count up very high.

Of course, it’s the norm that peasant/working class food traditions sometimes work their way up the, ahem, food chain.

Hence the ongoing use of puy lentils in some of your pricier restaurants.

Our minimal exposure to such food – and the use of lentils and other pulses therein – leaves us no doubt that for us such food is a bit flaky and unfulfilling when compared, say, to the recent foul meddammes I had at Al-Alamy.

Nor does it do the job, or have the same oomph, as the many pulse-based dishes we make at home.

We have red beans and rice, New Orleans style, made with a ham hock, ham bone, bacon bones or – at the very least – bacon fat.

We have southern-style backeyed peas the same way. Nice and smoky even without the porky bits!

We use red beans, too, in dal makhani with black lentils, channa dal and perfumed with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, garlic and chilli powder.

We have all sorts of other dals, using mung dal and many other varieties, most often with roasted cumin seeds, ginger, lemon juice, fresh green chillis and fistfuls of fresh coriander.

White beans – sometimes canned – go into minestrone and other thick soups and stews.

Ever since reading many years ago a very evocative passage in a crime book set in the Florida Everglades describing a simple lentil soup/stew heady with cumin, I have been trying to recreate the same.

With only limited success, it has to be said, as the more roasted ground cumin I use, the more bitter becomes the flavour. Generally speaking, Bennie likes the results more than his father.

But my most recent pulse project involved the simplest, and in many ways best, concoction of all, the result of a little ongoing whisper in the back of my mind banging on like a mantra: “Red lentil soup, red lentil soup, red lentil soup …”

Onion, garlic in olive oil, throw in a mashed can of good tomatoes, a cup of red lentils, water, salt, freshly ground pepper.

So simple, so very tasty – with a tangy flavour attained without the use of lemon juice – and so incredibly cheap.

We love our pulses!