The Musette: mujadara

Lentils, rice, olive oil, spices and onions – this Middle Eastern standard is the ultimate pantry recipe. It’s also the classic example of a dish that’s greater than the sum of its parts. There are literally dozens of recipes for mujadara out there – each country, possibly even each family, seems to have its own version. The one I like best is that served at our local Lebanese restaurant, who kindly gave me their recipe – result! It’s also quick and easy to make. A bit of stirring on the stove and then pop it into the oven and it’s ready in next to no time.

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 2 medium-sized onions finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 150g (3/4 cup) Puy lentils
  • 1ltr (4 cups) boiling filtered water
  • 325g (1 1/2 cups) long grain brown rice (soaked for an hour in 500 ml (2 cups) filtered water)
  • bunch finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves or coriander (cilantro) leaves

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 3 (375°F/350°F fan).

2. Toss the onions with the olive oil, cumin and thyme in a frying pan (skillet) and cook over a high heat until they turn golden brown, about 15 minutes.

3.Add the rinsed lentils, chopped garlic, salt and pepper and cook for a further couple of minutes.

3. Add the drained rice to the mix and turn into a casserole dish (dutch oven) before carefully adding the boiling water. Stir, pop on the lid and put it into the oven for around 25-30 minutes. It’s done when the lentils and rice are tender and there’s no liquid left.

4. Remove the dish from the oven. Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning. Fluff with a fork, sprinkle with the parsley or coriander (cilantro), and serve warm or at room temperature.

5. If you’re so inclined, you can dress it with greek-style yogurt, Aleppo-style pepper, crispy shallots and additional olive oil.

The Musette: vegan lentil ragu

I asked my two sisters what they’d miss most if they became vegan. Totally unprompted, they both said “Spag Bol” to which I replied “You know you can make a delicious ragu sauce with lentils don’t you?” They weren’t convinced so I just had to make it for them.

Ingredients (enough for 6 hungry cyclists)

  • 3 tbsp olive oil 
  • 2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, crushed
  • 500g (1lb) dried green lentils, preferably Puy
  • 2 x 400g (14oz) cans chopped tomatoes 
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 tbsp red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp each dried oregano and thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 star anise
  • 1ltr (4 cups) vegetable stock
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 750g (26oz) pasta

Method

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, carrots, celery, herbs, garlic and tsp salt. Cook gently for 20-30 mins until everything softens and the onion becomes translucent.

Stir in the lentils, bay leaves and star anise and then the stock, bring to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender, generally around 45 minutes. By then, the lentils will have absorbed most of the stock.

2. Add the vinegar and tomato purée, cook for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes. Bring back to a simmer, then cook for a further 45 minutes until the sauce is thick and rich. Season to taste.

3. If eating straight away, remove bay leaves and star anise and keep on a low heat while you cook the pasta, according to the instructions on the pack. I would typically use tagliatelle but other pastas work just as well. Cook the pasta al dente only.

4. Drain pasta well, saving a cup of pasta cooking water. Add pasta water and pasta to saucepan containing lentil ragu and toss to distribute sauce.

5. Divide the dish between pasta bowls or plates and grate over some vegan parmesan.

6. Alternatively, cool the sauce and chill for up to 3 days in the fridge or freeze for up to 3 months. Simply defrost portions overnight at room temperature, then reheat gently to serve.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. You can of course make the sauce in less time but it benefits from further cooking. For example, I would typically cook a meat ragu for at least 2 hours. I recommend using Puy lentils because they will stay whole but feel free to use others which will work equally well.

2. There’s nothing worse that overcooked pasta. Only cook it until al dente as it’ll continue to cook in the sauce.

3. When cooking pasta, always add the pasta to the sauce and not the other way round.

4. Equally you should always add some of the pasta water to the sauce, it makes it much silkier and helps it to adhere to the pasta.

5. NEVER, EVER add olive oil to the water in which you cook the pasta. It prevents the sauce properly adhering to and being absorbed by the pasta.

6. You can use the sauce as the basis for other meals. Here I’ve used it in a sort of shepherds/cottage pie, topped with mashed sweet potato.

You may be wondering why there’s no photos of my delicious lentil ragu tagliatelle. I was too slow with the camera, my sisters ate it pronto! They agreed it was as good as the real thing. But here’s one I made with penne instead.

The Musette: Baked stuffed tomatoes with potatoes

My beloved is home for the summer which means I have to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. My challenge is to prepare things we can both eat without having to cook or prepare two different meals. My new regime  – fish-eating vegan – means I have had to broaden my repertoire – no bad thing. This week a recipe by Rome-based blogger Rachel Roddy in The Guardian caught my eye.

My other half enjoys stuffed vegetables called petit farcis niçois, a popular local dish which uses forcemeat whereas this recipe uses rice. I’ve had to amend the original recipe to eliminate the cheese and reduce the amount of oil but, nonetheless, it was still delish and made use of plentiful local produce.

Ingredients (serves three)

    • 6 ripe, firm, fleshy, medium‑size organic red tomatoes
    • fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    • 2 medium garlic cloves
    • 1 small dried red chili pepper (optional)
    • 6 tbsp short-grain brown rice
    • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 kg potatoes, peeled and cubed

Method

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  1. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and set them aside. Use a teaspoon to scoop the insides – flesh, seeds and juice – into a bowl, taking care not to pierce the skin. Sprinkle a little salt in the cavity of each tomato and then put them cut-side down on kitchen paper towel so that any excess juice can drain away.
  2. Liquidise the tomato flesh, seeds, juice, garlic and chilli pepper. Add the rice, season  with salt and pepper, stir, then leave for at least 45 minutes during which time the rice will absorb some of the liquid and start to swell.
  3. Toss the potato cubes in the olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
  4. Sit the empty tomato husks in a lightly greased oven-proof dish or baking tin. Spoon the rice mix into the shells so they’re not quite full, then put the lids back on. Scatter the diced potato around the tomatoes.
  5. Bake at 180C/160C fan/350F/gas mark 4 for around 60 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and starting to shrivel, the rice is plump and the potatoes golden. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before diving in and eating.

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Sheree’s Handy Hints

  1.  The tomatoes are the star of the show. Buy the very best you can find.
  2. You could add nutritional yeast to the tomato water to compensate for the loss of savoriness from the cheese but I didn’t feel it was necessary.
  3. My beloved decided to add a dollop or two of sauce vierge to his dish, a container of which was lurking in the fridge. It’s essentially fresh herbs, lemon juice, lemon zest, a clove of garlic, capers, cornichons and olive oil whizzed up in the liquidiser. It’s delicious on grilled fish and meat.

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