Mejadra (spiced rice and lentils)

This is a dish from the Levant (which, it seems, is a place) via Yotam Ottolenghi. This dish is a faff to make, but it's very tasty, and a good staple for vegetarian dinner guests. The result is filling, and could be a course on its own, but if you choose to have it as a side dish, make sure it's accompanying something with a strong enough flavour to hold its own. By itself, this dish is fairly dry, so you need to serve it with a dollop of Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche.

  • 250ml of sunflower or other cooking oil.
  • 4 onions
  • 250g of brown or green lentils
  • 2 teaspoonfuls of cumin seeds
  • 1 and a half tablespoonfuls of coriander seeds
  • 200g of rice (I used brown rice)
  • Half a teaspoonful of ground turmeric
  • 1 and a half teaspoonsfuls of ground allspice
  • 1 and a half teaspoonsfuls of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoonsful of sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 350ml of water
  1. Peel the onions and slice thinly.
  2. Put the lentils into a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until they're softened, but still have bite. Drain them through a colander and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile(!) put the oil in a wok and heat over a high heat.
  4. Add a third of the onions to the oil, and fry for five to seven minutes until brown and crispy. Stir now and again with a slotted spoon. Once they're done, put them into another colander or a sieve or something, and sprinkle with salt.
  5. Cook the next third of the onions in the same way, sprinkling with salt afterwards, and then the final third.
  6. Now (carefully!) drain off the remaining oil into a little bowl, and wipe out the wok.
  7. OK, that's the hard part done. Place the wok over a medium heat and add the cumin and coriander seeds. Toast them for a minute or two, to release their aromas.
  8. Add the rice, the ground spices, sugar, and two tablespoonsful of the oil you drained off.
  9. Season with salt and pepper to your taste and mix it all together.
  10. Add the cooked lentils and then the 350ml of water. Bring to the boil, put the lid on and then simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes.
  11. Remove from the heat, lift the lid and cover with a clean tea towel. Put the lid back on and leave for ten minutes. I've no idea why.
  12. Tip the rice and lentil mix into a bowl and mix in half of the fried onions. Pile the rest of the onions on top.

Cheese and leek tarts

Hmmm, savoury tarts, love them. This is a great vegetarian recipe - eat them as a snack or as part of a meal. The flavour is very delicate, and you could try using different cheeses. The original recipe, from Nigel Slater, called for a cheese called taleggio, which I hadn't heard of and couldn't find, so I used Cheshire cheese. However, in future I would consider using a mild blue cheese like dolchelatte, or even something strong like parmesan or stilton. I love cheese and pastry so much. From following this recipe I had loads of the filling left over, so although you're supposed to make 12 tarts, you could make many more, or one big pie.

  • 500g of leeks (about three of them)
  • 100g of unsalted butter
  • 100g of Cheshire cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to your taste
  • 375g of puff pastry (either ready rolled or a block)
  • 1 egg
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Cut the roots and tough green stalks off the leeks. Slice the rest thinly. Put the slices in a colander and rinse them thoroughly.
  3. Take a heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt the butter in it over a gentle heat.
  4. Add the leeks, still wet from their wash, to the butter.
  5. Cover the pan with a sheet of greaseproof paper. I know! Weird, huh? But I obeyed Nigel, and who knows what might have happened if I didn't. Put the lid on top of the paper, and cook over a low to medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir now and again, because you don't want the leeks to brown, or the paper to catch fire.
  6. Cut the cheese into little cubes and mix it with the leeks, along with some salt and pepper.
  7. Roll out the pastry (if it isn't rolled already) to about half a centimetre thick.
  8. Cut out 12 discs that are 8cm across. Place half of them on a baking tray (cover the baking tray with some greaseproof paper first).
  9. In a little bowl, beat the egg with a fork. Use the egg to brush the edges of the six pastry circles on your sheet.
  10. Put a dollop of leek mixture in the centre of each pastry circle.
  11. Put the six remaining pastry circles on top of each tart, and press down the edges lightly. Cut two slits in the top of each one.
  12. Brush each tart with the remaining egg and bake for 25 minutes.

Rhubarb and almond tart

Yes, yet another rhubarb recipe! But I just love the stuff, and this one pairs rhubarb with almonds and also orange, which is a great combination. This recipe came on a flyer from Sainsbury's. It's very easy to make.

  • Puff pastry (either ready rolled or a block - either way you won't use it all, so plan some other pastry dish at the same time)
  • 100g of unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 100g of caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g of ground almonds
  • 1 orange
  • A quarter of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 225g of rhubarb
  • 1 tablespoonful of flaked almonds
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
  2. Use the extra butter to lightly grease the inside of a cake tin that's 18cm across, and has a loose bottom.
  3. Roll out the pastry (if it's not already rolled) to about half a centimetre thick. Put a dinner plate topside down on it and cut around it.
  4. Press the circle of pastry into the bottom of the cake tin, lining the base and part-way up the sides.
  5. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together.
  6. In a little bowl, beat the eggs together with a fork.
  7. Add the eggs to the sugary butter, along with two tablespoonsful of the ground almonds. Mix all this together.
  8. Grate the zest from the orange and add this to the mixture, along with the cinnamon and the rest of the ground almonds. Fold it all together into a smooth batter.
  9. Spoon the batter into the pastry-lined cake tin.
  10. Trim the ends of the rhubarb and chop it into chunks. Arrange these artfully on top of your tart.
  11. Sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top.
  12. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, until golden. I must say mine wasn't done in that time, and it stayed in the oven for a further quarter of an hour without going golden, but it tasted good all the same.

Spiced beef

This recipe is really easy and also very tasty. I got it from a Guardian supplement, and I think it's by Dan Lepard. It has a sort of Mexican flavour, and you can serve it with tortillas, salsa and guacamole, but I served it with steamed spring greens.

  • 3 onions
  • 1.5 kg of beef (the recipe says shin, but I couldn't find it, so I just used diced casserole beef)
  • 4 teaspoonfuls of ground cumin
  • 4 teaspoonfuls of smoked sweet paprika powder
  • 2 teaspoonfuls of chilli powder
  • Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoonful of cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoonful of plain flour
  • 1 teaspoonful of salt
  • 2 teaspoonfuls of brown sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
  2. Peel and slice the onions, chunkily.
  3. Place the onions into the bottom of an ovenproof casserole dish that has a lid. Place the diced beef on top.
  4. Mix all the rest of the ingredients together in a little bowl.
  5. Sprinkle half the spice mixture over the beef.
  6. Put the lid on the pot and and bake for two hours. After this time the beef should feel tender when you prod it with a fork.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining spice mix over the beef, then mix the whole stew together.
  8. Replace the lid and bake for a further 30 minutes, until thickened and tender.