Spicy Roasted Pumpkin & Red Lentil Soup

One of the first things I do every morning is think about what I might prepare for dinner that evening. Today I have been offered a suggestion in the form of a ready disected and roasted pumpkin and a packet of red lentils, strategically displayed where I wouldn’t miss them.

In a scene reminiscent of Ready, Steady, Cook I lean on the counter staring at the two ingredients in an effort to draw inspiration. It wasn’t too difficult to come up with a few ideas but given the frosty morning and the hope of little improvement for the remainder of the day, I opted for an Indian themed soup.

This simple recipe requires no culinary prowess and I am not even going to proffer precise quantities for all ingredients as it’s mostly created by taste and in quantities you desire.

Lentils are bloody marvelous, so versatile and help lower cholestral too. I use them in a multitude of dishes from soups to stews because they are so quick and easy to use. Rinse and chuck them into your favourite stock or plain old H2O. For this dish, I’m using 500gms of red lentils but then I currently have nine mouths to feed! Don’t fret about making too much as it freezes very well.

Firstly, rinse the lentils in cold water. I’m using the Nature’s Selection brand which require no pre-soaking, so follow the instructions you have.

Spicy roasted pumpkin & red lentil soup
Spicy roasted pumpkin & red lentil soup

Finely chop a large onion and gently fry in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. As the onion begins to very lightly brown, add a couple of cloves of minced garlic. After a further minute or so, combine a heaped teaspoon of turmeric, cumin and coriander but you can reduce or increase any combination depending on your own taste. Gently frying at this stage helps to release the flavours and aromas of the spices better than adding to the soup later. Having said that, keep tasting periodically and adding more until the moment you serve.

Add your shiny clean lentils to a suitably sized pot and drown in chicken or vegetable stock. I’m starting with a litre and a half but can easily add more later if required and probably will.

Now scrape the flesh away from the hard pumpkin skin if soft, else cut the skin away and chop roughly.

Throw everything into your pot, bring to the boil and simmer for approximately 45 minutes. If you prefer, you can liquidise the soup for smooth finish but this just adds to the washing up and I consider it excessive faffing about and in any case, I quite like the non-liquidised texture.

If you have any fresh coriander leaves, roughly chop and use as garnish. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or natural yoghurt and accompany with mini papadums or fresh crusty bread.

Bon appétit!
Mwynhewch eich bwyd!

Gobbledegeek’s Cauliflower Cheese

So I’ve had this cauliflower in the fridge for quite some time now, hoping it would gracefully grow old and black so that I could avoid preparing a cheese sauce but to my horror, and ignoring a barely visible amount of blackening, it looked as good as the day I dumped it there. So I must bite the bullet and prepare a sauce that in all honesty, is not so much of a chore but will require a little extra work if it is to feed several hungry mouths.

A fresh hoon brain
A fresh hoon brain

We’ll start by preparing the milk. Throw a couple of bay leaves, a quartered onion and half a dozen cloves into the milk, season with sea salt and black pepper and bring to the boil. I use between 1 and 1.5 litres and this expands considerably once you start adding cheese, so bear this in mind when selecting your pan. You can experiment with other infusions if you’re feeling adventurous.

Once your infusion begins to boil, remove the pan from the heat and discard the ingredients when cool. Allowing the milk infusion to cool will help avoid lumps later.

Moving on to the cauli, start by removing the stem and any unwanted foliage. At this stage you should have already removed it from the fridge, otherwise it could get a little cramped and quite likely dangerous too. You can remove any unsightly blackening with a potato pealer or a sharp knife. Cut into florets or if you prefer, simply cut into the required amount of portions.

Boil in salted water for 5 minutes and then drain. You could save the water for another dish if you wish and I’d suggest using it for a creamy cauliflower soup made with cumin, turmeric and fresh coriander, for instance.

While the cauli cools, we’ll do the roux for our béchamel sauce by taking equal quantities of flour and butter. Over a low to medium heat, melt the butter first and whisk in the flour to create a smooth, creamy mess akin to wet sand. That’s your classic roux, used as a base for several ‘mother’ sauces, which in turn are used as bases for all other sauces.

Still whisking, gradually add the cooled milk infusion until completely combined. As the mixture heats the fat reacts with the starch in the flour and thickens the milk. You should continue stirring over the heat until the floury taste subsides but before the mixture darkens too much, that is unless you need a base for a dark sauce, of course.

Now you can gradually add your cheese, transforming our béchamel into cheese sauce unless you wish to impress your dinner guests, then calling it a cheese béchamel is acceptable.

Quite cheesy
Quite cheesy
Cheesy!
Cheesy!

Did you know that equal quantities of Gruyère and Parmesan combined with your basic béchamel create the famous Mornay sauce? However, for our cauliflower cheese, we’ll stick with good old Cheddar. Continue adding the cheese and tasting regularly until the desired cheesiness is met.

Finally, a little more seasoning can be added or try a little nutmeg before pouring over the cauliflower which has been sat patiently in a suitable ovenware dish. Grate a little more cheese over the top and chuck it in the pre-heated oven at about 180°C for 20 minutes or until slightly singed on top.

Cauliflower cheese
Cauliflower cheese

Depending on whether the cauliflower cheese is for lunch, dinner or just a side dish, you can pad it out and make it go further by adding chopped bacon or peas and even pasta, to name a few. Equal quantities of cauli and broccoli make a pleasant change when accompanying the Sunday roast, although my personal preference would be to include very little cheese in this case.

Bon appétit!
Mwynhewch eich bwyd!