Paneer, split pea and spinach curry

Paneer is a firm Indian cheese which is one of my all time favourite things to use in a curry. It holds its shape when cooked and takes on flavours perfectly. Paneer is also a good way of introducing even the most avid meat fan to vegetarian curries. I have used an old faithful curry paste blend that works well every time. I started the curry off the day before so the paneer had plenty of time to marinade however a couple of hours ahead would be fine if you don’t have the time. This curry is gently spiced so you can taste each element however if you want to ramp up the heat then go ahead by adding more chilli powder, or fresh chilli if you prefer.

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Ingredients- serves 2-3
For the curry paste
2 tsps of the following: ground cumin, ground coriander, chilli powder, turmeric
1 tsp amchur (mango) powder
1 tsp garlic puree or 1 crushed garlic clove
1 tsp ginger puree or 2cm piece of grated fresh ginger

For the rest of the curry
150g yellow split peas
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 block of paneer approx. 200g
1 red onion- finely chopped
1 tsp black onion seeds
6 plum tomatoes on the vine- chopped
100ml hot vegetable stock
100g baby spinach- shredded
Handful of fresh coriander- chopped

1. Get going on the curry paste by simply combining all of the listed ingredients with a splash of water to bring it together to form a relatively thick paste. Cut the block of paneer into chunks which are around an inch in size. Take half of the paste and add into a bowl with the paneer and ensure it is well coated. Cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge until you are ready to cook.

2. When ready to cook, the split peas need preparing before you get going with the rest of the curry. Place them in a large pan and add 400ml of water straight from the tap. Bring the pan to a boil, add the split peas, lower to a simmer and cook for half an hour until the split peas are tender. Keep checking the split peas as some may need slightly longer depending on the variety and size you use.

3. Meanwhile take a large wide bottomed pan (preferably non- stick!) and heat half of the vegetable oil over a medium to high heat. Take the marinated paneer and fry until it gets a little colour; turn the pieces regularly so the spice marinade does not catch. When they are golden, remove from the pan and set aside. If there are any pieces of marinade that have burnt onto the pan then give it a quick rinse as you will need to use this again.

4. Heat the remaining oil over a low to medium heat and cook the red onion gently. I always take plenty of time over making the base of my curry so the flavours develop. Cook the onion until translucent but ensure it does not colour too much as this can make onion taste bitter. When the onion is a minute or so away from ready, toss in the black onion seeds and finish off together. Spoon in the remaining curry paste that you reserved and cook gently for a few minutes.

5. Take the chopped tomatoes and add into the pan making sure they combine well with the onion mixture. Simmer until the tomatoes are reducing and thickening. The time this takes depends on the size of the tomatoes and how juicy they are but be patient as slowly cooking the tomatoes base will make all the difference.

6. When the split peas are cooked and tender, add these to the pan along with the paneer. Cover the pan and simmer again until hot and until the curry is the consistency you like. Along the way you may find that you want to add a splash of stock if the split peas get a little dry but, again, this depends on how juicy the tomatoes are. For the final few minutes of cooking, stir through the shredded spinach and finish off with some freshly chopped coriander. Serve the curry with your choice or rice or bread such as chapatis and enjoy.

Paneer, split pea and spinach curry- ‘the best curry you’ve ever made’ was the quote from my fellow diner so it must be a winning combination!

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Autumnal lentil and bratwurst stew with pan fried spaetzle

This is a warming, hearty recipe that is perfect for autumn. Spaetzle are German noodles which are usually boiled or pan fried and served with a main dish. This recipe was inspired by a meal eaten in Berlin and I have used readymade spaetzle however you can easily find recipes online if you have time to give it a go. You can also add some smoked ham into the base of the stew if you like. If you can’t get hold of bratwurst then any good quality sausage will work well.

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Ingredients- serves 4
1 large carrot- finely diced
2 celery sticks- finely diced
1 large onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves- finely chopped or crushed
100g diced smoked ham or pancetta (optional)
400g green lentils
600ml vegetable stock
1 tsp red wine vinegar
Fresh parsley
Bay leaves
4 bratwurst sausages
400-500g readymade spaetzle- alternatively you can find a recipe here: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/german-spaetzle-dumplings/

1. Get going by taking a large pan and heating a glug of oil over a medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic for a few minutes before adding in the carrot, celery and ham (if using). Stir through the lentils so they get a light coating of the onions and garlic.

2. Pop in the stock, vinegar and a couple of bay leaves and bring to the boil. I added 400ml of the stock to start with and reserved the rest and added little by little as some lentils are much more absorbent than others to judge it as you go. I always make more stock than I think I need just in case! Lower the heat, season well, cover loosley and simmer for around 30-40 minutes until the lentils are tender and the liquid is reducing but some still remains for the next step.

3. Just before the lentil stew is ready, cook the bratwurst as you wish. Bratwurst can be boiled, grilled or fried so pick the cooking method of your choice! To finish off, you need to pan fry the spaetzle for a couple of minutes until cooked through. Serve the spaetzle and lentil stew with a sprinkle of parsley, with the bratwurst on the side and tuck in! Of course, you can also chunk the sausage and toss that through the lentils if you like.

Lentil and spaetzle stew with bratwurst- a tasty take on a German classic!  

Balsamic roasted beetroot with lentil and sausages

This makes use of some of the best seasonal ingredients around at the moment and it is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Earthy, sweet and may make up the perfect combination!

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Ingredients- serves 2
150g green lentils
250g beetroot- washed and cut into wedges
1 large red onion- peeled and cut into wedges
3 garlic cloves- kept whole
2 tbsp good balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
4 good quality sausages- I used Toulouse style sausages
Handful of watercress leaves

For the dressing
3 tbsp olive oil
4 tsp wholegrain mustard
Squeeze of lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan. Get the lentils on the go by placing in a pan of cold water, bringing it to the boil for 10 minutes before lowering to a simmer for the next 20-25 minutes until the lentils are tender. When they are ready, drain and set aside.

2. For the roasted vegetables, place the beetroot and onion wedges in a roasting tray along with the whole garlic cloves (do not peel these). Add in the olive oil and vinegar and toss well to coat all the vegetable wedges. Roast for 45-60 minutes until the vegetables are tender when tested with a sharp knife. I checked the vegetables from time to time and turned them as needed to ensure even cooking.

3. Meanwhile cook the sausages until cooked through and golden on the outside. While they are cooking you can make the dressing by combining the mustard, oil and lemon juice. Remember to taste as you go and make any adjustments to suit your tastes. Take a large bowl and combine the lentils, vegetables and a splash of the dressing. You can either fish the garlic out of the roasting pan and discard or, do as I do, and squeeze the roasted garlic from the cloves and mix through with the lentils. Just before serving add in the watercress leaves.

4. Serve in warmed bowls with the juicy sausages on top of a bed of lentils and finished with a good drizzle of the mustard dressing.