Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Spinach, chick pea and tamarind stew

I'm never keen on following recipes.

Granted, I have more than my fair share of cookbooks, but the thought of rigidly sticking to a recipe curls my toes. I hate rules, I hate routine...well showering daily is a pretty good one, but when it comes to cooking, I love to use these books as inspiration to invent my own creations.

Following one epic fail too many, I have decided that sometimes, the chef knows best (gracious I know...!)

In this instance, it is a chef whose work I hold in ultimately high esteem, and who I respect for shunning the gratuitous trawling of the 'celebrity' chef.

Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli who came to the UK in 1998 to study at the Cordon Bleu, produces some of the most visually stunning and vivaciously flavoursome dishes I've seen. And to top it off, it's all vegetarian.

I first became aware of his work whilst living in Clapham with a friend who worked for Yotam's publisher. On the coffee table was a copy of The Cookbook. Drawn by the bold and inviting imagery, I was blown away by the content, and spent the next few days waxing lyrical to anyone that would listen.

And now I own Plenty, equally brilliant and the source of my first recipe cover.

OK, now is the time to admit that I'm not exactly following this recipe to the letter. The reason, I couldn't source swiss chard in my primitive surroundings, so have therefore substituted the chard for spinach.

To serve four, you will need:

4 tsp of tamarind paste
400g of spinach
1 and a half tsp of coriander seeds
1 medium red onion - thinly sliced
2 tsp of caraway seeds
1 and a half tsp of olive oil
1 tsp of tomato puree
400g of chopped tomatoes
250ml of water
1 and a half tsp of soft brown sugar
400g of canned chickpeas (drained)
juice of 1 lemon
200g of greek yoghurt
handful of chopped fresh coriander and mint
salt and black pepper

400g brown rice
20g butter

Now, don't bulk at this list and think, jeez, how much will all that cost. OK, if you're starting from scratch then yes, it will add up. But once you've got caraway and coriander seeds, tomato puree, olive oil in store, they can be used in so many other dishes. Plus your water's on tap - just not in your garden hose...


  1. Dry roast the coriander seeds - remove and grind in a pestle and mortar (or in a bowl with the end of a rolling pin)
  2. In the same pan, add your oil, onion and carraway seeds and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes
  3. Add the tomato puree and cook through for 30 seconds
  4. Add the chickpeas, sugar, your now ground coriander seed and chopped tomatoes.
  5. Stir through the tamarind paste and season to taste
  6. Leave on a low heat for 30 minutes uncovered to allow the stew to thicken
  7. Now for your rice - cook as per the packs instructions, but should take in the region of 25 mins
  8. 15 minutes in, add the spinach to the stew to gentley wilt, check the seasoning and adjust if needed
  9. When the rice is cooked, spread evenly into four preheated bowls, and spoon the stem evenly on top
  10. Squeeze over the lemon, add a blob of yoghurt and sprinkle with the fresh herbs, then you're ready to go!

The aniseed from the carraway compliments the spice from the coriander seeds, the richness of the sauce and the sharpness of the lemon. Not the prettiest of dishes, but a flavour combination that needs to be tasted.

If you're a vegetarian looking for new recipes to shake up the mundane, then this book is all you need...if only I had the swiss chard...

Thank you Yotam, a true master of your art.

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