It’s that in-between time of year as the nights grow longer and thoughts turn towards more substantial meals after a long summer of salads and lighter fare. The last of the seasonal vegetables such as tomatoes and courgettes are perfect for stuffing and baking in the oven, making a bridge between summery salads and the heartier soups and stews of winter that are coming up.
We stuffed some courgettes with a mixture of red lentils, apricots, tomato, onion, bulgur wheat and lemon juice to make a versatile roundel that can be served as part of a main course or eaten on its own as a meze, a fully vegan alternative to the sausage roll!
The autumn fruit is at its best at the moment, and we’ve added some pear and pomegranate to an autumnal red cabbage, carrot, celery and radish salad to accompany these apricot and lentil courgette roundels to make a great lunch or supper. By adding a jacket potato, you can make it into a more filling main course.
Ingredients (makes enough mixture for 10-12 roundels)
Three medium sized courgettes
100 g red lentils
50 g dried apricots (or four fresh apricots if available)
One small red onion (approx 75 g)
One medium tomato (approx 100 g)
50 g fine bulgur wheat
25 ml olive oil
200 ml vegetable stock
Juice of half a lemon
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon red chilli flakes
Black pepper to taste
Cut the dried apricots into eight pieces and soak in hot water for at least 30 minutes. While the apricots are soaking, heat the oil in a heavy based pan and add the cumin seeds. When they start to sizzle, add the finely chopped onion and fry over a medium heat until they start to soften. Grate the tomato into the fried onion and cook over a low heat for five minutes or so, stirring occasionally.
Now add the washed lentils, pour in the stock and stir. Cook over a low heat for 15-20 minutes until most of the water has been absorbed. Add the fine bulgur wheat, mix it in well and leave covered for 15 minutes. Drain the apricots and stir them into the mixture. Add the lemon juice, chilli flakes and black pepper to taste and mix well.
While the lentils are cooking, start to prepare the courgettes by slicing off the ends to make them flat. Cut into 3 cm slices. Gouge out the seeds with a small spoon, leaving a little bit of flesh at the bottom of the roundel.
Pre-heat the oven to 180 c. When the lentil mix is cool, pack it into the courgette roundels and stand them on a baking tray with the filling topmost. Bake at 180 c for 30 minutes or so – the courgette should still be firm and not too squidgy and the lentil mix should rise slightly and be beginning to brown on top.
Serve alongside a salad of red cabbage, carrot, celery, radish, pear and pomegranate and a jacket potato, drizzling pomegranate sauce over the roundels or allow to cool and serve the roundels as a snack on their own.
This time round on KCC we’re turning our attention to plov — Central Asia’s favourite rice dish. There are no hard and fast rules for plov, with regional variations prizing different ingredients and each family having its own take on what should go into the dish. One thing is for sure — this spicy rice, carrot, onion, garlic and dried fruit concoction makes for a great centrepiece for any party and is perfect for sharing with family and friends.
KCC travelled up to Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan to visit a modern day plov-meister who has perfected a tasty, meat-free take on this classic Uzbek dish. Our plov-meister learnt his trade on the mean streets of Hojeli, Karakalpakstan and in the student dorms of Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
There are no strict cooking times for this recipe — it’s more of a feeling than an exercise in clock watching. Apart from the holy trinity of onion, carrot and rice, our plov-meister deploys whatever is to hand in the kitchen, adding dried fruits and spices along with a surfeit of garlic. For best results, your plov should be cooked in a kazan, a cast iron cauldron, but a deep, heavy-based saucepan or a casserole dish will suffice at a pinch. The pan should retain the heat to enable the plov to cook slowly and for the myriad flavours to meld.
Serve the plov alongside a spicy achik chuchuk tomato and onion salad, steaming bowls of green tea and Uzbek bread, non, click here for a recipe from Caroline Eden’s excellent Central Asian focussed cookbookRed Sands.
Ingredients (makes enough for 8-10 servings)
100 ml cooking oil (For the authentic Uzbek taste track down some cottonseed oil, but failing that sunflower, rapeseed or olive oil works just as well)
500 g onion
500 g carrot
500 g short grain rice
6 heads of garlic
150 g currants /raisins /sultanas – or a mix of all three
100 g dried apricots (with stones)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
For the salad:
250 g tomatoes
250 g onion
One teaspoon dried basil
1 – 3 Chilli peppers, finely sliced (adjust as to how hot you like your food)
Heat the oil over a low heat in a heavy-based pan and then add the sliced onion. Fry the onion until it gets a golden-brownish colour so that later the rice will get its distinctive orangey colour. Cut the carrots into 5 cm long slices, a few millimetres wide and then add to the onions. Cook until the carrots are very tender so that they can easily be cut by a spatula or a wooden spoon while stirring.
Now add the spices, the whole dried apricots, currants, sultanas or raisins (or all three) and whole heads of garlic. Cook for a few minutes to allow these ingredients to absorb the oil and the carrot/onion juice.
Rinse the rice carefully until the water runs clear and then put the washed rice on top of the spicy, fruity vegetable base and then pour water over the top through a fish slice to allow an even distribution of the liquid.
Cover the rice with an extra 1 cm of water and then cook over a high heat and when the water disappears from the top of the rice, turn it down to a very low heat, close the lid and allow it to steam for about 20 minutes.
Serve with a spicy tomato and onion salad — achik chuchuk — a salad made from thinly sliced tomato and onion, a sprinkling of dried basil and diced chilli peppers, according to how hot you like it, and oven-fresh non bread.