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.
Nearing four weeks of lockdown in Almaty and supplies are holding up surprisingly well, especially now that spring greens are beginning to come on tap. This week our local veg shop had rocket, celery and sorrel – all the makings of a peppery green salad to perk up the lunch menu.
We’re coming to the end of our super-sized cabbage, which was bought in the early days of lockdown, so we decided to use the remaining leaves to make cabbage rolls, a popular dish in eastern and southern Europe.
We stuffed the leaves with some rip-red risotto, a recipe we made a few years back that combines coarse bulgur wheat with beetroot and walnuts (if you want a gluten-free option, you can use arborio rice or pearl barley instead).
Simmer the stuffed cabbage parcels in a tomato and herb sauce for thirty minutes for a winning lockdown lunch. It makes for a tasty veggie take on that beloved Ukrainian / Russian dish, golubtsi, or ‘little doves’, or dolma as they are dubbed in some parts of the Mediterranean and into the Caucasus.
Separate the leaves carefully from the cabbage. Place in boiling water for five minutes to soften. Put the leaves in cold water and then drain. Cut out the tough, lower bit of the stalk (about 2-3 cm). Place a tablespoon of filling above the cut and then fold and roll the leaves into cigar shapes.
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop, add the chopped spring onions, celery and parsley. Cook for five minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes. Add the tomato paste and water , stir well and bring to the boil.
Lay the stuffed leaves in an ovenproof baking dish and pour the hot tomato sauce over them. Cover the dish with tin foil and bake at 200 c for thirty minutes. Sprinkle the cooked cabbage leaves with basil leaves before serving with a green salad.
We’re heading towards the end of the second week of serious lockdown here in Almaty. Our local shops remain well-stocked with basics (we’re not supposed to go further than 500 metres form home) and the greengrocer’s reopened after closing for a week, so fresh vegetables are readily available.
For this week’s Lockdown Lunch we’re making kısır, Turkey’s bulgur wheat salad answer to the Middle East’s tabbouleh salad. Kısır is one of those dishes that everyone has their own recipe for, but the basic ingredients are fine bulgur wheat, onion, chilli pepper, tomato paste, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and pomegranate sauce.
We’ve added some radishes, tomatoes, spring onion and black olives to the standard package above that can be eaten as a main meal (you might want to add some nuts or beans for a protein punch) or as a side salad. If you are on a gluten-free diet, then you can use millet in place of bulgur wheat.
Kısır is easy to prepare and it benefits from sitting in the fridge overnight – leaving more time for all those Zoom parties and, of course, the Tajik football season, which kicked off last weekend.
Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)
100g fine bulgur wheat
200 ml vegetable stock or water
One medium onion
One medium tomato
One medium radish
One spring onion
One garlic clove
Ten black olives
Two tablespoons tomato paste
25 ml olive oil
25 ml pomegranate sauce
Few sprigs of parsley
One teaspoon chilli pepper flakes
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon sumac
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds and fry until they start to sizzle. Add the finely chopped onion and mashed garlic and cook for a few minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the chilli pepper and sumac and stir.
Add the fine bulgur wheat and stir to cover the grains then add the stock or water, Add the tomato paste, pomegranate sauce and the juice of half the lemon. Stir and bring to the boil. When boiling, turn off the heat, cover the pan and leave to stand for 30 minutes or so until most of the liquid is absorbed.
Fluff up the grains with a fork and add the grated radish, sliced spring onion and chopped parsley. Mix together and put in a salad bowl. Before serving, garnish with lemon and/or tomato slices and black olives.