DHALIGHTFUL A lentil dhal is a delicious, healthy way to introduce spices into your diet.
Spice it up for summer
Everything has a context. Never was this more apparent recently than when Paul Flynn from the Tannery asked me to be his assistant in a cook-off with Martin Shanahan of Fishy Fishy restaurant, Kinsale.
The context was that Paul had lost the cook-off the previous week, and for many reasons, including his personal well being and pride, he wanted a win when he came to Westport for round two. Cooking a meat dish, he decided to focus naturally enough on one of Mayo’s best assets: fresh, wild lamb. He planned to serve delicious chops alongside a wild garlic risotto.
Martin had his own trick up his sleeve, however. It involved smoking fish between cedar wood on a fire. So, while a risotto is a fine, fine dish – indeed, I only wrote about one a month back – it soon became apparent that in the context of winning in Co Mayo, this would not suffice.
Paul decided on the chops garnished instead with the wild garlic pesto, local spuds roasted, and sweet onions with gravy. Needless to say, with that recipe, and my help, he romped home and confidence returned! But it shows you that in some contexts what sounds good may not actually be a winning combination.
Spice it up
Bearing in mind that context is everything, I should tell you I knew nothing of spices growing up. Back in the ’80s we were raised on simple meats, the odd fish, spuds, leeks, broccoli, onions, root vegetables and maybe a salad with nuts if the boat was being pushed out.
In the ’90s things started to change, as we were introduced to sun-dried tomatoes, green basil pesto and wild new things like that. But it was not until the noughties that I came to appreciate spices and their unique combination. Many spices are good for your body, and a good idea to incorporate into your diet. In fact, we are currently treating our dog Frodo’s arthritis with a half a teaspoon of turmeric a day.
Really, the Brunette has introduced me to a lot, and she is the one who introduced me to a true understanding of cumin, coriander and turmeric, as well as to chopping up red chillies directly into your lunch! The following quick and easy summer dishes are examples of how easy it is to spice up your food.
Spicy chicken and potato
Dice 700gm new potatoes and 250gm chicken pieces. Cook the diced potatoes on pan in hot oil, stirring, for five minutes. Add chicken and stir for another five minutes, then add ¾ teaspoon of turmeric, ¾ teaspoon of cumin and a little salt. You can also add coriander and mustard seeds for extra effect.
Lentils are, obviously, a slight diversion from spuds and traditional Irish vegetables, but dhal, an Indian pulse-based staple, is a very satisfying dish to make, and a good point to start understanding spices.
Boil 200g of lentils and set aside (you can add a bay leaf, ginger and cinnamon stick during the boiling if you like – but be sure to pick them out). Fry a diced onion slowly in butter. Add two teaspoons of turmeric, one teaspoon of cumin and a ½ teaspoon chilli, and cook for four minutes stirring. Add lentils and cook, stirring all the while, for five minutes. Serve with spinach and salad.
Red’s wet beer stir fry
Fry one sliced onion in butter, add one courgette (thick-cut into rings) and two-inch lengths of leek sliced in half. Then add 1 teaspoon of turmeric, a ½ teaspoon of chilli and 1 teaspoon of ground cumin. Fry for three minutes, then add ½ a cup of beer and bring to boil. Throw in some mange tout and simmer for a minute or two, then serve.
Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Ann’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm, and Newport Street Market on Fridays, 11am to 4pm.