Did I already say how much I love this place? And how much I love this cookbook? I love it so much that I could not contemplate closing it in a box, and it is the only cookbook that made the move with me.
Their cooking can be summarized – their words, not mine – in ‘garlic and lemon’. Love it or hate it. I had a chance to try the cookbook because it was in the library, after reading this recension. I fell in love with the recipes, and obviously, first time I went to London for a trip, I basically choose the hotel because it was just a few meters away from their Notting Hill shop. It was no disappointment, also on subsequent visits.
I had quite a hard time choosing one recipe from the book, since I more or less tried them all. Just to give you an idea of how hard the choice exactly was, I am posting also a few pictures of other items I have cooked from their books (plus a few recipes I second guessed after eating)- if you want the recipes, feel free to ask.
(Funny note. I tend to take pictures of items with many calories and with chocolate, mainly. Food porn, really… My gallery gives you quite a distorted idea of the content of the book, which is full of delicious, fresh and healthy salads – the sweets tend to be a bit on the decadent side, on the other hand – and this is the main reason why I have used it so much. )
I finally choose this soup because I have been making it every week, more or less, since when I first bought the book. This comes from a person who very rarely does a single recipe twice. There exist similar lentil soup combinations in arabic cooking, but the precise mixing of spices, garlic, coriander, lemon and swiss chard brings it to another level. It is totally addictive, healthy and quick. Perfect fare for week dinner.
Note on ingredients: yes, the list is long and not easy to come by in every place. For instance cilantro here is quite an expensive rarity. You can easily substitute fresh spinach for chard, actually I might prefer them here (if you buy spinach with their root attached, don’t throw them away, wash them well and chop them in, they are full of flavour). You can leave out some of the ingredients, and avoid mashing the garlic if you are worried about bad smells. It will still be good. Then, once, try the original combination, and enjoy the surprise effect. When you make it, prepare a large batch, it is delicious when it is cold and thicker as well.
Note on cilantro: I think it is fundamental here. The funny part is that I did not actually like cilantro, once (feels like a lifetime ago, but it was maybe just… five years ago? four?). It is not very common in Italy, though apparently it could have originated from that area and was quite popular with the Romans. I tried it once and could not understand how people could eat something so horribly smelling – was there maybe something wrong with my bunch? Then I became more acquainted to it, started to enjoy its pungency with Indian dishes, and then… I don’t know how it happened, but I cannot seriously contemplate cooking without it any more. Really, an acquired taste.
Lemon, red lentil and chard soup
Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter, 2-3 as a main)
200 gr red split lentils
2 lt water
1 tablespoon oil
2 medium red onions
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves and stalk
1 large bunch spinach or a medium swiss chard
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, whole
2-3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon butter
zest of one lemon + 1 lemon, quartered
In a large pan boil lentil and water without salt. Meanwhile, slice the onions quite thinly and saute them with oil in a non sticking pan until golden (use medium/high flame, they should be well browned, although not burned). Chop coriander and spinach or chard. If using chard, keep stalk and leaves separate.
When the lentils are soft, whizz half of them with a hand blender. Spice with cumin, cinnamon, salt and black pepper. Add onions and chard stalks, if using, and let the soup simmer for five minutes. Add chopped cilantro and spinach or chard leaves and let it cook a few more minutes, until all is soft.
Meanwhile mash in a mortar garlic and coriander seeds. Melt the butter in a pan, add garlic and coriander paste and let it gently heat for a minute.
When the soup is ready, add the garlic and coriander butter and let it rest for a few minutes. Garnish with plenty of lemon zest and a few cilantro leaves. Serve with quartered lemon and make sure everybody puts a generous squeeze of lemon juice in their portion.