Thursday, 12 March 2009

the first ≤ten

In tandem with writing this blog, I'm also embarking on another project, ≤ten. Every two weeks She and I are hosting dinner for ten or fewer people on a Wednesday night. I've been trying to start a supper club since I arrived in London, and uni people will remember 'whine and dine' - girls' dinners with good food and gossip on the menu. I finally feel settled enough to commit to cooking for a decent number of people with a degree of regularity.

It's simple, everyone is invited, whether that be friends, family, friends of friends, strangers, and especially waifs and strays. Cooking is such a pleasure, and having a houseful of people even more so. Hopefully as well as providing food an a small amount of wine, it's a chance to meet different people, and maybe start something interesting. At the very least it's an excuse to meet, eat and speak- my favourite things.

So last night was the inaugural attempt, a couple of late drop-outs left us at 8, still a hearty number. I made curry in honour of Coz, who deserves special treatment - cauliflower and sweet potato, and my favourite lentil and spinach. The cauliflower curry was in fact Leon Gobi, so I have Allegra McEveady to thank for that one. I might transcribe the recipe when I have more time, but for now the lentils.

I've spoken a little about the current trend for heartbreak. I cooked this dish the first time around to dry tears. The gulf between the friend in question and her ex was evident in the way they approached food. She's another cooker and a baker, and he never seemed to need soul food. To be fair, soul food becomes special by association as much as anything else. I was reading recently that during the recession sales figures show us returning to our old favourites - shepherd's pie, fish fingers etc - there is security to be found in repetition, retracing our steps through food, and cooking on auto-pilot. Allowing yourself to be comforted through food can give you warm reassurance.

I think we are scared of mixing our food with our emotions because of the disquieting associations the modern understanding of 'comfort eating' brings, but there is a time for food as a crutch, food to evoke memories and feelings, and food to seal a new moment.

So, back to lentil and spinach curry. The genesis of the recipe is the back of a lentil packet, though I can no longer remember where that ended and this began.

This managed eight of us easily ...

1 1/2 medium butternut squashes, peeled and cut into one inch cubes
360g baby spinach
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
400g green lentils washed and drained
6 cardamon pods, bashed
2 tsp black mustard seeds
tsp chilli flakes
4 tbsp medium curry powder
75g butter
salt and pepper
little water
little vegetable oil

Brown the onions in the oil in a heavy based pan (this needs to be big!) before adding the spices and garlic

Cook for a moment to combine the flavours and add the cubed squash, stirring for a couple of minutes

Add the lentils, coats with the spices before adding just enough water to cover them. It's the same principle as cous cous here - you can add more water later, but if you add too much they'll just turn to mush

Bring this to a simmer, then cover and leave for 20 minutes stirring occasionally. The lentils should be softening, so keep tasting until they just have a little bit of bite to them, then stir in the butter and fresh spinach

Season liberally with salt and black pepper

And that's it. Soul food. It's the butter that does it, and the final seasoning of course. The dish just slips from something and nothing to refining the lentils into a creamy velvety base for the spices and spinach.

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