Things have changed a lot at the dinner table from when I was growing up. Familiar, everyday scents of earthy, warm spices, have been exchanged for aromatic, fragrant herbs. Even the sounds are new; the quiet thud of fingertips, bringing together morsels of food from the plate to mouth, fade into memory. Now it’s the clinking or screeching (courtesy of the kids) of stainless steel edges against ceramic.That’s another major introduction; I have cutlery on mine! It has its merits but it means that I have sacrificed teaching the kids how to eat with their hands. It is, by no means, a bad change. Just different.
I do try to bring the two opposing directions together through the means of a saucepan. Or rather its contents. My family would not willingly sit to a spice rich meal every day and I, to be honest, would not want to be tied to the stove everyday making it either. More often than not, I just want a hint, a reminder of those familiar scents, sounds and tastes. That longing got me thinking and this recipe is what I came up with after a rummage through the fridge. I am not trying fusion style grub, just a comforting plate of food that’s tasty, a little bit different and good to eat. I don’t ask for too much. Well, not all of the time!
I tend to make something like this when the kids are tucked up in bed and TheScotsman and I can have a quiet bite together, watching telly and/or chatting. It doesn’t demand too much of me and a lot of it can be made in advance. This constitutes store-cupboard food, as lentils and spices are always in the pantry and a packet of prawns are ready-to-go in the freezer.
The french puy lentils are probably my favourite. Use any firm lentil of your choice, providing it keeps its shape after cooking. I always, always flavour the water they boil in with a heap of whole spices. I do not mind crunching on them in the finished dish; I love that burst of concentrated flavour. But, if biting on a coriander seed, albeit softened, is not for you, tie them in a muslin cloth and fish it out later.
Another flavour layer comes fennel, all jade green and frond topped and is a new, after-marriage, happy addition to my pans . It shares its flavour with abandon and is robust enough to take on strong spices. Like a lot of things with strong personalities, a little goes a long way. Cooked slowly until tender, mixed through with the onion and spice masala, the hard aniseed flavour mellows and sweetens and gives a welcome soft crunch against the nubblier lentils. Lastly, I dusted the prawns with spices, and finished them off in the pan, after the fennel and lentils were done, and then brought everything together. Squeeze in some lime to perk it up and throw over a carpet of fresh coriander. You’re done.
In a way, I reach home with this recipe; the home I have now and the one I came from.