As the evenings start to lengthen, make the most of that extra time by inviting friends over for a relaxed, warming dinner with Bill Granger’s seasonal recipes
At a time when it seems everyone is starting their own supper club, the bar for the humble dinner party has naturally become that bit higher. It's no longer OK to make chilli with canned beans, budget mince and too much chilli powder – OK, maybe that was more from my student days. But whatever you made a few years back could well seem a little dull or done. Doing something different doesn't have to mean hours of preparation, although, as always, I'm a great believer in dishes that can be partly prepped beforehand. As autumn sets in, I'm thinking sweet, mellow, softly spiced flavours and colours to match. Grown-up food for a relaxed dinner with good friends. Definitely not a supper club.
Okra and green chilli stew with labneh
Okra is an acquired taste and texture; I've only recently started cooking with it at home, much to my daughters' disapproval.
1 tbsp light-flavoured oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
500g/1lb okra, thinly sliced
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 green chillies, chopped
4 large juicy tomatoes, chopped
50ml/2fl oz stock
Juice ½ lemon
Olive oil, to drizzle
For the labneh
2 tsp salt
500g/1lb thick Greek yoghurt
First make the labneh by stirring the salt into the yoghurt. Line a fine sieve with a clean cloth or several layers of kitchen towel, tip the yoghurt and salt mix into the centre then gather up the edges and twist to form a ball. Leave to strain for up to 12 hours. You should end up with a creamy soft-cheese texture; don't worry if you can't wait for 12 hours, the labneh will be well on its way after two.
Now heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok, add the onion and cook until starting to soften, then add the okra and cumin and fry quickly until fragrant. Reduce the heat, add the green chillies and tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes start to break down. Pour in the stock and continue cooking for a few minutes; the okra will be tender and the tomatoes soft and pulpy. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a glug of olive oil and serve with the labneh and flatbreads.
Chicken and dried apricot pilaf
Fragrant and comforting, it's the Moroccan spice blend of ras el hanout that really makes this dish. The ingredient, which is widely available, has almost become my modern equivalent to that curry powder of my student days.
2 tbsp olive oil
8 chicken thighs
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 tsp ras el hanout
400g/13oz basmati rice
750ml/1¼ pints chicken stock
1 tsp honey
Zest of 1 orange
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
100g/3 ½oz chopped pistachios
200g/7oz chopped dried apricots
2 handfuls of coriander leaves
Heat the oil in a large pan (I use a deep cast-iron frying pan), sear the chicken thighs for 1 to 2 minutes on each side and remove from the pan.
Add a bit more oil if necessary and cook the onion with a pinch of sea salt, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the ras el hanout and cook until fragrant.
Stir in the rice, return the chicken to the pan and pour in the stock. Stir in the honey, orange zest and sherry vinegar.
Bring to the boil, cover the pan, turn down to a simmer and cook for about 40 minutes until the stock has been absorbed and the rice is cooked through. Stir in the pistachios, dried apricots and most of the coriander, and garnish with the remaining leaves.
Plum and fig pudding with honey yoghurt cream
This is a cut-out and keep recipe that can be used with any other kinds of fruit. This combination, however, is perfect for this time of year.
170g/6oz caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour
2 plums, stone removed, quartered
2 figs, torn
150g/5oz self-raising flour
50g /5oz ground almonds
125ml/4fl oz milk
75g/3oz unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
For the honey yoghurt cream
200g/7oz tub Greek yogurt
200ml/7fl oz double cream
1 tbsp honey
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and lightly grease a one-litre baking dish.
Put two tablespoons of the sugar in the baking dish with the cornflour, plums and figs and toss so the fruit is coated. Arrange evenly over the base of the dish. Bake for five minutes or until softened.
Meanwhile, sift the flour and a pinch of sea salt into a large bowl and stir in the remaining sugar and ground almonds. Make a well in the centre. Whisk together the egg, milk, butter, vanilla and lemon zest and pour in. Stir until smooth.
Remove the dish of plums and figs from the oven and gently pour in the batter. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a skewer poked into the middle of the pudding comes out clean.
To make the cream, pour the yoghurt and cream into a bowl and softly whip, fold through the honey and serve with the warm pudding.
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