Cupboard love: Mark Hix cooks with pulses

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Want to conjure up healthy, heartwarming dishes? Then have a rummage in your larder for those unused pulses, suggests our man in the kitchen.

At this time of year, when the weather is cold and the season's festivities have taken their toll, it makes sense to introduce a few pulses into your suppers. January is the ideal time to clear out your larders or cupboards; you never quite know how long some of those packets have been lurking at the back of those shelves and drawers. Here, then, are some simple pulse-orientated recipes that are hearty and delicious and will give your New Year a kick-start.

Chickpea and coconut curry

Serves 4-6

The combination of the chickpeas, spices and coconut make this a great vegetarian main course – or you could serve it as a starter or side dish.

200g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water
Salt
½tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the curry

4tbsp vegetable or corn oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 green chillies, trimmed and finely chopped
3 medium onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
3cm piece of cinnamon stick
2 cloves
The seeds from 6 cardamom pods
12 or so fennel seeds
1tbsp freshly-grated turmeric or ½tsp powder
2tsp mustard seeds
1tsp fenugreek seeds
1tsp ground coriander
½tsp garam masala
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
200ml coconut milk
4-5tbsp chopped coriander

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and then place them in a saucepan with a teaspoon of salt and the bicarbonate of soda and cover well with water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for about an hour, or until they are tender, then drain.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the garlic, chilli, onions and all of the dried spices and cook on a low heat for about 6-7 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes, about 600-700ml water and the chickpeas. Add a couple of good pinches of salt, bring to the boil and simmer over a medium heat for about 15-20 minutes or until the sauce is just coating the chick peas. Add the coconut milk and continue simmering for 3-4 minutes, then stir in the coriander. Season to taste and serve.

Cotechino with mixed pulses and mustard fruits

Serves 4

Cotechino is a kind of cooked salami, available from most good Italian delis and traditionally served with braised lentils or beans. Those little, quick-cooking, mixed pulses are a great larder stand-by for soups and this kind of dish.

Mustard fruits (aka mostarda) are available in Italian delis and good supermarkets and really give the dish a good kick, cutting through the fattiness of the sausage.

450-500g cotechino
A couple of good knobs of butter
2 shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into ½cm dice
1 stick of celery, peeled if stringy and cut into ½cm dice
80g small Italian soup pulses, soaked for 2 hours
300-400ml beef stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few pieces of mixed mustard fruits, sliced or cut into small chunks

First, make the sauce: heat the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the shallots and garlic for a minute.

Add the carrots, celery and drained pulses and 300ml of the stock; season, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until the pulses are tender and the stock has reduced and just coating the pulses. You may need to add some more stock during cooking. Cover and keep warm.

To serve, heat the cotechino in water or stock for 10-15 minutes, remove and cut into 2cm-thick slices or thinner if you wish.

Spoon the pulses on to warmed serving plates or bowls, place the cotechino on top and scatter the mustard fruits on top.

A kind of British cassoulet

Serves 4-6

50g lard or 3tbsp vegetable oil
750g neck of pork fillet, cut into rough 3cm cubes
140-200g whole piece of streaky bacon, cut into 2cm chunks
1½tbsp flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp tomato purée
3-4 good-quality sausages, lightly grilled
200g dried carling peas (maple peas) soaked overnight in plenty of cold water
Salt
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
A few sprigs of thyme
2 ltrs beef or chicken stock

For the topping

30-40g fresh white breadcrumbs
20-30g pork crackling, crushed up

Drain and rinse the carling peas, place them in a saucepan with the salt, the bicarbonate of soda and cover well with water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for about an hour, or until they are tender, then drain.

Heat the lard or oil in a heavy-based frying pan. Season the pork neck with salt and pepper, lightly flour and fry quickly on a high heat until nicely coloured all over. Remove the pieces of pork and place on a plate. Fry the pieces of bacon on a high heat until coloured and transfer to the plate with the pork.

Add the onions, garlic and thyme to the pan and cook gently over a low heat for 2-3 minutes until they soften, then transfer to a heavy-based saucepan. Add the rest of the flour and tomato purée and stir well, then gradually stir in or whisk in the beef stock. Add the drained peas, pork neck and bacon, season lightly and simmer for 40 minutes, skimming and reserving the fat in a pot. Add the sausages and continue simmering for another 15 minutes or so, or until the pork is tender and the sauce has thickened and coated the meats.

Mix the breadcrumbs, pork crackling and a little of the skimmed fat together, transfer the meats and sauce to an ovenproof dish, scatter the breadcrumb mixture on top and lightly brown under a medium grill or in a moderate oven.

Chicken supreme with butter beans

Serves 4

When I was a kid, our neighbour used to invite us in for lunch occasionally and she would serve us chicken supreme with butter beans – which was basically a can of Marks and Spencer's chicken in white sauce; I think she used to just throw in a can of butter beans too! I remembered it the other day and thought I would give it a bit of a makeover.

150g good-quality butter beans, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
8 large or 12 medium free-range chicken thighs, skinned and boned
1.5ltrs chicken stock
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 stick of celery, peeled if stringy and finely chopped
1 small bayleaf
A couple of sprigs of thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
60g butter
50g plain flour
3-4tbsp double cream
3tbsp chopped parsley

Rinse the butter beans and transfer them to a saucepan with the bicarbonate of soda and a couple of teaspoons of salt. Cover well with water, bring to the boil and simmer gently with a lid on for about an hour, or until they are tender.

Put the chicken thighs in a saucepan with the stock, onions, celery, bayleaf and thyme, season, bring to the boil; then simmer very gently for 1 hour, skimming every so often. Remove the thighs and put to one side.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, stir in the flour and stir on the heat for 30 seconds. Whisk the flour mixture into the stock and continue simmering gently for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.

Cut the chicken thighs into 4, then add to the sauce with the butter beans and continue simmering for about 5 minutes until the sauce just coats the chicken and beans. Add the cream and parsley and season to taste.

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