Dried goods are essential if you need to whip up a dinner-party supper in a hurry – and for that reason I always like to make a point of keeping my store cupboard stocked with an interesting array of provisions.
I love trawling around all the Middle Eastern and Asian shops in my neighbourhood and scouring the aisles for all those weird and wonderful dried ingredients, many of which I don't even recognise. They are the perfect base with which to make the following thrifty and delicious recipes.
Whipped butter beans with chilli and coriander
I'm a big fan of butter beans, but they do vary in quality, so try to buy the best-quality ones that you can find rather than the cheap ones. You could use the canned version but I think that you get a much better result if you use the dried variety.
150g dried butter beans, soaked in plenty of cold water for 10-12 hours
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
About 1ltr vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
120ml extra virgin olive oil
The juice of half a lemon
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
2tbsp coriander, chopped
Flatbread, to serve
Put the butter beans in a pan with the garlic, bicarbonate of soda and vegetable stock, season, bring to the boil and simmer very gently with a lid on for about 40-50 minutes or until tender and topping up with water if necessary. Drain in a colander, reserving the stock. Keep aside about 20 or so butter beans and put them in a bowl with the chilli, coriander and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil; season to taste.
Blend the rest of the beans in a liquidiser, with enough of the stock to help blend the beans, and trickle the rest of the olive oil in until it is well blended; then season and add the lemon juice to taste. Serve at room temperature spooned on to a large plate or individual serving plates, with the beans placed on top.
Anissa Helou, the Middle Eastern cookery writer, invited me a few weeks back to taste her Egyptian dish of koshari. I knew nothing about this delicious dish but I was happy to try it as I am endlessly curious about adding new Middle Eastern recipes to my repertoire. Anissa is opening a takeaway called Koshari Street (kosharistreet.com) serving only this rice dish in London's St Martin's Lane in early April – and if the koshari is as good as the one she made for me, it's going to be a big hit.
I loved the combination of the dried pasta, pulses and rice all topped with a zingy tomato and chilli sauce. Anissa also uses her own secret spiced nut recipe scattered f over the koshari, but I've been sworn to secrecy on the recipe; if you want to taste it you will have to visit Anissa's shop.
For the tomato sauce
3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, peeled, halved and very finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
250g good-quality chopped canned tomatoes with their juice
2tsp verjuice or vinegar
¼tsp finely-ground black pepper
¼tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
For the koshari
8tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 medium white onions, peeled, thinly sliced
60-70g vermicelli, broken into pieces
100g brown or puy lentils, soaked for an hour in cold water
150g basmati rice, rinsed
120g cooked weight of chickpeas (dried or canned)
60g mini macaroni or similar, cooked
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
First, make the tomato sauce. Put the oil and chopped onion in a saucepan and gently f cook over a medium heat until golden. Stir in the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes, then add the tomatoes, vinegar and spices. Simmer for 10-20 minutes or until thickened. Blend the sauce in a liquidiser until smooth and keep warm.
While the tomato sauce is cooking, start preparing the koshari.
Put the olive oil in a frying pan and place over a medium heat.
Add the onions and fry, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and spread on to paper towels to drain off the excess oil.
Add the vermicelli to the oil and sauté until lightly browned, then put to one side.
Put the lentils in a saucepan with about five cups of water.
Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15-30 minutes, depending on the type of lentils you are using. They should be quite tender by the time you add the rice.
Add the rice to the lentils. Simmer for another 10 minutes and stir in the vermicelli and the remaining oil; add salt to taste.
Wrap the lid of the pan with a clean kitchen towel, add the macaroni and chickpeas, place the lid back over the pan and remove from the heat.
Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes or until the vermicelli is tender and the liquid has been fully absorbed.
Stir in half the fried onion and reserve the other half for garnish. Use a fork to stir the rice so that you fluff it up at the same time.
Transfer the koshari to a serving dish, then ladle the sauce all over and scatter the remaining caramelised onion over the sauce. Serve hot.
Mushroom, wild garlic and ginger broth
I'm a real fan of dried Asian mushrooms and a few weeks ago I went off in search of abalone mushrooms which a friend of mine, Geoff Leong, had told me about. Anyway, I think I managed to find them and they looked rather like pom pom mushrooms. I keep five or six types of dried mushroom in my larder at all times and they can be made into a great, tasty and healthy broth. Some of these Asian mushrooms, such as shiitake and black fungus, can be bought ready-sliced, which makes using them quicker as they re-hydrate in no time.
1.5ltrs vegetable stock
60g root ginger, scraped and finely shredded
2tbsp light soy sauce
40-50g dried Asian mushrooms (black fungus, shiitake, cauliflower fungus etc) soaked for between 30 mins and 2 hours, depending if sliced or whole
4 spring onions, cleaned and shredded on the angle
A handful of wild garlic leaves, shredded
60g udon noodles, cooked
Put the vegetable stock in a pan with the ginger and bring to a simmer. Cut the mushrooms into even-sized pieces and add to the stock with the soy and simmer gently for about 30 minutes until tender, adding the noodles at the end. Add the spring onion and wild garlic, season to taste and serve.
Apricot pudding with pistachio
This pudding is another Anissa Helou creation and will be served in the new shop. It's dead-simple to make; but try to use the best-quality dried fruit that you can find. You can buy pistachio slithers in Middle Eastern supermarkets; or else you could just use peeled pistachios.
200g good-quality dried apricots, soaked in cold water overnight
40-50g pistachio slithers
Put the apricots in a saucepan with double the volume of water, bring to the boil and simmer gently with a lid on for 30-40 minutes. Remove from the heat, then blend the apricots in a liquidiser with enough liquid to make a smooth purée (you can use the excess cooking liquid as a drink). Leave to cool. Serve in glasses with the pistachios scattered on top.