Feel my pulse: Mark Hix finds inspiration in a store-cupboard sensation

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Pulses, dried beans and peas are a crucial part of my larder – you never know when you may need a little inspiration to add to a stew or to knock up a sauce or dressing. I normally have a dozen or so different types that I randomly collect from delis and around the world on my travels, so I'm not short on ideas. Anything from a humble split pea to a black Beluga lentil can inspire a dish when you find yourself scratching round for ideas.

Dried peas, beans, lentils and barley will serve you well for a good year or more in your larder, and if you have open shelves in your kitchen they can also lend a great splash of colour and texture to your decor. Most types of cuisine will boast a good variety of interesting beans to give variation and texture to dishes. Just bear in mind that some of the larger ones, such as chickpeas and kidney beans, do take a good bit of soaking prior to cooking – so may require a little bit of advance-planning.

Roast silver mullet with green split peas and cumin

Serves 4

I've been using grey mullet for years and even used to fish for them as a kid in West Bay harbour in Dorset. When grey mullet have been in the sea, as opposed to up a muddy river, they taste great – certainly on a par with bass. Over the years, I've tweaked their name a little for menu purposes as they are more silver than grey and the word silver is so much more appealing than grey. Try to buy larger fish as you will get a better, thicker fillet.

4 fillets of grey mullet weighing about 180-200g each
A couple of good knobs of butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the green split-pea sauce

80g green split peas, soaked in cold water for 2 hours
4 shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp cumin seeds, chopped
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
1tbsp olive oil plus a couple of extra tablespoons or so
200ml vegetable stock
2tbsp chopped coriander

First make the green split-pea sauce: simmer the split peas in lightly salted water for about 15-20 minutes until they still have just a little bite. Meanwhile, gently cook the shallots, garlic, cumin and chilli in the butter for 2-3 minutes until soft. Drain the split peas and add to the shallots with the stock, season and simmer on a medium heat until the liquid has nearly all evaporated, the peas are tender and they are a spooning consistency. Stir in the coriander and adjust the consistency with some extra olive oil if necessary.

Season the grey mullet fillets, heat the butter in a frying pan until it's beginning to foam and cook the fillets, skin-side down first for 2-3 minutes on each side. Spoon the peas on to serving plates and place the mullet on top.

Chickpea and autumn vegetable casserole

Serves 4

Chickpeas are a great meaty convenience food to keep in the larder, either dried or canned. Chickpeas do vary in quality massively so the rule of thumb is generally you get what you pay for. Although this is a great vegetarian dish it can be enjoyed by anyone, even add some meat (such as chorizo) to it if you wish or simply serve it in the middle of the table as a side dish.

24 or so small shallots or baby onions, peeled
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
A few sprigs of thyme
250ml good strength chicken stock
1 small swede, peeled and cut into rough 1cm chunks
2 small carrots, trimmed, peeled and halved lengthways (or use whole Chantenay carrots)
250g chickpeas, cooked
2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the shallots in a pan with the garlic, thyme and vegetable stock, season, bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the shallots are tender. Remove the shallots and garlic with a slotted spoon and add the swede and carrots. Simmer until they are tender then add the chickpeas, shallots and garlic and continue simmering for five minutes.

If you wish to thicken the liquid slightly, liquidise a small ladleful and add back to the casserole. Re-season and serve.

Lamb's kidneys with mustard and pearl-barley cake

Serves 4

This is a bit of a take on a risotto Milanese, which is basically a pan-fried risotto cake. Pearl barley is a pretty flexible ingredient like rice and can be used for all sorts of dishes. Used like this it's a great replacement for a starchy potato dish.

12 lamb's kidneys, halved and sinew removed
A little vegetable oil for frying

For the sauce

A good knob of butter
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
1tsp flour
tsp tomato purée
A glass of red wine
400ml beef stock
1tbsp grain mustard

For the pearl-barley cake

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
A couple of good knobs of butter
60g pearl barley, soaked in cold water for two hours then drained
About 750ml chicken stock
50g mature cheddar, grated
2tbsp plain flour
2 small eggs beaten
40-50g fresh white breadcrumbs

To make the sauce, heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based saucepan and fry the onion for a few minutes until lightly coloured. Dust with the flour and stir well, then add the tomato purée and gradually stir in the red wine and stock. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about an hour or so. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and simmer until the sauce has thickened, then whisk in the mustard and remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, for the pearl-barley cake, gently cook the onion, garlic and thyme in the butter for 2-3 minutes, then add the pearl barley and stir well over a low heat for a minute. Gradually add the chicken stock in around four batches, season and cook on a very low heat, stirring every so often until the pearl barley is soft and tender. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheese, taste and season more if necessary, then leave to cool. Once cool, mould into four flat cakes about 8-9cm wide, with the help of a spatula or palette knife.

Have three dishes ready, one for the flour, one for the egg and the third for the breadcrumbs. Carefully coat the cakes in the flour, shaking off any excess then dip in the beaten eggs and finally in the breadcrumbs, pushing the crumbs well into the cakes with your hands. Re-shape if necessary and flatten a little and refrigerate until required.

Next, heat some vegetable oil in a non-stick or heavy frying pan and cook the pearl-barley cakes for 3-4 minutes on each side, adding some butter when you turn them over, then keep warm in a low oven. While the pearl-barley cakes are cooking, season the lamb's kidneys, heat the vegetable oil on a ribbed griddle plate or heavy frying pan and cook on a medium heat for a couple of minutes on each side, keeping them nice and pink; then leave to rest for a few minutes. Lay the kidneys on top of the pearl-barley cakes, then heat the sauce and pour around.

Spiced Puy lentil and portobello mushroom soup

Serves 4-6

This may look like a bit of a grey old murky soup but it's full of flavour. We tend to be put off foods that are grey (unless they are silver like the mullet above!) but flavour does of course come into it.

1 onion, peeled, halved and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A couple of good knobs of butter
4 large flat mushrooms, thinly sliced
80g Puy lentils, soaked for one hour in cold water
1.5ltrs vegetable stock
2-3tsp English mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

2tbsp crème fraiche
1tbsp finely chopped chives
Spanish pimento to dust

Heat the butter in a thick-bottomed saucepan and gently cook the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes until soft, add the mushrooms, cover with a lid and continue cooking, stirring every so often. Add the lentils, stock and mustard, season and simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Blend the soup in a liquidiser until smooth and strain through a sieve if you wish, or leave unstrained.

To serve, mix the crème fraiche and chives together, ladle the soup into warmed bowls, spoon the crème fraiche on top and dust with the pimento.

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