Cheap, versatile and healthy: store-cupboard essentials are the inspiration behind these winter dishes, says Mark Hix. Photographs by Jason Lowe

I've always enjoyed collecting unusual pulses and other dried foods from around the world, and when the fridge is bare and I'm looking for inspiration, I find myself scanning the shelves of my larder. Most people are rather jealous of my larder, which I admit is probably bigger than the dry stores of most restaurants, although one problem is that it gets rammed with all sorts of stuff that I never use; I should probably have a bit of a spring clean. You'll notice that I've also included recipes here that use spelt and pearl barley – not actually pulses, I realise, but the sort of healthy grains that you might well have in your store-cupboard.

I know that creating delicious dishes with random ingredients is easier said than done – but this is where pulses come in handy. You can mix and match them a bit, and while some of them need soaking, there are plenty that don't, including lentils and split peas. I also love packets of mixed pulses: they can add real character to a soup or salad.

By the way, thanks for all your e-mails on the free-range chicken issue that I wrote about on 9 February – most illuminating.

Ham hock with pease pudding

Serves 4

As well as making a hearty main course, a ham knuckle is great to have in the fridge for sandwiches or to serve with a salad or eggs.

4 unsmoked ham hocks or knuckles weighing 300-400g each, soaked overnight in water, to remove any excess salt
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
5 cloves
1tsp black peppercorns
120g yellow or green split peas, soaked overnight
2tbsp chopped parsley
A few good knobs of butter

Wash the ham hocks in cold water and put them into a large pot with the onions, carrots, bay leaf, cloves and peppercorns. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour. Drain the split peas and tie them loosely with string in a piece of muslin and put them into a pot with the ham and vegetables and top up with water if necessary. Continue to simmer for another hour then remove the bag of peas and check if they have turned into a chunky purée by just pressing the bag between your fingers; if so remove from the pan, if not return and continue cooking. Check the hocks as well to see whether the meat is coming away from the bone; it's difficult to put a cooking time on cuts like this.

Once the ham hocks are cool enough to handle, remove and discard most of the outer layer of fat with a knife, leaving about cm of fat to protect the meat when roasting. Carefully remove the smaller bone by twisting and pulling it out, leaving the larger bone attached. If you use large hocks, remove some of the meat and keep for a salad or sandwiches, or as a garnish for a soup. To serve, reheat the hocks in a low oven with some butter and parsley, then reheat the pease pudding with butter and a little water, if necessary, to create a sauce-like consistency.

Hare salad with treviso and spelt

Serves 4

You don't see hare often. It's probably because the thought of cooking an animal in its own blood, as with jugged hare, puts people off. But there's no blood involved in this recipe; ask a good butcher to sell you just the saddle.

2 hare fillets from the saddle
60g spelt or pearl barley, soaked for 2 hours in cold water
A couple of good knobs of butter
A couple of handfuls of treviso, trevisiano or radicchio
A handful of other red salad leaves such as red mustard leaf and amaranth
A handful of flat parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing

1tbsp good quality red wine vinegar
4tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Cook the spelt in simmering salted water for 20-30 minutes or until soft, then drain.

To make the dressing, mix the red wine vinegar with the olive oil and season. Heat the butter in a heavy-based frying pan, season the hare fillets and fry on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes on each side, keeping them nice and pink. Mix the treviso and salad leaves, season, toss in the dressing and arrange on plates. Slice the hare fillets into 6-8 slices on the angle and arrange on the salad.

Black beluga lentil soup

Serves 4-6

Black beluga lentils are similar to Puy lentils but they are grown in the cool climate of America's Northern plains. Some lentils tend to go murky when cooked but these beauties keep their remarkable satin-black colour.

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
A small piece of root ginger weighing about 30g, scraped and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small chilli, chopped
2tsp cumin seeds
1tsp fenugreek
1tsp black mustard seeds
1tsp fennel seeds
A couple of good knobs of butter
1.5 litres vegetable stock
100g black beluga lentils, soaked overnight
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2tbsp chopped coriander
2tbsp natural yoghurt (optional)

Gently cook the onion, ginger, garlic, chilli and spices in the butter for 3-4 minutes, add the vegetable stock and lentils, season, bring to the boil and simmer for 40 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Blend about one-third of the soup in a liquidiser until smooth and return to the pan. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and add the coriander. Serve with half a spoonful of yoghurt on top.

Potted rabbit with Puy lentils

Serves 6-8

This is a take on a classic brawn. A wild rabbit cooked like this goes a long way and makes a really economical and tasty starter. This will keep in the fridge for up to a week; just pop a slice on to hot toast for a great snack.

1 wild rabbit, jointed
1 pig's trotter, cut into 4 or 5 pieces
10 black peppercorns
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
A few sprigs of thyme
2tsp sea salt

For the lentil dressing

60g Puy lentils soaked for an hour in cold water
2 shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
4-5tbsp olive oil
2tsp Dijon mustard
1/2tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the trotter in a saucepan with the rest of the ingredients except the rabbit, cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour. Add the rabbit and continue simmering for another hour. Drain over a bowl. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine meshed sieve into a clean saucepan and boil until you have about 200ml left. Once the meats are cool enough to handle, remove all of the flesh from the bone, including trotter skin. Chop the skin into small pieces and the rabbit into even-sized pieces. Pack the meat into a terrine mould and pour the liquid on top.

Cover with clingfilm; leave to set in the fridge overnight. Meanwhile, make the dressing: cook the lentils in boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes or until tender; then drain. At the same time, gently cook the shallot and carrot in a tablespoon of the olive oil for a couple of minutes then remove from the heat and whisk in the mustard, vinegar and the rest of the olive oil. Add the lentils and parsley and season to taste. Leave to infuse for a couple of hours. To serve, cut a slice and serve with the lentils or with a salad and pickled gherkins.

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