Spiced Lentils and Tomatoes with Kale and Baked Eggs

I hate to begin writing anything with a bunch of excuses, but I’ve just been too busy to write lately. It’s always this time of year that my schedule becomes inexplicably hectic, my diary gets booked up, my inbox spirals out of control and I find myself eating chiller cabinet pizza for dinner twice in the same week. The shame, the shame.

I realise it’s been two weeks, but I have managed to do a little bit of cooking in amongst my frenzied attempts to grab food where I can. Although I am now on first name terms with the entire staff of the Great Portland Street branch of Pret, who may or may not have witnessed me having a complete meltdown over the phone, I have also got to spend time eating nice things: Like last week I finally got to go to Asma Khan’s wonderful Darjeeling Express residency at The Sun and 13 Cantons for a sublimely happy dinner with my best friend where no work was discussed at all. Also, Honey and Co. is within sneaking off-distance from my desk, so I’ve been hiding in there with coffee and cake. A lot.

I wish I could come back to you, lovely readers, all excited about a new recipe that I devised last week; but I really need to get started on the backlog. The recipes that I have been itching to share for a while now but haven’t managed to get down in type. The pieces of oil-splatted notepaper with odd scribbles on that are littered across my desk and threatening to overwhelm me.

This baked eggs and lentils dish was from a few weeks back, and I absolutely loved it. It was driven by my need to use up some old kale I had in the fridge after a Sunday lunch, and inspired by a recipe I found on the Serious Eats website. It is reminiscent of shakshuka, and its many variants, which I will often cook for breakfast at the weekend, but made more substantial with the addition of puy lentils. I have a bit of a thing for lentils and eggs, somehow the yolk just adds to the brilliance of lentil dishes. Especially if you have good bread handy.

Spiced Lentils and Tomatoes with Kale and Baked Eggs

Olive oil
½ onion, finely diced
1 mild red chilli
Sea salt and black pepper
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
350ml vegetable stock
200g dried puy lentils
150g kale, shredded
4 or 6 eggs
Finely chopped parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 180°c.

Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof frying pan, or chef’s pan, over a medium heat and gently cook the onion and chilli, with a little salt, until soft, about five minutes. Add the tomatoes and stock and bring to a simmer.

Add the lentils and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes until soft. Stir in the kale during the last couple of minutes of cooking and check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if required.

Remove from the heat and make wells in the mixture for the eggs. Crack the eggs into the wells and carefully transfer the pan to the oven. Bake until the eggs are cooked to your liking, checking them after five minutes and then every couple of minutes thereafter. Garnish with parsley to serve.

Serves 2-3. Adapted from a recipe from Serious Eats.

My Nan’s Tea Loaf

 

Given my obsession with nostalgia and cake, it was only a matter of time before this recipe popped up again. Friends, I hope you have the patience to sit through it again. You can skip it if you want. Or, you can put some dried fruit in a bowl, pour a cup of black tea over it and join me in my tea loaf fixation for a while.

My nan made the best tea loaf there ever was. As prone to hyperbole as I am, I can assure you that this is no exaggeration. Every week, when we went to visit, she would emerge from the kitchen with one, still warm from the oven, wrapped in crumpled and slightly charred baking paper. With this cake, she managed to win over many guests who weren’t really into fruit cake, my now husband included.

The problem is that Nan never wrote down any of her recipes. She had quite a small repertoire, favouring the same dishes that she simply adapted to whatever ingredients she had in the house, and just committed them to memory. When she sadly passed away in 2011, all of this knowledge became lost. Intense cravings for this cake, and for other dishes she used to make, became a part of the grief in the months immediately following her death; and the idea that she would never again cook for me was overwhelming.

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Nan and I, some time in the mid-1980s

It was my nan who taught me to bake, you see. My brother and I would spend most of the holidays with her when my parents worked and, whilst my brother would occupy my time with his Nintendo, I would be stood on a chair at the kitchen counter with a tea towel tucked into my waistband as a makeshift apron, contentedly rubbing butter into flour. It was probably the best way to keep me occupied and, over the years, I learned how to make pies, cakes, jam tarts and biscuits. She had very few gadgets by modern standards, so taught me to make pastry by hand, cakes without a mixer and whip up cream using nothing but a hand whisk and a lot of effort.

When Nan died, my kitchen provided a welcome distraction. I had cleared out my diary for a couple of months to recover but quickly tired of doing nothing, so embarked upon a mission to replicate the tea loaf.  I knew it began with dried fruit soaked in tea, to which the usual cake-making ingredients are added. There was a lot of trial and error, I added spices and took them out again, I experimented with different quantities of eggs, sugar and flour and I threw many disasters in the bin. I palmed off tea loaf on to neighbours, colleagues and just about every tradesman that came into my building. What I couldn’t get rid of, I froze.

Eventually, I wrote a recipe that I was happy with and that I have used every time since, and now I make this tea loaf all the time. When friends visit, I will often emerge from the kitchen with one, still warm, wrapped in crumpled and slightly charred baking paper. Each time I make it, my husband, who is really not into fruit cake, remarks: “I think this might be your best one yet.”

“Perhaps,” I reply. “But it still isn’t as good as Nan’s.”

My Nan’s Tea Loaf

Note: this recipe is very easy to make vegan, just replace the egg with an egg substitute.

400g dried mixed fruit
275ml black Earl Grey tea, cooled
75g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
250g self-raising flour

Combine the fruit and tea in a large bowl and leave to soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180°c and spray a medium-sized loaf tin with cake release spray (I use Dr. Oetker’s.)

Stir the egg and brown sugar into the fruit mixture, then add the flour, a little at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Scrape the batter into the loaf tin and bake in the oven for about an hour until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. You will be able to smell it when it’s cooked!

Homemade Vegan Baked Beans

Let me just start by saying this: I absolutely detest baked beans from a tin. I think I might have talked about this a few times before, so apologies for being a stuck record, but I’ll be quick. It’s not a snobbery about tinned food, nor a symptom of being a picky eater (I will eat pretty much anything else, except peanuts as I’m allergic), I just cannot stand them.

Their mere existence makes breakfast a bit of a stressful experience. I am partial to a proper London ‘caff’ now and again. You know the kind: formica tables, the smell of fried bread that permeates through everything and the mugs of tea served with the tea bag still in, floating in the milk on top. The problem is that everything comes with beans, and you therefore find yourself stressing ‘no beans’ so ardently through your order, that you come across as a little obsessive. Despite this, your plate may occasionally appear with beans on, and you can’t just scrape them off as the buggers get everywhere.

A while ago, my husband and I went for breakfast at Roast in Borough Market, where his beans came to the table in a little earthenware pot on the side of his breakfast. It was then that I noticed something unusual; these weren’t the usual lurid orange kind, they were butter beans, cooked in a dark tomato sauce with flecks of onion and pancetta and a few fresh herbs. It was with a little trepidation that I tried them, but they were delicious, and kicked off my love of homemade baked beans.

It seems somewhat contradictory, I know.

Since then, I have developed two baked beans recipes: one that takes no time at all, and one that takes forever. Naturally, I prefer the latter one, but I am often short on time, so make the former more frequently. I use tinned beans and tinned tomatoes and make them on the stovetop. The result is not as luxurious as the slow-cooked kind, but sadly I’m not always organised enough to plan ahead (but I will try soon so as not to deprive you of the recipe.) They still win over any kind of canned variety. Hands down.

Homemade Vegan Baked Beans

1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
250g chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp cider vinegar
400g tin cannellini beans, drained

Heat some oil in a frying pan, or chef’s pan, over a medium heat. Cook the onion until soft and translucent, but not browned, about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes.

Stir in the chopped tomatoes, 250ml water, the brown sugar and cider vinegar. Add the beans, stir and bring to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for 25-30 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Season to taste.

Based on this recipe. Serves two.

Spinach Burek

You will notice that this isn’t (really) a breakfast recipe. I’m branching out.

In recent weeks, my life and blogging have become somewhat incompatible with each other, much in the way that studying for my finals and nights of heavy drinking did all those years ago. Consequently I’ve been a bit absent from here for a while. It’s nothing sinister, far from it, in fact: I went on holiday to Croatia and came home to a new job. Now I’m in a place where I have enjoyed, and mourned the end of, the former and figured out the latter, so can start writing again. This is not the end for breakfast, but there will be some other things popping up here from time to time too.

Spinach burek was my holiday romance during the said trip to Croatia: loved to the point of obsession whilst away, and then a little trickier to recreate at home. I was hooked almost as soon as my Croatian friend thrust one into my hand outside of a bakery in Pula, telling me that they were the taste of his childhood. I couldn’t even wait until I had swallowed the first mouthful before telling everybody just how amazing they were, bits of flaky pastry flying rather inelegantly from my mouth.

Burek, or borek, byrek or boregi, can be found in many countries across the Balkans, southern Europe and the middle east, hence the variations in spelling. It is a twisted savoury pastry filled with a mixture of spinach and local cheese, similar to the Greek spanakopita.

Many of the recipes I found online advocated the use of homemade pastry for an authentic burek, which I agreed with, however said busy life meant that I had to relinquish a little authenticity to save time, so I used shop-bought filo. The result wasn’t bad, in fact I rather liked it as an alternative.

Spinach Burek

700g fresh spinach
200g feta
Olive oil
½ an onion, finely chopped
½ tsp nigella seeds
Pinch nutmeg
Sea salt and black pepper
12 sheets filo pastry
1 egg, beaten
Sesame seeds, a mixture of black and white

Wilt the spinach and allow to cool. Using your hands, squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can. Chop the spinach finely and transfer to a large bowl. Crumble the feta as small as you can and stir into the spinach – I like to use the wooden spoon to smash the feta up a little bit more.

Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and fry the onion for five minutes until soft and translucent, but not browned. Stir in the nigella seeds for the last couple of minutes of cooking. Stir this into the spinach and feta mixture with a pinch of nutmeg and some seasoning. You may not need a lot of salt, depending on the saltiness of the feta.

Lay out one sheet of filo pastry with the long edge facing you and brush with olive oil; lay another sheet on top and brush with olive oil, followed by a third. Cut the filo vertically into three pieces, each measuring about four inches across. Take one twelfth of the filo mixture and make a sausage shape along the middle of the filo strip – it doesn’t need to reach the top and bottom of the strip and should be about five-six inches long. Roll the filo into a cigar shape and twist into a spiral, trimming the edges of the filo and tucking them in underneath. It should be more like a knot shape than a flat spiral. Do the same with the other two strips, and then repeat the whole process three times until you have 12 burek.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc and lay the burek out on a lightly greased baking tray. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake in the oven for about half an hour until the filo is brown and crisp.

Blueberry and Lemon Breakfast Scones

I wasn’t joking about my fear of missing out (FOMO) on the blueberry season. Actually, since cancelling my veg bag a couple of months ago, I feel as though I haven’t had the best of the summer produce, so I need to start getting out to farmers markets a bit more. Anyway, these scones were on the list of blueberry recipes I made after I did some googling for new recipes. They are from the brilliant Smitten Kitchen blog and are my new favourite thing.

Blueberry and Lemon Breakfast Scones

125g plain flour
125g wholemeal spelt flour
Zest of one lemon
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
100g cold unsalted butter
125g fresh blueberries
150ml whole milk
1 egg, beaten
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 200°c and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.  In a large bowl, combine the plain flour, wholemeal spelt flour, lemon zest, sugar, baking powder and salt. Rub in the butter, cut into small cubes, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the blueberries, followed by the milk until you have a fairly wet dough.

Turn out on to a well-floured surface and pat into a round about 1½ inches thick. Cut into six triangles and transfer to the baking sheet. Brush with a little beaten egg and sprinkle over a bit of granulated sugar. Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes until risen and golden. Allow to cool on the tray for 20 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Adapted from a recipe by Smitten Kitchen.

Blueberry Pancakes

Now that we’re about halfway through the blueberry season, panic is starting to set in that I’m not using them enough, and I’ve spent a large part of the morning researching blueberry recipes to make between now and the autumn. I often panic-buy the last of the summer berries to freeze and ration throughout the winter.  I froze the blueberries I received in my Farmdrop box a few weeks back, and defrosted them last night so that I could make these pancakes for breakfast. There are blueberries within the actual pancakes, you just can’t see them in the picture above. If I were a better food photographer, I would have arranged them at the edges but, seriously, who has time for that?!

Blueberry Pancakes

200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch salt
1 large egg
300ml milk
Splash sunflower oil
125g fresh blueberries
Knob of butter, for cooking
Maple syrup, to serve

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.  Add to this the egg, milk and sunflower oil, then whisk until you have a smooth batter. Leave to rest for 30 minutes before gently stirring in a the blueberries (reserving a few to garnish at the end.)

Heat a large frying pan or skillet over a high heat and add a little butter.  Swirl the butter around the pan, then add a ladleful of the batter and allow to spread a little.  Cook for a couple of minutes, until bubbles form on the surface, then carefully flip and cook the other side. Repeat with the remaining batter (this should make about six). Pile the pancakes up on a plate, drizzle with maple syrup and garnish with a few loose blueberries.

Adapted from a recipe by BBC Good Food.

Sweet Potato, Chorizo and Caramelised Onion Hash with Baked Eggs

Quite a few of the items I received in my Farmdrop box could be frozen, so I immediately popped them in the freezer to make breakfast with at a later date. These sweet potatoes were the last of the fresh ingredients and, probably, what I was looking forward to using the most. Sweet potatoes make their way into my breakfast dishes often, but there are few better ways to show them off than in a hash. This one combined with chorizo and caramelised onions and was the base for some baked eggs. A little avocado on the side and a drizzle of hot sauce made it just perfect.

Sweet Potato, Chorizo and Caramelised Onion Hash with Baked Eggs

Olive oil
2 large onions, halved and finely sliced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
250g cooking chorizo, chopped
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
8 eggs

Cook the onions in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, over a medium-low heat, with the salt sugar, until dark and caramelised. This should take about an hour. Set aside. Add a little more oil to the same pan and cook the chorizo over a high heat until crisp. Set this aside also.

Preheat the oven to 220ºc.  Toss the sweet potato in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, smoked paprika and rosemary and spread out on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan.  Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes until the sweet potato is tender.

In a very large frying pan, or chef’s pan, combine the sweet potato, chorizo and caramelised onion and make eight wells in the mixture with a spoon.  Crack an egg into each of the wells and place the pan in the oven to cook the eggs.  This should take about 10 minutes for soft yolks.

Serves four. Adapted from a recipe by Serious Eats.