We have been in lockdown and self-isolation since the 13th of March. Afraid of either contracting the Coronavirus or being healthy carriers and causing someone else harm we have only ventured out four times to go shopping. We have been eating mainly a vegetarian or vegan diet for the past three years, so on our first trip, we bought organic beans, pulses, chickpeas – lentils - rice and pasta as well as root vegetables as they keep so well. Plus a few tinned items. We held back on stockpiling toilet paper, and we seem to have managed.
We have tried to be inventive with the ingredients we have - planning our meals carefully every day. We were amazed to discover the versatility of red lentils: we made not only a sauce for spaghetti Bolognese. It was a little drier than the minced meat version admittedly, but with tinned tomatoes, a dash of red wine and liberal helpings of oregano and marjoram it was delicious. We also made a red lentil cottage pie with a root mash for the topping. And with the leftovers, we added red kidney beans more tomatoes and hot chilli powder to make a chilli-without-carne. We found that these meals, being packed with protein, filled us up and were able to work long hours in the garden without needing to snack too often.
We almost ran out of butter after a few weeks – butter freezes well so we ought to have been more intelligent and bought a couple more packs, but we didn't. So, my partner, Katie soaked and cooked up some black beluga lentils, mashed them with some orange zest and made a sexy looking black pate – a few grams of melted butter on the top sealed and it kept in the fridge for a week.
A few years ago on one of our trips to London, we accidentally came upon a street food market outside the Southbank Centre on the banks of the Thames. We were determined to find something vegetarian, healthy and something we had never tried before. We almost gave up until we found the stand near the railway arches flying the Egyptian flag and selling the national dish of Egypt – Koshari. We remembered this meal and rummaged through our larder and realised that we had all the ingredients to rustle up this meal. We found enough of the spices to make the Baharat mix which consists of ground paprika, black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, star anise and nutmeg – which must be ground and mixed together. I will try to explain the aroma that comes from this spice mix: the Middle East in a jar: the deep richness of cloves – a cosy Christmas smell – the earthy tones of cumin, the lighter scent of coriander seed and the pungency of black peppercorns. And once made up the extra amount will keep for months in a dark cupboard and just to smell it is to be transported to hot and exotic climes. Our version of Koshari tasted authentic to us - an Egyptian chef might disagree, but we enjoyed it, and it kept us fed for three days and we forgot about the lockdown, we forgot to be worried while we were making it.
Spurred on and inspired by Katie's black lentil pate I soaked and cooked up some pinto beans (which are called Wachtelbohnen in German) and added some of the Baharat spice to make another spread for bread. After cooking, I simply drained them and squashed them with a few spoons of oat-based yoghurt and added the Baharat seasoning. This too lasted four days in the fridge.
Our favourite breakfast has become open sandwiches with cream cheese, crispy fried onions – we fry up a whole bag of onions and save the onion oil from the batch for salad – and now that we have fresh chives in the garden we chop them finely and sprinkle them on the top: "onions done two ways." I never knew such a simple thing could be so delicious.
What inventive recipes have you drummed up during the lockdown? Please let me know by adding a comment or get in touch with me via my website: www.ameliamarriette.com
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(Go here for the recipe https://amiraspantry.com/egyptian-koshari/).