Tag Archives: piment d’espelette

Spicy Lentils with Mint and Goat Cheese

I’m still in the post-Christmas health kick phase. There has been lots of walking instead of taking the bus, “body attack” classes at the gym, and I’m still sticking with my attempt to cook lots of healthy dishes based on lentils and beans. So mostly, I’ve been feeling the effects of exercise on a scale that I’m really not use to – ouch!

But on the culinary front – we did beans last week, so today, it’s lentils, and one of my favourite easy dishes.

This dish basically consists of lentils in a spicy tomato sauce that is enlivened with crumbled goat cheese and some shredded fresh mint. You’ve got a filling lunch or supper which is, in turns, warm, spicy, creamy, tangy and minty-fresh. It therefore lends itself very nicely to this time of year, but it’s equally suited to a lazy lunch or dinner on a warm day (remember those? Just a few months to wait…).

This is one of those dishes that is easy-peasy. I know that so many blogs promise recipes that are “really easy” (which begs the question – would anyone really post a recipe that requires three days in the kitchen???), but I promise you, this really, really is. You essentially throw everything into a pot, and then let it simmer slowly until the lentils are tender. Allow to cool slightly, then add the cheese and mint – job done!

For the spices, you can pretty much go with whatever you have to hand, so take this more as a guide rather than any sort of precise list. I like to add turmeric (for a slight yellowish tinge), paprika or piment d’Espelette, a dash of cumin and coriander, dried oregano and thyme, and a few cumin and mustard seeds for busts of flavour. Most likely I have never used the same combination twice – I just go with what I see in the store cupboard.

If you’re after more depth of flavour – and don’t mind some extra steps in the cooking process – you can fry the spices before adding the lentils (either dry fry or cook in a little olive oil), but that is about as complicated as this dish gets. I often fry the spices in oil, but when I’m in a lazy mood, I go for the “all in” approach and it works just fine.

The only thing that I add towards the end of the cooking process is a tiny pinch of salt – I read somewhere that it can make lentils tougher if added too early. I have no idea is this is true or not, but it’s become one of my kitchen rituals, so I guess it’s a habit that I am stuck with.

To make spicy lentils with mint and goat cheese (4 portions):

• 250g brown or green lentils
• spices, according to taste (around 4 teaspoons in total)

• 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
• stock cube or salt

• goat cheese or feta, crumbled
• fresh mint leaves, chopped

Rinse the lentils and put into a large saucepan with the spices.

Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, then add the tomatoes and simmer until the lentils are tender (around 30 minutes). Season with the stock cube or salt, then keep cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Serve warm or cold, with crumbled goat cheese or feta and some chopped fresh mint.

Worth making? Definitely worth making – this is quick, easy and very, very tasty. Tweak the spices according to preference, and you get a delicious lunch for the next day too!

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White Chocolate Tart with Piment d’Espelette

Yes, more Piment d’Espelette! I’ve posted my goat’s cheese fritters with a spicy Piment d’Espelette chutney, and now we move onto the dessert. I also submitted this to the competition run by the association of Piment d’Espelette producers, so again, fingers crossed!

Chocolate and chilli are a common combination (I’ll hold off on “classic” as I am not usually a fan…I want desserts to be sweet, not to burn), but this got me thinking: Piment d’Espelette is not so hot, so would it work in a chocolate dessert for those that don’t like hot chilli? But the colour – I was a little put off by the fact that it would  just look like another dark chocolate dessert. Ah, but what if I were to use white chocolate? I reasoned that the colour of the Piment d’Espelette would diffuse into the cream and chocolate, and the flecks of red would be visible in the finished cake. With these thoughts, I ventured into my kitchen.

One of the rules in the competition was that you had to come up with a recipe from scratch. I sensed that there was potential for my attempts to be rather “unusual”, so rather than making whole tarts, I started making small batches of white chocolate ganache in ramekins to test my ideas.

Attempt number one – create an infusion of Piment d’Espelette and mountain honey in water, then add to the white chocolate. The theory was that this would provide a clean, light flavour, highlighting the Piment. Too bad it didn’t set. In fact, it sort of separated, with a clotted-cream-type crust on top, and then a layer of liquid chocolate, then all the Piment at the bottom. Not a success.

Attempt number two – back to the classic ganache. I put cream, Piment and some mountain honey in a pan, and allowed it to infuse for half an hour. Heated it, added it to chopped white chocolate, stirred until melted, put in a saucepan to melt it properly (as, ahm, not all the chocolate melted first time), then added butter. Result! A smooth filling with a bright peachy-orange colour and flecked with red. It flowed, set as it was supposed to in the fridge, and cut perfectly. I served it at room temperature, and the filling did exactly what I wanted – stayed firm but not hard, but cut easily.

And the taste? The initial flavour was of white chocolate, but then it gives way to the fleshy earthiness of the Piment (like red peppers) and the honey. Then you get the warmth of the Piment, but it does not get hot. I think this is a nice way to use Piment in a dessert, making a feature of it rather than just adding a pinch as decoration. I can imagine that this would also work with other strongly-coloured spices (saffron for a golden ganache) or even with a spoonful of beetroot juice into the cream (if you like bright pink).

For the tart:

• one basic sweet pie shell (see here)
• 300g white chocolate
• 125ml double cream
• 2 teaspoons runny honey (thyme or orange blossom)
• 1 generous teaspoon of Piment d’Espelette (or mild chilli powder)
• 80g unsalted butter, at room temperature

Mix the honey, cream and Piment d’Espelette in a saucepan and leave to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. This allows the cream to take on the colour of the Piment. In the meantime, chop the chocolate into very small pieces and put into a bowl.

Heat the cream mixture, stirring well. Bring to the boil, and cook for 30 seconds. Allow to cool briefly, then pour over the chopped chocolate. Stir well until the chocolate has melted. If there are still lumps of chocolate, then transfer to the saucepan and heat very gently, stirring constantly, until the mixture is smooth. Transfer back to the bowl.

Allow the mixture to cool slightly. Add the butter and stir until it melts and you have a smooth, glossy ganache. Pour immediately into the pie shell, and shake lightly to smooth the filling off. Allow to cool, then move to the fridge to set. Serve at room temperature, in thin slices.

Worth making? I have tried for a long time to make a white chocolate ganache (for pies, for cakes, for truffles) which stays smooth but sets properly, and I am really happy with this recipe. If you’re not a fan of the Piment,  you could easily omit this, and instead use vanilla and top off with fresh fruit – ripe raspberries or juicy strawberries. It makes an ideal dinner party dessert too – it can be prepared completely in advance, so no running around in the kitchen while your guests have fun.

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Goat’s Cheese Fritters with Spicy Apple Chutney

Live dangerously.

When I given my bottle of Piment d’Espelette, I checked it out online…and found out that there was a competition being run by the local producers’ association (English version here) to come up with new dishes. So…prepare something original. For a critical audience who don’t know me. In French. Dangerous enough?

To enter, there were obviously a few rules to observe: it had to use Piment d’Espelette (duh!), it should be quick and easy to prepare, it should be original, and it should be something that could be prepared on an average family budget. I sent my applications in on Friday night, so I’ll just have to sit tight and see what happens.

To come up with something, I sat down and did a bit of logical thinking. The producers are in the Basque part of France, so some sort of raw vegetable dish was out of the question. These people are likely to prefer a rich, meaty dish for the main course, so my best chances were in the starter or dessert category. So a starter that showcases the Piment d’Espelette…got me thinking about chutney. I reasoned that the Piment d’Espelette would work well, so that the subtle heat would pervade the sauce and mingle with the apple, without dominating. Plus, the flecks of red would show up in the chutney. Next question: what can I serve with a semi-sweet sauce? I thought about goats cheese. And bingo! My entry is a simple cheese fritter coated with a breadcrumb/Piment d’Espelette mixture, gently cooked until golden and crispy, and served with a simple, fresh apple chutney. That was the theory…

Et alors…the chutney. This was super-easy – chop the apples, throw everything in a pot, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Done! On its own I think it is great. It’s a deep burnished amber colour and the Piment d’Espelette does indeed show up as hoped. It’s got heat, but it never gets too much. I am modestly calling this an unmitigated success. I had a little left over after my test, and I’ve been munching it on strong English cheddar as my 11am snack for the past week. Really delicious.

The fritters? Again very simple. The coating was just flour, breadcrumbs and Piment d’Espelette. The goats cheese is rolled into balls, flattened, dipped in egg and coated, and then shallow-fried. I figured this dish would provide a nice series of contrasts – crisp coating, creamy cheese, soft fruity chutney.

Happy with the theory, I made them and duly noted everything down. I’ve got to say, the result was pretty darn good. You need to be really generous with the chutney, but I think the spiciness and gentle heat worked well with the cheese. It’s a nice combination. Let’s see if the competition judges agree!

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Spicy Lentil Soup

Over the recent hard winter, I have been making a lot of lentil soup. It’s great as a quick lunch, cheap as chips, and has the bonus of being a filling, healthy dish. I know that lentils are just about the stereotypical vegetarian food (up there with unflavoured tofu), but I really like them. Lentil burgers, croquettes, heck, even on their own.

It took me a while to get my recipe for lentil soup quite right. As a child, my grandmother’s was the lentil soup, so I guess that I have been trying to recreate that over the years. I’ve also realised that it is the sort of dish that everyone has an opinion about (probably based on what their grandmothers used to make as well). Some like lots of pepper, others very salty, thick, thin, lumpy, smooth…lots of scope to vary it. So mine is quite thick and still has the texture of the lentils and whatever vegetables I’ve added. I also chuck in a load of fresh garlic, ginger and other spices to give the soup a real depth of flavour. You could add a bit more water and blitz it to a puree, but I find smooth soups just really, really dull.

I blogged a couple of days ago about my recently-acquired Espelette pepper…and this recipe needs spice…so is this a marriage made in heaven? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I gave it a go – the usual recipe, but I added less curry powder, and instead threw in a generous teaspoon of the Espelette. And…this works so well. The smoky, paprika-like flavour was there and there was a noticeable warmth to the soup this time, and it is flecked with little bits of red which looks pretty cool. In place of the usual black pepper and a squeeze of lemon, I sprinkled a bit more Espelette on top. My timing was good as well – a holiday weekend in London, and the usual rain has rolled in. This was just perfect for sitting on the sofa and watching a film.

For the soup:

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 white onion, finely chopped
• knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated

• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons ground cumin seeds
• 1 tablespoons ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon mild curry powder
• 1 generous teaspoon Espelette pepper
• 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
• 250g red lentils
• 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
• 1 stock cube
• 1 litre hot water

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and cook on a medium heat until translucent (five minutes). Add the ginger and garlic, and cook for two minutes (don’t let them burn). Add the spices and cook for 30 seconds (if very dry, add another spoon of oil).

Add the lentils and carrots and cook for one minute, stirring all the time. Add the tomatoes, and stir well.

Pour in the water and add the stock cube. Stir well, bring to the boil, the simmer until the lentils are tender (at least 20 minutes). Serve with a sprinkling of Espelette pepper.

Worth making? This is a great soup, and is easy to adapt to what you have in the store cupboard. It takes spices really well, so feel free to be creative. It’s great on a chilly  day, and freezes well in small batches.

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Piment d’Espelette

Friends from Brussels were staying last night and brought a fantastic present from the south of France – Piment d’Esplette or Espelette pepper, a specialty from the northern part of the traditional Basque country.

It comes in a cute retro jar and looks like coarsely ground paprika, but the aroma is much richer, like earthy, smoky roasted peppers. The flavour is sweet and tangy, warm rather than hot – paprika with punch. They suggested adding it early on to a slow-cooked tomato sauce, so I’ll give that a try. I’ve also had a look online at what this is used for. The producers run a great website in French (only at the moment), with a few recipes (several vegetarian, to my surprise), ranging from starters through to desserts. A little digging shows that this stuff is enthusiastically used in all manner of dishes – on meat, fish, in sauces, jams, pizzas, mustards, mayonnaise and chocolates. This spice also has the prestigious AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) status, so only peppers of the right variety from a designated local area can carry the name.

This sort of thing is one of my favourite gifts to give and to receive – unique little pieces of local culture, and the sort of thing that can bring back memories of a holiday or a place in flash. I like to keep an eye out for local ingredients when I travel as they all make welcome additions to the kitchen. I’m looking forward to using this in a few dishes soon!

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