I’ve said it before, I’m really not the world’s best cook… but honestly… after making this dinner I felt like Masterchef Of All Time. It was bloody amazing, even if I do say so myself! My husband is a far better cook than me, and I’m used to him being the one producing all the fancy, impressive stuff while I churn out the ‘family meals’ that might taste nice, but lack the ‘wow’ factor. This little gem of a recipe has the best of both worlds. It’s in every way an easy family meal – quick to cook, a doddle to make, wholesome and best of all, cooked in one pot so no faffing around and hardly any washing up. But it dazzles like a gourmet meal – out of this world flavours (creamy, spiced rice, lentils & veg scattered with aromatic herbs, toasted seeds & cut through with zingy brown butter and tangy yogurt), a beautiful range of textures (soft rice with crisp herbs, crunchy seeds and silky yogurt) and it looks gorgeous on the plate too. As an added bonus, it’s also insanely nutritious, vegetarian, gluten-free, and can very easily be adapted to be dairy-free too (see below). It’s a hands down winner as far as I’m concerned.
It’s one of the recipes from Claire Thomson’s The Five O’Clock Apron: Proper Food for Modern Families. I bought this superstar of a family cookbook recently after seeing it recommended and raved about all over the place. Claire is a professional chef and mum of three, and according to the blurb, “On a mission to inspire parents stuck in a teatime rut [and] inspire and invigorate the concept of family cookery”. Recognising that when feeding families it’s “essential that the food is nutritious, delicious and relatively easy to produce,” her key principle is to forget about ‘children’s food’ (“Having to cook separate food for children is laborious and unnecessary”) and to feed them exactly the same adventurous, delicious food that we want to eat, and will eat, ourselves (“Smiley-faced food is ridiculous – food should look like food. Make food interesting and children will then be interested in it.”) The book is chock full of amazing and simple recipes that take very little effort but pack a serious punch. I love it. Buy it.
Needless to say, the whole family, including 11 year old Joe and 18 month old Huey, absolutely loved it and everyone asked for more. Zero leftovers. Immediate winner of family meal of the year!
PUMPKIN, LENTIL, ALLSPICE & APRICOT PILAF
Serves 4 adults (or a family with several kids)
20 minutes prep time
20 minutes cooking on the hob
Olive oil (2 tbsp)
Onion (1, diced)
Garlic (2 cloves, finely chopped)
Pumpkin or squash (peeled and grated – I used butternut squash)
Basmati rice (200g, soaked and drained – I only soaked mine for 5 mins as I was short on time, and it was fine – I daresay you could probably bypass the soak!)
Green lentils (100g – soaked and drained – I just used tinned green lentils, drained & rinsed – I’m all for the easy route!)
Ground allspice (1.5 tsp)
Cinnamon stick (1, whole)
Bay leaves (3)
Sunflower seeds (2 tbsp, toasted – I used pumpkin seeds as I didn’t have any sunflower seeds and they were absolutely lovely. To toast them I just dry-fried them in a small frying pan for a couple of minutes until you get that lovely smell)
Salt (1 tbsp)
Dried apricots (80g, chopped roughly)
Hot stock / water (700ml – I used vegetable stock but the recipe says to use either chicken or veg)
Brown butter (4 tbsp – you just need butter and lemon juice – see info below)
Sunflower seeds (3 tbsp, toasted – again, I used pumpkin seeds instead)
Fresh flat-leaf parsley (small bunch, roughly chopped)
Chilli flakes (0.5 tsp, optional)
Yoghurt (250g, seasoned with salt and pepper – I just used plain yogurt but I imagine greek yogurt would be nice too. Substitute with dairy-free yogurt or coconut cream if you want to avoid dairy)
Lemon (1, cut into wedges)
1) Heat the olive oil in a big casserole dish over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic.
2) Cook until the onion is soft, then add the grated pumpkin (I used butternut squash) and cook for 10-15 minutes until very soft, stirring and scraping the bottom of the casserole regularly to stop it sticking.
3) Add the rice, lentils, allspice, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, sunflower seeds (I used pumpkin seeds), salt and apricots.
4) Stir well until it’s all well mixed together, then add the hot stock or water.
5) Bring to the boil then reduce the heat, pop a lid on the casserole and leave to cook for around 20 minutes, until the lentils and rice are cooked and there’s no liquid left. I used brown basmati rice so had to leave it to cook for a little longer (around 30 minutes) but if you just use regular white basmati rice then the recipe’s 20 minutes is fine.
6) While it’s cooking, make the brown butter. Right. I’m the first to admit that I almost always skip steps like this – I’m too impatient and lazy in the kitchen, and would usually think, “Sod it, I’ve made the main meal, I’m not faffing around making extra crap to drizzle on top.” On this occasion, I made myself do it and honestly…. in this instance… brown butter… it’s worth ten times the amount of time it takes to make it. And it takes hardly any time at all. It’s bloody DELICIOUS and totally lifts the dish. Don’t skip this step. All you have to do is melt 75g of unsalted butter in a pan until the sediment starts to collect and brown at the bottom of the pan (a minute or two). When it starts to turn golden brown, add the juice of half a lemon. Stir well and tip into a bowl. Easy peasy.
7) To serve, spoon over the brown butter, then sprinkle over the toasted sunflower seeds (or pumpkin seeds!) and fresh parsley. You can sprinkle over chilli flakes at this point – we all really love chilli but I kept this separate and we sprinkled the chilli flakes on our own plates afterwards so that Huey didn’t have any in his portion. Then plop a few dollops of yogurt on top, serve with wedges of lemon and you’re good to go!
Hope you like it! Let me know if you try it!