Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Thyme on my hands.......

So......guess what time I got to work today?? The thing is I was away this weekend and yes, I did put my watch back and I did make the most of my extra hour....drinking homemade Sloe Vodka as it happens.....but when I got back to London I failed to adjust my alarm clock (even though I'd remembered to remind the 20-year-old-son) and so it was, I arrived at the churchyard I usually cross to reach my designated bus stop (sounds like I live in some Austin-inspired village rather than central London doesn't it....) to find the gates chained. Wonder why that is, I thought. Perhaps because it was half seven and not half eight in the morning? However, so smooth was my journey to East London I have vowed to get up an hour earlier every Tuesday......we shall see how long this lasts....

So, the weekend away........ having enjoyed my recent sojourn in the French countryside so much, I thought I'd give equal opps to the English countryside, and I headed off to the Isle of Wight, where a friend with a birthday has a beautiful converted barn, nestled in a leafy hollow, deep in the south, that looked suspiciously like the French countryside. Having arrived late the night before, and feasted on holiday-flavoured fish & chips, birthday-celebration Prosecco and cakes I'd cleverly sourced in London, from Ottolenghi's outrageous selection of fancy goods, I awoke to the sound of rain lashing the roof and not one but two text messages informing me that the weather in London was ........ wonderful.

But no matter the weather, this was the country and we had activities planned ....... mainly involving the outside. So, after a much-bigger-breakfast-than usual, involving eggs, mushrooms, muffins and lots of coffee, we set out on 'The Walk'. I have discovered that going for a walk in the country often starts with a drive and this walk was no different as we had decided to go along a the coastal path. Parked up we set off and it was epic, the dense clouds fought for space, hanging low over a dull ocean, then suddenly sharp shards of sunlight cut through the grey and turned the sea silver. As we walked, the sky turned brighter and bluer and I sucked in the salty, fresh air, feeling fitter by the minute. Then it began to rain. Big, fat, exceptionally wet rain. The kind of rain that would be accompanied by a potential love interest if it were a Richard Curtis movie, to wipe away the rain drops that splattered my sunglasses and dripped from the end of my nose. So we sought refuge at the cafe in Steep Hill Cove and had a pot of tea and a Colin Firth to go.

We collected wood for the fire, went to a movie, won a pub quiz, picked sloes from the hedgerow and bought chicken fresh from the farm where the turkeys were already gobbling nervously, and roasted it with garlic from the island and thyme from the garden and ate it with my favourite new discovery: Ottolenghi's Mejadarah, a delicious dish of rice and lentils that's oh so easy to make. I'm lucky, I live practically bivouacked at the back of this fine emporium of exquisite cuisine but for those of you who live further a field, here is the recipe:

250ml sunflower oil
4 medium onions, thinly sliced
250g green or brown lentils
2 tsp cumin seeds
1½ tbsp coriander seeds
200g basmati rice
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp ground allspice
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper
350ml water
Heat the sunflower oil in a medium-size heavy-based saucepan. When very hot, carefully add a third of the sliced onion. Fry for five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the onion takes on a nice, golden-brown colour and turns crispy. Use the spoon to transfer the onion to a colander and sprinkle with salt. Repeat with two more batches of onion.
Meanwhile, put the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the lentils have softened but still have a little bite. Drain into a colander.
Wipe clean the saucepan in which you fried the onion and drop in the cumin and coriander seeds. Place over a medium heat and toast the seeds for a minute or two, until they release those distinctive aromas. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with oil, then add the cooked lentils and water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on very low heat for 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat, lift off the lid and cover the pan with a clean tea towel. Seal tightly with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes. Finally, tip the rice and lentils into a large mixing bowl. Add half the fried onion and stir gently with a fork. Pile up in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion.
Yotam Ottolenghi is chef/patron of Ottolenghi in London.

Top tip: check out Sloe Gin or Sloe Vodka...... utterly delicious


  1. Never mind hanging around with Nigella - I am strongly suspecting that you ARE Nigella!!! I make my own Sloe Gin, We are semi rural and Sloes grow in our hedgerows - I only wish I could leave it to mature a bit more! If only you could get a Colin Firth to go!

  2. Ooh Ive just bought ottolenghis book Plenty.Haven't tried any of the recipes yet but this sounds delicious.
    We always make sloe gin but have never made vodka-will have to give it a try.Shame about the rain but it sounds like you still had a great time.

  3. This dish sounds great but I had a miserable experience with sloe gin as a stupid teenager.
    I do recall how beautiful it looked, illuminated in the freshly fallen snow as I grasped the light pole for support, heaving.
    Never again.
    X David, NYC

  4. 'A pot of tea and a Colin Firth to go' - ha, ha - love it! Or maybe a 'double expresso and a Bradd Pitt on the side', please? Or a 'cappuchino with a large slice of Bill Nighy'? Your break sounded great, despite the fat rain :)

  5. Ah, your break and that recipe sound fabulous. I know about the hour but the body (and the cats) aren't respecting it. I'm wide awake an hour earlier than I should be.
    I've stayed all over Goa but Arambol's where my heart is. You'll find us frolicking in the sand dunes for most of December and April. xxx

  6. Dear Jo, after speaking to you last I managed to last til Wednesday before falling off the wagon with Mrs Jones. Back on it on Monday as I have too much on at the mo but I'm dying to see you so please let's set a date soon.

    My mail is still crashed and I can only using the iPhone at the mo and still trawling back through messages so apologies for being totally crap at replying.

    Your weekend sounds wonderful apart from the rain and I love the cakes at Otto Lenghi.

    I love a bit of Sloe Gin but have never had Sloe Vodka! You're giving me ideas now! My dad made some fabulous Sloe Gin and The Actor and I polished the whole bottle off in one go when we last visited. Where can I buy Sloes from? xx

  7. The recipe sounds fantastic, I will give it a try and then may have to buy the book - problem is I always Google recipes these days rather than trawling through my lovely books - time for a reading afternoon soon. I must be missing something with the Sloe drinks, it tastes like cough mixture to me x

  8. A fabulous recipe, a vicarious walk in the rainy French countryside (preceded by a drive)--what could be more glorious? Thanks for the fun post and the visit to my blog. Come by any time.

  9. I would have loved to have been there to enjoy it. In a way, I was, as you have a knack for taking people with you when you write. I'll try this recipe when I get home.

  10. Thanks for your comment on my blog. I will try your recipe it's look very yummy...... then again anything with lentils .... is.

  11. Never tasted sloe gin - but it's on my list of stuff now, thanks to you!

    Ali x