Les Lentilles (yes, you guessed it – this dish is awfully very French)

Really, really good for wintry weather
Really, really good for wintry weather. Even if you only live in Cape Town.

Even though I don’t speak a word of the language (that’s not true, I know ‘les’) and I’ve only been to France once in my life for five minutes, I just know, deep down, that I’m French. Sometimes I’m also Italian, but mainly I’m more French. I get them, those people, with their fabulous dishes of cream and bone marrow and not caring when their husbands have affairs. Well, that part I don’t really get, but the rest I totally do.

My amazing friend Paul who owns Nomu came up with this recipe using fancy puy lentils and fish, but since I wouldn’t know a puy lentil if it had a tantrum on my head, I just use those brown ones you buy at Pick ‘n Pay. And because there wasn’t any fresh fish in my fridge that day or ever, I also substituted that for chorizo because I saw that someone once used that in another lentil dish. But the rest is totally, completely sort of Paul’s recipe.

When I make this dish it’s almost like I become Edith Piaf singing about having no regrets. You kind of want to put on a boa and swan about with a cigarette holder and say things that shock your children. But then you remember you’re actually just a mom cooking Thursday night supper, so you have to settle down and be content with a glass of red. And anyway, once I cooked in a boa and the feathers got in everything. This dish is easy, seriously tasty and quite stylish, actually. You wouldn’t be amiss serving it to guests with a nice ciabatta and a bottle of something dusky. Here’s how to access your inner grande dame:

Ingredients:

Brown lentils (they might be called green, but they are most definitely brown)
An onion (the red ones are bit sweeter, I find)
A clove of garlic (okay, three)
A carrot
Celery
Chorizo
Vegetable stock
Dried or fresh tarragon and whatever other herbs you have bumming around. Oreganum and thyme work nicely.
A bay leaf or two

Method:

Chop your onion, garlic, carrots and celery as finely as you can be bothered and fry them in a bit of olive oil. When the onion goes see-through, add your chopped chorizo and fry it up a bit. Add two cups of lentils, four cups of water, your veggie stock cube or powder, your bay leaf and your chopped up herbs. Put the lid on and let it simmer gently. Keep checking that you have enough water in your pot. If it gets too dry, add more. When the lentils are almost done (they should have a bit of a bite), take the lid off and let the rest of the water cook away. Season generously with salt and black pepper. Serve it in bowls with a drizzle of olive oil. SO very yum-ois.

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Per’s Easy-peasy Paella

Doesn't that look like the real McCoy?
Doesn’t that look like the real McCoy?

This dish has always scared me a bit – the mussel shells and saffron rice looked so intimidating, but the other night Per found some frozen seafood we had leftover from a party, and rustled up a Paella which, I have to say, was better than the one we ate in Spain (and my friend Alison agreed, so it must be true). Actually, using frozen prawns worked just as well, and aside from the seafood, the stuff you need is really pretty basic. And even though you can pull this cheat version off in 20 minutes flat, it’s fancy enough to serve to guests and look like you’re pretty accomplished. And we like dishes like that. If you have a big wok, make it and serve it in that. Otherwise, a large frying pan or any shallow-ish pot will do.

You’ll need:

White rice
Frozen prawns and mussels
Two chicken breasts
A chorizo sausage (optional)
An onion
Two cloves of garlic
A tablespoon of dried paprika
A carrot
Saffron or turmeric
A red or green pepper or frozen peas or both
Chicken stock

Method:

Chop your onion, garlic, red or green pepper and carrot and fry it up in a bit of oil. If you have saffron, add a pinch, otherwise a teaspoon of turmeric works just as well. Sprinkle in your paprika. Add your chicken breasts chopped into bit-sized pieces and if you want to include Chorizo, chop it up and put that in now. Fry the meat up a bit so everything browns a little. Add a cup of rice, fry it up and bit, and then whack in two cups of chicken stock. Put the lid on, turn the heat down and leave it till nearly all the water’s been absorbed. Add your frozen seafood and peas, a sprinkle of salt and black pepper and put the lid back on for ten minutes or so, till the rest of the water disappears. And that’s it! Serve with lemon wedges, crusty bread and a bottle of bubbly. It’s a party in a pot.