Jo’s Save-the-day Tuna Bake

tuna bake pic It would have looked better if the cheese grater hadn’t been in the dishwasher. Luckily it tasted the same.

This is about to become your children’s number one favourite dish, so if you make it once, be prepared to make it lots of times after that. Jo is Foundation Phase Head of Department at Muizenburg Primary School, one of those South African institutions which, quietly and without fuss, makes miracles happen every day. Jo plays a big part in stretching the school’s tiny budget so that kids from disadvantaged homes don’t fall through the cracks of a system not equipped to bail them out. This means putting in a lot of personal time, dipping into her own wallet and being super-creative about coming up with learning solutions.

A few years back her school won a prize for most integrated in the Western Cape (woo-hoo!). Jo deserves some big accolades which will come to her in time because that’s how the universe works. My kids ate this dish one evening at her house, and now I make it weekly, especially when there’s zip-diddly in the cupboards, everyone’s hungry and I am not driving to the Spar. It takes about twenty minutes from start to finish, and it’s not half bad with some salad and a glass of cold Sauv Blanc.

Ingredients:

Tuna in oil (because life is too short for the other kind)
Mayo (the cheap and nasty kind works fine)
One cup of rice
A small onion
Cheese
Salt and Pepper

Method
While your rice is cooking, chop that onion up finely as you can get it. In a mixing bowl, combine the cooked rice, tuna, raw onion and about six tablespoons of mayo. Season with salt and pepper, and put it in a baking dish. Cover with grated cheese, pop it under the grill for 10 minutes, and voila! Dinner is served.

Jo and Grant. Two very, very good people.
Jo and Grant. Two very, very good people.

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.