Easy mid-week recipes
It’s too easy to grab a frozen pizza. With planning, cooking can be a pleasure, not a chore
Moroccan lamb with almonds and raisins. Photograph: Emma Jervis
We live in such a constantly demanding world – from school pickups to working overtime and the constant notifications on our phones – it’s hard to know where your focus should land. It’s no surprise, therefore, that it’s often easier to peel the plastic off a frozen pizza come dinner-time than plan something more nutritious and rewarding to eat. I’m sure we’ve all experienced nights when dinner seems like a chore and we turn instead to take-out menus or processed food. Why bother? Why add one more thing to the to-do list?
It’s a simple answer and an age-old one too: you are what you eat – but also how you eat. Nutritious and wholesome food makes you feel better and allows you to get the best out of your own body, but a planned and disciplined approach to meals makes for a more enjoyable dining experience. Planning our meals ahead is a wonderful practice – it offers focus and clarity to the course of an otherwise unpredictable lifestyle, and I promise you’ll find it takes cooking from a chore to a pleasure.
The ritual of cooking and eating is, sadly, one which has been allowed to fade out of western society. We forget to celebrate good food and enjoy time coming together over a meal. Cooking is a wonderful skill to raise our children with, and family meals are a lovely focus to offer them as they leave home and plan feeding their bodies the best they possibly can.
I would invite you to take the time this weekend to plan your meals for the next week and see what you can do to make meals a little easier on yourself. To aide you in this I’ve compiled a few recipes that I would recommend making this weekend to take the pressure off for the week ahead. They’re also recipes that are wonderfully designed to improve over time. The spices and flavours become more profound as they sit, so come dinner time during the week all you have to do is heat them up.
Red onion, ginger, garlic and basil lentils
This is an interesting and fresh way to have lentils. The ginger adds nourishing heat while the garlic and lemon juice adds a sharpness to the dish. Some fresh mint along with the basil works very well. This dish is even better when made in advance and reheated. If you manage to have any leftovers they can be used to accompany some grilled chicken or lamb.
4 tablespoons sesame oil
4 medium-sized red onions, sliced
Salt and pepper
About 30-40g fresh ginger
Zest and juice of one large lemon
6 cloves of garlic
2 cups chopped basil leaves
1 Wash and rinse the lentils in warm water, then drain.
2 Put a pan on a medium heat and add in the sesame oil followed by the onions. Season generously with salt and pepper, lower the heat and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally until they become nice and soft.
3 Add the lentils, pour in just enough cold water to cover, and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, finely grate the ginger and add to the lentils along with the zest and juice of the lemon.
4 Peel the garlic cloves and crush them into the lentils and continue to cook for roughly 20 minutes, making sure the lentils do not dry out. Cooking time will depend on the type of lentil you have chosen, so test from time to time.
5 When just soft, remove from the heat and stir in the coarsely chopped basil, check for seasoning and serve.
Crispy baked fish fillets with a spicy marinade
This recipe ticks all the boxes: fresh, spicy, fast and crispy. The marinade can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for a couple of days. The fish can be marinading while you get other things done in the kitchen, and it only takes minutes to cook. But it’s important to only allow the fish to marinade for a maximum of 30 minutes, otherwise it will fall apart and be difficult to handle. Serve with a big, crisp salad of cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and onions in a sharp lemon dressing.
For the marinade
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp lemon juice
50g fresh coriander, leaves only
2 chillies, chopped
4 big cloves garlic, peeled
4cm piece of fresh ginger, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
For the fish
4 x 175g fish fillets with skin on but scaled
40g corn flour
olive oil for frying
1 Place all the marinade ingredients in a food processor. Blitz until you have a rough puree. Empty into a stainless steel bowl and add the fish fillets and mix well. Set aside for 20-30 minutes.
2 Remove the fish from the marinade, shaking of the liquid, and place in a single layer on a baking tray. Drain the liquid from the marinade bowl, and take the remaining solids and pat them all over both sides of the fillets, pressing it firmly as you go.
3 Spread the corn flour on a large plate. Dip the fillets carefully, one at a time, in the flour, coating both sides, and lay them back on the tray.
4 Put a 5mm depth of oil in a large frying pan or sauté pan and set over a medium-high heat. When hot, slip the fillets into the oil and fry for 3-4 minutes per side, until reddish-brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve at once.
Moroccan lamb with almonds and raisins
This is a family favourite, just the dish when you want something bursting with flavour without much effort. Even better when cooked in advance.
750g stewing lamb, cubed
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
2 tsp turmeric
½ tsp powdered ginger
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tin of tomatoes
Some chopped parsley and coriander
200g raisins, soaked in water while you cook the meat
100g slivered almonds
1 Put the lamb, onions, garlic, salt, pepper and spices, along with four tablespoons of oil, into a heavy-based saucepan that can go from hob to oven to table, and mix very well. Then add the tomatoes and water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and let simmer for about 45 minutes.
2 After 45 minutes, add the drained raisins and chopped herbs. Cook for another 30 minutes (without the lid) or until the meat is tender and the sauce looks like a thick gravy. If you are cooking this in advance, cool now and keep in the fridge and reheat the next day.
3 Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/gas 4.
4 Transfer the saucepan (without the lid) with the meat and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the meat is glazed. Meanwhile, heat a dry frying pan and toast the almonds over a medium flame until brown but not burnt, and sprinkle over the top just before serving.
5 Serve with natural yoghurt and the cucumber and onion salad, below
Cucumber and onion salad
1 medium cucumber, diced
1 small onion, diced
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper
Splash of olive oil
Mix all together and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spring greens, barley and chicken broth
This broth is ideal made in advance, and will make a complete meal along with good bread and cheese and a bowl of leaves.
150g pearl barley
1 litre of chicken stock
2 medium leeks, finely sliced
¼ Savoy cabbage, shredded
1 bunch of spring greens, shredded
Any leftover cooked chicken (optional)
Salt and ground black pepper
1 Put the pearl barley in a large pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes. Drain. Return to the pan, add the chicken stock and bring back to a simmer.
2 After about 20 minutes, test the barley – if it’s cooked to your liking, move on to step 3. If it seems a bit nutty, simmer a little longer.
3 Add the cabbage and greens and let them simmer for just a couple of minutes, until just tender. Add the leeks and cook for another two minutes, until they are just tender.
4 If you have some cooked chicken, add it right at the end, when the heat is turned off, season to taste and serve.