Paul Flynn: Rice and lentil dishes for all seasons

I love all rice dishes and lentils are a great match for almost every main course

Chicken pilaff

Chicken pilaff

 

The best rice dish I ever ate was a welcome dinner in France with the Scouts when I was 14. It was chicken a la crème, generously flecked with tarragon, nestling on buttery rice. I lapped it up like a happy little hound. The other boys were bewildered and disdainful and worried that this was the sort of food they we going to be forced to eat for the rest of the trip. I however, was hopeful that this would be the case. More for me.

That was without doubt a lightbulb moment in my life, although I didn’t know it at the time. It started a curiosity about food that only three years later found me happily ensconced in the kitchen of a local restaurant, with a life of cooking ahead of me.

I pity the blinkered cook and eater. Curiosity and appetite are such happy bedfellows. They make life so much richer.

Rice dishes are numerous and diverse and I love them all. Rice carries spice in a warm comforting embrace. From a saffron-hued paella to a crisp bottomed Iranian tahdig, there is so much variety. A comforting risotto or just a simple rice pudding . . . there are so many rice dishes, all of them wonderful.

I use a rice cooker for this chicken pilaff. Of course I’m not presuming you all have rice cookers, but you can follow the same timings if you cook it in a pot.

The salad is a mushroomy winter version of that Italian staple, panzanella. We have it with steak. The bread carries all the flavours of everything else in the dish. The Italians never throw anything out.

The lentils are a Tannery staple in the winter months. They go with practically every main course but sometimes I like to warm them gently and serve them with soft creamy goat’s cheese, for an earthy nutritious, delight.

A brilliant shortcut for lentils and one I employ when I am feeling lazy at home is to take a tin of lentils and warm them through with a clove of crushed garlic, a little balsamic vinegar and a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper. It is almost instantaneously delicious.

CHICKEN PILAFF

Serves four

Ingredients
1 large knob of butter
3 chicken breasts cut into 2cm chunks
125g smoked bacon lardons
1 large leek, cut in half lengthways , washed and shredded
350g basmati rice
A pinch of cinnamon
700ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper
200ml tub of sour cream
1 tbsp spicy mango chutney

Method
1
Preheat an oven to 170 degrees or equivalent. Put your butter in a largish, oven-proof pot, over a medium heat. When it is foaming, add the chicken and brown it gently for a couple of minutes.

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2 Add the leeks and bacon and cook for another minute or so.

3 Add the rice and cinnamon and mix well, then add the stock and salt and pepper.

4 Bring to a simmer, place a lid on top and cook for 25 minutes in the oven.

5 When the time is up, fluff the rice up gently with a fork and place a clean tea towel over the top of the pot, without the lid, and leave for a few minutes. This will remove any excess moisture.

6 For the sauce, mix the sour cream and mango chutney together and serve with the pilaff.

LENTILS VINAIGRETTE

Serves four

Lentils vinaigrette
Lentils vinaigrette

Ingredients
200g dried Puy lentils
1 slice smoked streaky bacon
A sprig of thyme
50ml olive oil
1 stick of celery, finely diced
1 shallot, peeled and finely diced
1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
20ml red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Method
1
Cover the lentils generously in cold water, add the bacon and thyme and bring to a simmer and cook for around 15-20 minutes, until they are soft but not broken up.

2 Meanwhile, gently sweat the diced vegetables in half the olive oil until just cooked – they must still have some bite.

3 Strain the lentils, reserving a little of the water. Remove the bacon and thyme.

4 Add the vegetables to the lentils, along with the rest of the olive oil, mustard, honey, vinegar, salt and pepper. 

5 Reserve until needed. It will keep for up to a week in the fridge. Best served warm.

MUSHROOM, ROASTED BREAD AND SPINACH SALAD

Serves four

Ingredients
Half a French stick, torn into pieces
150ml olive oil
250g button mushrooms, washed, dried and cut in half
250g chestnut mushrooms, washed, dried and cut in half
6 shallots, peeled and sliced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 tbsp honey
30ml red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
250g bag baby spinach, washed and dried

Method
1
Roast the bread with a little of the olive oil for 10-12 minutes in an oven at 180 degrees, until golden and crunchy.

2 Put the remaining olive oil in a large pan – use a wok if you have one. Heat until gently smoking, then add the mushrooms, shallots and garlic.

3 Cook for three to four minutes, then add the red wine vinegar, honey and finally the spinach. Season and turn the spinach through the mushrooms until it starts to wilt.

4 Finally add the bread into the mixture and fold it through.

5 Serve warm or at room temperature.

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