The first time I stayed at my girlfriends house, all she had in the cupboard was Diet Coke, tinned mandarins and a sticky patch of something ominous that was possibly once soy sauce. Her hob hadn’t worked in over 2 years, and she stubbornly warned me not to try to change her.
Undeterred, over the course of the last 10 months, I subtly snuck in the odd ingredient to make microwaveable meals from, a couple of spices to pep up salad dressings, and a jar of ginger-garlic paste ‘just in case’. Turmeric and black pepper made it over the threshold as a cold remedy, and a tin of tomatoes for an emergency gazpacho that never materialised. I frequently joke with her that she keeps me grounded and my recipes where they are meant to be, conjured from dust and thin air and a couple of tins of nothing.
And last night, faced with just a literal handful of stashed ingredients, and disbelieving cries of ‘what on earth could you make with what’s in MY cupboard?’, I riffed on one of my most popular recipes, the peach and chickpea curry from A Girl Called Jack. Lentils in place of chickpeas, mandarins for the peaches, ginger-garlic paste, chilli powder, turmeric, pepper and tinned toms. (The paratha-looking-thing is my gramcake recipe, I bought the gram flour cheap to take home and it never made it as travelling 40 miles with a bag of flour is ill-advised.) Here’s to the next 10 months – what are my odds of sneaking in the bullet blender I bought her for Christmas but didn’t have the kahunas to hand over? ?
Serves 4, generously at 26p each
150g red lentils, 27p (£1.80/1kg, Tesco)
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste, 7p (£1.39/283g, Nishaan brand at Tesco)
400g chopped tomatoes, 31p (31p/400g Everyday Value at Tesco)
300g tinned mandarins, 35p (35p/312g)
1 tsp turmeric, <1p (80p/100g, Natco or KTC brand)
1 tsp cumin, <1p (80p/100g, Natco or KTC brand)
a pinch of chilli flakes or two, <1p (80p/100g, Natco or KTC brand)
a pinch of salt, <1p (35p/750g, table salt at Tesco)
and a few pinches of pepper <1p (80p/100g, Natco or KTC brand)
First pop your lentils in a saucepan that will easily hold double their volume, and cover with water. Do not salt the water as the lentils will seize and harden. Bring to the boil and reduce to a vigorous simmer for around 10 minutes, then drain and thoroughly rinse to get rid of the greyish scum that will have risen to the surface. Tip them back into the pan and return it to the heat.
Add the ginger-garlic paste (or finely chopped fresh ginger and garlic if you don’t have any, but I swear by this as a quick cheap fix and you can find it in the World Foods aisle in the supermarket). Add the spices – turmeric, cumin and chilli – and the salt and pepper, and give it all a good stir. Crank the heat back up high.
Drain the mandarins, reserving the juice. Some brands come in orange juice, which I neck greedily over the hot cooker, and some come in a sticky-sweet syrup, which I put in a jar in the fridge to use in a near-future salad dressing or a cake. Whatever you decide to do with the juice, tip the mandarins into the pan, and the tomatoes. Cook the lot for a further 20 minutes or longer – using lentils in place of the original chickpeas makes this more like a daal, and the longer cook lends itself to softer, swollen lentils with a comforting, creamy texture.
Serve hot with extra chilli to taste – in my small household we all have wildly varying tolerance to heat, so I put a smattering in the curry and leave a small dish of chilli flakes in residence on the table for the bolder members to use with abandon.
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All text copyright Jack Monroe.