Last week I had the pleasure of hosting 8 lovely ladies for a weeknight supper and long overdue catch up. When I’m feeding lots of people on a school night and I want to join in the conversation rather than be locked to the hob, I try to make something the night before, leave it to intensify and improve for 24 hours, then bring it back to life with a few fresh ingredients from the market. Chilli is an old favourite—economical, comforting and greedily devoured whenever it’s on the menu. A mixed bean version with jacket potatoes made an appearance on bonfire night, and slow-cooked beef brisket chilli filled many a plate at Raph’s birthday. Last week I think I nailed the ideal veggie recipe with a mixture of lentils, pearl barley and kidney beans giving a really satisfying, meaty texture. Some of the girls said they preferred it to any carnivorous version they’d tried and demanded the recipe so here it is.
This makes a big batch – enough for 10 plus some amazing leftover lunches. Heat the oven to 160ºC. Soak roughly 400g pearl barley and 400g brown/green/puy lentils in a big bowl full of cold water and set aside. Make a pot of coffee and pour about 2 mug’s worth into a bowl with 4 large (or 6 small) dried red chillies and leave them to soak. Put your biggest pan over a low heat and pour in a glug of oil. Roughly slice 2-3 white onions and stir them into the hot oil with a tablespoon each of smoked paprika*, cumin, cayenne pepper and cinnamon. Cook gently for about 15 minutes until the onions are soft and the spices have released their goodness then add 6 sliced cloves of garlic and a couple of sliced fresh red chillies. Slice the rehydrated coffee chillies and throw them in too, along with the coffee from the bowl. Then add 3 tins of chopped or plum tomatoes and a glass or two of red wine if you’ve got some lying around. At this stage I added the flesh of 6 peppers (red, yellow and orange) blackened under a hot grill. This adds a delicious smokiness but is by no means essential. Drain the barley and lentils and pour them into the pan with 2 tins of kidney beans (or any other beans from your cupboard). Top the pan up with veggie stock until all the pulses are submerged and put the pot in the oven for about an hour to thicken. The chilli’s ready when the lentils and barley are soft but still maintain their structure and bite. Don’t let it turn to mush. Season well to taste and serve as below or leave overnight.
There are a few essential accessories to chilli in my mind (rice is seldom one of them). In order of preference: grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, quick fresh guacamole (mash avocado with lime juice, green chilli, spring onions, sea salt & pepper), thinly sliced gem lettuce, coriander and a squeeze of fresh lime all wrapped up in a tortilla. I believe all the girls went for two tortillas, despite over-stuffing the first.
* a friend of mine went through a stage of repeatedly giving me smoked paprika as a present so I have loads of the stuff! You can find it at continental delis and larger supermarkets.