Recipes from The Dinner Ladies

The Dinner Ladies

by Sophie Gilliatt and Katherine Westwood

Stock your fridge or freezer with nourishing dinners that can be made ahead

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In the name of duty we chomped our way through many different vegetarian burgers - pulsey, nutty, beety, the works - trying to find one that didn't taste either worthy or weird. Then we made one up. It doesn't try to pretend to be a burger - it's just something that is stand-alone yummy.

Make ahead: The burgers may be made ahead and frozen. They can be defrosted but will be delicate to handle when they defrost. Alternatively, you can cook them straight from frozen, adding 2 minutes each side to the cooking time.

800 g (1 lb 12 oz) tinned chickpeas, drained and rinsed - 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) drained weight
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon ground cumin, toasted
1/2 red capsicum (pepper), seeded and diced
1 large handful coriander (cilantro), leaves and stems finely chopped
1 handful mint, leaves only, chopped
4 spring onions (scallions), ends removed, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons rice flour
1 teaspoon salt
80 ml (21/2 fl oz/1/3 cup) olive oil

To serve
rocket (arugula) leaves
Cucumber-Yoghurt Sauce (below) or spiced tomato chutney
juice of 1/2 lime (optional)
toasted panini (optional)

Note: For a vegan alternative, replace the egg with chia paste. To make the paste, mix 1 tablespoon chia seeds (crushed) with 1 tablespoon water.

In a small blender, pulse-chop the chickpeas until some are coarsely chopped and some are puréed.

In a large stainless steel bowl, combine the chickpeas, egg, cumin, capsicum, chopped herbs, spring onions, garlic, lemon zest, rice flour and salt. Form some of the mixture into a little patty about 3 cm (11/4 inches) in diameter and fry in olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. This should only take 2 minutes per side. Taste the patty and decide whether you need to adjust the salt or any of the other ingredients.

Roll the mixture into eight evenly sized balls. Flatten them into patties, cover and refrigerate or freeze until using.

When you're ready to cook, heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat and carefully add as many patties as will fit in a single layer. Cook until a golden brown crust has formed on one side - about 4 minutes - then gently flip the patties and cook for another 4 minutes on the other side. Remove to one side and drain on paper towel, cover with a tea towel (dish towel) and leave somewhere warm (such as a low-temperature oven) while you repeat with the remaining patties.

Serve with rocket leaves and cucumber-yoghurt sauce or a spiced tomato chutney, and squeeze a little lime juice over the top if desired.  If you need bread with your burger, serve with toasted panini.  

Cucumber-Yoghurt Sauce
Many cultures share the idea of a cool, cucumber-yoghurt-mint sauce - and we use them interchangeably. If it's to go with Indian food, it's raita; if it's Greekish it's tzatziki. And let's not even get into Turkish cacik or Lebanese laban. They all give freshness and lift to spicy or oily food. A basic recipe to go with everything is 260 g (91/4 oz/1 cup) plain yoghurt, 1 Lebanese (short) cucumber (peeled, grated and the water squeezed out), 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/2 garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon chopped mint. Mix together well and call it whatever you like.

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A beefy crowd-pleaser, full of roast spices, the warmth of chilli, the sour-sweetness of tomato and vinegar and the smooth roundness of coconut milk. Cook the diced beef very gently in a fresh spice paste until it falls apart at the pressure of a fork and finish the curry with toasted coconut and fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves.

Make ahead: The whole recipe can be made ahead and kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Garnish with freshly shaved coconut and fresh coriander leaves before serving.

1 tablespoon peanut oil or other mild-flavoured oil
2 brown onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 x 3 cm (11/4 inch) piece ginger, grated
11/2 teaspoons salt
1 handful curry leaves
1 heaped teaspoon ground turmeric
1 heaped teaspoon ground chilli
1 tablespoon ground coriander, toasted
11/2 teaspoons ground cumin, toasted
1 teaspoon tomato paste (concentrated purée)
400 g (14 oz) tinned chopped tomatoes
800 g (1 lb 12 oz) stewing beef, such as shin, chuck or blade, diced into 3 cm (11/4 inch) cubes
375 ml (13 fl oz/11/2 cups) coconut milk
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 tablespoons desiccated (shredded) coconut
90 g (31/4 oz/1 bunch) coriander (cilantro), leaves only, coarsely chopped, reserve a few whole leaves to garnish

To serve:
shaved fresh coconut or toasted desiccated (shredded) coconut
steamed basmati rice or Spiced Rice
Cucumber-Yoghurt Sauce

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-based saucepan and cook the onions, garlic and ginger with a fat pinch of the salt for 10-15 minutes till soft, stirring frequently.

Add the curry leaves, turmeric, chilli, ground coriander, cumin, tomato paste and chopped tomatoes to the onions, and combine. Season the beef with the remaining salt and stir through. Cover with the coconut milk and vinegar and cook till tender. The cooking time will depend very much on the beef - start checking to see if it is tender after 2 hours, but it may well take more than 3 hours, especially if you're using shin.

To finish, stir through the desiccated coconut and chopped coriander.

Serve with shaved fresh coconut or toasted desiccated coconut, steamed basmati rice or spiced rice, and a handful of coriander leaves. A cooling cucumber-yoghurt sauce on the side is always welcome.

Spiced Rice
Bright yellow rice, flecked with whole spices and studded with peas, always looks celebratory and lifts a curry out of the everyday. It's also about as quick to make as plain steamed rice and means you can get away without a vegetable dish (maybe just a raita for good luck). For four people, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat and throw in 2 cloves, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and 1 cinnamon stick and fry till the cumin seeds darken. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, then 400 g (14 oz/2 cups) basmati rice, stirring to coat with the spices. Cover with 750 ml (26 fl oz/3 cups) of water, bring to the boil, then add 140 g (5 oz/1 cup) thawed frozen peas, cover the pan tightly with a lid and turn the heat down to the barest simmer for 20 minutes. Take the lid off, fluff up with a fork and remove the cinnamon stick and cloves (if they're easy to find) before serving.

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We've always loved meatloaf, slightly kitsch and '70s though it is. This one - long since borrowed and adapted from 72 Market Street in Venice, California - is packed with flavour from a base of slowly cooked vegetables. For a pork-free version, use beef and skip the pancetta - it won't be exactly the same but it's still good.

Make ahead: The uncooked meatloaf can be completely made up to 1 day ahead, covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated, or frozen for up to 3 months (defrost before cooking). If you're not using the mixture immediately, it is essential that the vegetable mixture is fridge-cold before mixing with the meat.

1 small brown onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, cut into 3 pieces
1/4 red capsicum (pepper), seeded and coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, cut into 3 pieces
21/4 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
11/2 teaspoons salt
550 g (1 lb 4 oz) minced (ground) pork and veal
1 small handful parsley, leaves and top stems, finely chopped
2 thyme sprigs, leaves stripped and finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
50 g (13/4 oz) breadcrumbs (use rice crumbs or gluten-free breadcrumbs if you'd like)
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons tomato paste (concentrated purée)
100 g (31/2 oz) pancetta, thinly sliced

To serve:
mashed or baked potato
tomato chutney

Put the onion, carrot, capsicum and celery in the bowl of a food processor and process till evenly chopped, pulsing and using a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan and add the vegetable mixture, garlic and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes or until the veggies are sweet and soft and most of the moisture has evaporated. Empty into a bowl and leave aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork and veal with the now cool vegetables, as well as the parsley, thyme, egg, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the tomato paste. Mix really well - clean or gloved hands will do the job most thoroughly - until the mixture is uniformly coloured with herbs and vegetables, adding more breadcrumbs if it's too wet. Roll a small ball of the mixture, flatten it, and cook in 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a small, non-stick frying pan over medium to check for seasoning. Adjust if necessary.

Take a 10 x 20 cm (4 x 8 inch)/1 litre (35 fl oz/4 cup) capacity loaf (bar) tin or terrine mould (a plastic takeaway container does the job nicely too) and line it with overlapping strips of pancetta. Fill the tin with the uncooked mixture and pat down well, so that the mix is evenly spread into the corners. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for at least 3 hours to firm up.

When you're ready to cook, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and line  a baking tray with baking paper. Up-end the meatloaf on the baking tray  to un-mould it like a sandcastle. If it's proving stubborn, run a knife around the perimeter of the mould - it should slip out easily.

Put the tray in the centre of the oven and cook for 45 minutes. To test if the meatloaf is cooked, insert a skewer or sharp knife into the centre and lightly touch the end to your lip - if it's not piping hot, return it to the oven for a further 5 minutes and test again. Alternatively, use a meat thermometer and check that it reads 70°C (158°F).

After removing from the oven, set aside for 10 minutes before slicing thickly and serving with potato, coleslaw and tomato chutney.

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