Nigel Slater’s Recipes for Lentil and Bulgur Patties, and Pea Soup with Pork Shank | Food

Mid-March is a good time to tidy up, clean the terraces before spring arrives in the kitchen. One of the narrow shelves in the pantry houses a collection of tightly corked jars of dry goods – the beige stuff that forms the basis of hearty, cheap dinners like fries: couscous and mograbia, polenta and bulgur, both fine and coarse. There are chickpeas and dried butter beans, lentils and beans, rice-like orzo and lentils in decreasing sizes.

The small amounts in each jar are frustrating – obviously I’m grateful, but also annoyed that there aren’t really enough to make a single dish. Experience tells me that you mix these ingredients at your own risk, as they all take different cooking times. (Mixed lentil soup ended up with fluffy greens in orange lentil porridge.) So I decided to make cupcakes from a mixture of bulgur and lentils. Bulgur is the thin variety and ready in minutes; lentils are tiny pale orange lentils that quickly fall into a delicious puree.

I tinker with the timings, making sure they’re both tender enough to squeeze into a batch of fluffy rissoles-like cakes. I fry them briefly on each side for a crispy crust, then cook them in an easy sweet and sour tomato-olive sauce. The cupboard is now empty of two jars of “bits” and I begin to put away the little freezer, finding enough peas to make a soup whose bright green notes fill us with hope for the new season.

Lentil and bulgur pancakes, tomato and olive sauce

Be sure to use thin bulgur for this. Do not neglect the resting time in the refrigerator. This is important for the texture of the balls. For 4 people

onions 2, medium
olive oil 4 tablespoons
garlic 2 cloves
yellow mustard seeds 1½ tsp
cumin seeds 1½ tsp
curry powder 2 teaspoons
ground turmeric 1 teaspoon
vegetables soup 1 litre
Lenses 250g, small and red
bulgur 150g, good
parsley 15g
coriander leaves 10g
mint leaves 10, large
vegetable oil 3 tablespoons for frying

For the sauce:
tomatoes 600g
olive oil 2 tablespoons
Tomato puree 2 teaspoons
green olives 100g, pitted
pomegranate molasses 1 tbsp

Peel and finely chop the onions. Heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan with a lid, add the onions and cook for 15 minutes over medium-high heat, until pale and translucent, stirring regularly. Peel and crush the garlic into a paste (I use a pestle and mortar) and stir into the onions. Add the yellow mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry powder and ground turmeric and continue cooking for another 3 or 4 minutes until toasted and sticking to the pan. Pour in the vegetable broth, stirring, then bring to a boil and add the lentils.

Lower the heat a little, partially cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes (there will be very little water left), then stir in the bulgur. Remove from heat and season generously with salt and black pepper. Finely chop the herbs and stir them into the lentils and bulgur, then set aside covered with the lid on for 10 minutes.

Using your hands, roll the mixture into 12 large balls (you will get 12-14 balls at 75-80g each), placing them on a tray as you go. Reserve at least two hours in the refrigerator.

To make the sauce, roughly chop the tomatoes and put them in a pan with the olive oil. Cook over moderate heat, partially covered with a lid, for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes begin to crumble and release their juices. Add the tomato puree. Roughly chop the olives. Mash the tomatoes with a fork, then stir in the olives, salt and a little pepper and the molasses. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, then transfer to a large baking dish. Set the oven to 200C/thermostat 6. Heat a thin layer of vegetable oil (about 3 tablespoons) in a shallow pan over medium heat, then fry the balls for about 4 minutes on each side, watching them carefully, until golden brown, then transfer them to the baking dish, cover and bake for 30 minutes.

Pea soup with pork knuckle and herbs

“The bright green notes of pea soup fill us with hope for the new season”: pea soup with pork knuckle and herbs. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

You’ll have more than enough ham for 4. Save the rest for the next day for sandwiches, perhaps with English mustard, watercress and cucumber. The cooking juice from the ham will have had its effect, but you can keep the rest for a risotto soup. For 4 people

ham hock 1 kg, with bone
bay leaves 3
black peppercorns 6
cloves 3
peas 450g, frozen
garlic 1 large clove
parsley leaves 10g
chive 1 tbsp, chopped
basil leaves 20

Put the pork knuckle in a saucepan with just enough water to cover, bring to a boil, skim off any foam that rises to the surface, then add the bay leaves, peppercorns and cloves. Lower the heat so that the liquid simmers. Partially cover the pan with a lid and leave, turning occasionally, for about 45-50 minutes, until the ham is cooked down to the bone.

Remove the ham from the liqueur and remove the aromatics with a slotted spoon. Transfer 1 liter of liqueur to another saucepan. Bring to a boil, add the peas and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, until the peas are tender. Add half the parsley, chives and basil leaves to the peas, cook for about a minute more, then blend in small batches in a blender to make a thick, green soup. Grind with a little black pepper. The soup is unlikely to need salt, but taste to check.

Remove and discard the thick layer of fat from the ham and tear into generous spoon-sized pieces. Roughly chop a few more herbs, then roll the ham in them. Press firmly so that the herbs stick to the meat. Ladle the soup into bowls and add the ham.

Follow Nigel on Instagram @NigelSlater

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