My husband was away on business last week, a trip he has to make about four or five times a year. While this is not something I welcome, I don’t hate it quite as much as I perhaps should. Of course if you asked me how it was, I would affect my very best exhausted martyr demeanour and say something like, ‘yeah, it’s miserable, bloody hard work, SO lonely’, but now that the kids are older and less demanding (in a fundamental sense at least), and are good company, it’s really not so bad.
Sure I miss him, him being my best friend and all (just as well after 28 years together) and I don’t like the weight of responsibility of being the only
person pretending to be an adult in the house at night. I hate sleeping alone and, if I’m honest, am still a little afraid of the dark, that being where the axe-murderers and bogeymen lurk. When the 9yo asks if he can sleep in my bed, I may feign disgruntlement, but I am secretly as grateful as he for the company.
What I don’t miss is the snoring, which depending on my husband’s stress and/or blood alcohol levels veers between Ivor the Engine (remember him? pshhdikoffpshhdikoffpshhdikoff) and a warthog drowning in its own effluent. The 9yo may trump like a trooper, but at least he’s quiet about it. I also don’t miss having to politely endure endless random European football matches, and I relish the fact that I can (and do) watch four hours of crap telly every night – maybe an hour or two of MasterChef (any nationality – I’m not fussy) sandwiched between various extreme survival reality bug-fests all of which seem to be hosted by Bear Grylls.
But what I like best about my husband being away is that I don’t have to cook. Yes, I love cooking, but I also find not cooking massively liberating, not just in terms of freeing up time usually spent in the kitchen, but more significantly, time spent simply thinking about food. When he’s away I don’t have to plan what proteins to buy from the butcher and what to pair them with, I don’t have to worry about cooking something that might not be enjoyed by the whole family, or that I am failing to serve a ‘proper’ meal just because it happens to have a bread element (pizza, burgers, fajitas, all just ‘sandwiches’ in my husband’s book. Toast – not actually a food.). So the kids had a week of pasta and bung-in-the-oven suppers involving a great many sausages (and were as happy as piggies in the proverbial), while I had oven chips with beans and cheese one night (don’t knock it until you try it), porridge the next and some leftover trifle from a recipe I was trying out for The Guardian the other.
And did I use all that freed up time and headspace constructively? Did I declutter cupboards and donate the spoils to charity? Weed the garden and mow the lawn? Make a sizeable dent in Anna Karenina? Did I fuck. I watched Season Three of MasterChef USA in its entirety, perused the new Alexa Chung M&S range concluding that none of it would look good on anybody except Alexa Chung and indulged in a spot of fantasy house buying on Right Move. Oh and also worked on perfecting the exhausted martyr look ready for my husband’s return.
Hummus with crispy spiced lamb and dukkah flatbreads
Since I did little in the way of cooking last week (and I take it none of you need a recipe for chips, beans and cheese) I am once again turning to the archives to bring you this delish meze dish (one that actually made it into the print version of the The Guardian a couple of weeks ago (yay!)). I recommend once again the use of jarred rather than tinned chickpeas for the hummus as they whizz into an incredibly creamy paste so you won’t need to add any extra oil. In addition to the crispy lamb recipe, I have also included one for fried spiced chickpeas which could substitute the lamb if you are veggie or vegan. You could serve this with pittas, but these flatbreads take the dish to a new level and only take moments to make.
Serves 6 as a starter or as part of a meze
- 1 jar chickpeas (400g)
- 2 heaped tbsp tahini
- Juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 clove garlic crushed or grated
- Pinch salt
- Whizz the chickpeas with about half of their brine in a food processor with all the other ingredients until smooth and creamy. Loosen with a splash of water if too thick. Add more lemon juice, cumin, tahini or salt to taste.
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- Pinch cayenne pepper or chilli flakes (add more if you like things spicy)
- 500g minced lamb
- Salt, pepper and lemon juice.
- Chopped mint or parsley, toasted pine nuts or sliced almonds, and pomegranate seeds to garnish.
- In a large non stick frying pan, fry the onion in a glug of olive oil until softened, about 10 mins. Add all the spices and fry for another minute. Add the lamb, breaking up with a spoon. Fry until the underside of the lamb has formed a crust – don’t be tempted to stir it around – then flip it over, breaking up the clumps again and fry until the lamb is dark brown and crispy all over. Season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon.
Crispy spiced chickpeas
- 400g jar of chickpeas, drained, rinsed and well dried in kitchen towel
- oil for deep frying
- 2 tsp ras el hanout spice mix (the Arabica brand available at M&S is great), or use the same spices in the same quantities as for the lamb above
- Heat the oil in a medium saucepan – you need a depth of about 2 inches. If you dip the handle end of a wooden spoon into the oil and bubbles appear you will know it is ready.
- Deep fry the chickpeas in batches for about 3 minutes until they are golden and crispy, drain on kitchen towel, then toss to coat in the spices with a pinch of salt. (If deep frying scares you then you can shallow fry the chickpeas for about 5 minutes on the hob, or toss them in a little oil and bake in the oven at 200°C for 30 minutes. The result will be less crispy – and be warned, they do have a tendency to explode all over your hob/oven.)
To serve, spread the hummus on a large plate, pile on the crispy lamb or chickpeas, scatter over the pine nuts/almonds, pomegranate seeds and chopped herbs and serve with wedges of lemon on the side.
Dukkah is an Egyptian blend of nuts, seeds and spices into which you would traditionally dip bread that had first been dipped in olive oil. It keeps well for ages in an airtight container and can be sprinkled on all manner of things, from hummus to salad to grilled meats. This version is adapted from River Cottage Every Day. You can of course make the flatbreads without the dukkah, in which case there is no need to brush them with olive oil.
- handful of toasted blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped
- 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds (I used a mix of black and white)
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 125g wholemeal flour
- 125g white flour
- 5g fine salt
- 150ml water
- 1 tbsp olive oil plus extra for brushing
- To make the dukkah, toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry frying pan until fragrant – about 1 min. Bash up a bit in a pestle and mortar, then add the hazelnuts, seeds, spices, oregano and sea salt and bash up a bit more so you are left with a chunky rubble.
- To make the flatbreads, combine the flours, salt, oil and water in a bowl and mix into a dough. Knead for a bit until smooth. Leave to rest while you heat up your frying pan.
- When you are ready to cook, divide the dough into eight and roll each piece out into rounds of 2-3mm thick on a floured surface. Cook each in a hot dry frying pan for about 30 seconds on the first side (dark brown spots should appear), flip over, brush on olive oil and sprinkle over about 1-2 tsp of the dukkah mix and cook for another 30 seconds.