Welcome to the first of a new series serving up fresh hints and tips for feeding a crowd with flavoursome dishes to help inspire your home cooking repertoire. All prepared by Farmdrop’s chef Alice King, she proves it’s easier than you think with clever use of store cupboard staples and seasonal produce. Ready to tuck in?
Hi, my name is Alice. Everyday I cook for 50 people. 50 hungry and busy people. All in a modest office kitchen that I imagine was never destined for big batch cooking, but nevertheless relishes every challenge I throw at it. My job is to think up dishes that keep the crowd happy and most importantly, satiated. Unsurprisingly, no one wants to work with an hangry colleague.
Healthy lunch, away from the computer
At Farmdrop we believe in the importance of sitting down to a good meal. At 12.30PM every day, we sit down together to eat a lunch made from the wonderful produce that we sell. It’s my job to prepare these lunches and to feed this hungry bunch.
There are dietary requirements to consider, so the lunches are mainly vegetarian (often by chance vegan) and always made using seasonal fresh ingredients. At first some die-hard carnivores weren’t easily convinced, but then came along a surprise killer sweet potato dahl that had everyone wanting thirds. Different pulses, rices and grains are cooked up and it’s a fun challenge to always keep every day different. I’ve learnt along the way the kinds of lunches that will guarantee people queuing up for seconds and those that don’t prove so popular (turns out polenta is quite controversial!).
The beauty of this tart and fruity sticky stuff
I’m the first to test out exciting new foods on the team. Recently pomegranate molasses from World of Zing arrived on the site and I eagerly snapped up a bottle of this rich and fruity syrup. Its wonderfully sweet and tart flavour makes it a fantastic base for salad dressings and marinades.
Native to Iran, pomegranates have been used in Persian cuisine since the beginning of their civilisation. Extensively grown across the Middle East and South-East Asia they crop up in a variety of dishes; bejewelling couscous dishes and jazzing up curries with their burst of fragrant juiciness.
What is Pomegranate Molasses and how is it made?
Pomegranate Molasses is made by boiling down the juice of pomegranates until you get a thick and intensely flavoured syrup. I’m a huge fan of the quality bottled stuff where the hard work has been done for you, and once opened it will keep very well in the fridge. It’s possible to add it to all manner of treats – try drizzled over vegetables before roasting, added to marinades for barbecued meat, popping in salad dressings and even adding to icing for a cake.
On a day that felt like summer had arrived, I made a dish of dark speckled lentils with roasted butternut squash, served alongside a red cabbage, carrot and fennel salad with a pomegranate molasses and yoghurt dressing. Here’s how I did it:
Dark speckled lentils with roasted squash and a fennel, carrot and red cabbage salad with pomegranate molasses dressing:
First, cut the squash into wedges, drizzle over olive oil and pomegranate molasses and roast for 30 minutes at 180°C. I like to leave the skin of the squash on, as it adds some bite.
While the squash was roasting, boil the lentils until tender, but with a slight bite. Drain the cooked lentils and dress with a mixture of sesame oil, soy and sherry vinegar. A good tip: dress the lentils while they’re still warm, they’ll soak up the flavours better.
To make the dressing for the salad, mix together yoghurt, pomegranate molasses, crushed garlic and olive oil. Drizzled over the sliced fennel and red cabbage and leave to sit for a few minutes. This helps to allow the flavours to get to know each other. Put the lentils on a plate, top them with squash, salad, a few pea shoots and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
What people liked about it:
Lentils are always a crowd-pleasing starting point for injecting some healthy protein into dishes. Pulses fill you up but aren’t bulky and are brilliant for holding flavour. There are plenty of contrasts in texture here too with the crunchy salad and almost creamy caramelly roasted squash. This was all set off by the neat flavour scatter-bomb that are sesame seeds and the wonderful moreish sweet and tart tang of pomegranate molasses – my new secret weapon.
Other uses for Pomegranate Molasses:
- Dips – blend with roasted red pepper, garlic and walnuts to make a fresh and tangy dip
- Marinades – mix with crushed garlic to marinade chicken thighs for an hour or so before roasting
- Stews – dollop some into your casserole dish when stewing a joint of lamb
- Sweet treats – whisk together with icing sugar to glaze a sponge cake
Did you know you can make Pomegranate Molasses at home?
All you need to do is…Blitz pomegranate seeds in a blender, then strain through a fine sieve. Use the back of a spoon here to help squeeze out all that juice (you’ll need 250ml). Mix the juice with 55g caster sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, then turn up the heat and reduce until you have a syrupy consistency. And voila, pomegranate molasses!
Next time: I’m going to show you how to make the most of your veggies; including that killer sweet potato dahl recipe.
Have a burning culinary question? Ever argued over whether tomatoes/coffee/bread need to go in the fridge? Send me your kitchen quibbles in the comments below or on Twitter @farmdrop with #askalice and I’ll help you out.