Sybil Kapoor on the particular pleasures of weekend cooking
Time is precious at the weekend. As the days grow longer there’s a balance to be found between messing around in the kitchen and being out and about enjoying life. Much depends on the weather. If it’s wild and wet, pottering in my kitchen—stocking up the freezer with home-made soups, curries and gingerbread—is a pleasure, but if spring is in the air I’d rather be having fun elsewhere.
Given the fickle nature of British weather, I’ve learnt to plan for both scenarios. Such planning means that I factor into my shopping how and what I like to eat at the weekend as well as allowing for various staples, so that I can have a cook-fest if I feel like it. There is nothing worse than discovering you have no black treacle when you get the urge to make some gingerbread, or worse still, no chocolate for chocolate cake!
Over the years, I’ve taken to keeping some soup and artisan breads in the freezer—perfect for days when I don’t want to cook lunch. I’m addicted to spicy tomato and coconut soup with black olive ciabatta, but I also love old-fashioned split lentil soup with a crusty sourdough, and leek and watercress soup with onion bread. Add fruit and cheese or yoghurt to the meal, and you will have a simple but delicious feast.
Of course, the soup still has to be made at some point, but I try to fit it in with other cooking. Minestrone is a good choice when I need to rid the fridge of lone courgettes, celeriac and cabbage halves, and lentil soup is ideal for using up stray celery sticks and carrots. Spiced pea soup only needs onions, garlic, curry spices and frozen peas, while spiced tomato soup only needs onions, garlic, ginger, chilli, some spices, tinned tomatoes and coconut milk.
Sunday nights are another time when it is good to have something really quick and easy to hand. As spring approaches, I can’t resist eating simple pastas and hearty salads—but not together. Who can resist a dish of fettucine tossed in lemon-infused cream with peas, a hint of garlic and lots of parmesan? Ultra-fresh courgettes, fried in olive oil with garlic and finished with lemon and basil, are equally delicious, with or without some peeled and freshly chopped tomatoes. If you’re feeling recherché, replace the courgettes with seared prawns. The possibilities are endless.
Hearty salads can take a little longer to make, but are worth the effort: seared salmon fillet with green beans, new potatoes and romaine leaves, for example, or chickpea, bacon, roasted pepper and tomato salad, dressed with vinegar and olive oil and seasoned with chilli, garlic and fresh coriander. Make sure that you have superb olive oil and a good vinegar in your cupboard, as well as olives and capers, as the better the quality of the ingredients, the more superlative the salad.
If the weather is raw and wet, there is something very relaxing about spending an afternoon cooking. My perfect scenario is to have a good play on the radio, a cake or scones baking in the oven for tea and something savoury bubbling on the stove that I can freeze for future eating. Such periods are a treat rather than a chore, so spoil yourself in what you choose to cook. In other words, select dishes that you love but don’t normally have time to cook.
In the Kapoor household this can cover a lot of different foods. I love savoury tarts, such as leek and bacon, or mushroom, onion and cheese, so these are always high on my spoiladocious list. They will keep for a day or two in the fridge and freeze really well, although it’s hard not to eat them straight out of the oven.
I also love chana masala, and saffron and almond lamb curries. I make enough to eat some for supper while using the rest to stack up the freezer. A real indulgence, which requires lots of time, is stuffed parathas: Indian flatbreads filled with grated cauliflower, mouli or mashed potato and onion, cooked on a small cast-iron flat pan called a tawa, then eaten with yoghurt and a tart mango pickle. They can be kept in the fridge and reheated under the grill. Indians often serve them for breakfast, but they’re also delicious for lunch, or eaten cold as part of a picnic.
Alternatively, I might opt for a few hours of cooking cakes, biscuits and puddings. In my view, eating cake or pudding in moderation is essential to a regime of simple, healthy eating, as happiness is a key factor in staying well.
It might sound a bit weird, but I always have a home-made ice cream in the freezer. It never lasts long and makes a speedy week day pudding. At this time of year, it might be pear, apple, rhubarb or, if I want to rid myself of some ripe bananas, rum and banana. In each case, I make a rich custard using 4 egg yolks, 55g caster sugar and 300ml cream, and then fold in the sweetened (not necessary for the bananas) pureed fruit, lemon juice and 1 tbsp of alcohol: poire william, calvados or kirsch, depending on the cooked fruit.
If I’m in a baking mode I have to make my favourite chocolate ginger nuts or gingerbread or an almost flourless chocolate cake. If family are coming round for tea, then it will be scones—the unsweetened Scottish kind—and a cake. It is the weekend, after all.