We all need some dishes in our repertoire that are, quite simply, child’s play—dishes with no shopping list, no recipe, that can almost be thrown together with your eyes closed. In this new series, Jenny Chandler gives directions and cooking tips for fabulous seasonal meals that a 10-year-old could throw together
We love pancakes in our house—who doesn’t? And yet we usually eat our annual quota on Shrove Tuesday and then forget about them for the rest of the year. It’s probably quite a good thing as we tend to smother them in piles of sugar. It’s the one occasion when the golden syrup makes its way to the table too. But how about making a different kind of pancake? A pancake made with chickpea flour (also known as gram or besan flour), which just invites all sorts of savoury herb and spice combinations and is an absolute cinch to prepare.
Cheela, the Indian pancake, requires no weighing out; just an equal volume of gram flour water (1 cup of each will make about 4 side plate-sized pancakes). Take a jug and stir half the water into the flour until you have a paste and then tip in the remaining water. Now add a good pinch of salt and 1 tsp spices, such as toasted cumin or coriander seeds, ½ tsp turmeric or 2 chopped chillies if you’re a hot head. A touch of greenery such as coriander, spring onions, chives or even peas works well too. That’s the beauty of the cheela—novice cooks can play around with different flavours, enjoying being creative or avoiding their bête noire ingredient.
Once the batter is made—and don’t worry, it will seem extremely runny—you can heat up some vegetable oil, or tastier still ghee, in your frying pan. When the pan is hot, and this will obviously require a bit of adult supervision with young ones, ladle in the batter to a thickness of about 1 cm, and fry over a medium heat for about 3 mins or until the pancake is crisp enough to turn over using a fish slice (no fancy tossing here, the pancake is more fragile than its French cousin). Add a splash of oil if necessary and fry for another 2 mins, until crisp. These are best devoured hot with some salad, a bit of yoghurt, or chutney.
Having mastered the simple art of cheela, you may like to try grating in carrot, beetroot, celeriac or pumpkin with whatever herbs and spices come to hand. You could even use the batter to make a thicker, frittata-type affair, using up yesterday’s cooked vegetables (I add 1 tsp baking powder to the batter to lighten it when making thicker versions). It’s best to start a thicker pancake on the hob and finish it under the grill, avoiding the need for flipping.
Since we’ve kicked off with an Asian dish, it seems fitting to finish with something a touch exotic too and, with local fruit being pretty scarce at this time of year, it’s a great time for pineapple. Sniffing the bottom of the pineapple will give you a good indication if it’s ripe—you’re looking for that sweet aroma. Though it’s rare to find a fruit that tastes quite as good as it would in its homeland, once sliced or cut into chunks, a quick flash under the grill works wonders with tropical fruit.
For 1 pineapple, sprinkle over the zest of 1 lime, a thumb nail of finely chopped fresh ginger and 1 tbsp muscovado sugar. Zap under a hot grill for about 5 mins—just enough to warm the fruit and caramelise the sugary surface. You’ll be transported to warmer climes, which is never a bad thing in the depths of the British winter.