To combat an endless winter

I must apologise. While searching through the archives of Guac on the hunt for a curry recipe I realised just how long winter has held centre stage here. Don't get me wrong, I love comfort food and hunkering down for the night probably a lot more than the next person, (got the personal best of six roast dinners in seven days to prove it) but I think my capacity for stodge has reached its limit.

Here's a lunch or even brunch to add a little colour to the end of the coldest March in more than 50 years. This salad is warm, filling and perfect for anyone totally sick of porridge. The garlic in the spinach and herb pesto is left raw so it really comes through against the lemon juice, cutting through the giant cous cous and the olive oil. You could make a more traditional pesto with basil leaves and pine nuts, but basically it was too cold and windy for me to leave the house so I went with something different! 

-One last thing- don't bother with sourcing giant cous cous from the posh bit of the supermarket- if you have any newsagents with a good food section or local shops they will usually sell it in packets at around a third of the price. 

Giant cous cous with spinach pesto, grilled tomatoes and puy lentils

Serves 2 for a big lunch

150g giant cous cous
Olive oil
1 handful spinach leaves
1 spring thyme
2 sprigs of parsley
1 garlic clove chopped small
Juice 1 lemon, half for the pesto, half for serving
2 tomatoes, chopped in half
2 inches cucumber, cut into slices
1 spring onion, cut into slices
125g cooked puy lentils 

In a medium pan on medium heat, gently fry the giant cous cous for about 60 seconds in olive oil, until it just begins to sizzle. Then pour in around 300ml of cold water and let it cook for around 15 minutes.

In this time you can make the pesto: in a small pan heat the spinach with just enough water for it to cook in, and take off the heat the minute it's wilted down. Drain the water away, and now blend the spinach in a jug with a handblender, a mixer or even a pestle and mortar, with the leaves from one sprig of thyme, 2 springs of parsley, plenty of salt and pepper and the garlic. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and half the lemon juice and check the seasoning. 

Give the cous cous a stir to make sure it isn't sticking to the pan, then either grill or fry in a little oil the tomatoes with plenty of black pepper. While all this is cooking you can chop the cucumber and spring onion ready for assembling the salad.

Once the cous cous is ready turn off the heat and add in the pesto to the pan so it takes on some of the flavour of the pesto at the very end of its cooking time. Then add the puy lentils and check the seasoning once more. 

Assemble on a large plate with the roast tomatoes, cucumber and spring onion on top, with any extra spinach leaves or olive oil for serving. 

Squash and potato pie with braised red cabbage and mustard

I made this pie in the deep mid-winter but I think comfort foods like this are still appropriate when even the supermarket's daffodils are refusing to spring. Made with Jus-roll puff pastry, this would be a perfect weekend lunch for friends and will make enough for six servings.

Team up with the braised red cabbage, apples and onion recipe from way back in November for optimum comfort times, and of course a hefty dollop of English mustard for good measure.

Jus-roll puff pastry
1 onion, chopped into circles
1/4 gem squash, chopped into large chunks
2 carrots, chopped
2 handfuls of potatoes, peeled
2 bay leaves
500 ml stock
Vegetable or sunflower oil
A little soy milk for glaze

Sweat the onion rounds in a large saucepan with the oil, then add in the carrots, squash, potatoes, bay leaves and seasoning. Allow the vegetables just to start heating up before adding the stock and bringing to the boil.

Cook with a lid on for around 20 minutes, then 10 minutes off so the liquid can reduce and until all the vegetables are nice and soft and break apart easily. At this point you can pre-heat the oven to around 180 degrees Celsius.

Add a little more seasoning to taste for the pie filling, then remove the bay leaves and spoon into your pie dish.

Roll out the pastry and cover the pie dishes and seal with a fork edge, or however you fancy! I like to make tiny bite-size pastry rolls with any extras which are good for plying guests or housemates getting impatient about dinner! (To do this just roll out the extra scraps of pastry into a rectangle and spread anything you like- mango chutney, bbq sauce, even ketchup, across one side. Roll up into a swiss-roll shape and then cut into slices, then place on a tray and pop in the oven for about 10-15 minutes while the pie is cooking. Messy, sure, but tasty.)

Brush on a little soy milk on the top of the pies to add a glaze, and then cook in the oven for about 20-30 more minutes, until the pastry has risen and is a golden-brown colour.

In the mean time you can now prepare anything else to go alongside the pie and track down/beg/borrow/steal the strongest mustard you can find, which tastes perfect alongside the slightly sweet squash and flaky pastry.

Baked beetroot with pistachios and green lentil salad

As much happiness as a jar of pickled beetroot can bring (I've been known to bring my own beetroot to barbeques so I don't have to share), their flavour alone, just baked in the oven with a bit of seasoning, can be just as moreish. I added a green lentil salad and spiced potatoes to make a huge mid-week dinner, easily enough for two lunches the next day, by which time the pistachios have taken on a bit of the beetroot dye and the lentils have soaked up even more of the garlic and onion flavours.

300g beetroot, peeled and chopped into discs
200g green lentils
1 onion, chopped
3 galic cloves, chopped
1 leek, chopped
Salad leaves
Olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees celsius, and lightly oil and season a baking tray. Place the beetroot on the tray and bake for around 30-40 minutes. You will need to turn half way through to make sure one side doesn't dry out.

Follow packet instructions to prepare the green lentils- you will probably need to boil them for around 10 minutes.

While this is happening, heat a little oil in a pan, and add the onion and garlic and let sautee for around 5 minutes so it all reduces. Once the lentils are ready, add these to the pan, along with plenty of seasoning as the lentils will often be quite bitter. You might want to add a little water or oil to stop the lentils from sticking as they heat through. When the lentils have reduced down, add in the chopped leek and cook slowly until the beetroot is ready.

Plate up with the salad leaves and pistachios, which will add a great texture to the soft lentils and leeks. I served with some lightly roasted curried potatoes, or this would be great with rice or cous cous.

Winter salads: warm sprout top, kale, macadamia nut, lemon and cranberry salad

Having a veg box delivery means I'm often on the hunt for any recipes that do something a bit different with what's in season. This warm winter salad was initially inspired by a recipe from Cookie + Kate, which I've simplified and veganised, focusing instead on the lemon and cranberry flavours. It's perfect for cold January evenings- full of contrasting flavours, as well as being quick and easy to keep for lunch the next day.

I used homemade cranberry sauce here as it needed using, but fresh cranberries would probably be tastier if you've got them! Likewise, I used a mix of nuts as I seem to have a weird store of them. The macadamia nuts work really well with the sourness of the cranberries while the pecans add crunch and are a rich source of calcium and iron, which is the kind of thing that makes my Mum happy.

Handful of sprout tops or sprouts
Handful of kale
Bowl of leftover rice (or enough for two people)
Around 100g cranberries, or 2tbsp cranberry sauce
Handful macadamia nuts and pecans
Juice 1/2 lemon
Few glugs of olive oil

Start by gently heating the nuts in a pan to toast them lightly. You'll know they're done when they start to brown and you can smell them. Set aside.

Prepare the rice or thoroughly reheat if leftover.

Boil the sprout tops and kale in a saucepan for 3 minutes, or until the kale stalks are just soft enough to eat (I like mine quite crunchy!) Then drain and squeeze over the juice of half a lemon, a little oil and salt and pepper. If you are using fresh cranberries, just boil these with water to cover until they begin to pop so the juices can mix in the salad.

Pile up the rice, greens and nuts in a big bowl, along with the cranberries or dollops of cranberry sauce, and add a little more lemon juice or seasoning to taste.