We are currently in the middle of Maslenitsa, a week-long festival in which Russian Orthodox believers take the opportunity to indulge in rich foods like eggs and milk, personified by blini, pancakes, and some hard partying before the 40-day fast for Lent begins – this year on 2 March.
Maslenitsa is based on a Slavic pagan sun festival that marked the coming end of winter. Pancakes were seen as an image of the sun and were prepared to help banish the winter gods and bring on the warmer days of spring. There are more nods to paganism with Maslenitsa week ending with the burning of an effigy of Lady Maslenitsa, whose ashes are then mixed with the snow to fertilise the soil.
To mark the festival, this year we’ve gone for a non-traditional take on the pancake front with egg hoppers, fermented Sri Lankan rice flour and coconut milk pancakes with an egg in the middle. Spring is coming! The word hopper comes from appa, the name given to these pancakes in Sri Lanka and southern India.
Ingredients (makes 4-6 hoppers)
100 g rice flour
200 ml coconut milk
One teaspoon dried yeast
One teaspoon sugar
60 ml warm water
Oil for frying
Small bunch of fresh coriander
Mix the yeast with the warm water and sugar. After a few minutes it should start frothing. Add to the rice flour in a large mixing bowl and stir. Now add the coconut milk stirring until the batter has a consistency that is not too runny and not too thick – it should pour easily. Cover the bowl and allow to ferment in a warm place for a few hours. The mix should double in size.
To make the pancakes, heat a few drops of oil in a small (6-7 cm), high-sided frying pan. Wipe with kitchen towel and pour in the batter, swirling it around the pan so that a thin layer coats the sides. The pancake should be thicker at the bottom. Crack an egg onto the pancake, cover and cook over a low heat until the egg is cooked. Serve with fresh coriander or a grating of black pepper (or both, if you wish).
On these chilly, wintry nights there’s nothing better than a bowl of dhal, the Indian subcontinent’s beloved lentil-based comfort food, to warm you up. We’ve added some chunks of roasted pumpkin that blend perfectly with the red lentils, whilst adding a hint of sweetness to the rich, spicy blend.
In Sri Lanka, where Knidos Cookery Club has just been on a foodie fact-finding mission, dhal (also spelt dal or daal) is a mainstay of the island’s signature curry and rice dish. It’s served any time of the day – it was particularly good served with string hoppers, little nests of steamed rice noodles, and coconut sambol (grated coconut with chillies and lime juice) – a popular breakfast on the island.
Dhal can be a meal on its own when served with rice or flatbreads, or try it alongside a selection of your favourite vegetable curries. It’s a dish that tastes even better the next day when the spices have been left over night, allowing the different flavours to mix and mingle.
Ingredients (makes 4-6 servings)
125 g red lentils
200 g roasted pumpkin
250 ml water or vegetable stock
50 ml coconut milk
200 g tomatoes
One medium onion
One teaspoon each of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves and chilli flakes
Two teaspoons turmeric
1 cm knob of ginger
One garlic clove
One cinnamon stick
One star anise
One bunch fresh coriander
50 ml olive oil
Roast the chunks of pumpkin in a hot oven at 200 c for 20 minutes. While the pumpkin is cooking, heat the oil in a heavy based pan and add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, turn the heat down and add the chopped onions, ginger and garlic and the other spices and stir well. Cook for 10 minutes over a medium heat.
Wash the lentils until the water runs clear and then add them to the onion mix with the vegetable stock and chopped tomatoes, stir and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. Add the pumpkin chunks and coconut milk. Cook over a low heat until it starts to bubble. When cooked, remove the cinnamon stick and star anise. Garnish with the chopped coriander and serve with rice and/or a flat bread such as chapati or pita.