I was a TV producer and presenter with my own cookery show in Nigeria, but now I’ve moved to England I’ve made it my mission to teach people how to cook African-style food. I run cookery classes in London, in my home in Eastbourne, and in Brighton in partnership with the wonderful Community Kitchen, where we give frequent classes such as Moroccan Winter Warmers, in December.
I’ve never been a purist when it comes to cooking, because I like to adapt recipes to the ingredients I can easily get hold of. This is a Moroccan-style dish, but you can buy all the ingredients in your local high street. In Morocco they would be more likely to use couscous or rice than pearl barley, but I think the rougher grain has more oomph to it, so I’m using that instead.
Method: (feeds four) Cut a butternut squash in half lengthways (be careful here, work at it slowly) then scoop out the seeds, brush the insides with olive oil, and put the two halves in a pre-heated oven, at 200 degrees Celsius, on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.
In a heavy saucepan, using light olive oil, sweat a finely chopped onion for ten minutes or so, then add three or four medium carrots, cut into discs, three cloves of garlic, two chilli peppers, and a red bell pepper, all finely chopped. Meanwhile toast your spice seeds (2 tablespoons of cumin, 1 of coriander, 1 of fennel) and half a cinnamon stick in a hot frying pan for two minutes, and grind in a pestle and mortar. Mix this into the pot, with a teaspoon each of turmeric and paprika. Cook for one minute.
Rinse 300g of pearl barley and add to the pot, with a litre or so of hot water (you can always add more later, if it gets too dry). Sprinkle in stock, salt (if necessary) and black pepper, and push the sides with a spoon occasionally for about 40-50 minutes, until the pearl barley has opened out, and is al dente.
Take the squash out of the oven after half an hour, gently score the top, and return to the oven for a further 10-20 minutes, or until tender. Then scoop out enough flesh to make space for your filling, without getting too close to the skin (leave around an inch around the sides and at the bottom).
Finally add a (drained) can of chickpeas to the barley mix, and the scooped-out squash flesh, and stir in. Fill the wells you have scooped out of the squash with the mixture, garnishing with finely chopped coriander and parsley, roasted squash seeds, and, for a final flourish, pomegranate jewels.
This dish – perfect for vegans on Christmas Day – can be served on its own, or as a side. The stew can also be eaten on its own, and the beauty is that you can substitute many of the ingredients with what you have in the fridge, and bulk it up with mushrooms and your favourite greens. It’s a lovely winter warmer, which is easy to make, and is easy on the pocket, too. Enjoy!
bhfood.org.uk / leratofoods.com