A universal truth related to new parents is that if you turn up on their doorstep bearing food, you will be welcomed. They will usher you in to their home in a wave of gratitude and relief, allowing you to swap said food for baby cuddles. Sure, the food is a trojan horse for cradling a newborn and smelling their baby smell, but you will successfully trick the tired parents into thinking you’ve been ever so thoughtful.
A food box is a great gift. It has the obvious benefits of feeding frazzled parents, relieving them of meal planning and shopping for at least one meal. But it is also a gift full of care and nurturing, one that will be remembered long after the baby has tossed aside another teddy bear.
I imagine that if I was newly unpregnant I’d be very excited about sushi, soft cheeses and cured meats, and would gratefully receive a giant leg of prosciutto. That would make an excellent food box, other ideas include breakfast burritos that can be frozen, reheated and eaten with one hand, tacos with all the accompaniments, pasta with homemade sauce and garlic bread or an Indian inspired box, like I made this weekend.
Dal is a regular fixture in my house. It’s easy to make and can be stretched to several meals (it’s also an excellent vehicle for vegetables that have lingered in the crisper a little too long, though not when you’re making it for someone else!). Served with brown rice and dosas, an Indian style savoury pancake, you’ve got a very comforting meal. It’s also incredibly healthy, boasting many vitamins and minerals new mothers need to stock up on. There’s protein in the lentils, vitamins A, C and iron in the spinach and brown rice provides low-GI wholegrain carbs to prop up energy stores. It also reheats well and is easy to eat when distracted.
When preparing a food box, use containers that you don’t need back – new parents have no energy to track dishes through their kitchen and back to their owners. I used take-away containers that can be recycled or kept for re-use, and I packed them into a large plastic tub that will come in handy for future food or as a container for baby paraphernalia. I got crafty and had some fun decorating it to add a more personal touch.
Provide some instructions on how to reheat and serve the meal. For this box, reheating the rice and dal is straightforward in a pot or microwave. The dosas can be heated up in a frying pan and served alongside the dal with some pickles on the side. Mango chutney or yoghurt would also be great accompaniments. Grating some fresh carrot and beetroot over the top with a sprinkle of coriander will fancy up the dish, but if this seems too fiddly for hungry parents, that’s fine too.
Of course, this meal isn’t only for new parents, you can enjoy it any time you need some nurture and comfort in your day. But if there are new parents in your life, I’m sure they’d appreciate this food box, and you can enjoy the baby cuddles in return.
Serves 3-4 as a main, 6 if served with other curries. (This makes more than what I packed up, we ate it for dinner too. It can be eaten with or without rice.)
- 225g (8oz) red lentils
- 1.2 litres (2 pints) water
- 3 cloves
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 50g (2 oz) butter
- 1 bag spinach
- salt and pepper
Boil lentils in salted water with the cloves for about 20 minutes, until completely mushy. The suggested amount of water makes a soupy dal. If you like something a bit sturdier, use less water.
Toast the coriander, mustard and cumin seeds in a hot pan until fragrant.
Add the spices to the lentils and stir in the butter and spinach till spinach is wilted. Season to taste.
Recipe adapted from Food From The Place Below by Bill Sewell
Brown Basmati Pilau
Serves 4-6 (This makes more than what I packed up, we ate it for dinner too.)
- 500g (2 1/2 cups) brown basmati rice
- 3 tbs ghee or vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 4 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 4 green cardamom pods
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1.25 lts (5 cups) water
- 1 teaspoon salt
Wash the rice under cold running water then leave to soak in cold water for 25 minutes.
Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy-based pan (I used a stock pot) and add the cumin seeds, cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon and cardamom pods. When they crackle, add the sliced onion and cook until golden.
Drain the rice, add to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes to coat the grains in the oil and spices.
Add the water and salt and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the water has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and stir the rice gently to mix. Cover the pan and leave to rest for 15 minutes.
From Curry by Vivek Singh
- 1/2 cup rice flour
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
- Pinch of salt
- Vegetable oil
Add the flours, bicarb, mustard seeds and salt to a bowl and gradually whisk in enough water (about a cup) to make a loose batter.
In a lightly oiled hot pan, add a spoonful of batter and twist the pan so that the batter coats the base. Cook like you would pancakes, turning when the moisture on top starts to cook away and there are lots of bubbles. Flip and cook for another minute or so, until that side is golden as well.
Serve alongside the dal and rice. They can be reheated in a hot pan.
Green Tomato Pickles
I used Stephanie Alexander’s recipe from the original Cook’s Companion to turn a bush full of green tomatoes into lovely pickles. It’s probably not very traditional to serve them alongside Indian food, but a jar of pickles never goes to waste in a pantry, so I thought I’d include it.