One-pot wonders

This week, Emma Rutter has three tasty meals that are low-maintenance and will keep your washing-up pile to a minimum

Emma Rutter

Lentil dahl is perfect for autumn eveningsEmma Rutter

It's Week Three. (Congratulations, by the way.) The shiny newness of term is beginning to wear off, and everyone is starting to look slightly worse for wear. Lie-ins are becoming a regularity – as are the late nights – and maybe you also almost cried this afternoon when you realised you forgot to buy milk and had to drink your tea black. You flit between periods of intense activity and intense unproductivity and don't quite know where things are going.

Not to fear, my friend, we're all in the same boat. And I have just the recipes for you – the kind of recipes where you chuck everything in a pan and leave them to themselves whilst you phone a friend to complain about the unreasonable essay deadlines you've been set that week. Just don't forget to turn the hobs back on when the fire safety system turns them off.

We'll start off with lentil dahl. I eat some form of dahl literally every week, and experience withdrawal symptoms when I go home for the holidays. (I'm not even joking.) It's one of the most comforting bowls of food I can think of – especially when eaten with rice and/or naan bread – and requires very little in terms of fresh ingredients. Lentils are packed with fibre and are one of the cheapest sources of protein you could possibly purchase. Fresh ginger may seem like a bit of an extravagance, but it's so useful for adding to stir fries and curries that a thumb-sized piece, costing around 40p, is one of the best additions to your shopping basket. Coconut milk, in the same vein, can seem expensive, but if you buy the packs of creamed coconut (not coconut cream, mind) you can cut a piece off and add it to some hot water, thus using only the amount you need and keeping the rest for later. You could use water without the coconut, too, if you're in a pinch. I'd recommend adding some turmeric, if you can stretch to that; or you could peel and dice some carrots or sweet potato with the onion and cook them until they become meltingly soft. And if you're making this for a certain someone - or for a larger group - then it's definitely worth spending a little extra to buy some fresh coriander. 

Simple lentil dahl (serves 2)


1 onion, chopped

Sprinkle dried chilli flakes or half a fresh chilli, chopped

1tsp ground cumin

Little piece (1cm) fresh ginger, finely chopped

140 red lentils

200ml coconut milk or water

Optional: handful of spinach leaves, chopped fresh coriander and yoghurt, if wished, to garnish. 


  1. Fry the onion for about 3 minutes, until softened. Add the spices and fresh ginger and cook for a further minute. Add the coconut milk and red lentils (and carrot/sweet potato here, if using). Simmer for 15 minutes or so until the lentils have absorbed most of the liquid. You'll need to cook it longer if using carrots.
  2. Stir in the spinach and fresh coriander, if using. Serve.

Once you've mastered that, you might like to move onto something a bit fancier. And by fancy, I mean something with a French name: ratatouille (ra-ta-too-ee). It's a glorified vegetable sauce from the south of France, made of tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and aubergines, and it can be served with almost anything you can imagine. At home, we eat it with chicken goujons, white fish, and as a savoury crumble (rogue, I know) sprinkled with cheesy crumble topping. What matters most is that you cook the vegetables until they start to dissolve into mush and that you have some form of starchy carbohydrate on hand to mop up all the juices. A little taste of the summer holidays on a grey and windy autumn day.

Ratatouille (serves 4)


1 onion

2 cloves of garlic

2 peppers

1 aubergine

1 courgette

(Feel free to play around with the quantities of vegetables, depending on what you have in the fridge)

1tsp dried herbes de Provence

1 tin chopped tomatoes


  1. Chop the onion and garlic and sauté for a few minutes in a pan with a bit of oil. Chop the other vegetables into pieces about an inch big, and add them to the pan. Cook for a minute or two.
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan, then half-fill the empty tomato tin with water. Rinse it around and pour this water into the pan. Add the herbs.
  3. Bring to a simmer (medium heat), put the lid on, and cook for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and the sauce starts to thicken. Add salt/pepper if needed, and serve with your best "bon appétit".

For the final recipe this week, mushroom haters may want to look away now. It's called mushroom stroganoff and, like the other recipes, it tastes best when served with carbs – preferably rice, though pasta will do. We start – as always – by sautéing onion and garlic, adding chopped celery and mushrooms after a few minutes. Bear in mind that the mushrooms will cook down quite a lot. Then we tip in the liquid (vegetable stock, in this case), chuck in some herbs and leave it to simmer until tender. Add a swirl of yoghurt at the end to make it creamy, and, if you want to push the boat out, some cashew nuts to add some crunch. 

Mushroom stroganoff (serves 2)

A dream for mushroom loversEmma Rutter


1 stick celery

A large handful of mushrooms (to personal preference)

1 garlic clove

Half cup vegetable stock

A sprinkle of herbes de provence

A dollop of yoghurt

Cashew nuts, if using


Mountain View

Pimped-up Pasta


  1. Chop the celery and garlic clove and the slice the mushrooms. Heat a drizzle of oil in a pan and sauté for a few minutes until tender.
  2. Pour in the vegetable stock and add the herbs. Bring to a simmer and put a lid on the pan.
  3. Cook for 15 minutes or so (longer if you want everything to be soft, and less if you're impatient like me). Add the cashew nuts a few minutes before cooking time ends, and take the pan off the heat before you swirl the yoghurt through the pan.