Hotpot has a strong claim to be THE British comfort food. For hundreds of years, cheap cuts of meat were put with onions and carrots, topped with skiced potatoes., into a slow oven inside a coal-fired range. It’s literally the first dish I remember eating as a small child at my grandma’s house – and loving it. Alas, now that cooking know-how has declined, fewer people make it. Hotpot is the inspiration for this veggie-vegan dish which has the big plus of being makeable from your store cupboard and fridge. You use one of those handy packs of precooked brown lentils (or use a drained tin, or cook your own if you wish) along with jarred sundried tomatoes. If you’re cooking for a vegan, use oil instead of butter for the potato topping.
Serves 2 generously
1 dessertspoon bouillon powder
350ml boiling water
½ a 280g jar of sundried tomatoes in oil
2 large closed cap mushrooms
1 medium carrot
2 garlic cloves
1 scant dessertspoon plain flour
1 dessertspoon tomato puree
1 teaspoon redcurrant jelly
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 250g pouch of precooked brown (Puy) lentils
1 large baking potato
Salt to taste
Knob of butter
Dissolve the bouillon powder in the boiling water. Fine chop the drained tomatoes. Finely slice the onion and crush the garlic cloves. Slice the mushrooms and grate the carrot.
Drain some oil from the jar of sundried tomatoes into the pan. Warm the oil, it may splutter a bit, and let the sliced onion soften for about 5 minutes. Crush the garlic clove and add it to the pan. Sprinkle in the flour, stir vigorously then slowly pour in the bouillon mixture until it is absorbed stirring all the time. Add the tomato puree, the sliced mushrooms, the grated carrot, the chopped tomatoes, the redcurrant jelly and the dried thyme. Add the lentils, breaking them up gently. The mixture should not be too dry – add a little more water if it seems stiff
Pre heat the oven to 185c
Use a mandolin cutter to slice the peeled potato, or do it by hand with a sharp knife, aiming for slices about the width of a coin. Boil some water, add a little salt and let the potato slices cook for about 4 minutes. Drain them and let them steam dry: the drier they are, the crisper the topping will be.
Check the seasoning in the lentil mixture – it will probably not need any more salt as there is likely to be salt in several of the ingredients.
Fill a shallow oven dish with the lentil mixture – it should come almost to the top of the dish. Lay on the potato slices in a single layer. Melt the knob of butter and use a teaspoon or a pastry brush to paint the butter gently over the potato topping
Bake for 50 minutes or until the potato topping is soft and golden. Let the hotpot sit for a few moments before bringing it to the table along with some wilted spinach or steamed cabbage.