Last Updated on November 16, 2021
The Royal British Legion centenary cookbook
Cooking with Heroes (St James’s House) is a triumph of a cookbook. Published to celebrate the centenary of The Royal British Legion, it runs to over 460 pages. The book is composed partly of recipes created by an army of chefs, some literally from the armed forces and others being celebrity chefs who have contributed recipes. The rest of the book comprises stories about armed forces heroes and essays on the history of the Royal British Legion which was founded in 1921, an amalgamation of four national organisations of ex-servicemen that were set up after The Great War. The aim then, as it remains, was for British servicemen and women as well as their families to receive support be it social, financial, or emotional. Sales of the cookbook will help to raise money to continue this work.
The recipes are divided into chapters including starters, soups and snacks, mains, and puddings, with each chapter sponsored by an extensive list of official sponsors some of whose companies have double spread features enabling readers to familiarise themselves with the work that they do. The chapters are subdivided into regions and cities with a recipe and local hero from each. Cooking with Heroes opens with Armagh where a recipe for potato and bread pudding shares pride of place with local hero Rear Admiral Charles David Lucas VC who enlisted in the Royal Navy aged 13 in 1848. It concludes with West Yorkshire – a recipe for Yorkshire ruby ale ginger parkin with rhubarb and custard sitting alongside the arguably more famous and popular Yorkshire hero, Captain Sir Tom Moore.
Cooking with Heroes is the sort of book to leave on your coffee table so as to pick up and dip into. It is bursting with fascinating stories of courageous people and for those interested in the British arena of conflict over the past centuries, there is a wealth of information to be absorbed. In designing the book, the editorial team divided the UK, its overseas territories, and the Commonwealth into 100 regions. Then came the selection of 100 local heroes. The book also honours those who joined the armed forces from countries that were part of the Commonwealth. From a culinary point of view, it makes for a diverse contribution to the recipes which are otherwise predominantly from parts of Britain and provides a reminder of the contribution made to our food culture by those who have migrated to Britain from previously colonised countries. Thus, we have recipes from countries including Nigeria (African chicken curry), South Africa (bobotie), Sierra Leone (banana akaras with dipping sauce), Jamaica (ital soup), India (cholay channa daal do piazza), Zimbabwe (mupotohayi, cornmeal cake), Malaysia (Malaysian noodle soup), Singapore (bak kut teh, pork bone tea) and Nepal (pork momo and Nepali chutney).
The recipes were chosen, researched, and developed by a team of military chefs so that the food culture of the local heroes could be highlighted. Many of these are dishes that have been updated and brought into the 21st century. There is a recipe for cawl, the national dish of Wales dating back to the 14th century and modernised by Lance Corporal Ben Stewart, an army chef. Others are regional favourites penned by celebrity chefs such as James Martin who contributes his family recipe for Yorkshire puddings with onion gravy. Paul Ainsworth, who is patron of the Michelin starred Padstow restaurant, Number 6, keeps things simple with a recipe for toad in the hole. It doesn’t look like any toad in the hole I have ever created which is why he has a Michelin star and I am reading recipe books for inspiration. His Padstow neighbour, Rick Stein, has a recipe for Cornish moules. There is a fascinating array of recipes for dishes I am unacquainted with and many sound very tempting. Portland pudding hails from Dorset and was repeatedly ordered by King George lll on his visits to the Isle of Portland where he boarded at the Portland Arms, the landlady of which was famous for her pudding. The King promoted the dish to Royal Pudding and it has been updated in Cooking with Heroes by Leading Catering Services Emma Keitch, Royal Navy.
With a very wide choice of recipes, Cooking with Heroes will keep home cooks busy for months. I rather fancy Sherwood Forest venison with blackberries and Stilton dumplings this winter or a plate of Maltese rabbit stew. In season the Old Norfolk pheasant casserole will certainly get a chance on my stove.
I tried one of the vegetarian recipes contributed by Cyrus Todiwala, OBE, proprietor of Café Spice Namaste. His cholay channa daal do piazza is, he writes, not a recipe that is commonly found or cooked. It combines split yellow peas and chickpeas which I had never cooked together. There are a number of spices, each adding an extra layer of complexity to the flavour. Cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, ginger, chilli, turmeric, coriander, chilli powder and garam masala – what a melange. This is a dish of such delicate fragrance and subtle spicing and as with many such meals, is as good the following day. You might not have leftovers though, it is that good.
Cooking with Heroes is a tasty way of making a donation to the Royal British Legion. The organisation will receive £5 from the £19.95 RRP. Order online here
Indian chickpea and split pea daal
- 150 grams uncooked chickpeas You can use canned or jarred chickpeas
- 150 grams yellow split peas
- 1 stick cinnamon or cassia bark 5 -7 cm
- 4 - 5 cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 - 6 black peppercorns cracked
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 piece ginger 5 -7 cm, peeled and chopped
- 4 - 5 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
- 2 - 3 finger type chillies cut in four lengthways
- 2 small onions finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp ground tumeric
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 2 medium tomatoes chopped
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 2 tbsp fresh coriander chopped
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp butter
Soak the chickpeas in warm water for 2 -3 hours or preferably overnight. Then boil until soft with a little salt. To speed it up you could add a little bicarbonate of soda.
Soak the split peas in a separate bowl for a few hours. Once the chickpeas have cooked, drain the water over the split peas in a pot and boil them. The yellow split peas cook faster than the chickpeas. Take care not to overcook them. You want them just cooked, not mushy. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.
Heat the oil in a deep casserole - a good sized one - until it forms a haze of heat. Add the cinnamon or cassia bark, cloves, bay leaves and cracked pepper. after 10 - 15 seconds add the cumin seeds and reduce the heat.
When the cumin seeds change colour it is time to add the chopped garlic, ginger, sliced chillies and the butter. Saute until the garlic takes on a little colour and then add the onions. Stir well. Saute over a medium heat.
Place the tumeric, chilli powder and ground coriander into a small bowl and add enough water to make a thin paste. Set aside until the onions are lightly browned. Then add the paste and stir well.
Cook the paste until the liquid dries and small beads of oil appear at the bottom of the casserole.
Add the chickpeas and yellow split peas along with the reserved cooking water. Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer until the sauce has thickened and the peas are well coated.
Add the garam masala, stir well and then add the fresh coriander. Add salt to taste.
Serve with flatbreads or with steamed rice and some fresh red onion and mint salad.