Healthy twists: recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Good Comfort

Oaty dunking cookies.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall dismantles the perception that the food we love can’t also be good for us with his new cookbook River Cottage Good Comfort.
Favorite foods are made not healthy by taking stuff out of them, but by putting more in, using the best whole seasonal ingredients. Get a taste of the goodness here.

Spicy squash and lentil soup.
Spicy squash and lentil soup.

Spicy squash and lentil soup

Serves 6

This soup is a splicing of two comforting recipes: a hearty squash soup and a spicy lentil dhal and it can be served as either. Satisfying, thick and spicy with a touch of sweetness, it works both “rough” and “smooth” (ie completely blended); just try whichever appeals most to you. The raita’s not essential, but it’s a lovely complement.

2 Tbsp vegetable or coconut oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, chopped
1kg squash, such as butternut
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped or coarsely grated
Knob of fresh ginger, finely graded
1 tsp ground turmeric or
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh turmeric
½–1 red chilli, chopped (deseeded for less heat if you prefer), or ½ tsp dried chilli flakes
150g red lentils, well rinsed
800ml vegetable stock
Sea salt and black pepper
½ medium cucumber
100ml natural yogurt (dairy or plant-based)
2 Tbsp chopped mint or coriander (optional)
To serve
Dukkah (optional)
Olive or chilli oil (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat and add the cumin and coriander seeds and the bay leaf. Fry for a few minutes until they start to sizzle, then add the onion. As soon as it is sizzling, reduce the heat and sweat for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Meanwhile, peel and deseed the squash, then cut into large cubes (you need about 600g prepared weight).

2. Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric and chilli to the onion and continue to fry gently for 3–4 minutes, then add the chopped squash and toss with the onion over the heat for a minute or two.

3. Add the rinsed lentils to the pan, pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Then cover the pan and let the soup cook gently for 15–20 minutes, lifting the lid to stir regularly, until the squash is tender and the lentils have broken down into a rough purée.

4. Meanwhile, make the raita: coarsely grate the cucumber, wrap it in a clean tea towel and squeeze to remove excess liquid, then tip into a bowl. Add the yoghurt, and herbs if using, mix well and season with a little salt and pepper. Set aside or keep in the fridge if you are making the raita more than an hour ahead of serving.

5. Remove the bay leaf from the soup. Either bash and crush the squash with a wooden spoon or potato masher to get a nice rough texture, or blitz the soup until smooth, using a stick blender in the pan, or a jug blender. Add some hot water if needed to loosen the texture a little – I like it thick but not so that you can actually stand a spoon up in it. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

6. Reheat the soup gently if necessary and ladle into warmed bowls. Dollop some raita on top. Finish, if you like, with a sprinkle of dukkah and/or a trickle of olive oil, or chilli oil if you have some and fancy an extra kick of heat.

Chicken and chorizo.
Chicken and chorizo.

Chicken and chorizo ​​rice

Serves 6

There are various incarnations of one-pan chicken and rice dishes, originating from all over the world, and this version, which includes some lovely Spanish flavours, is one of my favorites. It’s delicious and satisfying, with tangy sweet peppers and tomatoes, and spicy chorizo, to balance the soothing rice, chicken and brothy juices.

1 large or 2 medium onions, sliced
3 red, orange or yellow peppers, deseeded and sliced
2 fat cloves garlic, sliced
100g chorizo, diced
1–2 Tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
1 bay leaf
250g brown rice (such as basmati), well rinsed
1 small chicken, jointed, or 6 bone-in chicken thighs
200ml white wine
About 500ml well-flavored chicken stock
200g cherry tomatoes, halved if large
Sea salt and black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 190C. Put the onion(s), peppers, garlic and chorizo ​​into a large roasting dish with just a trickle of oil (the chorizo ​​will release its own fat so you don’t need much). Add the bay leaf and some salt and pepper and toss together well. Place in the oven for 25 minutes.

2. Tip the rice into a saucepan, cover with plenty of boiling water and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, until almost al dente (still firm to the bite), then drain.

3. Heat a trickle more oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Season the chicken skin. Put half the chicken pieces into the pan, skin side down, and season their other sides. Fry the chicken for around 8 minutes, turning occasionally, until each piece is nicely browned. Transfer to a dish. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces. Everything should be coming together at roughly the same time now: veg, rice and chicken! If the veg or rice get a few minutes more cooking, it doesn’t matter.

3. When you’ve taken all of the chicken out of the frying pan, add the wine. Let it bubble while you scrape up any caramelised bits from the base of the pan, and simmer for 3 minutes or so, until reduced by about half. Add the stock and bring to a brisk simmer.

4. Take the tray of roast veg from the oven. Stir in the part-cooked rice then add the cherry tomatoes. Use tongs to place the browned chicken pieces on top, skin side up. Pour the hot stock around the chicken – it should just about cover the rice. Cover with foil and return to the oven for 30 minutes. Take off the foil, give the rice a gentle stir and finish in the oven for a final 15 minutes, or until everything is bubbling nicely and the chicken is cooked through.

5. Dish up the chicken, rice and veg with any juices from the tray spooned over. This is pretty much a complete dish, but some steamed greens, such as purple sprouting broccoli, cavolo nero or shredded savoy cabbage, will go well with it.

Oaty dunking cookies.
Oaty dunking cookies.

Oaty dunking cookies

Makes about 8

This is such a simple and rewarding little recipe – just right for when you get a hankering for something sweet to dip into a cup of tea. I’ve deliberately kept this batch small – so you don’t have a tinful of cookies sitting around! But you can easily double up the quantities if you’d like to make more. Below are some lovely variations to this simple recipe.

125g butter
50g soft light brown sugar
125g fine plain wholemeal flour
75g porridge oats
pinch of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

2. Put the butter and brown sugar into a small saucepan over a low heat to melt the butter gently, stirring often. Take off the heat. Mix the flour, oats and salt and stir into the melted mixture. Take dessert spoonfuls of the mix and place in piles on the baking sheet, then use the back of the spoon to flatten each pile into a rough circle, no more than about 1cm deep.

3. Bake in the oven for 10–12 minutes, until the cookies are turning golden at the edges. They’ll still be soft at this point: leave to cool completely and crisp up before removing from the tray. Store in an airtight container for up to a week. Serve with a mug of tea, coffee or hot chocolate, for dunking your cookies.

Edited extract from River Cottage Good Comfort by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Published by Bloomsbury, RRP $60, 5 October 2022

Hugh Fearnley - Whittingstall's Good Comfort.
Hugh Fearnley – Whittingstall’s Good Comfort.