Yes, it’s cold, dark and damp outside, so put some winter cheer into your tummy with bright, fresh dishes such as spiced chicken liver salad and a half-soup, half-stew squash and chorizo number
Cheap ingredients don't need to taste cheap. This week, I'm using chicken livers and squash, both affordable and healthy, and turning them into luxurious-tasting, stellar plates of food that will have everyone purring contentedly. Both recipes use spicing and colour to whisk you from the dark British winter and transport you to a warmer, sunnier mood. The chicken livers make a crisp, headily spiced warm salad that manages to be both rich and light at the same time, while the squash falls apart in a beautifully seasoned, hearty soup that is pretty to look at and mouthwatering to eat.
Chicken liver, chicory and pomegranate salad
A fresh, satisfying salad for dark days. Chicken livers are sweet, with just a hint of the iron in calves' and pigs' livers. Bittersweet pomegranate and Middle Eastern spices accentuate that sweetness. Serves four.
2 tsp cumin seeds
50g pine nuts
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Sea salt and black pepper
1 tsp brown sugar
1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
400g chicken livers
Seeds and juice of 1 pomegranate
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 heads chicory, torn open and washed
Dry-roast the cumin seeds for a few minutes in a frying pan, then remove, wipe the pan clean and toast the pine nuts over a medium heat until pale golden. While the pine nuts are toasting, grind the cumin and mix with the allspice and cinnamon; season the spice mix with a teaspoon of sea salt and lots of ground black pepper.
Tip the pine nuts into a bowl, and add to the pan a third of the butter and half a teaspoon of sugar. Season generously, add the onion and sweat over a medium heat for 10 minutes, until soft and silky, then set aside. Meanwhile, clean the chicken livers, cut away and discard any white tendons and cut the livers into walnut-sized chunks. Sprinkle generously with the spice mix.
Roll the pomegranate firmly across a work surface, then cut in half and, holding it over a bowl, open out the fruit. Put the seeds and juice in the bowl, and discard the pith and peel.
Heat the same frying pan until smoking hot. Add a third of the butter and, when foaming, half the livers. Fry for a few minutes, stirring, until golden and caramelised on all sides. Transfer to a plate, reheat the pan and repeat with the remaining butter and livers. When all the liver is cooked, turn down the heat, add the rest of the spices and stir to cook through for a minute or two. Turn off the heat, add the vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan to lift off as much of the caramelised bits as possible - it's all flavour. Add the remaining sugar, pomegranate juice and oil, and stir: this is your dressing. Taste for seasoning, adding salt, pepper, vinegar or sugar as needed.
Put the chicory, pine nuts, onion and pomegranate seeds in a pretty bowl, toss with the dressing, top with the livers and serve at once.
Star anise-scented squash with chorizo and lentils
Thomasina Miers' chicken liver, chicory and pomegranate salad Thomasina Miers' chicken liver, chicory and pomegranate salad: 'Fresh and satisfying for dark days.' Photograph: Johanna Parkin for the Guardian. Food styling: Nico Ghirlando
This is half-soup, half-stew, a deeply comforting bowl of delicately spiced winter squash laced with soft lentils and fried chorizo. Make it vegetarian by leaving out the chorizo and using vegetable stock, or healthier by adding half a shredded savoy cabbage. Serves four.
250g brown lentils
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 acorn squash, or 1 large butternut
150g cooking chorizo
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
A few branches of thyme
1 star anise
5cm stick cinnamon, snapped in two
800ml chicken stock
Rinse the lentils in cold water, then put in a pot with enough cold water to cover by 5cm. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for half an hour, topping up with boiling water if need be. Check for doneness - if the lentils are still quite firm, simmer for five to 10 minutes more, until soft to the bite but still holding their shape. Season generously with salt.
Meanwhile, top and tail the squash, and peel. Cut in half, scoop out the seeds and cut the flesh into walnut-sized pieces. Cut the chorizo into 1cm dice. Heat a large casserole on a medium-high flame, then add a tablespoon of oil and the chorizo. Cook for five minutes, until the chorizo has released some of its oil and is golden. Remove with a slotted spoon, add the remaining oil and stir in the onion. Cook for 10 minutes, until soft and translucent, adding the garlic halfway through. Add the squash, thyme, star anise and cinnamon, stir for a few minutes, then season and add stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the squash is tender. Return the chorizo and lentils to the pan, heat through, and serve with good bread.
And for the rest of the week...
Make twice as much spice mix as you need and use the leftovers to season a simple tomato sauce (a little oil, one chopped onion and a tin of tomatoes, cooked down for 20-25 minutes): serve the sauce with a fried egg and a dollop of garlicky yoghurt for a very easy weeknight supper. Buy more chicken livers than you need and use the excess to wow your friends with a delicious chicken liver mousse: fry the livers in oil, then blitz with equal quantities of butter and a few good slugs of brandy. Cook double the amount of lentils needed for the salad and save the rest for adding to salads or turning into soup over the week.
Thomasina Miers is co-owner of the Wahaca group of Mexican restaurants. Her latest book, Chilli Notes, is published by Hodder & Stoughton at £25. To order a copy for £20, go to bookshop.theguardian.com
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Thomasina Miers’ chicken liver, chicory and pomegranate salad: ‘Fresh and satisfying for dark days.’ Food styling: Nico Ghirlando. Photograph: Johanna Parkin/Guardian