Wednesday, 27 February 2013

What we talk about when we talk about cauliflower

As the UK approaches the ‘hungry gap’ in the year’s produce, I’m still way over excited about something you can grow and eat almost year-round, and that’s cauliflower.

So forget what you thought you knew: maligned to the sloppy cheesy roux sauce dishes of the world, cauliflower is actually one of the easiest and cheapest vegetables I’ve found that transform into a different beast entirely with just a little curry powder and oil.

Although I guess many think of the cauliflower as a traditionally British staple, most accounts cite it as originating from the Arab world. It’s high in vitamin C and B6, and maintains its nutrients better if you don’t boil it. For once cheese can take a back seat, because cauliflower truly shines when it is roasted, teamed with spices, oil and lemon juice.

Serves enough for 2, or maybe 3, but it’s really moreish. I’m saying 2.

1 cauliflower, curds (the florets) cut into large bitesize pieces
Sunflower or vegetable oil for roasting
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric
Juice of one lemon
Salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Lightly coat a roasting dish with oil, then place in the chopped cauliflower. Sprinkle over the spices and seasoning, and mix well so it is lightly covered. You don’t want to lose the clean taste of the cauliflower beneath the curry spices.

Roast for around 30-40 minutes until the cauliflower pieces are soft and a little sticky at the edges. Squeeze over the lemon juice and serve hot. This tastes great added to a larger biryani dish or just with dahl and rice. Hell, it even tastes great with air. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

In defence of sweetcorn fritters

Say what you like about sweetcorn fritters and ketchup, but if you haven't sat down on your birthday to a plate full with a load of cava then I'm afraid your argument can stop right there. Sweetcorn fritters are the BOMB. It doesn't need to be pancake day to bust these out, and they go down a treat as a change to a fry-up on a hungover Saturday morning.

My boyfriend made me a stack yesterday to celebrate me becoming a little bit older- he played it safe with golden syrup, bananas, strawberries and blueberries, where as I went in for sweetcorn, ketchup and tea. If you want to make half the mix without sweetcorn, just add the sweetcorn to every other pancake when you first pour in the batter. And obviously scorn at the plain mix and its lack of ability to become a match made in heaven like sweetcorn and pancake batter is. Thank you again to Jenny for this recipe! And Becca and Joe for the amazing plates and pans, you can check out Becca's blog too!

Makes a lot of two or enough for three


1 cup plain flour
2 tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup soy milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Plus a tin of sweetcorn or fresh corn if you can get it.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the soy milk and oil and mix until smooth. I've found the batter will always improve if you chill it for as long as you can. So if you have time, pop it in the fridge for 20 minutes while you get your fruit/coffee/tea ready.

When you're ready, heat up a frying pan with a little oil, until you can see smoke coming out of it when you look closely. Add a large tablespoon of mixture, so it's about as big as your palm. If you're adding sweetcorn, put a teaspoon in now as this mixture cooks very quickly. After a few second they will be ready to flip, then a few more seconds on the other side and they will be ready! Stack up in a pile and add whatever toppings you fancy.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Soups to mend a broken heart: Hoskers' lentil soup

I'm not saying anyone's got a broken heart. What I'm saying is this soup is the culinary equivalent of Petula Clark's 1965 hit Downtown. This soup mends everything, fixes everything, warms everything and quells everything. This soup pretty much brought me up.

My best friend Rachael's Mum used to cook vats of this soup in a huge pressure cooker at their house over the weekend, when we'd wait in the kitchen to eat bowl after bowl. It would simmer away for hours before being blended into a smooth, rich liquid we'd dip pitta bread and bagels in to. When I moved away from home, the first thing I asked for to put in my new kitchen was a pressure cooker and a blender, so I could make this soup. It's not glamorous or show-stopping, it's delicious, cheap and sustaining.

We eat it before gigs, coming home from nights out, for Sunday lunch, for Monday lunch, for catch ups and for late-night suppers. It freezes well and will keep on the stove for around a day, deepening in flavour after a few hours. I've kept the Hoskers' recipe the same, just switching chicken stock for vegetable stock instead.

Makes enough for six bowls

1 mugful of red lentils, rinsed with a sieve
3 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
400 ml (or more) of vegetable stock
Few glugs of oil
Salt, pepper, and extra seasoning if you fancy it (chili, paprika, coriander all work well added at the end)

Take the largest pan you can find. Sweat an onion in oil for around five minutes. Add the chopped potato and carrot and stir in. Boil the kettle or prepare your stock so it is ready to pour in. Add the red lentils to the pan, mix in with all the vegetables, then add in the stock to ensure the lentils don't burn to the bottom of the pan. I would leave off seasoning for now until everything is cooked to gauage how the stock is absorbed by the lentils and vegetables.

Allow to simmer for around 30-40 minutes. Check back every 10 or 15 minutes or so to ensure the lentils haven't absorbed all the water. Top up with any leftover stock or water if this happens. Once the potatoes and lentils are cooked through, take off the heat and blend with a hand blender or mixer. Now season to taste, it may need quite a bit of salt to take the bitterness away from the lentils. I like to toast croutons to have along side this, or a huge loaf of bread to tear apart- so bowl up and enjoy.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Beetroot, fennel and blood orange salad with quinoa and bulgar wheat

Oranges aint my bag. Bananas and apples you can grab and go, no napkins, plates or tissues needed. But for someone that spends half their lunchtime spilling couscous over their office desk, oranges are never an obvious choice.

That is, except for blood oranges, which have got to be some of the most beautiful fruit in season right now. I love that supermarkets are afraid to call them blood oranges, I love that surprise when they get mixed up in the fruit bowl with regular oranges and I love how their colour seeps on to everything.

This recipe is inspired by Bon Appetit, although I decided to do away with the red onion- preferring to just focus on the delicious aniseed taste of the fennel against the earthy beetroot and tang of citrus. I added quinoa and bulgar wheat to make this into a huge lunch, which was easily enough for two.

1 orange orange, peeled and cut into segments
3 blood oranges, 2 peeled and cut into segments, 1 for juicing
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced lengthways
Couple beetroots, washed and peeled
Salad leaves
Olive oil
Quinoa, bulgar wheat or couscous

Preheat the oven to 200 degress celsius. Slice the beetroot into discs and place in an oiled tray. Cover in foil, and roast in the oven for around 40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes to see how they are getting on.

Meanwhile, prepare the oranges and raw fennel, remembering to keep everything separate until ready to plate up as the oranges and the beetroot will dye everything they touch.

Mix the juice of one blood orange with a few tablespoons of oil, and some seasoning to make a dressing. When the beetroot is almost done, prepare the quinoa or bulgar wheat, drain and set aside to plate up.

Once the beetroot is ready, begin to assemble the salad. I started with a base of quinoa to soak up all the juices- then layered on the fennel, beetroot and oranges, along with the salad leaves and salad dressing. You can use the green fennel tops to add extra flavour to the salad, along with some final seasoning. Messy yes, but bloody tasty too!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Marinated aubergine and Monday night feasts

Last Monday I made a vegan, gluten free feast for my friends Amelie and Ruth, after deciding Monday nights should be more like Friday nights and include wine and lots of food.

As ever my portion control was out of control and I made far too much, but it meant I could also do lunchboxes for everyone for the next day. Over night the marinated aubergine got even better, while using a salad with shredded cabbage meant it didn't go soggy with all the oil and dressing mixed in. Monday night feasts make everything okay!

For the marinated aubergine I adapted a recipe from Turntable Kitchen. With this I added spicy potato cubes, roasted butternut and acorn squash with rosemary, shredded cabbage and spinach salad, chipotle refried beans (recipe to follow this week!) and sauteed green lentils with leeks. While all these dishes may sound a little summery, they're all made from seasonal vegetables so make a nice break from stews, pies and soups!

Makes enough for six as a side dish

2 medium aubergines, sliced 5mm thick
Handful chopped parsley
Juice 1/2 lemon
Oil to roast
2 tbsp capers

Preheat the oven to around 200 degrees celsius. Take a large roasting dish, cover the sides with oil and seasoning, and place in the sliced aubergine. Drizzle with a little more oil and then cover with foil and roast for around 20 minutes. In this time mix together the lemon juice, a little more oil, salt, pepper and capers. Once the aubergine is soft and cooked through, pour into a mixing bowl along with all the roasting oil, and stir in the dressing, finishing with the chopped parsley. Leave to cool until the rest of the meal is ready, then serve with a little more parsley if you fancy it.

Link me up: The Perennial Plate

The Traveler's Republic of Tofu from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

Knocked for six with the 'flu last week, I was busy making my way through another re-run of The Little Paris Kitchen when I came across Rachel Khoo's recommendation for The Perennial Plate.

These videos are a collection of gorgeous, total-sensory-overload travelogues from across the world, centered around socially responsible eating. Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine began filming short films about food in Minnesota, before taking the idea global, and now check in once a week with short clips from their travels as far apart as India, Turkey, Ethiopia and China. The video blogs speak for themselves- from salad farmers in Minnesota to rooftop gardeners in Hong Kong, but here are a few of my favourites:

Where the Water Settles from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

A Tale of Two Rooftops from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

The Perennial Plate Episode 38: Winter Salad from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Amelie's two sauce pasta

To borrow a phrase from Brian Cox, I am not being unduly hyperbolic when I say that Amelie's two sauce pasta is the stuff of legend round the few weird streets of London where I live. People have been known to cross rivers (mostly the Thames), climb mountains (mainly the steps to Amelie's old flat) and brave the two-for-£5 merlot from the local offy to get their hands on a bowl of this stuff.

It may not sound like much, but when it's been left to simmer and there's 1kg of pasta boiling on the stove, somehow it just becomes the tastiest thing ever. Doused within an inch of its life with olive oil and more garlic than truly decent, this is a rich, vegan supper and can easily be made gluten-free with the addition of GF pasta.

After nearly a year of pestering, Amelie finally gave me the recipe for the two sauces last week. Since then I've tried three times to recreate it, and barely come close. So the photos here are of Amelie's two sauce pasta, and Amelie's unadulterated recipe. Because there's no way I'm about to tinker with it.

For 4 people:

2 carrots (not too big)
2 onions (red or white)
2 tins of plum tomatoes (not chopped)
6 cloves of garlic (AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE) 
Good chilli (doesn't have to be spicy, it needs to have a nice chili taste) (I used piment d'espelette powder which I steal from my mum's shop. It's delicious because it gives a nice strong taste of chili without making it super spicy)
N.B.: if you use fresh chili, do not chop it as it will be too spicy (i.e. arrabbiata) Use one or two whole chili instead, and leave it in the saucepan til you serve the pasta.
Tomato paste (optional)
Olive oil, of course - half a bottle if possible.

Start by chopping the onions, carrots, basil stems and garlic. Heat the oil in a saucepan and once it's hot, add the onions, basil stems & thyme and let the onions sweat for a bit.
Add the finely chopped carrots, the garlic and the chili and let it cook for around 10 minutes. You could also add a tablespoon of tomato paste. Add salt. Once the carrots are cooked, add the tomatoes and half a tin of water (or a bit more, depending on the thickness of the tomato juice).
DON'T crush the tomatoes yet. Let them cook nicely.
Put the lid on the saucepan but don't close the whole thing, leave some steam out. The tomatoes need to cook for 15-20 minutes, then they'll be easy to crush. After you crushed the tomatoes, the sauce will have to reduce a little bit as you will release some of the tomatoes' juice (sounds gross).

Put it on a very low heat, with the lid covering 3/4 of the pan...and leave it like this for up to 30 minutes.
It doesn't have to cook for ages and it's quite nice when you let it 'rest' for a bit before serving.
Don't forget to add salt and pepper and a SPLASH of olive oil. You could add some more chili powder too.
Add the chopped basil leaves at the end, on the plate (and some olive oil).
OR make a pesto - olive oil, basil, 1 clove of garlic, almond or pine nuts depending on how rich you are, salt and pepper. N.B.: I don't recommend making pesto with cashew nuts...that's like fusion food gone too far.
One of the most important things about this recipe is to make sure the onions and carrots are well cooked and that the onions/carrots/garlic/chili/thyme mix is really tasty on its own. 
In spring/summer you could replace the carrots with a red pepper - yummy!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Dreams can come true: the vegan pain au chocolat

Word on the proverbial vegan streets had been going around for some time that Jus-Roll also do croissant and pain au chocolat pastry that is vegan. My friend Richard managed to track some down way before I did and I saw how his eyes glazed over when I asked him what he did for breakfast one Saturday. I didn't believe him at first, there was just no way. It had to be some kind of vegan urban myth, like edible vegan macaroni cheese. Sure, it sounds like it's possible but then reality kicks in and you're stuck with a load of sunflower seeds soaking on your desk at work that will never make anything resembling a roux sauce.

So I hadn't eaten anything resembling a croissant for over a year when I finally managed to make a batch last weekend. The thing is, there's just no way of making this not sound cheesy: they taste like heaven. £2 a-pop-heaven.

The instructions are pretty easy to follow on the box, I just added a glaze of soy milk on top of the dough to make them a little crispier on the outside. I had to check back to the box and then Jus Roll's website in disbelief just to double check they really were vegan. Then I ate four, and went off to buy more. Saturday well spent I say.