Three non-boring (non-)salads

salads

I’ve been trying to get back into some healthy wheat-light cooking lately, and have recently made several twists on that summery staple, the salad. My definition of salad is pretty loose as I don’t really like leaves: for me a salad means any combination of cooked and raw vegetables together with a carb and a protein element, all soused in a zingy, spicy dressing. Oh, and usually with cheese on top – OK, they are basically the least healthy salads ever, but they are really filling which is my usual concern with having a non-heavily-carb-based dinner.

pinnedsalads

I like to start with a recipe (I have lots pinned) and adapt it to my taste and what I have available in the fridge, freezer and cupboard: having a few basics in stock means you can make a substantial meal even when the veg drawer looks a bit sad and empty. Here are a couple I’ve put together in the last few weeks…

fattoush salad

A sort-of-not-really take on fattoush, the middle-eastern bread and tomato salad.
Veg: Raw tomatoes and courgette, roasted sweet red pepper
Protein: Canellini beans, toasted off in a frying pan
Carb: Toasted pitta bread
Dressing: Garlic, red wine vinegar, sumac, olive oil
Cheese: Feta

mexican salad

My infinitely tastier version of the sad non-carb Mexican salad bowls you get from burrito places when you’re trying to be saintly. Liquid smoke* is a salad’s best friend for a bit of umami punch – a little goes a long way.
Veg: Toasted corn (from the freezer), pink pickled onions (in the fridge from a previous day), raw tomatoes
Protein: Black beans, Quorn fillet
Carb: Mix of brown and white rice
Dressing: Wahaca habanero sauce, liquid smoke, smoked paprika, fresh coriander (from the freezer).
Cheese: Feta

lentil salad

This is a standby dinner for us: smoky lentils, charred veggies and soft cool mozzarella, marinated in the same dressing as the lentils. It’s also brilliant with pan- or oven-roasted wedges of squash.
Veg: Grilled tenderstem broccoli and spring onions, plus babaghanoush (charred aubergine puree)
Protein: Puy lentils
Carb: None
Dressing: Olive oil, red wine vinegar, liquid smoke, oak-smoked tomatoes, oregano, chilli flakes
Cheese: Mozzarella

* Liquid smoke is my favourite condiment EVER. I have no idea how they make it, but a drop or two imparts an amazing smoky flavour to anything you drop it into. Really good for giving veggie food that ‘meaty’ umami punch. Not many supermarkets have it, but you can buy online at Sous Chef.

Recipe: Quinoa, avocado and roasted pepper salad

Quinoa salad

I’ve been trying to cut down on wheat lately: I don’t think gluten agrees with me very well, especially in the quantities I tended to eat it. As a veggie, it’s all too easy to make it the staple of every meal: toast for breakfast, pitta for lunch, pasta for dinner… which led to me feeling pretty bloated and sluggish a lot of the time and wondering if it was down to diet. I haven’t gone completely cold turkey on wheat but I have been making some switches which aren’t too painful and do seem to be making a difference. In fact when I had a fairly wheaty binge at the weekend I felt awful on Monday, which is good encouragement to keep at it.

Quinoa salad

So I’ve been enjoying porridge for breakfast (and not even missing my beloved toast!), lots of Mexican and Indian inspired dinners (corn, bean and rice-based meals are my new friends) and making lunches from scratch when I have the time on work at home days. My favourite easy lunch fallbacks are things like soup, avocado on GF toast or a hummus wrap in a corn tortilla, but when I have a bit more time I’ve been raiding the veg drawer and putting something more interesting together.

Quinoa salad

This is actually the first time I’ve ever cooked with quinoa – it’s a grainlike little seed that resembles bulgur or cous cous, but it’s actually gluten-free and high in protein rather than starchy carb. I never bought it before because it’s quite expensive and I thought it’d be fiddly to prepare, but I do think it’s worth the price as it’s so healthy and very quick and easy to make up.

Quinoa salad
Quinoa salad

I put together this dish based on most of my favourite flavours: avocado, tomato, pine nut, sweet romano pepper – charred to give a bit of smokiness – and plenty of lemon juice and hot sauce. Delicious as well as vegan and GF, oh so saintly! You could add all sorts of other things depending on what you have: blanched green beans, feta cheese or sweetcorn would all be tasty additions.

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I’ve been saving more GF (and non-GF) veggie food ideas on my Pinterest board. Do you have any favourites to share?

Recipe: Kale, tomato and egg tart

Kale tart

Would you believe this week is the first time I’ve ever bought kale? And I call myself a vegetarian, tsk. Anyway I’m pleased I picked it up on my last visit to the greengrocer as the big bag happily lasted a week in the fridge and made its way into three meals.

Kale tart

My favourite way to use so far is boiled to remove toughness then baked to crisp it up a bit, and it’s best buds with egg and tangy cheese, so I made it into a meal with the addition of a bit of pastry from the freezer.

Kale tart

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Kale tart

Nb. It’s also superb reheated the next day, with beans, yogurt and hot sauce. Mmmm.

Any more ideas for kale recipes?

Makin’ cider

Cider making

Ugh, autumn is truly here isn’t it? I swear it got dark at 3pm yesterday, so miserable. In my mind the only good things about the gloomy seasons are of the edible and quaffable varieties: a few months of soups, stews and mulled things make it all bearable. So I was happy to get an email from Garden Trading asking if I’d like to try out an apple press from their range of harvest season products. If you haven’t heard of Garden Trading yet, they make timeless and practical homewares that look equally at home in a country cottage or a more modern setting: I’ve got their enamelled metal lightshades in both my bedroom and kitchen.

Cider making

Here’s the sweet little apple press they sent me. Crafted from solid wood and pretty sage green painted cast iron, it feels solid and well made. It’s nice and petite so fits onto the kitchen worktop easily.

Cider making

It comes ready to roll, complete with a mesh pulping bag, pressing blocks and simple instructions.

Cider making
Cider making

To give it a whirl, I bought a lovely range of apples from my local greengrocer: a mix of eating apples like Granny Smith and Gala for sweetness mixed with cooking varieties like Bramley for sharpness. Don’t they look pretty? The 9kg I bought yielded about 6 litres of juice.

Cider making
Cider making

The process is pretty simple, though you need a bit of elbow grease and be prepared to get pulpy and sticky! First wash and roughly chop the apples: I did this by hand but for a larger batch you’d probably want to use something more mechanised. Then you need to roughen/pulp them up a bit: we used a stick blender but a bowl food processor would have been quicker and cleaner. Give them a good whiz so they’re broken down but not entirely mush.

Cider making

Load the mesh bag into the barrel and fill with the pulpy apple goop. (This photo shows our first try where we hadn’t whizzed them up enough and they would not press: the right consistency looks more pulpy than this.)

Cider making

Pop the pressing blocks on top and start turning. Ta-da, out pours lovely apple juice! Of course you can just drink it right away, but I really fancied trying to make cider from it, with a little help from the live-in brewer boyfriend. It just requires a couple of extra supplies and ingredients – cider yeast, Campden tablets and PET bottles, all which I got from Brew UK – as well as the fermentation bottle and airlock which Josh already had from beer brewing.

Cider making

The Campden tablet stops any wild yeasts or bacteria from mucking up the fermentation, as well as lightening the colour. After 24-48 hours the cider yeast is added, then it needs to be tucked away away under the stairs for a couple of months, so it should be ready just in time for Christmas. Can’t wait to try it!

Cider making

We also had a bit leftover to drink straight away, to which I added some of this Morris Kitchen ginger syrup I got in Brooklyn. Delicious. The juice can be frozen too, which would be handy if you’re lucky enough to have a glut of apples to use up. All in all, top autumnal fun.

Apple press supplied for review by Garden Trading – thank you!

Mushroom Bao

Mushroom Bao

I got the idea to make these watching Jamie Oliver’s new series on TV. I was amazed to see him make bao – pillowy steamed Chinese buns with a spicy filling tucked inside – with a dough of just flour and milk, and had to give it a go with a veggie filling. I had everything I needed to hand in the kitchen – don’t you love when that happens – so they made for a good impromptu Friday night dinner after the rain put paid to any other plans.

Mushroom Bao
Mushroom Bao
Mushroom Bao

You can find Jamie’s bao recipe and method here. It was so quick to make the dough and fill the buns – the dough is soft and stretchy so it’s easy to pull it over the filling and seal. No resting or kneading required either!

Mushroom Bao

For my spicy mushroom filling I just fried together:
· 8 chestnut mushrooms, finely diced
· 1 diced red chilli
· 2 crushed cloves of garlic
· 1 tablespoon of Szechaun chilli bean paste
· A shake of hickory liquid smoke (my current favourite ingredient ever)

Mushroom Bao

One 10-minute steam later…

Mushroom Bao

… perfectly soft and fluffy little buns pop out. Served with quick pickled veg slivers and all the chilli sauces, they made for a tasty, filling dinner – definitely one to add to my regular roster.

When life gives you green tomatoes…

tom3

… make salsa verde!

Our garden tomatoes are being a little slow to ripen: damn the sun for disappearing at a crucial time. We’re trying to ripen some on the vine and some on the windowsill, but impatient me wondered if they could be used while still green.

tom2

I remembered the Mexicans use sharp green tomatillos a lot, which are actually a completely different species but have a somewhat similar texture and flavour. I raided my Mexican bible, Thomasina Miers’ ‘Mexican Food Made Simple‘ for inspiration, adapting the salsa verde recipe to suit what I had.

tom1

The uncooked flavour of the green toms wasn’t very pleasant – a bit like a savoury tart green apple – but roasted and blitzed they were transformed into a delicious zingy salsa. I served it with squash, bean and shallot tacos.

tom4

In a hot pan, dry fry a handful of green tomatoes, two garlic cloves (skin on) and a red chilli. Shake often until blackened all over, 5-10 mins. Transfer to an ovenproof dish, drizzle over a little olive oil and season well, and oven roast at 220 degrees for a further 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes are bursting and the garlic is soft. Peel one shallot and dunk into boiling water for a few seconds to remove the rawness. Finely dice and throw into a processor with the roast tomato mix and a glug of lemon juice. Blitz until smooth, check for seasoning/acidity and enjoy with tacos of your choice.

Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: review

Smitten kitchen cooking

I’m sure that if you’re into blogs and into food, you’ve already seen Smitten Kitchen: a lovely food blog from self-taught cook and photographer Deb Perelman. Her food seems to tread a very clever line: not too saintly-healthy but not dripping in fat either, very rarely a fancy or expensive ingredient, and a love and appreciation of technique that I very much admire. It’s home cooking levelled up by someone who really loves and understands food, and it’s all captured beautifully thanks to her photography expertise.

Smitten kitchen cooking

I’m pleased to see that Deb’s newly-released Smitten Kitchen cookbook follows the same, um, recipe. From just a glance at the contents page – with chapter headings including Breakfast, Vegetarian Main Dishes, and Sandwiches, Tarts and Pizzas – I could tell it was going to be right up my street. I’ve already tested a few recipes from my advance copy, so here are my highlights so far.

Smitten kitchen cooking

I’m often guilty of having breakfast-as-dinner, and the Breakfasts chapter offers plenty of recipes that would suit an evening meal, from a twist on Huevos Rancheros with crisped tortilla shreds and lime cream to individual baked eggs with greens and hollandaise.

Smitten kitchen cooking

We had the huevos as a Sunday supper: it was super fast and easy to make, with an all-in-one blended tomato sauce and cooked in one pan with storecupboard ingredients – perfect lazy-day cooking.

Smitten kitchen cooking
Smitten kitchen cooking

I have to admit I often skip the Salads chapter of cookbooks, but this one contains several hearty-looking dishes that I’d be happy to have for a light meal. Courgette ribbons with almond pesto and Borlotti beans with walnuts and feta particularly caught my eye. I served the ribbons with a side of bulgur wheat and some toasted pine nuts. It took all of five minutes – literally! – to prepare but made for a great zingy dinner.

Smitten kitchen cooking

As an ex-vegetarian herself, Deb’s recipes are often still veggie or light on the meat, and she points out something I believe too: that vegetarian food can be just as flavourful and filling as meat, given the right choice of flavours and cooking techniques. The book is probably 75% vegetarian overall so it’s definitely a good buy for the veggie cook or those looking for some non-meat based meal ideas. I was delighted to find a recipe for Mushroom Bourgignon – a dish that tends to induce meat-envy in me – amongst smoky black bean ragout, butternut galette, and a simple but bold dish of roast tomato and baby onion, served with white beans and a crouton to soak up the umami-rich juices.

Smitten kitchen cooking
Smitten kitchen cooking

I made that one on Tuesday night, throwing in some romano pepper and courgette for good measure (and substituting shallots for baby onions since i had them in the fridge). Even with crappy out-of-season cherry tomatoes, the pronounced flavour you gain from roasting them in a bit of salt and olive oil is incredible, and for such low effort.

Smitten kitchen cooking

This book comes Lila-approved

This book really is a gorgeous package. Every single recipe is photographed beautifully and prefaced by a personal story about its history, invention or method, which makes it a great sofa read as well as informative cook book. Yet it’s practical and straightforward too: it’s littered with helpful extra cooking notes and I’m pleased to see that no recipe appears to be particularly long or complex. Deb has several techniques that save time but don’t sacrifice flavour, like cutting ratatouille vegetables into thin slices with a mandolin so they cook quicker. A giant bonus is that the publishers have made the effort to convert the entire book – ingredients, measurements and technique names – from U.S to British English, so everything is immediately familiar without having to Google what the heck ‘broiling’ is or how much a cup is.

I haven’t even mentioned the rather sizeable puddings section yet as I’m on a semi-diet, but yes: the puddings look immense too.


I always think it’s a good sign when I flick through a new cook book and immediately earmark about 90% of the recipes as ‘must make soon’, and even better to find I already have the ingredients for several of them in the house already! It’s the kind of book that I will find myself reaching for midweek inspiration as well as for ‘occasion’ cooking. Needless to say, I highly recommend it to everyone. It’s out now: order it here for just £11.

An advance copy was sent to me by the publishers for review.

Bibimbap: Korean stone-pot rice

Bibibmap

Amongst my wonderful Christmas gifts was a bibimbap kit from Sous Chef. It’s a Korean dish literally meaning ‘mixed rice’ – a bowl of rice cooked in a stone pot topped with various vegetables and meat or tofu, finished with an egg and seasoned with hot pepper paste. I’ve been wanting to try it again since we had a similar thing in Tokyo. There are also a couple of Korean restaurants serving it in London now, like the aptly-named Bibimbap in Soho.

Bibibmap
Bibibmap
Bibibmap

It turns out that bibimbap, despite looking quite impressive, is really fun to cook and barely even needs a recipe, although I’ve attached my notes below. The cooking process is really just a prep and assembly job: cooking the rice, heating the dolsot and chopping and cooking the veg (simply steamed or sautéed). If you’re alright with multitasking it can be ready in about half an hour.

Bibibmap

The key to an authentic bibimbap is the special stone cooking pot called a dolsot. It’s warmed on the hob and seasoned with sesame oil before adding the rice for its final cooking. The roasting-hot stone imparts a mysteriously wonderful quality to the dish, as well as making delicious crackly morsels of rice around the edges to pick off with your chopsticks. It holds the heat extremely well, cooking the egg yolk and keeping the rice warm as you dig in.

Bibibmap

You can easily adapt the basic recipe to your favourite vegetable/protein combo, and make it vegan by omitting the egg. The one absolutely essential ingredient is the gochujang, a salty, spicy red pepper paste that provides all the seasoning the dish needs. It comes in a pleasingly Asian-looking little tub and will last in the fridge for ages – if you don’t make bibimbap every night anyway, as I’m now tempted to do.

Bibibmap
Bibibmap

For such low effort, the taste is just amazing, and it’s a pretty healthy yet hearty and filling dish. It’s definitely being added to my regular roster. You can buy a bibimbap kit with everything you need to get started from Sous Chef. Let me know if you have a go!

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South Indian cooking at Food at 52

I bought Josh a South Indian cookery course day at Food at 52 for his birthday last month. It sounded so good that I bought myself a ticket too! South Indian food is one of my favourites – and it happens to be largely vegetarian – but I’ve never been able to master a good curry at home, so I was desperate to pick up some tips.

The class’s menu did include one prawn dish but was otherwise veggie and I recognised a few of the dishes from my favourite Keralan restaurant Rasa. The day class covers a mighty ten dishes, including chutney, snacks, sides and a mix of dry and saucy curries.

We began by splitting into two groups – the class is a snug 8 people – and preparing the spice blends for the various curries. This stage involved lots of measuring and frying off the base spices, which usually include some combination of cumin seeds, mustard seeds, asafoetida (an orangey powder with a leek-type flavour), and curry leaves.

As a warm-up we made the prawn and paneer curry first, by simply adding coconut milk to the fried spices for a subtly-spiced, warming curry dish. We then got to work on the other dishes, which included a beetroot pachadi with grated coconut and a green bean thoran, a dry curry flavoured with cumin seeds, tamarind paste and chilli. We even prepped some vadai, a doughnut-shaped snack made with lentils and spinach.


After all our hard work we were led upstairs to relax with a glass of wine for a bit, while the table was prepared for us to try our dishes out. The space, situated on Central St about halfway between Old Street and Angel, has fun eclectic decor with the cosy, welcoming feel of someone’s home.



The final feast was a colourful spread and everyone agreed all the dishes were delicious. My favourites were the paneer curry and heavenly lemon rice, given substance by the addition of cashews, crunchy dal and tindori, an Indian vegetable a bit like a gherkin. In fact I’ve already re-made them both at home, for my parents no less, which went down extremely well.

The day classes at Food at 52 are quite pricey, but it was a brilliant fun day and we feel equipped with lots more skills and knowledge to carry on making curries at home. They also offer shorter, cheaper evening classes across cuisines including Vietnamese, Thai and Italian.

Fresh yeast, two ways

Baking

I’ve mentioned before that I used to be not so good with baking. General cooking, no problem, but the mysterious alchemy of baking? Not so much. But things are improving – proving, hah – and I had a fun experiment recently thanks to a lump of fresh yeast, bought for just 50p at my lovely local bakery.

Baking
Baking
Baking

Making the perfect from-scratch pizza at home has become a bit of an obsession, and I’m getting very close now. It has a Franco Manca style raw pulped tomato sauce on top, finished simply with mozzarella, basil and olive oil. I just need a wood-fired oven to get that perfect bubbly charred finish.

Baking
Baking
Baking

Then I made these Nutella-spiked brioche buns (based on this recipe) to take into my first day at Sidekick. They were pretty tasty, though kind of more cakey than bready in texture. I also realised that Nutella is pretty delicious, after years of thinking I wouldn’t like it. I still maintain it is not appropriate breakfast food, however: I couldn’t even face these bad boys first thing in the morning.

I have the leftover yeast sitting in my freezer now – any favourite bread recipes I can try next?