For me, one thing that’s up there amongst the suckiest things about winter is the lack of tomatoes that actually taste of anything. The only way I’ve found to coax some flavour out of them is to smother them in salt and olive oil and roast them long and slow in the oven. Then they’ll reluctantly relinquish some sweet concentrated flavour, along with delicious umami-rich cooking juices to boot.
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.
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…
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
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).
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
Dressing: Olive oil, red wine vinegar, liquid smoke, oak-smoked tomatoes, oregano, chilli flakes
* 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been saving more GF (and non-GF) veggie food ideas on my Pinterest board. Do you have any favourites to share?
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.
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.
Nb. It’s also superb reheated the next day, with beans, yogurt and hot sauce. Mmmm.
Any more ideas for kale recipes?
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.
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!
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)
One 10-minute steam later…
… 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.
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
This recipe is a mish-mash of a few influences, adapted to a suit my tastes and usual cupboard/freezer contents. It’s a very quick and easy curry that doesn’t require a whole arsenal of spices, and the result is a clean and creamy flavour with just a hint of mustard seed and chilli. The ideal curry for the current heatwave I’d say! Play around with the main ingredients: I think it’d work great with sweet potato, broccoli or aubergine too.
This recipe is a winner! So easy, very few ingredients, but hearty with a massive flavour ‘pow’. Corn-based polenta is lighter on the digestion than wheat lasagne, and cheese aside it’s pretty healthy. I made it for Josh and my sister, and it disappeared too fast to snap a photo – so I’ve done a little illustration instead.
I’m not usually a big fan of fakey meat products – I mean, I’m vegetarian for good reason – but there’s something about the cold weather that makes it appealing to fall back on simple protein-based stews and casseroles for dinner. I made up this recipe when my decidedly-omnivorous sister came round as a substitute for a similar dish that my mum makes, and it turned out really nice. It’s not very photogenic I’m afraid, but it does taste much better than it looks!
A classic combo of mushrooms, thyme, and white wine is given texture by the Quorn, which is torn into irregular pieces to give a – dare I say – meatier texture. Low fat creme fraiche gives acidity and a nice saucy base – you could swap it for half or full fat sour cream for a creamier, more decadent result. Mustard gives the whole thing a final warming kick, and serve with buttery mash for ultimate comfort factor. Give it a go!
Since doing an Indian cooking course and having a gander at the beautiful Prashad cook book, my home curry-making has definitely gone up a notch. In particular, Prashad’s mattar paneer is sure to become a weekday dinner staple: it’s so quick and easy yet authentic-tasting, uses storecupboard/freezer ingredients (did you know paneer freezes?!) and feels pretty healthy despite the main ingredient being um, fried cheese. Must be better than a takeaway at least. I like making more interesting rice dishes as an accompaniment too: the lemon, mustard seed and curry leaf rice we made on the course is perfect with a mild, creamy curry, and Prashad’s tumeric dal rice does great with the mattar paneer.
My absolute favourite thing to make however is chapattis, the little wholewheat puffed flatbreads that are so perfect at scooping up handfuls of curry to convey it to the mouth. I use the Fabulous Baker Brothers’ recipe and method, which involves the pretty fun task of toasting the chapattis over an open gas flame to get that wonderful airy texture and charred outside. I even videoed myself doing it, at immense personal risk – you’re welcome. Ignore my filthy hob please.
Finished with a dash of butter, they’re the perfect finishing touch to a homemade curry.