Archive | June, 2014

Sweet, sour, spicy, nutty, smoky, crunchy roasted aubergine salad

25 Jun

Sweet, sour, spicy, nutty, smoky, crunchy roasted aubergine salad

Sweet, sour, spicy, nutty, smoky, crunchy roasted aubergine salad

Throughout my 20’s I had infrequent contact with a self-indulgent and woeful lady who recurrently stressed to me that having children is the hardest thing in the world.  She meant raising them. She would stand over me as I slumped into the sofa, and she wafted an overstating finger above me whilst popping eyes glared at me, ‘it’s so hard’. I focused my eyes on the coarse hairs that grew under her chin and listened. I nodded as she told me how there is immense and overflowing love but there is no time even for a facemask or money left to buy clothes. I looked over at my husband and my expression clearly whispered, ‘I will still buy clothes’.

But look, I thought, people all over the world are popping them out. People in towns, cities and remote villages manage it and educated or uneducated, rich or poor, young or old…people all over the world and for as long as time has existed have been having children. So really, come on…

As my little one played with his friends in our garden and I looked at his sweaty little face reddening underneath layers of gritty sun cream. Underneath the wide forehead he gets from his daddy is a face that is so much like mine but that’s not the thing that sinks my heart and ties it in a knot.

Sweet, sour, spicy, nutty, smoky, crunchy roasted aubergine salad

Tiny friends rushed around busily and purposefully with his toys as he watched. One snatched his ball as he watched, as kids often do at this age. My little one let her and decided to go and water some plants instead until another friend announced that he would do it instead. But that was OK and my two year old headed for the trampoline but alas his was bounced off. He quietly returned to me and tucked himself under my arm, ‘mumma I want my ball, it’s mine’. The bitter-sweet irony, as I could almost feel the sand under my feet on a school trip. I felt the pressure inside, even as a toddler as I was worried that my parents would be disappointed that I wasn’t as lively or vivacious as the other children or lacked the confidence to climb through the tunnels or jump off the bars as they were doing. I remember sitting near the teachers and watching the sand tumble through my feet and clearly feeling that somehow there was a waste here but I was too young to really understand the concept of money. I know I should talk to guests when they arrived at our home, when my parents told me to even more so, but I was too shy to make conversation and just willed them to turn their loud and animated interrogation off.

And here we are again. A nice boy that I made nice, to some degree, as his primary carer…but now, how to instil some personal robustness or survival instinct in him? At what point do my own experiences of the world become his perceptions? I don’t want my experiences to dirty his mind…and for someone who wouldn’t talk look at me now…I talk a lot, in front of crowds.

Here is to the bitter-sweet, hot and cool of life. A salad that tingles and zings with each mouthful of crunch from the beansprouts and alfalfa, heat from the chillies, silky smoky aubergine, nutty almond bites and sweet kecap manis. It’s loaded. I like loaded. Juicy orange and green tomatoes burst in the mouth…it’s all going on in this healthy plate. Life eh?

Ingredients to serve two as a main dish or four as a side dish

3 medium-large aubergines

4 good pinches of alfalfa sprouts

A couple of handfuls of almonds

100g beansprouts

An onion, thinly sliced

100g orange tomatoes, sliced

100g green tomatoes, sliced

2 tbsp. sesame oil

2 tbsp. sesame seeds

The dressing

10 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

6 tbsp. kecap Manis

3 tbsp. sriracha sauce

Method

  1. You will need to coat the aubergines in oil and roast in the oven at 180 degrees for approximately 45 minutes or until they are shrivelling and soft enough to pierce. Allow them to cool before removing the skin and scooping out the pulp and mash it lightly on a large plate.
  2. Heat the sesame oil in a non-stick pan and add the onions, beansprouts and almonds and stir fry 3-4 minutes and then turn off the heat.
  3. Make the dressing by mixing the ingredients and smoothing any lumps with a fork
  4. Layer the aubergine pulp, then on top add the tomatoes, beansprouts mixture, alfalfa and the drizzle over as much dressing as you like.
  5. Serve with flatbread and share (try).

 

Strawberry and Thai basil lemonade

22 Jun

Strawberry and Thai basil lemonade

Strawberry and Thai basil lemonade

This could potentially be my last full summer with the boy. Potentially. This time next year I will be in the swing of it (I hope) and he will be in nursery.

This time last year I took him to pick berries in our local fruit picking farm ten minutes down the road. He was wearing a little white t-shirt with a red heart on it and it grew the colours of the season throughout the hours. Sadly the fruit flies had attacked the crop of strawberries but the blackberries were in abundance. At not even a year and half old he chattered away to me but had not cracked the concept of picking the fruit to take home, so he made repeated attempts at sticking the fruit back onto the shrubs. How does time do this to us? I remember where I had parked, the exact spot, like it was a few weeks ago. The pram wouldn’t open properly because I had had accidently wedged a pack of nappy wipes in the bottom tray and I took multiple bottles of water to douse the berries with, just in case he wanted a taste.

We picked gooseberries to make chutney with and raspberries that decorated my breakfast porridge until the winter kicked in. We made blackberry, lychee and apple crumble.  We made a lot of memories that I wish he could hold onto and relive, but he is so young. The memories are mine though, the baby is gone and the toddler will too soon. But the memories will always be mine and I won’t have the guilt, because I have done my best so far and I know that. All the swimming, cuddling, water play and splashing, the shopping trips and chatting over fruits and vegetables, cooking together, soft play, the park, the play dates the trips on the train to London…all of it…they will always be mine to hold.

This year, fortunately the strawberries were not predatory to any pests and I was bouncing with joy when I found alpine strawberries, in all their floral tasting glory, decorating the borders of my garden this year! They have light, lavender like taste and are utterly sweet without so much of the latent tang. It is time for a fresh start and a sweet one I hope, much like this recipe for strawberry and Thai basil lemonade. Not only does it look pretty and alluring, it’s curiously sweet, sour, fruity and herby essences are pretty darn sexy. It is true. Sexy is good in a drink, do it.

Ingredients to serve 4

3 cups water

200g strawberries washed and hulled

½ cup sugar

About 15 fresh Thai basil leaves

The juice of three large lemons

Method

  1. Chop the strawberries into quarters and then combine them with the lemon juice, water and sugar, mix well and then heat the mixture on a low-medium flame in a non-stick pan.
  2. Warm the ingredients through until the sugar has dissolved but don’t boil the liquid as the strawberries will start to lose their essence.
  3. Blend the strawberries with the liquid until it’s a smooth liquid and then add the Thai basil leaves and allow it to reach room temperature before popping it in the fridge to cool.

 

Slow-roasted piri piri spiced tomatoes with spinach in savoury muffins

20 Jun

Slow-roasted piri piri spiced tomatoes with spinach in savoury muffins

I wonder if you share my terrible habit and guilty pleasure. It is so irresistibly wrong yet so right that I convince myself that it is worth it, between remorseful moments.

Slow-roasted piri piri spiced tomatoes with spinach in savoury muffins

 

My justification? Well it starts a little something like this. This is of course not an excuse. I’m busy, so busy that it is hard to think sometimes and thinking is important, isn’t it? I need a quick fix, especially when I am out and can’t stop, after all, what would happen if I totally ran out of steam? That would be dangerous, wouldn’t it? Sometimes I feel sore inside and I need a pick-me-up…I think about it a lot. In the bath, on the train and even in the park with squealing children around…well, with all that commotion, I deserve it don’t I.  And then at the end of the day, when I slump into my spot on the sofa, my body throbs with fatigue, I need it. I need a treat, I deserve one don’t I?  And it is summer! We are making memories at the zoo, picnics in the park, lounging in the garden with friends or by frolicking by the sea and what happens.

Yes, out comes the sugar and we don’t even notice it. I think it’s addictive and in this season of parties and picnics I find it harder to say no…well, everyone is doing it aren’t they?

I come from a family of diabetics and I really should know better. My body needed less sugar when I had my boy and it showed, very much. So I really should know better.

Slow-roasted piri piri spiced tomatoes with spinach in savoury muffins

 

And here is what I am taking to the next picnic in the sun that we are currently enjoying. Slow-roasted piri piri spiced tomatoes with spinach in savoury muffins. I adore slow roasted cherry tomatoes, the flavour is tongue tingling, sensationally rousing. I am hooked on that feeling of popping something into my mouth and having an intense flavour burst that revives me. Often I think of sugar for that instant hit, but it really doesn’t have to be that one. These tomatoes with their sweet zing and spicy kick really do hit the spot.

Now for the green stuff; mellow spinach adds texture to these muffins whilst the salad fennel adds peppery notes and there is a bit of cheese going in there too, it releases a really alluring aroma as the cheese bakes. ‘ahhh’ factor right here.

Ingredients

300g self-raising flour

2 eggs

2 tsp. piri piri spices

Salt

A couple of glugs of olive oil for roasting the tomatoes

2 handfuls of red Leicester cheese

A handful of pine nuts

200g spinach, finely chopped

300ml milk

90g melted butter

30g salad fennel

225g good quality cherry tomatoes

Method

  1. You will need to pre-prepare the tomatoes. Do this by slicing them in half and placing them cut sized up on a baking sheet. Drizzle them with olive oil and the piri piri spice mix. Roast them in the oven at 140degrees for about an hour. Allow them to cool.
  2. To make the muffins combine the flour, salt (I used about 1 tsp.) and the cheese, salad fennel and spinach and mix thoroughly before adding the tomatoes and mix again.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees and grease the muffin trays.
  4. In a measuring jug combine the milk, butter and eggs and whisk it all until it is smooth.
  5. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix it all to a batter.
  6. Evenly distribute the batter and then bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

Slow-roasted piri piri spiced tomatoes with spinach in savoury muffins

Ginger beer, lime, soy and chilli marinated and glazed vegetarian chicken with a puy lentil, yellow bean and soya bean salad

18 Jun

Ginger beer, lime, soy and chilli marinated and glazed vegetarian chicken with a puy lentil, yellow bean and soya bean salad

Ginger beer, lime, soy and chilli marinated and glazed vegetarian chicken with a puy lentil, yellow bean and soya bean salad

 

When I left the corporate world three years ago, I accepted some truths about myself and life and also resolved to live/be alive/ thrive/bloom/ differently.

I told myself that I would not choose work on the basis of money.

I resolved that I would aim to be happy in each day, for that day.

I committed to being more grateful for each of the blessings that currently I have in my life.

I decided that there would be no gossip in our home, no unnecessary negative or weighing talk.

I devoted more energy and time to love and to spending time with my loved ones.

I set to strive to stop measuring myself by successes and failures.

And I absolutely, most certainly did not want to be commuting into central London for work, again. No. No.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Ginger beer, lime, soy and chilli marinated and glazed vegetarian chicken with a puy lentil, yellow bean and soya bean salad

On Tuesday this week I went for a physiotherapy appointment and the physiotherapist made barely any eye contact with me at all and spoke to me in a uniform and mechanical tone. When I asked a question, she sighed deeply and answered into her computer screen, ‘nooooo, I told you…’

She later happened to ask me what I did before my son was born. I then noticed her well sculpted nose and thick layer of eye liner. She seemed tired and wore a diamond on her necklace that carried a leaf. ‘Oh, that’s interesting’. We then had an actual conversation before I left to go to the bank where really pleasant young chap with streaks of purple and pink in his otherwise almost-black hair helped me swiftly and politely. He chuckled respectfully about how he was cooped up indoors on a sunny day, but that’s what happens when you have a ‘normal’ 9-5 job, isn’t’ he joked. Isn’t it. It got me thinking about how lovely ‘normal’ is. That feeling of waking up in the morning purposefully and ready to do a good day’s work…even complaining about the traffic or that annoying email full of demands and not enough time. The banter, the parking issues, it is all reassuringly normal; validation that we are all part of a moving engine.

Anyway, later that day, as I headed over to a foodie event I was on the phone to my brother who is not a Londoner (but of course loves London) pronounced his obvious qualms about tube travelling and the maze that the map can be. He thought he would get lost, but I reminded him that he was on the circle line, it goes in a circle? He remarked how the masses of suited and trainer clad commuters moved pensively and determinedly about like wasps that were evidently very, very late. But they read. And I missed it. I felt glad that my upcoming two opportunities are London based.

So, in truths there lies change.

Back to the World Cup 2014. I have absolutely no interest in football but if you do, here is a recipe that you can pick at from your sofa seated position and I promise you that it will titillate you. It really, really will because the ginger beer soaks right through the spongy soya textures and if you are not vegetarian, use chicken. It’s a bit sweet, it’s a bit spicy and it is wholly pleasurable in a lightly sticky way. I am thoroughly excited by this recipe and can’t wait for you to try it.

Ingredients to serve 2

400g mock chicken (use the TKC vegetarian chicken)

450ml ginger beer

4 tbsp. soy sauce

2 tbsp. soft brown sugar

1 large red chilli, or more if you like

The zest of one lime

The juice of one lime

1 tbsp. groundnut oil

2-3 dried ginger roots

1 tbsp. chilli sauce (I use sriracha sauce)

2-3 spring onions, chopped into bite sized pieces

100g puy lentils

100g soya beans

100g yellow beans

Method

  1. Defrost the TKC vegetarian chicken as per packet instructions and then in a large bowl add the mock chicken, chilli, lime zest, chilli sauce and ginger roots then pour in half of the ginger beer. Then add the brown sugar, soy sauce and the remaining ginger beer. Let it rest in the fridge for a couple of hours
  2. Prepare the puy lentils by boiling them for approximately 20 minutes, or per packet instructions. Boil the soya beans for 3-4 minutes and then rinse them in cold water. Boil the yellow beans for 8 minutes and then rinse them in cold water. Combine these three ingredients before cooking the mock chicken.
  3. In a non-stick pan heat the oil and then add the spring onion and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the mock chicken without the juices and stir through. Then ladle in the juices, two at a time until the moisture is soaked into the mock chicken. You should see a golden and lightly sticky glaze develop. Repeat this process until ¾ of the marinade is used up. Use one ladle for the salad and then serve whilst the mock chicken is hot.

 

Miso-tamarind roasted potatoes wedges with locally sourced, garden salad items

6 Jun

Miso-tamarind roasted potatoes wedges with locally sourced, garden salad items

I tasted cucumber flowers yesterday and they were a joy. See how I got straight into it today?

Miso-tamarind roasted potatoes wedges with locally sourced, garden salad items

 

They looked so pretty but what surprised me the most was the intense cucumber flavour of the stem. I was very spoilt at the London produce show. My toddler and I were picked up so that we could travel into town and along the way my boy remembered which roundabouts led to the oriental supermarket and which ones to London zoo. His childhood is so different to how mine was.  He knows his spices, including mixes like ras-el-hanout and he is just two.   Anyway, as I arrived at the Grosvenor house hotel there was a wonderfully quiet area where we were shown fabulous produce such as tomatina, purple carrots, red oxtail, pea shoots, wonderfully juicy asparagus, salad fennel and I took home some salty, shrub-like okahijiki, warm pinks steam radish, pepper salad fennel and some sea buckshorn! Oh and I was also given Valentine Warner’s new book, ‘what to eat next’.

We were given a master class and they made the most superb salad with simple ingredients from the collection above and lightly dressed with sharpness and oil but you know simple and fresh ingredients show off lots, and quite rightly too. The funny thing is, that whilst I was nibbling away at natures best stuff and chatting to fellow foodies about lifestyle choices such as ecological household items, living near farms and eating locally sourced eggs, bread and walking in the fields or even building eco-friendly homes…it reminded me of how each choice I make on a daily basis affects my body. Someone I know moved to the Cotswolds to nurture their family away from London, and you know I love London but there is something to this isn’t there.  I love being outdoors, fresh air, picking my own fruit and veg and then returning with bundles of fresh stuff to cook or freeze. What a life. Far cry from the underground and shopping centres of the city eh?

Miso-tamarind roasted potatoes wedges with locally sourced, garden salad items

I couldn’t let all that fresh and beautifully wrapped stuff that still smelt of the garden go to waste so the very next day I made this salad and I think it looks pretty. But let’s move onto those miso-tamarind roasted potatoes before I pop. They are really very, ‘oh my goodness’. I think miso is fabulous for its deeply mellow and gentle tones that are lasting and ‘brown’. Tamarind is spiky, tangy, sweet and sharp in a tantalising way. I wouldn’t have imagined them tasting good together but they REALLY do. Try it. (Oh and serve with a few dollops of garlic mayonnaise).

Miso-tamarind roasted potatoes wedges with locally sourced, garden salad items

Ingredients to serve 2

500g king Edward potatoes

4 tbsp. miso paste

2 tbsp. tamarind chutney

2 tbsp. oil

A few dabs of garlic mayonnaise

My salad had in it;

–          ½ cup of petit poi’s

–          8 spears of asparagus

–          A handful of Okahijiki

–          5-6 radish shaved or very thinly sliced

–          2-3 baby beetroot

Method

  1. Cut the potatoes into thick wedges and then boil them (skin on) for 7-8 minutes or until barely tender
  2. Drain the potatoes and let them cool and dry completely.
  3. In a large bowl mix the potatoes with the miso, tamarind chutney and oil and toss them all until there is even coverage.
  4. Roast the potatoes in the oven at 180 degrees until they are crisp and sticky brown.
  5. To make the salad simmer the asparagus, beet, peas for approximately 4-5 minutes and then drain them.
  6. Plate the salad and the potatoes and serve with garlic mayonnaise.

eat your greens logo

 

Extra Veg Badge

Sweet, silky heat-Beetroot and wasabi houmous

4 Jun

 

Sweet, silky heat-Beetroot and wasabi houmous

 

Sweet, silky heat-Beetroot and wasabi houmous

For someone who has typically felt unruffled by change, I am experiencing a lot of it at the moment. I was having a conversation with a loved one, in my head the other day.  I was telling them that I am looking forward to getting up there, in front of an academic group of grown-ups listening to me with notes before them and grit in the heart, sleep in the eyes. Then I told them that my loved one that I couldn’t believe that I just said that. It has been years since I looked forward to any activity of that kind. I am also looking forward to teaching my next three cookery classes. I am going to admit to something I haven’t reflected on in years.

 

A few years ago a neighbour knocked on my door. She has a sweet smile and very kind eyes, but I was still unsure. I didn’t see Asian ladies of her later years with a boyish grey mop, so when she spoke, very gently, kindly and eloquently it made a bit more sense. I now know that my neighbour is a retired GP and a helpful Christian. I see her on walks delivering eggs and milk to those less mobile than her and I listen to her as she tells me how her grandchildren are developing and how she is particularly fond of, ‘the boy’ as he is so affectionate.

 

Back then my neighbour asked me if I would teach some cookery on a charitable basis at the Church, on a weekday. I sighed inside and with great guilt I confessed how stretched I was. A full time job, a home that wasn’t yet developed…you know all of the rest. I told her that when I stopped for the baby I would be very glad to. ‘I understand’ she said, glowing in her tiny frame. Smaller than me.

 

She understood but now I look back I am not sure I do. Now I have less money but more humility. Less time but more love. Less greed and more of a sense of that I am not immortal and more of a drive to make it count. I am not saying that I am a better person now. What I have committed to is some more regular cookery for a charitable purpose alongside the other classes.

 

Meanwhile my son has gone from an angelic and sparky 2 ¼ year old to something of a teenager. Literally overnight. So, as you can see, it is time to open a new chapter whilst ingesting the sweet heat of my life as it is. On the subject of sweet heat…here is my recipe for beetroot and wasabi hummus or houmous. The beet gives a mellow and easy sweetness, as life should be. The wasabi gives a gentle background heat that pops just at the end of the experience, just like my toddler is offering me right now. Altogether we have some balance and I like to suck it up with lashings of breadsticks. Life. Houmous. Same.

Sweet, silky heat-Beetroot and wasabi houmous

 

Ingredients

 

1 can of drained chickpeas

 

250g cooked beetroot, roughly chopped

 

1 can kidney beans, drained

 

¾ cup tahini

 

2 cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped

 

4 tbsp. lemon juice

 

3 tbsp. ice cold water

 

Salt to taste

 

4 heaped tsp. wasabi paste (or more if you like it hotter)

 

1 ½ tbsp. olive oil

 

Method

 

  1. Combine all of the ingredients except the wasabi and olive oil and blitz together in a food processor.
  2. When the ingredients look smooth and silky, add 1 tbsp. olive oil and the wasabi paste and blitz again.
  3. Use a fork to smooth the houmous and remove any lumps of wasabi paste.
  4. Transfer the houmous into a bow and drizzle with a little oil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chimichurri and feta spiked mung bean sprouts in a baked, jumbo spring roll

1 Jun

Chimichurri and feta spiked mung bean sprouts in a baked, jumbo spring roll

Chimichurri and feta spiked mung bean sprouts in a baked, jumbo spring roll

I expended most of this weekend searching for a replacement car after mine was written off a couple of weeks ago. A van rammed into the back of my car at some traffic lights (I had stopped already) crushing the entire boot. I had a few moments of breathless hysteria because my little one was in the back, but fortunately, we are ok. A bit of whiplash, but blessed to be ok.

So, instead of visits to the zoo or park this weekend, we have been from car sales cosmos to showroom underworlds. Can you tell that I don’t enjoy shopping for cars? But it is an interesting world.

As I stood eyeing up a Seat Leon, two broad and bald men chuckled to each other that it is the poor man’s Audi. I smiled silently as I was thrown back to sitting/being squished in the back of the car of someone boasting to my mother about their impending purchase of a brand new Mercedes. Back then car sharing to weddings was common practise and London felt like planets away from Leicester, where I grew up. Of course back then I had no idea that London would become my home. It is where I started my married life, working life and built treasured friendships.

Anyway, I remember clearly sensing the inferiority that this lady wanted my mother to feel. She went on to describe their family business and property and how I looked awkward and that my face didn’t fit well on my body, but even though I was probably just 12 I knew that actually, she was without the basics in life of love and respect. I looked at my attractive mother who was adorned in a new sari and jewellery that my dad had chosen for her. Then I looked at the other lady, who was lacking.

The car is something of, ‘what do you do for a living’ or ‘where do you live’, isn’t it? Except it doesn’t grow does it? I once worked with a chap who did very well professionally and lived in an area brimming with upmarket delicatessens, fancy florists, and tiny Thai restaurants and of course fabulous schools, but drove a moving skip, as he called it. I learned a lot from him on many levels.

That said I know how I feel when I put on a nice dress, good perfume, make-up and a few simple but lovely accessories. I am sure my stance changes, my attitude might change too.

Head in a thorough spin, I decided to call it the end to a hot and bothersome level of thinking and head to the garden for some running under the sprinkler with the boy after the swings and slide. I needed refreshing with some zesty, summery, zingy, nutty, salty, juicy food with crunch and crisp thrown in. See where we are going with this?

I love mung bean sprouts; they are silky and nutty, cook quickly and I love the feeling of their little tails. They work fabulously well with chimichurri dressing but I have a confession; I cheated and used some Thai basil with the parsley and guess what? It gives the most fantastic, lasting herbiness. It is actually all pretty gorgeous, a healthy vegetarian recipe and I served the mung bean sprout spring rolls (baked for added bonus) with Za’atar sweet potato fries, because you know, it’s all about balance.

Ingredients to make 6 large rolls

For the sauce

350g mung bean shoots

One red onion, finely diced

3 cloves of garlic

The juice of one lemon

A large bunch of parsley

Salt to taste

1 tsp. chilli flakes or more if you like it hot

1 tsp. oregano, dried or fresh

A small bunch of Thai basil, finely chopped

2 tbsp. olive oil

Other ingredients

200g feta cheese, cut into small cubes

12 sheets of spring roll pastry, defrosted

Oil for coating the rolls

½ tsp. turmeric

Method

  1. Blitz together all of the ingredients for the sauce and leave to a side
  2. Heat a pan and add a splash of oil and then add the turmeric and mung bean shoots. Sauté for 2-3 minutes and then add the chimichurri sauce
  3. Cook the mung bean shoots for approximately 4-5 minutes longer before turning off the heat and allowing the mixture to cool and then add the feta cheese
  4. Take two sheets of spring roll pastry and leave a 3-4 cm gap from the bottom and sides and place 3-4 dessert spoons in a line and tightly roll into a cylinder shape and leave it to the side
  5. Place the rolls in an oven after greasing them lightly and bake them at 200 degrees until they are lightly golden.

 

 

 

 

 

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