Tag Archives: vegetarian recipes

Saffron polenta, chipotle & tomato, black bean and Tenderstem bake

1 Apr

Saffron polenta, chipotle & tomato, black bean and Tenderstem bake

I know that it’s meant to be spring but I am cold and rather weary. Days are drowsy but hectic and nights aren’t quite long enough.  My nose still feels icy and my mind is clouded, though at least the rays of sun out there are promising. I am even considering reacquainting myself with the hot water bottle.

It’s on days like this that I need a bold, reviving and soothing dish and something to awaken the senses.  Something plentiful and bright, something smooth and definitely present, here and lingering. But with low effort required.

So with my cosy socks on and my trusty, thick knitted cardigan with tassels and plentiful buttons, I decided to layer pillows of saffron polenta, succulent and spiced tomatoes with deep black beans and a crunchy layer of Tenderstem. And of course, most things in life taste better with a layer of cheese on top.

So with my cosy socks on and my trusty, thick knitted cardigan with tassels and plentiful buttons, I decided to layer pillows of saffron polenta, succulent and spiced tomatoes with deep black beans and a crunchy layer of Tenderstem. And of course, most things in life taste better with a layer of cheese on top.

For the full recipe head over to great british chefs

Barley, tomato, paneer, channa dal & cashew nut salad

27 Mar

 

Recipe 2: Barley, tomato, paneer, channa dal salad & cashew nut salad The definition of a salad seems to have evolved; this glorious, warm, spiced and zesty salad is full of wonderful surprise. The barley adds silky and nutty depth, the sweet tomatoes and spices mingle well with the spongy paneer and the channa dal adds a bite.  I like it with a bit of heat, so I went for the green chilies but you can moderate this if you wish.

I used Savera paneer for this dish and it works really well because unlike some brands of paneer, Savera paneer is moist and spongy (not hard and rubbery) so takes on the flavours and juices of the salad so well and is soft enough to add to the party of ingredients. Keep the paneer moist warm so that it retains a bit of that chewy glory.

 

Serves 4-6

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

225g paneer, cubed

75g channa dal, washed

100g pearl barley, washed

220g baby plum tomatoes, quartered

One medium red onion

100g cashew nuts

¾ tbsp. vegetable oil

For the dressing;

3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

Salt to taste

3½ tbsp. sesame oil

1 tsp. cumin seeds

15g coriander, finely chopped

½ tsp. turmeric powder

2 green chillies finely chopped (use one if you prefer less heat)

6-8 curry leaves

Method

  1. Boil the barley on a vigorous simmer for ten minutes and then on a medium flame for a further 30minutes. Drain it and allow it to cool
  2. Boil the channa dal for 15-20 minutes. It should retain a bite but be cooked. Wash the channa dal in cool water and drain it when it is cooked.
  3. Put the channa dal, tomatoes, onion and barley into a large shallow bowl.
  4. Heat the vegetable oil in a non-stick pan and stir fry the paneer until it catches a golden colour. Remove it from the heat and add it to the other salad ingredients.
  5. To make the dressing, heat the sesame oil in a non-stick pan add then chillies, curry leaves, turmeric and cumin seeds. Allow the seeds to sizzle before turning off the heat.
  6. Drizzle the dressing onto the salad and mix it well. Pour in the rice wine vinegar and then sprinkle in the salt and chopped coriander and toss the salad.
  7. Toast the cashew nuts on a non-stick pan until they are lightly golden and then allow then allow them to cool before tossing them into the salad.

 

 

This is a sponsored post but any views expressed are my own

Asparagus, radish & wakame in a lemongrass and chilli broth

14 Mar

Asparagus, radish & wakame in a lemongrass and chilli broth

 

After additional, nuisance bout of food poisoning or something gruesome of that nature it has been a week of gentle eating. It could have been the colossal over indulgence; there was the vomit-precluding list of sev puri Chaat, pakora, sandwiches, cheese, coco-choc ice cream, paprika chocolate…well, you get the picture.

Anyway, the result was a day in bed with very, very frequent visits from a 2 year old that chanted, ‘I want mumma, I want mumma’. I tell myself that maybe my body needed this rest; perhaps my body is not cut out for vast and enormous amounts of food or bacteria in sarnies. Whatever the course, a fast followed and then some actual nourishing food.

This recipe is truly refreshing and soothing; it even made my hair feel cleaner. It’s like the welcome drink in Thailand when you feel hot, sweaty, tired yet excited in a need-to-sleep-first sort of way. All of the ingredients are gentle. Crisp heat from the radish and bite from the asparagus meets silky wakame (seaweed), and they work gloriously well with nutty brown rice. The broth is fragrant, easy and fresh.

The folk at Holy Lama sent me some of their lemongrass spice drops recently. It is potent. Really potent. I used just enough to fill the tip of the pipette that comes in the packaging and that was enough. The great thing is that I didn’t have any annoying bits of lemongrass getting stuck between my teeth but all of the flavour. You could of course just use a stalk of lemongrass and get a lovely impact…just make it and enjoy it.

Asparagus, radish & wakame in a lemongrass and chilli broth

Ingredients

200g asparagus cut into 2 inch pieces

200g red radish, sliced

2 cloves of garlic

2 tbsp. sesame oil

3-4 spring onions, cut into bite sized pieces

3 tbsp. wakame

One litre of vegetable stock

Red chilli flakes to taste

One tiny drop of lemongrass spice drops or one lemongrass stalk slit open

1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

125g brown rice

Method

  1. Cook the brown rice per the packet instruction and leave it to a side
  2. Soak the wakame in water and leave it to a side.
  3. Heat the oil in a deep pan and when it is hot add the onion, garlic, asparagus and radish and sauté for two minutes before adding in the vegetable stock, lemongrass, chilli flakes and rice wine vinegar.
  4. Bring the broth to a simmer and add the brown rice, wakame and cook for a further 5 minutes before serving hot.

 

Roasted garlic, spinach and coriander rice with feta and cashews

13 Mar

It is the season of escapism

I have always relished having, ‘hiding places’, especially in the warmer weather.

Roasted garlic, spinach and coriander rice with feta and cashews

 

As a child I would wander up and down the garden path, at the back of the garden and which was tucked away by arches of oversize rose bushes bearing pink, white and yellow roses.  Along the path grew spring onions on one side and strawberries on the other. There was other stuff, but I that’s what I remember. I would shuffle past the ivy on the back wall and pleat myself between long strands of grass, blackberries and more grass so that I stand on a discarded on a discarded flower pot and swing around on it, with my thoughts for company.

As a teenager I was part of a cosily demonstrative and animated crowd of friends.  We were together always, sometimes creating and sharing belly-laughs, occasionally sharing dramatic tears and sentiments with declarations of love. Vivacious, ambitious, boisterous and revelling in it… most of the time. Sometimes I would take a walk past the university which was down the road, through to the small, immaculately kept yet unfrequented park and just sit. My mind echoed with the shrill laughter, the ‘baaabe’ coos and the multiple hugs. My eyes rested on the wafting flowers in their tidy beds or over to elderly couples, sitting peacefully and easily in each other’s company.

I really loved the offices where I worked for almost a decade. I felt proud of the six buildings that stood tall in a semi-circle splendidly. We even had a few flags in the front near the fountains and I would always listen to the echo of my little feet as I would enter the light-flushed reception with the subliminal brand-tune playing in the background. High ceilings revealed the three floors and their balconies where important and discreet conversations happened. I would pick up my porridge from the restaurant, a green tea from the Starbucks and prepare for the deluge. When it got too much and I needed to breathe in order to later demonstrate professional calm, I would grab my phone and speed along on my heels past the smokers, through the car-park and over to the far side of the building where there was a quiet fountain. It was in a very pointless position.

Happy spring my friends. The grass will smell nicer, the flowers bloom and I hope that your smiles will too.

Roasted garlic, spinach and coriander rice with feta and cashews

On the subject of green, meet my rice. It’s bright with spinach and coriander and sweet with roasted garlic. Roasted garlic and salt are perfect together and the feta hits the spot perfectly. I served this rice with a roasted pepper and tomato chutney and some corn flour tortilla. It was utterly fabulous.

green rice 3

 

Ingredients

200g basmati rice

2 tbsp. cooking oil

150g spinach leaves, washed

100g coriander, washed and coarsely chopped

One bulb of garlic

One onion, half sliced and the other half diced

100g feta cheese, cut into bite sized cubes

A handful of cashew nuts

¾ tsp. fennel seeds

One lemon, half for the juice and half for slices

Method

  1. Rest the bulb of garlic, in all its skin and layers, on a sheet of baking paper. Remove the head off the garlic to expose the bubs and then drizzle the garlic with a splash of oil and some salt and roast it in the oven at 200 degrees until for approximately 30minutes.
  2. Boil the rice for approximately 8 minutes before draining and cooling it.
  3. In a food processor (you could finely chop by hand), blitz the spinach and coriander until it is finely chopped.
  4. Heat the oil on a non-stick pan and then add the fennel seeds and onion with some salt. Remember that the feta cheese is salty, so go easy. Sauté the onions enough to lightly brown them
  5. Mix in the spinach and coriander and sauté gently for a minute before adding the garlic.  You simply squeeze the base of the bulb and they will pop out. Add half the head of garlic and lightly mash them in. don’t worry about the lumps. Taste the rice, if it feels garlicky enough then stop, if not add more.
  6. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, sprinkle in the cashew nuts and mix well before turning the heat off.
  7. Mix in the rice, gently folding the green mixture through, cover and cook for a couple of minutes on a very low flame.

Courgette and gram flour dumplings in broccoli soup

11 Mar

 Courgette and gram flour dumplings in broccoli soup

Her grass is so much more luscious

I’ve learned, over time and with some stumbling, to count my blessings more deliberately, more appreciatively, knowingly and openly.  When anyone tells me how lucky I am in a discussion that ultimately leads to my being lead to sympathise with their heroism in coping with the comparatively (and self-declared) unlucky (rather than of course apathetic) position that they are in, I say ‘thank you’.

This week, I have been told that I am ‘lucky’ that I have just one child and not a crowd of three. One, mother-infatuated child is a doddle apparently, even though my husband is off on his fourth international trip this year and my family is a couple of hours away. I say, thank you because I am blessed to be a mother.

The next thing I am ‘lucky’ for this week is opportunity to work with a new food brand who sought out my freelance support to reinvigorate their brand by creating some youthful and energising recipes for them. I nodded at my banker friend, who brings home a guaranteed, fixed income each month on a permanent contract. She tells me how she toils over each accomplishment in her career. I wondered whether to send her a cheeky ‘hello’ text message at 1.30am when I was wearily churning inspiration into submission. Instead I say thank you, because I am grateful that a new brand understood and appreciated my style of cooking, had faith in me to deliver something exciting and innovative for them and that that I feel fulfilled.

Also, I was made aware of how ‘lucky’ I am to be in a position where I have career options. I think this is the one that set of expletives in my head. Options. It has taken me three years of loosening my grip on that rope which bound me and the world of security and sort-of-positive-affirmation of capability through my ascent into corporate middle-management, then nursing my wounds of confusion and lack of direction and eventually finding my real inclinations and talents and then turning them into some sort of purposeful and meaningful reality. Instead I said thank you, for if it weren’t for this slogging and striving, I would not have the hope that I do today.

Courgette and gram flour dumplings in broccoli soup

On the subject of green grass and positive notes, my broccoli soup with gram flour and courgette dumplings has been a total joy to eat. It’s very lean because the dumplings contain no oil whatsoever and the green; well that’s just a healthy colour isn’t it. It’s mellow, kind, lightly sweet. It’s juicy and the dumplings are dense and spongy with the courgettes keeping the dumplings moist. This is again a very easy recipe to whip up. We ate it with some fresh apple and spice bread. Now if I hadn’t finished off with a cheeky lemon curd biscuit, I would have been very ‘lucky’ to have cooked and eaten a gratifying bowl of goodness.

Courgette and gram flour dumplings in broccoli soup

Ingredients

300g broccoli florets

One large onion, coarsely sliced

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1200ml vegetable stock

1 tsp. chilli flakes

1 tsp. cumin seeds

2 tbsp. cooking oil

For the dumplings

225g grated courgette

¾ tsp. caraway seeds

125g gram flour

Salt to taste

½ tsp. chilli powder

1 tsp. coriander powder

¼ tsp. ground turmeric

Method

  1. To make the soup, heat the oil in a pan and add the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle before stirring in the onion. Sauté the onions until they soften lightly before introducing the onion and sauté until the  onion has softened down and caught light colour.
  2. Mix in the broccoli and then the vegetable stock. Bring the soup to a simmer before sprinkling in the chilli flakes.
  3. Simmer the soup for 5-6 minutes or until the broccoli is tender before blitzing it smooth.
  4. Whilst the soup is cooking, mix together the grated courgette, caraway seeds, salt, coriander and turmeric and chilli powders before mixing in the gram flour. It should form thick slightly sticky dough.
  5. Whilst the soup is simmering on a medium flame, gently drop in 50p coin sized amounts of the dough into the soup and cook them for 8 minutes or until the dumplings are cooked through.
  6. Serve hot so that the dumplings are moist and tender all the way through.

 

 

Tenderstem tip, roasted red pepper and barley salad with curried mayonnaise

7 Mar

Tenderstem tip, roasted red pepper and barley salad with curried mayonnaise

Fake it and make it

Tenderstem tip, roasted red pepper and barley salad with curried mayonnaise

 

I am not normally an advocate of faking anything. I’m not very good at it either.  I had pretty worthy week this week; Monday was filled with promise and colour, celebration and indulgence. Tuesday pulsed with exhaustion yet productivity. Wednesday was beamed with sunshine, innocence and smiles. Thursday was a right-off. The bubble of promise popped, the forthcoming celebration cancelled.  Someone sent me a message telling me that my writing is ‘raw and honest’. That encouraged me further to say it how it is.

As my I read my emails over and over again, my little one clambered over me whilst tugging onto my hair and strands floated down my pale t-shirt. I had got dressed up for playgroup this morning and I am glad that I did. I rested my forehead on my fingers to try and reason with clarity, but it wasn’t meant to be. My husband sometimes says that my boy doesn’t comprehend that he isn’t a part of me.  If I am thinking of something, my boy will often vocalise it. If I am happy, he frolics around encouraging loud, rapturing laughter from me. If I am sad, he throws himself onto me into a clumsy embrace and repeatedly reassures me with confessions of love. Today, he whimpered, reminding me that I have a choice…well sort of. Get, up and get on with it…or. Or what?

I didn’t want to make dinner today, but we had to eat. If we are going to eat, it has to be a satisfying one, both for the taste buds and the stomach. So here, in all its honesty, is how this recipe happened.

I put the barley on to boil, because I didn’t want to eat rice or pasta. I was on the phone trying to decipher what this potentially useful contact was advising me amidst, ‘mumma where’s the dinosaur train gone, its FINISHED’. So then I over cooked the barley a bit and it grew a bit lavender-ish so I disguised it in soy, chilli, basil and ginger and it tasted good.

I put the peppers onto roast but I forgot about them whilst fervently messaging my friend, ‘It thought it was…but it wasn’t’. They ended up well done, sweet and juicy but not burned. I simply trimmed any damaged ends and discarded them.

I can always be bothered with a dressing. In the same way that I got dressed for playgroup this morning, it makes something special of something understated. It styles uncomplicatedness and when you wash your hair, wear a nice top or put a fried egg or some creamy dressing on your food, life is a little bit better. Ordinarily I don’t use curry powder in a curry. Never ever, not at all, just no. It’s not bad (very good in fact) in a noodle soup or in mayonnaise though.

I made good from not-so-good. I made tasty from lack-lustre. I decided to get up and get on with it and do that same with Friday.

Tenderstem tip, roasted red pepper and barley salad with curried mayonnaise

Ingredients to serve 2-3

100g pearl barley

30g fresh basil, shredded

2 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. minced ginger

1 tbsp. sesame oil

1 tsp. dried chilli flakes

125g Tenderstem broccoli tips

3 red peppers cut into thick strips

7 tbsp. mayonnaise

1 lemon

2 tsp. curry powder

Method

  1. Boil the barley per the packet instructions and when it is cooked, drain it, wash it and leave it to a side.
  2. Roast the peppers in the oven at 180degrees until they blister and start to brown. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool to room temperature.
  3. Boil the Tenderstem tips for 3 minutes.
  4. Heat the sesame oil in a pan and add the minced ginger and sauté for a minute on a light flame. Mix it well with the soy sauce and chilli flakes before combining it with the barley.
  5. Toss in the shredded basil, squeeze in half the lemon and mix it all well.
  6. In a bowl mix the mayonnaise and the other half of the lemon juiced and whip it all together with the curry powder.
  7. When the roasted red peppers have reached room temperature and the broccoli is cooked combine them with the barley and serve with the curried mayonnaise.

Artichoke, butterbean and Halloumi pie in a green pepper, cauliflower and coriander chutney

6 Mar

Artichoke, butterbean and Halloumi pie in a green pepper, cauliflower and coriander chutney

 

Artichoke, butterbean and Halloumi pie in a green pepper, cauliflower and coriander chutney

I’ve indulged quite a lot lately.  There has been a lot of wintery comfort in the way of creamy pasta, warm chocolate and waffles…not forgetting the deep fried mock chicken in Malaysian spices or the sticky rice. Oof.

So when the subject of Pie week came up, I felt a little queasy at the thought of puff pastry giving way to dense fillings in creamy sauces. I found myself silent in the kitchen, looking over at spring shoots in the garden, my annually visiting hyacinths, daffodils and snowdrops desperately wanting to burst through. I love this time of year. I feel a sense of freshness, newness, readiness and the urge to just go out and do things. I want to do fun things, be outdoors and be kinder to my body.

The fabulous thing about a crisp and light filo pie is that it can take on any character you like, cant it? I have created fresh, zesty, juicy, chutney to dress the salty and spongy Halloumi, deep butterbeans and silky artichoke and all in all it’s a bit like a spring salad in a crisp golden wrapping.

I’ve indulged quite a lot lately.  There has been a lot of wintery comfort in the way of creamy pasta, warm chocolate and waffles…not forgetting the deep fried mock chicken in Malaysian spices or the sticky rice. Oof. So when the subject of Pie week came up, I felt a little queasy at the thought of puff pastry giving way to dense fillings in creamy sauces. I found myself silent in the kitchen, looking over at spring shoots in the garden, my annually visiting hyacinths, daffodils and snowdrops desperately wanting to burst through. I love this time of year. I feel a sense of freshness, newness, readiness and the urge to just go out and do things. I want to do fun things, be outdoors and be kinder to my body.  The fabulous thing about a crisp and light filo pie is that it can take on any character you like, cant it? I have created fresh, zesty, juicy, chutney to dress the salty and spongy Halloumi, deep butterbeans and silky artichoke and all in all it’s a bit like a spring salad in a crisp golden wrapping.

The really exciting thing about this salad is the chutney and how well it works with the simple and clean ingredients. It’s bracing, it’s invigorating and it smells great.

The really exciting thing about this salad is the chutney and how well it works with the simple and clean ingredients. It’s bracing, it’s invigorating and it smells great. For the full recipe, head over to great british chefts

 

Cinnamon-chill onion, asparagus, cashew and cheddar filo rolls

4 Mar

 

Cinnamon-chill onion, cashew Asparagus and cheddar filo rolls

 

Sticks and cheese

Spring, 1994

I enjoyed my business studies class at school. In anticipation of starting the class I got some books out on the subject during the summer holidays and learned about the concept of barter trade and achieving break-even point and what constitutes profit.  I started the class with sense of fluency and that made me feel good. One day my not-so-tall, dry pink cheeked, booming-voiced male teacher sat at his desk across from us and I knew from his frown and the way that his two, ear-side grey tufts of hair flounced that he was not in a good mood.

He asked some of us what we wanted to become. He, himself a father of three boys and a qualified accountant had for some reason turned into a secondary school teacher. He pointed at one of the clever lads at the back of the room. Thin, dark, thick-spectacled and he had unfortunately shaped teeth but was a lovely boy. ‘I want to be a pilot’ he beamed.

‘You will never be a pilot, look at the thickness of your glasses, you will probably get a mostly A’s and a few B’s and become an accountant.’

Next he turned to one of the understated beauties of the class. Not one of those permed-haired divas but one of those faces that you know will turn into a success drawing, friend winning, and a champion of happiness. She told him that she wanted to be a dancer and a business woman. He told her that she would get mostly B grade and C grade GCSE’s and may have a clerical job.

Cinnamon-chill onion, asparagus, cashew and cheddar filo rolls

Once he quietened down and the student’s eyes were down into their books I went to him and told him that I had been pondering about what he was saying to everyone. He laughed at me having used the word, ‘pondering’. I asked him why he felt that he could tell people what their destiny will be and why he felt that his influential words should be thrown around; wasn’t he fearful that he would miss-shape, or erode the confidence of a young mind? Weren’t his predictions limiting, shouldn’t he just let the individual dream and at least try? My dad told me that I could do, or be anything I wanted to.

As he gurgled with fury at my perhaps loaded question I turned around and to walk away and I felt my pulse in my mouth as my pony tail was pulled back into his fist. He growled something about my insolence but I don’t remember any of that, I was just stunned and felt clear horror.

When my hair was released, I unobtrusively walked through the buildings; along echoing corridors and I looked out at playing fields through murky windows. My feet patted gently along the balcony and I listened to the sounds of a PE class beneath me and then I shuffled past silent art classes. I sat down, on the large grey, lightly-rough chair at reception and told them that I wanted to speak to the headmaster immediately and that I needed to call my dad.

I was full of conviction, self-assurance and compassion. I was just 14. No words from my teacher damaged me or swayed me, even when my teacher crouched down before me in reception and apologised…something about going through a stressful time. I let him talk. I had plump cheeks and eyes that were always moist and I listened. I asked him if he had a daughter, knowing full well that he hadn’t.

Cinnamon-chill onion, asparagus, cashew and cheddar filo rolls

Winter 2010

I had gone from a ‘rising star’ to being unwanted. I replayed the words over and over and over and I believed them. I let the opinion of one person become my reality. Sticks and stones.

Winter 2014

I am learning from myself. You know, we often draw on examples from those we admire; those who have done things that we would like to do, or be the way that we would like to be. I have found that within myself I hold all the will, the strength, the courage and the conviction. I have done it before, I can do it again. I choose my words, both the ones I speak and the ones I listen to.

My sticks today are full of aroma. Cinnamon, chilli and onion work superbly together in a sweet, spicy, aromatic and fragrant glory. Silky onions work superbly with cashew nuts and there’s a light layer of mature cheese holding it all together with a spear of asparagus as the star of the show in a crisp filo shell. The tasters today told me that they are amazing. I have to agree.

Ingredients to make 5-7 rolls

7 sheets of filo pastry

3 medium onions, sliced

1 tsp. dried chilli flakes

¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

100g cashew nuts

125g mature cheddar cheese, grated

7 asparagus spears

Salt to taste

2 tbsp. cooking oil or a generous nob of butter

¾ tsp. caraway seeds

1 tsp. cumin seeds

Method

  1. Trim the base off the asparagus spears and boil them gently in water for 4-5 minutes before draining them in cool water and leaving them to dry.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan and add the cumin seeds, caraway seeds and then let them sizzle, before stirring in the onions and the salt. Soften the onions on a medium flame until they start to grow golden in colour.
  3. Sprinkle in the cinnamon and chilli flakes and sauté for another minute on a more gentle flame before turning the heat down and adding the cashew nuts. Turn off the heat and move onto assembling the rolls.
  4. Take a sheet of filo and fold it in half. Sprinkle a thin layer of cheese and then a couple of tbsp. of the onions and cashew nut mix.
  5. Place a spear of asparagus near the top, lengthways and leave the tip hanging outside. Fold it into a cigar and place each one onto a baking sheet. Drizzle a little oil on the filo and bake in the oven at 180 degrees until they are lightly browned.

Black-eyed beans and smoky aubergines in dill with a walnut and gujalio crème fraiche

1 Mar

 

Black-eyed beans and smoky aubergines in dill with a walnut and gujalio crème fraiche

I took my 24month old to the children’s library the other day; he adores books just like his mumma. After reading the same book a couple of times he mouths the words whilst I read the book. This always makes me smile within, I came in the top 5% of the county for my English A-level, many years ago now and this boy of mine is a little piece of me. Enough showing off, there is a point to this post that leads to a recipe and to the showing off itself.

So we have been walking down the road that leads to the library these days, because he insists on it. On the way we came across a couple of women with their kids, maybe 3-6 year olds. They stormed down the narrow path on their scooters and as they scoffed packets of crisps I heard their mother’s chuckle that they hadn’t had any breakfast. ‘Oi, how many fish fingers you having’ roared one of the mothers.

We seem always to bump into elderly ladies and I do like it when they smile at my boy chattering away. ‘Look at that lorry mumma, it’s incredible and amazing and HUge.’ Elderly lady asked him if he likes Lorries. ‘Yes, I like lorries and busses and planes and motorbikes’. Elderly lady told me that she has three children, one has moved to Australia, one relocated to Ireland where her husband is from for a better lifestyle with her children and one lives relatively locally. She told us about her grandchildren whom she sees some of the holidays but not all. I am always told before parting from old ladies to make the most of my boy’s childhood because it goes so fast. I am no teenager and I know that I must hold onto these rehearsed words every day.

When we got to the library, my little bullet darted around looking at dinosaur, alien, vehicle and animal themed books and we chose one from almost all of these finely selected categories. The woman who brings her child with a potty (she sits her on it in the actual children’s area) wasn’t there and I was mollified from not having to keep my child from running into a peeing toddler or her wet tights. We made small talk with the librarian on our way out before she proceeded to tell me how I should borrow some library books for myself as reading is important for adult education too and that it broadens the mind. She said that even if I read a few pages each day it is valuable. I tried to intervene to tell her, but she didn’t let me. She continued. I smiled. She spoke loudly and with eyebrows rising and I watched the fine whiskers on her upper lip tremble and she puffed her wisdom to me.

Black-eyed beans and smoky aubergines in dill with a walnut and gujalio crème fraiche

On the way I out I realised that the reason that the librarian had affected me was not because she didn’t let me tell her that I have a graduate and post-grad qualification or a professional background or that that I am food writer and that I keep a clean home with well- fed people in it and that we read and sing and grow flowers. It was because she had perhaps touched on a nerve.

I came home and made a loud, heaving, present and deep dish. Dill, smoky aubergines tomatoes and beans.  Simple yet chockfull. My favourite bit is the dip; smoky gujalio chillies with walnuts in crème fraiche. I am alive and I am still me.

Ingredients to serve 4-6

Two cans of black eyed beans, drained

Two medium aubergines

3 cloves of garlic

25g fresh dill, finely chopped

3 fresh tomatoes

One large red onion, thinly sliced

2 tbsp. cooking oil

2 tsp. smoked paprika

Salt to taste

A good pinch of black pepper

50g walnuts

2 Guajillo chillies

200m plain natural yoghurt

300ml hot water

Method

  1. Wash and coat the aubergines in oil and roast them in the oven at 180degrees until they shrivel. It should take roughly 30-40 minutes. Once the aubergines have cooled then remove the pulp from the aubergines and mash it lightly to separate it.
  2. Soak the guajillo chillies and walnuts in boiling water for 15 minutes before draining it and then blitzing it smooth.
  3. Skin the tomatoes by soaking them in hot water until the skins start to split before whipping the skins off before chopping them.
  4. Heat the oil in a deep pan and then add the red onion, salt and garlic to sauté until the onion has softened.
  5. Add the tomatoes, black-eyed beans and dill and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the aubergine pulp and cook for ten minutes.
  6. Mix the walnuts, guajillo and salt together and when you serve the beans with gorgeous breads, pasta or even rice then top with the guajillo, walnut and crème fraiche dip.

Soy-Masala tofu, Quinoa, avocado and mozzarella salad

26 Feb

I remember that as children, my cousins and I knew broadly the menu we would be served at any family wedding, before even the wedding invitation arrived and each summer we would receive a collection of them.
Steamed, fluffy, lightly sour and spiced gram flour dhokla, potatoes in thick and rich curry gravy, black chickpeas perhaps or a curry of Val (field beans) and lots of fried puri breads. We knew there would probably be flaky samosa and multi-coloured mini poppadum’s that we would use to scoop up Kadhi-doused biryani. We would grab a compartmentalised plastic plate from the buffet and perch ourselves on a chair where we could find one and sometimes eat standing and giggling away.

Soy-Masala tofu, Quinoa, avocado and mozzarella salad

Weddings would always be in the hottest part of summer back then and we would look forward to seeing our lists of cousins and enjoying the banter between loud music and many guests. We would turn our chairs towards each other and admire one another’s colourful and detailed clothes, an arm full of bangles, glistening bindi and very often back then, weddings were held in school halls, where the walls evidenced children’s activities and the guests spilled over onto the green fields. Everyone attended you see. As young children we would run around the hall giggling and playing as the many parts of the ceremony carried on whilst our parents mingled.

Things have changed so much. Nowadays weddings are in hotels or stately homes and so there aren’t scores of guests spilling over, maybe because the venue is so hard to find. Cousins aren’t in lists, but in treasured few numbers. You won’t see kids running around; maybe they aren’t allowed at the ‘event’. Sometimes silence is observed during the abbreviated ceremony, sometimes it’s just quiet. Maybe that’s because not everyone goes, people are busy these days, aren’t they. Sometimes they aren’t invited, invitations nowadays are at the couple’s discretion and friends are the new family.

Soy-Masala tofu, Quinoa, avocado and mozzarella salad
People don’t always wear bindi or bangles, but certainly not an armful. Sometimes it’s just not fashionable to look overly celebratory, subtly or nonchalant, I am not sure. There are seating arrangements and food comes to the table and is kept warm. Gone are the days of Val bean curry or multi-coloured poppadum’s and established are the days of carrot halwa with ice cream and whatever else the couple fancies; from indo-Chinese and robustly spiced paneer to sweet corn curry in a mellow cashew nut gravy.

So I got thinking about some of the modern stuff served at celebrations these days and the cult recipe of chilli paneer came to mind. Doused with soy, ginger, garlic, chillies and ketchup this recipe seems to be an obvious option on most local Indian restaurant menus. Without doubt, and someone secretly, I admit..it tastes good.
BUT, that doesn’t mean I would make a meal of it or cook it up at home. It’s become to…well, ‘been there done that’. Taking healthy inspiration from of it, I have created this recipe for soy-masala tofu (healthier and protein fuelled) salad with Quinoa, avocado and mozzarella. I don’t know if you use mozzarella as a sponge in your dishes but it soaks up juices beautifully. Use fluffy clouds please, not the tough stuff.

Ingredients
250g cooked Quinoa
1 400g pack of firm tofu
One ripe avocado
200g mozzarella, torn into bite sized chunks
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. ketchup
1-2 tbsp. chilli sauce
1 tbsp. tomato puree
4 spring onions, trimmed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. ginger, minced
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tbsp. sesame oil
1-2 green chillies chopped (optional)
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. coriander powder
¼ tsp. turmeric

Method
1. Wrap the tofu in kitchen paper to soak up any excess water. When it is dry, cube it.
2. Heat the sesame oil in a non-stick pan and add the chillies, cumin seeds and tofu. Stir fry until the tofu is golden before adding the onion, garlic, ginger, spring onions and turmeric. Cook for 3-4 minutes before pouring in the soy sauce, ketchup, coriander powder, chilli sauce, and tomato puree and rice wine vinegar.
3. Cook the tofu for a further 3-4 minutes before turning off the heat.chilli tofu
4. In a large bowl mix the cooked Quinoa, avocado, mozzarella and then stir in the tofu whilst warm and serve immediately with lovely flatbread.

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