Recipe: Spiced Spaghetti Squash with Roast Seeds

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I have a bit of an ambivalent attitude to pumpkins and squashes. They don’t have a huge amount of flavour and they tend to take quite a bit of work to actually get something edible out of them. It never seems to be a great reward to effort ratio for me. And pumpkin seems to be the go-to ingredient for restaurants wanting to provide a vegetarian option in all seasons. That prejudices me against pumpkin, but I had never tried spaghetti squash. Now, the flavour of spaghetti squash is the usual sweet, blandness, but the texture is much lighter. When roasted the flesh can be separated into strands and that makes it much more versatile and interesting to eat.

I have two recipes for this. The first one uses the squash and seeds only to bring out the best in both textures.

Spiced spaghetti squash with pumpkin seeds photo DSCN1719_zps0c608e9c.jpg

Ingredients
1 spaghetti squash
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp allspice
1 lemon, juiced

Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Cut the squash in half lengthways and scoop the seeds into a bowl.
Separate the seeds from the pulp. I find this easiest by filling the bowl with water and rubbing the seeds and pulp. The seeds float free (mostly).
Fish out the seeds and dry them on kitchen paper.
Spread the seeds on a baking sheet, sprinkle with a little oil and the smoked paprika. Season with salt.
Rub the seeds in the oil and spice mixture until they are evenly coated. Try and spread them in one even layer across the baking sheet.
Drizzle a little oil on the squash halves.
Sprinkle with the all spice and rub over to evenly coat the flesh.
Put the squash on another baking sheet.
Place the squash and the seeds in the oven.
Take the seeds out after 20 minutes.
Leave the squash in the oven for another 10 minutes.
Take the squash out and fork the flesh until it forms long strands.
Squeeze the lemon juice over each piece of squash, season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
Serve in the squash skins with the toasted seeds sprinkled over.

Serves 2 as a light lunch

Book Review: Curry Easy Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey

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For a long time in the UK, if you wanted a book to show you how to cook Indian food, Madhur Jaffrey was the only choice. So it’s just as well that she knows what she’s talking about and can communicate successfully to a wide range of people.

This year I have bought three Indian cookery books, all of a high quality. Curry Easy Vegetarian is the third one of the three and I’m reviewing it first, because it is the best.

As a home cook, I tend to like books written by cooks rather than chefs. It may be the tone is friendlier, it may be the knowledge of what is achievable in a home kitchen, it may be because it’s written by someone who has to do their own washing up. I don’t what it is, but give me a book written by someone who doesn’t have a test kitchen. There are some unfamiliar recipes and techniques here, but Madhur Jaffrey has the tone of someone who is encouraging you to have a go, rather than someone setting a test.

The recipes are divided into eight chapters:
Soups, Appetizers and Snacks
Vegetables
Dals: Dried Beans and Legumes
Grains: Rice, Semolina and Quinoa
Grains: Breads, Pancakes, Savouries and Noodles
Eggs and Dairy
Chutneys, Relishes and Salads
Drinks, Sweets and Desserts

The recipes are well laid out, attractively photographed and carefully explained. When I was first going through it, I found so many recipes I wanted to try that I ran out of bookmarks. The vegetable section has one recipe more enticing than another. There are poriyals – stir-fries with indian flavours that I can’t wait to try and dals that make me glad cold weather is coming so I can curl up on a wet day with them. And there are unexpected flavours too – rice with dill and peas, fresh peach salad, cucumber salad.

In terms of ingredients most of them should be familiar and available in most supermarkets (for which Madhur Jaffrey should take a good deal of the credit). She explains the more unfamiliar ones. My only warning is that several of the recipes require fresh curry leaves which may not be that easy to get hold of.

I really like this book and I’ve been recommending it to friends. It has a recipe for turnip – what’s not to like?

Title: Curry Easy Vegetarian
Author: Madhur Jaffrey
Publisher: Ebury Press
Year: 2014
Pages: 352
Recipes: 194 all vegetarian (including 132 vegan)
Price: £26 (hardback)
ISBN 9780091949471

In the introduction Madhur talks about how a lot of the recipes are from homes throughout India and won’t have appeared on restaurant menus. One of those she mentions is Kodava Mushroom Curry. I decided to give it a try. I stuck to the recipe, apart from using low-fat coconut milk, so I omitted the stage of letting it settle as it would have had no effect. I don’t know if that made a huge difference, this was hot, creamy and delicious anyway.

Kodava Mushroom Curry with Coconut

kodava mushroom curry photo DSCN1728_zps0b5995b4.jpg

Ingredients
1 400ml tin coconut milk left undisturbed for 24 hours to allow the cream to rise to the top
450g button mushrooms, halved
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
4tbsp vegetable oil
6 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chilli powder
2-3 fresh chillies, chopped
1 tbsp lime juice

Open the tin of coconut milk and spoon the thick cream at the top into a bowl. Leave the thinner milk in the tin.
Put the mushrooms in another bowl, sprinkle over the salt and turmeric and stir until all the mushrooms are coated.
Set aside for 10 minutes.
Put the oil in a medium hot frying pan or wok.
Add the shallots and fry until they are just starting to turn brown.
Remove from the heat and stir in the coriander and chilli powder.
Return to the heat and add the chillies, and then the mushrooms and their accumulated liquid.
Stir and cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the thin coconut milk and simmer, uncovered for about 10 minutes.
Add the coconut cream and simmer on a very low heat for a minute.
Add the lime juice and serve

Serves 4

Review: The Garden Cafe

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Please welcome a very good friend of mine and Anth’s – Angharad Brewer Gillham. She might not be fat, 40 or a vegetarian, but she knows a good veggie restaurant when she visits one, even if it is a tad lacking on vegan food. OK, over to our intrepid correspondent …

Gentle reader, I have a confession to make: I am not actually a vegetarian. But even a hardened omnivore can appreciate a vegetarian meal occasionally, and I think that those of us who eat meat should probably eat less of it, so I try to eat vegetarian meals as often as possible. This is a resolve that usually falls over when I’m out to eat, because there don’t tend to be a lot of vegetarian options on restaurant menus. So I was interested to discover The Garden Café, which is in the Garden Museum, right next to Lambeth Palace. It serves only vegetarian meals. Disappointed carnivores will have to turn around and go and find a Pret on the other side of the river.

I and my parents are not disappointed carnivores, so we ordered lunch instead. The Garden Café serves a smaller weekend menu, with just three choices of main meal: when we turned up, these were a carrot soup with crème fraiche and chilli garnish, a butternut squash and feta tart, and red peppers stuffed with bulgur wheat, Gruyère and olives. The peppers and tarts were accompanied by a trio of salads, one plain green, one coleslaw, and one chickpeas, feta, and several different varieties of tomato with a lemony dressing. The soup came with fresh bread.

I had the stuffed peppers; my parents both went for the tarts. The stuffed pepper was delicious, tender and vivid, and the stuffing was perfect, fluffy and full of flavour. The green salad was crisp and fresh and the chickpea salad excellent, sharp, peppery and lemony. I can’t stand coleslaw, so didn’t touch mine, but my parents reviewed it highly. Similarly, the butternut and feta tarts came in for high praise.

The Garden Café offers more options in terms of dessert, probably because it mostly sells people coffee and cake. There’s a nice selection of the usual sweet things – brownies and frangipane featured when we were there – but also a couple of cakes with more interesting flavours. We chose a slice of courgette, lime and ginger cake. It was delicious: imagine a carrot cake, with all the moistness and lightness of a really well-made carrot cake, but with a less obtrusive vegetable flavour lending depth to the mild spice of lime and ginger. I nearly went in and asked for the recipe.

The whole cost about £10 a head; I’d allow £13 if you wanted cake with your lunch, just to be on the safe side. This is still good value for a tasty, freshly-cooked meal in central London, and it’s in a gorgeous setting; you can sit inside the museum, which is a former chapel, de-consecrated, re-purposed, and full of light, but if it’s a nice day you’re much better off outside in the lovely garden. If there’s one criticism I’d make, it’s that this is not a guaranteed meal for vegans, which is a curious choice when you’re a small veggies-only restaurant. The website says that their recipes are often vegan, and that they change daily depending on seasonal produce and what’s coming out of the vegetable garden. This is laudable, but if I were a vegan turning up to the Garden Café on spec only to discover that everything contains animal products – including two out of three salads – I would be seriously annoyed. (And hungry.)

That said, this is a pretty restaurant that serves tasty vegetarian food for reasonable prices in central London. It’s got a lot going for it, and we’ll definitely be going back. Maybe this time I’ll remember to ask for the courgette cake recipe.

The Garden Café

Lambeth Palace Rd

London SE1 7LB

Tel: 020 7401 8865

http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/page/cafe

Book Review: Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

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This is the second ‘vegetables first’ cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. For those of us who have his first book, Plenty, this is more of the same. It is a lushly photographed celebration of vegetables, fruits, funghi, grains and pulses. You cannot read this book without realising that this is a man who loves vegetables and knows how to put them together to make a multi-flavoured, multi-textured dish. Ottolenghi gets accused of using a lot of ingredients, most of them difficult to get hold of. The last one isn’t that true – you can get most of the ingredients in one of the big, main supermarkets. As for a lot of ingredients, well, you can’t get layers of flavour and texture without them. This is not a book to reach for when you want to throw something together after a long day at work, but if you have the time to spare this book will give you something special to eat at the end of the process.

It does have its eccentricities, though. It is divided into sections by cooking method, so you get Tossed, Steamed, Blanched, Simmered, Braised, Grilled, Roasted, Fried, Mashed, Cracked, Baked and Sweetened as chapters. Now, it might just be me, but I don’t normally wander into the kitchen when I’m hungry and think ‘Hmm, I fancy something blanched today!’ There is an index, but no glossary of ingredients. Sometimes Ottolenghi explains the more unusual ingredients at the start of the recipe or in the ingredients list, but sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he suggests alternatives, but sometimes not. If you don’t know what za’atar, shiso and freekeh are, this book isn’t going to tell you.

I think the Tossed chapter is the most successful. Yes, there are lots of ingredients, but they mostly just need putting in the salad bowl or mixing in the dressing. And there are really interesting dressings that would go well on several different dishes.

My least favourite sections are the Cracked and Baked ones. Mr Ottolenghi says in the introduction that he is not a vegetarian and does not want to be pigeon-holed as a vegetarian writer (the horror!). It really shows in this section, not just because there’s a lot of cheese in these recipes, but because there appears to be no attempt to choose vegetarian cheeses. Parmesan is used a lot, gorgonzola appears, so does roquefort. There’s no help for it, you cannot use any named cheese in this book unless you first check that it’s vegetarian. I spotted 22 recipes using non-vegetarian cheese, there may be others.

This is a bit of mixed bag of a book. It is in turns inspirational, aspirational and infuriating for this vegetarian home cook. Having said that, if more chefs took recipes from this book and put them on menus as the veggie option, I would be a much happier woman.

Title: Plenty More
Author: Yotam Ottolenghi
Publisher: Ebury Press
Year: 2014
Pages: 351
Recipes: 154 (including 49 vegan and 22 non-vegetarian)
Price: £27 (hardback)
ISBN 9780092957155

I was thinking of doing one of the Tossed salads for my recipe tryout, but then I found Ottolenghi had done a recipe for Fava, the greek version of pease pudding. That decided it for this Durham lass! Besides, as in a lot of the traditional recipes in the book, they haven’t been complicated.

fava photo DSCN1711_zps62422255.jpg

Ingredients
3 large onions
300g yellow split peas
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric
100ml olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp lemon juice
35g capers, roughly chopped
10g chives, finely chopped
salt and white pepper

Chop one of the onions into rough chunks. Add to the split peas, bay leaves and turmeric in a large saucepan.
Add enough water to cover twice the amount of peas.
Bring to the simmer, skim off any scum, cover and let simmer for 60 minutes or until the peas are soft.
Keep an eye on them and add more water if necessary, they should be loose and sloppy like thick porridge at the end.
While the peas are cooking, slice the remaining onions finely and fry in a tablespoon of the oil until they are golden brown. Set aside.
When the peas are cooked, remove the bay leaves, blend the peas with the olive oil, garlic cloves and lemon juice until you have a smooth paste. Add water if the mixture is too stiff.
Season generously with salt and pepper.
Stir in half the fried onion.
Serve in a bowl with the rest of the fried onion, capers, chives and add a drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 4 to 6

Recipe: Roast Pumpkin, Pepper and Tomato Soup

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Ah, late summer (or early autumn depending on your point of view), when the pumpkins and squashes hit the veg boxes and I wonder what I’m going to do with them. Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first – soup! Pumpkins (like their cousins, courgettes) make great soup. They blend to a wonderful smooth, creamy texture and they add a background sweetness that never really overpowers anything they’re in.

This recipe calls for roast pumpkin and if you’re going to put the oven on to roast one vegetable, you may as well roast a few at the same time. Unusually for me, this is a more liquid soup, rather than the thicker ones which are my forte.

Roast Pumpkin and Pepper Soup photo DSCN1708_zps3aa25382.jpg

Ingredients
1 small pumpkin, deseeded and sliced
2 red peppers
4 tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 litre vegetable stock
Harissa paste
Lemon juice

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Put the pumpkin pieces, peppers and tomatoes on a shallow roasting tin, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkled with black pepper.
Bake for 45 minutes until they are all charred round the edges and the pepper skins are blackened.
Remove from the oven and let cool.
When cool enough to handle, remove the skins from the tomatoes and pumpkin pieces and the skins and seeds from the peppers.
Heat a little oil in a large saucepan.
Sweat the onion and garlic until they are softened and translucent.
Stir in the coriander, cumin and paprika.
Now add the tomatoes, pumpkin pieces and peppers to the saucepan.
Pour over any of the juices from the roasting tin.
Pour over the vegetable stock.
Season with salt and pepper.
Bring to temperature and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
Remove from the heat and blend to a smooth consistency.
Check for seasoning and serve with a little drizzle of harissa paste and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Serves 4

Recipe: Summer pasta

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My brother Jon and my sister-in-law Maria are both excellent cooks. They’re not vegetarian, but I always get fed well when I go to stay. And one of my brother’s pasta recipes reminded me of summer, so let’s pretend that autumn’s not sneaking up on us rapidly.

First time around, both Jon and I put mushrooms in, as we happened to have some lurking around and outstaying their welcome. Jon adds parsley as well. I made the recipe again and replaced the mushrooms with feta cheese, and the parsley with basil. This one had a lighter, less earthy taste. But you might want to dial back on the capers and/or olives if you don’t like dishes too salty.

2014-09-05 17.27.49

Ingredients

Clove of garlic, crushed

Couple of spring onions, finely chopped

Half a chilli, finely chopped

Handful of small tomatoes, halved

A dozen small black olives, finely chopped

1tsp of capers

Feta cheese

Fresh basil

While the pasta is cooking (penne or fafalle is probably best), sweat the garlic, chilli and spring onions very gently in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the tomatoes, olives and caper, and warm through. Drain the pasta and mix the topping through it. Add plenty of torn basil leaves and ground black pepper. If you’re veggie rather than vegan, it benefits from feta cheese crumbled on the mushroom-free version or some hard pasta cheese (Tesco’s is very good) on the original. Parsley works better than basil on the mushroom dish.

Recipe: Falafel-stuffed Roast Tomatoes

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I adore falafel, but I don’t adore having to fry them all the time. I was looking for a way to cook them with less fat. I was considering baking them, but worried about them drying out. Then I hit upon the idea of stuffing tomatoes with the falafel mix and then roasting the tomatoes.

Though I say it myself, it was one of my better ideas. You get all the flavour of fresh falafel (and there is nothing better), the mix is soft and moist inside the tomato and then crispy and crunchy where it sits on top. Also, no frying smell! If you want to make falafel for a dinner party, you don’t have to start frying them at the last minute while you guests are there. If your falafel always fall apart on you, this if fool-proof!

Fat-free, fool proof falafel? It might start a trend!

Falafel stuffed tomatoes photo DSCN1702_zpsb07925bc.jpg

Ingredients
100g chickpeas (dry weight), soaked overnight in water
1/2 red onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 chilli
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 handful fresh parsley
salt & pepper
6 medium tomatoes
olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Add the drained chickpeas, onion, garlic, chilli, cumin, coriander and parsley to a food processor.
Chop until finely textured.
Season with salt and pepper.
Slice the stalk end off the tomatoes and hollow out the inside.
If the tomatoes won’t stand up, carefully cut a little bit off the end to make them stable.
Fill each tomato with the falafel mixture, with a little rounded heap on top to go crispy in the oven.
Put on an oiled baking sheet and place in the oven.
Roast for 30 minutes.
Serve with a drizzle of olive oil over them. Or don’t, if you want them fat-free.

Serves 2 as a light lunch with a green salad and some crusty bread.