Recipe: Asparagus with Avocado and Dill Sauce

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One of the sad things you learn when you start to cook is that you can’t just put all your favourite ingredients on a plate and expect them to work. It would be nice, but it rarely happens. So I was really pleased to come across this idea for ‘avocadonnaise’, essentially avocado whizzed together with lemon juice and dill. Well, that’s two of my favourite foods of all time in one sauce. It’s also asparagus season, so I thought, Why not?

Why not indeed? The dill and avocado work well together. The sauce can be made while the asparagus cooks. The whole makes a great starter where the taste far exceeds the amount of effort that goes into producing it.

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Ingredients
200g asparagus spears, trimmed
1 ripe avocado
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped

Heat a griddle pan on a high heat.
When it is hot enough, coat the asparagus spears in a little oil and place on the griddle.
Turn the heat down a couple of notches.
While the asparagus is cooking, stone and peel the avocado and put the flesh in a bowl.
Add the lemon juice and dill and mash together with a fork until you have a smooth paste.
Season with salt and pepper.
Turn the asparagus spears over to get the griddle marks on all sides.
Test the asparagus for ‘doneness’ with the point of a sharp knife in the thickest part of the stem.
When tender remove from the griddle and serve with the avocado sauce.

Serves 2 as a starter

Recipe: Griddled Courgettes with Walnuts and Mint

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One of the results of moving is that I have been reacquainted with some of my old kitchen equipment. I now have four frying pans. I also have my old griddle pan again. I’ve been dying to use it all week.

This is a lovely salad/side dish for summer days. I made it inside on the griddle pan, but it would also work on the barbecue. Don’t slice the courgette too thin, though or the slices will disintegrate.

Mint and lemon always work well with courgette, but here the walnuts add a touch of bitterness to work against the sweetness as well as the textural crunch.

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Ingredients
1/2 lemon, juiced
4 tbsp olive oil
1 twig of mint, chopped
1 tbsp walnuts, chopped
1 courgette, sliced lengthwise into strips

Make the dressing by combining the lemon juice, olive oil, mint and walnuts in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
Brush the courgette slices with oil and place on a hot griddle pan.
After a minute, turn them over and cook for another minute.
Repeat until all the courgette slices are cooked.
Arrange the courgette slices on a plate and drizzle the dressing over them.
Serve immediately.

Serves 2 as a side salad

Recipe: Roast Cabbage

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I’m sorry for the radio silence, recently, but I’ve just moved house and my new kitchen was more filled with boxes than food. I’ve properly unpacked the kitchen now, but I’m only up to trying something easy. I came across this brilliantly simple idea over at the Fatass Vegan blog on Tumblr and wondered why no one had suggested roasted cabbage to me before.

I’ve gone for smoked paprika as the flavour, but fresh thyme or rosemary would be great too.

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Ingredients
1/2 small drumhead cabbage, cut into 2 or 3 wedges depending on size
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp wine vinegar
1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Mix the oil, vinegar and paprika together.
Season with salt and pepper.
Pour over the cabbage and rub so the wedges are coated.
Put on a baking tray and put in the oven.
Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Serves 2 as a side dish

Recipe: Watercress and Avocado Pesto

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If I was asked what my number one tip for a new vegetarian would be, I wouldn’t hesitate to advocate for the inclusion of large amounts of green leafy vegetables, especially for women. My favourite cooked green vegetable is kale (how fashionable!), my favourite raw green leafy source is watercress. I don’t know if it’s appeared on the Daily Mail’s ‘superfood’ list yet, but it has more vitamin C than oranges and more calcium than cow’s milk. It’s strong, peppery flavour means you can get interesting tasting salads without having to load up with dressings.

The British watercress season is just starting and if you can get an independent brand of watercress like John Hurd’s, I urge you to try it. It’s more expensive but I think the increase in flavour makes it worth it.

I’ve put it in an easy pesto here. It would work with hot pasta or on a pasta salad. It tastes so good you won’t worry about how good it is for you!

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Ingredients
80g watercress
1/2 large, ripe avocado
1/2 pack of basil leaves
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced

Add the ingredients to a food processor and process on pulse until they form a smooth paste.
Remove from the bowl and season carefully (it won’t take much).
Serve over hot pasta.
Serves 2

Recipe: Tofu Chasseur

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if you were on the Bakerloo Line one morning a few weeks ago and noticed a woman staring at you, if that woman was me, you needn’t have worried. I wasn’t staring at anyone. I was picturing a vision in my head and that vision was: Tofu Chasseur. I don’t know where the inspiration came from, but it arrived on the Bakerloo Line.

I’m not a huge fan of classic French cooking. A lot of it seems to consist of taking ordinary ingredients and adding butter and/or cream until they taste good. Chasseur sauce is the exception. There is no cream involved and you can swap out the butter for oil to make it vegan. The sauce is full-flavoured and great for a dinner party as you can make it in advance and reheat and the flavour will probably only improve.

I like this way of cooking tofu as well. I don’t often cook the kind of food that needs a direct replacement for a slab of meat, but this works very well. The garlic oil adds flavour and the frying means that you actually have something to cut into and its quite satisfying.

I’ll be making this again. And I’ll be looking for other French sauces I can adapt.

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Ingredients
400g firm tofu
6 closed cup or chestnut mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
1/2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
250ml white wine
75ml brandy
250ml vegetable stock
4 tbsp chopped tomatoes (from tin)
1 tbsp mushroom ketchup
garlic infused olive oil
1/2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

Half an hour before you’re ready to start cooking, wrap the tofu in kitchen towels and press under weights to remove the excess moisture.
Heat some oil in a medium saucepan and add the mushrooms and shallots.
Sweat for about five minutes until the mushrooms are browned slightly and the shallots are tender.
Add the thyme, white wine and brandy.
Simmer until reduced by a half to two thirds.
Add the stock, tomatoes, mushroom ketchup and simmer for 10-15 minutes until reduced by half.
Remove from the heat.
Cover the bottom of a large frying pan with the garlic olive oil and put on a medium heat.
Unwrap the tofu and slice into 4 ‘steaks’.
When the oil is at temperature put the tofu steaks in the pan.
Fry until the bottom sides are golden brown.
Turn the tofu steaks over and repeat on the other side.
When cooked, drain any excess oil from the frying pan and pour the sauce over the tofu steaks.
Let it simmer and reduce for a minute or two.
Serve with the remaining chopped thyme sprinkled over.

Serves 4 with vegetables.

Recipe: Roasted Chickpeas

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Snack attack!

I’ve been wanting to make roasted chickpeas for a long time. Today was finally the day. I don’t think you can claim these are massively healthy – the oil and salt take care of that, but they’re high fibre, full of protein, full of flavour and you know exactly what’s gone into making them. And they’re really easy as well.

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Ingredients
400g tin of chickpeas, drained
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp salt

Pre-heat the oven to 220C.
Add the chickpeas and the other ingredients into a bowl and stir thoroughly until all the chickpeas are coated with the mix.
Spread evenly over an oven tray.
Put in the oven and roast for 10 minutes.
Take out of the oven and stir the chickpeas around so that they will cook evenly.
Put back in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes more.
Leave to cool and serve with the film or TV sport of your choice.

Edit & NB I’ve been asked questions about timings on this. This recipe very much depends on your oven, if the timings here don’t get the chickpeas as crispy as you’d like, add an extra 5 minutes at a time until they are. Remember they will crisp up a bit more as they cool down. I’m sorry, this is one recipe where you’ll just have to experiment to see what works in your kitchen.

Recipe: Spaghetti with Garlic, Chilli and Olive Oil

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This is the classic pasta dish Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, spaghetti with garlic and olive oil. All the recipes I’ve seen add chilli to the mix. It’s known in my house as ‘cold cure pasta’. I didn’t know about its curative properties when I first made it, however. I had a streaming cold and was just looking for a quick and easy dinner. This dish takes no longer to cook than the time to cook the pasta, but once I’d eaten it I found that my nose dried up for the rest of the evening!

Even if you don’t have a cold to deal with (or a battalion of the undead to keep away with the garlic!) this is still one of the great pasta dishes. As there are only a handful of ingredients, which are treated incredibly simply, use the best quality you can get. This is one to use the plumpest garlic and the extra virgin olive oil.

I’ve given the quantities for two people here, but this is a solitary dish for me so I don’t need to worry about table etiquette of eating spaghetti dripping with oil and flavour.

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Cook 150g of spaghetti according to packet instructions. While the pasta is cooking gently warm 3 tablespoons of good olive oil in a frying pan. Stir in 2 minced plump cloves of garlic and 1 chopped birdseye chilli. Stir the garlic and chilli through the oil but you are only warming and flavouring the oil, do not fry the garlic and chilli. When the pasta is cooked, drain it thoroughly. Put it in the frying pan and stir through the oil until every strand is coated. Season with black pepper and serve, sprinkled with a few chopped basil leaves.

Serves 2