Recipe: Watercress and Avocado Pesto

Standard

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!

 photo Watercress20amp20avocado20pesto_zpsyf0i6jb1.jpg

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

Standard

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.

 photo tofu20chasseur_zpsh4lajusi.jpg

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

Standard

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.

 photo DSCN1782_zps4gdm0qxl.jpg

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

Standard

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.

Pasta with Garlic, Chilli & Olive Oil photo DSCN1776_zpswoqrh5xn.jpg

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

Book Review: Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets – Joanna Blythman

Standard

This is a disturbing and scary book. In it Joanna Blythman lifts the lid (or should that be pulls back the inner wrapper?) on how the modern food industry produces our processed and chilled food. From a food fair with no food on view, to postings on industry-only forums, Blythman tells us about the secretive world of additives and processing ingredients that food manufacturers don’t talk about because they don’t have to.

In Part One of the book, Blythman tells us how the processed food system works. How a handful of companies make most of the ready-meals you can buy. How truly industrialised it all is. How the bad old E-numbers have disappeared from food labels to be replaced by more natural sounding additives – Clean Labelling. And a visit to a food industry exhibition where little to no food was on display – only stalls selling processing agents and the latest additives and coating gels.

Part Two investigates these additives and processing agents in more detail with chapters looking at the defining characteristics of processed food – Oily, Flavoured, Coloured, Watery, Starchy, Tricky, Old and Packed.

Part of me really wants to dislike this book. Half of that is the bit that says ‘Just because it’s got chemicals in it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Everything has got chemicals in it. Water is dihydrogen monoxide, for freak’s sake!’ And the author shoots herself in the foot occasionally. Ms Blythman, she tells us, was put off processed food for life after eating a Vesta curry at aged six. (She should have had a Findus Crispy Pancake, they were way better.) “Margarine spreads…” she sneers, “… leave a greasy coating on the roof of the mouth and taste of nothing pleasant.” Really, Ms Blythman? NOTHING pleasant?

She is on safer ground when she lets the food industry speak for itself. “Whether you are looking to replace oil, cream, milk solids, vegetables or egg, we can ensure premium quality and guilt-free indulgences at a competitive price.” This is from a starch company.

And it’s these kind of quotes that make this a book that everyone who cares about what they eat needs to read. There are ‘natural’ flavourings and colours that are a whole factory and chemistry set away from the original plants they came from. There are processing agents and enzymes that the food factory workers have to be protected from in the manufacture of the food that never appear on the labels because they don’t have to.

This, for me, is the book’s real importance. Clean Labelling. Not clean food, but how the food industry has removed the nasty E-number additives from our food and replaced with equally artificial additives that are opaque or non-existent on the food labels. This is information that is hidden from us and I hope this book can start a conversation about how we can be told more about what goes in our food.

As a vegetarian I watched the horse meat scandal unfold with a huge serving of schadenfreude. Now I’m looking into my own fridge at the soy milk, the soy ‘yoghurts’, the tofu sausages and wondering what’s really in them. How are they made? What am I not being told? Like, I said, this is a scary book.

Title: Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets
Author: Joanna Blythman
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Year: 2015
Pages: 320
Price: £10.49 paperback
ISBN: 9780007548330

Recipe: Mushroom & Broccoli Orzo

Standard

Do you ever fancy a mushroom risotto but don’t fancy the standing and stirring that goes with it? Although I thoroughly enjoy a good stir in the kitchen, there are times when I don’t have the time or really can’t be bothered. In those situations I reach for orzo pasta – the tiny, rice-grain-shaped ones. It cooks a lot quicker than rice and will give you a lovely bowl of warm comfort in a short time and for very little effort.

I have used mushroom stock here – from the Italian porcini stock cubes. They are well worth seeking out, but otherwise vegetable stock and some mushroom ketchup will do the job. This is one place where button mushrooms will do well – they hold themselves together well in the cooking process. I think this tastes good enough on its own, but the cheese lovers can add the veggie parmesan substitute of their choice if they feel like it.

 photo broccoli20amp20mushroom20orzo_zpsbcgmhfcg.jpg

Ingredients
1 clove garlic, crushed
200g mushrooms, sliced
200g broccoli, sliced
200g orzo pasta
750ml mushroom or vegetable stock + 1 tbsp mushroom ketchup
1 tsp fresh tarragon, chopped

Heat a little olive oil in a wide saucepan.
Add the garlic and warm through.
When you can smell the garlic in the oil add the mushrooms and broccoli.
Stir for a couple of minutes and then add the orzo, stock and tarragon.
Stir well and bring to the simmer.
Season with salt and pepper.
Simmer, uncovered, for 8 minutes or until the pasta is cooked.
If it hasn’t absorbed all the liquid, turn off the heat and let it stand for a couple of minutes and the pasta will take up more of the stock.

Serves 2

Restaurant Review: Adulis, SW9

Standard

I think most of us have a restaurant they have heard about and think would be good to visit, but never actually end up going there. For my friend, Jaz and I it was the Eritrean restaurant at the end of her road. We’ve been talking about going to it for years without ever even trying to make a date, but recently the stars aligned and we finally made it there.

There being Adulis on Brixton Rd, near The Oval tube station. It was worth the wait and anticipation.

The first I want to know as a veg*n diner is what the veggie selection is like. Adulis has a great vegetarian selection at starter, main and set meal sections of the menu.

We skipped starters and went for the set platter – the Naitsom Special – a selection of vegetarian dishes served on a large, round platter lined with injera, the half-pancake, half-bread staple of Eritrea. This was a wise choice in terms of how much food we could eat, but it did mean we had quite a wait before the food arrived.

 photo IMG_0080_zps2lweeg9e.jpg

The food arrived arranged into little piles on a platter of injera with a basket of injera to accompany it. You don’t use cutlery, you tear off a piece of injera and use it to pick up morsels of food. This is not a place for the carb-phobic, you end up eating a lot of injera this way, which is probably why my friend and I got nowhere near finishing it all. The selection of dishes is a good mix of hot and cold in temperature and spice level. Some a pure vegetable and some a mixture of pulses. Standout dishes for me were the yellow split pea stew, the okra (and I don’t normally like okra) and the lentils. There wasn’t a taste or texture I disliked there.

We finished with the coffee ceremony, where coffee is brought to your table in a traditional ceramic pot and served alongside popcorn and frankincense burning on a little brazier. And stuff freshly ground coffee, these beans are freshly roasted in a corner of the restaurant so everyone gets to enjoy the smell.

 photo IMG_0084_zpsyq0uuzia.jpg

The food was great and so was the atmosphere. This was a mid-week evening and the restaurant was full, so I recommend that you book ahead. The service was on the leisurely side, but came with a genuine friendliness and care for the diner that is all too rare and completely charmed me. The price for the two of us, including drinks, came to £52. I am pleased to have found another veggie-friendly restaurant and cuisine. I will be going back and I won’t be waiting years to do it.

Adulis
44-46 Brixton Rd
London
SW9 6BT
Tel: 020 7587 0055

Price for 2 including drinks £52