Recipe: Courgette and tomato tian

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This used to be one of my mainstay recipes – something hearty enough to have as a main course with mashed potato or good bread, or as a vegetable side dish if you’re feeding the 5,000.

I have a feeling the original recipe comes from St Delia, but it’s based on a French tian. So it was appropriate dish to make for friends on a holiday in France. It was dressed up with pig products for the meat eaters, and also served with a very good cheese bread. And it’s easy enough to make it vegan by leaving out all the cheese.

Serves four
Two large courgettes
Three or four large tomatoes
Cheddar cheese
Large onion
A couple of cloves of garlic
Veggie Parmesan for topping
Olive oil
Sea salt, black pepper, mixed herbs

Chop the onion and garlic and soften in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Spread in the base of a large oven-proof dish.

Slice courgettes thinly and fry for a couple of minutes in the garlicky oil to soften them slightly.

Slice the tomatoes and cheese thinly.

Arrange alternate upright rows of courgette, tomatoes and cheese so it looks kind of like roofing tiles. Season with salt, black pepper and mixed herbs. Sprinkle over the veggie Parmesan.

Cook in a medium oven for about 15 or 20 minutes until the tomatoes and courgettes have softened, the layers of cheese have melted and the veggie Parmesan layer has gone slightly crispy.

Review: The Storyteller

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When you have a food blog, people assume you can recommend good restaurants and cafes with ease. Not necessarily, given the challenges of finding vegetarian and vegan food on menus that doesn’t involve butternut squash, sun-dried tomato or goat’s cheese. Which explains why I’ll happily choose Indian food as a default setting, rather than stare forlornly at another half-arsed attempt from a can’t be arsed chef.

But when a friend asked for ideas for where she and her husband could take visitors from India, my usual fallback was looking rather like a busman’s holiday. So, being terribly self-sacrificing, we agreed to try out some of the quirkier places in Cheltenham.

The town suffers from a surfeit of vaguely posh hotels with ideas above their station and not much in the way of decent veggie food. There’s a Raymond Blanc, which I found to be thoroughly underwhelming – a small square of still frozen bland lasagne. Oh, yum.

The Storyteller is rather a gem, though. It’s on the edge of the town centre, but right next to a big car park. The website describes the food as Tex-Mex and BBQ grill, and at lunchtime you can get three courses for £12.50. It’s a bright, conservatory sort of building, with art on the walls. Service was friendly and efficient.

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The menu’s not over-burdened with veggie choice (and you’ll be going hungry if you’re vegan). But what’s there is a bit different. The lunch menu offered sweet potato and butternut squash soup that was smooth, perfectly spiced and dotted with herby croutons. And the main course was rather intriguing – cinnamon cornbread with green vegetables and a cheese and chilli sauce. As one of my friends said, you wouldn’t want to eat it for every meal, but it was, again, immaculately spiced and the vegetables cooked to perfection. We’ll overlook the fact that the bread had the consistency of a faintly crumbly fruitcake! The chocolate torte, which I didn’t need but wanted, was divine – smooth, rich and not over-sweet.

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The lunch special (four choices for each course) included chicken fajita, and lamb enchilada the day we visited – and I always wonder how difficult it would be to offer vegetarian or vegan options of both of those.

The dinner menu looks light on veggie stuff – and the ubiquitous butternut squash makes an appearance in burritos. So I get the feeling the Storyteller is a decent place to eat occasionally, with nicely-presented and thoughtfully-prepared slightly quirky food, but not a regular haunt for vegetarians unless the menu gets changed a lot. If the friend’s Indian visitors are meat eaters, they’ll be OK. If not, watch this space as we explore further …

The Storyteller
11 North Place
Cheltenham
GL50 4DW
Tel: 01242 250343
http://www.storyteller.co.uk

Recipe: Vegan lasagne

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Please say hello to a special guest from Down Under this week! Our friend Julie Carter is a social worker with a serious book addiction and a love of all animals – and she’d rather not see them on her plate, thanks, hence the vegan diet. So, over to Julie …

Well, it looked like it was going to be a disaster, especially when the tin attacked my finger … Here is the basic stuff I used – not a recipe, just some ideas I had and I generally flew by the seat of my pants. I didn’t measure anything and just played it by ear and it wasn’t half bad. More of the sauces next time, though, I think. But it got the thumbs-up from my step-son who is a meativore and my husband who is also a vegetarian, so I was quite chuffed.

Julie's lasagne

LASAGNE
I went for the gluten-free fresh sheets of lasagne, which are soft and ready to cook, not the hard stuff in packets.

VEGGIES
Squash
Sweet potato
Pumpkin
Eggplant (aubergine)
Capsicum (peppers)
You can add any veggie you want. I sliced them all thinly and roasted them until they were browning and soft.

WHITE SAUCE
Vegan margarine
Gluten-free flour (I used it because I didn’t have any gluten-free cornflour, but it is just as effective)
Coconut cream (place in fridge so that it is all creamy – sometimes the tinned ones are still milky but putting them in the fridge hardens them)
Melt margarine and then mix flour to make a paste. Then add coconut cream until thick but still runny – do all of this whilst still on the stove.  

RED SAUCE
Basically this is a Bolognese sauce. I used garlic, olive oil, a jar of Dolmio (Garden Vegetables), lots of chopped-up olives and tinned lentils. I cooked it all for about 30 minutes until it was still runny but had boiled off.  

I layered the veggies evenly between each layer of lasagne sheets, pouring a little white sauce and red sauce between each layer. I poured the remaining white sauce over the top of the top sheet followed by the remaining Bolognese, and topped it with slices of fresh Italian tomatoes and vegan cheese. I cooked it until the sheets looked sagging and it was bubbling – about 30 minutes.

Greek Salad with Marinated Tofu

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Greek salad is one of my favourite light dishes. It’s simplicity, of course, is dependent on great quality ingredients and one of the benefits of making it yourself is that you can make sure they are up to standard. Alongside the vegetable and olives, is the feta cheese, it’s salty creaminess offset the sweetness of the tomatoes and the crunch of the cucumber. Of course, if you’re keeping away from dairy you have to find a substitute.

I thought of tofu, marinaded and then griddled to take the place of the feta and it has worked well beyond my expectations. It is, I think, down to the amount of salt I use in the marinade. 1/2 tsp is a lot, but most of it stays in the marinade and feta is salty. As ever with marinades, the more time you can leave your ingredients in them, the better. For this dish I’d leave it at least a couple of hours, so if you’re making it for lunch, I’d start things straight after breakfast.

Don’t try and pretty this salad up. It should be made by Greek grandmothers, cutting the vegetables straight into the dish without benefit of chopping boards, so keep things chunky.

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Ingredients

For the tofu and marinade
200g tofu, drained and pressed
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt

For the salad
1/2 onion, sliced
wine vinegar
2 medium tomatoes
1/2 cucumber
1/2 onion, sliced
wine vinegar
12 black olives
olive oil
dried oregano

Slice the tofu in half, widthways and put in a sealable plastic bag.
Mix the marinade ingredients together and pour over the tofu in the bag.
Seal or tie the bag and leave in a cool place to marinade for a couple of hours.
About half an hour before you want to prepare the salad, put the onion slices in a small bowl and pour over a splash of vinegar, set aside. This will soften the flavour of the raw onion.
When you’re ready to prepare the salad, put a griddle or frying pan on high heat and leave to get hot.
Chop the tomatoes and cucumber into bite-sized chunks.
Put in a serving bowl and scatter over the olives and drained onion slices.
When the griddle is hot, take the tofu out of the marinade and put on the griddle to sear.
Turn the heat down to medium and cook for five minutes or so, turning the tofu over so that it colours on both sides.
When cooked, remove from the pan and cut into chunks.
Scatter the tofu on the salad.
Season with salt and black pepper.
Drizzle over some olive oil and sprinkle a pinch of dried oregano.

Serves 2 as a light lunch with some crusty bread to mop up the juices

Recipe: Carrot & Ginger Salad

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This is inspired by a recipe on one of Jamie Oliver’s quick-cook shows – I’m not sure if it was 30 minutes or 15 minutes. Either way, this is lightening quick to make and a great addition to a curry or chinese meal. The ginger and lemon combine to add an almost lemon-sherbet background and then the mint lifts it into cooling territory. I can recommend it as a side dish with a dal or pulse-based stew. It’s well worth having in your repertoire.

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Ingredients
2 medium carrots
5cm length of fresh ginger, peeled
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 tsp fresh mint, chopped

Grate the carrots and the ginger into a bowl.
Stir in the lemon juice, coriander and mint.
Season with salt and mix thoroughly.
Leave to stand for 10-15 minutes for the flavours to mix.
Stir again and serve.

Serves 2 as a side dish

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