Monthly Archives: September 2013

Recipe: Bean Salad with Mango Chutney Dressing

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You have to make this recipe. I’m not kidding, you have to make this. Especially the dressing.

The great joy of writing recipes to put on this blog is that every so often I come up with an idea that just works way beyond what I thought it would. It happened with this recipe. It’s a simple, vegetarian-cliched bean salad. It’s been done to death. But I had an idea to add some mango chutney to an oriental-style dressing for it. I thought it might be nice, I didn’t think it would be this good.

I danced round the kitchen.

No, really, I did. I wish there was a way of making people try this. It’s sweet, it’s sour, it’s tangy, it’s fresh – it transforms the simple ingredients into something else entirely.

Please try this recipe. Please. Don’t make me come round and force you!

Bean Salad with Mango Dressing photo DSCN0931_zpsfb7855be.jpg

Ingredients
For the dressing:
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp mango chutney
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2-1 tsp chilli oil (depending on heat)
1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped

For the salad:
400g tin of kidney beans, drained
100g sweetcorn (if using frozen just defrost)
2 spring onions,finely chopped
Lettuce (enough to line the serving bowl)

Mix the dressing ingredients together in a large bowl.
Add the beans, sweetcorn and spring onions.
Stir well until the salad ingredients are thoroughly coated in the dressing.
Leave to stand for 15-20 minutes to let the flavours mingle.
Serve on a bed of lettuce.

Serves 2 for lunch with bread, rice or noodles to accompany

Recipe: Slow Cooker Red Cooked Tofu

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There are some recipes you cook that turn out to be a disappointment. The version of this recipe I tried yesterday fits into that category. It was based on the recipe for Red Braised Pork in Fuscia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice. I used tofu instead of pork and used 5 Spice Powder instead of the cinnamon and star anise. It simmered in the slow cooker for four hours, filling my flat with the fragrance of Chinatown. I had such hopes for this dish, glistening with the flavourful sauce coating the tofu.

What I got was thin, watery and brown. In retrospect the mushrooms were probably a mistake. They added great texture and a whole lot more brownness than I really wanted. It was impossible to photograph it so it looked appealing. There was no amount of spring onion garnish in the world that was going to stop it looking brown and grim. It tasted great. It looked like nothing on earth.

Anyway, one lives and learns. This version has no mushrooms, but a chopped pepper (yay! colour!) and I’ve added some cornflour to thicken up the sauce.

This is much better – a lovely, warming stew, reminding us that Chinese cooking is not all about fast and frantic stir fries. It is also, accidentally, a fat-free recipe (if you don’t bother with the drizzle of sesame oil at the end).

Red cooked tofu photo DSCN0930_zps52fd2a4e.jpg

Ingredients
250g firm tofu, drained and cubed
1 red or yellow pepper, roughly chopped
10g ginger, peeled and grated
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp 5 Spice Powder
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp cornflour
250ml vegetable stock
sesame oil for drizzling
1 spring onion, chopped for garnish

Add the tofu, mushrooms, spring onion, ginger, sugar, five spice powder, rice wine and soy sauce to the slow cooker pot.
Mix the cornflour with a little water and then stir in the vegetable stock until it has all dissolved.
Pour the vegetable stock until you have just covered the ingredients. This takes about 250ml in my slow cooker, but yours may vary.
Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.
When cooked, stir, season with salt, drizzle over some sesame oil and garnish with the chopped spring onion.

Serves 2 as a dinner with rice and stir fried greens

You can make this on the stove. In which case simmer it for 90 minutes. You will probably need to add a bit more stock to allow for it drying out.

Recipe: Watercress, Avocado and Lemon Salad

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I haven’t quite got to my second anniversary as a vegetarian. There are times when I still get the odd craving for meat. I’m quite specific about it too, it has to be Marks & Spencers tinned stewing steak. I have worked out that when I get this craving it’s because I’m missing iron in my diet. The best way to get iron in your diet is through green leafy vegetables. As far as I’m concerned you can’t eat too many of them. Another way of increasing your intake of iron is to eat something containing vitamin C at the same time.

Now watercress contains good quantities of iron and vitamin C, but I’ve decided to help it along in this salad with little segments of lemon.If you’ve never segmented a citrus fruit, this video will show you how. As watercress can stand up to some strong flavours, I’ve added sundried tomatoes, capers to the lemon and then some avocado for creamy contrast.

This is a great little salad. The lemon segments don’t overpower it, you just get little bursts of sourness against the iron pepperiness of the watercress and the creaminess of the avocado. If you didn’t want to use watercress then rocket or even flat leaf parsley would work well in this as well.

watercress, avocado, lemon salad photo DSCN0917_zpsf0fd126c.jpg

Ingredients
1 lemon, one half juiced, one half segmented
1/4 tsp mustard
3 tbsp olive oil
1 pack watercress (about 100g)
6 sundried tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp capers
1 avocado, stoned, peeled and chopped

Make up the dressing with the juice of half the lemon, the mustard and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
Add the watercress, sundried tomatoes, capers, avocado and lemon segments to a large bowl. Toss them in the dressing.
Serve with crusty bread.

Serves 2 as a light lunch or a side salad

Restaurant Review: Las Iguanas, South Bank

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Las Iguanas at the Royal Festival Hall stands at the foot of the Hungerford and Golden Jubilee Bridges on the Southbank. It serves Pan South American food and drinks.

Now, the Menus page of the website, lists a vegetarian/vegan menu, but when I asked for one at the table I was told just to pick from the vegetarian items on the main menu. I did email them to ask about this, but so far (and this was two weeks ago) they haven’t replied back.

That’s disappointing, but Las Iguanas does have a good vegetarian selection. It tends to lean towards the cheese and cream end of the spectrum so I was pleased to find Bahia Moqueca, a coconut curry with squash, palm hearts and spinach. No dairy involved, at least by the menu description.

las iguanas photo IMG_0430_zps6b7131b4.jpg

It came in a dish kept warm over a little burner, which is nice. I like a bit of theatre at dinner. The dish wasn’t as flashy as its presentation, but had a nicely spiced coconut curry sauce with interesting vegetable bits in it. It had a noticeable level of heat, but nothing too much. It was a lot fresher and lighter than similar dishes would be in east asian restaurants. The rice was flavourful and came with a side of sweet plantain and a dish of coconut to spinkle over. I enjoyed it, and it hit lots of nice boxes in my effort to eat out without having to have cheese everywhere.

I’ve never been to Las Iguanas without it being busy and this visit was no exception. The service is not brusque, but it is brisk, it’s best to have any menu queries to hand because otherwise you’ll be asking them at your waiter’s retreating back.

They make rocking margaritas, though.

Dinner for one (including cocktail and service) £19.21

Las Iguanas at the Royal Festival Hall
Festtival Terrace
Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX
Tel: 0207 620 1328

Recipe: Pease Pudding

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There are some tastes that define a region. For me, as someone growing up in the North East of England, that taste is Pease Pudding. This dish of boiled yellow split peas, eaten hot (as in the nursery rhyme), or spread on bread can take me back there like no other taste on earth. The taste is simple with the earthy sweetness of the peas all there is to it, but that honesty of ingredients and purpose makes this far more than the sum of its parts. And the purpose of the dish is that of poverty, the pease pudding would be made alongside (and sometimes in the same pot as) the piece of bacon or ham it will supplement. The traditional way of serving it is in a bread bun (preferably a stotty) with a slice of ham and maybe a pickle – I preferred pickled onions, but there’s a strong case to be made for pickled beetroot. That is why you will see a pot of yellow paste in the cold meat counters of most butchers in the NE.

Although ham/bacon stock was a traditional ingredient, most commercial pease puddings (and it’s big business in the NE) is made with vegetable stock or just water. I prefer to use vegetable stock.

I’ve sometimes heard pease pudding called the ‘Geordie hummus’, which never set well with me. In the course of researching this recipe I’ve discovered that it is the exact analogy of the greek dish, fava.

I’m such a fan of pease pudding that I’ll happily eat it on bread or toast on its own, but it’s supposed to be eaten alongside something else: something sharp and vinegary or lemony for preference.

Cooking time is only a guideline, I’m afraid. It very much depends on how old or awkward your split peas are. I don’t think I’ve cooked this in under 90 minutes, but 120+ is not that unusual. I’ve specified enough water for a 90 minute simmer, but add more if it goes over that amount of time. You want the hot pudding to be fairly loose like wallpaper paste – it will thicken up as it cools.

pease pudding photo DSCN0916_zps9cf8ca64.jpg

Ingredients
200g yellow split peas, soaked overnight in plenty of water
750ml water
1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder, or 1 vegetable stock cube

Drain and rinse the split peas.
Add to a saucepan and add the water.
Bring to a fast simmer.
A white foamy scum will float to the top, skim this off.
Stir in the bouillon powder or stock cube.
Cover and lower the temperature to a gentle simmer.
Simmer for 90 minutes or until the peas are tender. They should mush against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon.
Stir vigorously until you have a smooth paste (the odd lump isn’t a problem.)
Season generously with salt and pepper.
Transfer to a basin or covered container and leave to cool.
Serve spread on bread with as many additions as you think necessary!

Discussion: Hobson’s Vegetarian – when the vegetarian option is Hobson’s choice

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Let me set a scenario for you. A person goes out for a meal at a restaurant. When they look at the menu they make a choice of starter and main course. Allowing for personal likes and dislikes, they will usually choose a main that contrasts with their starter in main ingredient, texture or cooking method. So they won’t have salad for both courses, or pasta for both courses, or cheese, or fish. They’ll mix and match.

If you just read that scenario and nodded your head in recognition that, yes, this is how eating out works for you, then the chances are you’re not a vegetarian. With the honourable exception of Italian, Indian and some other ethnic cuisines, a vegetarian at a mainstream restaurant will have a choice of about 2-3 starters and 1-2 mains (and it’s much more likely to be 2 and 1!)

So the choice is limited and remember that contrasting tastes and textures thing? It doesn’t happen so much for vegetarians. There’s a little restaurant not far from me. It’s current menu has two vegetarian starters – arancini with leeks and blue cheese or deep fried bri wedges with cumberland sauce, the one vegetarian main course is macaroni cheese. That’s cheese or cheese followed by cheese. They have actually expanded their vegetarian options. Last year the vegetarian options were garlic mushrooms for starter and wild mushroom casserole for main.

OK, you can laugh at them, and I do. I also haven’t stepped through their door. They’re a small, local restaurant with no apparent ambitions beyond good write-ups on TripAdvisor. Peace to all such!

But that clueless restaurant got me thinking. What is it like for veggies at the higher end of the market, where the restauranteurs court reviews from broad-sheet restaurant critics. What’s it like where Jay Rayner & Giles Coren go to dine?

Well, here’s a real menu I found (name withheld to protect the guilty):

Starters
SautÈed Razor Clams, Kohlrabi, Pineapple, Wasabi and Coriander
Chargrilled Quail, Green Papaya Salad and Peanut Sauce (£1 Supp)
Pressed Skate, Saffron, Dill, Radish and Tomato Emulsion
Globe Artichoke, Dandelion, Parmesan Custard, Truffle and Honey,
Red Pepper Gazpacho, Feta, Toasted Hazelnut, Dried Olives, Capers and Basil
Frogs Legs, Smoked Garlic, Pickled Fennel and Lemon Mascarpone

Mains
Fillet of Beef, Buttered Potato, White Onion, Roasted Bone Marrow and Parsley Butter (£6 Supp)
Roast Monkfish, Spiced Lentils, Beetroot Raita, Shallot Pakora, Tomato and Cardamom Sauce
Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder, Crispy Pigs Trotter, Black Pudding, Sweet Potato and Cider
Duck Breast, Confit Duck Roll, Butternut Squash, Runner Beans, Soy and Blackberries
Open Ravioli, Goats Cheese, Chargrilled Summer Vegetables, Toasted Pine Nuts, Oregano, Confit Tomatoes
Fish of the Day

Look at the ambition in that menu! Individually each course makes your mouth water. But for a vegetarian, that’s a starter with feta followed by goats cheese. I strongly suspect that the restaurant thinks that there are two vegetarian starters, but parmesan hasn’t been vegetarian for years!

Well, that’s one menu. Is it representative? To find out I went and looked. I took as my sample restaurant reviews in The Guardian, The Observer, The Telegraph and The Independent websites for August 2013. I went to the restaurant websites and looked at their menus. Where there was a dinner or a al carte menu I counted the number of vegetarian starters and main courses they offered, noting how many of those included goats’ cheese or other cheese. I did a quick check to see if any set menus had veggie options as well. I also counted whether a ‘V’ next to a menu item was accurate as well.

These are the reviewed restaurants that had a website with a current, or sample, menu:
The Honours, Caisse-Croute, Whyte&Brown, Le Champignon Sauvage, Hutong, Rock Lobsta, Blue Boar Smokehouse, Grain Store, Otto’s, Fleet Street Kitchen, The Green Room, Plum + Spilt Milk, Shoryu Ramen, River Cottage Canteen, Paesan, Picture, La Famiglia, The Olde Bell, 63, Manchester, Rockfish, Hartnett Holder & Co, The Dairy, Taqueria, The Kitchin, Van Zeller.

I have not contacted any of these restaurants for clarification or explanation. I’ve treated this exercise as I would if I was looking for a restaurant I wanted to visit. A restaurant’s website is the face they want to present to the world as much as their restaurant front window. If they choose to present a face that’s unfriendly to vegetarians I’m going to take them at their word.

There were 25 restaurants that I examined. Of the dinner and set menus, there were 475 main courses in total, 75 (16%) of which were vegetarians and 43 (57%) of those that contained cheese. There were 291 starters, 90 (30%) of which were were vegetarian and 39 (43%) involving cheese. Now 16% vegetarian main courses is ahead of the game considering that only about 10% of the population is vegetarian but that vegetarian population does have to like cheese.

Speaking of cheese, 7 restaurants only offered mains that contained cheese and 5 offered only cheese based starters. And, yes, there was 1 that offered only cheese as a starter and a main course.

On another cheese related tack, 13 restaurants marked the vegetarian items on their menus. A scary 5 (that’s nearly 39%) were inaccurate about what constitutes vegetarian – mostly this was to do with parmesan cheese being thought suitable. The only way to deal with this is to be that vegetarian and interrogate the waiter at every meal. You cannot assume anything from the menu. One restaurant offered ‘Sourdough bread with smoked butter’. Sound innocuous enough, but the review of this place nonchalantly praised the smoked bone marrow that gave it such a wonderful flavour!

6 places (that’s nearly 25%) offered no vegetarian main course and a further 5 offered only one choice. Hobson’s vegetarian indeed. A couple of places said that they would do something special if a vegetarian asked before arriving, but gave no indication of an example of what this might be. One place, which offered not a single, solitary vegetarian option either as starter or main, would do a ‘surprise’ vegetarian tasting menu (the surprise being that you have no clue what they think constitutes ‘vegetarian’) as long as the whole table ordered it. So, they expect a bunch of vegetarians to turn up mob-handed and order, sight unseen, a very expensive meal. I can only guess at the take-up rate for that, I wouldn’t risk it.

This makes me sad and angry. Angry because it looks like a substantial minority of the chefs at these restaurants just don’t care about vegetarians. It makes me sad because these are the places we should be going to. These are the independents, the quality places, the individualistic ones, the ones that add difference to the high street. And if they’re not getting it right, the chains are. Nandos has a better vegetarian selection than most of the restaurants I looked at. ASK has a better selection, so does Pizza Express. I don’t know how many trips to restaurants are negotiated around vegetarian options but I know my friends do it with me and so does my office – if there isn’t a decent vegetarian option we don’t go to those places. That means a place with bad vegetarian options doesn’t just lose the custom of the vegetarian, they lose it for everyone in that party that would have spent money with them otherwise. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the chains have figures around how often that happens and have changed their menus accordingly.

Now I get that vegetarians make up, at best, only 10% of the population. I get that, in a non-specialist restaurant, only vegetarians will tend to eat the vegetarian main course. No restaurant can afford to have menu items that very few people pick. But, it shouldn’t take a genius to construct a menu with one main course that’s different to the starters. Now maybe the restaurants I looked at don’t need to worry about what vegetarians want. Maybe they don’t care. But until they do, this vegetarian will be at my local pub. It’s not posh or gourmet, but it has a separate vegetarian menu with two vegan options! That beats every single other restaurant in that list of twenty-five. They get it. What’s stopping the big guys?

Recipe: Roasted Peppers with Garlic and Olive Oil

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One of my friend’s family originally comes from Budva in Montenegro. When we talk about food, she praises the local produce there and last week her father came back with some for me. He brought a couple of peaches, a ripe tomato and some peppers. The peaches and the tomato were nostalgia fruits – they tasted how they really should taste from my childhood memory – especially the peaches which just ran with juice.

The peppers weren’t what I was expecting.
budvar peppers photo DSCN0905_zps5fd221af.jpg

I was expecting red, not green. I was, however, given strict instructions on what do with them. Grill them until the skin is blackened, scrape off the skin, sprinkle with garlic and a lot of olive oil. Eat with good, crusty bread.

So that’s what I did.

roasted peppers photo DSCN0906_zpsdd0e2289.jpg

I found, going back over the emails, that I slightly misremembered the recipe. The garlic should have been finely chopped rather than finely sliced. So sue me.

This is a recipe that seems like it should be best eaten by a warm sea, in the shade from a hot sun. I can tell you that it works just as well on a showery Surrey lunchtime. And you don’t need Budva peppers either. Ordinary red, orange or yellow peppers would be great in this. And if you wonder what to do with those posh, pointed peppers in supermarkets, look no further.

I don’t know if this will protect you from the Hooded Claw, but it’ll keep the vampires from your door all night!

Ingredients
4-6 peppers (depending on size)
2 cloves garlic
Extra-virgin olive oil

Grill the peppers under a hot grill until the skin is blackened all over.
Put the hot peppers in a plastic bag and seal the end.
Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove from the bag.
Scrape or peel off the blackened skin. (Don’t get anal about this, the odd bit of skin is all to the good!)
Split the peppers and scrape out the seeds.
Finely chop (or slice) the garlic.
Arrange the peppers on a plate, sprinkle over the garlic and pour over a good quantity of olive oil.
Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Serves 2 as a light lunch.