Monthly Archives: January 2014

Quick Bite: Fridge Pickled Radishes


I’ve been thinking of ways of using up odds and ends of vegetables. Freezing is one option, but another is lightly pickling them. Fridge pickles, simpler to make than proper pickles, but meant to be stored in the fridge rather than left on a cupboard shelf.

I’ve used radishes in this recipe (as that’s what I had to hand), but this would work nicely with carrots, turnips or even cauliflower florets.

I’ve based my recipe on this one. It would be possible to add some different spices to mix up the flavour a little.

Radish pickle photo DSCN1036_zpsedf427a7.jpg

150ml water
25ml distilled white vinegar
2tsp salt
2tsp sugar
slice fresh ginger
1 small birdseye chilli split lengthways
200g radishes, quartered

Add the liquid ingredients to a small saucepan and bring to the boil.
Add in the salt, sugar, ginger and chilli.
Simmer for a few minutes until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
Put the radishes in a sealable jar or box.
Pour the hot liquid over them.
Seal the jar/box.
Leave to cool and then put in the fridge.
Give it 24 hours before eating them.

Serve as a snack or as an accompaniment to dals, curries or salads.

Recipe: Afghan Carrot Hotpot


This is another recipe from Veggiestan. It caught my eye as being an unusual combination of yellow split peas and carrots, which is not something I’d ever thought of putting together before. I was also a little sceptical as to whether unsoaked yellow split peas would cook before the carrots turned into mush. Well I was wrong, the peas are cooked through and the carrots are tender, but hold their shape. The spicing is light with this recipe, the chilli just adds a background heat and the vinegar lifts the flavours.

There’s not much prep involved in this recipe and it cooks in an hour, it could just be a winner on a cold, rainy winter’s evening.

Afghan Carrot Hotpot photo DSCN1043_zpsf39b7f71.jpg

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1cm ginger, peeled and chopped
1 green chilli, chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1 clove
300g chanteray carrots, or 2 large carrots cut into large pieces
150g yellow split peas
2 tsp tomato puree
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp vinegar
300ml vegetable stock

Heat some oil in a large saucepan and add the onion.
Soften for a couple of minutes and then add the garlic, ginger and chilli.
Stir for a few more minutes and then add the spices and stir until they have all mixed in with the oil.
Add the carrots, split peas, tomato puree, tomatoes and the vinegar.
Add the vegetable stock, this should just cover the mixture.
Season to taste.
Bring to the simmer, then cover and simmer for 60 minutes.
Check every so often to make sure it’s not catching on the bottom of the pan and add some boiling water if it is getting too dry.
Serve with rice and some mango chutney on the side.

Serves 4

Quick Bite: Waldorf Salad


Mr Hamilton: Could you make me a Waldorf salad.
Basil Fawlty: Oh… a… Wa…?
Mr Hamilton: Waldorf salad.
Basil Fawlty: I think we’re just out of Waldorfs.

You might think that a salad invented at the great Waldorf Hotel in New York would be complicated, but it isn’t. Its classic recipe has only four ingredients – celery, apple, walnuts and mayonnaise. I’ve messed about with is slightly, but only by adding a touch of flavour to the mayo. And while we’re on the subject, please don’t put too much mayonnaise in this. I hate it when you have to spade your way through the dressing to find the salad ingredients. A light coating is all that’s needed.

This is a lovely, refreshing starter that’s simple and quick to make.

Waldorf photo DSCN1031_zps789ee0fc.jpg

2tbsp mayonnaise
1tsp mustard
1tsp fresh dill, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 medium apple, chopped
25g walnuts, roughly chopped
lettuce leaves, for serving

Add the mayonnaise to a largish bowl, stir in the mustard and dill.
If you have enough time, let them stand for about 10 minutes to let the dill flavour develop.
Just before serving chop the celery, apple and walnuts and stir into the mayonnaise.
Serve on lettuce leaves.

Serves 2 as a starter

Recipe: Swiss Chard with Black-Eyed Beans


This is a recipe from my new favourite recipe book Veggiestan by Sally Butcher. Now, I will be posting a proper review of the book later on, but I wanted to try a recipe before I did so. It wasn’t going to be this one, to be honest, there’s a recipe for carrots and yellow split peas from Afghanistan I wanted to try. However, that takes two hours to cook and today, real life intervened, cutting down the time I had for cooking. This recipe uses black-eyed beans (or peas) which cook much quicker. And I had some swiss chard in the fridge, so this seemed an obvious choice.

The original recipe calls for a leek but I didn’t have one, so I substituted a sweet, red onion instead. This is a lovely recipe, I think any dark green leaf would work if you didn’t have swiss chard to hand. You could also substitute the pulse part as well – chickpeas would be nice here, I think.

Swiss chard black eyed beans photo DSCN1041_zps3c48636c.jpg

100g black-eyed beans
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
300g swiss chard, stalks finely shredded, leaves roughly chopped
1/4tsp ground nutmeg
1/2tsp chilli powder
1/2 small packet coriander, chopped
2tbsp tahini
200ml vegetable stock
lemon wedges to serve

Cook the beans in boiling water for about 40 minutes or until tender.
When they are nearly cooked, heat a generous glug of oil in a large pan.
Add the red onion to the oil and soften for a couple of minutes.
Then add the garlic.
Stir in the chard stalks and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the chard leaves, the nutmeg, chilli powder and coriander. Stir for a couple of minutes.
Stir in the cooked beans.
Stir the stock into the tahini a little bit at a time, stirring to mix them together thoroughly.
Add to the pan, cover and simmer for about five minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over.

Serves 2 as dinner with bread to mop up the juices

Kitchen Notes: Preserving Fresh Herbs


I love fresh herbs and I think the easy availability of them in supermarkets is one of the best changes that has happened to the food culture in this country over the past few years. Dried herbs have their place, but the dusty remains of dried basil from a jar may as well be from a different species compared to the aromatic leaves of fresh basil. Having said that, fresh herbs aren’t cheap, averaging about 80p for 28g. If you’re living on your own or as part of a couple, buying fresh basil for one meal means that you’re going to waste most of it as, even in the fridge, the packet will be heading towards sileage by the end of the week.

(Now, before anyone tells me to buy the growing herbs in pots or to grow my own from seed, I have black thumbs. I can kill houseplants just by sitting next to them. I killed ivy. Even my mother gave up buying me plants. I have not had any more success with herbs than I do with geraniums.)

Luckily you can freeze some herbs, and I’m not talking about the women’s magazines chop-them-and-put-them-in-ice-cube-trays trick. I keep my ice cube trays for ice cubes for my gin and tonic, thank you, but I still manage to freeze herbs.

Before you start freezing herbs, you need to think about what freezing does to a plant. When a plant is frozen, the water in its cells expands and breaks through the cell walls that give the plant its structure. This means that frozen plants will go limp and soggy when they’re defrosted. So herbs either need to be robust enough to survive this freezing onslaught or you were going to present them as limp and soggy anyway. Think about frozen spinach. If you defrost a block of it, you have a dark green, soggy mass. But that’s OK, because that’s how fresh spinach goes anyway when you cook it.

Good Freezing Herbs
Rosemary – this is so tough that freezing doesn’t seem to affect it
Thyme – the leaves are so small that freezing doesn’t change them and if you scrunch the stems you can then sprinkle the leaves out ofthe bag without having to pick them off the stem
Dill – this surprised me as well, but chopped fresh dill doesn’t retain its structure so you don’t notice it with the frozen
Tarragon – as dill – I always use this chopped finely so you don’t notice it’s been frozen
Bay leaves – leaving aside the fact that you take it out of anything you’re cooking before serving, I suspect you could dip this in liquid nitrogen and not notice any changes
Kaffir Lime Leaves – as bay leaves
Chillis – the smaller the better for this. Bird’s eye chillis don’t even need to be defrosted before using them – they’re thin enough to chop straight away
Lemon grass stalks – you will need to defrost them before using, but running under the hot tap will do this quickly if you forgot to take them out the night before
Ginger – either peel and cut into pieces the size you usually use and freeze separately, or break the whole root into the size of piece you can work through without it going mouldy

There are some herbs I don’t freeze. These are leafy herbs, where I need them to be fresh and leafy not limp and soggy when I serve them. I’m talking parsley, coriander, mint, chives and basil here. I rarely need to preserve coriander – it’s in nearly constant use in my kitchen. I tend to use parsley more as a salad leaf than as a traditional herb, so any sitting in the fridge at the end of the week tends to end up Friday’s take-to-work salad. Chives don’t freeze successfully. In addition to going unattractively soggy, freezing changes mint’s flavour rather like leaving it sitting in hot water too long does. I’ll assume that no one is even going to try freezing basil, it’s a complete non-starter.

So if you’ve got half a packet of mint left what do you do with it? I chop it finely, put it in a small sealable pot or box, cover it with oil, put the lid on and store it in the fridge. The herbs should last for three to four weeks in the fridge, depending on how often you open the container. The oil will set a little in the fridge, but will go back to liquid at room temperature. You can then add spoonfulls to soups, stews and dressings, or drizzle over salads and pasta before serving.

Recipe: Roasted Red Pepper and Red Onion Salad


You might get to the ingredients list of this recipe and wonder if I’ve mistyped it. I promise you I haven’t. That is 2 tablespoons of vinegar to 2 teaspoons of olive oil. That’s because, when the onions and peppers are roasted together like this, they go incredibly sweet and you need the acidity to cut through that sweetness. I used vinegar here, but the juice of a lemon would be great too.

This is a good recipe for use up any red (or other coloured) peppers that are beginning to go a bit wrinkly in places. Note I haven’t removed the skin. The idea isn’t to roast them to the stage of blackened skin, but just to soften the flesh and toast them a bit.

2 red peppers, deseeded and chopped into large pieces
4-6 red onions, peeled and quartered
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp wine vinegar
2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp capers, chopped

Pre heat the oven to 220C.

Put the vegetables on a roasting tray, rub with the 2 tbsp of vegetable oil and season well with salt and pepper.

Roast for 30 minutes until the vegetables are cooked and a little brown round the edges.
In a large bowl, mix the vinegar, olive oil and capers together and season with salt and pepper.
When the vegetables are cooked put them in the bowl with the dressing. Toss in the dressing until all the vegetables are coated.

Serves 2 with some nice green leaves for crunch

Discussion: How to stay vegetarian once you’ve started


There are probably more than a few people out there whose New Year’s Resolution was to go vegetarian or vegan. Well, that was ten days ago now and if you’re anything like me, the resolution is dissolving in the face of habit inertia and the difficulty of changing a lifestyle. So I thought I’d put together a few tips that helped me when I came over to the veggie side (we have cookies!)

1) Mouthfeel. I’ve seen many books on becoming a vegetarian and they have been full of sound nutritional advice but I don’t think I’ve seen any of them explain that how a food feels in your mouth is as important as how it tastes. If you’re used to chewing on meat, eating vegetables and pulses is not going to feel as satisfying. A veggie bean chilli is fine for one meal, but when that’s what you’re eating day in day out you need to find a way to add more chewiness to your meals. Step forward mushrooms, nuts, smoked and pressed tofus and tempeh. Keep adding these to your meals and you’ll find you won’t miss meat as much as you did. Which leads on to…

2) Meat substitutes. Veggie sausages. Quorn chicken pieces. Soy mince. These get looked down on by the foodies, veggie and otherwise. Somehow you’re not doing it properly if you’re eating something that resembles meat, you should be embracing the totality and purity of vegetables. Listening to various cooking and food programmes, I have come to the conclusion that there is no more fervent advocate of a puritan approach to vegetarianism than a meat eater. This is the phenomenon of meatsplaining, where a meat eater explains to the veggie just what they should be eating. Not everybody likes or wants meat substitutes and not everybody likes all of them, but no one should feel ashamed for eating them. The only standard for being a vegetarian is ‘Are you eating a bit of a dead animal?’ if the answer to that is ‘No’ then you’re a vegetarian. You set your own standards after that and you are answerable to no one except yourself. Which reminds me…

3) Everyone makes mistakes. Bits of dead animal get into all sorts of food you wouldn’t expect – cheese, sweets, desserts. Sometimes you don’t know. Sometimes you forget. Sometimes you don’t check. I went vegan for November. On the first workday in December it was someone’s birthday in the office and they bought some sweets and cakes in. I had eaten several rocky road bites (they were small) before I remembered that they contain marshmallow which contains gelatine. So not only had I stopped being vegan I’d stopped being vegetarian. Ooops. So what do you do in that situation? Stop eating them and remember not to do it again. Something I learned at a Slimming World class – Don’t let a bad meal become a bad day. Don’t let a bad day become a bad week. Don’t let a bad week make you give up altogether. Of course if someone deliberately gives you meat and doesn’t tell you that’s their guilt not yours. And if it gives you an upset stomach you are fully entitled to fart next to them. And that’s another thing…

4) Farting. It happens. If you’ve gone vegetarian the chances are you’re adding more fibre to your diet and your digestive system has to get used to not having meat to work on. This can produce gas and you may notice that you’re moving to some of the higher numbers on the Bristol Stool Scale. If you think things are moving too quickly as it were, try white bread, rice, potato and pasta as the carb content of meals to calm things down. Generally people are advised to drink more water. Mint and fennel teas can also help as they’re well-known herbal digestive remedies. In extreme cases try something like Colpermin or other over-the-counter remedies for irritable bowel syndrome. As your gut adjusts to your new diet you should find the symptoms decrease. Of course, if you get worried, go see your GP about it.

5) Feeling hungry. This is pretty normal. Your body is used to you eating in one way and now you’re presenting it with another. The eating patterns that used to work may not satisfy you any more. You might have to switch from three big meals a day to four or five smaller ones. I have found that I generally need a snack about 4pm most days. There is also some evidence that eating olive oil can help you feel full. Also, keep an eye on your nutrition. You don’t need to turn into a qualified dietitian, but try and make sure you’re covering the bases over the course of a week. In my opinion, it’s impossible to eat too many green leafy vegetables. Oh, and don’t worry if you don’t suddenly feel more alive and bursting with energy after going vegetarian. I’ve seen that promise made several times on various vegetarian forums. It never happened to me. It doesn’t happen to everyone and you’re not doing it wrong if it doesn’t happen to you.

6) Being the only vegetarian in the village. Some studies have put the number of vegetarians in the UK as about 10% of the population. That’s a sizeable minority, but it is a minority and it’s easy sometimes to feel alone in this new venture in your life. There are vegetarian and vegan groups that meet up regularly. The Vegetarian Society, The Vegan Society and Viva! all have groups listed on their webpages. If, like me, you’re not that into groups then there are plenty of vegetarian/vegan communities and forums on the internet where you can find advise and contact. Also, look out for vegetarian/vegan festivals -the biggest are Veg Fest but you can also find local ones out there as well.

That’s it for the advice. Good luck. Being vegetarian/vegan is a good thing to be for yourself, for animals and for the planet. It’s well worth persevering with and if you need advice or general pompom waving please ask in the comments. And enjoy it! It shouldn’t be a penance. It’s OK to laugh and have fun along the way.

 photo 481167_316392275127609_1058235638_n_zpsc4bfde98.jpg

Recipe: DIY Healthy Pot Noodles


This is a gem of an idea, I only wish I’d thought of it, but the honours must go to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the River Cottage Veg Every Day recipe book. It’s a great lunch to take to work because you can prepare it the night before and it only needs boiling water to cook it. There isn’t a work place in the country that doesn’t have a kettle!

You can use any thin noodle, but the instant noodles (which are the cheapest as well) cook the quickest, which is important as you have soft green leaves that wilt very quickly. I think the secret to the success is how you make your layers, the flavour goes at the bottom, followed by the noodles and then the crunchy vegetables with the green leaves on top. You also need a sealable pot or mug about 500ml in size.

I couldn’t believe how well this worked, and it cost pennies to make versus the £5+ I’ve spent on something similar from a food outlet near my office.

DIY Pot Noodle photo IMG_0478_zps02f75b08.jpg

1/2 tsp vegetable bouillon powder, or 1/4 vegetable stock cube
1 tsp soy sauce
Dash of chilli sauce, or tabasco
2 slices of lemon, or lime
Slice of fresh ginger
3-4 slices of fresh chilli
Packet of instant noodles, broken into pieces to fit your container
50g tofu, cut into cubes
1 spring onion, chopped
3 cm length of cucumber, deseeded and cut into matchsticks
3 cm carrot, cut into matchsticks
3 cm courgette, cut into matchsticks
1/2 little gem lettuce, shredded
1 tsp chopped coriander

Add the bouillon powder, soy sauce, chilli sauce, lemon, ginger and chilli to the bottom of your container.
Break the noodles into pieces so that they fit the container and put them on top of your stock base.
Add the tofu and then the vegetables, leaving the lettuce and coriander until last.
Put the lid on.
When you are ready to eat, pour boiling water into the container until the noodles are covered.
Put the lid back on and leave to stand for 5 minutes.
Remove the lid and stir thoroughly before eating.

Serves 1 for lunch

Recipe: Lentil and Vegetable Soup


I like vegetable soups, but too often they are a bit unsatisfying to me. So, faced with a fridge drawer full of vegetable oddments, making a soup was a no-brainer but adding lentils to it makes it a lot more substantial.

This is a lovely, warming, satisfying winter warmer. It’s so good, you won’t even notice that it’s fat-free as well!

Lentil & vegetable soup photo DSCN1030_zps47930682.jpg

150g red lentils
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 medium potato, roughly diced
1 medium carrot, roughly diced
1/2 head broccoli, chopped
1 courgette, roughly diced
1 1/2l vegetable stock
1/2tsp fresh thyme

Add all the ingredients, apart from the thyme, to a large saucepan and bring to the simmer.
Skim off any scum that appears on the surface.
Stir in the thyme.
Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper and blend until smooth.
Add more boiling water if it needs thinning down.

Serves 4