Tag Archives: vegan

So Fresh!

16 Mar

It is currently 18 degrees Celsius in London (that’s 65 degrees for you Neanderthals using Fahrenheit). In March. The winter is over! Hurray! But rather than concentrating here and now, this weather makes me think of a trip to Spain T and I took nearly three years ago, a big tour of Spain from Barcelona to Madrid and down to Andalucia to visit Cordoba, Granada, and Seville. 

We both loved Spain. The weather was gloriously hot, the people were friendly but not overwhelmingly gregarious, and the scenery was just stunning. We were having pleasant fantasies of a pied-à-terre in Madrid, where we could go to museums whenever we wanted and have long afternoon strolls in the Retiro…

But there had been been one lingering issue through our trip – the food. And specifically, the vegetables. I could eat my body-weight in seafood if you let me, and the Spanish do lovely things with potatoes and lamb. But after several days of meat-and-carb indulgence T and I were feeling distinctly unwell. So, being sensible, we tried to eat more fruit and veg. But the dishes served in restaurants bore about as much resemblance to plants as a mackerel does to a Goldfish cracker. It seemed the Spanish had never met a vegetable they couldn’t cook to mush and garnish with slivers of ham. Salads were mounds of iceberg lettuce served with corn, cheap tuna, and hard-boiled eggs. They were dishes from decades, before scientists learned that vitamins existed. 

But towards the end of our trip, after a visit to the Alhambra, we decided to forget about Spanish food and went to a pizzeria for lunch instead. And there it was on the menu: ensalada de tomate y aguacate. We couldn’t believe our luck, and were still shaking our heads when it arrived at our table: wedges of tomato tossed with chunks of avocado and whole basil leaves, dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. It was refreshing and intensely vegetal and exactly what we needed. Pizzas forgotten, we demolished the entire bowl. 

Ensalada de Granada

I’ve tinkered slightly with the original concept, giving it more zest with lemon juice, extra herbs, and a generous sprinkling of spring onion. I understand that there are people that can’t stand raw allium of any kind, but I really, really like the piquancy in salads. 

Serves 2 for lunch

3-4 big tomatoes/1-2 punnets cherry tomatoes, cut into chunks or in half

2-3 spring onions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced (you can sub in chopped shallots or red onion, just soak them in iced water for 10 minutes to take away the sulfur burn before draining and adding to the salad)

1 big handful chopped soft herbs (I really love mint and coriander, but you could also play with tarragon, basil, chervil…)

1 Hass avocado (UK readers: DO NOT buy the green-skinned ones from your local supermarket! They are watery and unripenable and generally a crime against the name of avocado. Go to a greengrocer or farmer’s market and look for big plump specimens with black skins. They will be more expensive but they are a sign that God loves us and wants us to be happy.)

1 quarter of a lemon/splash of red wine vinegar

1 big slug of the best olive oil you can get

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional but tasty: protein of some variety (I’ve had this with really good Ortiz tinned tuna and hot smoked salmon. But you could also add shredded cooked chicken, or fresh mozzarella for a veggie option, or even just good canned chickpeas if you’re vegan, though I’d season more generously with the chickpeas because they’re quite earthy.)

Put the tomatoes, spring onion and herbs in a salad bowl. Add your protein of choice Cut the avocado into fat chunks and put it in too. Add your acid, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Mix, check for seasoning, serve! 

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Praise and a Side of Curry

30 Oct

A confession: I spend an embarrassing amount of time every day reading about food, mainly on Twitter and on blogs. I’m not going to give you an exact number, because if I write it down, I will be forced take my laptop and throw it off my fourth-floor balcony onto the footpath below my building. And I don’t want to kill some poor, innocent pedestrian because I can’t cope with my internet habit.

But anyway. With the sheer volume of food-related information being produced on the web these days, sometimes it’s a little hard to get excited about the latest hamburger joint in Soho or the best pizza in Queens. But there are a few blogs where I always perk up when I see a new post. One of them is Eat Like a Girl, written by Niamh Shields.

Eat Like a Girl is largely a recipe blog, with restaurant reviews and travel writing mixed in here and there. The prose is evocative without being florid, and she writes recipes clearly and logically. She also has similar tastes to me – big flavours and influences from around the world. And even though she has an undying love for all things piggy, I can still read those recipes and appreciate her joy in experimenting with new combinations, even if I can’t partake in the results. I’m booked on to a class with her to learn to make different kinds of candy, and I’m sure I will come away with both good understanding and some very tasty treats!

So I was sold on her butternut squash-chickpea-spinach curry before I even made it. Butternut squash is a special favourite of mine at this time of year – it’s just so sweet and tender and ORANGE. It also takes especially well to spicy, bold flavours, which this curry has in spades. The cumin and coriander seeds especially give it serious oomph. The method is straightforward as for all relatives of stew and soup: sauté aromatics, add solids, add liquids, simmer until reduced and/or tender. And as with stew, it’s better after some aging time in the fridge.

The end result! And a bonus hand.

My only change this time around was to use a red chili in place of green, because that’s what my greengrocer had. It’s milder with a red chili, but you lose that herbal, citrusy note that green ones give. Next time I also might tinker with the spices and try it with some fennel or brown mustard seeds.

(You can find the recipe on Eat Like a Girl. Niamh also has a terrific cookbook called Comfort and Spice, which you should also check out!)

Salad, or a Riff on Balance

21 Feb

Salads are quick to put together, but I think the process is a more delicate one than cooking a hot dish. With every dish I make, I want to achieve an equal balance of flavours – sweet against savoury, light and herbal against dark and rich.

The simplest way to get all the different tastes to play together nicely is to apply heat. For example, simmering carrots in an orangey beef stew releases their sweetness into the dish, countering the savoury beef and tart citrus.

But with some small exceptions, that’s not how salad works. Everything is what it is, and the cook has to be much more aware of how raw ingredients taste, and calibrate them to each other and the dressing accordingly.

The following recipe from Veggiestan (a superb cookbook which I strongly recommend you all buy) looks bizarre, almost alien, on the page. Cumin and dried chili in salad dressing? Cooking bulgur in apricot nectar? I almost skipped over the recipe, but I decided to give it a shot as part of my health kick.

And man, is it good! Incredibly fresh and lively, with the dried apricots, bulgur, and pistachios meeting the red onion, herbs, and spicy dressing in an entente cordiale. The chiles added a delicate, warming sensation that tied all the ingredients together.

This is brilliant on its own as a main course, and I think it would make a great side dish at a barbecue, paired with some grilled aubergine or a lamb burger.

Spinach, Apricot, and Bulgur Salad (adapted from Veggiestan by Sally Butcher)

Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a starter

Salad:

75g/2.5oz dried apricots, coarsely chopped
150g/5.25 oz fine bulgur wheat
200ml/ 7 fluid oz vegetable stock
150ml/5 fluid oz apricot juice/nectar
200g spinach
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced (If you find the flavour of onion too aggressive when raw, soak the slices in iced water for ten minutes for extra-crispy onion without the sulfurous burn.)
50g shelled raw pistachios, toasted
1 handful fresh coriander, woody stems removed and coarsely chopped
1 handful fresh mint, leaves plucked and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 140C/275F.

Put the apricots in a small bowl and pour lukewarm water over them until just covered. Leave them to rehydrate.

Meanwhile, spread the bulgur on the bottom of a baking or roasting tray, making sure there’s plenty of room for the bulgur to expand. Cover the bulgur with the stock and apricot nectar and mix well. Pop into the oven for 20 minutes, stirring the grains halfway through.

While the bulgur bakes, prep the vegetables and herbs and toast the pistachios. Mix up the dressing (see below).

When the bulgur is done, remove from the oven, fluff the grains with a fork, and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Drain the water from the apricots, and put all ingredients (except the dressing and the bulgur) in a big-enough salad bowl. Then add the slightly-cooled bulgur and dressing, then toss.

Dressing:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lime juice
0.5 teaspoon cumin
0.5 teaspoon red chili flakes
salt and pepper

Beat all ingredients together in a small bowl with a fork.