Cold Spiced Soba and Cucumber Noodles

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When it’s hot I like nothing more than a bowl of spiced cold noodles. If you have only ever eaten them hot before you are going to have to trust me when I say that cold noodles are seriously good. The whole meal takes 10 minutes max to prepare, which is even better when the sun is shining and you don’t really fancy spending too long over the stove.
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The crunch of the cucumber noodles and nuts (from the crunchy peanut butter) really compliment this dish. I decided to use dragons back chillies which you can purchase from World of Zing here. The chilli gave the dish a kick without being too overpowering. The spring onion and garlic also adds other wonderful flavours running through this dish. The star of the sauce in my mind is chinkiang vinegar, which is also known as Chinese black vinegar. I adore the stuff and if you love Chinese cooking it is an absolute must for your store cupboard. You can easily pick is up in any Asian food store.

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The sauce is salty, sour and sweet and mixed through the noodles it is absolutely heavenly. It’s a perfect meal to take to work as it is easily transportable and can be prepared the morning or night before and then stored in a fridge until lunch. Remember to take it out of the fridge around 30 minutes before eating so that it has reached room temperature.

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Serves 2 or (1 if you are feeling a little piggy)

85g soba noodles

1/2 cucumber, noodles if you have this or thinly chopped into sticks if not

2 spring onions, sliced at an angle

1 dragons back chilli, halved or quartered

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp chinkiang vinegar

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp chilli oil

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp crunchy peanut butter

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tsp black sesame seeds

1 tsp salt – optional

1. Place the soba noodles in boiling water and boil for around 5 minutes or according to the packet. Drain and run under cold water so that the noodles are completely cold. Place to one side.

2. Mix the chinkiang vinegar, light soy sauce, chilli oil, sesame oil, chopped garlic*, sugar and crunchy peanut butter in a bowl and stir to form a dressing. Taste and add salt if required.

3. Prepare the cucumber noodles or chop the cucumber into thick sticks.

4. Heat a small pan and when it is hot add the dragons back chilli or other dried chilli so that it darkens slightly in colour. I keep all the seeds, but if you like it less hot you can reduce these. Then add 1/2 tsp of chilli oil and add the spring onions for a minute. Take off the heat.

5. In a mixing bowl add the cold soba noodles, the cucumber noodles, the dressing and the dried chilli and spring onions.  Gently fold in together and place in two bowls. Sprinkle some black sesame seeds on top.

* if you prefer to cook the garlic add it to the pan with the spring onions so that it softens slightly.

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Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Garlic, Broad Beans and Crispy Sage and Kale

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The summer hols have started in my house. My daughters have weeks ahead to relax, explore, learn and grow. It’s a time to unwind and go at a more leisurely pace, no 6.30am wake up calls until September *does happy dance*. New additions to our family have arrived – two mini lop bunnies, so rabbit is firmly off the menu from henceforth.

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Picnics are wonderful but sometimes more of a proper meal at lunch time is required. This recipe is straightforward and although there are a couple of parts to bring together it really does not take long. I also love the bright summer colours of this meal, you can’t help but be happy when eating it. If you want to make it a morning activity though and involve your children/friends/partner then making your own gnocchi is really good fun. Here is my recipe.IMG_1335

I like to make kale crisps to add to this meal. Eleven minutes in a low oven and hey presto you have kale crisps. You can get creative as well and add cayenne pepper, soy, chaat masala, whatever takes your fancy. For this dish I have simply added a sprinkling of rock salt. By all means you can have the kale crisps in a bowl on the side, but I rather like the crisp aspect to the whole dish. It’s comfort food with a twist and they work well with the crispy sage. Broad beans are in season right now and I love to throw them in so many dishes. I prefer to shell them but I leave that to you to decide.
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Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Garlic, Broad Beans and Crispy Sage and Kale

1/2 of a small butternut squash, skin removed and cubed to the size of the gnocchi

100g chopped kale

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 tbsp butter

40g shelled broad beans

350g potato gnocchi

salt and pepper to taste

handful of grated parmesan, optional

1. First cube the butternut squash into the size of the gnocchi. Boil in a pan of water along with the broad beans for around 10 minutes, or until soft but not mushy.  Rinse under cold water and leave to one side. If you need to shell the broad beans then do so at this stage.

2. Preheat an oven to 140 degrees fahrenheit. Meanwhile separate any stems from the kale and discard. Place the kale on a baking try and add the olive oil. Massage the oil into the kale and make sure that the kale is spread out evenly over the tray. Place in the oven for 11 minutes, by which time the kale will be crisp. If it is not then leave it for a minute or two longer. Keep a watchful eye over it as they can burn quickly. These kale crisps are a great snack but also rather lovely in this dish.

3. In a frying pan add the butter and when it is melted add the garlic. Move around the pan before adding the sage leaves. Allow them to cook on a low heat so that they begin to crisp.

4. Add the butternut squash and broad beans and coat them in the butter, garlic and sage.

5. Place the gnocchi in the pan and boil away for 1 minute or according to instructions. If you fancy making your own – here is my recipe.

6. Strain the gnocchi and add the pan with the other ingredients. Stir together for a minute, season to taste and plate immediately.

7. Sprinkle crispy kale over each serving with a scattering of parmesan as desired.


Indian Inspired Peach Chutney

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Gloriously ripe and deliciously sweet juicy peaches are in season right now. They are great to eat fresh or in a salad perhaps with some mozzarella, parma ham and some fresh basil with a little olive oil and black pepper flecks sprinkled on top. I sometimes like to transform them into an Indian inspired chutney that is so versatile and delicious that you’ll be making pots of it in no time at all.

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As well as eating this chutney as a condiment to Indian dishes I also love it in sandwiches, with some cold or hot meats, fish, halloumi or any nice stinky and smelly cheese come to think of it. It’s perfect to take along on a summers day picnic – the sweet chilli notes adding that necessary kick to cheese baguette perhaps!

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If your peaches are beginning to turn, then this is another great way to use them up. If you like this recipe try making my mango and tomato one which all require the Bengali five spice known as ‘panch phoron’. You can find it in your local Asian grocers or you can easily make your own and store it in a sealed jar for months – here is my recipe.

 

Peach Chutney

1 tbsp groundnut oil (or equivalent)

1 tsp panch phoron – Bengali five spice

1 large dried chilli, broken into 2 or 3 pieces

1/2 tsp turmeric

5 large juicy peaches, stone removed and cut up roughly into 2 cm cubes

2 tbsp plain flour

50ml cold water

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 large storage jar

1) Heat the oil and then add the panch phoron, dried chilli pieces and turmeric. Move them around the pan for 20 seconds before adding the juicy peach pieces. Stir into the ingredients and simmer gently.

2) In a small bowl add the flour and cold water and stir until smooth. Add to the peaches in the pan.

3) Add the salt and sugar and continue to simmer until the peach chutney has thickened. This will take no longer than 6 minutes. If you require it thicker add a little more flour.

4) If eating on the same day, allow to cool completely before serving. If eating at a later date sterilise your jar by washing it thoroughly and then placing in a warm oven for 15 minutes. Add the chutney and once it has cooled it can be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks.


Gong Bao Ji Ding – aka Chinese Chicken with Facing Heaven Bullet Chillies

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So the story goes that back in the Qing Dynasty the governor of Sichuan, ‘Gong Bao’, had a deep fondness for this dish so they named it after him. The ‘Ji Ding’ part translates as “chicken cut into small cubes” and to this day it is one of the most ubiquitous Chinese dishes eaten in both mainland China and in the West. It is sometimes referred to as ‘Kung Pao Chicken’ so keep a look out for this name as well.

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The lovely people over at World of Zing sent me some dried chillies recently with fabulous sounding names: Dragons Back, Facing Heaven Bullet and Chinese White Hunan. I pondered for some time over which one to sample first and facing heaven bullet won out. They are so called because the pepper grows with the fruit pointing upwards to the ‘heavens’ unlike most chilli peppers, which face downwards.

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Bullet in shape, they are often kept whole in cooking or cut in half once. Removing some or all of the seeds prior to cooking reduces the heat of the chilli, whilst still retaining a tantalising zing.  To give you some idea of heat, it is far milder than a Thai birds eye chilli.  It won’t be the case of running to the fridge for a glass of milk!

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This dish wins prizes on speed of delivery and flavour. Seriously even if you are shattered after a hard days slog this will raise your spirits. Give it a go and remember to come back and comment to let me know how you got on.

Gong Bao Ji Ding – Chinese Chicken with Facing Heaven Bullet Chillies

Serves 2-3

420g chicken breasts (works out as 3 breasts) skin removed, cut into strips then into 1 inch cubes

4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 inches of fresh ginger, skinned and roughly chopped to the same size as the garlic

5 spring onions, white part only chopped to the size of the chicken cubes

10 facing heaven bullet chillies, halved and seeds removed

1 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns

80g peanuts, dry roast them for 5 minutes

2 tbsp ground nut oil (or equivalent)

****

Marinade

3 tsp light soy sauce

2 tsp Shaoxing wine

2 tsp cornflour

****

Sauce

1 and a half tsp cornflour

1 tsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp Chinkiang vinegar

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp cold water

1. First prepare the chicken and then place in a bowl. Prepare the marinade in a separate bowl and then pour onto the chicken pieces and leave to rest whilst you prepare the rest of the dish.

2. Dry roast the peanuts in a frying pan for 5 minutes so that they bronze slightly.

3. Next prepare the garlic, ginger, spring onions and chilli and place to one side.

4. Prepare the sauce ingredients in a bowl and place to one side.

5. Heat a large pan or wok with the oil and when it is hot add the chillies and Sichuan peppercorns. Move them around the pan for 15 seconds before adding the cubed chicken. Keep the chicken moving around on a high heat so that it cooks through completely.

6. After a couple of minutes, and the chicken has whitened, add the spring onions, garlic and ginger continuing to move all the ingredients around the pan/wok. After 3 more minutes the chicken should be cooked completely. Cut through a large piece to check it is cooked through (if it needs a minute more continue cooking at a high heat), before adding the sauce and mixing it through completely.

7. Cook for a further minute before adding the peanuts. Coat them in the sauce and stir through a couple of times.

Serve immediately with some steamed rice.

Thanks to World of Zing for providing me with the chillies. 


Simple Chicken Curry – when your spice cupboard is bare

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If you are starting out cooking curries or if you are running low on spices, then this is the curry for you as it only requires chilli powder – I tend to opt for the Kashmiri chilli powder for it’s deep red colour and its subtle heat. It also includes onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes and chillies, which are pretty much fridge staples for me and I’m guessing you too! So it is ridiculously straightforward to make with minimum fuss.

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I like to use boneless and skinless chicken thighs for this curry, but breast meat is fine too – it’s really up to you. Like with most curries it can be cooked well in advance and then slowly reheated adding a little water if necessary. You can reduce the amount of fresh chillies if you want it less hot, but I find adding two fresh green chillies is fine for my 9 year old – I would cook a separate curry however for my 5 year old.

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Simple Chicken Curry

Serves 4

9 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 red onions, roughly chopped

2 inch piece of ginger, skin removed and roughly chopped

2 fresh chillies, roughly chopped

4 medium sized tomatoes roughly chopped

1 tsp of Kashmiri chilli powder

2tbsp water

*****

2 tsp groundnut oil

800g boneless and skinless chicken thigh, chopped into bite sized pieces

1 tsp salt

coriander to garnish (optional)

1. Using a blender add the garlic, onions, chillies, tomatoes, ginger and chilli powder. Depending on how juicy your tomatoes are you may need to add a little water to make the paste smooth.

2. Heat the groundnut oil in a pan and add the chicken. Move it around the pan for a couple of minutes so that it whitens. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place to one side.

3. Using the same pan add the paste and gently fry for 45 minutes so that it thickens and allows the flavours to come through.

4. Return the chicken to the pan and add the salt. Simmer gently for a further 7 minutes, coating the chicken in the spiced tomato sauce.

5. Serve with a coriander garnish with either rice or flat bread.

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Speedy Homemade Hummus

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 Ok ok I know, I admit I’m on a bit of a chickpea roll at the moment. Apologies to readers out there who don’t share my enthusiasm on the humble chickpea. I always have tins in my store cupboard so am constantly thinking of new ways to use them. This recipe is certainly not a new one – in fact I was convinced I had popped it up on my blog a couple of years back, but I was thinking of my baba ganoush recipe – click here, which if you haven’t tried….shame on you. Seriously give it a go. You’ll thank me for it.

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Going back to the more ubiquitous hummus – or the more affectionate name that we call it in our house ‘whole mouse’….it is equally straightforward to make. The only unusual ingredient that you may not have come across, but that you can easily get hold of at any major supermarket, is ‘tahini’, which put simply is sesame paste. It’s most commonly used in North Africa, the Middle East and the Levant. You’ll find it sitting next to the peanut butter in most stores. In my opinion you do need this necessary ingredient to give your hummus a more authentic taste so please don’t leave it out.

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The other key ingredients are extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, lots of lovely garlic, salt and a little water. How easy!

Now you can jazz things up a bit, which I often like to do by adding one of the following: paprika, sumac, zataar, fried onions or shallots, fresh herbs, roasted beetroot, roasted carrots, cumin powder, black or green olives, turmeric, chilli flakes, sun dried tomatoes….the list is endless. Play around with flavours and find a new version to suit you. I’d love to hear from you if you find a new combination that’s a hit!

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 I’ve kept things simple for my one today by simply adding some fresh pomegranate seeds to give a ruby red jewel effect.  I like the fresh sweetness of the seeds with the hummus. It works really well and looks really pretty too. We eat with our eyes and nose as well as our stomachs after all.

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Homemade Hummus 

Serves – at least 6 (see bowl in photo)

2 tins of chickpeas

3 tbsp tahini

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 lemon, juice only

8 tbsp olive oil (plus a little extra to drizzle at the end)

5 tbsp water

salt to taste

1. Strain the chickpeas and then add them to a blender along with all the ingredients except the olive oil.

2. Blend the ingredients adding the olive oil gradually until smooth.

3. Taste and add more salt/lemon if needed.

4. Place in a bowl and scatter the pomegranate seeds on top along with a drizzle of olive oil.


The Tastiest Spiced Chickpea Curry Ever

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The humble chickpea can provide the most satisfying of meals if it is mixed with a little magic, and in this case spices. The final note of adding chaat masala raises the game of this dish into one bursting with flavour that is both salty and sour. For those who have not come across chaat masala before it’s a spice mix that is commonly used in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and normally includes many of the following: mango powder, black salt, asafoetida, pomegranate seeds, nutmeg, mint leaf, chilli powder, black pepper, salt, cumin, coriander and dried ginger. You can pick up sachet’s or packets at your local Asian grocers or any of the large supermarkets.  If you are feeling really adventurous you could make your own. Have a look at this lovely lady showing you how to do so .

 

Like many of the dishes on my blog this is very straightforward, filling, nutritious, tasty and kind on the wallet. My eldest daughter loves it (she just avoids swallowing the green chillies that I simply cut in half so are easy to spot) and my youngest….well she tells me she prefers ‘English’ food. I asked her like what and she answered ‘Like udon noodles, chicken, spring onions and soy sauce’. Oh dear!

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If you are UK based chances are that you’ll be on half term next week – if you have children that is. This dish ticks so many boxes and is perfect for an adult, or more sophisticated child eater. Next time your are in the shopping aisles of your local supermarket – think Chaat Masala, seriously you won’t regret it. A little bit of searching will reward you royally.

You heard it here first.

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 Spiced Chickpea Curry

2 tbsp groundnut/rapeseed oil

10 fresh curry leaves

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

2 tsp garlic paste

1 tsp ginger paste

2 small green chillies

1 tsp cumin powder

3 medium sized tomatoes, diced

500g chickpeas (tinned is fine)

1 tbsp yoghurt

1 tbsp tomato puree

150ml juice from chickpea tin/boiling water

125g fresh spinach

1 tsp chat masala

1/2 lemon, juice only

handful of fresh coriander to serve

1. Gently heat the oil in a deep frying pan and then add the curry leaves. After 20 seconds add the onion and salt and lower the heat to allow the onions to soften and not burn. After 5 minutes add the garlic and ginger paste along with the green chillies and stir into the existing ingredients.

2. Add the cumin powder and then add the fresh tomatoes and allow them to soften slightly before adding the chickpeas.

3. Add the yoghurt and tomato puree and stir into the chickpeas.

4. Add the chickpea juice and/or boiling water and leave until the liquid has reduced. This will take around 10-15 minutes.

5. Stir in the spinach, which will wilt almost immediately.

6. Take the pan off the heat and add the chaat masala and lemon juice and stir into the curry. Add a little fresh coriander on the top of each serving.

Relax, sit back and enjoy a very satisfying bowl of chickpea curry.