‘Masala Mamas’ Dill Stew

I feel it’s been a while since I posted any Indian recipes. That is not to say I’ve not been cooking any Indian food at home. For those who have been following me for a while, or have read my bio, will know my husband is Indian so cooking Indian food is part of our regular diet – but some of the recipes I’ve been cooking are already on my blog. These are always family favourites that I have been cooking:

DalsBengali red split lentil dal, channa dal, toor dal

CurriesBengali chicken, speedy salmon, Bengali prawn, Laal Maas (when I want a seriously hot one!) or Chettinad Chicken, 

Sri Lankan tuna curry, mild cod curry

Vegetarian curries  – cauliflower with fenugreek, ginger and turmeric okra, chickpea curry, butternut squash and lemongrass (more Asian influenced than Indian, but a great recipe)

Not so long I was contacted by a Elana Sztokman, an anthropologist and award-winning writer specialising in women from traditional societies. She has written an Indian cookbook, which tells the inspiring story of a group of sixteen Indian women from the Kalwa slum in Mumbai, changing their communities through food and love. The slum is home to over 200,000 people where clean water and electricity are hard to find. These harsh conditions often prevent children going to school, with many being sent out to work to make a few rupees so that they will have something to eat.

These women are changing all this by making sure the children eat and learn, and consequently changing their otherwise inevitable destiny. Each morning the women rise early to prepare a host of delicious, nutritious vegetarian food for the children. In one year alone they cook 257,400 meals. They deliver the food to the Love2Learn school, run by the the NGO Gabriel Project Mumbai, where the children know that if they show up to learn, they will eat. It’s a win win. The children learn, have nutritious food and thus begin to end the cycle of poverty they are trapped in. The women feel inspired and thrive and thus the children and communities thrive around them.

The book that Elana has sent to me – ‘Masala Mamas’ incorporates recipes and stories from all these Indian women. It’s a joy to read, hearing about the rural villages the women have originally come from and how they came to the sprawling metropolis of Mumbai in the hope of giving their children an education, which most of them lacked. The group has provided kinship, connections and a purpose, which is motivating them every day. All the proceeds from the sale of the cookbook go directly to the women of the Masala Mamas cooperative. You can order a copy for yourself here.

I thought it would be interesting for you to see a typical menu for the children:

On Mondays the children eat poha – rice flakes with vegetables.
On Tuesdays –  dal khichdi – lentil and rice stew.
On Wednesdays – chana dal – black bean curry.
On Thursdays – veg pulav – a pilaf made with mixed vegetables.
On Fridays – soya pulav – a stew made from soya chunks, an affordable and simple source of protein.

And on Saturdays, as a special treat, the children eat sheet – a kind of sweet semolina pudding that they particularly love.
And for special occasions and holidays, the women prepare special holiday fare like shankarpali and modaks.

After a lot of pondering on which recipe to show you  I ended up gravitating towards the ‘Dill Stew’ or ‘Shepu Bhaju’ by Jayshree Chavdry. It’s basically a dal, and you know how much I adore dals and could quite happily eat a different one every day. I also liked the fact that it contained dill, a herb that I do not usually associate with Indian food. It’s also super straightforward, requires no unfamiliar ingredients and is perfect for a light meal on a summers day. The result – it tasted really really good and I will now be including it in my Indian culinary arsenal for sure. Give it a go and if you are on instagram, don’t forget to tag me #chilliandmint so that I can see how you got on.

 

Dill Stew

1 cup/240ml yellow moong dahl (lentils)

1 tbsp/15ml oil

1 tsp/5ml mustard seeds

1/2 (half) tsp/2.5ml cumin seeds

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 small green chillies, finely chopped

1 tsp/5ml turmeric powder

2 cups/1/2 litre water

1 cup/240ml finely chopped dill

3 cloves garlic, crushed

salt to taste

  1. Soak the dahl in water for 20-30 minutes. Then rinse well.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan on a medium heat and add the mustard seeds. They will begin to crackle almost immediately. Add the cumin seeds followed by the onions. Mix well and let them cook for 2 minutes before adding the chillies and cooking for a further 2 minutes.
  3. Drain and rinse the presoaked moong dal and add to the pan along with the turmeric powder. Add the water and mix well together. Cover and allow the dal to cook for 10-15 minutes or until it is fully cooked and softened. Be careful not to burn the dal and add more water if necessary.
  4. Add the dill, garlic and salt to taste. Cook covered for another 5-10 minutes
  5. Serve hot with rice or puris/lunchi or simple in a bowl on its own. Divine.

If you are making it earlier in the day to eat later you may find you need to add a little water when reheating it. 

 

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Roasted Sweet Potato, Garlic and Smoked Paprika Soup

So hands up if you are as addicted to soup as me? I could, and almost do, have a bowl most days. Indian dal is very like soup and I often make one up for lunch – my red split lentil dal is a fav – see here.

Today however I wanted to show you my roasted sweet potato, garlic and smoked paprika soup. Anything roasted has that wonderful smokey flavour that is so addictively satisfying. This soup will warm the belly and soul with one spoonful (or preferably a whole bowl). The snow provided such a good backdrop the other day that I ran outside to take this shot. When I came to eating the soup later in the day I realised it was far too thick so I added more liquid. How thick or soupy you like your soup is up to you but just add the stock a little at a time until you have reached your desired consistency.

The whole family will love it and it involves minimum fuss so win win.

 

 

Roasted Sweet Potato, Garlic and Smoked Paprika Soup

5 sweet potatoes, cleaned and chopped into cubes (skin on)

1 whole garlic bulb

1 heaped tsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, roughly chopped

1 tbsp butter

2 stalks of rosemary, leaves only, stalk removed

1 tsp salt, to taste

pepper, to taste

1- 1.5 pint of vegetable stock, add more if you refer a less thick soup

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees.
  2. On a baking tray place the cubed sweet potatoes and add the olive oil and smoked paprika and mix together so that the sweet potatoes are nicely covered. Add the whole garlic. Place in the oven for 40 minutes or until the sweet potato has softened.
  3. Meanwhile in a large casserole pan add the butter and a splash of olive oil and gently fry the red onion and rosemary for 7 minutes so that it has nicely softened.
  4. Remove the garlic cloves from the bulb, which will be all soft and gooey at this stage. Add them and the sweet potato to the main casserole pan and add seasoning and the vegetable stock.
  5. Using a hand whisk, blend until smooth. Add more boiling water/stock depending on how you like your soup consistency. I actually added a lot more water after this photo (above) was taken as it was too thick initially.
  6. Serve piping hot with some crunchy bread on the side. If you want to add a topping you could add a dollop of creme fraiche with a sprinkling of smoked paprika on top,  a little extra virgin olive oil or perhaps some roasted pine nuts.

If you try making this soup please post a photo on instagram and use the #soupmeuptoday so that I can see it.

 

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Thai Jungle Curry and Review of “Mae’s Ancient Thai Food” by Carole Mason and Ning Najpinij

I bought a new exciting cookbook recently all about Thai heritage cooking called “Mae’s Ancient Thai Food” by Carole Mason and Ning Najpint. Bold, bright and bursting with a wonderful range of recipes that you actually want to cook straight away.  The book is an ode to Ning’s mother – Kobkaew – who sadly passed away, but was a known figure in the culinary world both in Thailand, and more globally. Her recipes and articles appeared in a number of magazines including: Vogue USA, Australian Gourmet, Tatler, as well as David Thompson’s books, “Thai Food” and “Thai Street Food”. It seemed a fitting tribute therefore for Carole, her protege and friend, and daughter – Ning, to create a beautiful cookbook dedicated to Kobkaew – known affectionately as ‘Mae’ (mother) to both her daughter and her beloved students.

Thai cooking does require a little forward thinking to get the fresh ingredients. One ingredient that is as ubiquitous in Thailand and Thai cooking as onions are to British fare, is coriander root. The bad news folks is that hard to track down, although not impossible in the UK.  Carole is trying to spread the word that this needs to change so that second and third generation Thais living in the UK, and those who are passionate about Thai cooking, don’t lose touch and knowledge of heritage Thai cuisine. She has even placed “we love coriander root” on the front of the book itself to signal its importance in Thai cooking. If larger supermarkets could start stocking it, and we all start using it, her campaign will be achieved. In the meantime if you can’t track it down  you could use a good handful of coriander stalks and leaves to create the colour and then add a teaspoon of coriander root powder, which is easier to source in the UK.

Other than the obvious ingredients, who will have to go to an Oriental supermarket to source some things or go online to the suppliers that Carole outlines in her book. She clearly explains techniques and explanation of the various Thai ingredients you may not be familiar with. The chapters are then split into: curries,  soups (including hangover cures), salads, seafood, dips, nibbles and canapés, vegetables, noodles and stir frys and desserts.

Jumping out at me is: Muu Parlow – Pork and Egg Soup, Gaeng Som – Prawn and Papaya curry, Gaenglean – Good Old Fashioned Soup, Nahm Prik Pao – Thai Chilli Jam (HELLO yes please), Yam Plate Too – Mackerel Salad, I could go on as they all sound so good.

 

So what type of person would this book suit?

Personally, I think anyone who loves cooking and trying out new recipes and does not flinch at the thought of sourcing a few ingredients will LOVE it. Those who want their meal on a plate with minimum effort and the thought of searching for a particular ingredient causes them to break out in a sweat, then perhaps this isn’t for them. I only own one other Thai cookbook so for me this book was screaming out at me to be bought. Oh yes, and you need to like chilli as chilli is definitely a cornerstone in Thai cooking.

Publishing a cookbook is never easy, especially when you self-publish, which is the route that Carole and Ning went down. It is an incredible achievement but now comes the equally hard work of spreading the word. So folks feel free to retweeted and forwarded this post (or photo on instagram) as much as possible. Blogging is an amazing community of wonderful folk,  so lets help ‘Mae’s Ancient Thai Food’ gets the notice it deserves. I bought the book myself and all my views are my own (as they always are) in case you are wondering.

So are you intrigued by what I cooked? ……

I went for “Gaeng Pah – Jungle Curry”. Packed full of flavour and zing, but no coconut milk. Now I will be honest that I did change some of the ingredients because if you can’t get hold of a particular ingredient then replace it with something similar, its not worth getting too stressed about.

So these are the changes I made:

I converted everything from cups to grams, cause that’s how I roll.

coriander root – I replaced with coriander stalks and a few leaves and coriander root powder

small green apple aubergine – I used one courgette, peeled in striped and cut at angles

snake beans – I used regular beans and also added sugar snaps (cause I love my green veg)

holy basil – I could not source it so used Thai basil

I added 1 tsp of caster sugar – you could also add palm sugar. Carole does not add either.

The recipe was a triumph and I think I went back for thirds. It feeds around 4 people.

First I made some fresh chicken stock – which is super straightforward:

Fresh Chicken Stock

4 chicken wings on the bone

10 white peppercorns

3 garlic cloves,

half an onion, peeled

a lump of ginger

if you live in a country that you can get hold of coriander root or Chinese celery pop them in

bay leaf

  1. Simply cover the wings with water and an extra 3 inches of water on top and bring to the boil and simmer for 30 mins.
  2. Strain the stock and remove the flesh from the chicken wings and keep for another time. I also keep the garlic too. Discard the rest.
  3. Either use of freeze the stock.

 

Gaeng Pah – Jungle Curry

Serves 4

Jungle Curry Paste

10 small green Thai chillies

a pinch of salt

1 coriander root OR a handful of coriander root and leaves and 1 tsp of coriander root powder

2 whole lemongrass, finely chopped

1 shallot, finely sliced

1 tbsp galangal, sliced

3 garlic cloves, sliced

1 tsp coriander seeds dry roasted and ground

10 white peppercorns

1 tsp of shrimp paste

  1. To save time, although not authentic (sorry Carole) I popped all the ingredients into my little mini blender, added a couple of tablespoons of water and blended together. If you have time however using a pestle and mortar will give you a better, more authentic paste. Carole has laid out the steps to do this properly – in short – hardest ingredients first one at a time until they make a paste before moving onto the next. Add the dried ingredients last and the shrimp paste. Pound until smooth.

Other Ingredients

1 batch of jungle curry paste (as above)

3 tbsp of vegetable/rapeseed oil

300g chicken sliced diagonally (I used thigh, but use breast if you prefer or you could use white fish)

1 tbsp fish sauce

750ml chicken stock (or fish stock if you are going down the fish route)

1 courgette, peeled to create stripes and cut into diagonally strips

100g green beans, cut in half

100g sugar snap peas

1x227g tin of bamboo shoots (drained weight 140g)

1 tbsp grachai, peeled and shredded (I had never used this but my local Thai grocer had it so was able to use it. Finger shape and size but with a similar skin to ginger or turmeric.

5 young green peppercorn strips, washed and left whole

5 kaffir lime leaves, de-veined and torn

 

a handful of thai basil leaves, washed and stalked removed

1 lime, quartered to serve

2 red chillies, cut into fine strips to decorate to serve

 

  1. First make the paste above.
  2. Next heat the oil in a pan and add the curry paste, stirring gently to let the aromas develop.
  3. Add the chicken (or fish) and stir into the paste.
  4. Heat the stock and add it to the pan and bring to a rolling boil for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the courgettes, beans, sugar snaps, bamboo shoots and after a couple of minutes add the grachai, green peppercorns, kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil.
  6. Taste and add more fish sauce. I added a little caster sugar, but you may find you don’t need to.
  7. Serve with a quarter of fresh lime per serving and some fresh red chilli strips.

I ate mine with a bowl of rice.

You can buy Carole and Ning’s book  here or if you are based in London it is now stocked at the heavenly bookshop “Books For Cooks” in Notting Hill.

 

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Cambodia, VB6 and a review of “My Vegan Travels” by Jackie Kearney

Sunset in Kep, Cambodia

Happy New Year everyone. As you’ve probably gathered from my lack of posts I have been off the grid for a few weeks, which has been bliss – although I was still posting on instagram so do check out my feed if you are interested. My family decided to cheat winter for a few weeks and headed off to Cambodia to see the ancient ruins, visit the capital and then head south to laidback Kep – which was once where the Cambodian royals and wealthy would head to relax and enjoy themselves; before the Khmer Rouge destroyed much of the town.

Angkor Wat Temple complex

Back in London and it has all been a bit of a shock with the cold, blistery weather and getting dark so early in the day. I reluctantly packed away my flip flops and got out my winter boots. January is a funny old month. We all start with such good intentions.

Most friends seem to be attempting a “dry January” and “veganuary” has now been thrown into the mix. Read more about it here if the term is new to you.

Sacred prays in Angkor Wat complex

I can get my head around being more vegetarian, or at least a diet which has a heavy vegetable focus, but vegan……now that involves a lot of thought and planning. Whilst I was pondering veganuary, I read about a rather interesting “diet” or let’s just say “way of life” which, in my view, seemed more attainable and realistic. There is a lot of chat about it in the media at the moment. It is called the VB6 diet. Now don’t get me wrong I do not follow diets and have never been on one, but this VB6 caught my attention.

Lotus flower arrangement in Siem Reap

The diet was given life by New York Times’ lead food writer Mark Bittman and literally means “Vegan Before 6pm”. I am increasingly convinced we all need to eat more vegetables and fruit and less meat and fish. Like Mark however, I am not going to become vegan anytime soon, but a swing of the pendulum towards more of a plant based diet is definitely attractive on many levels. I would prefer to eat meat and fish less often but the quality of what I eat to be high and ultimately know exactly where the produce has come from. By eating it less frequently does allow us to buy better quality meat and fish when we do actually buy it.

Drying out fish on the shores of Tonle Sap – the 4th largest freshwater source of fish in the world

The VB6 diet came about when Mark was told by his doctor that he was overweight, his cholesterol and blood sugar were too high and that intervention by surgery was one possible option. He discussed these findings with another doctor who suggested that becoming vegan was another way that could help him. Knowing that becoming a true vegan was out of the question he decided to adapt and become vegan throughout the day but in the evening from 6pm he could eat what he wanted. It made a lot of sense as he could be sociable in the evening with friends and eat how he always has done. He is also really realistic that sometimes he may deviates from the plan and he readily admits he has milk in his coffee in the morning, but for the most part he continues to be vegan in the day time.

A shrine in Phnom Penh

So has it worked?

Absolutely. He has lost a good amount of weight – 36 pounds then gained a little to plateau to around losing 26 pounds. The diet seems sensible and also not really very restrictive in the grand scheme of things. He talks to the Huffington Post here about the diet. Have a read, it’s really interesting. I definitely plan to pick up a copy of his book and see what he has to say in more detail. You can order it here if you are interested.

Buddhist shrine in Angkor Wat

Which brings me to a rather lovely book that was recently sent to me, called “My Vegan Travels – Comfort Food Inspired by Adventure” by Jackie Kearney. I don’t own a vegan cookery book so was not too sure on what to expect. What I discovered is a hugely informative book with recipes that actually sound and look (if the five photos below are anything to go by) delicious.

Photography credit above: Clare Winfield, published by Ryland Peters & Small

At first glance there did seem to be quite a number of ingredients in each recipe but that has never phased me. If you are someone who likes 5 ingredients, then this book is probably not for you. For anyone who has a keen interest in cooking and a willingness to try something new then you will love it. The chapters are slit into “No Place Like Home”, “European Summers”, “Asian Comfort” and “Americana”. I obviously gravitated to the “Asian Comfort”.

I think that to become full-time vegan does involve a commitment to actually stock your pantry/cupboard/fridge very differently. Leafing though the pages I found a couple of Cambodian recipes. Again I never come across Cambodian recipes so both of them really appealed to me. I opted on one though which I think is a real January mood-pick-me-up. It’s called “Num Banh Chok” – a Cambodian yellow curry with rice noodles and I cannot tell you how AWESOME this recipe is. I gave it to my father-in-law who has been recovering from a bout of flue and he couldn’t stop saying how delicious it was. It is now firmly part of my culinary arsenal and I will be cooking it again and again hence forth. I LOVED it.

I thought that the recipe tied in so well with this post and me having just come back from beautiful Cambodia, as well as the VB6 article, which I had been mulling over.

Now a couple of things to note. I made one change –  I added fried tofu instead of banana flower. I do love banana flower but it is tricky to find, certainly if you live outside London or not near any Vietnamese grocers. I thought it wasn’t very realistic for others to find if I found it tricky. Secondly, the vegetable with holes in it is called “lotus root”. I admit lotus root is also not that easy to find. My usual Asian grocers did not have it so they sent me off to a Chinese grocers that did. So folks aim for Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese/Japanese grocers near you. It is not stocked in your local supermarket. You can buy it online at places like Amazon and Fresh Oriental – here. You can also buy it frozen, but fresh is best if you can locate it. Galangal is not as hard to find, but again you may need to head to your South East Asian grocer.

Once you have the ingredients the recipe is a piece of cake to make. Do try it and let me know. If this recipe is anything to go by I can’t wait to try making the other Cambodian recipe “Khmer croquettes” (photo below) very soon. Don’t they look temptingly moreish.

Photography credit above: Clare Winfield, published by Ryland Peters & Small

Cambodian Yellow Curry with Rice Noodles

adapted from “My Vegan Travels” by Jackie Kearney, published by Ryland, Peters & Small

Serves 4

(1/2= half)

To make the Spice Paste

2 6cm/2 inch thumbs of fresh turmeric (or 1 1/2 tsp powdered)

1/2 tsp paprika

4 garlic cloves

5cm/2 inch thumb of ginger

5cm/2 inch thumb of galangal

4-6 dried red chillies, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes

1 small red onion

2 lemongrass stalks, ends trimmed and outer layer removed

10 kaffir lime leaves

 

To make the curry

2 tbs coconut/vegetable oil

900ml/4 cups vegetable stock or water, plus extra if needed

2-3 tbs vegan fish sauce or light soy sauce

1 tbs agave syrup or brown sugar

200g/7oz lotus root, peeled and cut into thick slices (or use cauliflower florets(

1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

150g green or runner beans, trimmed

400ml/14 oz can of coconut milk

1-2 rock salt, to taste

100g/3 1/2oz Chinese leaf, roughly torn ( I used choi sum, but chard, beet leaves also works)

100g fried tofu cubes (I picked this up at Hoo Hing)

 

To serve

1 packet of thin rice thread noodles, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes

drizzle of chilli oil/chilli (optional)

50g/1/2 cup of roasted peanuts, roughly chopped (optional)

 

  1. First place your rice noodles in a bowl and cover with hot water and leave whilst you get on with making the dish.
  2. New place all the spice paste ingredients in a blender/food processor and blitz until smooth. Easy hey.
  3. In a large non stick pan/wok, heat the oil and fry the curry paste.
  4. Add the stock/water, vegan fish sauce/light soy sauce and agave nectar/brown sugar and bring to the boil then add the lotus root and squash and simmer for around 8 minutes.
  5. Then add the green/runner beans and simmer for another couple of minutes before adding the coconut milk and more stock if needed; it should be a soupy consistency.
  6. Salt to taste and bring back to the boil. Make sure the butternut squash is soft. The lotus root will not be as soft!
  7. Stir in the choi sum and then remove from the heat, allowing it to wilt completely.
  8. Drain the rice noodles from the water. They should be soft and ready to eat.
  9. Place in a bowl and ladle the curry broth on top. Sprinkle with peanuts and chilli oil if necessary.

More instalments from Cambodia next week.

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Indian Chana Dal – Sweet and Salty

As some of you may know I am a BIG dal fan. Huge in fact, I love the stuff, and I am always trying to convert the uninitiated. Dal is an Indian lentil soup, or porridge of sorts, that can vary in consistency depending on personal preference. There are so many varieties, using a wide range of lentils, that there is at least one to appeal to every palate. For the most part (some need soaking) they are quick and very easy to make. Once you have bought a few staple ingredients for your pantry, you will find that cooking dal is a very economical meal to cook and, for many in the Indian subcontinent, an essential source of inexpensive protein.

Chana dal, also known as cholar or yellow split lentil, is one of my personal favourites. It is absolutely delicious with delicate sweet undertones coming from the coconut and sultanas. I use desiccated coconut, however in India as coconuts are more readily available, they often use shavings of freshly fried coconut. I eat it for lunch or dinner, although out in India it is even served up for breakfast!

Unlike the red split lentil dal, which I spoke about in an earlier blog, you need to think a little ahead for this dal as the yellow split lentils need to soak for a number of hours. I always soak them over night, but if you check on the packet you will probably find that you can soak them in the morning and they will be ready to cook by the afternoon/evening.

Chana Dal

Serves 4-6

300g of chana dal, soak overnight

1 tbsp of oil

1 tsp panch phoron

3 bay leaves

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp chilli powder (more if you prefer it hot)

sultanas, handful

1 tsp of ghee/butter (optional)

1 tsp of sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp of desiccated coconut

  1. Before cooking soak the lentils overnight ideally or at least for a few hours.
  2. After soaking, remove the water and refresh with more water. Boil on a low heat, until soft, approx. 20 mins (45mins + if not soaked). You will know they are soft when you are able to squeeze them easily between your fore finger and thumb. If they are still a little hard, leave them to boil for longer.
  3. In a new pan heat a tablespoon of oil on a low heat. Add the panch phoron, bay leaves, turmeric, chilli powder, sultanas, salt and sugar.
  4. Move around the pan for 20 seconds max, so that it does not burn, and add a couple of spoonfuls of chana dal and stir into the pan. Then transfer all of the contents of the pan into the original pan. Add more salt if necessary.
  5. Add the ghee/butter if using. Sprinkle the desiccated coconut over the top of the dal and let it simmer for a few minutes.

Other additions to this dal is to add fresh green or dried red chillies instead of curry powder. If you have fresh coconut to hand then thinly slice it into pieces (no more than a handful) and bronze initially in a little ghee, remove and place to one side. Scatter on top at the end instead of the desiccated coconut.

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Spinach Soup with Lemon and Garlic Crumbs – Book Review of ‘The Flexible Vegetarian’ by Jo Pratt

A really lovely looking cookbook landed on my door step recently. The Flexible Vegetarian by Jo Pratt is a beautiful compilation of recipes to inspire us all along vegetarian lines whether you want a purely vegetarian meal or perhaps you want to adapt it to be more meat/fish friendly.

The cover is simple and effective with a handprinted aubergine on the front. Pretty adorable don’t you agree? ‘Flexible’, because it will appeal to everyone whether you eat meat and fish or not.  Whilst all the recipes are vegetarian there is a section at the bottom of the recipe giving you an alternative to include meat/fish.  For example, one recipe that jumped out of the page at me was the ‘fennel, pumpkin and green olive tagine’ – I mean how delicious does that sound? If you follow the ‘flexible’ option then she tells you what to do to make it a chicken tagine. So simple and yet rather effective. There are some really lovely sounding recipes ‘aromatic tea-smoked mushroom ramen’, ‘courgette fritti with goat’s cheese and truffle honey’, ‘aubergine and green been laksa’, ‘Turkish pie with spinach and aubergine’ to name a few. The recipes all look very easy to follow and are perfect for lunches or dinners.

Photography by Susan Bell from The Flexible Vegetarian by Jo Pratt, published by Frances Lincoln
Photography by Susan Bell from The Flexible Vegetarian by Jo Pratt, published by Frances Lincoln

I was craving greens so was drawn to the spinach soup. I am big fan of all green vegetables and when I initially saw it it reminded me of my Forentine Lemongrass  Soup that I put up on my blog when I started it over 6 year ago (excuse the dodgy photos back then) and my wild garlic, courgette and lemon soup with poached egg and crispy panko breadcrumbs I think the similarities probably start and end with the same colour. Anyway Jo’s spinach soup looked a perfect way to give my body a good dose of healthiness in one sitting. I like the fact that the crumb combined parmesan, crispy breadcrumbs, garlic and lemon zest – a bit of zing, salt and crunch rolled into one. YUM.

It took minutes to whizz together and provided a most satisfying lunch, but would  work equally well as a starter. Her ‘flexible’ option was to combine anchovy fillets to the crumb, giving the soup a more salty depth.

 

Spinach Soup with Lemon and Garlic Crumbs (By Jo Pratt from ‘The Flexible Vegetarian’

Serves 6-8

40g butter

1 leek sliced

1 bunch of spring onions (scallions), chopped

1 stick celery, finely sliced

1 medium potato, peeled and sliced

1 bay leaf

1 litre vegetable stock

500g fresh spinach leaves

flaked sea salt and freshly group black pepper

to serve

1 tsp of  creme fraiche per serving, optional

 

For the crumbs

2 dry/stale piece white bread, whizzed in a food processor to create crumbs

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

olive oil

25g finely grated parmesan cheese

 

  1. Heat the butter in a pan and gently sauté the leek, spring onion, celery, potato and bay leaf for a few minutes and then place a lid on the pan to allow to sweat and soften  for 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times to prevent sticking at the bottom of the pan.
  2. Pour in the stock and continue to simmer for a further 5 minutes so that the potato has softened.
  3. Remove the bay leaf and then add the spinach and gently stir.
  4. Using a hand blender blitz until smooth and vivid green. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary.
  5. In a frying pan add a glug of oil and then fry the crumbs so that they crisp slightly. Remove from the pan and mix with the lemon zest, parmesan and a little salt and pepper if required.
  6. Serve the soup in bowls with a scattering of crispy crumb mix and a dollop of creme fraiche if using.

The Flexible Vegetarian by Jo Pratt you can order here. It is published by Frances Lincoln.

 

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Chilled Delicately Spiced Watermelon Soup

It’s a sweltering 31 degrees today here in London, hotter than LA, Dallas and Bahamas and New York. I’m not complaining, although if I’m honest I wish we had a sea breeze keeping us cool, wouldn’t that be just perfect.  Thankfully I picked up a giant watermelon over the weekend (my pal took half as it was SO gigantic) so have been eating it in all manner of guises ever since.

As well as being so visually stunning watermelon is perfect for hot weather, due to its largely watery, cooling consistency. I wanted to make a savoury chilled soup that was delicately spiced and balanced sweet and savoury, not just sweet. I think I have managed it so would love you to try my recipe. Eat it as you would a chilled gazpacho, although the flavour of this is very different from anything you have probably tried before. It has sweet tones of course but has savoury notes coming from the fresh curry leaves, tomatoes, cumin seeds and hing/asafoetida. I’d love to hear what you think so please leave a message below in the comments box.

 

Chilled Spiced Watermelon Soup 

Serves 4

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

pinch of hing/asafoetida

10 fresh curry leaves

1 small birds eye green chilli, roughly chopped and deseeded

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1.4kg fresh watermelon, deseeded and chopped into small pieces

3 medium sized tomatoes

1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

pinch of hing/asafoetida

10 fresh curry leaves

salt to taste

 

  1. First prepare all your ingredients and make sure they are chopped and ready to use.
  2. Heat a pan with the oil and when it is hot add the cumin seeds, the hing/asafoetida and the fresh curry leaves and move around the pan for 20 seconds, allowing the flavours to be released.
  3. Now add the garlic and after a couple of minutes add the ginger and tomatoes.
  4. Finally add the watermelon and a little salt. Allow to simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes.
  5. Using a hand blender blend the ingredients of the pan so the liquid is smooth.
  6. Using a colander strain all the liquid so that a lighter consistency liquid is released and any tomato skins, seeds etc are caught in the colander. Taste and season further with salt as necessary.
  7. Allow to cool and place in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  8. It will last for a couple of days in the fridge no problem.

 

As an idea you could add a feta crumb of fresh mint flakes on the top of each serving, but I preferred to eat it as is this time.

 

 


Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup with Ginger and Chilli – The Brother Hubbard Cookbook

 

Last weekend I jetted over to Ireland to visit the Ballymaloe Food and Drink Literary Festival, which was a whirlwind of eating, talks, demonstrations, foraging forays (now just try to say that quickly!), and talking to A LOT of other kindred spirits who are all passionate about food in some capacity.

One talk I booked myself into was given by Garrett and James who set up ‘The Brother Hubbard’ cafe x2 in Dublin. I’ll be honest with you – I’d never heard of it or them, but I always like to hear how people start their journey into food, so thought it would be interesting to attend. I also rather liked the title of the book. It sounded intriguing.

Their one hour talk was utterly engaging and I loved the way that they embarked on some serious world travels – after the 3 month intensive course at Ballymaloe Cookery School –  in order to gain first hand food and cusine knowledge and experience, even spending time in Syria (prior to the troubles today). After a spell in Australia working in cafes to gain yet more experience they returned home to Dublin to open up their very own cafe, with a leaning on Levantine and Southern Mediterranean cuisine. It takes a brave person to give up their nice, ‘safe’ careers with pensions and all the perks to follow their passion.

It has clearly all paid off as 5 years later they have 2 cafes, one of which is about to expand threefold and 65 staff. I did not go into their talk thinking that I would necessarily buy their cookbook as I have so many, but after hearing their story and talking to them over the weekend, I thought I would be crazy not to purchase it as it is packed full of fabulous sounding recipes, using a myriad of herbs and spices. Clearly a no-brainer for me.

I also love the fact that the photos and pages are matt finish, that they have 4 yellow ribbon bookmarks – how cool is that. Publishers seriously think about doing this in other cookbooks as it is so handy to have more than one. It doesn’t have loads of photos, but the narrative is engaging that for once I don’t mind so much that there is not a photo with almost every recipe.

It’s been so hot this week – blissfully hot – that eating outside with a glass of rose has been a must. Before you ask why on earth am I showing you a soup recipe in the sweltering heat, let me just say that hot soup and drinks actually cools you down in the heat. In India I am always having a hot soup even in the heat. Give this recipe a whirl as it is a real keeper. You can also purchase the book online and at all good bookshops.

Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup with Ginger and Chilli

Recipe from ‘The Brother Hubbard Cookbook’

Serves 4 (as a substantial lunch)

1kg butternut squash, skin kept on, scoop out the seeds and dice

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

2 tbsp olive oil

250g onions (2-3), diced

250g celery, diced

6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped

30g fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 kg boiling water

1x400ml tin of coconut milk

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1-2 limes, juice only

fresh coriander to serve

toasted coconut flakes to serve

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Place the diced butternut squash in a large bowl. Add the oil and then sprinkle with cumin and coriander powder. Mix in well with your hands. Turn out onto a baking tray.
  2. Roast the butternut squash for 25 minutes. You want them to be soft but not very brown as it will discolour the soup.
  3. If serving with coconut flakes, use a frying pan to bronze them for a few minutes. You need to move them around constantly and do not add any oil. Place to one side.
  4. Meanwhile in a large pan add the olive oil and sweat the onions, celery and garlic. To do this simply cut a piece of baking paper and place directly over the vegetables. It does not need to be neat or perfect fitting. Place the lid on the pan. Every 5 minutes, stir the vegetables and then replace the baking paper. After 10 minutes, add the chilli and ginger and continue to sweat the vegetables for a further 5 minutes. Make sure that the ginger and chilli do not brown on the bottom.
  5. Now add the squash, which is now soft and add the boiling water, coconut milk, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat for 10 minutes.
  6. Using a hand blender blend all the ingredients until super smooth. Adjust the seasoning and add the lime juice.
  7. Before serving add the fresh coriander and toasted coconut flakes. If you fancy you could also add a slice of red chilli.

 

 


Fish Medley Chowder

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Pick up a paper or food magazine and the big topic for January always tends to be how to detox and various diets to go on to help shift the excesses of the Christmas season. We all start with good intentions but as the weeks of January roll into February the new exercise class or diet doesn’t seem to hold the same appeal in quite the same way.

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I tend to follow the old adage ‘everything in moderation’ and in January and February I do try to eat less meat, eat a lot of vegetables – especially greens, have a few vegetarian days per week and eat lots of fish. Exercise is important all year around and whilst I have been a little slack on this of late, other than great long walks over the Christmas hols most days, I will gradually get into it again once my daughters go back to school.

As I am still without a fridge  – the process of replacing my old (10 month old) one with AEG is painful to say the least, I have had to be well organised when it comes to feeding the troops. Thankfully my freezer – which is separate to the fridge – is working well and has been keeping us going with frozen fish.

For todays blog post I am going to share my fish medley chowder which is healthy, filling and a one pot meal to feed the family. They all love it and give it a big thumbs up.  I picked up a fresh fish mix – which is perfect for fish pie – in waitrose, which included Atlantic cod, smoked haddock and Atlantic salmon. It’s been sitting in the freezer ready for when I need to thaw it and cook. The fish was already cut to size so there really was minimum effort on my part. Give it a whirl. It is hassle free and whilst it is effectively a soup is substantial enough to be a whole meal.

Happy New Year to you all. I hope to put up lots of inspiring recipes over the course of this year for you all. Here is to happy, healthy eating.

Fish Medley Chowder

1 good slice of butter

1 leek

1 onion

small bunch of fresh thyme kept whole

2 bay leaves

1 large potato/2 medium size, cut into bite sized cubes

salt and pepper to taste

800ml milk

1 vegetable/fish stock cube

100ml boiling water

sweetcorn from one corn on the cob (frozen sweetcorn is also fine)

500g cubed smoked haddock, salmon, cod

handful of fresh flat leaf parsley

  1. Place the butter in the pan – I find my Le Creuset casserole pan works well – and when it is melted add the leeks, onions, thyme and bay leaves.
  2. After 4 minutes or so the leeks and onions will have softened and become more transparent. Add the cubed potato and a little salt and pepper to the pan.
  3. After a further couple of minutes add 500ml of milk along with the vegetable/fish stock cube and the boiling water.
  4. Cut the sweetcorn off the cob and add to the pan – frozen is fine, in which case throw in a couple of handfuls.
  5. Allow to simmer gently on a low heat for 10 minutes or until the potato has softened. Add the extra milk gradually over this time.
  6. Add the fish cubes to the pan. Do not move around the pan too much as you do not want them to break. Simmer gently for 8-10 minutes by which time the fish will be nicely cooked. Taste and season further if necessary.
  7. Remove the bay leaves and fresh thyme bunch from the pan before serving.
  8. Serve in deep bowls with fresh parsley scattered on top.

 

 

 


Tuscan White Bean Soup

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Many years ago we arrived in Tuscany at the dead of night to our rented farmhouse, which was nestled on its own down a very long track. We were tired and hungry and when we stumbled in we found a note scribbled on a piece of paper alluding to some supper on the stove. Wandering over to the hob we found a white bean soup waiting for us. It was hearty and warming with garlic and tomato undertones. I suppose it wasn’t dissimilar to a grown-ups version of baked beans.

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It was exactly the kind of comfort food we craved after a day of travelling. I never managed to get the exact recipe but have tried to replicate it as best I could ever since. I think this version works pretty well. I tend to always opt for white beans in a glass jar – this variety works for me and I pick it up at a local middle eastern grocers near me. Sometimes I add rosemary and other times not.

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Bay leaves though are essential and add a lovely flavour to the soup. I also prefer to use fresh tomatoes, but if you are out, tinned will suffice. The trick is to put it on a low heat for 30-40 minutes if you can. You want the garlic to be completely soft and the liquid to have reduced a fair amount.

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With all the excess that December will bring I thought this soup was a good one to throw into the mix.

Tuscan White Bean Soup 

serves 4-6

2 tbsp olive oil

9 whole garlic cloves, peeled

2 bay leaves

650g fresh tomatoes, diced

2x400g jar of white beans

1 tsp tomato puree (optional)

300ml vegetable stock

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic cloves. Move around the pan for 30 seconds before adding the bay leaves and then add the fresh tomatoes.
  2. Allow the tomatoes to soften for a few minutes before adding the white beans.
  3. Add the vegetable stock, salt and pepper and leave on a low flame with the lid on, stirring from time to time.
  4. Remove the lid half way through cooking to allow the liquid to thicken. You can add more liquid if you prefer it more soupy. I tend to like mine thickish but still of soup consistency.
  5. When the garlic’s are soft and the liquid has been absorbed a little, turn off the heat and allow to rest.

This is great eaten the following day as well when the flavours have relaxed into one another.