Moroccan Giant Couscous Salad and a Mung Bean, Carrot and Feta Salad

IMG_8380

I had a few girlfriends over for lunch this week and thought it might be helpful to give you the low down on some of the things I prepared which allowed me to have a stress free time. Planning ahead is absolutely essential. There is nothing worse than having to fret over food last minute when all you really want to be doing is catching up with everyone. I tend to opt for large healthy salads and then prepare a hot soup of some sorts to warm the belly and soul.

IMG_8373

So first up was a mung bean, carrot and feta salad with cumin, caraway and fennel seeds. It requires some forward planning in that you need to soak the lentils overnight, but other than that it is very straightforward and ticks all the boxes for healthiness and importantly tastiness.

IMG_8388

Then I prepared my Vietnamese inspired salmon, cucumber, red onion and grapefruit salad with a mirin lime dressing. I posted it on my blog about a year ago. Check out the recipe here.

IMG_8390

Then I made one of my absolute favourite salads – a miso soy chicken with spinach, lentils, slow baked tomatoes, green  (you can use puy, beluga whatever takes your fancy) lentils and pine nuts. Recipe here. I opted to make my own slow baked tomatoes – you can find a recipe for them at the bottom of the post if you click here. Very easy to prepare and taste so delicious.

IMG_8389

To balance out the flavours, palate and colours I then prepared a Moroccan influenced salad of giant couscous, Moroccan spices, sultanas, pine nuts, fresh mint and pink lady apples. Recipe below.

IMG_8387

Excuse the rather hazy shot of the final ‘salad’, but I opted for shredded duck with pomegranate, spring onions, mint and coriander with a raspberry vinegar dressing. I posted the recipe here on my blog a while ago.

The hot soup that I prepared I completely forgot to take a photo of – so I will do a separate blog post on that another time – but it was a red lentil (I am slightly obsessed by these delicious little beauties), coconut milk and smoked paprika with a chilli oil and fresh coriander sprinkled on top.

Needless to say I cooked far too much of everything so will be eating tasty leftovers for the next few days!

IMG_8386

I’ll leave you with a pretty flower shot. I am so pleased that finally some of the wonderfully colourful and sweet smelling flowers are beginning to grace our florists.

Until next week folks…..

Moroccan Giant Couscous Salad

Serves 4-6

Inspired by a similar recipe from Red Magazine online

300g giant couscous

1 tbsp butter

50g sultanas

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp cinnamon powder

1/2 cumin powder

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 garlic, finely grated/chopped

2 tbsp toasted pine nuts

handful of fresh mint, chopped

zest of a lemon

1 red chilli, finely chopped (half if you prefer it less hot)

2 pink lady apples, diced and cored

1. Place the couscous in a pan and completely cover with boiling water. Simmer gently for 6-8 minutes so that the couscous is soft. Strain and run under the cold tap. Shake off the water as much as you can. Place to one side.

2. Using the same pan melt the butter and then add the sultanas so that they are completely coated in the melted butter.  Now add the ground cinnamon, cumin and smoked paprika and simmer for one minute and then place to one side.

3. Dice and core the apple (if serving at a later stage hold off on cutting up the apple until almost ready to serve as it will begin to bronze), deseed the chilli and finely chop. Finely chop the shallots and grate the ginger and garlic cloves.

4. In a mixing bowl add the couscous, the sultanas with all the spices and butter juice and mix together. Now add the shallots, ginger and garlic and continue to fold into the couscous.

5. Scatter the apple on top along with the mint and lemon zest and serve.

Leftovers can easily be stored in the fridge for a couple of days.

*******************

Mung Bean, Carrot and Feta Salad with Cumin, Caraway and Fennel Seeds

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe in ‘The Guardian’

Serves 4-6

300g dried green mung beans

1 tbsp chilli oil (or olive if you prefer to have less of a kick)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp caraway seeds

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

3 good sized carrots cut in to batons

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp sugar

150g feta, crumbled (not finely)

handful of freshly chopped coriander

1. Soak the dried mung beans overnight in water that completely covers them.

2. The following day, rinse them a couple of times in cold water and then place them in a pan and cover with boiling water. Simmer gently for 25-30 minutes to soften them but so they still retain a bit of a bite.

3. Drain and rinse through cold water and set to one side in a large bowl.

4. In a small pan add the chilli oil (or olive see above) and when hot add the seeds and allow them to start popping, which will take no longer than 30 seconds. Stir a couple of times and then transfer the seeds and oil into the large bowl with the drained mung beans.

5. Add the white wine vinegar, garlic, chilli flakes and stir in together.

6. In a separate large shallow pan lay the carrot batons and almost cover with cold water. Add one further spoonful of olive oil along with the sugar and salt. Simmer on a high heat for 7 minutes by which time the carrots will have soften and the water will have drastically reduced – drain any excess. The sugar will allow the carrots to slightly caramelise.

7. Add the carrots to the mung beans and stir in gently. Add more salt if necessary. Transfer to a serving platter and crumble with feta.

Again this stores well in the fridge for a couple of days.

IMG_8394


Hearty Venison Casserole with Star Anise, Nutmeg and Pink Peppercorns

IMG_7260

Our desire for comfort food begins to kick in around Autumn. For me this is a time to start cooking stews and casseroles – meals that are warming after a long walk in the fresh air. The game season is upon us so it is easy to pick up grouse, partridge, pheasant, snipe, rabbit and also venison. Game is extremely lean and surprising good value, so there tends not to be a week that goes by when my family do not eat some form of game over the Autumn/Winter months.  I’ll be putting up some more game recipes with a spiced twist over the coming weeks to give you some ideas on how to cook it.

IMG_7258

Unlike other game, venison doesn’t actually taste particularly ‘gamey’ and approximates beef. It is however far leaner and has more protein than any other red meat and is packed full of vitamin B’s.  So from a health perspective, it’s a great red meat to include in your diet. Now is the time to buy wild venison as they are are in good shape from their summer feeding, however, farmed venison is available year round.

IMG_7274

This recipe is a homegrown and has a delicious taste to it resonating from the star anise, nutmeg and pink peppercorns that work so well with the venison, mushrooms and red wine gravy. It’s different for sure but surprisingly works really well, so it has become a household staple recipe for us. Eaten warm,with crusty bread and a glass of red wine by a roaring fire, ok maybe I’m getting carried away but you get the picture, and you too will feel a warm happy glow as it nourishes your body. So try it and let me now what you think. If you have never tried venison before give it a go, you will be very pleasantly surprised by how good and lean it is. Just get those Bambi thoughts out of your head!

IMG_7286

Hearty Venison Casserole with Star Anise, Nutmeg and Pink Peppercorns

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter

3 star anise

2 onions, finely chopped

1kg venison, diced

3 carrots, chopped into 1 inch pieces

3 turnips, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1tsp heaped pink peppercorns and a few extra to garnish

175ml red wine (1 small glass)

175ml vegetable stock

200g mushrooms, quartered

crusty loaf, to serve

1. Place the olive oil and butter in a casserole pot. When it is hot add the star anise and after 20 seconds add the onions and lower the heat slightly so they do not burn.

2. When the onions have softened add the venison, carrots, turnips* nutmeg and pink peppercorns and give a good stir. Leave to brown for a few 5 minutes, stirring and turning the meat over at intervals.

3. Add the red wine and vegetable stock and turn the heat up for 10 minutes, before reducing the heat to a simmer for a further 40 minutes or until the carrots have softened and the venison is cooked. In the last ten minutes add the mushrooms and stir into the casserole.

4. Serve warm in bowls with an extra scattering of pink peppercorns, crusty bread on the side and a glass of red wine.

-The reason for adding 1 tbsp of butter is to help keep the venison moist. As it is such a lean meat without a little help from fat it will dry out!

*I have added turnip since I have made this version and I find it works really well. 

-You can also add potatoes to the pot if you want to avoid crusty bread.

-Best to avoid eating the thistle!


Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut-Lime Chicken

The past week or so has been very memorable here in the UK. The Olympics kicked off to an outstanding opening ceremony last friday, which made me laugh and marvel in equal measure. Ok, I’m biased, but I thought that it’s quirky, eccentric nature pretty much summed up us Brits. No amount of money spent on an opening ceremony, past or future, can trump the fact that Her Majesty gamely played herself with Mr Bond as part of the ceremony itself. How cool and even the non royalists out there must have had a sneeky smile on their faces. As for Mr Bean – what a great touch to include him as part of the ceremony; he was definitely one of the highlights.  It was fun, original and gamely humorous and had all of us glued to the TV screen for over three hours, wondering what Danny Boyle was going to bring out of the hat next. I think it is safe to say he is a ‘slam dunk’ for a knighthood in the coming months.

Since the Games begun I have been glued to the TV watching the swimming in particular. Mike Phelps gaining his 19th Olympic medal making him the greatest winner the Olympics has ever seen -truly remarkable. Also the spectacular performance of China’s Ye Shiwen, who, at 16 years of age, wins gold in the women’s individual medley.  It’s addictive viewing watching the world’s best athletes compete in such a wide variety of sports.  I’m going to see the men’s beach volleyball soon, which should be fun and a little surreal to watch in central London.

We’ve had some good sunny days recently, which always inspire me to cook fragrant Asian dishes that are not too heavy. This recipe I stumbled across really recently and it caught my attention as it was served cold and could almost be classed as an Asian noodle salad, of sorts. I’ve cooked it a few times already and I have to admit it’s really good. My number one fan (Big A – who is 6) gave it a definite 10/10.  It was originally posted in the New York Times, however, I found it on the hugely popular food bloggers site ‘Smitten Kitchen‘. As with all great recipes, Deb Perelman – from Smitten Kitchen, adapted hers from the original and I changed hers a little bit further. For example,  I omitted chilli, as I was feeding it to Big A, Little Z and my father who all don’t eat chilli. That said if I were feeding it to just adults (or chilli loving adults) I would definitely add the chilli (hence it has remained on the list of ingredients), I added only one large cucumber, added baby sweetcorn, slightly more rice noodles.

For the really observant amongst you, you will have noticed that I completely forgot to scatter the crushed roasted peanuts over the dish for all the photos. When I sat down and started eating the meal I remembered but clearly too late for the shots for this blog post !

Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut-Lime Chicken

Sourced from Smitten Kitchen, original recipe from David Tanis whose recipe appeared in The New York Times

Serves 6

Dipping Sauce

6 tbsp Asian fish sauce

6 tbsp brown sugar

12 tbsp lime juice

2 garlic cloves, crushed

small thai red or green chilli,  to taste but optional

Peanut Dressing

3 tbsp Asian fish sauce

3 tbsp rice vinegar

9 tbsp lime juice

3 tbsp of light soy sauce

1 1/2 (one and a half) inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

6 tbsp natual unsalted peanut butter (if you can’t find this just use regular)

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

pinch of cayenne

Chicken and Noodle Salad

3 tbsp toasted sesame oil

500g boneless skinless chicken thighs

250g dried rice noodles

1 large cucmber, cut in 1/4 inch half moons

2 carrots, cut in thin julienne

handful of baby sweetcorn, halved

handful of fresh mint and coriander (you could also add Thai basil)

4 spring onions, thinly sliced

handful of roasted peanuts, crushed

lime wedges to serve

1. Begin by making the ‘dipping sauce’. On a low heat, place all the ingredients into a pan and gently stir until the sugar has been properly dissolved – this will only take a few minutes. Place in a small serving bowl and allow to cool.

2. Next you need to make the ‘peanut dressing’. Place all the ingredients into a small food processor and puree all the ingredients so that you are left with a thick creamy sauce. Pour into a serving bowl.

3. In separate large bowl pour approximately half of the dipping sauce and a third of the peanut dressing and stir together. Add the chicken to the mixture and coat thoroughly using your hands. Leave to marinate for at least 15 minutes.

4. Once the chicken is marinated gently heat up a griddle pan and add a little toasted sesame oil and brown the chicken thoroughly on both sides, which will take a few minutes per side. I cook my in batches so that I can be sure that the chicken in properly cooked through. As an alternative you could grill the chicken for 20-25 minutes.

5. When the chicken is cooked, chop into bite sized pieces.

6. To serve there are a few alternatives that you can do –

option 1: Place everything on a large serving platter with the noodles, chicken, vegetables, dressing and marianade all separated out and then your guests/family can help themselves.

or

option 2: Divide the cooked noodles into individual bowls or plates. In a small bowl toss the vegetables with 1 tablespoon of dipping sauce. Place the vegetables and chicken onto each bowl/plate. Place a further 2 teaspoons of dipping sauce and dressing to each helping. Add the herbs, peanuts and spring onions to each bowl and serve.

Note: As an alternative to baby sweetcorn you could add fresh peppers which work equally well. 


Bavani’s Cinnamon and Ginger Dal (Parripu)

Very recently I was served this comforting and fragrant dal by my Sri Lankan friend, Bavani. It tasted so darn good that I immediately asked her what she put in her red split lentil dal and proceeded to cook it the following night for the toughest of critics….my husband AND father-in-law. Yes I am definitely keen and eager when I come across a good recipe! They both gave it a definite thumbs up and declared it was unlike all the other dals they eat on a regular basis.

Don’t get me wrong I love my red split lentil dal, but this one tastes so completely different that I will definitely be cooking it from time to time. It’s not a true Sri Lankan dal or parripu, as it is known in Sri Lanka, but instead Bavani’s version of lentil soup for the Western diet. A true Sri Lankan dal would contain turmeric, green chilli mustard seeds, curry leaves, curry powder etc, but I think Bavani’s alternative will definitely appeal to a wide audience. It has a gentle chilli kick and subtle cinnamon and ginger undertones, very different from my red split lentil dal which has turmeric and panch phoron.

Red split lentils are the easiest of all lentils to cook as they are cooked in 10 minutes and do not need any soaking first – so perfect for a quick meal when you are tired and exhausted after a manic day. They are also really cheap and most importantly – healthy, so perfect for the bank balance and general well-being.

Bavani’s Cinnamon and Ginger Dal (Parripu)

Serves 4

400g red split lentils

2 tbsp mustard oil (or vegetable if you don’t have mustard)

1 whole garlic bulb, peeled and sliced

1 thai red chilli, thinly sliced

2 cinnamon bark sticks

half tsp of asafoetida

1 tsp cumin powder

2 inch of fresh ginger thickly sliced

2 carrots, sliced into small cubes

1 tsp salt

fresh coriander, chopped to serve

1. Place the red split lentils in a pan and run under cold water and wash through thoroughly, using your hands, a couple of times. This is to clean the lentils before cooking them.

2. Place boiling water into the pan with the red split lentils so that there is a good inch of water above the lentils. During the course of the cooking you may need to add more boiling water if all the water has been soaked up or if you prefer the dal to be more soup like in consistency! The lentils should be cooked after ten minutes – if you place one lentil between your forefinger and thumb it should be soft to touch; the colour will also have lightened.

3. In a large separate saucepan/wok heat the mustard oil and add the garlic and red chilli and gently cook for a couple of minutes before adding the carrots, cinnamon bark, cumin powder, asafoetida and the fresh ginger. (You want to keep the ginger fairly thickly sliced so that they are easy to identify and scoop out before serving). On a low heat mix the ingredients together for roughly 6 minutes.

4. Transfer a large spoonful of the cooked red split lentil dal to the saucepan and mix together and then place all the ingredients BACK into the saucepan with the dal. Stir in throughly and add the salt – to taste.

5. Let the dal simmer for a further five minutes or until the carrots are completely soft. You may find you need to add a little more boiling water at this stage. It is not an exact science but more one of personal taste. Add a little water at a time as you can always add a little more if necessary.

 6. Before serving scoop out the fresh ginger and cinnamon bark. Serve with fresh coriander and eat either on its own, with rice or a chapati.

It also works really well accompanying Speedy Salmon Curry,  Goan Hot and Sour Pork Curry, Chicken Liver Curry, Goat Curry


Beat this Borscht

I hadn’t planned on posting this Borscht recipe on my blog. I’ve cooked Borscht numerous times in the past and it’s always been…well…..fine…but never really much more than that. I then found a new recipe in my soup bible called ‘500 Soup Recipes’, ok my secret’s out, I AM A BIG SOUP FAN, but those who follow me I think you kind of already new that, right?

Anyway, this Borscht recipe is different from all the other Borscht recipes I’ve cooked in the past, namely that it is not smooth. Instead the beetroot are cut into thick strips, rather like chips in fact, along with the carrots and celery and because of this and the muslin bag full of herbs and spices, gives the soup an added dimension that really makes it a winner. I have followed the recipe loosely but the end result got the definite thumbs up from both myself and Mr B.

Beetroot is easy to find at this time of year and since I had just over half a dozen in my fridge that were beginning to look a little bit sorry for themselves, I decided to dedicate a recipe solely to them, well almost solely! The colour is a brilliant deep crimson and stains like crazy, so unless you like living on the edge, definitely don’t wear white when eating or cooking this dish.

As its January Mr B and I are on a bit of a health drive so we didn’t bother with the sour cream, with scattered dill or chives on top. It would have probably made a prettier photograph, but hey my waist line is thanking me for it.

Give it a try and please let me know how you get on, I’d love to hear what you think. Do you prefer it to the smooth variety that is more ubiquitous?

Borscht

Adapted from 500 Soup Recipes by Tim Smart and Bridget Jones

Serves 4-6

7 medium/small uncooked beetroot, peeled

2 carrots, peeled

2 celery sticks

2 tbsp butter

2 onions, sliced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

4 tomatoes, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 large handful of fresh parsley

2 cloves

4 whole peppercorns

2 pints of vegetable stock

75 ml cider vinegar, or to taste

sugar, to taste

salt and pepper, to taste

1 muslin

1. Peel the beetroot and carrots and cut into fairly thick strips. Also cut the celery into bit sized pieces. Heat the butter in a large pan and when it is melted add the sliced onion and stir on a low heat for 5 minutes.

2. Now add the beetroot, carrots and celery and cook for a further 5 minutes before adding the garlic and chopped tomatoes. Stir into the other vegetables and leave to simmer for a further 2 minutes.

3. Using a large piece of muslin, place the bay leaf, fresh parsley, cloves and peppercorns into the centre and tie the four corners together with a piece of string. Place the muslin  into the pan with the end of the four corners sticking out over the top of the pan slightly. Add the stock and make sure that all the vegetables and muslin pouch are submerged as much as possible. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 1 hour 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

4. Discard the muslin pouch and add the cider vinegar. Pour in a little at a time and taste so that it creates the right balance of sweet and sour. Add a sprinkling of sugar if necessary. Season, stir and then ladle into bowls. Add a dollop of sour cream on top with either dill or chives.


Carrot and Walnut Muffins in the most adorable cases

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I was strolling around Gastown, the almost gentrified area of downtown Vancouver, I ambled into a rather delightful home interiors store called Orling & Wu. A treasure trove of throws, cushions, lamp shades, wallpapers and candles, clearly artfully chosen by its two owners. Within the store I came across the most stunning selection of muffin case designs that I have ever seen. They were utterly gorgeous and the type of cases that inspire you to throw a tea party in order to show them off, they certainly deserve the attention.

IMG_0193

On closer inspection I learned that the cases were sourced closer to home – in Sweden of all places. The company Kala:s far:m designs and creates these little gem muffin, cake and cupcake cases. In each delicately boxed case there is a recipe – what an ingenious idea – and in mine was carrot muffins, which I thought I would share with you. I’ve altered it slightly, so below you will find my version. I don’t have a sweet tooth at all, but these muffins taste really good and deliciously moist, I may even be converted.

Carrot and Walnut Muffins

Fills 20 cases

300g/12 oz granulated white sugar

200ml olive oil

3 eggs

3 carrots, grated

250g/10 oz self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

50g/2 oz walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees centigrade.

2. Beat the sugar and oil in a mixing bowl and then add the eggs.

3. Grate 3 carrots and add these to the mixture.

4. Mix the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, almost all the walnuts (save a few if you are going to do some butter cream on the top) and salt and stir into the egg and sugar mixture.

Carrot and Walnut Muffins

5. Carefully spoon the mixture into the muffin cups so that just over half the muffin cup is full. If you fill them to the top they will spill over the sides when they are in the oven.

6. Place in the oven for 15-17 minutes at 150 degrees centigrade and then leave to cool prior to putting any butter cream on top.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Butter cream

I tend to leave some of my muffins butter cream free as I know some people prefer them without a topping so the proportion below will cover about half of the muffins. Do double quantities if you want to cover all of them.

75g/3 oz unsalted butter

175g/7 oz icing sugar

a few drops of warm water

1. Take the butter out of the fridge when you begin to make the muffins themselves, so that it softens.

2. Beat the butter and icing sugar until fluffy. To save time I used an electric mixer but good old fashioned arm power will work equally well. If you need to soften the icing then add a few drops of warm water.

3. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4. Enjoy !