Soba Noodles with Tofu, Aubergine and Mango – it’s totally addictive BEWARE!

It’s always a joy cooking for a foodie friend who eats everything and shares a similar enthusiasm for exciting flavours, textures and foods. Said friend is off to pastures new in California so I wanted to prepare a simple and yet interesting lunch that he may not have tried before, but that he was hopefully going to remember fondly.

In the last couple of years my love for tofu has grown exponentially, on average I would say I eat it once a week as a main meal. One of my all time favourite recipes – Ma Po Tofu – I  sometimes cook without the pork mince and add loads of spinach to compliment the tofu instead. I would really recommend you give this dish a go if you haven’t already, it’s absolutely superb.

Another dish using tofu, which I discovered more recently, is the one that I want to share with you today. It’s a perfect spring/summer dish bursting with colour and if the truth be told, totally addictive. Between the two of us we almost saw off a portion which Yotam Ottolenghi says ‘serves 6’. I know, I know, it  makes us sound rather piggy. Look we were hungry and it is so delicious I bet you too would have seconds or maybe thirds ;o). I think that as a main dish it’s serving is better suited to 4 than 6, unless your guests have sparrow appetites that is!

 Don’t be shy, once you’ve cooked it do write a comment below to let me know how you got on and  that you too had seconds/thirds.

Soba Noodles with Tofu, Aubergine and Mango

Adapted  from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 4-6

120 ml rice vinegar

40g caster sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 red chilli, finely chopped

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

1 lime, zest and juice

300ml sunflower oil

2 aubergines, cut into 1cm dice

396g firm tofu, cut into small cubes (a little more or less is fine so don’t worry about getting exact amount)

250g soba noodles

2 ripe mangoes, cut into strips or dice

small handful of Thai sweet basil, chopped

handful of fresh coriander, chopped

1 small red onion, finely sliced

1. To prepare the dressing warm the vinegar, sugar and salt in a pan for a minute so that the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the chilli, garlic and sesame oil and leave to cool. Once it is cool add the lime juice and zest.

2. In a frying pan heat up  half the sunflower oil and gently fry the aubergine in batches. To save time I cooked the aubergine in two frying pans cooking simultaneously. When they have bronzed place on kitchen paper to cool.

3. Using the remaining sunflower oil (if necessary – you may have enough left from cooking the aubergine!) gently heat up the tofu and cook until it has a crispy light brown appearance. This should take 6-8 minutes. Similar to the aubergine place on some kitchen paper to soak up some of the oil.

4. Heat a pan of boiling salted water and cook the soba noodles for around 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain and rinse under cold water, shaking off as much excess water as possible. Place on a tea towel to dry.

5. In a mixing bowl toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, aubergine, herbs (save a few to scatter on top when serving),  red onion and tofu. Transfer to another serving plate/dish. You can eat immediately or set aside for a couple of hours.

The dressing resting whilst I prepare the rest of the ingredients (above)

The final result (below)

SaveSave


Garlic Roasted Butternut Squash, Lentil and Feta Salad

Butternut squash are one of those wonderful fresh ingredients that you can buy and store for a reasonable amount of time. I haven’t tested their longevity as such, but I know that they are fine for at least a month. (Any other educated guesses then let me know?)

If you can get past the fact that peeling them can be a bit labourous at times, you are treated to a sweet tasting, vibrant and versatile vegetable that generally passes muster with most people. It’s generally not one of those vegetables that people are known to turn their noses up at, unlike perhaps this, so it’s a great vegetable to feed the whole family. It’s bright, vivid colour is clealy a mood enhancer and with all this terrible weather we have been having lately, I welcolme it wholeheartedly into my cooking.  

I love all manner of lentils and pulses and cook with them most days in some capacity. This dish I cook in bulk and then eat over a few days. It stores well in the fridge, although I tend to keep the feta seperate until ready to serve, as I find it tends to crumble if I mix it in too early with the other ingredients. As with all my recipes if you are feeding it to your young children I omit the chilli.

The dish has some wonderful flavours going on, that combined together works really well. I sometimes add pomegranate seeds and had planned to put them in, but somehow managed to forget this time around. So if you fancy throwing in another bright colour to make the dish even more cheery and summery then add some pomegranate seeds.

 

 Garlic Roasted Butternut Squash, Lentil and Feta Salad

Serves 6

250g lentils

8 garlic cloves, chopped

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

3 tbsp olive oil

1 red chilli, finely chopped and deseeded

200g feta

1 small red onion, finely sliced

handful of fresh parsley

2 tbsp pomegranate seeds (optional)

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tsp sugar

1. Preheat an oven to 180 degrees.

2. Peel a small/medium sized butternut squash and cut into bite sized cubes. Place on a baking/roasting tray along with the chopped garlic cloves. Using your hands cover the cubes and garlic with olive oil.

3. Place in the oven and leave to cook for 40 minutes.

4. Rinse the lentils in cold water to give them a good clean and then place them in a pan with cold water so that they are well covered and leave on a medium heat for 20-25 minutes (see packet for details). They should be nicely softened by this stage. Drain and leave to cool.

5. Finely slice a small red onion and red chilli (de-seeded if you prefer it less hot) and cut the feta cheese into small cubes.

6. In a small bowl mix the red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar and sugar and season to taste.

7. Gently mix all the ingredients, aside from the feta, together in a bowl first. Serve sprinked with feta cubes and a generous portion of chopped flat leaf parsley.

Serve at room temperature.

As the feta is so naturally salty you will probably find that you do not need to season with extra salt.


Lazy Florida days and a healthy option omelette

We have now returned from 10 blissful days in the Florida Keys and Miami. Nine hours on a plane transported us to the depths of summer where the sun shone and a gently cool breeze drifted off the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, giving us a little respite from its warm rays . I’d been to Key West once before but had flown directly onto the island so had not fully grasped how spectacular the drive from the Everglades to the southern tip of Florida – Key West – actually was. There are over 1700 islands in the coral archipelago that makes up the Florida Keys, but only 43 are inhabited connected by bridges, the most spectacular being the seven mile long bridge. We stayed on the beautiful Islamorada and whiled away the days swimming, snorkeling, sea kayaking, seeing dolphins and fishing from the jetty.

A coral reef stretches to almost as far as the eye can see and this coupled by bath warm still waters provided the perfect sea for the whole family to feel safe from deep swells.

We spent a leisurely day driving up to the tip – Key West – and back to Islamorada. Key West seemed to have expanded  somewhat since I was last there 18 years ago, as you would expect, but step off the touristy Duval Street on to the side streets and you will find the the beautiful weather boarded houses covered with bougainvillaea which have remained the same since the days of Ernest Hemingway. The pace of life is slow and it doesn’t take long to feel the stresses of everyday life lift off you when you spend time in the place.

Being only 90 miles from Cuba, therefore closer to Cuba than Miami, the island definitely has more of a Caribbean than American air to it. Many Cubans moved permanently to Key West from the 1860’s  following the ‘Ten Year War’ and with the Cubans came the arrival of the rooster (due to their love of cockfighting), to the extent that today virtually every street has a rooster wandering down it. Cockfighting was outlawed in 1970 but the roosters have remained free to wander at their will around the streets.

Mr B and I ate one of the most delicious lunches whilst in the US at a place called Mangoes, a ‘Tuna, Crab and Avocado Tower’. It was absolutely divine, seriously off the charts. It consisted of  tuna tartar, blue crab, layered avocado, plum tomato, cucumber, field greens and arugula (or rocket for us Brits!) and finished with a tomato vinaigrette and scallion infused oil.  I am going to have to replicate a similar dish and put it here on my blog in the future. Fresh, healthy and delicious what more could I ask for !

Half way through our holiday we said our goodbyes to the Keys and headed to Miami, a city that none of us had visited before. I had high hopes for the place and was looking forward to seeing its art deco district, sample fresh healthy food and soak up the atmosphere on South Beach. I can honestly say that Miami totally lived up to our high expectations. OK, it’s not going to compare to the likes of Rome or Florence for history and culture, but for flamboyance, flair and basically great fun, it definitely rocks.


The pulse of the place is electric and it’s definitely a place that promotes healthy living. South beach is stunning and stretches for miles and all day there are joggers, cyclists, skate boarders, roller bladders and walkers using the board walk that runs parallel to the beach. The beach is exceptionally wide owing to the fact that the part nearest the board walk has concrete underneath with sand on top, which gives it an easier surface to jog for those who want to run on the beach. It’s appearance however, completely blends in naturally with the rest of the beach. I was rather taken by the stunningly painted (mostly pastel shades) life guard huts that are scattered down the beach. There are 125 life guards covering 8 miles of beach and every couple of hundred meters sits another beautiful hut for them to survey the waters and swimmers within their view.

Up until the 1980’s Miami was a no-go zone for tourists, in fact it supposedly had the highest murder rate in the whole of the US. The hit TV series ‘Miami Vice’ played it’s own part at bringing around the change from least desirable city to visit to the happening, tourist magnet it is today. The series put Miami on the map and with the help of the real life cops it cleaned up it’s act. I can honestly say that I was surprised by how safe Miami – well South Beach – actually felt. There was a police presence, but not a threatening in your face kind of presence.

Food wise we ate some delicious meals but there are a few observations I thought it might be interesting to raise here.

1. Portions in the US are SOOOOO BIG. Way bigger than here in the UK. On average I would say they are twice the size. I have a good appetite but even I found the portions to be far too large to be considered healthy for a grown adult. I realise that ‘doggy bags’ are common place in the US, less so here in the UK, and that most people like to take home the food they cannot eat. Just an idea, but why don’t restaurants serve smaller portions, charge less, and then the diners can finish all their plate without having to take home a ‘doggy bag’. Does everyone really like leftover brunch? As far as I could see there must be so much wasted food in the US. Also as the population is growing in girth it might be advisable for restaurants all over the US to join together and serve smaller portions so that the next generation do not have to deal with such first world problems as obesity.

2. Oranges come from Florida right? They even have them on their number plates, so you would expect that a fresh orange juice in a restaurant/diner would be pretty cheap. Oh no think again. Fresh orange and apple juice were so much more expensive than all the fizzy sodas that it is no wonder that people chose the unhealthy option if they are strapped for cash. We went to a few diners and they always seemed to have free refill for coke, lemonade etc, but never the healthy options such as fresh orange or apple juice. I found it rather off putting seeing grown adults drinking pint sized glasses of coke with their breakfast.  Also ordering a fruit salad for breakfast was always so much more expensive than ordering the unhealthy options.

3. Seeing Cops eating in diners was new for us. In the UK you would never see this. It’s not that they don’t eat when on duty – I am sure they do – but you never see a bunch of them chilling out for an hour or so eating a large fry up. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing, just an observation we made.

4. Average steak size in the UK is 12/14oz. In the US it’s 22 oz. This tells you something right?

5. We had a fun brunch at ‘The Big Pink’ in South Beach, but a 5 egg omelette is just a little too much for one individual. A healthier option and one that was prepared for me when I was staying in Islamorada is the following and is without out doubt the tastiest and healthiest omelette ever. Seriously try it out and let me know what you think.

 Egg White Omelette with Fresh Spinach, Goats Cheese, Red Onion and Tomato

serves 1

3 egg whites, whisked

half a small red onion, chopped

half a medium sized tomato, chopped

small handful of fresh spinach

1 tbsp crumbled goats cheese/feta

olive oil

pinch of salt (optional)

1. Warm a pan/skillet and then add a little oil and the chopped red onion. Fry for 2-3 minutes before adding any other ingredients.

2. Add the tomatoes and spinach and after 10 seconds add the whisked egg whites, goat cheese and pinch of salt (optional).

3. Continue to whisk gently for up to a minute or just before the eggs set so as to make the omelette fluffy. Using a spatula press down lightly so as to bind the omelette together.

4. Gently fold over half the omelette using a spatula to create a half moon shape and again press down lightly for 20 seconds.

5. Tilt the pan/skillet and transfer omelette on to a plate.

6. Eat immediately, with a scattering of fresh spinach leaves on the side.


Roasted Cod with Fennel, Red Onion and Tomatoes in a Lemony Balsamic Jus

OK I admit it, I wasn’t telling the whole truth when I put together the grand title for this dish. It only takes a passing glance at the photo above for you to see that there is a sprinkling of fresh chilli in this dish. It’s totally NOT essential, so if your palate prefers the absence of chilli – or if you are feeding it to little ones, then please omit the chilli part as it still tastes really good.

We try and eat fish and seafood a couple of times a week, which reminds me, I must put up another of my squid recipes as squid gets a big thumbs up in our household. My six year old, known as big A in this blog (as she is my eldest daughter) has loved it for as long as I can remember; she is a joy to cook for as she eats and tries everything. She has her sights set on junior Masterchef, way to go girl.

This dish is perfect with white fish and cod works particularly well as it does not flake too readily during cooking. This dish is rustic and juicy and has the definite thumbs up from Mr B. There are a lot of flavours going on in the dish, from the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar, red onions and tomatoes to the subtle aniseed taste of the fennel and the wonderful kick from the chilli. I find they compliment each other so well, I hope you agree.

Roasted Cod with Fennel, Red Onion and Tomatoes in a Lemony Balsamic Jus

Adapted from a recipe by ‘Delicious Magazine’

Serves 2-4

600 g filleted cod

1 red onion, roughly chopped

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced (set the fronds to one side)

juice of one lemon

2 tbsp olive oil

200g cherry tomatoes, halved

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 large red chilli, sliced (not essential)

seasoning, as required


1. Prepare the fennel, red onion and chilli and place in an oven proof dish with 1 tbsp of olive oil and the juice from one lemon. Place in a preheated oven at 180 degrees if you are using a fan oven and 20 degrees more if you are not or gas mark 6, for 10 minutes

2. Add the tomatoes and roast for a further 5 minutes. Now place the cod fillets, balsamic vinegar and remaining olive oil on the vegetables and roast for 10-12 minutes. Do not overdo the cooking of the fish as it will begin to dry out. It needs less cooking time than you think!

3. Serve immediately with the fennel fronds scattered on top to garnish. I like to eat this with rice, although it would also work equally well with little cubed roast potatoes.