Mexican White Beans with Courgette and Tomato

How have you all been? I’ve been rather busy in the lockdown whirl and my blog has been taken a bit of a backseat recently. I wanted to rectify that with my fabulous speedy white beans recipe that is jammed packed full of flavour, takes about 15 minutes to whip together, is nutritious and super reasonable. Whilst everything is pretty readily available, there is one little caveat and that is Mexican arbol chillies. I often have a ready supply of Mexican chillies as they are great in so many dishes, adding a deep smokey and piquant edge to a dish. I often put an order into Mextrade who have a great selection of Mexican goods. Do go check them out.

The chilli arbol are often referred to a ‘birds beak chilli’ or a ‘rat’s tail chilli’ and look similar to a slightly larger  dried Thai red chilli. They are fiery and hot so you only need a couple in this dish. I soak them first in a bowl of boiling water for 10 minutes before finely chopping them for this recipe. You can decide whether you want to keep the seeds in or not.  Of course use any chilli you have to hand, but I like the smokiness that this Mexican chilli brings to the dish. One of my other favourite Mexican chillies is a chipotle, and they are perhaps easy to come by in supermarkets, so opt for that if you can’t find the arbol, although I would only add a couple as they are a lot larger to the arbol, although less fiery hot.

The other key ingredient here is the white beans. I am a huge believer that the white beans in the jars taste so much better than the tinned. The beans themselves are haricot beans and I always pick up jars of them when I see them. You can find them all over the place from Spanish and Italian delis to Turkish and Asian grocers so do look out for them.

This recipes is a great, speedy lunch or filling supper option and tone down or up the Mexican chillies depending on your audience. To serve I added a few Gosh Falefel on the side, which I am a huge fan of, although it is more than filling without them.

 

Mexican White Beans with Courgette and Tomato

serves 4

3 Mexican chilli arbol, soaked for 10 mins in boiling water and then finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, finely diced or sliced

1/2 tsp salt

2 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

2 bay leaves

1 courgettes, peeled and diced

pinch of freshly ground black pepper

5 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

1x vegetable stock cube + 100ml boiling water

1x 570g jar of white haricot beans, drained

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

200ml boiling water

 

  1. First cover the chilli arbol in boiling water and leave to soak for 10 minutes.
  2. Next heat the oil in a large, wide pan and then add the onions and salt. Allow to soften for 5 minutes before adding the garlic and bay leaves.
  3. Remove the chillies from the water and remove the stalks and finely chop. Remove the seeds if you like it less hot.
  4. Add them to the pan and then add the courgettes, black pepper. Allow the courgette to begin to bronze before adding the freshly chopped tomatoes. Allow to simmer gently.
  5. Now add the vegetable stock and boiling water and place a lid on the pan and increase the heat for a couple of minutes.
  6. Now add the white beans and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer for a further few minutes and add more water to loosen if required. If you require the sauce to thicken then place a lid on the pan and increase the heat for a couple of minutes.
  7. Check the seasoning and add a little more salt if required.
  8. Ladle into bowls and serve.

 

 

 

 


A Couple of Simple and Yet Tasty Lunch Ideas

Hi everyone. How are you all doing? The days seem to be flying by don’t you think? Have you managed to get yourself into a rhythm that suits you and your lifestyle?  I’m loving all the cooking and baking that everyone seems to  be doing on instagram. Being stuck inside seems to have unleashed inner domestic culinary gods and goddesses in us all; it is wonderful to see. It seems everyone is baking banana bread and making their own hummus – I can almost smell it when I step outside on my daily exercise.

Meal times have always been a special time for my family to get together, update each other on each others days and news and during this period of uncertainty they have become even more sacred. We take it in turn to cook as it’s a good way to relax and focus the mind and we try and come up with interesting things to cook, to keep the diet varied and interesting. I thought it might be helpful to share a couple of lunch, or indeed supper ideas, that we have eaten recently that were super simple, require few ingredients and take 15 mins max to cook.

First up is my spaghetti alla puttanesca – also known as prostitutes pasta – as it can be made quickly, in between other obligations, hence the prostitute allusion! My version is similar to the Neapolitan in that omits anchovies as I think it makes the dish just too salty. I also add spinach because I LOVE spinach and you can add fresh chillies or chilli flakes but I have omitted these this time round.

The main ingredients are tomatoes, garlic, black olives and capers and together they work so well with the spaghetti. You can use linguine too, whichever you have to hand.

 

Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca

serves 4-6

Spaghetti/linguine (enough for 4-6 or however many you are feeding)
2 tbsp olive oil
8 medium tomatoes, quartered
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 large tbsp of stones black olives, halved

1 tbsp capers
salt
pepper
3 large handfuls of fresh spinach
1 cup pasta water

1. Fill a large pan with boiling salted water and add the spaghetti/linguine.

2. Heat a large wide pan with olive oil then add the tomatoes 🍅 followed by the garlic. Stir

3. Add the olives and capers. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for a few minutes to allow everything to soften and meld together.

4. Check to see the spaghetti is cooked and when it is to your liking add it to the sauce, mix well with tongs and then add the spinach.

5. Add a cup of the pasta water to loosen and continue to fold in together. Simmer for a couple of minutes.

6. Serve immediately.

It’s deliciously sweet from the tomatoes and salty from the olives and capers and I love the taste of spinach and garlic binding it all together.

The other easy meal is “cauliflower fritters”. I was inspired by Sami Tamimi (Yotam Ottolegnhi’s business partner) who made them on his instagram feed. If you are on instagram have a look at him cooking them on his feed – you can find him @sami_tamimi.  I made a few changes in that I added a heaped tsp of curry powder and some black urfa chilli from my favourite spice provider in the US Burlap & Barrel. If you live stateside I highly recommend you ordering some of their spices. They are incredible. I always try and pick some up when I am in the US or have friends bring some over. I also only used plain flour, but you can use chickpea/bread flour or whatever you have to hand.

I also decided they would go really well with a simple tomato, fresh coriander, black olive and feta salad on the side, instead of his suggestion of a yoghurt raita or tahini dip, but it’s totally up to you.

Spiced Cauliflower Fritters

serves 4 (makes around 11 large fritters)

1 cauliflower, chopped into even size piece and the green leaves washed

 2cups/ 300g flour or enough to form a batter (you may need to add a little more so adjust as need be)

3 eggs

water – a little to loosen the batter

1 white onion, finely diced

1 large handful of fresh parsley, finely sliced

1/4 tsp cinnamon powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp cumin powder

1 heaped tsp of curry powder

1-2 tsp chilli flakes (black Urfa chilli, Allepo chilli flakes, red pepper flakes)

1 heaped tsp salt

pepper

 

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Tomato salad

8 tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 tbsp black olives, stone removed and halved

handful of fresh coriander (or parsley) chopped

1 tbsp feta, broken up

 

  1. First boil a large pan of water and then add the cauliflower, including the green stalks, which you keep at full length at this stage.
  2. Meanwhile mix the flour with the eggs, water, spices, parsley, salt, pepper and white onion.
  3. When the cauliflower has completely softened – around 6-8 mins, drain and remove the green stalks.
  4. First thinly slice the green stalks and add them to the batter.
  5. Using a knife or potato masher, roughly break up the cauliflower so that it is broken down but not like mashed potato.
  6. Turn it out into the batter and mix together.
  7. Heat a large pan with a little vegetable or sunflower oil – you want to shallow fry  NOT deep fry.
  8. Using a large spoon turn out some of the cauliflower batter into the pan and flatten with the back of the spoon. Fill up the pan – I find three work well as you don’t want to over crowd the pan. Leave the fritters to bind together and bronze. If you touch them too early they will break apart.
  9. Leave to bronze on both side. This will take around 3-4 minutes per side. If it is not bronzed sufficiently leave for a little longer.
  10. Once both sides have bronzed, turn out to a plate with some kitchen roll and keep in a warm oven whilst you continue with the others.
  11. Prepare the tomato salad whilst the fritters are bronzing and place in a bowl ready to serve.
  12. Once all the fritters are ready serve and eat whilst still hot.

 


Hot Spiced Tomatoes with Spinach

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Cooking at the end of the day when you are tired and exhausted can be a bit of a chore. I always have loads of tomatoes in my fridge – probably my favourite ingredient of all time – so am often coming up with inventive ways to use them – Indian style tomato chutney anyone?

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This recipe uses them as the star ingredient and as I always like to eat greens, a handful of fresh spinach  complements the dish perfectly. If you have some fresh fish, place it in the oven for 10 minutes (you may need a little longer if you have a large fish/portion) then you can quickly whip this tomato side dish to accompany the fish. Easy and no fuss.

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It’s also great to use alongside more on an Indian feast if you are feeding a crowd. It adds zing and heat in equal measure.

Hot Spiced Tomatoes with Spinach

Serves 4 (accompanied with another dish or two)

2 tbsp rapeseed/vegetable oil

1 tsp brown mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

450g large tomatoes (works out to be about 6), quartered

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (less if you like it less hot)

1 tbsp jaggery (or sugar if you don’t have jaggery see note below)

1 tsp salt

100ml water

1 handful of fresh spinach

  1. Gently heat the oil and when it is hot place the cumin and mustard seeds into the pan. They will sizzle immediately. Keep the heat low. After 10 seconds add the quartered tomatoes and move around the pan so that the spices cover them.
  2. Add the spices, salt and jaggery and then after 20 seconds add the water. Keep on a low heat and simmer for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the fresh spinach and take off the heat. The spinach will wilt from the heat of the tomatoes. Do not overcook the tomatoes as you want them to have soften but still to have held their shape as much as possible.

Serve with freshly cooked fish or chicken or as part of a large Indian feast.

Jaggery – also known as palm sugar – check out the health benefits of using jaggery instead of sugar here.


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.


Toasted Cauliflower with Freshly Ground Cumin, Lemony Tomato and Fresh Coriander

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Cauliflower has gained a bit of a renaissance in the last few years. Personally I love it and feel that it is a hugely versatile, tasty and nutritious vegetable to include in your diet. A few years ago I posted recipes for sweet piccalilli and cauliflower curry which are both delicious and straightforward to prepare.

Recently when I was in LA I was admiring a ‘salad’ and got chatting to the chef on how he prepared it. I noted it down in my head and have since prepared back to the UK.  It’s a hit folks, seriously it tastes SO good and takes no time to whip together.

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It is perfect eaten on it’s own or with another salad or perhaps with lamb, chicken or even fish. It’s a great little recipe to have in your arsenal. Give it a go and let me know what you think. I think you’ll find it will be a keeper.

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 Toasted Cauliflower with Freshly Ground Cumin, Lemony Tomato and Fresh Coriander

Serve 2-4 (depending on the size of your cauliflower)

1 cauliflower, greens removed and cut into florets

1 tsp of cumin seeds, toasted and then ground

10 baby plum tomatoes

1/4 lemon, juice only

1/2 tsp salt

handful of roughly chopped fresh coriander

  1. Heat a pan and when it is hot add the cauliflower florets and move them around the pan at intervals  for five minutes so that the cauliflower begins to char. Turn off the heat but leave in the pan.
  2. In a separate pan dry roast the cumin seeds for around 30 seconds so that the aroma of the cumin is released.
  3. Place them into a spice grinder to create cumin powder. Pour the cumin powder over the cauliflower and move around the pan so that the powder coats the cauliflower.
  4. In the pan you used to dry roast the cumin seeds, add the tomatoes and keep on a medium heat so that the tomatoes heat up and begin to char. Then remove from the heat and allow to cool enough so that you can hold them and peel off the skin. Place them in a bowl with the lemon juice and crush them slightly.
  5. Add the lemony tomatoes to the cauliflower and move gently move around the pan so that they are evenly distributed.
  6. Add the salt and the fresh coriander and serve either immediately or at room temperature, both work equally well.

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Indian Rasam – Spiced Tomato Soup

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There is nothing more sublime than a spicy hot tomato soup to warm you up and give you that inner glow. If you are feeling under the weather with a cold or fever, which invariably many of us do at this time of year, this is a great way to blast your system with goodness and help pull you through. Rasam, as it is known in South India, translates to ‘juice’ or in Sanskrit rasa means ‘taste’. I think ‘tasty juice’ is the perfect way to describe this warming, fragrant and flavoursome soup. Traditionally it is made with tomatoes or tamarind with a host of spices and fresh curry leaves giving it a comforting aroma and taste.  Being totally addicted to tomatoes I tend to make my rasam with tomatoes as the base note.

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Traditionally it is eaten in India at the end of a meal, but I tend to serve it the opposite way round and kick a meal off with a warming cup of this thin spiced tomato soup to whet the taste buds. It is often served in a mug or cup or can be poured over a bowl of hot steaming basmati rice. It’s also the perfect drink after a long, cold and invariably wet winter walk. With a roaring fire going and a cup of rasam you will feel a state of happiness surround you. Seriously try it and you’ll know what I mean.

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The only tricky (ish) ingredient to source is fresh curry leaves. If you go to your local Asian grocer they are likely to have some, or at least will be able to point you in the right direction. So what are you waiting for – give it a go and leave and comment below to let me know how you get on.

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Indian Rasam – Spiced Tomato Soup

Serves 4

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 heaped tsp of garlic paste/fresh garlic grated

1 heaped tsp of ginger paste/fresh ginger grated

2 large dried red chillies (1 if you prefer it with less of a kick)

12 fresh curry leaves

1/2 tsp of crushed black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

700g fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped

350ml water

a couple of sprigs of fresh coriander to garnish

black pepper to garnish

1. Warm the oil in a deep non-stick pan and when it is hot add the garlic, ginger, dried red chillies, fresh curry leaves and crushed black pepper and gently move around the pan so that the chillies darken and the ginger and garlic begin to bronze. Keep on a medium heat for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes, salt and sugar.

2. Move around the pan so that the tomatoes begin to soften and are completely covered in all of the ingredients. Then add the water and let it boil for a couple of minutes before lowering the heat and cover for 30 mins.

3. Using a hand blender blend the soup so that it is smooth and then pass through a sieve so that there are no pips or tomato skin and what remains is brilliant red, smooth thin rasam. Heat up the smooth rasam gently in the pan before serving.

4. Pour into cups and garnish with some fresh coriander and black pepper.

 

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Boneless Southern Indian Chicken Curry

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I am guessing that most households will eat chicken at some point in an average week and whilst I do cook a number of chicken curries on the bone, it is always good to have some boneless chicken curries up your sleeve that you can whip together relatively quickly on a given evening. Cooking meat on the bone allows the meat to be more tender and succulent, but that said I know that having bones in a meal can really put some eaters off. So I hope this curry will be a happy compromise in that it is tasty, quick and bone free, therefore perhaps appealing to a wider audience.

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Whilst it does contain coconut milk the tomatoes balance out the sweetness to the extent the coconut doesn’t dominate this dish, instead giving it a subtle creaminess. I also find that adding just two chillies allows my eldest child, who is 8 yrs old, to really enjoy eating it as she does not find it too spicy. So if you find yourself wondering what to do with some chicken breasts in the fridge over the course of next week give this south Indian curry a go, you won’t be disappointed.

Boneless Southern Indian Chicken Curry

Serves 4

650g chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite sized morsels

1 level tsp of turmeric powder

1/2 tsp of Kashmiri chilli powder

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 red onion, chopped

2 inches of ginger, peeled and finely grated

4 garlic cloves peeled and finely grated

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curry paste

2 green chillies, chopped

1 red onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 inch of ginger, peeled and chopped

1/2 tsp of black peppercorns

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

2 tbsp water

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5 tomatoes, peeled, skinned and chopped (put in boiling water for 3 mins then peel easily)

 2 limes, juice

250 ml coconut milk

salt to taste

fresh coriander leaves to serve

1. First marinate the chicken breasts at room temperature for up to an hour. Mix thoroughly with the turmeric and Kashmiri chilli powder and cover.

2. Prepare the chopping and grating of the onion, garlic and ginger for both the paste and the sauce and place to one side.

3. Place all the curry paste ingredients in a blender and blend into a smooth paste. Add a little more water if it needs help reaching a smooth quality. Place to one side.

3. Heat up a large pan with the oil and when it is hot add the mustard seeds. They will begin to pop within about 20 seconds  – move them around the pan to release the fragrance and then add the onion and stir into the oil and seeds. Cook the onions for 5 minutes, by which time they will begin to soften before adding the garlic and ginger. Cook for a further minute before adding the curry paste and stiring thoroughly. Let simmer away for a further couple of minutes.

4. Add the chicken and stir into the sauce so that it is coated and begins to cook. After 8-10 minutes the chicken should have turned white, with no pink bits remaining, and will begin to bronze in places.

5. Add the softened tomatoes (you can remove the pips but I tend to use it all up, bar the skin!), lime juice and coconut milk and simmer for a further 20 minutes to allow the flavours to work together and for the chicken to be thoroughly cooked through. Season to taste.

If the sauce needs to be juicier then simply add a little water. If it is too juice then cook with the lid off for a little longer.

Serve with fragrant rice or some Indian flat bread.

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Homemade Gnocchi with Basil Pesto and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

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Have you ever made homemade gnocchi? I am sure the cynics out there will say it’s way too time consuming and just buy a packet instead. Killjoys would be my response. Not only is it ridiculously straight forward and freezes really well but it is also great fun, especially if you get your children involved. Mine are on half term, so it was a perfect activity to do on a rainy morning. If you have ever made your own play dough then you will find making gnocchi super easy.

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After gently boiling 1kg of potatoes in their skins until they are soft – under an hour, you peel them and then put them through the mouli  when they are still hot and the skins now removed.

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Mix the potato, pasta flour, egg and seasoning on a clean surface using your hands – now this is the fun bit!

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It won’t take long before you will have created a large warm dough ball.

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Split the dough into small balls and then roll out into long stripes. You want then to cut them up into bite sized morsels – see photos above and below.

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Place the bite sized cubes onto a tray with greaseproof paper which is already scattered with semolina or flour. You can either freeze them like this on the tray and when they are frozen transfer into freezer bags. Equally if you are going to eat them immediately, prepare a pan of boiling water and then drop them into the water. When they rise to the top they are ready and you simply need to remove them with a slotted spoon.

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There are so many combinations that are so tasty to eat with gnocchi. If you fancy a sausage and fennel ragu then see my recipe here. Today we decided to make some homemade basil pesto and then roast some cherry tomatoes in the oven for a short while.

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A simple and most satisfying meal that is loved and cherished by the whole family. What sauces do you like to have with your gnocchi? Leave a comment below to let us all know.

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Basil Pesto

serves 4-6

40g fresh basil leaves

50g pine nuts

4 garlic cloves

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

30g pecorino cheese

salt to taste

1. In a blender add all the ingredients and whizz for 30 seconds. Season to taste.

That easy !

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Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

250g cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp olive oil

rock salt

1. Place the cherry tomatoes in a baking tray and pour the olive oil on top with a sprinkling of rock salt.

2. Place in an oven at 180 degrees for 20 minutes.

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Homemade Gnocchi

serves 4-6

1 kg floury potatoes (King Edwards, Maris Piper etc)

300g ’00’ pasta flour (you can get this in any supermarket)

1 egg

1 tsp salt

few twists of black pepper

1. In a pan of boiling water add the potatoes, with the skins on – this will make them less watery – until they are soft. Depending on the size this will take under an hour.

2. Drain the water from the pan and using a fork and knife peel the skin from the hot potatoes and place them in the mouli one at a time. Turn the mouli handle around so that the potato goes through the mechanism.

3. Turn the potato out onto a clean surface and add the flour, egg, salt and pepper. Using your hands fold the ingredients into one another so that you form a compact dough ball.

4. Split the dough into smaller parts and roll into a long sausage using your hands, so that the dough is roughly 2cm thick.

5. Using a knife cut the dough sausage into bite sized cubes and place on a tray with baking paper scattered with either a little flour or semolina.

6. If you are freezing then place then in the freezer like this until they are frozen, then transfer to a freezer bag.

7. If using immediately then boil a large pan of water. Add a little salt and gently place the gnocchi in the water. When they rise to the top you can remove them from the water using a slotted spoon.

8. When they are still hot mix thoroughly with the basil pesto and place on a serving platter, sprinkled with the roasted tomatoes.

Serve immediately when hot.


Indian Aubergine/Eggplant, Peanut and Tomato Curry

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Have you ever been a little ambivalent about aubergine/eggplant? On the one hand loving their smooth, shiny plum coloured exterior but never really in raptures about the taste. Well my other half, Mr B, tended to fall into this category, so a while ago I set out to prove him wrong.

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After mutterings of ‘you know aubergine is my least favourite vegetable, I prefer greens’, he tasted one mouthful and that completely shut him up. Murmurs of approval were given between mouthfuls and a 9/10 score (yes we regularly mark our food – is that unusual?). RESULT. Surprisingly my eldest child also adored it, surprising as it does have a fair amount of chilli in it! If you don’t like chilli, but like spice, just reduce or take out the chilli in the recipe below.

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The combination of aubergine, peanuts and sesame seeds works ridiculously well together so much so that you will have to restrain yourself from wanting to guzzle up the whole dish. Combine that with a spiced onion and tomato sauce and you have yourself a winning dish.  So put your assumptions to one side for a moment and give this recipe a whirl and I can assure you you will be more than pleasantly surprised.  I couldn’t resist the bijou aubergines on sale at my local market but a regular sized aubergine will work equally well. Just slice the aubergine into chunky chip sized pieces, keeping the skin on of course.

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Indian Aubergine/Eggplant, Peanut and Tomato Curry

450g baby aubergine/eggplant (normal size is fine too), sliced lengthways or chunky chip sized if using a regular aubergine

cooking oil, enough to deep fry the aubergine

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 dried red chillies

1 small green chilli, finely chopped (optional)

5 curry leaves (fresh or dried)

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp of garlic paste

1 tsp ginger paste

1 white onion, finely chopped

200g chopped fresh tomatoes

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

2 tbsp salted peanuts

1 tbsp sesame seeds

150ml water

1 tsp salt (to taste)

1. If using baby aubergine/eggplant slice lengthways removing the stalk. If using a regular sized aubergine slice into chunky chip sized, again removing the stalk. Once sliced, immediately place in a pan of boiling oil to sizzle away and bronze. This should take no longer than ten minutes.

2. Remove the aubergine with a straining spoon and place on some kitchen roll whilst you prepare the next steps.

3. In a new large pan add the olive oil and when hot add the mustard and cumin seeds. They will begin to pop immediately so move them gently around the pan for 15 seconds before adding the dried red chilli, fresh small green chilli (optional), curry leaves (fresh or dried), turmeric, garlic, ginger paste and onion. Continue to cook on a medium heat for around 7 minutes by which time the onion should have nicely softened, but not bronzed.

4. Add the chopped tomatoes, coriander, cumin and Kashmiri chilli powder and simmer for a further 5 minutes, by which time the tomatoes will have totally softened and blended into the sauce. Return the aubergines to the pan and fold gently into the sauce.

5. In a small pan dry roast the peanuts and sesame seeds for a couple of minutes, making sure to constantly move them around the pan so that the heat is evenly distributed and they do not burn. They will begin to bronze at which point you need to remove them from the pan.

6. Using a spice grinder (definitely one of my most useful items I own in my kitchen) – this is the one I use – see here – grind the peanuts and sesame seeds together to form a paste.

7. Add the peanut sesame paste to the pan and stir into the curry, adding more water if necessary. As I used salted peanuts I only needed to add a little more salt. Simmer for a few minutes and serve. If cooking ahead and leaving to rest you will have to add a little more water when heating up.

Serve with rice or Indian bread and you have yourself a vegetarian – in fact vegan – treat. Try it and leave a comment below.

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Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach and Feta Soup

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With a guest over recently, I found myself improvising with some ingredients to bulk up lunch. It was an unplanned creation and hence the results were all the more exciting and satisfying.  I literally threw together some ingredients I already had in the house to make a very comforting and warming soup/vegetarian stew. It took under fifteen minutes from fridge to stove to table and the silence as everyone delved into their bowl with concentration, was deeply reassuring. As they came up for air, the verbal endorsements confirmed this.

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It’s important to be able to whip up a meal in a matter of minutes. We all need an arsenal of these for when we have little energy or inclination to cook but want to be nourished by good home-cooked food. You can’t beat home-made soups – not only do they taste better, but you can also monitor exactly what goes into them.

I always have a range of tinned lentils on standby to use for soups, stews and salads, so for this soup I used a tin of trusty chickpeas. Everything else I had in my pantry (aka pull out cupboard…buy hey we can dream!) or in the fridge. I always have a pack or two of feta in my fridge as it can last unopened for around three months.

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Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach and Feta Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 banana shallot (or small white onion), peeled and roughly chopped

2 large red chillies/chilli peppers (not the hot variety), chopped into inch pieces

4 fresh tomatoes, diced

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas

1 tsp of sweet paprika

1 tsp vegetable bouillon

200ml boiling water

1 tsp rock salt

pinch of black pepper

200g fresh spinach

100g feta, crumbled

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and when it is hot, but on a medium/low heat, add the shallot and garlic and gently fry.

2. After a couple of minutes add the chilli/chilli pepper and continue to stir for a further couple of minutes.

3. Add the fresh tomatoes and continue to cook on a medium/low heat until they begin to soften. Add the tinned tomatoes to the pan and stir into the other ingredients.

4. Now add the drained chickpeas, the sweet paprika, vegetable bouillon, salt and the boiling water. Give a good stir and let simmer for a couple of minutes.

5. Finally add the fresh spinach and place a lid on the pan. After a minute give a good stir and add a little more boiling water if necessary. Taste and season.

6. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with a liberal amount of feta.

All these steps will not take more than 15 minutes max to prepare and cook.

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