Archive for the ‘Vegetable’ Category

A friend roasts a root vegetable mixture which includes beetroot, which we love, so I thought I would try it myself.  I had intended to adapt my usual recipe,  Roast Mixed Vegetables with Balsamic Vinegar, which includes onions (preferably red ones) but then a link to this recipe appeared in my Inbox.

This recipe, Roast Root Vegetables, comes from the online newsletter Good to Know Recipes.  As the original says, the beetroot will ‘bleed’ and colour the other vegetables: it certainly makes this a pretty dish and for this reason I have re-named the recipe.  I tried adding Swede as well but felt it needed longer cooking, in fact I have increased the cooking times a little, however I did not find it necessary to parboil the parsnip providing it was cut to a similar size as the carrot and added at the same time.   All the root vegetables should be cut into similar sized pieces in order to cook evenly.  I particularly like the addition of fresh orange juice which gives a fruity sweetness to the vegetables, without making them too sugary.

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Rosy Roast Root Vegetables
(Serves 8)

500g/1lb 2ozs swede, peeled & cut into chunks
500g/1lb 2ozs raw beetroot, peeled & quartered
500g/1lb 2ozs carrots, peeled & cut into chunks
500g/1lb 2ozs parsnips, peeled & roughly chopped
6tbsp olive oil
500g/1lb 2ozs sweet potatoes, roughly chopped
250g /9oz leeks, roughly chopped & rinsed to remove any sand
1 orange, juiced – more if the orange is small
3tbsp roughly chopped parsley
Salt & black pepper

1.  Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6.

2.  Place the swede into a large roasting tin.  Add the olive oil, season and mix well.  Cover and roast in the oven for 10minutes.

3.  Add the beetroot, carrots and parsnips, stir well, replace cover and continue to roast for about 40 minutes.

4.  Add the sweet potatoes and leeks. Stir well and roast for a further 10 mins.  Remove the cover for a final 10 minutes.

5.  Check with a knife that each of the different vegetables are cooked through, giving them a little longer if required.

6.  Pour over the orange juice, stir in and return to the oven so that the orange is heated through.  Remove from the oven, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

7.  Serve either with a roast meat for Sunday lunch, when pieces of potato could be combined and roasted with the other vegetables.  Alternatively, serve with rice or couscous, with or without meat, as a vegetarian dish.

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How about this lovely creamy mixture of caulflower and sweet potato as an easily made extra for Guy Fawkes Night?  (Not that we actually have a bonfire or fireworks at home any more, preferring to watch from upstairs!)  Perhaps it could also be adapted to make a warming post firework watching soup for what is usually a chilly night.  Actually I think it would be wonderful served as it is, eaten from cups with a sausage in the other hand: a healthy and unusual treat to go with the usual less healthy bonfire fare.  The hint of cumin lifts the two rather ordinary vegetables to the level of something a bit more special.  This dish is not just for Bonfire night, of course, and can be served at any time as a side dish at a main meal: we ate it with pork chops, which the sweetness of both vegetables complemented really well. 

The recipe originated from Morrison’s supermarkets online recipe index and needed no alteration.  It was a good way of using up the (slightly sad) leftover bit of cauliflower in the fridge, I found!  As already mentioned, thinned down a little more with some milk and/or stock – perhaps with some extra spices of your own choosing – it could also make a delicious soup.   It would also be a good topping for a meat or pulse based pie in place of mashed potatoes.   If you run short of sweet potatoes then substitute ordinary potato, parsnip or carrot: it won’t be exactly the same but it will still taste good.

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Cauliflower & Sweet Potato Mash
(Serves 4)

1 medium sized cauliflower (or part of  a large one, as available)
1lb/450g sweet potatoes
1oz/25g butter
1tsp cumin seeds
3tbsp crème fraîche
2tbsp fresh or frozen chives (not dried)
Salt & pepper

1. Put a pan of water on to boil. Peel and dice the sweet potatoes. As they blacken quickly when exposed to air, immediately plunge them into the water and boil for 15 minutes, or until they are tender.

2. While the sweet potato cooks, remove the outer leaves and any tough stalk from a medium sized cauliflower and cook in another pan for 12 to 15 minutes.
(I cooked the sweet potato and cauliflower separately in the same stove top steamer.)

3. Drain both the sweet potato and cauliflower.

4. Melt the butter in a pan and fry the cumin seeds briefly, but do not let them burn.

5. Put the cauliflower and sweet potato into the pan with the melted butter and cumin, add the crème fraîche and mash very well until you have a creamy and lump free mixture.

6. Stir in 2 tbsp fresh chopped chives, season and serve.

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A simple potato salad is a delicious alongside a green salad as part of a summer supper.  This version is combined with Tzatziki, a yoghurt based accompaniment commonly served at Greek meals, but found around the Mediterranean and further afield under other names: all slightly different but all very similar.

The source of this recipe was an idea found at Good to Know Recipes and also called Tzatziki Potato Salad originally taken from Love Dips.  I revisited my recipe for own Tzatsiki, already posted on this site and used this, with the addition of a small amount of sweet red onion, for extra flavour and lots of mint, which very strangely was omitted from the Good to Know recipe.  As an alternative to Greek yoghurt I used a standard plain version, which can be combined with some crème fraîche for extra thickness.  However Greek Yoghurt would also give a thicker consistency and is often available in lower fat versions.  Finally, I sprinkled the whole salad generously with Sumac, a Mediterranean ingredient  more commonly found in the Middle East and North Africa, but also because I like it.  This can be replaced with paprika or some ground black pepper if preferred.

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Tzatziki Potato Salad
(Serves 4)

500g new potatoes – substitute old potatoes if new unavailable
2/3 large sprigs of mint
300g Greek yogurt, or a mixture of plain yoghurt and crème fraîche or soured cream
½ clove of garlic
½ small red onion or 2 spring onions (optional – can replace garlic)
½ cucumber
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt & black pepper
Sumac or paprika (optional)

1. Scrub new potatoes and halve or peel and cut old potatoes into large dice. Cover with water, add a pinch of salt and a large stem of mint. Bring to the boil and cook until soft. Do not overcook as they could break up, which could be a problem using old potatoes.

2. Measure the yoghurt or yoghurt and crème fraîche/soured cream into a bowl.

3. Finely chop or crush the garlic and red onion or spring onions. Finely dice the cucumber. Chop the remaining mint, reserving a few whole small leaves to decorate. Mix these into the yoghurt along with the lemon juice and season to taste.

4. Gently combine with the potatoes, spoon into a serving dish, decorate with the reserved mint leaves and sprinkle with a little sumac, paprika or black pepper to serve.

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I am always looking out for easy and unusual meat free recipes and I can thoroughly recommend this delicious vegetarian recipe.  I have a few vegetarian friends and it is good to have something a bit different to serve them.  I am fond of sweet potato and it is lovely in combination with melting cheese and sweet red pepper.  The next time we have a church lunch and I have to find a main course for vegetarians, this will be it!

I found a copy of Weightwatchers The Time to Eat Cookbook in a charity shop and this was the first recipe that caught my eye.  The original recipe used low fat Leicester cheese, but I used full fat cheese.  I had not used filo pastry before but I did not find it too difficult to handle as long as I followed a tip I had heard to keep unused pastry from drying out by covering with a damp tea towel.  When the pastry tore slightly it did not cause too many problems: I simply patched it with another piece of pastry.  Individual streudels could be served as a light lunch and not just for vegetarians – see below for more information.  It would also make an ideal starter to serve before a fish main course.  I served the streudel with salad and a Naan bread, although I felt the Naan not really necessary unless you were feeding someone who was very hungry.  Do not worry too much if the streudel splits open while cooking.

Sweet Potato & Red Leicester Streudel
(Serves 4)

450g (1lb) sweet potatoes, peeled & diced
75g (2¾oz) Red Leicester cheese, grated (half fat if you wish)
1 red pepper, de-seeded and diced
1 onion, chopped finely
4 sheets filo pastry
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.  Boil the sweet potatoes in a panful of lightly salted water until they are tender – around 10minutes.

2.  Drain the sweet potatoes well and mash thoroughly.

3.  Stir in the cheese, red pepper, onion.  Season. Allow the mixture to cool for at least 10 minutes.

4.  Preheat the oven to 190oC/370oF/Gas 5.

5.  Dip a tea towel in cold water and squeeze out very well.  Use this to cover the unused sheets of filo pastry to stop them from drying out. 

6.  Remove a sheet of filo pastry, covering the remainder with the damp tea towel.  Lightly brush the pastry sheet with some of the olive oil.  Do this with each sheet, stacking them on on top of each other once they have been prepared.  Put any remaining pastry sheets away as soon as possible.
7.  Spread the sweet potato mixture over the top of the pile of pastry sheets to within 7cm/¾inch of the edges. Carefully roll up the pastry so that the filling is enclosed.

8. Carefully lift the roll of pastry onto a lightly greased non-stick baking tray.   Brush the streudel with the remaining oil and carefully make some diagonal cuts in the top with a sharp knife. 

9.  Bake for around 20 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden.

10.  Cut the strudel into four slices and serve with a mixed salad.

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Individual Streudels
Make the mixture exactly as above, dividing the sweet potato mixture into four equal portions in the saucepan.  Peel off one sheet of filo pastry and cover the remainder with a damp tea towel.  Lightly oil one half of the filo sheet and fold in half.  Spoon the mixture onto the pastry sheet and roll up, tucking the ends in slightly as you go.


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Recipes for versions of Lentil Lasagne abound online and in cookery books, but I just couldn’t find a definitive one we really liked.  They had a tendency to be dry tasting and a bit bland.  I wanted a sauce base starting with onion, garlic, mushroom, tomato and a selection of other flavoursome vegetables we like plus, of course, red lentils to soak up the liquid.  I decided to make a similar mixture to the Masoor Dhal (Red Lentil Dhal) I serve with Indian food, adding extra vegetables, but keeping the spice mix much simpler: fragrant but definitely no heat plus some of our favourite fresh coriander.  After that the mixture could be simply layered with sheets of lasagne, white sauce and cheese in a similar way to traditional meat Lasagne al Forno made with Ragu Bolognaise.

There is not really an original recipe to acknowledge for my Spicy Vegetable Dhal Lasagne, however as my starting point one of the main recipes I used was this one for Lentil Lasagne from Forkd, which was tweaked and adapted until it became my own Spicy Vegetable Dhal Lasagne.  I chopped the vegetables into quite small pieces, but they could be left larger for a more chunky lasagne.   We were delighted with the tasty result: here it is.

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Spiced Vegetable Dhal Lasagne
(Serves 4)

1tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
125g/4ozs button mushrooms, quartered
200g/60zs red lentils (masoor dhal)
1-1½ pints water
1tsp vegetable bouillon powder
1 x 400g/14oz tin tomatoes, chopped
15ml/1tbsp tomato puree
½tsp sugar
1tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground cumin
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
1 large courgette in small dice  (or 4-6 baby courgettes in small slices)
1 large yellow pepper (or red if not available), chopped2tbsp chopped fresh coriander, reserving a little as a garnish
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
200g/6ozs grated mozzarella or mild cheddar
9-10 Lasagne sheets

For the sauce:
¾pint milk
2tbsps cornflour
1tsp butter or margarine
½tsp mild French mustard
½tsp freshly ground nutmeg

1.  Preheat the oven to 200oC/400oF/Gas 6.

2.  Heat the oil in a pan and gently fry together the onion, garlic, celery and mushrooms until soft but not brown.

3.  Check the lentils and remove any stones or twig and add to the pan with at least 1pint of water, the tomato puree, well chopped tinned tomatoes, sugar, ground coriander, ground cumin and stock powder.  Stir well, bring to the boil and reduce heat to a gentle simmer.  Cover and cook until the lentils start to soften (about 20 minutes).

4.  Add the grated carrot, diced courgette and chopped pepper. Stir well.  Add salt & black pepper to taste.  Cover and cook for a further 10 minutes to allow the vegetables to start to soften.  If the mixture becomes to thick then add some more water.  The lasagne sheets need to absorb plenty of liquid from the dhal mixture or they will not be soft enough.

5a.  Meanwhile make the white sauce.   Blend the cornflour with a little of the milk.  Heat the remaining milk and combine with the blended cornflour.  Pour this mixture into a saucepan and stir continuously over a moderate heat until the mixture thickens.  It should be a pouring consistency so add a little more milk if it is too thick.
5b.  Gradually combine the milk with the cornflour in a microwave proof jug.  Heat in 30 second to 1 minute bursts on a high heat, stirring well between each burst of heat, until the mixture starts to thicken.  It should be a pouring consistency so add a little more milk if it is too thick.

6.  Stir the French mustard and nutmeg into the thickened white sauce and mix well.

7.  Mix most of the chopped fresh coriander into the dhal mixture, reserving a little for garnish if you wish.

8.  Starting with spoonfuls of dhal mixture, layer the lasagne: sauce, about 2tbsp white sauce, a sprinkling of grated cheese and sheets of lasagne.  Continue in this way ending with a final layer of dhal mixture.  I usually add some more boiling water at this point around the edge of the lasagne, which will either be absorbed by the pasta or evaporate in the hot oven.

9.  Pour the remaining white sauce over the final layer of dhal mixture and cover with the remaining grated cheese.

10.  Bake for 30-40minutes until the top is golden and crispy and the water has completely disappeared.

11.  Serve garnished with chopped coriander.

12.  This dish does not really need extra vegetables, but a simple side salad makes a good accompaniment.  For extra hungry diners it could be served with a garlic bread.  Leftovers can be frozen but, as usual, should be thoroughly reheated before serving.

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Shortly after I was married I bought a wok: Ken Hom had been on television and stir frying seemed so easy. My mother in law regularly fed us stir fried dishes when we visited and I figured that if she could do it then so could I!  Since that time I have acquired several books of chinese recipes and treated myself to a pretty blue and white fishy chinese dinner set (pictured) of bowls, plates, spoons and chopstick rests, to which I have added some matching larger bowls that I was fortunate to find in the same design.  I have cooked some multi-dish Chinese style meals for guests, but mostly I cook stir fries as family dinners.  Once the preparation of ingredients has been done, this meal can be cooked and served very quickly.

One of our favourites is chicken and cashew nuts, traditionally one of the most popular choices at the Chinese takeaway.  I also stir fry with prawns and also with lean pieces of belly pork (or pork fillet) flavoured with lots of garlic and ginger, sometimes including chinese plum sauce.  This recipe has no original source, or at least none that I can really acknowledge.  It is just what I find works for us.  The ingredient information is scant as I tend to use what is available, but always start with onion, garlic and ginger, add light soy and five spice and finish with sesame oil.  I follow the advice I heard somewhere not to cook with sesame oil as it burns easily.  I stir fry with sunflower (not olive) oil and stir in the sesame oil at the end for added flavour.  I have been known to add toasted sesame seeds at the table as well.  I still have the same, now well used, wok that I bought when I was first married: it is a Ken Hom one with a slightly flattened base as I cook on an electric ceramic hob.

A word about soy sauce:  much has been written about avoiding the additive MSG (Monosodium glutamate) because of possible health implications.  It used to be difficult to find soy sauce without this ingredient, but it is now becoming increasingly easy to find dark and light soy sauce and its Japanese cousin, Shoyu, that are MSG free.  They are worth hunting down.

100_2903 Chicken & Cashew Nut Stir Fry

Chinese Style Stir Fries

Chicken & Cashew Nut Stir Fry
(Serves 4)

2tbsp sunflower oil
2-3ozs cashew nuts
1 large white onion, medium sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1inch (2.5cm) piece of ginger, finely chopped
8ozs/225g lean chicken breast, cut into thin slices
1tbsp light soy sauce
40zs/125g button mushrooms, quartered
1tsp chinese 5-spice seasoning
1tbsp sesame oil
1tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)
A selection of vegetables in a variety of colours – choose 2 or 3 from:
     Sliced red/yellow/orange/green pepper
Pak choi/Bok choi, chopped or Broccoli, in small florets
Carrot, cut into fine rings or julienne strips – good with chicken & cashew nut
Courgette, cut into fine rings or ribbons
French beans, 1inch/2.5cm pieces or handful frozen peas, cooked & drained
Chinese vegetables: beansprouts, beanshoots, water chestnuts

The term ‘stir fry’, when used below, means to continuously turn the ingredients in the hot oil in the wok. (I have a special flattened wok spatula.)  This helps them to cook evenly, stopping them from adhering to the pan and burning.

1.  Collect together and prepare all the ingredients.  It is important that they are available for immediate use.  Ingredients should be unmixed so they can be added separately.

2.  If using Broccoli it should be blanched: divide into small florets and pour boiling water over, leave for one minute and then immerse in cold water to stop cooking.  Set aside until needed.

3.  Place the wok on the stove top, using maximum heat, to allow it to pre-heat.  After 2 minutes or so, add the sunflower oil and allow this to heat through.  (IMPORTANT: Do not leave the pan unattended.)

4.  Omit this stage if not using cashews: Drop a cashew nut in the oil.  If it sizzles immediately add the remaining nut pieces, if not then wait a short while before trying another piece of nut.  The cashew nuts will brown very quickly, almost immediately.  Be careful to remove them before they blacken and spoil.  Spoon onto a piece of kitchen paper to soak up excess leaving the remaining oil in the wok.

5.  Add a small piece of onion to the oil and if it sizzles then it is hot enough to add the remainder of the onion.  Add the onion, garlic and ginger into the hot sunflower oil and stir fry as it cooks through.  It should be transparent and not brown.  Add the mushroom pieces, and stir fry for a minute or two.  Add the pieces of chicken and stir fry for 2-3 minutes to allow it to start to cook evenly.

6.  Add chosen remaining vegetables, apart from greens/broccoli.  Stir fry as they are included.  When cooked they should still be slightly crisp rather than soft, so it is important to add those that cook more slowly earlier than those that will cook quickly. (I always add carrot first if I am using it.  Save pak choi/bok choi or pre-blanched broccoli to put in towards the end after adding the soy sauce.

7.  Add the chinese 5-spice powder and light soy sauce and stir through.

8.  Add pak choi/bok choi or broccoli, stir in well, turn down the heat a little and if possible cover the wok.  Allow to cook until the vegetables are still crisp and before they soften: 2-3minutes at most.

9.   Finally, return the cooked cashew nuts to the wok along with the sesame oil.  Briefly stir through the mixture and serve immediately.

10.  Serve, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds (optional) and on a bed of plain boiled rice or boiled noodles (or *egg fried rice, if you wish).  A small portion of prawn crackers can be served on the side, they are easy to fry if you can find uncooked ones, but can also be bought ready cooked in large supermarkets.  Soy sauce lovers may like to drizzle over a little additional dark or light soy sauce.

*For egg fried rice, stir fry pre-cooked rice in a little sunflower oil in a wok.  Beat an egg and quickly stir through the rice mixture, turning (stir frying) constantly so that the egg cooks through and does not stick to the wok and burn.  Season and serve quickly.

More stir fried dishes:
Chinese Style Belly Pork & Greens/Broccoli/Bok Choy
Special Fried Rice

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Ratatouille Niçoise or Provençale, is usually associated with France, in particular the region of Provençe, however its ingredients and flavours are commonly found throughout the Mediterranean.  I find it makes sense to make an extra large quantity as it freezes well.  This very convenient recipe can use freshly made or frozen (and completely defrosted) Ratatouille.  It can be assembled quickly using frozen white fish and fresh spinach plus the flavourings and seasonings.

The recipe, originally called Moroccan Fish Fillets, was printed on a Sainsbury’s free instore recipe card in the Feed your family for a Fiver series.  I have no idea whether the original recipe is authentically Moroccan, but it did not include any of the seasonings I usually associate with the region.  This is my adaptation of the original recipe adding some of these flavours, hence the name change.  I substituted spinach for the leafy spring greens that were originally suggested, but in a smaller quantity, plus I used home made Ratatouille Niçoise/Provençale (with our usual favourite added dried orange peel) in place of the tinned version. (As the home made Ratatouille already contains Herbes de Provence adding mixed herbs is unnecessary.)  Additionally, I added Pickled or Preserved Lemon and Ras el-Hanout spice mixture (my home made version), with sumac powder and fresh coriander to serve.  The original recipe also included a tin of chick peas to be mixed with couscous as part of an accompanying side dish.  This recipe is good when accompanied by my own recipe for Coriander & Chickpea Couscous Salad.

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North African Style Fish Fillets
(Serves 4)

1 bunch of Spinach (original used Spring greens)
Ratatouille Niçoise/Provençale, quantity to feed four
½-1tsp Ras el-Hanout
4 pieces of frozen (or fresh) white fish fillet: pollock, cod or haddock
Slices of Pickled or Preserved Lemon, plus a little of the preserving juice
Olive oil
Salt & black pepper
Sumac powder to sprinkle (to taste)
Fresh coriander, chopped

1.  Preheat the oven to 200oC/Fan 190oC/400oF/Gas 6.

2.  Chop the spinach, rinse and place, without precooking, in a large ovenproof dish.

3.  Stir the Ras el-Hanout into the Ratatouille Niçoise/Provençale and pour over the spinach.

4.  Top with the pieces of frozen fish (no need to de-frost) and top each piece of fish with one or two slices of preserved/pickled lemon.  Spoon a little of the juice from the jar of lemons over each fillet along with a little olive oil. 

5.  Sprinkle with a little sumac powder and season with some salt and black pepper.

6.  Cover with aluminium foil making sure the dish is completely covered so the flavours are sealed in.

7.  Bake for 45 minutes, until the fish is completely cooked through, removing the foil for the last 5 minutes or so.

8.  Serve with a little more sumac and chopped fresh coriander (not dried) sprinkled over, accompanied by couscous.

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Ratatouille Niçoise, also called Ratatouille Provençale, is a traditional dish from the Provence region of France, originating from the Mediterranean town of Nice, after which it gets its proper full name.  Mostly, however, this is shortened to just Ratatouille.  I cannot give a particular source for this recipe, but anyway I consider this version my own!  As with my personal combinations for Chilli con Carne and Ragu Bolognaise, this recipe has altered over the years into the combination of flavours we currently enjoy and it may well continue to develop.

However, following a suggestion in the book Cooking in Provence by Alexander MacKay & Peter Knab my most recent addition has been dried orange peel, which evokes the scent and flavour of the Mediterranean climate. (See information about orange peel in my section on ingredients.)  I once read that true Herbes de Provence should have a little culinary lavender added as well, so if I have some available I add just a little.  (A word of warning: Lavender is said to induce labour and therefore should not be served to anyone who is, or may be, pregnant.)  MacKay & Knab also add cayenne instead of ordinary pepper, which even if used sparingly, gives a gentle spicy kick.  Ratatouille mixture can be eaten as a vegetarian main course on its own, topped with grated parmesan cheese or as a side vegetable dish with grilled meat (gammon steak or pork chops are good).  I also use it in North African Style Fish Fillets, a North African style recipe where the Ratatouille is layered in the bottom of a serving dish as a bed on which fish fillets are baked.  Ratatouille freezes well so it is worth making a larger quantity to store for another time.  It is also surprisingly good cold and the flavours develop more if left overnight in the fridge.  Left over Ratatouille can also be included in a home made mixed leftovers soup, a tasty and economical midweek lunch.  All quantities given in the recipe below should be considered as a rough guide and can be altered to suit personal taste.

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Special Ratatouille
(Serves 4-6 depending on size of vegetables)

1 large aubergine, quartered lengthwise & cut into chunks
1tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, red or white (more if you like onion)
2 cloves garlic
4ozs/110g mushrooms, quartered or sliced depending on size
2 large courgettes, quartered lengthwise & cut into chunks
1tbsp tomato purée
14oz/400g tin of plum tomatoes, chopped
8ozs/225g fresh tomatoes & a little water
1tbsp herbes de provence
1tbsp dried orange rind
½tsp sugar
2 peppers – red, yellow or orange are preferable, sliced
½tsp chopped fresh basil plus a little to garnish (optional)
Salt & ground black pepper (or cayenne pepper)

1.  Layer the aubergine slices in a colander, sprinkling each layer with salt.  Cover with a plate that fits within the colander, add a weight (a tin of beans or fruit) and leave to one side.

2.  Halve and slice the onion(s) and finely chop the garlic.  Cook the onion, garlic and mushroom in olive oil over a low heat until the onion is transparent and soft.

3.  Mix in the tomato purée and well chopped tomatoes (plus a little water if using fresh tomatoes).  Stir in the herbs, dried orange rind, sugar and, if using, lavender and/or cayenne pepper.  Bring to the boil.

4.  Stir in the courgette and peppers with the rinsed courgette.  Add the fresh basil if using.  Season to taste.  Reduce the heat, cover and cook gently for at least 30 minutes. 
It is often considered preferable to cook Ratatouille in the oven with a longer cooking time recommended to allow the flavours to fully develop.  Rather than cooking on the stove top, Ratatouille can be transferred to an lidded ovenproof dish and cooked in a low oven at 170oC/325oF/Gas 3 for about 1 hour.  It is important, though, for the individual pieces of vegetable retain their shape rather than turning mushy. 

5.  However it is cooked, check from time to time adding a little extra water if necessary.

6.  Check seasoning.  Drizzle with a little extra olive oil, garnish with chopped basil and some strands of dried orange rind before serving (optional) .

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We love the flavours of North Africa: with ingredients such as spicy coriander and cumin, fragrant cinnamon and orange flower water, hot chilli and ginger, sour pickled lemon, salty olives and sometimes even the sweetness of fruit, although readers of other pages on this site will know that I am not keen on very sweet fruit with meat.  I was delighted, therefore, to be given a Tagine for my birthday: not absolutely necessary to cook the dishes but lovely to look at and use for serving and especially for entertaining.  Along with the Tagine, I was also given a recipe book containing a good selection of ideas for using my new pot.  This was the first recipe that caught my eye: we love beetroot cooked with meat and in combination with orange the dish sounded unusual and delicious. 

This recipe was taken from Tagine: Spicy Stews from Morocco by Ghillie Başan.  I have altered the quantities and proportions a little and have adapted the recipe for cooking in the oven.  (My Tagine cannot be used on the stovetop as I have an electric cooker with a ceramic hob.)  I served the Tagine with wedges of butternut squash oven baked with olive oil and a sprinkling of Ras el-Hanout, a spice mixture which is exclusive to North Africa (I mix my own) along with Couscous flavoured with pickled lemon and fresh coriander.  I often add chickpeas to the couscous mixture but these would also be good added to the Tagine at the same time as the orange segments.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Moroccan Style Beef Stew with Beetroot & Orange
(Serves 4-6)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil (original uses ghee)
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large red onions, halved lengthwide and sliced
1inch/2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated (amount can be increased)
½ red chilli, deseeded and chopped
2tsp coriander seeds, crushed
2 cinnamon sticks
3-4 beetroots, peeled & quartered (uncooked)
1lb/500g lean beef, cut into bite sized pieces
2 or 3 thin skinned oranges, segmented
1tbsp dark, runny honey
1-2 tsp orange flower water
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 knob of butter
2-3 tbsp shelled pistachio nuts
a handful of fresh coriander, chopped (original uses flat leaved parsley)

This recipe can be either cooked on the hob, as in the original instruction, or at Step 6 transferred to the oven and baked. 
If using the oven it should be pre-heated to 160oC Fan/170oC/325oF/Gas 3

1.  Melt the oil in a pan (alternatively a Tagine or lidded casserole dish suitable for stove top use) and stir in the garlic, onion and ginger until they start to colour.

2.  Add the chilli, crushed coriander seeds and cinnamon stick.

3.  Add the beetroot pieces and cook gently for 2-3minutes. 

4.  Add the beef and gently cook for 1 minute.

5.   Pour over enough water to almost cover the beetroot and beef.  Bring to the boil. 

6.  Transfer to a Tagine or ovenproof dish with a well fitting lid and place in the oven.   Alternatively leave in the pan, cover and reduce heat.  Cook for 1 hour, until the meat is very tender.

7.  Add the orange pieces, honey and orange flower water and season.  Cook, covered, for a further 10-15 minutes.

8.  Melt the butter in a small pan and lightly brown the pistachio nuts over a medium heat.

9.  Sprinkle them, with the coriander or flat leaved parsley, over the meat mixture and serve.

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Crisp outside, spicy and soft inside, Onion Bhajis are delicious: fried onions with a twist.  When we visit an Indian restaurant it is not unusual for all of us to order them as a starter or to accompany the main course.  I have seen packets of ready mix in supermarkets and local ethnic shops, but I hadn’t realised just how easy they were to make until I found this recipe: simply spoonfuls of fried, spicy diced onion and chick pea (besan/gram) flour batter mixture. I shall definitely be making these now when I serve Indian style food to friends.

The recipe comes from a library book Curry: Easy Recipes for all your favourites by Sunil Vijayakar, which has a good selection of uncomplicated sounding recipes. It is better if the onion is chopped fairly finely (but not very finely) and the batter quite thick so that the mixture does not easily fall apart when being cooked. I also found that putting the mixture in the fridge to chill for a while helped them to hold together, a bit like Salt Fish Cakes. In fact the method is not dissimilar.  The original recipe calls for deep frying (in sunflower oil heated to 180oC for 1-2 minutes) but I found that they could be shallow fried just as easily, which is a (slightly) healthier option. Make them fairly close to serving to keep their crispness, but they could be kept warm for a short while. Serve either as a first course accompanied with Lime Pickle and/or Mango Chutney or as one of the vegetable options in a mixed Indian style menu.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Onion Bhajis
(Makes about 16)

250g gram flour/besan/chick pea flour
1tsp chilli powder (mild/medium/hot, depending on taste
1tsp ground turmeric
1tbsp crushed coriander seeds
3 large onions, chopped fairly finely
6 curry leaves, fresh if possible
Sunflower oil for frying (deep or shallow)
Chopped fresh coriander to serve, if available.

1. Mix the gram flour, chilli powder, turmeric, coriander seeds and a pinch of salt together in a bowl.

2. Add water to make a thick batter, which will hold the onion together.

3. Stir in the onions and curry leaves. If necessary add a little more flour.

4. Form the mixture into balls, using a little flour on the hands and surface to stop them sticking too much. Put them in the fridge to chill for at least 10minutes.

5. Shallow fry in sunflower oil until golden brown.

6. Serve garnished with some chopped fresh coriander if available and Lime Pickle and/or Mango chutney for a first course.

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