One-pot meals


stir-frying-broccoli-and-tofu

I realised with some alarm that I hadn’t yet done a broccoli dish on this site. This is most unusual, as my passion for broccoli borders on obsession. This pretty emerald-coloured vegetable is the ‘default’ item that I put in my shopping basket whenever I haven’t worked out my menu plan, because I know that I’ll always find a use for it. If I don’t eat broccoli at least once or twice a week, I’ll start having serious cravings for it. I cook the vegetable in many different ways – but because I cook it so frequently, I’m always on the lookout for new broccoli recipes, so if you know any good ones, do let me know!

This authentic Chinese recipe is one of my favourite ways of cooking broccoli. It’s based on two cooking techniques commonly used in Chinese cookery: stir-frying and braising. I adore tofu, too – especially its texture – and in this recipe, it absorbs the sauce, giving it a lot of flavour.

Use light soy sauce for a lighter colour, as the addition of dark soy sauce will give it a darker colour and denser flavour. Using preserved black soy beans will give the dish an earthy depth; but go easy on the quantity, otherwise the dish will taste ‘muddy’. (About 7 times out of 10 when making this dish, I omit the black beans).

Use any sort of broccoli you like – Chinese (gai lan), ordinary, or tenderstem – but not purple sprouting, as its taste and texture is too coarse for this dish. I have tried numerous variations over the years – mixing the broccoli with cauliflower, pak choi or cashew nuts, for instance – but I always come back to this basic combination. I have to admit that I’m a little precious about this recipe – which is why my cooking instructions are more than usually detailed.

As it is so delicious, I cook this dish frequently. I like eating it with plain, steamed white basmati rice. I know Chinese short-grain rice would be more authentic, but I like the way the intense earthy savouriness of the dish plays off with basmati’s floral, exotic perfume. Serves 4.

For the sauce:
3 teaspoons cornflour (cornstarch)
12 fl oz/ 350 ml mild vegetable stock made with instant stock powder
2 tablespoons Chinese shaohsing wine (rice cooking wine), or dry sherry
2 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon preserved Chinese black soy beans, rinsed and chopped (optional)

For the broccoli and tofu:
9oz/ 225g broccoli
9oz/ 225g plain firm or silken tofu (both will give a different texture)
4 tablespoons groundnut (peanut) or corn oil
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 or 2 fresh red birdseye chillies, sliced (optional)
6 spring onions, trimmed and sliced widely on the diagonal
Salt

1.    Start by making the sauce. In a bowl, place the cornflour and gradually add 4 fl oz/ 125 ml of the vegetable stock (leave the rest for the braising that’s required later in the cooking process). Mix well, making sure there are no lumps. Add the wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, and black beans if using. Combine thoroughly and set aside. (Incidentally, this basic sauce is wonderful for any vegetable stir-fries).
2.    Cut the broccoli flowerets in medium pieces. Peel the stalks, and chop them in similar-sized pieces to the flowerets.
3.    Drain the tofu on several layers of kitchen paper, then cut into cubes, long slices, or triangles.
4.    Heat a wok on medium heat. When it’s hot but not smoking, lower the heat and add the oil. Then add the ginger, garlic, and chillies (if using), and let them sizzle for a few seconds. They should not become brown or burn.
5.    Add the spring onions and broccoli, and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Add the remaining 8 fl oz/ 225 ml stock and salt, and bring to the boil. (Go easy on the salt – because the vegetable stock and soy sauce are already salty, you won’t need much – if at all). Lower the heat, and simmer with the lid on for a couple of minutes until the broccoli is tender but still al dente. Do not overcook – the broccoli should preserve its vibrant green colour.
6.     Remove the broccoli from the wok with a slotted spoon and set aside. (Some of the spring onions clinging to the broccoli will come out, too – this is okay!).
7.    Turn the heat to very, very low, and add the tofu pieces to the remaining liquid. (If you’re using silken tofu, handle it gently as this is the point where it’s likely to break up).
8.    Once the tofu is heated through, give the cornflour-based sauce a stir and pour it in. Mix very gently. Cook until the sauce begins to thicken and reduce in quantity.
9.    Add the cooked broccoli back to the wok. Once again, mix gently and thoroughly, so that the broccoli and tofu are coated with the sauce.
10.    Once the sauce has thickened, remove the wok from the heat. Serve immediately.

lentil-and-root-veg-stew-with-topping2

This recipe isn’t authentically Middle Eastern – but it’s authentically credit crunch-friendly. And, let’s face it, we could all do with a few of those right now!

Normally, when I go out for food shopping, I automatically reach for green leaves and brassicas (which I simply can’t get enough of), or buy glamorous veggies like aubergines, artichokes, asparagus or wild mushrooms. So my rather idiosyncratic new year resolution is to try and incorporate more root vegetables in my diet. After all, they are tasty, healthy, filling, and economical.

The tempering technique used here is found in Middle Eastern as well as Asian cuisines. So if you want this stew to have, say, Indian flavour, omit the thyme and parsley, and replace them with fresh coriander leaves (cilantro). Then cook in water rather than vegetable stock, and add a little red chilli powder and garam masala to the onion-garlic mixture. Again, not totally authentic, but delicious nonetheless.

In fact, that’s what I like about this recipe – that you can change its identity completely by changing the flavour profile. Which just goes to show how connected cuisines from different parts of the world are, and how historically they have influenced each other.

Eat the stew with warm pita bread, and some green salad if you like. Serves 3 to 4.

1.5 lb/ 750g mixed root vegetables: choose any combination of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, swedes (rutabaga), kohlrabi, and celeriac (celery root)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 sticks celery, peeled and sliced
150g/ 6 oz dried split red lentils, rinsed and drained
1.5 pints/ 750 ml vegetable stock (instant is fine)
2 dried bay leaves
8 oz/ 200g tomatoes, peeled and chopped (canned ones are fine)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (optional)
Salt and pepper
Juice of half a lemon

For the tempering:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 level tablespoon ground cumin
1 level tablespoon ground coriander

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Lemon wedges, to serve

1. Trim, peel and dice the vegetables in even-sized pieces, so that they all cook together consistently. (You can boil the discarded peel and trimmings with water to make vegetable stock – or not, as you prefer).
2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and cook the onions until they are slightly golden. Add the garlic and celery, and sauté for a few minutes, taking care not to burn.
3. Add the prepared vegetables and lentils, and sauté for a further 5 minutes.
4. Add the stock, bay leaves, tomatoes, and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan with a lid, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the lentils cooked.
5. Meanwhile, for the tempering, heat the oil in a small frying pan on medium heat. Add the sliced onion and fry for 5 – 10 minutes until it’s golden brown.
6. Add the garlic until it’s tinged with light brown colour. Add the spices, and let them sizzle for a few seconds until they are cooked and they perfume your kitchen. Remove from the heat immediately and set aside.
7. Add the seasoning and lemon juice to the stew, and mix well. Then pour in the spice tempering (or, alternatively, the tempering could be poured onto individual servings). Garnish the stew with chopped parsley, and serve with lemon wedges.

veggie-oden

This is a vegetarian version of the classic Japanese stew that’s normally made from meat, seafood, vegetables and tofu. It is ubiquitous in Japan during winter months and sold everywhere from street stalls to smart shops, where there might be a pot bubbling away behind the counter. I’m surprised it’s not better known in the West – or, at least, it is virtually unknown in the UK.

Don’t be intimidated by the ingredients, as the stew itself is simple to cook. Admittedly, it is time-consuming and involves several components, so a leisurely weekend would be the best time to prepare it. To cut down on the cooking time, you can use prepared mustard paste (available in little tins or tubes in Japanese shops); and, instead of making your own dashi, use mildly flavoured vegetable stock or instant vegetarian dashi powder (though the latter is not easy to find – you’ll have to make sure it doesn’t contain bonito fish flakes).

A very simple version of dashi can be made from soaking dried shiitake and kombu, and using the strained soaking water as stock. However, if you make Japanese food – or even only miso soup – regularly, it is a good idea to make your own dashi in large quantities and freeze it in ice cube trays for future use. Which is why I am giving a recipe here.

Konnyaku is speckled grey, gelatinous root of the ‘devils tongue’ plant. It is believed to be extremely low in calories, and regularly used by the Japanese for detoxing. Numerous health benefits are associated with it.

All the specialist ingredients can be bought from Japanese shops, but if you can’t find them, substitute vegetables such as baby turnips, baby pak choi, sweet potatoes, Japanese kabocha squash, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, etc. Stick to oriental roots, starches, greens or mushrooms as much as you can (rather than using, say, bell peppers, courgettes, etc). Indeed, aburage, fu, and konnyaku are used more for texture than flavour. You can make a simplified version of this dish using only two or three ingredients, and it will still taste good.

Oden is a unique combination of hearty and filling, yet light at the same time. It can be eaten on its own, or with plain white rice and pale pink Japanese ginger pickle. It should always be eaten with hot mustard, which is essential for this dish (it just won’t taste the same without it).

Here in the UK, the weather continues to be absolutely freezing – with snowfall and sub-zero temperatures all around – so the combination of ginger and mustard would certainly help clear the sinuses! Serves 4.

For the mustard condiment:
4 tablespoons Japanese (or English) mustard powder
Approx 12 tablespoons cold water

For the vegetarian dashi:
Approx 10-inch piece kombu (kelp) seaweed
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
4 pints/ 2 litres cold water
1 oz/ 25g tororo-kombu seaweed (or use nori if you can’t find it)
4 tablespoons sake (rice wine)
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine)
½ teaspoon sugar
5 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce

For the stew:
6 sheets aburage (flat sheets of fried tofu), or fu (small pieces of dried gluten)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 oz/ 250g firm tofu, drained on kitchen paper and cut into triangles
3 pints/ 1.5 litres vegetarian dashi (as above)
4 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
4 tablespoons mirin
½ teaspoon sugar
2-inch piece kombu
2 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced chunkily
8oz/ 200g daikon radish, peeled and sliced chunkily
8oz/ 200g konnyaku, cut into triangles (similar to the tofu)
6 oz/ 150g fresh or prepared lotus root, sliced horizontally
4 large hardboiled eggs, shelled and left whole
Salt

1.    Prepare the mustard condiment first. Combine the mustard powder with water, making sure that the consistency is thinner than you would like (as it will gradually thicken). Set aside.
2.    Next make the dashi. Clean the kombu with dry kitchen paper to remove any grit, but do not wash otherwise it will lose its flavour. Snip into large pieces with scissors.
3.    Steep the kombu and dried mushrooms in a saucepan of water, and set aside for 3 or 4 hours.
4.    Gently heat the saucepan until the liquid reaches just below the boiling point. Remove the kombu and discard.
5.    Add tororo-kombu to the pan, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
6.    Add the remaining dashi ingredients. Again bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for a further 2 minutes.
7.    Drain through a sieve, and discard the seaweed and mushrooms. Set the dashi aside. It should have a pure, clean taste.
8.    Now make the stew. If using the aburage sheets, steep them briefly in boiling water to remove excess liquid. Rinse in cold water, squeeze between the palm of your hands, drain, and cut into 1-inch squares.
9.    Heat the oil in a small wok, and fry the tofu triangles until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
10.    Heat the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, sugar and kombu in a large saucepan, and bring to the boil. Add potatoes and carrots, and bring to the boil again. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes until almost tender.
11.    Add the daikon radish, konnyaku, and lotus root, and simmer for another 10 minutes.
12.    Add tofu, aburage (or around 16 pieces of fu), hardboiled eggs and salt, and simmer for 5 minutes. Check each vegetable for doneness, and adjust the seasoning.
13.    Remove the piece of kombu and discard. Carefully lift out each egg, cut it in half, and place the halved eggs back into the stew.
14.    Ladle the oden into individual bowls, and serve with small quantities of hot mustard.

What will be the first dish that you eat on New Year’s Day? Will it involve fresh truffles, rare cheeses, dark chocolate or champagne? Or will you be using (out of season) strawberries, asparagus or morel mushrooms?

My first dish is always the same: a mixture of lentils and noodles. So why am I choosing such mundane ingredients in favour of luxurious ones? There are two reasons.

The first and foremost reason is: noodles represent longevity in Chinese and other Asian cultures and are always eaten at new year; whereas lentils are believed to bring good luck by people of Italy and other Mediterranean countries, and are traditionally eaten at new year, too. So if you combine noodles and lentils, you are bound to receive a double dose of longevity and luck. Not a bad start to the year!

The second reason is simply that after all the rich, heavy foods consumed during Christmas, this simple, down-to-earth, unpretentious dish brings me comfort and keeps me grounded. And if you have a reasonably well-stocked larder, you won’t have to do any shopping either.

The spices help to kick-start the post-festive jaded palate. I use rather a lot of spices, onions and garlic in this recipe – otherwise it would be plain and bland, as it has no main ingredients other than starch – but you can adjust the quantity to suit your taste.

Like Syrians, I like to eat this dish as it is. However, you can add fresh tomatoes while cooking; or serve it with a simple tomato sauce (not one with too many herbs), or plain yoghurt mixed with some fresh parsley. You may add a squeeze of lemon too, if you like. (If you use any of these suggested embellishments, you might want to reduce the quantity of spices – otherwise there could be too many clashing flavours).

Accompany with a bowl of soup and a crisp mixed salad; or serve with a platter of grilled Mediterranean vegetables – aubergines go especially well. Serves 4.

7 oz/ 175g whole brown or green lentils OR 1 x 16 oz can
1 level tablespoon cumin seeds
1 level tablespoon coriander seeds
2 cloves
1-inch piece cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon allspice berries
½ teaspoon hot red chilli powder or chilli flakes
8 oz/ 200g Middle Eastern rishta noodles (or thick vermicelli, egg noodles, wheat noodles, spaghetti, linguini or fettuccini)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, peeled and chopped or finely sliced
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Salt and pepper
2 oz/ 50g butter, melted
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, to garnish

1.    Wash the lentils, cook until tender (between 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how old they are), and drain. If using tinned lentils, rinse and drain thoroughly.
2.    In a small frying pan, toast the cumin and coriander seeds, cloves, and cinnamon until they are just a few shades darker and become aromatic. Take care not to burn them. Let them cool a little, then crush them in a mortar or pulverize them in a spice grinder, along with allspice berries (which don’t need toasting). Add the chilli powder or flakes to the spice mixture, and set aside.
3.    Cook the noodles according to packet instructions, drain and plunge in cold water to prevent them from cooking further.
4.    In a wide, heavy saucepan, heat the oil on medium heat and cook the onions until they are golden brown. Turn the heat to very low, add garlic and spice mixture, and stir for a few minutes until it perfumes your kitchen. Make sure it doesn’t go too dark in colour, or it will taste bitter.
5.    Add the cooked lentils, noodles and seasoning. Mix gently and thoroughly so that the noodles and lentils are evenly coated with spices.
6.    Pour over the melted butter and garnish with parsley before serving.

WISHING ALL THE READERS A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

saffron-and-champagne-risotto

This is essentially the classic Italian risotto alla Milanese, given a festive touch. Not only does it taste delicious, but the dramatic presentation I have suggested can be something of a party trick! Serve with steamed or roasted asparagus, or a spinach and avocado salad. It can also be eaten Italian-style as a first course. Serves 4.

2 pints/ 1 litre well-flavoured vegetable stock (ideally home-made)
4 oz/ 100g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons good-quality virgin olive oil
4 large shallots OR 2 small white onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 very small bottle champagne
14 oz/ 350g vialone nano risotto rice
¼ to ½ teaspoon top-quality saffron strands, crushed in a mortar
Salt and pepper
4 oz/ 100g vegetarian parmesan (or similar hard Italian cheese)
4 tablespoons single cream
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves

To serve:
Gold leaf (optional)
1 normal-sized bottle champagne, chilled

1.    Bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat to very low and keep it just below the simmering point.
2.    Meanwhile, melt the butter and oil together in a saucepan. Add the shallots and sauté for 5 minutes until soft but not brown.
3.    Add 6 tablespoons of the stock to the shallots, along with the contents of the small bottle of champagne. Heat until the mixture is reduced by half.
4.    Add the rice and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
5.    Add the saffron and seasoning. Then add the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring the rice between each addition. Make sure that the rice absorbs the liquid and that the liquid reduces in quantity before you add the next ladleful. This process takes patience as you have to constantly stand at the stove, stirring the rice as you go. Do not be tempted to tip all the liquid into the rice at the same time. The rice should take about 20 minutes to cook. The consistency should be soupy, and the grains of rice should be tender and mushy.
6.    Remove from the heat, and stir in the cream and some of the parmesan and parsley. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
7.    To serve the risotto: Working quickly so that it doesn’t get cold, pile the risotto onto a large, heated serving platter. (Use a black one for dramatic effect). Garnish the risotto with gold leaf, if using. Make a small ‘well’ in the centre of the risotto. Wipe the bottle of champagne with a dry cloth, and place it in the ‘well’. Then carefully uncork the bottle while it’s still standing on the platter, so that the bubbles drip down into the risotto beneath. Once your guests’ ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ have died down, scoop the risotto into individual serving dishes and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and parsley. Pour the remaining champagne into glasses and drink it with the risotto.

roquefort-souffle

I love soufflés. I love the fact that they’re light and fluffy, yet have a distinctly ‘special occasion’ feel to them. For someone to make an effort to make you soufflé, they must really love you. Which is why my advice is: don’t be nervous of making soufflé. So what if it sinks? Your friends and family will adore you all the same.

The secret of a successful soufflé lies in folding in the egg whites correctly – with long and semi-circular movements with a palette knife – and in not stirring the mixture too much, certainly not in heavy-handed way.

This recipe is very French in its influence – though the cranberry sauce is a non-French festive touch. You can leave it out if you wish, and simply serve the soufflé with steamed baby vegetables, or a crisp salad made from sliced apples, rocket (arugula), chicory and red radicchio.

This recipe is dedicated to those vegetarians who are looking for something light yet indulgent, and would never go near a hale and hearty nut roast! Serves 6.

For the cranberry sauce:
7 oz/ 175g cranberries
5 oz/ 125g white caster sugar
Juice and finely grated zest of ½ orange
1 teaspoon allspice berries, finely crushed in a mortar

For the soufflé:
2 oz/ 50g hazelnuts
2 oz/ 50g unsalted butter + extra for greasing
2 oz/ 50g plain white flour
8 fl oz/ ½ pint whole milk (not low fat)
2 dried bay leaves
4 oz/ 100g roquefort cheese, crumbled
3 eggs, separated
4 oz/ 100g celeriac (celery root), peeled and finely grated
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper

1. Start by making the cranberry sauce. Wash the cranberries and, with just the amount of water clinging to them, heat them in a saucepan on gentle heat for 10 minutes until they are soft.
2. Add the sugar, orange juice and zest, and ground allspice. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes until the sauce acquires a jelly-like consistency. Set aside to cool.
3. To make the soufflé, pre-heat the oven to 375 C/ 190 C/ gas mark 5.
4. Grease 6 individual ramekins. Toast the hazelnuts in a small frying pan without any oil or butter. Cool, and coarsely grind in a small mixer. Lightly coat the base and sides of the ramekins with half of the ground hazelnuts.
5. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and cook for a minute, stirring continuously.
6. Pour in the milk and bay leaves and cook until the sauce thickens. (You will need to stir the mixture frequently to make sure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, and also to avoid lumps from forming). Cook for a couple of minutes, then cool slightly.
7. Add the roquefort, egg yolks, grated celeriac, thyme leaves, seasoning, and the remaining hazelnuts, and stir gently.
8. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the celeriac mixture.
9. Remove the bay leaves, and pour the soufflé mixture into the prepared ramekins. Place the ramekins into a roasting pan and add enough boiling water to reach two-thirds of the way up the sides of the dishes.
10. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes until well risen and golden. Serve immediately with a little of the cranberry sauce.

english-veggie-pie1

I was wary of doing another white bean recipe so soon after the recent two. But when you are vegetarian, there’s no such thing as ‘too many bean recipes’, right?

This pie is very typical of what vegetarians in the UK eat at around this time of the year. Similar pies also feature on the menus of the British restaurants that are currently very trendy (yes, many of us Brits are re-discovering how delicious properly made regional British dishes can be – and falling in love with grandma-style hearty pies, stews, breads, cakes and puddings all over again!).

Artisanal virgin cold-pressed rapeseed oil (as opposed to pale, bland supermarket imitations) is worth hunting down. It has delicious, slightly sharp and herby flavour. It’s no wonder it’s currently all the rage: produced in the English countryside, it has been hailed by many as ‘the new olive oil’.

This recipe is wonderful served English-style with well-flavoured gravy and plenty of side vegetables. Serves 4.

PLEASE NOTE: I will post a Christmas-friendly recipe on this blog every day until 23rd December.

6 oz dried butterbeans, soaked for a few hours, OR 1 x 425g can
4 tablespoons rapeseed oil (if you want to be truly English about it) or vegetable oil
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
4 celery sticks, peeled and thickly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 level tablespoons plain white flour
½ pint/ 300 ml vegetable stock
¼ pint/ 150 ml pale beer, or lightly flavoured mushroom stock
2 dried bay leaves
1 level tablespoon Marmite
1 heaped tablespoon wholegrain English mustard
Salt and pepper
9 oz/ 225g carrots, trimmed, scraped and thickly sliced
9 oz/ 225g swede or pumpkin, peeled and chunkily diced
9 oz/ 225g leeks, trimmed and thickly sliced
9 oz/ 225g baby turnips, trimmed, peeled and halved
4 oz/ 225g chestnut mushrooms, wiped with a wet cloth and halved
4 oz/ 100g small pearl onions, peeled and left whole
Scant tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Scant tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
Scant tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chopped
Scant tablespoon fresh marjoram, chopped (optional)
2 heaped tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
12 oz/ 400g fresh ready-rolled puff pastry
Beaten egg whites, cold milk or cold water to glaze

1. Soak the butterbeans for 3 or 4 hours. There is no need to soak them any longer otherwise, whilst cooking them, you’ll find yourself with pearlescent water – with no sign of the butterbeans! Cook for 30 – 45 minutes or until tender. Alternatively, rinse and drain canned butterbeans.
2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add the onions and celery, and sauté until the vegetables are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and let it sizzle for a few seconds.
3. Lower the heat, sprinkle in the flour, and stir for a minute or so until it becomes a couple of shades darker and gives off ‘cooked’ aroma. Pour in the vegetable stock, beer or mushroom stock, and bay leaves, and cook until the liquid has thickened slightly.
4. Add the Marmite, mustard, seasoning, carrots, swede or pumpkin, leeks and turnips. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and cook for 10 – 15 minutes until the vegetables are al dente.
5. Add the mushrooms, baby onions, all the fresh herbs except parsley, and the cooked butterbeans. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes until all the vegetables are tender, and the beans have absorbed the flavours of the sauce. The vegetables should look chunky and not turn into a mush, so do keep an eye on the cooking time.
6. Add the parsley, adjust the seasoning, remove the bay leaves, and leave the mixture aside to cool. It should be somewhat runny but not too liquid – you don’t want the pie to be too sloppy or too dry, so it’s essential to get the consistency right.
7. Heat the oven to 200 C/ 400 F/ gas mark 6.
8. Lightly roll the pastry sheet once or twice with a rolling pin. Measure it against the top of a medium pie dish and cut around with a sharp knife, leaving a generous 1-inch edge all around that’s a little bigger than the dish. Cover the pastry lid with a damp tea towel to prevent it from drying out, and set aside.
9. Scrunch the excess remaining pastry into a ball, then roll it out until you have a thin pastry sheet. Cut this sheet into long, narrow strips.
10. Brush the rim of the pie dish with egg whites, milk or water. Brush the pastry lid and the pastry strips with the same.
11. Lightly grease the pie dish, and place the vegetable filling inside, levelling it out evenly. Arrange the pastry strips around the top of the rim, pressing down firmly.
12. Then carefully place the pastry lid on top, pressing it down firmly around the edges so that the pastry strips and the pastry lid fuse together. This is important, otherwise the filling will ooze out of any gaps in the pastry. Crimp the sides if you like, and make decorative designs on top if you wish. Pierce a tiny hole in the pastry lid to let the steam escape.
13. Bake the pie in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes until puffed up and golden brown.
14. Leave to stand for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve with a red onion or mushroom gravy, if you like, alongside mashed or roast potatoes and steamed green vegetables like brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale or seasonal green cabbage like January King.

harira1

Harira is a classic lamb and bean soup that is eaten by Muslims when breaking the Ramadan fast. Each family has its own recipe. This vegetarian version is filling, nourishing and packed with earthy flavours and seductive aromas. The quantity of spices may seem a little extravagant – but the recipe serves a lot of people, and remember that pulses on their own tend to be quite bland. This dish is somewhat time-consuming to make, but well worth the effort – especially if you’re cooking for a crowd. The cooking time is greatly reduced if you use tinned chickpeas (garbanzo beans), white beans and tomatoes, and hot water boiled in a kettle.

If you don’t like the idea of adding raw eggs, simply make a plain omelette, cut it in small squares, and add it to the soup just before serving.  Traditionally eaten with flatbreads accompanied by dates and dried figs, you can also serve harira with sesame-studded flatbreads and a simple mixed-leaf salad. Serves 6 to 8.

4 tablespoons virgin olive oil, preferably Moroccan
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 sticks celery, peeled and sliced
4 oz/ 100g chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained, OR 1 tin chickpeas, drained
4 oz/ 100g haricot beans, soaked overnight and drained, OR 1 tin haricot beans, drained
5 pints/ 3 litres water or lightly flavoured unsalted vegetable stock
½ teaspoon saffron, crushed in a mortar and steeped in 1 tablespoon water
1 level tablespoon cinnamon powder
1 level tablespoon cumin powder
1 level tablespoon coriander powder
Salt and pepper
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 oz/ 50g uncooked white long-grain rice, such as Basmati
2 oz/ 50g brown or green lentils, washed and drained
1 lb/ 450g fresh tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped, OR 1 large tin chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons plain white flour
6 fl oz/ 175 ml cold water
2 eggs, lightly beaten (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
Paprika and lemon wedges, to serve

1.    Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan, and sauté the onions, garlic and celery for a few minutes until soft and translucent but not browned.
2.    Add chickpeas, haricot beans and 5 pints/ 3 litres water or vegetable stock (make sure the stock is unsalted, or the beans won’t cook easily. I like to use the water I have soaked the pulses in – though if you’re using tinned pulses, do not use the water they come with). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the chickpeas and beans are very soft and tender. Depending on how old the peas and beans are, this could take 45 minutes to an hour.
3.    Add the spices, seasoning and parsley (reserve a few leaves for garnish). Then add the rice, lentils, and tomatoes, cover, and cook until the rice and lentils are thoroughly cooked. This may take 20 minutes.
4.    Make a roux by slowly mixing the flour with 6 fl oz/ 175 ml cold water, making sure that there are no lumps. Add to the soup and cook for a further 15 minutes.
5.    Adjust the seasoning, and add more water or stock if the soup is too thick.
6.    Stir in the eggs, if using, and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
7.    Remove from heat and, just before serving, add the lemon juice. Ladle the harira into individual soup bowls, sprinkle with paprika, and serve with extra lemon wedges.

korean-cucumber-noodles

If you’re looking for a dish that’s light yet perks up your palate, then this is ideal. The mixture of hot chilli and cool cucumber is irresistible. Gochuchang is available in Asian grocers or Chinatown. If you can’t find it, don’t leave it out as it’s an essential flavouring in this dish – use miso paste, which is more widely available, instead, combined with red chilli powder to taste. Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature – all give different textures and are equally delicious. Serves 4 to 6.

1 lb/ 450g fine wheat or egg noodles
4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
½ pint soy sauce
2 fl oz white rice vinegar
1 teaspoon caster sugar
4 level tablespoons gochujang (Korean soybean and red chilli paste)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for minimum 30 minutes
1 very large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and julienned
4 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and sliced
Small red radishes, decoratively cut into flowers
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
A little cucumber peel, finely shredded

1. Cook the noodles according to packet instructions. Then drain, rinse in cold water, and place them a large bowl. Immediately add sesame oil, and toss around with a fork and a spoon to ensure that they don’t stick.
2. In a separate bowl, combine soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, gochujang, garlic and spring onions.
3. Drain the shiitake mushrooms, carefully removing any grit, and slice them. Add the sauce, mushrooms and cucumber to the noodles, and toss gently until everything is mixed thoroughly.
4. Pile the noodles in the centre of a large serving platter. Surround them with egg slices and radish flowers for decoration, and top with sesame seeds and shredded cucumber peel before serving.

stuffed-acorn-squash

I wasn’t going to do another squash recipe: there are, relatively speaking, too many on this site already – as compared to, say, kohlrabi or turnip recipes. But squash is a sexy, popular, versatile vegetable that lends itself well to different types of fillings. So it makes a great centrepiece for a special occasion dinner table.

Ras el hanout is a wonderfully fragrant, traditional Moroccan spice mix, made up from a very wide range of whole spices freshly crushed together. It might include cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, rose petals and so on – the recipe varies throughout Morocco; each spice stall and family has its own version. Getting good-quality ras el hanout is key to this recipe. In the UK, you can obtain it from large supermarkets, food halls, speciality spice shops, food markets, and Mediterranean delis. Experiment with different spice blends for this recipe. Ras el hanout has a punchy, distinctive flavour, so if you are using a particular blend or brand for the first time, use sparingly – and hand out harissa (Moroccan hot sauce) on the side for extra flavour, if at all needed. Serves 4.

For the squash:

2 medium acorn (or another variety) squash
Olive oil for greasing
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper

For the filling:

6 oz/ 150g white, brown and wild rice mix
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil (Moroccan, if you have it)
1 small leek, trimmed and finely sliced
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
1 very small green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
4 to 6 small button mushrooms, halved
1 oz/ 25g pine nuts, lightly toasted in a small pan
1 oz/ 25g ready-to-eat apricots, finely chopped
1 heaped tablespoon ras el hanout
¼ teaspoon saffron, crushed in a mortar and soaked in a tablespoon of water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
6 large green olives, stoned and chopped
4 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 200C/ 400F/ gas mark 6.
2.    Cut the squash in half vertically through their stems. Do not peel the squash or remove the stems. Scoop out the seeds and discard (or dry them in a very low oven for later use as a snack).
3.    Mix a little oil with garlic, paprika and seasoning, then paint the insides of the squash with this mixture using a pastry brush.
4.    Place the squash on a greased baking sheet, cut side down, and bake for 30 minutes until tender.
5.    Meanwhile cook the rice according to the packet instructions. Once cooked, let it cool thoroughly.
6.    Heat the oil in a pan, and cook the leek, carrot, pepper and mushrooms for 5-10 minutes until soft.
7.    Add the cooked, cooled rice and stir. (You may be wondering: what’s the point of cooling the rice first if it’s going to be added to a hot pan anyway. Well, the reason is that if you add the hot rice, the grains will break down and the filling will become mushy. If the rice is allowed to cool down first, the grains will remain intact and separate).
8.    Add the pine nuts, apricots, ras el hanout, saffron, lemon juice, olives, coriander and seasoning. Mix gently.
9.    Stuff the squash cavities with the rice mixture, pressing down the filling lightly but firmly.
10.  Serve immediately, or cover with foil and keep warm in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

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