Carrot and Ginger Salad

This simple, quick to make and very attractive salad is the perfect accompaniment to Indian curries.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 

5 or 6 large carrots

1 fresh red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced

a 2cm knob of fresh ginger, trimmed but not peeled, finely chopped

a handful of flaked almonds

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

lime juice


METHOD

Peel and trim the carrots. If you are lucky enough to have a food processor with a grater attachment then you’re in luck, otherwise you will have to grate the carrots by hand. Put them into a salad bowl.

In a small, NOT non-stick pan lightly toast the flaked almonds until they are lightly and evenly browned. Keep your eye on them as they can burn quickly, when you judge that they are ready tip them out of the pan onto a plate to cool – the pan will be hot and they will cook on if left in it. Remove any toasted almonds that are burned as they are bitter.

Add the almonds to the carrots, together with the chilli, ginger and coriander. Toss thoroughly to mix, and when you are ready to eat sprinkle lime juice over the salad and toss again. Check the taste and add more lime if necessary, a little at a time.

Serve as a side salad alongside anything spicy, but this goes particularly well with many Indian dishes.

Thai Green Prawn Curry with Indian Baby Aubergine

We have lately become addicted to Thai green curry, the creamy, spicy sauce is very vibrant and when mixed with plain steamed or boiled rice makes the most deliciously moreish meal. We could quite happily just knock up a batch of the sauce, pair it with a bowl of rice and tuck in.

With such a promising beginning you can only make it even better by adding more flavours and textures. Flicking through another of my favourite books, ‘Rosa’s Thai Cafe’ by Saiphin Moore, I spotted a green chicken curry that uses pea and Thai aubergines. Interesting.

I have only slightly tweaked Saiphin’s recipe, so credit where it is due. Raw, tail-on king prawns are a match made in heaven for green curry, as is chicken, so use whatever you fancy. I swapped the pea and Thai aubergines for Indian (baby) aubergines, purely because they were the only ‘exotic’ variety available when I popped into my nearest international supermarket. They were perfect, and based on that experience I would recommend that you use whatever aubergines you can find, even the regular large Black Magic variety that are ubiquitous in UK supermarkets. Do try and use the smaller, more interesting looking varieties if you can though, just because they look more interesting. After all, the first bite is always with the eye.

You can have this on the table within 15 minutes from heating the oil, that’s quicker than a takeaway, with much more flavour.

Please, please, please make up your own Thai green curry paste. It is infinitely superior to anything you can buy ready-made in a jar. It freezes well so make up a large batch and put some aside for when you make this again, which you will…

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

1 tbsp vegetable oil

3 tbsp Thai green curry paste

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

1 tbsp of palm sugar or jaggery

2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

3 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried, shredded

300g raw, tail-on king prawns or 300g skinless chicken breast in bite-size pieces

100g Indian (baby) aubergines, cut in half

100g cooked bamboo shoots, cut into bite-size pieces

a handful of Thai or regular basil, leaves only, shredded

a couple of sprigs of basil to garnish

2 long red chillies, sliced thinly lengthwise to garnish


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan over a high heat and add the green curry paste. Stir-fry for ten seconds or so until it is fragrant, then reduce the heat to medium and add half the coconut milk. Cook for a couple of minutes until the curry paste splits and the oil becomes visible.

Now add the remaining coconut milk, palm sugar, fish sauce and lime leaves. Season carefully, bearing in mind that the fish sauce brings saltiness.

At this point you can remove the sauce from the heat and allow to sit and infuse for a few hours if you wish, this will deepen the flavours. Otherwise, add the aubergines and bamboo shoots and cook for 5-7 minutes until the aubergines are tender. If you are using chicken then add this with the aubergines.

If using the prawns, add them just before serving, along with the shredded basil leaves and cook very gently for a few minutes until the prawns are just pink.

Ladle into serving bowls, garnish with the thinly sliced red pepper and a sprig of basil each, and serve alongside bowls of steamed or boiled rice.

Hummus – Quick and Easy

A Lebanese classic, hummus is – in theory – quick and easy to make. Actually, it is quick and easy to make, so quite why I have had the misfortune to taste some of the most disgusting muck on the planet masquerading as hummus is beyond me. Admittedly, the disgusting stuff is found on supermarket shelves, alongside some quite superb hummus. Once you have made your own though there can be no going back: you know exactly what you are going to get, you know exactly what goes in to it, and you can tweak the proportions of the ingredients to get it exactly how you like it.

This version is not authentic Lebanese hummus, but it is close, and started life as a recipe courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour and her wonderful book ‘Persiana’. Consider the ingredient quantities specified as a starting point, and if you don’t want to make quite so much just reduce the quantities of everything in proportion. You might be surprised at how much salt you need, just add it little by little until it is just as you like it.

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RECIPE – feeds a crowd

3 tins of chickpeas, reserve the liquid from 1 1/2 tins

6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

3 lemons, juice only

4 tbsp tahini

sea salt

paprika to garnish (optional)


METHOD

Put the chickpeas, garlic, tahini, half the olive oil, half the chickpea liquid and half the lemon juice in a food processor and pulse a few times to break the chickpeas down and roughly mix the ingredients.

Empty it in to a large mixing bowl, and using a fork to vigorously mix it together gradually add the olive oil and then some of the chickpea liquid and lemon juice until the consistency is loose but not sloppy, while the texture remains rough – unless you prefer it very smooth like shop-bought, in which case get mashing!

Now start tasting: gradually add the sea salt, a pinch at a time and tasting as you go. Likewise, add more lemon juice if you think it needs it. Your aim is to get a balance of smoky flavour from the garlic, that the salt will accentuate, while bringing out the sharpness of the lemon juice. If your hummus gets a little too loose then a little more tahini will thicken it again, as well as adding more depth of flavour. Adjust gradually and taste it after every addition and you will end up with the most delicious hummus you have ever had, and all in around ten minutes.

Spicy Thai Prawn and Lemon Grass Soup

Testament to the old law that simplicity is best, this fabulous broth takes minutes to make yet is packed with fresh, zingy Thai flavours. It is the perfect starter course for a Thai meal, or a light summer lunch – best enjoyed out in the garden with the sun shining.

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RECIPE – serves 2

1 pint of fish stock

2 fresh lemon grass stalks, cut into 3cm lengths and lightly crushed

1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

zest of 2 limes

3 red birds eye chillies, de-seeded and cut into long strips

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice

100g raw king prawns

2 spring onions, finely sliced at an angle

a few sprigs of coriander


METHOD

Bring the fish stock to a gentle simmer in a large pan, add the crushed lemon grass and fish sauce, cover and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to sit, covered, to infuse for as long as you can, a couple of hours will do the job.

Later, remove the lemon grass stalks with a slotted spoon (or pour through a sieve) and discard. Bring back to the boil then add the lime zest, chillies, black pepper and lime juice. Simmer gently for 3 minutes, then add the prawns and allow them to poach gently until they are just pink. This will only take a few minutes. Stir in the spring onions and coriander and serve immediately.

Thai Prawn Green Curry

The Thais are generally a slender people, I have to wonder how they do it. I just wanted to continue eating this incredible Thai prawn green curry until I burst. The silky sauce is so full of flavours, each of them entirely distinct from one another, and yet it takes so little time to make. I could have made another batch of this within about 20 minutes; believe me, I was very tempted.

To experience this at its best please make your own Thai green curry paste if you can. It doesn’t take long but the difference in the depth of flavour compared to a shop-bought jar of paste is indescribable.

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RECIPE – serves 4

1 fresh lemon grass stalk

1 1/2 tbsp sunflower oil

2 tbsp Thai green curry paste

4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded (or the finely grated zest of 2 limes)

2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

2 tsp caster sugar

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

500g raw king prawns, peeled but tails on

200g fine green beans, cut into 2cm lengths

a small handful of fresh Thai basil leaves, or ordinary basil leaves, shredded


METHOD

Peel off the tough outer layers of the lemon grass, trim the root end then slice the tender whitish centre finely.

Heat a wok or large frying pan until it is hot, then add the sunflower oil. Now add the green curry paste and stir fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves (or lime zest) fish sauce, caster sugar and coconut milk. Reduce the heat and simmer for around 5 minutes.

At this point, if you wish, you can turn off the heat and allow the sauce to sit so the flavours can develop for a few hours. If you have the time then it is well worth doing.

When you are ready to serve, add the prawns and fine green beans and cook gently for around 4 minutes, stirring occasionally until they are just pink on both sides. Take off the heat, add the basil leaves and stir thoroughly.

Serve alongside plain steamed or boiled rice. Beware: this is seriously addictive!

Sticky Jerk Salmon with a Crunchy Mango and Red Cabbage Salad

Spring has officially sprung here in England, the evenings are long and hot and our garden is in full flower. The weather is so variable here that we take every chance that we can to eat outside. That doesn’t always affect the choice of what we will have to eat, but sometimes the evening is so glorious that all that is required is something light and easy and, perhaps most importantly, quick to make.

I had a small stock of jerk paste that I had made a few weeks ago lurking in the freezer, and decided that if I didn’t use it now it would end up in the bin. I also had a very ripe mango that I picked up yesterday, for no other reason than that it was reduced for a quick sale. Thinking cap on, I searched through my flavour thesaurus, came up with an interesting combination of flavours that ought to work together and was rewarded with one of the most glorious salads I have ever eaten.

We are having a big family barbecue in a few weeks – when we can depend on the weather a little more – and so I have been thinking about what to make to feed a lot of hungry people who will expect something special. This salad just shot to the top of my list; it is wonderful with the salmon here, but would also be great with jerk chicken, or even just as a salad all by itself.

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RECIPE – for 2 people

1 heaped tbsp jerk paste

1 tbsp clear honey, plus 1 tsp

2 salmon fillets

juice of a lime

1/2 red cabbage, core removed and thinly sliced

1 ripe mango, thinly sliced into strips

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

3 spring onions, finely sliced on an angle

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only


METHOD

Mix the jerk paste with 1 tbsp of clear honey. Lightly season the salmon fillets, place on a foil-lined baking tray and spread the paste all over the top of them. Place under a hot grill for 8-10 minutes until just cooked through and the paste is starting to caramelise. Meanwhile make the salad.

Tip: I found that the paste on top of the fish hadn’t quite caramelised as much as I would have liked by the time the fish was done. I finished it off with a cook’s burner, not something I use very often in my kitchen but an extremely handy thing to have available at times like these.

Put the 1 tsp of honey, the lime juice and a little seasoning in a large salad bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the red cabbage, mango, pepper, spring onions and coriander, toss thoroughly with the dressing.

Serve the salmon in a bowl on top of a bed of the salad.

Spaghetti with Asparagus, Anchovies, Basil and Pangrattato

Another super-fast, super-delicious meal. Make the pangrattato first then the rest of it can be cooked in the time it takes for your spaghetti to cook.

Pangrattato is used as a seasoning in some parts of Italy, as an alternative to Parmesan. It isn’t a cheese but seasoned, deep fried breadcrumbs.  It has a double role here; to add an extra layer of flavour but also to add texture and crunch to the silky, cream coated spaghetti. It is a useful trick to have in your repertoire when you need to add an extra dimension to a dish, though be aware that it rarely works with tomato-based sauces.

The anchovies are also used here as a seasoning, they dissolve into the oil when cooked and add a hit of warm umami. If you’re one of those who think they don’t like anchovies so are tempted to give this recipe a miss, try it, you will be surprised how completely they disappear yet how dramatically they affect the overall flavours.

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RECIPE – for 2 people

1 slice of bread, breadcrumbed

75 ml olive oil

1 tsp dried thyme

125g asparagus, woody ends trimmed

1 garlic clove, finely sliced

5 salted anchovy fillets in oil

a small handful of basil leaves, torn

100 ml double cream

225 g spaghetti

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Make the pangrattato first: tear up the bread – I like to use sourdough for the extra flavour, but you can use whatever you have, white or wholemeal do the same job – and put it into a food processor; whiz it up until it is fully breadcrumbed. A few small lumps are okay, they add variety to the texture, just don’t go so far that you end up with dust. Often you will be told that you will need stale bread to make breadcrumbs, that’s not strictly true. I always use fresh because that’s all I ever have and it makes no difference that I can detect. It is a good way of using up stale bread though.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the thyme, don’t get the oil so hot that it is smoking, if you drop a breadcrumb into it and it sizzles then it is hot enough. When the oil is hot, tip the breadcrumbs into it and fry until they are golden brown and crunchy. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on a couple of changes of kitchen paper, season lightly with salt and pepper.

Strain the hot oil, carefully, through a muslin cloth or kitchen paper into a large frying pan. The oil will have been infused with thyme while cooking the breadcrumbs and this will add to the flavour of your sauce.

Bring a large pan of slightly salted water to the boil for your spaghetti and put the spaghetti in when it reaches a strong rolling boil; the brand that I use takes approximately ten minutes to reach al dente. Meanwhile, steam the asparagus for three or four minutes until the stems are just tender. Remove from the steamer and cut them into 1 cm slices at a slight angle.

Heat the oil in the frying pan, add the garlic and cook gently for a minute or so, then add the anchovy fillets and cook, stirring until they have dissolved into the oil. Add the asparagus, basil leaves and double cream, cook gently for 3 or 4 minutes while the spaghetti finishes. Your spaghetti should be just al dente as it will cook on in the final stage.

Retain a little of the spaghetti water, drain the spaghetti and add it to the asparagus sauce, tossing well and adding a little of the cooking water to loosen the sauce if necessary. Cook gently for a couple of minutes then scatter the pangrattato over the top. Check and carefully adjust the seasoning, bearing in mind that the pangrattato adds seasoning by itself, and serve with a simple green salad.

Kung Po Prawns

Stir-fried food is the ultimate fast food, taking literally less than 5 minutes from hot oil to finished dish. Obviously, that means that once you start cooking things move fast so you need to be well organised and have all your ingredients weighed-out, measured and chopped before you even think about turning on the gas. Though the ingredients list looks long there really isn’t much to it, and preparation should only take 15 minutes even if you take your time.

I made this a couple of nights ago; once we had used our fingers to clean every last drop of sauce from our bowls – and the wok, and the serving spoon – my wife said that she didn’t like Chinese food, but she loved this. What she really meant was that she loves Chinese food, real Chinese food, but she doesn’t like the food that you get from Chinese takeaways.

If Chinese takeaway food is your only experience of Chinese-style cooking then you are in for an extremely pleasant surprise, and this dish is an excellent way in to a delicious, filling and healthy cuisine. All the ingredients are readily available from UK supermarkets, so please don’t try and substitute say, black peppercorns for the Sichuan peppercorns, they are very different and it is the interplay of the various aromatic components of the sauce that make this such an amazing dish.

This is excellent served with Beijing rice, or your favourite noodles.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

For the crispy prawns:

1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns, dry-fried and ground

a good pinch of sea salt

2 tbsp cornflour

12 large raw king prawns, tails on

6 tbsp groundnut oil

For the stir-fry:

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 medium red chilli, finely chopped (seeds left in if you like it hot)

1 red and 1 yellow pepper, chopped into 1.5 cm chunks

For the sauce:

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp hoisin sauce

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

For the garnish:

a bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped

a small handful of dry-roasted peanuts (optional)


METHOD

In a large, NOT non-stick pan over a high heat, dry-roast the sichuan peppercorns until they are aromatic. Be careful not to scorch them, then turn them out on to a plate to cool.

Prepare all the other ingredients.

Once the Sichuan peppercorns are cool, use a small coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind them to a fine powder. In a large shallow dish combine with the cornflour and salt then roll the prawns in the mix until they are thoroughly coated, set aside for now.

Combine the sauce ingredients, set aside.

Heat a wok over a high heat, when hot add the 6 tbsp of groundnut oil and swirl it around the wok to coat all surfaces. Get it very hot then add the prawns, cook for about one minute, the prawns should be just turning pink. Remove from the heat and quickly, using a slotted spoon or ‘spider’  (a large open-mesh spoon, used a lot in oriental and wok cooking), remove the prawns from the wok and set aside on a plate.

Reheat the oil, add the chilli and garlic and stir fry for around 15 seconds, then add the chunks of red and yellow pepper. Stir-fry for 1 minute then add the sauce and bring to the boil, put the prawns back in the sauce and remove from the heat. Garnish in the wok, and serve.

I promise, you will fall in love with this dish.

 

Universal Barbecue Bean Burgers

It’s a bank holiday in England, as usual the weather is a bit iffy, and we are off to a barbecue. Not being a fan of greasy burgers and mystery sausages (the mystery being: what meat is this?) we always take a brace of beanburgers with us. Everybody laughs, as if pointing fingers at the weird kid in school: “Burgers? That Vegans can eat? Yeuch!”

Then they try one, and I discover that I didn’t bring enough…


RECIPE – makes 4 large or 6 smaller patties (they are filling) 

1 tin of black beans, drained and roughly mashed

30g butter (or 2 tbsp olive oil if cooking for a vegan)

1 red onion, finely chopped

140g mushrooms, any kind, finely chopped

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed

a bunch of parsley, chopped (stalks and all)

1 sping onion, trimmed and finely chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

4 tbsp gram flour

1 tsp Marmite

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


METHOD

Roughly mash the black beans, ensuring you keep enough texture to make the final burger interesting. Prepare the rest of the ingredients…

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Melt the butter, with a little oil (or just oil if you will be making these for vegans) in a large frying pan and gently sautee the onion for three or four minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the mushrooms and soy sauce, continue cooking until most of the mushroom liquor has evaporated, this should only take another three minutes or so. Now stir in the garlic, spring onion, parsley, chilli and black beans. Mix well and cook for a couple of minutes then add the marmite and season to taste with black pepper.

Transfer to a large bowl and stir the gram flour through the bean mixture, the gram flour will act as a binding agent to hold the patty together. Allow the mixture to cool until you can handle it comfortably, then shape into either 4 larger or 6 smaller patties…

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Cover them and chill thoroughly before cooking. They will firm up and can be patted into their final shape when chilled.

They can be pan fried for 1-2 minutes each side until golden brown, grilled for 3 or 4 minutes each side, or barbecued for a minute or so each side. Serve in a bap with your choice of salad and prepare to be quite full – if you can manage two of the larger ones you are a rare breed.

Chapatis

A quick and easy way to make a slight dish much more filling, chapatis – an unleavened Asian flatbread – can be on the table 15 minutes or so after weighing out the flour. Traditionally eaten alongside curry, where it is often used as a scoop in place of a fork or spoon, chapatis are also excellent with middle eastern dishes and make delicious vegan wraps.

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RECIPE – makes 4, will feed 2 people as a side dish

125g wholemeal bread flour

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

85ml water


METHOD

Weigh the flour into a bowl, add the salt, make a well in the centre and add the water. Using your fingers in a claw-like grip, pull the flour into the water, pulling and kneading with your fingers to get everything off the sides and bottom of the bowl. The dough should start off sticky but quickly become stiff and silky. At this point take it from the bowl to a lightly floured work surface and knead it for 7-10 minutes.

Heat a skillet, or large dry frying pan, until very hot. While it heats up, divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll them out into a rough round shape, adding small amounts of flour to prevent sticking as you roll. The chapatis need to be thin, thinner than a penny piece. If you have trouble rolling them out thinly, cut two squares of baking parchment, dust them with flour and roll the dough out between them.

To cook, lay the rolled chapati in the hot skillet and cook on each side for a minute or so. They should scorch and even burn a little; that’s fine, that’s where a lot of the flavour comes from.

Repeat until all four chapatis are cooked, the ones made previously can be kept warm in a low oven under a tea towel.

This recipe is easily scaled up to feed four or more people, just scale all the ingredient quantities up in equal ratios.