Rainbow Bhajis

Oh my goodness.

I love onion bhajis, especially home-made, so when I spotted these variations in an old BBC Good Food magazine I just had to try them. I say again: Oh my goodness.

Subtly spiced, gorgeously colourful, easy to make and great as a starter or party snack, these little beauties have become a must-make alongside any and every curry I ever make.

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RECIPE – feeds 6 as a starter/side dish

For the batter:

4 tbsp curry powder

250g gram flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp garam masala

¼ tsp hot chilli powder

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

For the bhajis:

140g carrot, grated

2 tsp nigella seeds

100g parsnip, grated

2 tbsp desiccated coconut

small pack coriander, stalks only, finely chopped (use the leaves to garnish)

140g beetroot, grated

2 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1l sunflower oil, for frying

lemon wedges, to serve

lime wedges, to serve


METHOD

First make the batter, stir the curry powder into a little cold water to make a paste, then top up to a total of 250ml of cold water. Mix the flour, baking powder and spices in a mixing bowl, make a well in the centre, then pour in the curry water and gradually stir together to a smooth batter. Stir in the onions, then divide the batter evenly between three bowls. Leave the batter to relax for 30 minutes or so.

Stir the carrot and nigella seeds into one batch of batter, the parsnip, coconut and chopped coriander stalks into another, and the beetroot and ginger into the third.

Heat the oil in a fryer, a deep pan or a non-stick wok to 180C, or until a piece of bread browns in 20 secs. Starting with the parsnip and ending with the beetroot, add spoonfuls of the mixture to the oil, a few at a time, and cook for a few mins, turning occasionally until evenly browned and crispy. This will take about 4 mins. Lift out onto kitchen paper with a slotted spoon, sprinkle with a little salt and keep warm in a low oven while you cook the rest.

Serve the hot bhajis scattered with coriander leaves alongside lemon and lime wedges for squeezing over.

Home-made Baked Beans

I got a very strange look the other day: “What are you making?” was the question; “Baked beans” was the answer. There was no tin in sight, just a pressure cooker doing its thing with some dried haricot beans while the delicious aroma of a tomato sauce was filling the air.

“You’re actually making them, aren’t you, from scratch?” Um, yes I was, but why?

I admit it, there is no real need to make baked beans, the tinned variety are delicious after all. The pointlessness of the whole process is underlined by the fact that this recipe tastes exactly like a certain market-leading tinned variety. So why make them?

Why not? I like a challenge, and it took a lot of tweaking to finalise this recipe. The whole point was just to have a little fun in the kitchen. They are delicious though, and the sauce freezes well so you can make a big batch of sauce, freeze it in portions and just add haricot beans to it when you come to use it.

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RECIPE – Serves 6 

450g dried haricot beans, soaked overnight

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 small carrot, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

2 1/2 tbsp tomato ketchup

1 1/2 tsp cornflour

300ml just-boiled water

20g unsalted butter


METHOD

Soak the beans overnight in cold water. The next day drain and then rinse the beans well in running water. Place the beans in a large pan and cover with fresh cold water, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. If you have a pressure cooker the job is much quicker; follow the instructions for your own device, but mine takes around 12 minutes to cook the beans.

To make the sauce, put the oil and garlic in a large, cold pan then heat gently until the garlic is aromatic. Add the carrot and celery, cover with a cartouche and soften for around 20 minutes.

*Tip: Sweating vegetables under a piece of parchment is known as using a cartouche. It is a way of cooking that simultaneously sweats and steams the vegetables, extracting maximum flavour in minimum time.

Cut a square of baking parchment that is slightly larger than the surface area of your pan, push it down so it sits on top of your sweating vegetables and then tuck the sides down so the vegetables are completely covered. Keep the heat low and after a few minutes check to see that nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan, then re-cover and continue to sweat them until they are as soft as you need them to be and the aroma is filling your kitchen.

Heat the oven to 200C/ Fan 180C/ gas 4.

Remove the parchment, add the tinned tomatoes and tomato ketchup, season well and simmer for ten minutes. Allow to cool slightly then use a blender to blitz to a smooth puree. Put the puree into an ovenproof dish or casserole.

Mix the cornflour with a little cold water to make a paste, add to the puree and stir thoroughly, then add 300ml just-boiled water and the cooked beans. Stir thoroughly, check and adjust the seasoning, put a lid on the casserole and place it in the oven for 20 minutes.

To serve: bring it to the table in the casserole, stir in the butter and enjoy.

Garlic Butter and Garlic Bread

It’s the little things that matter when you are cooking; whether it is the choice of oil, the freshness of the ingredients or the judicious selection of side dishes.

I guess everyone knows how to make garlic butter: take some butter and mash some garlic into it. Yes? Well okay, yes, but add a few little extra things and you will experience garlic butter that will make you cry with joy. Simon Hopkinson, restaurateur and writer, is responsible for this, and he has my eternal thanks.

Garlic bread is a must-have when I am serving meatballs, lasagne or spaghetti Bolognese. It is so easy to make you will never reach for the ready-made supermarket version again.

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RECIPE – Sufficient to make a baguette into garlic bread 

125g unsalted butter

4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

a small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

2 tsp Pernod

a pinch of flaky sea salt

a twist of freshly ground black pepper

a pinch of cayenne pepper

3 drops of tabasco

1 long French baguette


METHOD

Put all of the ingredients (except the baguette, of course) into a bowl and mash together until fully combined. Roll out a 30cm square piece of cling film and place the butter mix in the middle, then using the cling film to shield your hands, mould and roll out into a sausage. Wrap the cling film tightly around it and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

To make the garlic bread: heat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7. Cut the baguette 3/4 of the way through in slices 1cm thick; the baguette will still hold together but is easily torn apart when served.

Take the chilled sausage of butter and cut thin slices, place a slice of butter in between each slice that you made in the baguette.

Take a length of baking parchment, long enough to wrap the baguette. Scrunch it up and wet it under a tap. Shake it so there is no excess water, then place the baguette into it and wrap tightly so it is sealed. Doing this ensures that your baguette (which has already been baked) steams as it heats and remains moist. Place onto a large baking tray and bake for between 10 and 20 minutes until it is done to your liking – keep an eye on it!

Chana Masala

Indian restaurant food has the undeserved reputation of being unhealthy. I struggle to understand how this has come about, when you examine the ingredients used in freshly-made Indian food and compare it to the ingredients list of any ready-meal or processed foodstuff it is immediately plain which option is the healthier.

Admittedly, I have had (poor) Indian meals in the past that have been swimming in ghee, but that’s bad cooking, not bad cuisine.

Chana Masala is one of my favourite healthy foods; the chick peas are stuffed full of fibre, protein, trace minerals and vitamins, while the spices are a smorgasbord of antioxidants. It’s very filling, so you don’t have to eat much to feel satisfied, and because it is a ‘dry’ dish if you ever see any oil then you know it has been poorly prepared.

I worked my way through a great many recipes for this, tweaking and testing along the way, until I finally came up with this perfect copy of the unbeatable chana masala that my local Indian restaurant serves up.

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RECIPE – serves 4

250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

2 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil if making vegan)

2 large onions, halved and finely sliced

4 garlic cloves, finely sliced

a large thumb of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks

1 long green chilli, finely chopped (remove the seeds if you don’t want the extra heat)

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp turmeric

1 1/2 tsp garam masala

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

a pinch of sea salt

250ml cold water

1 lemon, zest and juice

2 tsp golden caster sugar

a big handful of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

The evening before, soak the dried chick peas in plenty of water (they will absorb a lot) with 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp fine sea salt and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, stir well and set aside.

The next day, rinse the chick peas well, there should be no salt left on them. Put into plenty of water with the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks and bring to the boil, then simmer for 60-90 minutes until they are soft and tender, skimming off any scum if necessary. You may need to add more water as it evaporates. If you have a pressure cooker it will save you a lot of time, cook as per the instructions for your device (mine takes around 25 minutes).

Drain and set aside, removing the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, use two tins; you won’t need the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, bay leaf or cinnamon sticks.

Heat the ghee (or oil) in a large pan, when hot cook the onion over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until softened but not coloured, then turn the heat up and cook for another couple of minutes until they are lightly browned. Make a paste out of the ground coriander, ground cumin, paprika, turmeric, garam masala and cayenne pepper by putting them into a small bowl and adding a little water. Set aside for now.

Add the garlic, ginger, chilli and cumin seeds, turn the heat off for a moment and stir thoroughly in the hot pan for a couple of minutes. Turn the heat back on and add the spice paste. Cook on for a minute, stirring so everything is thoroughly coated, then add the tinned tomatoes and a pinch of sea salt. Stir thoroughly again, add the water, bring to the boil then add the drained chickpeas. Simmer gently for as long as it takes to reduce the sauce to a thick and sticky consistency.

At this point you can leave the chana masala to sit for a few hours until you are ready to eat. Giving it time will intensify and soften the flavours.

When ready to eat, warm the chana masala gently and add the sugar. Just before serving stir through the lemon zest and juice, top with a little garam masala and fresh coriander. Garnish with onion salad and a birds-eye chilli lightly fried in a little ghee.

This is great served alongside Basmati rice, naan bread and carrot and ginger salad or carrot salad with cardamom, ginger and lemon.

Carrot salad with Cardamom, Ginger and Lemon

At the risk of being boring, once again I am going to extol the virtues of delicious, fresh ingredients coming together and doing their thing, with minimum interference. Putting together a great salad – any side dish in fact – is like putting together a great guest-list for a party, every element must contribute something to the whole, and the more variety you have the more interesting the result. The most important proviso – for parties as well as food – is that every element must get on with the others, otherwise it can be a disaster.

Every element in this dish has a clear and well-defined job, and when they come together… well, make it, taste it, and find out…

This is an excellent accompaniment to anything spicy: Middle-Eastern dishes and curries in particular.

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RECIPE – serves 4 to 6 people as a side dish

A good thumb-sized knob of ginger, roughly chopped

1/2 red onion, roughly chopped

1kg very fresh organic carrots, topped and tailed

the zest and juice of 2 lemons

1/2 tsp ground cardamom seeds

5 tbsp extra virgin olive or rapeseed oil

2 tsp flaked sea salt

1 tsp golden caster sugar

1 pinch of freshly ground white pepper

a small handful of chopped coriander leaves, or whole mint leaves to garnish


METHOD

Using a food processor makes this extremely quick and easy to make. First, cut away any ugly rough bits of the skin of the ginger, but otherwise leave it unpeeled. Roughly chop it then process it in the food processor, until it is chopped. Now add the red onion and process again.

Change the chopping blade for the grating attachment and grate the carrots into the processor bowl with the ginger and onion, then tip the whole lot into a large bowl and, using your fingers, mix everything thoroughly.

If you don’t have a food processor then you are going to be busy using a grater on the ginger, onion and carrots so allow some time to do this.

Grate the lemon zest over the carrot mixture, and take a small handful of cardamom seeds and gently bash them with a mortar and pestle. Take the seeds out of the husks, and pound them into a powder. Set aside for a moment.

To make the dressing, mix together the lemon juice, oil, salt, sugar, white pepper and cardamom, mix well then drizzle it over the carrot mixture. Toss well so everything is coated, then put into a cold place and leave to sit for a couple of hours for the best flavour – you can of course serve it immediately if you wish.

Stir through some finely chopped coriander leaves just before serving, or scatter with a small handful of whole, small mint leaves.

Basmati rice with Butter and Lemon

Rice is often written off as a mere afterthought, a side dish intended to bulk out the main element of a meal. It doesn’t have to be that way though, with just a little thought your rice can be used to add extra layers of flavour that enhance the overall dish.

This extremely simple twist on plain boiled rice lends a bright, luscious tang to anything you serve it with. I mostly use boiled rice with curries, but even in those circumstances where strong flavours and aromas abound, the flavours here manage to augment and improve the main dish.

Use unsalted butter here, it allows you complete control over the amount of salt you use.

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RECIPE – serves 4 to 6 people as a side dish

a good knob of unsalted butter (around 30g)

1 long strip of lemon rind

400g basmati rice


METHOD 

Using a potato peeler, peel a single long strip of rind from an unwaxed lemon, it may take a little practice but try to ensure you have as little of the white pith as possible.

Put the butter, lemon rind and a pinch of salt in a large pan with around a litre of cold water. Bring to the boil, and allow it to boil for a couple of minutes while you rinse your basmati rice in a couple of changes of cold water. Rinsing rice isn’t strictly necessary these days, but even so you will see the first change of water turn quite cloudy as you rinse off any excess starch and dust.

Add the rice to the boiling water, then bring the water back to the boil. Just before it actually boils, reduce the heat so the water is at a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered for around 6-8 minutes, checking the rice frequently toward the end of the time. When the grains are fully soft yet retain their shape and a little bite, they are ready.

Remove the lemon rind, drain the rice, fluff it up and serve. A little finely chopped coriander leaf adds more visual and taste-bud interest.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.

I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

Honey-Glazed Roasted Carrots

Too often, the vegetable element of a meal is an afterthought; too often we settle for simply steamed veg which, although lovely, doesn’t always make the most of what fresh vegetables have to offer.

I don’t think you can ever go wrong roasting vegetables. These carrots, for example, are the most carroty carrots you ever tasted, revealing the sweet lusciousness hiding away in these all-too common root vegetables. You might consider carrots to be boring, taste these and prepare to be blown away.

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RECIPE

500g organic carrots, scrubbed but unpeeled

2 tbsp sunflower oil

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

2 tbsp clear honey


METHOD 

Heat your oven to 190C/ 170C fan/ gas 5.

Tip the carrots into a roasting tin and toss with the oil and some salt and pepper. Roast for 30 mins.

Mix the vinegar and honey together, then drizzle over the carrots, toss well and return to the oven for a further 30 mins.

Carrot Puree with Star Anise

If you eat in a high-quality restaurant, or watch cooking competitions such as Masterchef you will be familiar with the smears and piped blobs of pureed vegetables used to add visual and flavour interest to dishes. It is easy to dismiss such fancies as pretentious twaddle that have no place on your own dining room table, but actually – used judiciously – they really can enhance a dish, and they are quite simple to make.

This particular puree is excellent alongside beef or salmon, and I have also used it as an accompaniment to cottage pie. Use it sparingly as it is quite intense, but delicious nonetheless.

Making things like this makes me smile, if only because I get to use the small copper sauce pans we picked up for a song at a car-boot sale!

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RECIPE – serves 4 as a garnish

3 medium carrots, finely sliced

40g unsalted butter

100ml vegetable stock

1 star anise

2 tbsp double cream


METHOD 

Melt the butter in a large pan and add the carrots. Cook in the butter for five minutes until just starting to soften and the butter is thick and juicy with carrot, then add the vegetable stock and star anise. Simmer for fifteen minutes until the stock has reduced and the carrots are meltingly soft. Add the double cream, stir thoroughly then tip into a blender and blitz until it is very smooth.

Tip into a coarse sieve and push the puree through it into a small saucepan, this will ensure that the puree has no lumps. Check and adjust the seasoning, and warm thoroughly before serving.

How you serve it is up to you, if you are dressing a plate for a dinner party then let your imagination guide you, but if it is for a midweek dinner just serve a dollop on the side of the plate – there’s a time and a place for pretentious twaddle!

Za’atar and Goats’ Cheese Puffs

I have a wide array of canapes, light bites, side dishes and snacks in my notebook, they’re always handy to have because you never know when somebody will ask you to make something for a party, drop in out of the blue for a cuppa or just for those times when you think a meal requires something else to complete it.

These puff pastry rolls are absolutely delicious and though they do require just a little forethought in that you need to have some defrosted puff pastry to hand, they are quick to put together and quick to cook.

They come courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour, whose books ‘Persiana’ and ‘Sirocco’ come chock-full of delicious Middle-Eastern flavours. I have not modified this recipe at all, it is perfect just as it is. I am not a fan of ready-rolled puff pastry but it does make it even easier – if you prefer to use half a block of frozen puff, as I do, then you won’t need quite so much cheese and za’atar. The quantities are not crucial anyway, just follow your instincts and use less or more as your tastes dictate.

Za’atar is a deeply aromatic Middle-Eastern herb and spice mix. These go well as an alternative to bread rolls when making a spicy soup, or pretty much anything made with butternut squash. They also make a brilliant snack and reheat well in a 180C/ 160C fan/ Gas 4 oven for 5 minutes.

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RECIPE – makes 15-20

250g puff pastry (half a block), or a sheet of ready-rolled (320g)

olive oil, for brushing

2 heaped tbsp za’atar

300g soft goats’ cheese

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD 

Preheat the oven to 220C / 200C fan/ Gas 7. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

If using block pastry, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle of around 30cm x 20cm. Brush the pastry lightly and evenly with a little olive oil, like so:

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You can see that my pastry is not quite straight, it doesn’t matter. Now sprinkle 1 tbsp of the za’atar evenly over the pastry:

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Crumble the goats’ cheese evenly across the pastry, leaving a 2.5cm border on the long edge of the pastry furthest away from you, like so:

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Season generously with salt and pepper and sprinkle the remaining za’atar over the cheese:

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It might look like rather a lot, but don’t worry. Now, starting with the long edge of the pastry that is closest to you, roll the pastry as tightly as you can without tearing or crushing it. You will end with something resembling a Swiss roll.

Cut the roll in half, then using a serrated knife cut each half into rounds approximately 1cm thick. Trim away the scruffy ends. Pat each whirl lightly to slightly flatten them so they stay together while they cook, and place them on the baking tray leaving sufficient space between them to allow them to rise:

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There is no need to glaze, just bake for approximately 15 minutes until well-risen and golden. Be prepared to immediately lose half of what you have baked – grasping fingers are a real danger when these come out of the oven!

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Sea Salt Crackers

Every Saturday night in our house is pizza night. We make our own (of course) and you can find my recipe for pizza here. The trouble is, we’re never quite sure how many of our extended family will turn up to eat – our children have all grown up and moved out, and their plans always seem to change. As a consequence, I often have a portion or more of pizza dough left over; that’s no problem, it will happily rest in the fridge for a few days, and it freezes well but… Saturday is pizza night and I will always make a fresh batch of dough up on the day. So the unused pizza dough often gets thrown away; I find that offensive because it tastes lovely and it doesn’t deserve that fate.

Last night we had a cheese and biscuits night. It had been a long, busy and tiring day so I knocked up some Provencal biscuits then spotted a lonely portion of pizza dough in the fridge. Mmm, surely I can do something with this… I wonder.

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RECIPE 

a portion of pizza dough

olive oil

sea salt


METHOD 

Heat the oven to 230C/ gas 8

On a lightly floured surface, roll the pizza dough as thinly as you can, then leave it to rest for five minutes. Roll it again, then place it on a lightly oiled baking sheet (or on a silicon mat, in which case you can dispense with the oil). Scatter lightly with sea salt.

Using a pizza cutter, or a sharp knife, cut the pizza dough into four strips, then cut across those strips at an angle to make triangles – or something close, it doesn’t matter too much. There is no need to pull the cut pieces apart, they will pull away from each other as they cook.

Bake them in the hottest part of the oven for around 6 minutes; they will turn golden and crunchy, and puff up into little salty pillows. The picture above was taken immediately after they came out of my oven, and because they are just made of thin, crusty dough they don’t deflate.

They are delicious straight out of the oven, and almost as good a couple of hours later. They are great with cheese, good for dips and as part of a canape, mezze or tapas selection. Or you can just pick them up to nibble on, they taste great all by themselves.

I doubt they will keep well, but I didn’t get the chance to find out – we scoffed them all!