Thai salad

This salad goes very well with a lot of the Indonesian dishes we like, providing a fresh, crunchy counterpoint to Nasi Goreng, Ajam Ketjap or Tomato and Prawn Curry. With some fried slices of tofu and rice (or Nasi Goreng without the bacon) it would make a good vegetarian/vegan meal – though you’ll need to use a little extra soy sauce instead of the fish sauce in the dressing.

1 cucumber
1 carrot
100g unsalted cashews
1 red pepper
2 spring onions
small packet of coriander leaves
small packet of basil

Dressing:
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 dstsp fish sauce
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 red chilli (or 1-2 tsp chilli sauce)
1 tsp sugar
White pepper

Roast the cashews in a frying pan preheated over medium high heat, watching and turning them for a few minutes until they are starting to brown and smelling delicious. Set aside to cool.

To make the dressing, crush the garlic, finely chop the chilli and then whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl or jar (and, no, I haven’t forgotten to list the oil – that’s one of the reasons the salad so light and refreshing). Check the seasoning – you can of course use black pepper if you don’t have white – and adjust to taste.

To prepare the salad, slice the cucumber and cut the slices in half. Grate the carrot on the coarse side of the grater. Thinly slice the red pepper and spring onion.

Combine the salad vegetables in a bowl. If you’re preparing ahead cover the bowl and dressing with cling film and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. Then add the cashews and  toss with the dressing. Pick the leaves of the coriander and basil and create a bed of them in a shallow serving dish. Spoon the salad on top and serve.

Quinoa with greens and avocado

Over the last few years I have found myself cooking more vegetarian meals,  and this was boosted when I was given A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones by my lovely brother, who is now vegan. I had tried a few of Anna Jones’s recipes from The Guardian and am now thoroughly enjoying cooking my way through the book.

I already have a few favourites: the excellent Dahl with crispy sweet potatoes, Beetroot with salsa verde and Laura’s herbed green quinoa, which has inspired this recipe – a sort of cross with Ottolenghi’s Avocado, quinoa and broad bean salad, a much-loved regular on my table and at picnics.

The first time I read the recipe I didn’t have any broccoli or leek – key ingredients in Anna’s recipe – but loved the idea of herby green quinoa so I substituted broad beans and used chopped spring onions rather than the leek. I think you could use kale (along the lines of this Kale and quinoa salad) or lettuce instead of the spinach, too. I have since cooked something more similar to the original recipe, and both versions are good. The quantities here are for two people.

100g quinoa
1 tsp vegetable stock powder
100g frozen peas
120g frozen broad beans
3 spring onions (or 1 leek)
1 unwaxed lemon
extra virgin olive oil
½ a small packet of basil
½ a small packet of mint
80g spinach
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds or pine nuts
1 avocado
100g feta cheese (optional)

Rinse the quinoa in a sieve, tip into a pan and add 300ml of water. Bring to the boil, add the stock powder and stir, then turn down the heat and simmer for around 12 minutes until the seeds have opened into their distinctive curl and the water has been absorbed. Anna Jones cooks a lemon, halved, with the quinoa, which adds a certain tang, but I think I prefer just using the juice and rind in the dressing – take your pick. When the quinoa is about done, I usually turn the heat off and leave the quinoa to steam dry on the hot ring for 5 minutes.

While the quinoa is cooking bring a small pan of water to boil and cook the broad beans for 1 minute, then add the peas and simmer for a further 2 minutes. If you have purple-sprouting or tender stem broccoli, cut off the heads, chop the stalks and add them on top of the peas and beans to steam for a few minutes. Drain the lot and run quickly under the cold tap to stop the cooking. Finely slice the spring onion or leek, and if using leek, cook it slowly in a little olive oil for about 10 minutes.

Pick the herbs from the stems and chop them, keeping a few small leaves for garnish. Wash and shred the spinach. Toast the seeds or pine nuts in a hot dry frying pan for a few minutes, watching and stirring to make sure they don’t catch.

Put the quinoa, herbs and vegetables into a large bowl, zest the lemon over them and add a grinding of black pepper, the juice of half the lemon – you may want more – and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss together, check for seasoning, then crumble over the feta (if you’re using) and top each portion with the reserved herbs, some toasted seeds or pine nuts and half a sliced avocado.

Gado Gado with peanut sauce

When I first read about Gado Gado I didn’t think it sounded that appetising: a salad of cold cooked vegetables with hard-boiled eggs and cold crispy onions on top. And then I had Marlene’s version and it was absolutely delicious. So I persuaded her to tell me how to make it.

Marlene served it with rice and Babi Ketjap, but you can just have the salad on its own or with chicken satay. For a vegan Gado Gado, omit the eggs and add some firm tofu sliced and fried in a little olive oil until crisp. It is quite flexible, in that you can use whatever vegetables are to hand, though bean sprouts, cucumber, cabbage and green beans are usually included, and sugar snap peas are good. It is dead easy to make, though you do have prepare the vegetables individually – unless you have cooked vegetables that you’re eating up – and you’ll find two colanders (or a colander and a sieve) useful to drain everything.

Ketjap manis is Indonesian sweet soy sauce – if you can’t find it (or don’t want yet another bottle in your pantry) then use ordinary soy sauce with 1 tsp of brown sugar or honey. You should be able to find small tubs of crispy onions alongside the Thai or Chinese ingredients in the supermarket (Waitrose include them in their Cook’s Ingredients range). I’m not sure my dedication would extend to making them myself. Prawn crackers seem to live alongside crisps (oddly, to my mind – but maybe people do eat them as a snack with their beer).

Start by making the peanut sauce – I always make lots, even if I’m only cooking for me, as it is so delicious with lots of other things! Choose peanut butter with the highest percentage of peanuts that you can find (and without sugar). You can use raw peanuts if you prefer, in which case stir fry them in a wok in 100ml of vegetable oil until they are golden, then blend until smooth in a food processor. Anna Jones uses a different method, using roasted peanuts, bashing them in a pestle and mortar and then simmering in 200ml of water, and flavouring it with lemongrass and ginger – not authentic, but sounds worth a try.

Peanut or satay sauce:
2 shallots or ½ small onion
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (optional)
a little vegetable oil for frying
1 dstsp sambal badjak or 1 red chilli, finely chopped
½ tsp shrimp paste (terassi) or 1 tsp Thai fish sauce (optional)
250g crunchy peanut butter
Juice of about 1/2 lemon
1-2 tbsps Ketjap manis
100 ml coconut milk (optional)

Fry a chopped shallot or a bit of onion in a little oil until it is soft (you could also just use dried onion). Add the sambal or a chopped red chilli and, if you want, a little bit of terassi (Indonesian shrimp paste – notoriously smelly) or 1 tsp of Thai fish sauce, to add depth of flavour.

Stir in the peanut butter and dilute with water – you’ll need at least 200 ml and probably more. You can add the coconut milk at this stage, if you’re using it, which will make a richer sauce. Add 1-2 tbsps of ketjap manis (or soy sauce and sugar) and the lemon juice, then taste and keep adjusting the seasonings until you are happy with it. Serve warm. The sauce will thicken as it cools, so if there is any left over you may need to dilute it further with water.

Salad:
Salad potatoes
Green beans
Carrots
Cabbage (Chinese for preference)
Beansprouts
Cucumber
Red pepper
Spring onions
Eggs (1 each)
Crispy onions
Chopped chives to garnish
Prawn crackers to serve

You will notice that I haven’t given quantities – this is because you really can use whatever combination of vegetables you have, and vary the quantities according to how hungry you are and how many people you’re feeding. When I made this for myself I used a handful of beansprouts, 2 charlotte potatoes, 50g green beans, ¼ of a Chinese cabbage, 2 spring onions, about 5 cm of cucumber and ¼ of a red pepper – and had leftovers.

Bring a small pan of water to the boil, add the potatoes and simmer until tender – about 15-20 minutes depending on size. Drain and cut the potatoes into chunks unless they’re very small. Bring another pan of water to the boil, top and tail the beans and blanch them for 4-5 minutes. If you’re using carrots, cut into batons and cook along with the beans – they’ll probably need a minute or two more than the beans, so put them in first. When they are  cooked, drain them in a colander and quickly run them under the cold tap to stop the cooking (and keep the beans bright green). Leave to drain thoroughly.

Shred the cabbage. If you’re using regular white cabbage you will need to steam it for 5-8 minutes until it is tender – you can do this over the simmering potatoes. Forget the modern habit of cooking everything al dente: the cabbage needs to be tender, and tastes better for it. However, I found the Chinese cabbage I was using was closer to lettuce and only needed a brief dousing in boiling water, like the beansprouts: just put them in a colander, pour boiling water over them (you can use the boiling water from the potatoes or beans), and leave to drain.

Hard boil the eggs in barely simmering water – I add the eggs (broad end pricked to reduce the risk of cracking) to boiling water, turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 9 minutes. Then run under cold water until cool enough to handle, peel and cut in half. Wash the cucumber and red pepper. Slice the cucumber and then halve them if you wish. Marlene runs the tines of a fork vertically down the skin all round the cucumber first, which gives an attractive deckled edge. Core the red pepper and cut into narrow slices. Trim the spring onions and slice finely.

Arrange all the vegetables, except for the spring onions, in groups on a large shallow dish. Scatter over the spring onions and arrange the hard boiled eggs on top. Finish with a scatter of chives and serve with the peanut sauce, and dishes of crispy onions and prawn crackers for people to help themselves.

Venetian carrot cake

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Having succumbed to a big bag of less-than-perfect carrots on the grounds that they were such good value (and who needs straight carrots anyway) I thought I would make carrot cake. However, I’m not a fan of the traditional American variety with cream cheese frosting, so I was very taken with this Nigella carrot cake recipe which is apparently from the Venetian ghetto. It uses ground almonds rather than flour (so is gluten-free), is studded with sultanas soaked in rum and topped with toasted pine nuts.

Nigella suggests serving it with rum-flavoured mascarpone, which sounded a bit much for tea-time, so I opted for a mixture of ricotta and greek yoghurt beaten together with a grating of nutmeg – and that was a good idea. I reduced the quantities a little to make a 20cm cake. I might try using a bit less sugar next time, as the sultanas are quite sweet, but this is a fine cake as it is – perfect with morning coffee or afternoon tea and, I hope, for providing sustenance for the last leg of our walk to the source of the Thames!

2 rounded tbsp pine nuts
2 carrots (approx 200g)
60g sultanas
50ml rum
120g caster sugar
100ml olive oil
scant tsp vanilla extract
3 small eggs (weight 180g)
200g ground almonds
freshly grated nutmeg
juice & zest of ½ lemon

Heat the oven to 165 C fan/180 C/Gas 4. Prepare the cake tin by lining the base with greaseproof paper and lightly oiling the sides. Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over a medium-high heat – watching them like a hawk – and put them on one side as soon as they are golden.

Grate the carrots on the coarse side of a box grater (Nigella says that it is easier to use the food processor, but in my view this is only the case if someone else is doing the washing up and putting away for you).  Tip onto a double layer of kitchen roll and wrap them up to extract any excess liquid. Put the sultanas in a small saucepan with the rum, bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes.

Measure the oil and sugar into a mixing bowl and whisk together until creamy. Then whisk in the vanilla extract and eggs, which I did one at a time to make sure they were well mixed in. Fold in the ground almonds, grated carrots, sultanas with their rum, and the lemon zest and juice. Finally grate a generous amount of nutmeg over the bowl and give it a last stir.

Scoop the mixture into the prepared tin, and smooth the top – it will look quite thin. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top and bake for 30-40 mins until it has risen, the top is golden and a wooden skewer comes out fairly clean.

Leave it to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before unmoulding, and transfer it to a rack to cool. If you wrap it in cling film it will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight container (should you accidentally make the cake the day before you go on a strict diet – otherwise I don’t think it will last that long).

If you fancy the ricotta alongside, just mix equal quantities of ricotta and greek yoghurt until smooth and stir in a little grated nutmeg. Nigella’s more decadent accompaniment calls for 250g mascarpone mixed with 2 tsp icing sugar and 2 tbsp rum.

Mushrooms with polenta

This is my favourite stand-by lunch or supper at the moment – it takes about 20 minutes, is easy, satisfying and really tasty. I found the recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Veg Everyday!, when I needed to eat up some mushrooms and didn’t fancy my usual options: risotto, mushrooms on toast or mushroom tart (a puff pastry turnover, filled with creamy mushrooms – a delicious recipe given to me by my mother’s friend Sarah). The mushrooms are dark and winy and the parmesan-flavoured polenta soaks up the juices (use a substitute for the parmesan if you are cooking for a strict vegetarian).

I used chestnut mushrooms the first time – as that is what I had – but next time I got a mixture of chestnut and portabella, which was even nicer. I think the recipe would work fine with most kinds of mushroom, especially the dark flat-cap ones. Delicate varieties might not stand up to the robust wine and herb flavourings. You can stir some chopped rosemary into the polenta at the end, if you want to. These quantities are for one, as I cooked it.

Polenta:
100ml milk
100ml water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 spring onion, trimmed
40g quick-cook polenta
a knob of butter
a good grating of Parmesan

Mushrooms:
small slug of olive oil
small knob of butter
175g mushrooms (see above)
1 clove garlic, minced
leaves from a sprig of thyme
40ml red wine topped up to 80ml with water
salt & black pepper

Put the milk and water in a pan with the bay leaf, thyme, spring onion and a good grind of pepper and heat to a simmer. Then put aside to infuse while you prepare the mushrooms.

Trim the mushrooms and slice them thickly. Put the oil and butter in a frying pan and put over a medium-high heat. When melted, add the mushrooms, turn the heat up and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms have released their juices, and are starting to get drier again and caramelise. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for another minute.

Now add the wine and water (you could use stock instead of water if you have it to hand, or indeed just use 80ml of a good vegetable or mushroom stock if you prefer). I have recently acquired some little 90ml Duralex glasses and find them really useful for approximately measuring small quantities of liquid like this. Bring up to a simmer, turn down the heat and leave to cook until about half the liquid has evaporated (say 7-10 minutes). While this is happening, I prepare a green salad to eat with it. When the mushrooms are about ready check the seasoning and turn the heat right down while you make the polenta.

Fish out the bay leaf and thyme from the milk and bring back up to a simmer. Pour in the polenta, stirring all the while to get a smooth mixture. I use a silicone spatula for this, as it is useful for getting all the polenta out of the pan afterwards. Keep stirring over medium heat for one minute – no more, as the polenta thickens quickly. Then pull off the heat, stir in the butter and parmesan and scoop onto your plate. Top with the mushrooms, add a drizzle of olive oil and/or a few shavings of parmesan if you wish, and devour with the salad.

Hazelnut cake

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On Friday we cooked an early birthday lunch for Irene’s niece, so a cake seemed the right choice for dessert. Finding big packets of ‘kosher for passover’ ground hazelnuts in the supermarket made me think about trying a hazelnut version of my favourite almond and orange cake (which, I now discover, is unaccountably not yet on the blog). I couldn’t resist looking at other recipes and adapting it, ending up with this cake: nutty, light but moist – just what I had hoped for. You could probably make it using only hazelnuts, but I think ground almonds help the texture and stop the cake being dry.

As ever with hazelnut desserts, this cake is particularly good served with raspberries and softly whipped cream (or crème fraÎche if you prefer), and I had some caramelised hazelnuts which I chopped and sprinkled over for contrasting crunch. I could, of course, have resorted to the traditional family birthday cake, but it was nice to try something new. As it was so well received, I expect to be making it again soon.

The quantities here are for a 15cm cake tin, serving four – double them to fill a 20cm cake tin, and give it another 10 minutes in the oven.

100g butter at room temperature
75g caster sugar
2 large eggs, separated
60g ground hazelnuts
40g ground almonds
25g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1-2 tbsp orange juice

Heat the oven to 160ºC fan/180ºC/Gas 4. Grease the cake tin and line the bottom with greaseproof paper. If you can’t find ground hazelnuts, toast hazelnuts for 5 minutes or so (watch them closely so they don’t burn) in the warming oven, rub them in a tea towel to get rid of (most of) the skins and grind them to crumbs.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and light – I made this cake in my mixer, but a hand-held beater, or a wooden spoon and elbow grease, would do the job equally well. Beat in the egg yolks with a spoonful of flour. Add the rest of the flour, baking powder and ground nuts. Mix in, adding the orange juice a bit at a time depending on how stiff the mixture is.

In a spotless bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff.  You could do this using the whisk attachment of the mixer, though I can never be bothered to transfer the cake mixture and wash and dry the mixer bowl in the middle of baking a cake to do this – and besides it is satisfying whisking egg whites with a balloon whisk in my beautiful copper bowl. Gently mix a large dollop of the egg whites into the cake mixture with a large spoon, then fold in the rest of the egg whites gently but thoroughly, keeping as much air in the mix as you can.

Turn into the prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until it is firm, starting to brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave in the tin on a rack for 10 minutes, then un-mould and leave to cool.

I prefer my cakes plain, but this would probably be delicious filled with a chocolate and hazelnut butter cream, or perhaps served with Travel Gourmet’s luscious-sounding Vanilla Ice Cream with Gianduioso, if you wanted a more indulgent dessert.

Rhubarb, almond and polenta cake

IMG_2529In future, do you think historians will be able to use the number of cakes baked as a measure of how happy and secure people were feeling? Cake is a reassuring treat in times of anxiety, not just for celebrations. If so, Bake Off, cupcake mania and the explosion of cake recipes in the blogosphere carry a clear message about a nation in need of comfort. On the upside, we are getting to eat a lot of cake!

Today’s contribution to cheering us up is a variant on Nigella’s Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake from How to be a Domestic Goddess. I had a small amount of rhubarb that needed eating, and thought that this cake might be even nicer if I replaced the flour in the original with ground almonds (which also makes the cake gluten-free – use GF bicarb if necessary) – so this baby Rhubarb, almond and polenta cake was born. And it gave us an excuse to use Irene’s dinky cake forks, which come from Cecil, the restaurant her grandparents used to run in The Hague.

I had around a third of the quantity of rhubarb specified in the original recipe, so divided the original quantities roughly by three: Nigella uses 500g rhubarb and 2 large eggs for a 23cm cake tin. These quantities were just right for a 15cm tin.

160g rhubarb
100g caster sugar (I used 50.50 sugar and xylitol)
50g ground almonds
scant ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
55g fine polenta
scant ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 medium egg
scant ½ tsp vanilla essence
40g soft unsalted butter
80g natural yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/165ºC Fan/Gas 4. Butter and line the base of the cake tin.

Wash and trim the rhubarb, pulling off any strings as you cut off the ends. Slice into 0.5cm pieces, put into a dish and sprinkle over a couple of spoons of the sugar, and let it macerate while you continue with the recipe.

Mix the ground almonds, bicarb, salt, polenta and cinnamon together. Beat the egg and vanilla essence in a small bowl. Cream the butter with the remaining sugar. I did this by hand but, in retrospect, wished I had gone to the trouble of hauling the mixer onto the bench – it makes such quick work of the job.

Add the beaten egg and vanilla bit by bit, beating each addition in with a small spoonful of the almond/polenta mixture. Then lightly mix in the rest of the almonds and polenta alternately with the yoghurt. Finally, fold in the rhubarb with its juices, and pour into the prepared tin.

IMG_2531Bake for around 50 minutes (a larger cake will need a little longer) until the cake springs back when pressed and is starting to come away from the edge of the tin. Check after 40 minutes and cover the tin with foil if the cake is getting very brown. Leave to cool a bit in the tin before taking it out.

Serve still warm with cream, with custard as a dessert, or just with a cup of tea.