Sweet potato cakes

These sweet potato cakes are dead easy to make, and perfect for brunch or supper. You could also make smaller cakes and serve them as a snack with some salsa or chutney. We had them for brunch with a poached egg on top and a fresh, crunchy salad. To keep it vegan, serve a sliced avocado or a good dollop of coconut yoghurt alongside the potato cakes instead of the egg. This is a very useful recipe when you have left-over roasted or boiled sweet potato – sometimes you can only get enormous ones, which are far too big to get through all at once.

The potato cakes are very soft – you could use more cornflour and chill them for longer if you want firmer, neater patties – but I don’t mind them being a bit wonky, and they held together fine in the pan. Adjust the chilli content to your taste, and chilli flakes would work too if you don’t have any fresh chilli. You could, of course, omit the ginger and chilli and use parsley and lemon zest instead of coriander and lime zest if you wanted a milder, more soothing brunch. Serves 2.

1 large sweet potato (about 300g)
2 spring onions
1cm ginger
1 clove garlic
1 red or green chilli
zest of 1/2 lime
6 sprigs coriander
1 tbsp cornflour
salt and black pepper
2 tbsps quick-cook polenta
1 tbsp olive oil

Salad
2 tomatoes
5cm cucumber
6 radishes
1 stick celery
Coriander leaves
juice of 1/2 lime
2 tbsp olive oil

To serve (optional):
2 eggs or 100g coconut yoghurt
1 avocado

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Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Peel the sweet potato and cut into small chunks. Add to the boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes until tender to a fork, then drain thoroughly in a colander.img_5453.jpg

 

Trim and finely chop the spring onions, peel and grate the ginger and garlic, de-seed and finely chop the chilli and put into a bowl with the zest of lime. Finely chop the coriander, including any soft stalks, and add that too. Tip the drained sweet potatoes into the bowl and mash them into the other ingredients.

 

Add the tablespoon of cornflour and mix well. Then spread the polenta onto a plate. Take a quarter of the mixture, shape into a pattie and dump on top of the polenta. Carefully turn it over (using a spatula helps) so that it is completely coated in the polenta.

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Move the potato cake onto a plate or board and do the same with the rest of the mixture to give four sweet potato cakes. Pop them into the fridge to firm up for a few minutes while you clear the decks, make salad and lay the table.

 

For our salad we just diced the vegetables listed and dressed them with lime juice and olive oil. Diced red pepper or red onion would also be nice, as well as or instead of the ones listed. Or you could just prepare a regular green salad.

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Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. If you’re having poached eggs put a shallow pan of water on to heat.

When the oil is hot use a spatula to transfer the potato cakes into the pan and leave to cook undisturbed – resist the urge to fiddle with them – on a medium heat for 5-7 minutes until the bottom is crisp and golden. Turn them over carefully with the spatula and cook the other side.

Slice the avocado, if having, and squeeze over a few drops of lemon or lime juice to stop it discolouring. If you’re having poached eggs, about 3 minutes before the potato cakes are ready crack each one into a cup and slip into just simmering water. Cook for 3 minutes or until done to your taste. Use a slotted spoon to scoop each one from the water and blot any excess moisture with a kitchen towel.

Serve the potato cakes with their sides and salad for a satisfying, spicy brunch.

Sweet potato cake and egg

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Mushroom tart

Mushroom Tart

I have been meaning to post this mushroom tart recipe for ages. It was given to me by my mother’s friend Sarah, who was an excellent cook; her hand-written recipe has been pasted into my recipe book for forty years now. Although Sarah was vegetarian herself, she also cooked meat and fish for her family and friends, and her food was always perfectly seasoned even though she never tasted the meat dishes.

As the tart uses puff pastry, it is a bit of an indulgence, but it does turn an ordinary punnet of button mushrooms into something special. I sometimes use chestnut mushrooms or a mixture of button and field mushrooms. It is important to cook the mushrooms ahead of time and let them cool down as otherwise the heat can soften the pastry which makes it difficult to manage. Tarragon works particularly well here, but parsley is nice too if you don’t have any tarragon, in which case you could add a crushed clove of garlic to the mixture too.

Sarah recommended Saxby butter puff pastry if you can get it. Rolling the pastry yourself will give a thinner crust, but a ready-rolled sheet is fine if you prefer. This serves 3-4, depending on how many sides you serve with it.

350g button or chestnut mushrooms
50g butter
1 tsp plain flour
1 tbsp sherry or white wine
150ml single or sour cream
huge pinch of tarragon or parsley
200g (or a ready-rolled sheet) all-butter puff pastry
1 egg beaten with a little milk

Slice the mushrooms very thinly. Melt the butter in a frying pan and sweat the mushrooms in the butter over a gentle heat until they are ‘slug-like’, which will take 5-10 minutes.

Mushroom tart 1

Sprinkle on the teaspoon of flour and cook for a few more minutes. Stir in the cream, herbs and sherry and season with salt and black pepper. Cook for another couple of minutes. Then leave the mixture to cool, preferably for an hour.

When you are ready to bake the tart put the oven on to heat to 210°C. Roll out the pastry very thinly into a large oblong (or unroll the ready-rolled sheet) and place half on a baking sheet, with the other half off the edge. It helps to put some baking parchment on the bench to stop this part of the pastry sticking to it. Paint the edge of the pastry with the egg wash. Spoon the cool mushroom mixture onto the half of the pastry which is on the baking sheet and carefully fold the other half over the top.

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Seal the edges very firmly with a fork or crimp the edges together with your fingers rather as you would for a pasty. As you can see below, my effort was far from neat this time – I had taken the pastry out of the fridge a bit too early and it was not being co-operative. Paint the top with egg wash and make two or three diagonal slashes in the top for the steam to escape.

Bake for 25-30 minutes in the oven, until the tart is puffed up and golden brown. Serve with salad or a green vegetable such as chard or broccoli, and new potatoes if you wish.

Mushroom Tart

 

Lentils with squash and spinach

Lentils with squash and spinach

A new discovery, this lentil dish is both comforting and fresh-tasting, thanks to being flavoured with orange peel and juice. The idea came from the beginning of a Lindsey Bareham recipe in her column for The Times, which Irene found online. The introduction and ingredients made it sound delicious, but the rest of the recipe was for subscribers only, so the method below is our guesswork (and the sage and fresh chilli our additions). So far, we have had it hot with sausages and pan-fried pheasant breast (separately, obviously) and at room temperature with salad and goat’s cheese. I plan to polish off the leftovers with some ham for lunch tomorrow, and Lindsey Bareham also recommends it cold with hard-boiled eggs.

These quantities make enough for 3 servings, or 4 as the accompaniment to something more substantial.

1 large onion
3 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
2 oranges
1 cm piece dried chilli
150g puy lentils
1 bay leaf
3 sage leaves (optional)
300ml chicken or vegetable stock
250g butternut squash
100g spinach
1 fresh red chilli to serve (optional)

Heat the oven to 210°C. Chop the butternut squash into bite-sized chunks and toss in 1 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread on a baking tray. Roast for about 20-25 minutes until tender. I tend to roast more butternut squash than I need for one recipe, as there are lots of recipes that you can then make easily, such as soup, pumpkin rice, squash with aubergine sauce, salad with mushrooms or risotto.

Softening onions for lentils with squash and spinachCut the onion in half and slice thinly. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and cook the onions slowly with a good pinch of salt, stirring regularly and reducing the heat if they start to show any sign of browning. After about 10-15 minutes, they should be soft and golden – rapeseed oil gives them a particularly lovely colour.

Add the lentils and stir them in to coat them with the oil. Pare several long strips of orange rind and add them to the pan with the dried chilli, bay leaf and the sage leaves torn into strips. Stir and cook for another minute or two, then add the hot stock to the pan.

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I used 1 tsp of Marigold bouillon made up with 250ml of boiling water, but found I needed to add a little more water. Bring to the boil, then cover with a lid, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, checking after 10 minutes in case you need to add a little more water.

Wash the spinach and squeeze the juice of the oranges. After 15 minutes the lentils should be nearly tender – if not, give them another few minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then add the spinach to the pan (if you’re using previously roasted, cold squash as I was, add it at this stage to warm through).

Adding spinach and squash to the lentils

Put the lid back on and cook gently for another 3-5 minutes until the spinach has wilted. By now, the squash should be ready to come out of the oven. Stir the spinach into the lentils, add the orange juice and the squash if you are  haven’t already done so. Give it a final stir and check the seasoning, then serve hot, warm or cold. It may not look elegant, but it is delicious!

Lentils with squash and spinach

Asian fish parcels

Lunch today was this simple yet special dish of fish with rice and pak choi. It tasted really zingy, fresh and light after all the rich festive food we’ve been indulging in over the last couple of weeks. It is probably the recipe we have used most from Lindsey Bareham’s excellent cookbook The Fish Store, which not only contains great recipes for fish, but also lots of her family’s other favourite dishes for chicken, lamb, vegetables and puddings – do treat yourself if you haven’t already got it.

Asian fish parcels served

This is a great recipe to have in your repertoire if your New Year’s resolutions include eating fish more regularly for a healthy diet. It works with any white fish – we usually use haddock or hake – and the foil parcels can be prepared ahead ready to pop into the oven 15 minutes or so before you want to eat, so it’s perfect for entertaining. With rice and pak choi already in the parcel with the fish, it is also really easy to serve – and as Lindsey Bareham points out, there is very little washing up!

Irene tends to cook this for us, and has adapted the original recipe, blanching the pak choi first to bring out its flavour, adding some fresh chilli and tweaking the seasonings. Like her mother, she follows the Indonesian tradition of not salting the rice, so that it acts as a plain foil to the strong flavours of the sauce served with it. If you don’t have ketjap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) in the cupboard then just use 4 tbsps of ordinary soy sauce. You can use left-over cooked rice for this, in which case you will need about 250-300g, and if it is cold when you start, the parcels will need an extra 5 minutes in the oven. These quantities are for two; you will need two pieces of tin foil about 65cm x 35cm for the parcels.

150g basmati rice
2 small cloves garlic
pinch of salt
1.5 tbsp toasted sesame oil
3.5 tbsp Kikkoman soy sauce
½ tbsp ketjap manis
5cm knob of garlic
1 green chilli
2 small pak choi (about 150g)
2 white fish fillets (about 300g total)

Preheat the oven to 230° C. Put the rice into a small pan, rinse under cold running water, drain and add enough water to come to the first joint of your index finger above the rice. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, when you should be able to hear that the water has been absorbed, there will be little holes in top of the rice and you won’t be able to see any water. Once it has reached this stage, turn off the heat and leave the pan covered on the cooling hotplate so that the rice absorbs the last of the moisture to give you dry, fluffy rice.

Trim the pak choi and slice across into three. Put into a steamer and blanch the stems for 2 minutes and the leaves for 1 minute. Run briefly under the cold tap to stop it cooking, and leave to drain. We find the pak choi tastier if it is cooked through, but you can omit this step if you like your veg a little crunchier.

Peel the cloves of garlic and crush with a pinch of salt. Whisk together with 1 tbsp of the sesame oil and the soy sauce(s). Peel and grate the ginger. Trim, deseed and slice the green chilli.

Lay out your two sheets of foil, and drizzle the remaining sesame oil over the centre of each. You can put both portions into one (slightly larger) parcel if you want to save foil, as we did today, though individual parcels are nicer, especially if you are cooking for guests. Sprinkle a quarter of the sliced chilli over each piece. Then divide the rice between the two parcels, fluffing up the grains with a fork if necessary. Add half the ginger and the pak choi.

Asian fish parcels 3

Then top with the fish fillets, the rest of the ginger (including any juice from grating it), and the rest of the sliced chilli. Finally, whisk the sauce again and pour it over.

Asian fish parcel 3

Fold the edges of the parcel and seal carefully, avoiding pulling the foil tight.

Place the parcels on a baking sheet and cook in the hot oven for 15 minutes (or 20 minutes if you have used cold cooked rice). If you make one larger parcel it will need an extra 2-3 minutes to cook. You can open a parcel and check that the fish is opaque through to the bottom of the thickest part of the fillet to be sure that it’s cooked through.

You can serve the parcels just as they are, but we find it easier to eat if you scoop the contents onto the plate – they slide out easily with the encouragement of a large serving spoon.  The rice absorbs the delicious flavours of the soy sauce and toasted sesame oil, and the fish stays beautifully moist – it is really delicious.

Spicy peanut and vegetable stew

Here’s an easy and tasty vegetable stew for supper on a cold weeknight. It started life as Maafe tigidigi, a recipe from Timbuktu, which was adapted by Alicia Weston of Bags of Taste, an inspiring initiative that provides free cookery courses to people who need to learn how to eat well on a low budget. I saw an article about the organisation in Delicious magazine, and thought it was a great idea – and I liked the sound of the recipe too.

The original recipe uses okra rather than courgette, but I am not fond of okra, and using courgettes instead worked fine, though they are less authentic and don’t have quite the same texture. I’m sure you could ring the changes on the other vegetables too. The peanut butter makes it really tasty and satisfying. I guess you could serve it with some roasted peanuts sprinkled on top for crunch, but to be honest it doesn’t really need anything extra.

These quantities serve 2 – or provide two comforting suppers for one person (it will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge) – with rice.

3 tbsp peanut butter
2 tsp tomato purée
350ml hot water
175g courgette
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground fennel
good grinding of black pepper
½ tsp chilli powder
1 bay leaf
1 stock cube or 2 tsp Marigold bouillon
150g sweet potato
100g carrots
½ red pepper
1 celery stick (about 60g)

Measure the peanut butter and tomato purée into a medium saucepan and gradually mix in the hot water using a wooden spoon until they are well blended. Halve the courgette lengthways (unless it is small), and slice it fairly thinly.

Put the pan over medium heat, add the courgette with the spices, bay leaf and stock cube or Marigold powder, stirring well. I used a mild chilli powder and the stew was spicy enough for me, but you can up the heat if you wish by using hotter chilli or a fresh red chilli if you have one. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

While it is simmering, peel the sweet potato and carrot and cut them into large chunks. De-seed the red pepper and cut it into chunks. Trim the celery and cut it into 2 cm slices on the diagonal. Add the chopped vegetables to the sauce, bring back to a simmer, then cover and cook over a low heat for 20-30 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, cook some rice – I used wholegrain basmati, which I find takes about 20 minutes – and serve with the stew.

 

 

Baked Squash with leeks

I saw a wonderful display of squash outside a greengrocers the other day and couldn’t resist buying a couple. Rather than chop them up and roast them, I thought it would be nice to cook them whole. An internet search threw up a recipe for Squash stuffed with leeks by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, which turned out to be in his River Cottage Veg Everyday cookbook, which I actually have on my shelf. It is ideal for enjoying small acorn or harlequin squash that are around now, but you could serve one larger squash between two people, remembering to give it more time in the oven (another 10-20 minutes at a guess).

The leeks are sweated in a little butter, then a little mustard, cream and gruyère added to give an unctuous filling which makes a nice contrast with the soft orange squash. I have tweaked the recipe by halving the quantity of cheese (to make it a big less rich) and adding nutmeg. I also used goat’s cream, as I happened to have some, which worked well, and you could use a hard goat’s cheese rather than the Gruyère. I think blue cheese might be worth trying too.

Aside from the slight fiddle of preparing the squash – much aided by making sure your knife is nice and sharp – this is a very straightforward recipe. Just right for an autumnal lunch this weekend. Quantities are for two people. I forgot to take a photograph of the finished dish, so I will try to remedy that next time I make it, as I am sure it will be back on the menu soon.

15g butter
1 large leek
½ teaspoon English mustard
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
30g Gruyère
2 small squash (about 400g each)
2 sprigs of thyme
Salt, black pepper & nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5. Trim the leek and slice it finely. Heat a good nut of butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add the leeks, stirring them about. Once they start to cook, turn the heat down, cover the pan and cook very gently for about 10 minutes, until very soft. Grate the cheese and stir it into the leeks with the mustard and crème fraîche. Season the mixture well with salt, pepper and a grating of nutmeg, remembering that the squash won’t have any seasoning.

Cut a small slice off the base of each squash so it will stand up securely. Using a strong knife and a steady hand cut a cone out of the top of the squash to make a lid. I found that trying to cut a flat slice was more tricky and didn’t go through to the centre of the squash. Put the lids on one side, and use a small knife and a teaspoon to scrape out all the seeds and fibres.

Spoon the leek mixture into the two squash, leaving a little room for the filling to bubble away,  and pop a sprig of thyme into each one. Replace the squash lids and stand the squash on a large baking tray.

Bake for 50 minutes, and then poke a knife into the flesh inside to check that the squash is nice and tender. Serve in solitary glory, though a crunchy salad (chicory and watercress?) might be nice before or afterwards.

Aubergines, Chickpeas, Walnuts & Dates

Ten days ago I was lucky enough to be given Diana Henry’s book Simple: Effortless food, big flavours, and I have been obsessively cooking my way through it ever since. It really lives up to the promise of the title: lots of recipes that are simple enough to tackle when you’re  tired after a busy day, yet taste good enough to revive you – or fool guests into thinking you have been slaving over a hot stove for hours. I’m also delighted to find that Diana Henry has lots of recipes on her website (as well as those behind the Telegraph’s paywall) if you want to check them out before you commit to buying a book.

This satisfying combination of aubergines, chickpeas, walnuts & dates has the most wonderful tahini dressing, which I am planning to use for lots of other grain-and-vegetable salads in the near future. Aleppo pepper is also known as Turkish pul biber, which I found in Waitrose, but you can substitute a mixture of cayenne and paprika if you can’t find it – or don’t want another container in your spice drawer. The original recipe had a little date syrup drizzled over the dish at the end, which I omitted (though I did wonder about using pomegranate molasses instead). This is a perfect recipe for the sunny but autumnal weather we’ve been having in London, when you want something warm and reasonably substantial yet with the flavours of warmer climes.

These are the quantities for 4. As I was cooking just for me, I made it using a third of the quantity and had enough for one generous portion, plus a side for the next day, when it was just as delicious. The first day I served it on a bed of rocket, and second time round with quinoa and salad – the quinoa was particularly good with it. Henry recommends serving it with couscous or alongside lamb or grilled mackerel.

3 aubergines (about 750g)
3 smallish onions
6 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp pul biber/Aleppo pepper
salt & pepper
400g can chickpeas
squeeze of lemon juice
half a small packet of coriander leaves
5 Medjool dates
15g walnuts

Dressing:
50ml tahini
50ml extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
4 tbsp Greek yoghurt
juice of ½ lemon

Heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5. Cut the aubergines across into fat slices and then halve the larger slices. Peel the onions and cut them vertically into wedges. Put both into a large roasting tin and mix together with all but 1 tbsp of the olive oil, the cumin, pul biber, salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes, turning everything about half way through.

Put all the dressing ingredients into a small blender or a bowl with 50ml of water and either blitz or whisk until it’s thoroughly blended and the consistency of thick cream. Check the seasoning, adding more lemon if necessary.

Pit and chop the dates, roughly chop the walnuts and toast them for a few minutes in a hot frying pan if you have the energy (I didn’t). Pick the coriander leaves off the stems and chop.

Five minutes before the aubergines are ready heat the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil in a pan. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and heat them through in the oil for a few minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and tip onto a serving platter – over rocket, couscous or quinoa if you wish. Spoon the cumin-roast aubergines and onions on top, generously drizzle with the dressing, then scatter over the coriander, dates and walnuts.

And there you have a delicious, exotic dinner on the table in 45 minutes, of which at least half can be spent reading the paper or, in my case, doing your piano practice.