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.

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.

Escalivada or Catalan roasted vegetables

Eating Escalivada reminds me of long holiday lunches while staying with my friend who has a flat by the beach in Llançà in Catalonia. It is so simple to make, yet the combination of roasted vegetables is just right, making a delicious starter, light lunch or a side dish that seems to go with everything.

Yesterday we had it with a dish of warm lentils, rocket salad and an oozingly ripe goat’s cheese. The only thing it demands is a bit of advance planning, as the vegetables need to cook quite slowly in the oven. This quantity serves 4 as a starter or part of a main course. It keeps well in the fridge, so it’s worth doing more than you need,  providing an instant hit of sunshine for supper later in the week.

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 medium onion
1 aubergine
olive oil
2 tsp sherry vinegar

Heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5 – though if you were cooking something else at 180ºC/Gas mark 4 that would be fine too; they would just take a bit longer to cook. Wash the peppers and aubergine. Cut out the stems of the peppers and pull out the fibrous inside and seeds. Slice off the top of the aubergine, and pierce it a few times with a knife (to avoid explosions in the oven). Cut the onion into two (or four if it is fat) – no need to peel it.

Put all the vegetables into an oven dish and rub them with olive oil (except for the onion skin). Sprinkle with a little salt and cover tightly with foil. If you prefer you can wrap the vegetables individually in foil, but this strikes me as more trouble than is necessary. Roast for an hour, then check how they are doing – you need to roast them until they are really soft and starting to collapse. They will probably need another 30 minutes, and I took the foil off for the last 15 minutes to speed things up.

When the vegetables are all really soft take them out of the oven and leave until they are cool enough to handle. Then peel the skin off the peppers and aubergine – it should just pull away really easily. Extract any remaining seeds or fibres from the peppers – the only remotely fiddly part of the recipe. Slice the vegetables into long pieces about 2-3 cm wide and arrange on a platter. Pull the pieces of onion out of their skin, cutting them away from the root, and slicing them in half lengthways if they are too large to fit on a fork. Add them to the platter. Drizzle with olive oil and sherry vinegar, and season to taste. Serve at room temperature.

Escalivada is a great accompaniment to fish or lamb or chicken, or you can simply eat it with some good bread and a glass of wine. And pretend you are by the sea in Catalonia…

Poussin with peppers

img_2430This is an attempt to reproduce a recipe that Marlene cooks often though I don’t know how close it is to the original. It is ideal as an easy way of having a sort-of-roast dinner for one and is lighter and a lot quicker to make than full-on roast chicken. Roasting the poussin over peppers with stock keeps the poussin tender and moist, and gives you lots of  delicious vegetables and juice, best soaked up with basmati rice. The chilli and paprika give a welcome kick of heat to meat that can be a bit bland.

img_2432I cooked it for a solo Sunday lunch, with some lovely fresh cavolo nero and it fitted the bill perfectly.  The plump poussin I cooked made enough for two meals for me, but don’t count on having leftovers if you’re hungry !

1 poussin
1 tblsp olive oil
small onion
1 tsp paprika
1 clove garlic
1 red chilli
small red pepper
1 stick celery
2 sprigs thyme
2 tomatoes
½ lemon (optional)
100ml chicken or vegetable stock

An hour before you start cooking take the poussin out of the fridge to bring it to room temperature. Heat the oven to 200ºC. Choose an ovenproof pan that is the right size to hold the vegetables with the poussin on top. Ideally, you want an oven dish which will go on top of the stove as well, but if not – mine didn’t – you’ll need a medium frying pan to start things off. Heat half the oil in your oven dish or frying pan, season the poussin and quickly brown it on all sides, then set aside.

Put the kettle on to boil and pop the tomatoes into a heatproof bowl. Roughly chop the onion, pepper (you can use yellow or green peppers if you prefer) and celery. Finely chop the chilli any garlic (adjust the amount of chilli according to what type you have and how hot you like your food – I used one medium fairly mild one). When the kettle boils cover the tomatoes with boiling water and leave for a couple of minutes. Fish them out, run under the cold tap, score the skin with a sharp knife and it should then come off easily. Cut out the cores, and chop the tomatoes roughly.

img_2427Add the rest of the oil to the frying pan, and fry the onions gently until they are soft, adding the paprika after a couple of minutes and cooking it out thoroughly. I used less than 1 tsp of paprika, and thought it needed more, but the strength of paprika can vary, so you may want to be more cautious. Add the red chilli and garlic, fry for a minute or two, then add the rest of the vegetables. Cook until they are all softened, stirring from time to time – a good 5 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

By now the oven should have reached temperature. If you have been using a frying pan, turn the vegetables into the oven dish. Add the thyme (and some celery leaves if you have them) to the bed of vegetables. Put the lemon half into the poussin and lay the poussin on the top. Moisten the layer of vegetables with stock – you may not need all of it – and put into the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, then check: add a little more stock if necessary and turn the bird if it is browning unevenly. Now is the time to start cooking the rice.

Roast the poussin for a further 15-20 minutes until the juices run clear. Take out of the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Cut the poussin in half and serve with the vegetables and rice, spooning the  juice over liberally. And to be totally authentic put some Sambal Badjak on the table for those who like to add a bit of extra heat!img_2434

Mushrooms with polenta and gorgonzola

img_2389It had been a long day, it was raining and I was in serious need of comfort food – and a supper that didn’t involve going shopping first. I had some kale, the end of a packet of Gorgonzola, and a packet of chestnut mushrooms in the fridge – not very inspiring.

As soon as I spotted this recipe for mushroom ragout with polenta I knew it fitted the bill, as I had polenta in the cupboard and, unusually, a few dried porcini mushrooms too. Although I had to adjust some of the ingredients – no flat mushrooms only chestnut ones, Marsala instead of red wine, and gorgonzola instead of taleggio – my version was still really tasty – and comforting. I found this quantity of polenta rather more than I could eat, so if you’re not ravenous you might want to cook less.

Solace for one wet, weary person

a few porcini mushrooms
a large knob of butter
1 shallot, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
Leaves of 2 sprigs of thyme
175g mushrooms, sliced
good slug of Marsala
60ml vegetable stock
25g gorgonzola

Polenta:
125ml milk
125ml water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
60g instant polenta
12g butter
15g grated parmesan (or vegetarian alternative)

Start by putting the porcini in a small bowl, covering with 40ml of hot water and leaving to soak for 20 mins. Put the milk and water into a saucepan with the bay leaf and thyme, and heat to boiling point. Pull off the heat and leave to infuse while you get on with slicing the shallot and mushrooms. Measure out the polenta and make up the stock. I used a scant ½ tsp of Marigold bouillon with boiling water – it would be better still if you are organised enough to have cubes of home-made stock in your freezer – I’m not there yet!

Put a good knob of butter into a large-ish frying pan. When it sizzles add the chopped shallot and cook for a few minutes. Then add the garlic and thyme leaves and cook for another minute. Squeeze out the dried mushrooms, keeping their soaking water. Turn up the heat and add the porcini, then after a minute add the rest of the mushrooms and cook over a high heat for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring all the time so they don’t catch, until they are soft. Add a good slug of marsala (or red wine) and let it bubble up and reduce for a minute or so. Finally add the mushroom soaking water and stock, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has reduced and you have the consistency of a stew.

img_2385After the mushrooms have been simmering for 5 minutes or so put the grill on to heat and make the polenta (and if you’re having greens, which I recommend, now is the time to steam them). Heat the flavoured milk and water back to the boil and pour in the polenta in a thin, steady stream, stirring hard all the time. Let it cook for a minute or two, then stir in the butter and parmesan (this is not a recipe for those who are wary of butter!). Pour into an ovenproof dish and create a dip in the centre.

img_2387When the mushrooms are ready pile them on top of the polenta, dot the gorgonzola over the top and put under the grill for about 3 minutes or until the cheese has melted. I do think it is best served with a big pile of fresh greens to counteract the richness of the buttery, cheesy polenta. I think it would be a good vegetarian dish for a crowd too, as the mushrooms could be prepared ahead and gently reheated, so that only the polenta would need to be done at the last minute. It would look good served on a big platter so that everyone could dig in – just multiply the quantities up to suit.

Poulet au vinaigre

img_2371After a day walking in the countryside in glorious winter sunshine on Sunday we were ready for a proper dinner. I had noticed an interesting recipe for Poulet au Vinaigre in the Guardian’s Cook supplement – I am really enjoying the articles by Iranian-American Samin Nosrat in her residency.

As it is a classic French recipe I thought I’d have a look at other recipes too, only to find that none of my cookbooks included the dish, not even Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This may be a reflection of the fact that I have fewer classic French cookbooks than I thought (a good excuse for a trip to the bookshop?). Searching online led me to Diana Henry’s recipe in House and Garden magazine, and it was this that Irene used as a base (I was strictly sous-chef on this occasion).

These quantities are for two generous portions (don’t be fooled by the picture above – we had seconds!). We served it with parsnips rather than the boiled waxy potatoes that Diana Henry recommends, and some broccoli – a green salad afterwards would probably be a more authentic way of getting your greens. To start we had prawn and avocado salad – sounds posh but I had a few prawns left from making fish pie on Friday and half an avocado that needed eating – and berry and frangipane bake for dessert. A delicious end to a beautiful day.

10g butter
4 chicken joints
1 large or 2 small shallots
2 large cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 tbsp white-wine vinegar
150ml dry white wine
2 tbsp chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp brandy
1 tsp dijon mustard
½ tsp tomato purée
2 tbsp double cream

Poulet au vinaigrePeel the shallot(s) and chop finely. Melt the butter in a sauté pan, which has a lid. Dry the chicken and cut away any excess skin or fat. Put the chicken pieces into the pan, skin side down first, and brown them on all sides. Add the shallots and garlic and cover the pan. Turn the heat right down and cook gently for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

After about 20 minutes put the oven on and heat to 130ºC/Fan 110ºC/Gas mark ½ – this is to keep the chicken warm while you’re finishing the sauce. Once the chicken is done, tranfer it to an oven-proof serving dish, loosely cover with foil and pop into the oven.

Pour the fat out of the pan but don’t wash it. Add the vinegar and stir to incorporate all the nice sticky bits from cooking the chicken. Boil quickly until you have about a third of the liquid left, then stir in the wine, stock, brandy, mustard and tomato purée, mixing well. Boil this until reduced to sauce consistency, then push it through a sieve into a clean saucepan, squashing the garlic cloves so that their soft flesh is added to the sauce. Add the cream and bring to the boil. Pour the sauce over the warm chicken in its dish and serve.

The original recipe finished the sauce with little cubes of cold butter whisked into the sauce (after  you’ve added the cream), but Irene decided that this would be a bit too rich for a Sunday supper – maybe something for a grander occasion. The dish is also supposed to have a garnish of a large plum tomato, skinned, de-seeded and cut into strips, but there were no tomatoes in the house on Sunday. It was nonetheless extremely tasty and satisfying, the tartness of the vinegar adding complexity and depth to the creamy sauce. Highly recommended.