Carrot and bean dip

I was prompted to post this by my friend Sue, who asked me for the recipe after we made it during our holiday in the Auvergne. It is very easy to whip up and is a pleasant change from ordinary houmus. Irene originally found a recipe for it online, but we could never find that recipe again, so this is a reconstruction, informed by some online browsing.

If you’re pushed for time you can boil the carrots rather than roasting them, though roasting does give a sweeter flavour, and it is incredibly easy, especially if you pop them into the oven when you’ve got it on to cook something else. You could use crushed raw garlic, if you prefer.

This quantity makes enough to accompany drinks for 6 and, as part of a selection of four different nibbles or snippets, it was enough for a drinks party for 20 last night.

  • 1 tin cannellini or butter beans
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1½ tsp coriander seeds
  • sea salt and black pepper

Heat the oven to 180°C (or thereabouts – just adjust the cooking time if you’re cooking them with something else that needs a slightly different temperature). Scrub or peel the carrots, trim the ends and cut into rough chunks. Sling into a roasting pan with the garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes until tender to the point of a knife, then put into a bowl (if you’re using a stick blender) or the food processor. Alternatively, boil in lightly salted water for about 10 minutes.

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds, shaking the pan occasionally, for a few minutes until you start to smell them (do not leave them, as they can burn quickly). Tip out, allow to cool for a few minutes, then crush to a powder in a spice mill or mortar and pestle. You can, of course, use ready ground spices if you haven’t got seeds or are in a rush – but it really is worth the bother if you have time.

Drain the tin of beans and tip into the bowl or food processor on top of the carrots. Add the lemon juice, tahini, 3 tbsps olive oil, ground spices and a good grind of black pepper. Squeeze the garlic out of its paper cases (or peel and crush in a garlic press if you’re using it raw) and pop that in too. Then blend or pulse until you have a puree – you can decide how rough or smooth you prefer it. Taste for seasoning – you may need more oil, salt or lemon juice.

If you’re feeling a fancy you can add some chopped parsley or coriander as a garnish. Serve with bread sticks, crackers, flat bread or – my current favourite – fennel tarralini for dipping.

Thanks to Sue for prompting me to post the recipe and for all the (very professional) photographs.

Avocado, spinach and bacon salad

I have been running to catch up with myself since a most enjoyable holiday in the States last month, so have been rather neglecting the blog. A lot of good eating has been going on, though, including several classic American brunches, one ending with this very indulgent affogato Affogato in Philadelphiaand chocolate cake.  Back home it has been a question of throwing together familiar meals on the trot, with not much time to try new recipes or photograph what I’ve been cooking.

As the weather has shifted gear, salads are back on the menu, and this is a classic – a quick, easy meal in a bowl, combining creamy avocado and the salty tang of bacon. If you can, use thinly sliced bacon for this recipe, so you can get it nice and crisp, to contrast with the soft leaves. Purists would omit the red pepper and the rocket or watercress, but I like the cheerful colour of the red pepper and the peppery kick of flavour that the other leaves bring. A small head of chicory – red for preference – is also a good addition instead of or as well as the rocket or watercress – just slice it across into three or four pieces and separate the leaves.  These qualities are for 2, served with good bread. Add a dish of warm lentils dressed with olive oil and lemon if you want to make it into a more substantial meal.

Avocado, spinach and bacon salad
4-6 thin rashers of bacon
200g spinach
handful of rocket or watercress
½ red pepper
1 avocado
30g pine nuts

½ tsp dijon mustard
salt & pepper
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil

Heat a frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil and cook the bacon over a medium heat for about 6-10 mins (depending on the thickness of your rashers) until it is nice and crisp. I used six rashers of bacon, as they were very small and thin. Meanwhile, wash the spinach and rocket or watercress and dry in a salad spinner (or shake in a tea-towel). Slice the red pepper thinly and chop into 2cm pieces. Cut the avocado into chunks. Toast the pine nuts in a small frying pan over medium heat – this should only take 2 or 3 minutes, but do watch them like a hawk, shaking and turning them so that they don’t burn.

When the bacon is ready, take it out of the pan and drain on a piece of kitchen towel. Put the drained salad leaves into a large bowl, and add the avocado and most of the red pepper. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients, pour over the salad and mix together. Finally, crumble the bacon and sprinkle it over the salad, with, the remaining red pepper and the pine nuts. I usually finish it with a tiny drizzle of oil and another grind of black pepper.

Carrot and ginger soup

Carrot and ginger soupIt has been so cold this weekend that soup seemed the best option for a warming lunch, and I wanted something quick and not too heavy as we were going out to dinner. Waitrose have started selling very good value bags of  ‘not quite perfect’ carrots – though they look pretty immaculate to me – so I thought I’d make carrot soup. I used to have it often, but then got bored, and haven’t made it for a while. I fancied a fresh-tasting, really carroty soup with a bit of gingery heat. Makes enough for 3-4.

1 dstsp oil
½ onion
1 clove garlic
a walnut size piece of fresh ginger
600g carrots
750g vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Handful of parsley or coriander leaves
Greek yoghurt to serve if wished

Chop the onion finely. Top and tail the carrots, peel if necessary and chop into 2cm chunks. Heat the oil (I used groundnut but any neutral oil will be fine) in a large saucepan and fry the onion gently until soft. Meanwhile, crush or finely chop the garlic and peel and grate the ginger. When the onion has softened add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute or two, stirring so it doesn’t stick. Heat the vegetable stock – I made it using Marigold vegetable bouillon.

Add the carrots, stir them about and then pour on the hot stock. Cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes until the carrots are really tender. Blend in a liquidiser or with a stick blender and season with salt and pepper. Chop the coriander leaves or parsley and serve the soup with a spoonful of Greek yoghurt and a generous sprinkle of herbs.

As a variation you could add some butternut squash (raw or, even better, left-over roasted squash) for a more velvety soup, or add a small fresh red chilli at the start to make it punchier. You could also top it with the spiced onions from this recipe for lentil and squash soup, or with a swirl of olive oil mixed with the finely-chopped herbs – both of which are dairy-free. This soup won’t win any awards, but it delivered some quick, cheap, carroty warmth on a cold day.

Smoked mackerel kedgeree

This came about because I was looking for a quick, comforting supper and found I had a few smoked mackerel fillets and a portion of cooked rice in the fridge. I am now planning to cook it again from scratch – it was so easy to make, cheaper than using smoked haddock (which I normally use for kedgeree), and mackerel is one of those fish we’re all urged to eat more often as oily fish is so good for you. I often have cooked rice to be eaten up (note these important guidelines on serving rice safely), but even if you are cooking the rice from scratch you can have this on the table within half an hour.

Smoked mackerel kedgereeI normally include a hard-boiled egg in kedgeree, and I think it would be good here too, but as you can see, I didn’t get around to it this time. Well, it was cold, I was hungry, what can I say? And, yes, that is kale mixed in – most unorthodox, but I didn’t have any parsley and thought that some additional greens would be good – and they were! I also sometimes include peas, so take your pick as to which greens you fancy (or have to hand). Quantities are for one, but you know your own appetite better than me, so do adjust accordingly.

1 small onion or 3 spring onions
knob of butter
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 egg
150g cooked basmati rice (but see below)
2 boneless fillets of smoked mackerel (about 100g)
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 lemon
2 tbsps cream
60g frozen peas (optional)
handful of parsley or kale

If you’re starting from scratch use 60g of white or 75g of wholegrain basmati, and put that on first – instructions on cooking rice here. Wholegrain rice tastes great in this recipe but will take about 10 minutes longer too cook.

Roughly chop the onion(s), heat the butter in a medium frying pan, and cook the onion gently until it is soft but not browned, adding the turmeric after a few minutes. Heat a small pan of water, prick the bottom of the egg, and boil it gently for 8 minutes (which should give you a just set yolk).

Take off any skin from the smoked mackerel fillets, check for bones and flake into fork-sized pieces. When the onion is cooked stir in the rice, with a little more butter if necessary, and add the smoked mackerel and garam masala (you could use mild curry powder instead, in which case add it to the onions with the turmeric). Cut a small wedge of lemon and put it aside. Squeeze the rest of the lemon over the pan. Season to taste with coarsely-ground black pepper and cook until the rice is piping hot. If using peas or kale, cook them for 3-4 minutes until tender in boiling water (or you can steam the kale in a steamer over the egg) before stirring into the pan too.

When the egg is ready, run under cold water, shell it and cut into quarters. Chop the parsley. Once the kedgeree is hot, stir in the cream (I used double cream, but single or crème fraîche would be just fine), spoon onto your plate, and top with the egg and parsley. Serve with the wedge of lemon to squeeze over.

I had a bowl of orange segments afterwards, which were refreshing after the rich taste of the mackerel. A couple of years ago I went on a knife-skills course and one of the most useful things I learned was how to segment an orange properly, with no trace of pith or pips – very satisfying.

Leftovers: Squash, spinach and goat’s cheese gratin

Squash, spinach and goat's cheese gratinRecently we went to Vinoteca in Farringdon for lunch, and had a gratin of onion squash, spinach and goat’s cheese. When I found I had some leftover baked squash in the fridge – albeit Crown Prince rather than Onion squash – I thought I would try to recreate the dish and was very pleased I did. It made a quick, easy and tasty supper. These quantities are rather approximate and made supper for one.

200g baked squash
125g spinach
50g firm goat’s cheese
thyme, salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 220 C. Wash the spinach and cook it until soft over medium heat, then empty into a colander to squeeze out as much liquid as possible and chop it. This is important as the version we had at Vinoteca had quite a lot of liquid at the bottom, which detracted from the dish. Put the spinach into a small gratin dish. I have a small rectangular Le Creuset dish which I am very fond of, and is perfect for a recipe like this.

Cut the squash into bite-sized pieces and arrange on top of the spinach. Sprinkle over some thyme if you have it (my squash had already been baked with thyme) and season with salt and pepper. Cut the goat’s cheese (I used Capricorn) into small pieces and dot over the dish. Drizzle with olive oil, then put into the oven for 20 minutes until hot and sizzling. Voilà: supper!

Squash, spinach and goat's cheese on buckwheat pancakeI served mine on a leftover buckwheat pancake that I had heated in the oven for 5 minutes, which worked surprisingly well – and made good use of two different leftovers at once – but some good sourdough bread would probably be even nicer.

Ajam (or Babi) Ketjap

Today Marleen has been teaching me to make this Indonesian dish – chicken (ayam) or pork (babi) marinated in sweet soy sauce – which she serves with Nasi goreng. Quick cooking keeps the meat moist and the marinade makes a deeply savoury sauce that goes well with rice. The meat needs to be put in the marinade ahead of time, but the actual cooking only takes a few minutes.

image3 cloves garlic
2 thumbs ginger, peeled, one minced, one whole
1 tbsp kikkoman soy sauce
3 tbsp ketjap manis (sweet soy sauce)
2 tbsp peanut oil (or other flavourless oil)
A good squeeze of lemon juice
1/2 tsp sugar
4 skinless chicken breasts – 450-500g total (or pork – see below)

Crush the garlic, and put into a bowl large enough to hold the chicken with the ginger, soy sauce, ketjap manis, lemon juice and sugar, season with pepper (not salt because of the soy sauce) and stir together.

Cut each chicken breast across into about 4 or 5 strips and put into the ketjap mixture to marinade for at least an hour, and up to 3 hours. You can use pork instead of chicken, either pork fillet or shoulder chops, cutting the pork into small cubes, and cutting out any bones from the chops.

Heat a large frying or sauté pan and add a nut of butter and a splash of oil to stop it burning. When the butter and oil are hot add half the chicken, using a slotted spoon to take it out of the dish. Cook briskly, turning the pieces so that they cook evenly, for about 2-3 minutes (longer if the chicken breasts are thick and longer still if using pork). Put aside on a warm plate, and cook the second half of the meat. Pour the rest of the marinade into the pan, letting it bubble up and reduce. Add all the chicken back into the pan and stir together, then take out the whole piece of ginger, turn into a warmed serving dish, and serve with rice or Nasi Goreng.