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

Mushrooms with Taleggio and Tomato Sauce

My friend Jane made this for our Reading Group recently and it was so delicious that I immediately asked for the recipe. It is gloriously quick and easy to put together yet tastes rich and complex. It really does take 10 minutes to assemble and only 15 minutes in the oven, so it’s on the table in under 30 minutes. Make a green salad while it’s in the oven and you have the perfect mid-week vegetarian supper, lunch or, with a starter and dessert, dinner.

The recipe originally came from the Waitrose magazine, and there is a more complicated version in Ottolenghi’s Plenty, as well as a number of other variants online. I made it with sage, as I didn’t have any thyme, and can report that thyme tastes better. If you had some home-made tomato sauce to hand then that would be good here. The only problem with using passata is what you do with the rest of the carton, as I never seem to think of another suitable recipe to make before it starts going mouldy – any ideas?

Quantities here are for two but can easily be multiplied as required.

150g passata
2 large portabella or field mushrooms
100g Taleggio
a few sprigs of thyme
2 small slices of sourdough (or ciabatta)
1 tbsp olive oil

Heat the oven to 200ºC Fan/220º C/Gas mark 7. Pour the passata into an ovenproof dish. Trim the stalks of the mushrooms and wipe the caps (you can peel them if they are damaged, but I rarely find this is necessary). Place them on the passata, stalk side up.

Slice the Taleggio and divide between the two mushrooms. Strip the thyme leaves from the stems and scatter the leaves over.

Tear the bread into small pieces into a bowl and toss with the olive oil. Scatter over the dish and bake in the oven for 15 minutes until the cheese has melted, oozing into the sauce, and the bread is golden.

There, I told you it was easy!

Lentil and sweet potato pie

This vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie, from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones, proved to be perfect for dinner on an autumnal day when neither of us felt like cooking anything too demanding. This was partly because I was having a bake-in, making brownies and a fig and blackberry tart, inspired by one I’d eaten at Allegra McEvedy’s wonderful wine bar Albertine (only thing wrong with it is that it’s not round the corner from my flat!).

So I cooked this comforting pie, fragrant with thyme and spices but requiring only some chopping, stirring and mashing, alongside the baking. It was a substantial dinner: I made a half quantity, and have almost two portions left, so the full recipe below would feed six generously and eight more politely, especially if you were serving a starter and dessert. I have slightly reduced the quantity of sweet potato, but feel free to add an extra sweet potato if you like lots of mash. Next time, I might try adding a bay leaf and some mushrooms to the lentils, as I think they would go well and ring the changes.

4 medium sweet potatoes
2 tbsps olive oil
4 spring onions
grated zest of 1/2 lemon

2 carrots
2 sticks celery
2 red onions
2 clove garlic
slug of olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
half a small pack of thyme
1 400g tin tomatoes
400g puy lentils

Cook the sweet potatoes until tender either by baking in the oven at 200ºC/fan 180ºC/gas 6 for 30-45 minutes (depending on size; remember to pierce the skins so they don’t explode), or boiling them in a pan of boiling water for about 15-20 minutes. I baked mine because I wanted some for making brownies too, and I had the oven on for pre-baking a pastry case. Heat the oven to 220ºC/fan 200º/gas 7 for the pie.

Peel and chop the carrots and onions, trim and chop the celery and finely chop the garlic. Put a large frying pan over a medium heat, add a slug of olive oil and, when hot, add the vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes until they are softening. Roughly crush the cumin, and add all the spices and the leaves of the thyme to the pan. Stir and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the tin of tomatoes, the lentils and two tins full of water. Crush the tomatoes a bit with your spoon and turn up the heat to bring everything to a brisk simmer. Give it a stir from time to time, and add a little extra water if necessary. After 15-20 minutes the lentils should be just cooked and the sauce thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Warm a little olive oil in a medium pan, chop the spring onion and cook it gently in the oil for a few minutes. Add the sweet potato and mash. Check the seasoning and add the lemon zest. Tip the lentil mixture into an oven dish and top with the mashed sweet potato, roughing up the surface with a fork. I added a  few knobs of butter on the top, because that’s what I do with shepherd’s pie to get a nice crispy top, but obviously don’t do this if you’re cooking for vegans.

Bake for 25 minutes until the top is golden and the pie is sizzling hot. I followed the recipe in adding some thyme to the top of the mash, but I don’t recommend this – the thyme just crisps up without adding much flavour and makes it look disconcertingly as if the pie is covered in dead flies!

Serve with steamed green, such as cavolo nero, kale, spring greens or cabbage. And don’t blame me if you feel very full afterwards.

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.

Delicious nut roast

Nut roast with parsnips and cabbageThis is an Allegra McEvedy recipe, that convinced her that nut roast could be delicious! It was cooked by my friend Marion for a large lunch party recently and was such a hit with vegetarians and carnivores alike that several of us asked for the recipe afterwards.

It is straightforward to make, and you can prepare a lot of the ingredients ahead, so you only have to mix everything together and put it in the oven 40 minutes before you want to eat. Dare I say, this would make an excellent centrepiece for a vegetarian Christmas dinner – and fairly stress-free even for a cook who is also roasting turkey. I can also testify that any leftovers are delicious fried up with bubble and squeak!

100g almonds, skins on
100g hazelnuts, skins off
50g pecans
1 large leek, trimmed
150g vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts
splash of olive oil
1 shallot
1 heaped tbsp thyme leaves
100g Comté cheese, grated
1 eating apple, halved, cored and grated
handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
20g parmesan, grated
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/fan 170ºC/Gas 5. As it’s heating lightly toast the almonds, hazelnuts and pecans on the tray for 12-15 minutes until they smell nice and nutty when you open the oven. (If you’re preparing ahead, you can roast the nuts while you’re cooking something else in the oven. Do watch them, though – I nearly burnt mine.) Tip them onto a plate to cool. Line a 450g loaf tin with buttered greaseproof paper.

Slice the leek in half lengthways, then slice finely, wash in a colander and leave to drain thoroughly. Chop the shallot.

Blitz the nuts in a food processor until you have a mixture of fine and chunky pieces. Chop the chestnuts to a similar consistency by hand, then mix it all together in a largish bowl.

Nut Roast mixturePut a splash of olive oil in a wide pan over medium heat. Sweat the leek, shallot and thyme for 10-12 minutes until soft but not coloured,adding a splash of water if they start sticking. (I prepared ahead to this point, popping the nuts and cooked leek mixture in separate containers in the fridge. When you’re ready to roast, remember to pre-heat the oven.) Stir the leeks into the nuts, together with the grated Comté, apple, parsley and eggs. Season well.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, packing it down as you go. Top with the grated Parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top looks invitingly golden. Leave to sit for 10 minutes before lifting out using the greaseproof paper and slicing thickly.

Marion served this with an amazing mushroom gravy, but I opted for tomato sauce (made as in this recipe with the addition of a fat clove of garlic minced and added a few minutes after the onions).

The roast parsnips I served as a side also went down well, converting one guest who said she didn’t like parsnips! If you haven’t already discovered their deliciousness they are really simple: cut parsnips into even sized chunks – say cut across into three, then halve the thinner bottom bits and cut the fatter end into four lengthwise. Preheat the oven to 230°C and put a roasting dish with a good slug of oil to heat in it. Steam the parsnips for 6 minutes. Carefully tip them into the hot fat and roast them for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, turning them after 10 minutes so they brown evenly.

As the nut roast is cooked at a lower temperature, I roasted the parsnips for 15 minutes while I was mixing up the nut roast, took them out and turned the oven down to 190ºC for the nut roast and then popped the parsnips back into the oven for a final 10 minutes while the nut roast was resting. All of which you can, of course, avoid if you have a second oven!