Warm Winter Sprout & Quinoa Salad

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Quinoa is a slightly contentious topic in the food world at the moment (as this article highlights), due to the west’s sudden love and demand for this little grain. There’s no doubt that quinoa is one of the world’s greatest foods, especially for vegetarians and vegans out there: it’s a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, it has almost twice as much fibre as most other grains and it’s packed with magnesium. In most ways, it trumps all other grains, but when poor Bolivians and Peruvians can no longer afford their staple food because of US and European demand raising prices, it’s not an easy or particularly acceptable thing to buy a packet of South American-grown quinoa and simply shrug and ignore this unethical fact.

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But here in Britain we have the perfect solution – Hodmedod’s British quinoa from the fields of Essex. A truly local grain grown in English soil which has only travelled a few miles and hasn’t cheated South American farmers and civilians out of their food – what can be better than that? And, pairing this with Brussel sprouts and a few swirls of carrot, which are both in season, this salad is a local and seasonal bowl of rainbow-coloured goodness. Sprouts receive an unfair nose-wrinkling bad name, but they can be so delicious if cooked in an imaginative way, rather than simply boiling all the taste and nutrients out of them. Infusing this warm winter salad with rosemary and chilli flakes gives both the quinoa and sprouts an aromatic flavour, and topping it off with lightly toasted sunflower seeds adds a crunch which makes every mouthful a protein-packed, plant-filled pleasure.

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Serves 3:

  • 2 cups/310g of Brussel sprouts
  • ½ cup of quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup of sunflower seeds
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 3 teaspoons of chilli flakes
  • Sea salt

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Preheat your oven to 170°C. Start by chopping the bottom end off the Brussel sprouts and removing the outer leaves. Give them a good wash before cutting them in half. Then place them on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and toss until evenly coated. Roast them in the oven for approximately 20 minutes.

Whilst they’re baking, bring a pan of water to the boil and add the quinoa and apple cider vinegar. Give it a stir and reduce to a simmer, letting it cook for about 15 minutes, or however long your specific quinoa takes.

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At this point, peel the outer skin of the carrots off and then use the peeler to make thin strips, from one end to the other. Strip the rosemary leaves off their stems. Once the sprouts have been in the oven for 10 minutes take them out and sprinkle over the chilli flakes and rosemary leaves. Give them a stir to make sure they’re roasting evenly and return them to the oven for about 10 more minutes, or until they’re starting to go golden brown and slightly crispy.

Using a dry pan, turn it up to a medium heat and gently toast the sunflower seeds, tossing them about a bit to make sure all sides go lightly brown. Once your quinoa’s cooked, drain any excess water and remove the sprouts from the oven. Toss all the elements together and serve – I like mine sprinkled with a few extra chilli flakes for a mildly spicy tang.

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Ultimate Thai Green Curry

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Thai curry is just one of those things. If you go to an authentic Thai restaurant and order their staple dish it’s just bursting with flavour and I always love it. I went to a Thai place in Brixton the other day for a friend’s birthday lunch and we all sat outside – yep, that’s right we sat outside in Britain in January. But along came our big bowls of steaming Thai curry and everyone was happy – warmed, satisfied and chipper, if a little numb in our fingers and toes.

As a general rule Thai curry comes in the form of chicken or prawn, or it’s been made with fish sauce, which isn’t so fantastic for vegetarians and vegans. For a while now I’ve wanted to create a truly veggie Thai green curry, spiced with all the authentic Thai flavours and creamy coconut milk, but with good seasonal British vegetables as the principal feature. So here you have a kale, cauliflower and broccoli curry, both super healthy and tasty, and 100% vegan.

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Kale rules the health food world at the moment, and for a good reason – it’s chock full of iron (it actually has more iron than beef per calorie!) which is essential for processes in the body such as the formation of haemoglobin and enzymes, and for cell growth. Kale is also high in vitamins K, A and C and contains powerful antioxidants. Cauliflower kicks arse as well – it’s a great source of minerals and vitamins such as manganese and phosphorus, and it’s an important source of fibre which aids in digestion. And they’re both in season here in the UK – bought from my local organic greengrocer, these winter veggies are the most wonderful thing.

The secret to this curry is making the paste yourself. Using fresh ingredients gives it so much more flavour than those supermarket readymade ones in a jar that also have added sugar, colour and acidity regulators, which you just don’t need. Whizzing up the paste is so easy and you can make a big batch and freeze the rest ready for your next Thai curry. Combining this with coconut milk, delicious vegetables and a few peas for a protein boost, this curry is spicy, creamy and zesty.

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Serves 6

For the paste:

  • 3-4 medium green chillies (25g)
  • 1 shallot (60g)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (12g)
  • 5cm piece of fresh ginger (30g)
  • Small handful of fresh coriander (15g)
  • Small handful of Thai basil (18g)
  • 1 lime (75g)
  • 1 lemongrass stalk (22g)
  • 1½ teaspoons of coriander seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1½ tablespoons of coconut oil
  • ½ tablespoon of sunflower oil
  • 1 teaspoon of tamari soy sauce

For the curry:

  • 1 tablespoon of coconut oil
  • 5/6 heaped tablespoons of curry paste
  • 2 tins/800ml of coconut milk
  • 3 large handfuls of kale (70g)
  • 8-10 florets of broccoli (200g)
  • 8-10 florets of cauliflower (230g)
  • 150g of frozen petit pois
  • ½ a lime
  • A few sprigs of fresh coriander and Thai basil

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First, deseed and roughly chop the chillies. Roughly chop the shallot, garlic and lemongrass stalks. Peel the ginger and again roughly chop. Grate the lime zest and then squeeze all the juice out. Place the coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar and grind them until they’re completely crushed. Place all of these ingredients and the remaining Thai basil, coriander, coconut oil, sunflower oil and tamari into a food processor and blend until smooth – it should take about a minute. You may have to scrape down the sides with a spoon a couple of times to make sure it’s all combined.

Place the paste in a bowl and chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes. After that, place a large pan on a medium heat and add the coconut oil. Once it’s hot, add 5-6 heaped tablespoons of the paste, depending on taste or spiciness required (the amount of paste should be about right but you may have some left over – simply place in the freezer for another curry). Let the paste fry in the oil for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. At this point, add the coconut milk and stir.

Once the milk comes to the boil, reduce the heat to low, put a lid on and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. This will let all the flavours from the paste infuse into the coconut milk and will really bring them out – ideally you should leave it for at least 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the broccoli and cauliflower so that they’re all small to medium sized florets. At this point, squeeze the juice out of the ½ lime ready for adding later. Once the coconut milk’s simmered for at least 30 minutes, place a small amount of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. When it’s boiling add the petit pois and simmer for 4 minutes, or until tender. At this point, steam the broccoli and cauliflower for not more than 1½ minutes before adding them to the coconut milk. Add the cooked peas and the fresh kale as well.

Give the curry a good stir and then let the vegetables simmer gently for about a minute (making sure the kale has a chance to wilt). While they’re simmering, add the lime juice to the curry along with the fresh coriander and Thai basil. Stir it all round once more and then finally serve – I like to soak up the luscious, spicy coconut sauce with a portion of wholesome long grain brown rice.

Spanish-Style Baked Beans

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It hasn’t been an especially cold winter in Britain, but all the same the best thing to do in winter is snuggle down with a warming, filling dish of food, preferably steaming up into your face, wafting a sweet, spicy aroma into your nose. I went to Spain for the first time two summers ago with one of my best friends and adored the food. The flavours so distinctive, the sizzling pans of paella, the array of little tapas dishes you can gorge on, like a tasting session – heaven for me, as I invariably have trouble deciding on something at restaurants and want to try at least three things.

I was barely eating meat in 2013, but at the time I couldn’t resist a bit of chorizo. And, I can’t lie about it – it was delicious. Almost every meat eater I know loves chorizo; my flatmate used to eat it almost daily. Chorizo is one of the tastiest foods out there, but a few months ago I realised this wasn’t really or else wholly due to it being made of pork. The Spanish are a little obsessed with ham (I remember almost every street I walked down had at least four shops exclusively selling ham), so it’s a bit of a refined art for them, but they are also the elusive harbourers of a sneaky cooking secret – pimentón.

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Or, in English, smoked paprika. Now you might think smoked paprika isn’t a secret, we have it in Britain and you can buy it in the supermarket. But the English hardly ever use it in their cooking. And pimentón is the secret ingredient of chorizo. It gives it that smoky, spicy flavour which is so unique. I no longer eat chorizo but I had the idea a while ago to create some kind of tomato bean sauce with pimentón and decided what better thing to make than spicy, Spanish-style, healthy home-made baked beans.

The thick sauce is so hearty and full of flavour, adding a beefiness which is so lacking in watery baked beans you get in a tin, it gives you a great protein boost and it doesn’t have any of the added sugar. Furthermore, this dish is so versatile – you could have it as a stew, or as a soup or spilling out of a baked potato. It really is delicious, pleasantly spicy and when you put a spoon of it in your mouth it’s rather like tasting chorizo, without the chorizo.

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Serves 4-5:

  • 2 cups/240g/2 tins of haricot beans (I prefer to soak mine overnight and then boil for approximately 2½ hours with a few cloves of garlic and a couple of bay leaves – if preparing your own you’ll need about 180g of dried haricot beans)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 4 large tomatoes (tomate de pera ideally)
  • 1 Romano red pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 7 sun-dried tomato pieces
  • 1½ teaspoons pimentón/smoked paprika
  • 1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • ¼ cup of water
  • 1 tin of peeled cherry tomatoes
  • 5 teaspoons of tomato purée
  • A small handful of basil
  • A small handful of parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of chilli flakes

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If cooking your own haricot beans, soak and boil them as instructed above. When they’re soft, drain any excess water in a colander and set aside to cool. Next, roughly chop your onion and blitz in a food processor until very fine and resembling a thick paste. Add a splash of olive oil to a large pan and turn to a medium heat. Once the pan’s hot tip in the onion, stirring continuously for about 5 minutes. After this, turn the heat down to low and let the onion cook gently (you want as much moisture as possible to evaporate off).

While the onion’s frying chop the tomatoes and red pepper into large chunks. Peel the garlic cloves and again roughly chop. Add all the pieces to a food processor along with the sun-dried tomatoes, pimentón, cayenne pepper, basil, parsley, the tablespoon of olive oil and a good grinding of salt and pepper. Blend this until well combined and it looks like a thick sauce. Once the onion has softened and mostly dried up, add this tomato sauce to the pan, turn up the heat to medium and stir.

After a couple of minutes, add the tin of cherry tomatoes, tomato purée, ¼ cup of water and chilli flakes to the pan as well. Stir until all mixed together then place the lid on top, leaving it to simmer for 10 minutes. At this point, add the drained haricot beans. Stir once more and replace the lid, letting the mixture simmer gently for a further 30 minutes. Over this time the flavours will all come together to really bring out the tomato, peppers, garlic, basil and smoked paprika. Finally serve (with rice to make a casserole or even with pasta if you fancy) and enjoy!

Chilli Sin Carne

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Chilli Con Carne used to be one of my favourite meals. Something about that rich, spicy, tomato-based sauce really hit the spot – Mexicans totally got it right. With rice, with tortilla chips (+ avocado = yummy nachos), folded inside wraps, and always with a blob of guacamole on the side, I was a bit of a gorger. But since beef isn’t something I eat anymore, for a while there was this slight gaping hole. I went through a phase of making it with quorn mince (Chilli Con Quorne), but looking on the back of the packet it’s made up of a bunch of things (like calcium acetate) which aren’t actually real food. For all its protein-packed benefits, quorn (proudly producing an endless supply of meat free ‘meat’ such as quorn chicken pieces and quorn pork pies) is made primarily of something called mycoprotein, which apparently comes from a fungus and is grown in vats using glucose syrup as food. It’s not animal protein, which you might think can only be a good thing; but it’s completely processed and artificial, and just really isn’t that good for your body, whatever it claims on the label.

Dropping Chilli Con Quorne, I recently made a cauldron-sized amount of a very Mexican-style chilli, but bursting with vegetables. And I have to say the flavours really are amazing – the sweet, aromatic Romano pepper with the soft and fluffy roasted aubergine and courgette, all mixed together with tomato, kidney beans, chilli, cumin and cinnamon just melts on the tongue. I don’t miss Chill Con Carne one bit, and it’s so much tastier than Chill Con Quorne.

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Pepper, aubergine and courgette are still in season at the moment which is great, though the summer vegetables are coming to their end, so I just had to make use of them while they’re still growing in the UK. Kidney beans are full of nutritional goodness such as vitamin B9 and fibre, both of which promote cardiovascular health. They’re also crammed with antioxidants and, when eaten with rice, can provide a complete protein for your body. Kidney beans are low in the essential amino acid lysine but rice is a rich source of it so eating them together is just perfect. Even better, fragrant turmeric rice really complements the vegetable chilli sauce, making the most delicious, spice-filled meal. Chilli Sin Carne is too good.

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Serves 4-6:

  • 2 aubergines
  • 2 courgettes
  • 3 Romano peppers
  • 1 fresh red chilli
  • 2 medium-sized red onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli powder
  • 1½ teaspoons of ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 180g of sun-dried tomato paste
  • 70g of tomato purée
  • 2x 400g tins of peeled cherry tomatoes
  • 2x 400g tins of red kidney beans (or 800g of dried kidney beans soaked overnight and then simmered for about an hour with a clove of garlic)
  • Rapeseed oil
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
  • 400g of long grain brown rice
  • 1½ teaspoons of turmeric

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Start by preheating the oven to 180°C. Chop the aubergines into 1½ inch-sized pyramids and slice the courgettes into fairly thick discs, so they’re a similar size to the aubergine pieces. Place them on baking trays and drizzle with a good glug of rapeseed oil, stirring them around to make sure they’re all thinly coated, and then pop them in the oven for about 30 minutes.

While they’re roasting, cut the peppers into thin slices about 2 inches long, roughly chop the onions and squeeze the garlic cloves through a garlic press. Finely chop the chilli, discarding the seeds (and make you sure you give your fingers a good wash when you’re done!). Add the olive oil to a large casserole pan (I like Le Creuset the best), heat to a medium temperature and fry the onion for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Next add the garlic, chopped chilli and Romano pepper and fry until all the ingredients have softened.

At this point, check the aubergine and courgette in the oven, giving the pieces a good stir so they bake evenly. In the casserole pan add the chilli powder, cumin, cinnamon and salt and pepper and stir around until the vegetables are coated. Then pour in the tins of cherry tomatoes, followed by the sun-dried tomato paste and tomato purée. Allow this to come to the boil, then drain the kidney beans and add them as well. Reduce the heat a little, put the lid on and let the mixture gently simmer away.

When this is all done bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the rice and turmeric, turning down to a simmer for 25 minutes, giving it an occasional stir. After the 30 minutes has passed, remove the aubergine and courgette from the oven – they should be lovely and soft and slightly golden. Add the pieces to the casserole pan, stir them in and replace the lid.

When the 25 minutes is up, test the rice to make sure it’s soft enough for your liking and then drain in a sieve. Serve with the Chilli Sin Carne and some homemade guacamole and enjoy the wonderful Mexican flavours!