Vegetarian

Spilling the Beans

My love affair with cookbooks started about thirty-three odd years ago when cooking became a part of my life. It was only once married did I even venture into the kitchen to cook. Prior to that I was my mother's chief taster and each weekend on my return from university I would devour the feast that she had so lovingly prepared for me. Despite my cooking skills being honed out of necessity, cooking developed into a passion and I now stand before you, a die-hard foodie. 

There is always a teetering stack of cookbooks by my bedside; food porn dare I say! Thus, I must confess that I am a cookbook addict. There, my 'secret' is out in the open! I love to pore over those antiquarian treasures, gifted to me so long ago, just as much as the clean glossy coffee table variety. There is however a place to go to; not quite rehab, but a trove in fact, which literally feeds my addiction. Books for Cooks in Notting Hill in London, is a quirky bookshop crammed with thousands of cookbook titles, where they actually 'cook the books' by testing out the recipes and selling the prepared dishes in their cafe.

One such coffee table tome, entitled My Last Supper was bought for me several years ago by one of my sons. Fifty of the world's most famous chefs share their last supper fantasies, disclosing the chef preparing it, the location, the invitees and of course the meal itself. This book by Melanie Dunea, is a culinary revelation of the world's leading authorities on food. Despite enjoying the finest, most expensive, exquisite ingredients on the planet, most of these chefs wish for simple more rustic foods as their last supper. The book is actually food for thought and I've posed this question to others numerous times. The overwhelming result is that we are inclined to turn to comfort foods. For me personally, I'm once again in the halcyon days of my childhood, at my mother's kitchen table yearning for a hot bowl of rajma chawal, which translated, is a red kidney bean stew with basmati rice. Rajma is a popular North Indian, Punjabi vegetarian dish of red kidney beans cooked in a thick, spiced gravy. For me this is basically a big hug in a bowl. It is comfort food laced in nostalgia. I hope you too will add this to your vegetarian repertoire and savour this big bowl of happiness. 

Rajma

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

  • 680g Dried Kidney Beans

  • 2 Large Onions, finely chopped

  • 4 tbsp Sunflower Oil

  • 6 Cloves of Garlic

  • 4 inch piece of Ginger

  • 1 Green Chilli

  • 400g Tin Chopped Tomatoes

  • 2 dessertspoons Tomato Puree

  • 3.5 tsp Salt

  • 3 tsp Garam Masala

  • 2.5 tsp Ground Coriander Powder

  • 50g Fresh Coriander (Cilantro), finely chopped

  • 100ml Double Cream (optional)

Method

  • Soak the dried kidney beans overnight, in a large pan in 2 litres of water and cover.

  • The following day, drain in a colander and rinse the kidney beans thoroughly under cold water for several minutes.

  • The kidney beans can either be cooked in a pressure cooker, as per the manufacturers instructions, or boiled in a pan.

  • I put the beans into my pressure cooker with double the quantity of water and place the lid on. Once the pressure is reached, I reduce the heat to a moderate setting and cook for 20 minutes. After this time I remove from the heat and once the pressure is released remove the pan lid. The kidney beans are now tender and have split slightly.

  • If you don't have a pressure cooker, the kidney beans must be boiled in plenty of water for around 60-90 minutes, until the beans are soft, tender and slightly split. (You may need to top up the water regularly whilst boiling the beans).

  • Grind the garlic, ginger and chilli together to a paste.

  • Fry the chopped onions in the sunflower oil and add the garlic, ginger, chilli paste.

  • Cook this onion mixture on a moderate heat until the onions are golden brown.

  • Add the chopped tomatoes and the tomato puree into the onion mixture and cook slowly for about 40 minutes until the tomato mixture has turned a dark red and the oil starts to emerge around the edge of the pan.

  • Add the salt, garam masala and ground coriander powder.

  • Add the tomato mixture to the cooked kidney beans and add about half a litre of boiled water to loosen the curry.

  • Cook on a low heat for about 1 hour, or until the gravy has thickened. You may need to add more boiled water if needed.

  • You will end up with a thick stew and mix in the chopped coriander and double cream before serving.

  • Serve the rajma with basmati rice or hot roti.

Tips

  • If you are using a pressure cooker, it is imperative to follow manufacturers instructions.

  • If you are considering investing in a pressure cooker, I recommend buying a stainless steel one, as opposed to an aluminium one.

  • The rajma recipe can be halved if you do not want to make a large pot of it, or alternatively it is suitable to freeze in freezer friendly containers.

 

 

 

New Year, Same Me!

Brace yourselves for the new year mantra of detox, diets and exercise! 'New year, new you,' is all we hear, but really, is such a radical cleanse of the seasonal excesses totally necessary? After all, we are marooned in the middle of this grey, wet winter and surely some heartwarming comfort food and a little tipple wouldn't go amiss.

So here is my proposal, let's compromise and save the green juice cleanse, the multitude of orthodox salads and the fat-free diet meal plan for a later date and enjoy a little bit of what we fancy. I'm not refuting the wise words of our health gurus and I'm not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination, that we tuck indiscriminately into greasy fried food, but practise some semblance of moderation. 

We spent December looking forward to Christmas parties, luxurious foods and feasting. Rather than being a month of totally abstaining from life's enjoyable perks, January should have some sort of balance and why not embrace the healthy stuff? Let's make it simple, light and fresh. Courgette spaghetti or 'Courgetti,' as it is known by trendy food fashionistas, has revolutionised my life. You are hoodwinked into believing that you are devouring a bowlful of comforting pasta, but without all the starchy carb heaviness. The courgette spaghetti is prepared using a spiralizer, a julienne peeler, or even the humble kitchen knife. I kid you not, once you start making vegetable pasta, your imagination will start to run riot. I've teamed up my gluten free courgetti with an avocado pesto which adds a silky creaminess. It's fast, tasty, nutritious, satisfying, uber guilt-free and you can eat it by the bucket load. With the momentum of the New Year and all this feel-good food, I'm going to resolve to start my January fitness regime! Happy 2016!

Courgetti with Avocado Pesto

Serves 2

  • 250g Courgette

Pesto

  • 1 ripe Avocado
  • 1 clove Garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 Spring Onion, finely chopped
  • Juice of half small Lime
  • Half Green Chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp plus extra for the topping, Parmesan Cheese, finely grated
  • 15g fresh Coriander
  • 1 tbsp Pine Nuts
  • 0.5 tsp Salt or to taste

Method

  • The courgette needs to be spiralized to make it into spaghetti. You can use a julienne peeler, or a knife if you don't have a spiralizer. Set aside once done.
  • Place one tablespoon of olive oil into a small frypan and heat up on a medium setting. Place the chopped garlic into the olive oil and fry for around 30 seconds. Do not allow it to brown and take it off the heat and set aside.
  • Peel and chop the avocado into a bowl and mix in the lime juice and add the salt. Using a fork, just mash the avocado until it is smooth.
  • Into a herb mill, or small food processor, add the chilli, coriander, pine nuts and spring onion and blitz.
  • Add this mixture from the herb mill into the avocado, along with the garlic and the Parmesan cheese and mix it all together.
  • In a large fry pan or wok, add a tablespoon of olive oil and on a medium to high setting heat up the oil. Add the courgetti and cook for 1-2 minutes and then add the pesto. Take the pan off the heat and the pesto will stay warm in the residual heat.
  • Serve the Courgetti immediately and sprinkle over some more Parmesan cheese on top.
  • Serve the Courgetti as a light meal, or as an accompaniment to any meat, chicken, fish or vegetable dish of your choice.

Tips

  • When using Parmesan cheese, always use Parmigiano-Reggiano.
  • I always make double the amount of avocado pesto and use half of it in the Courgetti and keep half in my fridge to serve with any main dish, or as a dip with crudités, or even as a spread in sandwiches or on toast.



Say Cheese

I've just returned from the City of Angels and boy am I missing that Southern Californian sunshine! Los Angeles is a city I'm fortunate enough to visit regularly, as I have a son who lives there, in fact I'll go as far as to consider myself an honorary Angeleno! It's not about smiling, posing and saying cheese in front of the iconic Hollywood sign, oh no Los Angeles is all about the impressive dining scene. Being a devoted food-lover, LA is quite honestly a foodie mecca and it's the diversity of cuisines available which astounds me. The quality of gourmet food is unrivalled and the dilemma arises when deciding on what to eat, once you've got to grips with such prodigious choices.

The food scene in LA has changed markedly. The food truck explosion offers not only excellent high end food, but with the added bonus of being on a budget as well. One of the most famous is the Kogi BBQ truck, under the direction of Chef Roy Choi, which serves up gourmet fusion Korean Mexican tacos to discerning Angelenos. The food truck platform has evolved and if it's a late night grilled cheese sandwich, taco chaat or a lobster roll which satiates your hunger, it's all within easy reach.  

If something a little more refined takes your fancy LA has it all. Whether you want Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Japanese, French, Italian, farm-to-table, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, zero carb, healthy, unhealthy, it's all there. Yes La La Land, a very apt moniker by the way, will actually render you into a state of unconsciousness, a food coma in fact, with this dizzying array of options. My never-ending bucket list of restaurants in LA just keeps growing every time I visit. All food aficionados will head straight to Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller and Nobu Matsuhisa establishments, but there's a Japanese inspired restaurant Hinoki and the Bird, which has a fabulous cocktail menu, many of them being fruit inspired. The food is very tactile and our senses are heightened by the use of innovative cooking methods. The lobster roll is genuinely a rave for your tastebuds. The citrus, basil piquancy of the lobster is the antithesis of the charcoaled bread roll. Sublime!

Gjelina is a favourite farm-to-table restaurant in a health obsessed corner of LA. The eggplant caponata on toast with burrata, pine nuts and balsamic is a mandatory choice as far as I'm concerned. Its big, bold, brash flavours are complemented by the delicate, creamy burrata. Bottega Louie is a no-reservations buzzing downtown Italian restaurant with a French patisserie, housed in a palatial Romanseque revival style building. Be prepared for sizeable portions, huge crowds and a cacophony of chefs, waiters and diners, but Bottega Louie has worked out the formula for success. Despite the grandiose, imposing, stately decor, the restaurant is very moderately priced. For appetisers, you absolutely must get the crab beignets...totally addictive! You have to order the thin-crusted Italian style pizza in any flavour that takes your fancy, but the proscuitto di Parma with burrata and rapini will have you reminiscing long after you've left. And if you don't have any room left for dessert, you can always buy the pastries, cakes or macarons, lined up in glass cases with military precision. LA has too many convivial restaurants for me to visit, and on leaving this extraordinary food city I suffer from separation anxiety; from my son of course! What else? 

I want to share a very simple recipe that I created for my love of burrata, the most delicious Southern Italian cheese. Burrata is a Puglian speciality and has an outer shell of mozzarella and the inside is filled with ribbons of mozzarella and cream (stracciatella), which gives it that rich, buttery, creamy texture. Burrata used to be quite difficult to find, so you can't imagine how thrilled I am, that I can now buy fresh burrata from my local Waitrose. This simple salad with heirloom tomatoes, avocado and topped with torn soft burrata is embellished with my coriander and pistachio pesto and it is a fresh salad to enjoy the last hurrah of summer.

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado & Burrata Salad with Coriander & Pistachio Pesto

Serves 4

  • 400g Mixed Heirloom Tomatoes
  • 1 Avocado
  • 200g Burrata Cheese
  • 35g Coriander
  • Handful of Pistachio Nuts
  • 1 Clove Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp Parmesan, finely grated
  • 75ml Olive Oil
  • Salt to taste

Method

  • Make the pesto by blitzing the coriander, pistachio nuts and olive oil in a herb mill, food processor or even a pestle and mortar. Once done, place into a small bowl.
  • Fry the chopped garlic in a frying pan with a teaspoon of olive oil, until it starts to turn golden, which should take a couple of minutes. Add into the coriander mixture and add the parmesan cheese. Taste and add a little salt if needed. Set this aside.
  • Chop the tomatoes into bite-size pieces and arrange them onto a platter.
  • Slice the avocado and add them to the tomato platter.
  • Roughly tear the burrata and place randomly onto the platter.
  • Drizzle the pesto and a little extra olive oil and serve.

Tips

  • Heirloom or heritage tomatoes are available in most supermarkets. They are colourful and their flavour is superior. Sustainable farming methods are used to grow them.
  • If you do not like coriander, then you can substitute it for basil to make the pesto.



Queen of Dals

My memories of homemade hot buttery black lentils cooked in a delicious, mildly spicy sauce tantalises my tastebuds to this day. There was nothing more comforting than to come home from school to the warmth of my mother and the aroma of dal and roti. My favourite of all the dals was by far and still is the Punjabi iconic 'Maa ki Dal,' or now more commonly known as 'Dal Makhani.' The whole black urad lentils are cooked with rajma (red kidney beans) and spices for hours over a low fire and just before serving, the dal is tempered with some butter and spice, and a splash of cream is the finale. Once the cream is added, this lentil has its status elevated from humble to regal and now has the grand title of 'Dal Maharani,' the Queen of Dals. This was a staple in our Punjabi home and is ubiquitous at any lavish dinner party or wedding. It's a luxurious, rich, robust meat substitute for all the vegetarians. 

Dal Makhani as we know it today was put onto a pedestal by the famous Delhi restaurant Moti Mahal. They were looking for a vegetarian equivalent to their famous creation, 'Chicken Makhani.' They added their eminent makhani sauce, which included tomatoes and cream, to the lentils and there the modern day 'Dal Makhani' was born. The most celebrated place to eat this, is at Bukhara in New Delhi. 'Dal Bukhara' is cooked from the finest urad lentils, sourced from only the best; mineral water is used to cook the dal and the chefs cook it on a low flame overnight, with the cooking continuing for a further 18 hours. Rest assured it isn't necessary to cook it for that long in order to create the creamy, silky, moreish dal. I urge you to cook and savour this quintessential lentil recipe. You'll be back for seconds!

Dal Makhani

Serves 6

  • 225g Whole Black Urad Dal
  • 115g Rajma (Red Kidney Beans)
  • 1 Large Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Sunflower Oil
  • 7 cm Piece of Ginger Root, peeled
  • 3 Large cloves Garlic
  • 1 Green Chilli
  • 1 dessertspoon Tomato Puree
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1 tsp Coriander Powder
  • 100 ml Double Cream
  • 1 tbsp Coriander, finely chopped (optional)

Method

  • Soak the dal and rajma together in a large pan overnight, making sure that water is filled to the top of the pan.
  • The following day drain the lentils and rajma in a colander and wash well under cold running water.
  • Put the lentils and rajma into a pressure cooker and add a full kettle of boiled water. The heat on your hob should be maximum at this point. Put the lid onto the pressure cooker and after the build up of the pressure, reduce the heat to a moderate level and cook for a further 20 minutes. (Each pressure cooker is different and it is important to follow manufacturer's instructions. If you don't have a pressure cooker, boil the dal and rajma in a pan until it is soft when you squeeze a kidney bean between your thumb and forefinger. Just ensure that the water remains topped up whilst boiling).
  • Take off the heat and allow the pressure to dissipate.
  • Take the lid off the pressure cooker and add enough boiled water to cover the dal. Stir in the salt, garam masala, coriander powder. At this point it should resemble a thick stew. Add a little more boiled water if necessary and cook on a very low heat.
  • In a separate frying pan add the sunflower oil, heat on a moderate flame and add the onions.
  • In a herb mill grind the ginger, garlic and chilli together and add to the frying onions.
  • Once the onion mixture is golden brown, add the tomato puree and stir in. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes and then add into the simmering pot of dal.
  • Cook the dal for approximately an hour, stirring regularly. 
  • Add some boiled water if the dal is looking too thick and gloopy. Whilst cooking slowly the water does continue to evaporate slowly, so its fine to add a little water to loosen it.
  • It should resemble a thick stew once cooked.
  • Before serving add the cream and stir in, saving a little to embellish the dal in the serving bowl.
  • Sprinkle chopped coriander on top if you wish, but this is optional.
  • Serve with hot rotis, naans or basmati rice.

Tips

  • I often cook double the quantity and freeze half of it into tupperware containers. When I want to use it, I just defrost, warm it up in the pan and loosen with some boiled water, as the dal becomes quite thick when it cools down. Fry an onion in a little butter and add to the dal as it is warming up.
  • I only add the cream if I'm serving it to guests, or its a special occasion.
  • To make coriander powder, I just buy the coriander seeds and grind them in a coffee grinder. The flavour is far more intense than the shop bought version.
  • I suggest that the dal simmers for about an hour. This is an approximation. You can do it for 30 minutes if you don't have the time or 2 hours if you do. The longer it cooks, the better it tastes!