Lentils for breakfast- welcome

Here is your invitation to sample beautiful recipes that are good for you, good for the planet and good to eat. They mainly feature plants, because that's what I try to eat the most. I am not a fancy cook, but I believe that food is one of our greatest pleasures and deserves to be celebrated. Real food, whole food, kind food. Welcome to the feast!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Roasted summer vegetables with basil

Summer vegetables ready for roasting on a bed of basil leaves. 

I had planned to make insalata di farro con verdure al forno today. It's an appealing-looking recipe from Jamie Oliver's hugely successful title, Jamie's Italy.

Decided I was ready to try farro, even though it's a dreaded grain. I have 2 perfectly good boxes of quinoa in the cupboard that would work as well in the recipe, but I don't like quinoa. It tastes mineral-y. But I've always loved the pic by of Jamie's grainy insalata (by David Loftus or Chris Terry) and thought it would work very well as a take-to-work lunch.

I bought all the ingredients this morning . . . but the health food shop didn't come to the party - no farro. So, that was the end of that idea for today. I stomped home feeling very cross, while trying to think of a good alternative with the vegetables I had purchased.

And this is it. It's from my faithful old standby, Jude Blereau's Wholefood. I've always meant to try it. The page is flagged, in fact - so this is what I did.

1 eggplant, cut into slices approx 2 cm thick
olive oil for brushing
handful fresh basil, roughly torn
1 red pepper
2 medium zucchinis, cut into chunks approx 5 cm thick
2 roma tomatoes, cut in half lengthways
1 garlic clove, skin left on, wrapped in baking paper  (twist to seal) with a little salt & pepper
salt & pepper to taste

Grill the red pepper and set aside.

If the eggplant is old and large (I decided mine was, to be on the safe side), lay the slices on the draining board next to the sink and sprinkle liberally with salt. Leave for 30 mins to draw out the bitter juices. Then rinse and pat dry.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Brush the bottom of a roasting tin with olive oil and add the roughly torn basil. Arrange all the vegetables on the basil and brush lightly with olive oil. Jude makes the point that, as these vegetables have a higher moisture content than root vegetables, they require less oil. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Add the garlic clove in its twisted wrap and bake.

After 20 mins, check if the garlic clove is nice and soft. Remove from the oven and return the vegetables for another 30 mins or so - until they are cooked and lightly coloured.

Peel and slice the red pepper and add to the vegetables with the squished garlic flesh.

The basil leaves imprinted themselves in the eggplant! Sweet, soft summer vegetables just roasted.

Jude calls this dish 'the harvest celebrated', and the bright, sweet, basil-y aroma is summery and enticing. The colours are gorgeous and fresh. She suggests eating it with good bread, good cheese, pesto and organic wine (she's specific about the organic bit, but it's possible that the non-organic kind would be just as enjoyable).

It would be a welcome addition to omelettes, sandwiches or pasta as well. A kind of multi-purpose ratatouille-lite.

I'm going to reheat it tomorrow for lunch with some cannellini beans and spinach. Serendipitous, in the end, not being able to buy farro today.

Late afternoon sunshine casting shadows. Fresh, light tastes for the last days of summer.

And you, have you ever discovered a really wonderful recipe because you couldn't make the one you planned? Do you find it easy to switch direction, or do you have to have a little sulk first? Leave me a comment and tell me your recipe U-turns.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Simple summer lentils with grilled onion and red pepper

Market fresh red onions, with the gorgeous pic by Toby Glanville of allotment grilled onions behind them.

This recipe comes from Moro East, a beautiful book by Sam & Sam Cook, the husband-&-wife team who own Moro restaurant in Exmouth Market in London.

 The food at Moro is inspired by a cuisine that has its roots in Spain and the Muslim Mediterranean, which they describe as Moorish. Two great culinary traditions drawn together in the marriage of saffron and cinnamon. Doesn't that sound ancient, mysterious and exotic? I'm quoting the website, which is worth a peek.

The inspiration for the recipes in this sophisticated collection comes from a little closer to home for Sam and Sam.

For 7 years they grew vegetables and herbs in an allotment in Victoria Park, 'high over the river, looking across to a bank of wild plums, elderflower and blackberries'. There they met a diverse group of allotment gardeners, Cypriots, Kurds and Turks, who taught them new things about cooking from old traditions.

(The exquisite photography by Toby Glanville adds atmosphere and a wonderful sense of place. Wish I could treat you to one here.)

There is something about the idea of the allotment that is as appealing as the Moorish influence. Growing my own fresh vegetables and herbs is one of my perennial fantasies, especially when there's no coriander or nice lettuces left at the not-terribly-good fruit and veg shop near work that I only go to when I'm desperate.

But happily yesterday we went to the farmers markets and came home with a stash of allotment-worthy produce, newly picked and smelling heavenly. I decided to make this inviting salad (even though I've been on a lentil hiatus recently) as it will work well as a take-to-work salad.

And I can transport myself to foreign places when I eat it!

1 cup Puy lentils
handful of young, red onions
1 red pepper
generous handful of parsley leaves, roughly chopped (I used about 10 sprigs)

4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs red wine vinegar + 1 tsp sugar (but the Clarks recommend sherry or Pedro Ximenez vinegar instead, which would add a special rich sweetness that lentils love)
small garlic clove, crushed to a paste with a pinch of salt

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and season to taste with salt & pepper.

Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover generously with water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer  and cook for 15-20 mins until lentils are just cooked but still firm. Remove from heat, season with a little salt and set aside.

Grill the onions and pepper. I did this under the grill, but you could grill them whole on the barbecue or directly on the naked flame of a gas hob (never been brave enough to try this method). The pepper takes about 8 minutes, but I left the onions charring away for about 15 mins until the flesh was very soft.

When cool enough to handle, pick off the blackened skins and slice or tear into strips. Put the vegetables and parsley into a bowl. Drain the warm lentils, reserving 3 to 4 tbs of liquid. Add to the bowl with the reserved liquid and the dressing. Toss well and check for seasoning.

The grilled vegetables are very soft and sweet, and adding the dressing while the lentils are warm means the flavours are well combined. The dressing softens the texture of the lentils. There is something about the addition of fat that makes pulses and legumes so much more palatable!

I expect the salad to last well for 2 to 3 days, with additions of extra vegetables every day for variety and interest. And, of course, it would also be a delicious accompaniment served warm and just-made with some fish or chicken. Will certainly be having more Moro.

Flecks of parsley, sweet onion and peppers, rich dressing. Nature's harvest!

Do you find the idea of growing your own produce on an allotment terribly romantic and back-to-nature? Let me know your pastoral fantasies! Please leave a comment if you try this recipe, or if you even make a note to try it sometime. You'll find that Moorish is very more-ish.


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The most perfect recipe for olives ever

Glistening, rich and fruity, just begging to be picked up carefully between finger and thumb

Olives add a beautiful flavour note to many dishes. Pungent, earthy, salty . . . And the fat gives a solid, satisfying mouthfeel.

We add olives to many of our recipes, but we always bake them in a hot oven with oil and garlic first. This intensifies the flavour immensely and makes it sing. I don't really like olives any other way now.

We found the recipe in Something Italian by the uber-cool Maurizio Terzini. Lovely book, stylish illustrations and sophisticated design. But the recipes proved too chef-y for us plain folk and the book now moulders away in the storeroom, with oh, so many others. However, this olive recipe lives on in our kitchen every week.

It's easy to make a whole jar and keep in the fridge, Tamar Adler style. And we use Sandhurst kalamata olives that are available in the supermarket. Easy-peasy.

Incidentally, I'm using the royal 'we' here because this is a family recipe, and the 3 of us make it.

The smell when they're baking is heady and aromatic and gives you that happy feeling when you know good food is on the way. I usually pinch one when they're hot and fresh out of the oven, and burn my fingers. It's part of the olive tradition.

I jar black, pitted olives
4 tbs olive oil
4 tbs wine
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 bay leaves
rosemary, sprinkle of chilli, salt & pepper

Heat the oven to 180 degrees.

Drain the olives and tip into a baking dish. Spoon the olive oil and wine over them, add all the seasonings and stir.

Stick in the oven for 20 mins and let the flavours concentrate in the most delicious way.

The end.

We use olives to give a little kick in:

  • pasta sauces
  • home-made pizza
  • salade nicoise
  • haloumi salad
  • most other salads we're making!
  • braised cannellini beans with tomato
  • braised potatoes with leek
  • Neil Perry's sweet potato salad

Just having a bowl ready in the fridge invites their use. This delightfully simple recipe is a wonderful way of creating delicatessen-style olives from a supermarket product. Wholesome and divine kitchen alchemy. Perfecto.

Pumpkin, roast cauliflower and olive salad with coriander dressing, ready for work.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Why I love chickpeas again

Add a dollop of yoghurt to chickpea tagine. Yum.

I stopped eating chickpeas for several months last year when I was attempting to live la vida slow-carb.

Why? Well, in his dietary prescriptions the mighty Tim refers to them as 'domino foods' and as such to be avoided: "eating one portion often creates a domino effect of over-snacking."

Just like that, chickpeas were off the menu. Which is silly because I wasn't following the diet properly. The chickpeas would not have made one bit of difference to my total lack of weight loss. General non-compliance did that.

So, I've welcomed them back. And while I often sneak 1 or 2 (OK, 8 or 10) while they are draining in the colander, I don't oversnack.

Cans or dried?
We buy loads of cans of beans each week: chickpeas, canellinni, pinto and black beans, sometimes refried beans (my husband makes beautiful bean burgers with these). Often I have perfectionist stabs of guilt about not buying dried beans and soaking them overnight. Much cheaper, greener and probably tastier.

But cans are so convenient. And there are plenty of organic brands available in cans not lined with BPA. Goes some way to assuage the guilt.

But, if you do want to soak them, then I suggest you add a teaspoon of yoghurt to the soaking water. This adds bacteria that break down the phytic acid.

Why does this matter? Phytic acid is the naturally occurring compound that binds the minerals in the legumes and makes them less bioavailable to our digestive enzymes. Adding vitamin C to beans (tomatoes, for example) also helps to improve bioavailability by breaking down the phytic acid.

What's great about chickpeas?
They are probably the most versatile little member of the legume family. They work so well in various cuisine styles: Italian, Indian, North African, Middle Eastern. And a good humus is definitely a more-ish domino food!

Nutritionally they're heavy lifters:

  • plant protein
  • soluble fibre
  • several vitamins
  • minerals, including folate, iron and zinc

So, unless you're a serious slow-carber who's following the diet properly, or a Paleo who doesn't eat anything discovered as recently as 20,000 years ago, I'd recommend having a can on hand.

You could give this a whirl, for example.

Those shrivelled looking things were some leftover mushrooms that I roasted with the sweet potato. They were swell for breakfast on sourdough toast with a boiled egg.
Morocan chickpea tagine
This is a recipe I made up myself. Go me. As Tamar Adler says, cooking is at heart instinctive, and most of us know more about creating recipes than we think.

Typically, I've found a way to make it so it takes ages, a good hour. But it's really hearty, it's fragrant and inviting and it can accommodate whatever vegies you have on hand. Here's what I made the other night.

1 onion & 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
olive oil
1 sweet potato (or half a butternut pumpkin)
1 or 2 cans of chickpeas
tomato passata (we use Bio-Organic)
Herbie's tagine spice mix (or 1 tsp each cumin, cinnamon, coriander, paprika)
green vegetable (spinach, green beans, peas, silver beet)
1 potato and/or 2 carrots
1 block of tofu
fresh coriander
one-quarter preserved lemon or fresh lemon juice

First of all, put on some music. I love cooking to Laura Marling at the moment.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Peel the sweet potato (or pumpkin), toss in 1 tbs oil, season with salt and paper (and some paprika, if you like it) and roast. If I'm using carrots, I like to roast them as well.

Chop the onion and garlic and heat in 1 tbs of oil until soft and sizzling. If I'm using a potato, I'll add it now. Rinse the chickpeas, nibble a few absent-mindedly while they're draining, then add to the potatoes and onions.

Add the spice mix and coat the vegetables. Then add the passata. I usually use about half a bottle that contains 690 g, and then add water or stock as the tagine cooks to obtain a lovely consistency. Leave to simmer away.

Prepare and steam the green vegetable you've selected.

Cut up the tofu into chunks and fry in olive oil. It takes a while to fry each side of the cubes, but does give a good, firm result. A resident teenager for this job is handy. They are useful occasionally.

Add the tofu, roasted vegetables and steamed vegetables to the chickpea mixture. Adjust the liquid. Add the coriander and lemon and you're finally done.

Fragrant with lemon and Moroccan spices. 

Serve with yoghurt. My husband and daughter eat this with flat bread, but a meal of tofu, pumpkin and chickpeas is enough carbohydrate for my waistline.

If I have steamed and roasted vegetables already pre-prepared, then this is a quick meal. But making the vegetables separately does add time and effort to the procedure. Of course, you could add the sweet potato and carrot to the onion mix, and then the green vegetable after the  passata and leave it all to stew in the tomato sauce.

However, I think it improves depth of flavour to roast pumpkin or sweet potato and this adds richness to the finished dish. And steaming green vegetables means they retain a bright green colour. That boiled green look? Not so appealing.

And tagine keeps beautifully for subsequent meals. Like breakfast, slow-carbers.

What's your favourite chickpea recipe? Have you ever stopped eating something because you read it in a book? Leave me a comment and let me know!