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Rice paper rolls

Or, for me, they’re pretend it’s summer rolls. It’s Saturday and I am sitting in my flat looking at the pouring rain. I can’t bring myself to go outside, it’s too grim. I need to make something to lift my spirits that doesn’t require leaving the house. Something vietnamese would be nice, it’s been a while since I’ve made any vietnamese food and it reminds me of a lovely holiday I spent in Sydney last year with two old friends. A quick stocktake reveals rice paper, bean sprouts, rice vermicelli, chillis, a green pepper, a very big avocado and some fresh herbs. So, vietnamese rice paper rolls it is. Or a twist on them at least.

These look really tricky, but really they’re very simple. Rolling them is a little fiddly and you may lose the first couple through practice but once you get the hang of it you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about! I usually make these with prawns. They’re perfect for lunch and great for a light evening snack. I don’t have prawns however, so I’m making a vegetarian version. I want to make a dip using the avocado so I’ve dug out a recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks – one of the Moosewood Cookbooks – Moosewood Restaurant New Classics. I bought my first Moosewood Cookbook (The Moosewood Cookbook) over 10 years ago now. I spent the summer in Dingle on the West Coast of Ireland and this was my culinary bible for the summer. It’s a vegetarian cookbook with very creative dishes which are quick, healthy & usually very easy. I have many of their cookbooks but the Moosewood Restaurant New Classics is one of my favourites. In it, the author, Mollie Katzen concentrates on vegetarian and seafood dishes cooked in their restaurant in Ithaca, NY. For this I chose the firey & healthy avocado and wasabi dressing.

This recipe is lactose free and coeliacs can eat this too as there’s no wheat. I didn’t add cucumber or carrot but if they were in my fridge I would have chopped them into matchstick shapes and added them. If you are inexperienced at rolling these use 2 rice paper wraps at a time as they won’t tear as easily. Otherwise use one. With one they look nicer and taste a little better I think. The dip is firey, I am a big wasabi fan.[Read more]

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Broad beans with ham & lemon

I am still on a Spanish buzz! I just can’t get enough of tapas. This dish was inspired by habas con jamon (broad beans with ham) that we had in Spain but using what I had to hand – bacon. We had it twice in Spain. The first time was very disappointing in Plaza Nueva in Granada, in a bodegas which looked great but unfortunately wasn’t. This, incidentally appears to be very rare in Andalucia! The beans were overcooked and I couldn’t even see any ham. However, we had it again and it was delicious, nice bright fresh broad beans amidst chunks of serrano ham, one for the notebook to try and recreate when I got back to London.

It’s broad bean season so I had no problem getting these fresh. At this stage they’re quite large but still tender. To get the best from the broad beans be sure to double pod them. This takes a while but it is worth removing the rubbery skin, especially from larger ones (you can leave it on smaller ones).

Broad beans and ham are a great combination and the lemon lifts it and makes it really summery. It’s a very nice snack with a glass of cava. I will stress that this is my interpretation of the dish and not a traditional spanish recipe. I do intend to dig out the traditional one though and will post the results here.[Read more]

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Santa plum tomato, avocado & manchego toasts

Santa plum tomato, avocado & manchego toasts

This isn’t exactly complicated but it was so pretty and easy I thought I’d blog it :-)

On a recent trip to the market I spotted beautiful baby santa plum tomatoes. I bought a pound of them with the intention of making a tomato, basil and mozarella salad. But, I forgot to buy the mozarella. So, I quickly threw these toasts together instead:

Chop half the tomatoes & 1 avocado. Season, then add some fresh lemon juice to taste. Toast the bread on one side and lightly toast the second side until slightly crisp but not brown (this ensures they won’t go too soggy when you add the avocado/tomato). Add your tomato and avocado mixture and sprinkle some grated manchego on top. Grill until the cheese is melted. Eat![Read more]

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Roast baby orange peppers with feta on pita

I fancied a quick snack so I raided the fridge. I had lots of leftover bits. What most interested me was feta left over from the risotto recipe and a big bag of orange baby peppers that needed to be used before they went bad. So, I roasted the peppers, we don’t have a gas cooker so I brushed them with olive oil and put them under the grill until they went black, then turned them around and did the other side. Don’t be afraid to completely burn them, the flesh is protected by the skin underneath. When blackened all over I placed them in a plastic bag and into the fridge to cool. Doing this ensures that they sweat and makes it much easier to peel their skin off. Once cool (takes half an hour or so) I peeled them and chopped them into strips and mixed them with crumbled feta. I left them in the fridge for a half an hour or so to allow the flavours to mingle. You could add honey to make it even sweeter but this was just perfect so once the half hour was up I spread them on toasted pita bread drizzled with a little olive oil. Yum!

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Quinoa with soya beans, parsley, sesame seeds & red onion

Quinoa is one of those foodstuffs that is so nutritious that I try to include it in my diet as regularly as possible. I like the nutty texture and as the flavour is quite subtle it mixes with almost everything. You can use it in the place of cous cous for a healthier tabbouleh or as a side dish in place of rice. It’s one of the few non-meat, non-dairy foodstuffs that contains the full complement of essential amino acids. I am not vegetarian but I was for 11 years and still keep to a predominantly vegetarian diet, mainly because I really enjoy vegetarian food and it’s extremely healthy once you take care to mix your proteins. I hadn’t had quinoa for a couple of months so I thought I’d drag it out of the cupboard and make a healthy lunch out of it.

I cook quinoa in a similar way to rice, twice the amount of liquid to grain. The only difference in the way I cook it is I like to fry/toast it briefly first in a little oil so that the texture is a little crispy in the finished dish.

This is a very flexible recipe. You can use different herbs or a mixture, nuts, especially pine nuts or hazelnuts are a lovely addition, I just didn’t have any to hand! You can eat it cold as a salad or warm – whatever works for you.

Ingredients (for one lunch):

100g quinoa
200ml light vegetable stock
Half red onion finely chopped
75g beans (any really, I used tinned soya beans)
25g sesame seeds
A handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
Couple tbsp fresh lemon juice
Olive oil

Method:

Sauté the red onion in 1 tbsp olive oil until soft.
Add the quinoa and stir for approx 2 minutes to ensure it doesn’t stick or burn.
Add the stock and cook for approx 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the quinoa is cooked but still al dente.
Take off the heat and add the sesame seeds, parsley, spring onions and lemon juice.
Season.

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A new take on guacamole


I have been called a food snob in the past (amongst other things!). I am fairly strict with my recipes and like to do things as they should and have always been done, for example, you don’t put chicken tikka on a pizza, you do it the way the Italians have always done it! And I have always had a simliar attitude to guacamole. I like mine with lime juice not lemon juice for example. There’s a recipe I have stuck to for years since I’ve first started making it and anything outside that is an avocado dip – not guacamole.

Yesterday, however, we had a breakthrough :-) I was making an asparagus risotto for dinner and in our hunger it seemed to be taking forever. I thought I’d knock up a quick snack. In the fridge I had an avocado, shallots, orange peppers and feta. First of all, I thought I’d roast some peppers and mix them with some feta and maybe green chilli on ciabatta toast. I started this but again, impatience got the better of me, I wanted something now! So, I took out the avocado and figured I’d do a bastardised guacamole as I hadn’t everything my guacamole recipe required. It worked really well! The avocado was really creamy and the lemon worked really well.

Ingredients:

1 large avocado – I used fuerte
Juice of half a large lemon or 1 small one
Half a shallot finely chopped
Flat leaf parsley to garnish (optional)
Ciabatta, sliced and toasted

Method:

Finely chop the shallot and add the lemon juice. Leave to rest for 10 minutes or so. The lemon juce will take the harsh edge off the onion.
Peel the avocado and chop into dice. Mash approx 2/3 of it.
Add the lemon juice and shallot and mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread on your toasts!

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Cloud mushroom with sesame oil, red onion & parsley on ciabatta toast


On my recent trip to Marylebone farmers Market I came across a gourmet mushroom stall. He had some fantastic large brown and white oyster mushrooms, mixed dried mushrooms and fluffy white ones that almost looked like coral or seaweed. I love coming across new things like this and enquired after this one. The new discovery was a cloud mushroom which I was told has a texture similar to crab or lobster and is best eaten raw or lightly cooked. How could I resist?! A few years ago I had bought a big bag of St Georges Mushrooms in a state of excitement only to discover that I didn’t like them atall so I thought I’d play safe and bought one big one to experiment with when I got home. I carried my little treasure home in the palm of my hand like a kitten worried I’d break or damage it.

Some investigations on Google weren’t all that beneficial, at least for my culinary purposes. I discovered it is used in Chinese medicine, primarily an extract of it, for stimulating the immune system and boosting immune function, particularly in the treatment of cancer.

These mushrooms are beautiful, like a little cloud (hence the name), so fluffy. They have a light smell, similar to oyster mushrooms. The moment it was compared to crab I thought back to this beautiful crab dish we had at River Café some years ago where the crab was lightly cooked and served with some toast and salad. I had lovely fresh ciabatta bread from the bakers so I thought I might attempt a similar veggie crab on toast dish.

Ingredients:

Sesame Oil
Quarter red onion finely chopped
A large cloud mushroom
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
Ciabatta bread (or any other nice fresh bread)

Method:

Heat a couple of tbsp. of the sesame oil over a medium heat.
Add the chopped red onion and cook until soft.
Toast the bread – a couple of slices.
Chop the cloud mushroom and add to the onion and sesame oil. Cook very briefly, just enough to ensure you have mixed the flavours; a couple of minutes should suffice.
Add the chopped parsley. Stir.
Season.
Serve on top of the toast.

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Hummus-ish and chickpeas on crackers

We have a bit of a glut of chickpeas at the moment as I cooked a big batch of dried ones earlier in the week. My intention was to freeze them in batches for further use but there are so many I have kept half to experiment with.

Today, I had planned to make hummus but thought I might try and vary it a bit. The end result really wasn’t all that different from hummus, the only difference being that I substituted sesame seeds for tahini to give it a crunchier texture. It was nice for a change.

This was thrown together in a haphazard fashion so the measurements are approximate.

Ingredients:

400g chickpeas
50g sesame seeds
Juice half lemon
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Crackers

Method:

The method is very simple! Reserve a small amount of the chickpeas and sesame seeds to put on the crackers after. Chuck the rest save the oil in a blender and add the oil slowly until you are happy with the consistency. Season to taste.

Serve on crackers with chickpeas and some sesame seeds sprinkled on top.