Pasta with tomato sauce and chickpeas

I thought I was being brilliant and inventive and then discovered that this is a classic. There are hundreds of versions on the internet already.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Around 250ml sweet tomato sauce
  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 1 tbsp mystery herb mixture including dried chillies from a present from Italy
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 250g pasta

METHOD:

  • Start by bringing a pan of water to the boil, and cook the pasta for the time advised on the pack, usually around 8 to 9 minutes.
  • In another pan, heat the olive oil, add the mystery herbs and after a few seconds, add the tomato sauce and bring it to a simmer.
  • Drain the chickpeas and add to the tomato sauce, and bring it back to a simmer.
  • When the pasta is done, drain and stir in the sauce and then serve

Madhur Jaffrey’s Eastern Vegetarian Cooking

In 1983, I was living in Edinburgh. My boyfriend at the time announced that he wanted to be a vegetarian, and after a short discussion, we renounced meat. I can no longer recall his reasons, but for myself, my concerns were around animal welfare and factory farming, especially for pigs and chickens. I also was aware of the environmental impact of feeding livestock as opposed to using land to grow plant-based food.

One of the first recipe books we acquired was Madhur Jaffrey’s Eastern Vegetarian Cooking. I think we didn’t get much past the first chapter, there were so many delicious recipes. The book includes recipes from Syria all the way through to Japan. There are chapters on Vegetables, Pulses, Rice, and Eggs, for example. The chapter on condiments, dips, chutneys and relishes is wonderful; Madhur Jaffrey explains that this allows each diner to ring the changes with combinations of different flavours.

I find that I don’t cook some of the more complex dishes. Although I love the illustrated guide to making tofu, I have never tried this myself. I’ve also struggled to find some of the ingredients listed, especially for some of the Korean, Japanese and Chinese dishes.

To compensate, this is a book full of wonderful recipes, properly indexed. The book isn’t full of glossy pictures, but there are 500 pages of advice, descriptions of ingredients and flavours, techniques and culinary tips. The food I have produced from these pages has been outstanding.

Spiced beetroot and tomato soup

I had two more large beetroot left, so I made this soup, adapted slightly from Madhur Jaffrey’s Eastern Vegetarian Cooking, which I bought in 1983s. The link is to a subsequent edition.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large beetroot, peeled and diced
  • 500ml water
  • butter
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, or a 2cm stick of cinnamon
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 level tsp ground black pepper
  • Sour cream or double cream

METHOD:

  • Cook the chopped beetroot in the water. Simmer for about an hour, to make sure the beetroot is really soft.
  • Drain the beetroot, and make the liquid up to 450ml if necessary.
  • Add the beetroot back to the liquor, along with the tin of chopped tomatoes and use the soup wand to liquidise
  • In a saucepan, fry the spices in butter, and then add the beetroot and tomatoes, and bring to a simmer.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Strain the soup through a coarse sieve to remove the whole spices, and then add the cream, and reheat.

Cauliflower and walnut soup

Initially, I wasn’t sure about this soup. It looks odd, but then I caught myself having extra portions. It is even better after being frozen, it seems to enhance the walnut flavour. It is worth spending some time reducing the walnuts to a paste before adding.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cauliflower
  • 1 onion
  • 2 bayleaves
  • a pinch of paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • 450ml stock
  • 450ml skimmed milk
  • butter
  • 50g walnut pieces

METHOD:

  • Chop the onion finely and cook slowly in butter until soft and beginning to brown.
  • Chop the cauliflower into florets and boil in the stock with 2 bayleaves until tender, at least 10 minutes.
  • Remove the bayleaves, add a pinch of paprika, salt and pepper, and puree the cauliflower and stock until smooth. (I used a soup wand)
  • Grind the walnuts and pound to a fine paste in a pestle and mortar.
  • Add the cooked onions, ground walnuts and skimmed milk to the cauliflower base, and puree again.
  • Strain through a coarse sieve to remove any lumps.
  • Bring the mixture back to a simmer for two minutes before serving.

Beetroot gratin

We had this last night and tonight, totally delicious.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 50g butter
  • 50g mature cheddar, grated
  • 50g parmesan, grated
  • 6 beetroot, boiled and skinned, cut into 1cm cubes
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 anchovies, or some worcestershire sauce
  • 250ml to 300ml double cream
  • breadcrumbs

METHOD:

  • Butter a gratin dish, and spread 1/3 of the cheese across the bottom.
  • Add a layer of half the beetroot, and then add the anchovies, or a good sprinkling of worcestershire sauce.
  • Next layer, another 1/3 of the cheese.
  • Next layer, the rest of the beetroot.
  • Last layer, add the rest of the cheese, and press the ingredients into the dish. Season with a little salt and pepper.
  • Pour the cream over the beetroot, and then add a sprinkling of breadcrumbs on top.
  • Bake in a hot oven 200C for 15 minutes or more, until bubbling and golden on the top.

I served this with bread as a light supper one evening, and then as a side-dish the next night.

Hebridean Bees Knees

This is a lovely and easy cocktail. Sorry for skipping the cocktail recipe last weekend; I was working.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 20ml heather honey syrup (see below for directions)
  • 50ml Harris Gin
  • 15ml lemon juice
  • 1 cocktail shaker with ice

METHOD:

  • Melt heather honey in water – make a 50/50 mix, and slowly heat and stir until the honey is dissolved. Chill the mixture.
  • Put a good deal of ice in the cocktail shaker, and put your glass in the fridge to chill.
  • Measure the gin, lemon juice and honey syrup into the shaker and shake the living whatnots out of it for a couple of minutes, so that the mixture is ice cold and looks smooth and opaque.
  • Serve in a cold cold glass. It is quite strong so be careful.

Braised Fennel

I love fennel, especially with fish dishes. This method is truly delicious and very easy. I found it in Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray. I left out the tomatoes that she suggested, because I didn’t have any. She suggests a specific type of tomato that I have never seen here.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Fennel bulbs: allow one large bulb for two servings
  • Butter
  • Parmesan cheese

METHOD:

  • Slice each fennel bulb into quarters vertically, and cook for five minutes in salted boiling water.
  • Drain the fennel well, and then braise in a heavy pan in the butter for around 15 minutes.
  • During the cooking process, sprinkle the fennel with the parmesan cheese, turning the pieces so that the cheese coats the fennel. Continue to cook, so that the fennel is lightly browned.
  • If you have some pomodori appesi, (baby tomatoes stored on the vine) – you can add these to the dish at the end.

Baked beetroot

There are some great fresh beetroot in the shops at the moment, UK-grown. I’ve been trying out a few recipes, and found this one in ‘Full Throttle’ by the two Fat Ladies.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Raw beetroot
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh mint
  • Sour cream

METHOD:

  • Put the beetroot into a roasting tin, coat with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, much as you would do for baked potatoes.
  • Bake in a hot oven 200C for at least one hour, until they are tender when pierced with a knife.
  • Split open and serve with sour cream and chopped mint.

Stifatho – Greek beef stew with tiny onions

My recipe for Stifatho comes from The Home Book of Greek Cookery by Joyce M. Stubbs. I bought it in a jumble sale in 1987, and it has been in use ever since. There are many other versions online. The trickiest bit was to find small onions or shallots. Shallots grow well here. The ones in the shops are a bit too large, you are hoping to use shallots or onions about the size of a walnut.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1kg stewing steak, cut into portions about the size of half a post-card and 1cm thick
  • 1kg shallots or pickling onions
  • 200ml olive oil
  • 1 can of tomatoes
  • 200ml red wine
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • salt and pepper

METHOD:

  • In a skillet, brown the meat in hot olive oil and put into a casserole dish.
  • Cover the meat with hot water, and stew gently in a moderate oven (140C) for an hour.
  • Using a soup wand, puree the tin of tomatoes, and add them to the meat, along with the peeled whole onions, garlic cloves, bay leaves, spices, red wine, wine vinegar, and the rest of the olive oil.
  • Bring the stew to a simmer, stir, cover with a lid and return to the oven for at least another two hours.
  • Once the meat is tender, and the sauce is rich and thick, take it out of the oven and set to one side. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper at this stage.
  • Cook some small potatoes, and serve with the stew. The stew could be served with mashed potatoes, or in small bowls with a side-serving of boiled potatoes.

Beef stew with chocolate and prunes

This is madly delicious. The original recipe is in Honey from a Weed by Patience Grey.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 kg beef, cut to about the size and shape of a large thumb
  • 1 onion, halved and finely sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 glass of spanish brandy
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 50g dark chocolate
  • a pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 bunch of herbs, include thyme, bay, parsley
  • 200ml white wine or noilly prat
  • 300ml water
  • 12 fine prunes
  • olive oil
  • 2 potatoes per person, peeled and cubed.

METHOD:

  • Soak the prunes for an hour.
  • Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a pan, and brown the meat. When it is browned, put it in a casserole dish.
  • Fry the sliced onion in the olive oil, with the unpeeled garlic cloves, until the onions are soft and beginning to brown.
  • Add the tomatoes to the frying pan, with the brandy, and wine. Simmer for around 20 minutes
  • Add the paprika, bitter chocolate, and the cinnamon, and the herbs.
  • Stir in the water, and cook for a few minutes, before pouring this over the meat in the casserole dish.
  • Simmer in a moderate oven, around 140C, for 2 hours.
  • Cook the prunes for 1/2 an hour in a very little water, and drain them.
  • Fry the cubes of potato in hot oil until they are golden.
  • Serve the stew on a platter, with the fried potatoes at one end, and the stewed prunes the other.