I’m not usually a big fan of fakey meat products – I mean, I’m vegetarian for good reason – but there’s something about the cold weather that makes it appealing to fall back on simple protein-based stews and casseroles for dinner. I made up this recipe when my decidedly-omnivorous sister came round as a substitute for a similar dish that my mum makes, and it turned out really nice. It’s not very photogenic I’m afraid, but it does taste much better than it looks!
A classic combo of mushrooms, thyme, and white wine is given texture by the Quorn, which is torn into irregular pieces to give a – dare I say – meatier texture. Low fat creme fraiche gives acidity and a nice saucy base – you could swap it for half or full fat sour cream for a creamier, more decadent result. Mustard gives the whole thing a final warming kick, and serve with buttery mash for ultimate comfort factor. Give it a go!
Since doing an Indian cooking course and having a gander at the beautiful Prashad cook book, my home curry-making has definitely gone up a notch. In particular, Prashad’s mattar paneer is sure to become a weekday dinner staple: it’s so quick and easy yet authentic-tasting, uses storecupboard/freezer ingredients (did you know paneer freezes?!) and feels pretty healthy despite the main ingredient being um, fried cheese. Must be better than a takeaway at least. I like making more interesting rice dishes as an accompaniment too: the lemon, mustard seed and curry leaf rice we made on the course is perfect with a mild, creamy curry, and Prashad’s tumeric dal rice does great with the mattar paneer.
My absolute favourite thing to make however is chapattis, the little wholewheat puffed flatbreads that are so perfect at scooping up handfuls of curry to convey it to the mouth. I use the Fabulous Baker Brothers’ recipe and method, which involves the pretty fun task of toasting the chapattis over an open gas flame to get that wonderful airy texture and charred outside. I even videoed myself doing it, at immense personal risk – you’re welcome. Ignore my filthy hob please.
Finished with a dash of butter, they’re the perfect finishing touch to a homemade curry.
Amongst my wonderful Christmas gifts was a bibimbap kit from Sous Chef. It’s a Korean dish literally meaning ‘mixed rice’ – a bowl of rice cooked in a stone pot topped with various vegetables and meat or tofu, finished with an egg and seasoned with hot pepper paste. I’ve been wanting to try it again since we had a similar thing in Tokyo. There are also a couple of Korean restaurants serving it in London now, like the aptly-named Bibimbap in Soho.
It turns out that bibimbap, despite looking quite impressive, is really fun to cook and barely even needs a recipe, although I’ve attached my notes below. The cooking process is really just a prep and assembly job: cooking the rice, heating the dolsot and chopping and cooking the veg (simply steamed or sautéed). If you’re alright with multitasking it can be ready in about half an hour.
The key to an authentic bibimbap is the special stone cooking pot called a dolsot. It’s warmed on the hob and seasoned with sesame oil before adding the rice for its final cooking. The roasting-hot stone imparts a mysteriously wonderful quality to the dish, as well as making delicious crackly morsels of rice around the edges to pick off with your chopsticks. It holds the heat extremely well, cooking the egg yolk and keeping the rice warm as you dig in.
You can easily adapt the basic recipe to your favourite vegetable/protein combo, and make it vegan by omitting the egg. The one absolutely essential ingredient is the gochujang, a salty, spicy red pepper paste that provides all the seasoning the dish needs. It comes in a pleasingly Asian-looking little tub and will last in the fridge for ages – if you don’t make bibimbap every night anyway, as I’m now tempted to do.
For such low effort, the taste is just amazing, and it’s a pretty healthy yet hearty and filling dish. It’s definitely being added to my regular roster. You can buy a bibimbap kit with everything you need to get started from Sous Chef. Let me know if you have a go!
* Tofu puffs are tofu chunks that have been frozen then deep-fried, to give a spongy interior with crisp outside. They're really yummy and perfect for bibimbap as they soak up flavours really well. I found mine in the Chinese supermarket. Plain firm tofu fried off would be fine too
** Furikake is a Japanese seasoning made from shiso, seaweed and sesame seeds (and sometimes fish, so check the label). Most supermarkets have it, or substitute with sesame seeds.
If you're using the dolsot for the first time, fill it with cold water and place on a very low heat. Bring up to boil very slowly (the pot can crack if exposed to sudden temperature changes), increasing the heat gradually. Dump out the water, return to the heat and add a splash of sesame oil to the pot. Swirl around so the pot is coated and keep warm while you prepare everything else.
Wash the rice well and drain for 15-20 minutes. Put into a pan with 300ml cold water, cover, bring to boil and simmer very gently for 12 minutes (or follow packet instructions). Leave to cool a little and season with salt and furikake.
Slice all of the veg thinly. Steam the carrot and pak choi in a bamboo steamer over hot water until just tender - about 7 minutes.
Sautee the mushrooms in a mix of vegetable and sesame oil.
Sautee the tofu puffs in a little soy and sesame.
Sautee together the chilli, spring onions and soybeans for a minute or two. Mix into the rice, adding a bit of the gochujang to taste.
Transfer the rice mix to the dolsot - you should hear a nice sizzle as it hits the oil. Separate the egg, keeping the yolk - make a small well in the middle of the rice and drop the egg yolk in. Leave for a couple of minutes to let the yolk heat through and the rice get crispy around the edges.
Arrange your other toppings in sections around the egg, and finish with a blob of gochujang and a sprinkle of furikake. Mix it all together before eating!
Ramen is fast becoming a new foody trend, with lots of new places opening up in town serving delicious bowls of noodles swimming in sweet-sour stock. Unfortunately the key component of traditional ramen is a dollop of sizzling pig fat (along with boiled bones to make the stock), so I can’t indulge in the real deal very often. But I’ve made a pretty good take on it at home a few times, perfect for cold nights and very healthy! It gets its body from marinated crispy-fried tofu, and the addition of an egg or two, swirled into the stock, makes it even more filling.
Portion of your favourite noodles - I love these ones
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp mirin
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornflour + extra for dusting
1 pack firm tofu
1/2 pack mixed stir-fry vegetables - I like a mix with baby corn, spring onion, beanshoots, soybeans, cabbage and carrot.
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
1 egg (optional)
Mix the seasonings (soy, rice vinegar ,mirin, sugar) in a small bowl.
Bring 1 litre of water to a simmer in a pan. Add half of the seasoning mixture. Mix the cornflour with a little water to form a paste and stir in too.
Add the vegetables (and chilli, if using) and noodles to the pot. They should only take 5 minutes to heat through and soften, a little longer if using dried noodles.
Meanwhile slice the tofu into 1cm slices, blot to remove excess moisture, dust with extra cornflour and fry off in vegetable or sesame oil. When it's becoming golden and crispy, add the remaining seasoning and cook for a minute more, turning the tofu, to give a tasty glaze.
If using the egg, break it into a jug and whisk to combine. Keeping the soup at a simmer, pour the egg into the water in a very thin stream, stirring with a chopstick as you do to make ribbons. This gives the soup extra texture and thickness.
This is such a great recipe for this time of year: warming, comforting and yet incredibly healthy. It’s basically a vegan Japanese take on a classic English beef stew, with gravy, melting potatoes and flavourful chunks of carrot and onion. Crispy tofu takes the place of beef, which acts like a sponge soaking up all the lovely liquor. I first got the recipe when I did my Japanese cooking course a couple of years ago, but I’ve adapted it a fair bit since then to suit my taste and store cupboard. Do try it, the flavours you get from so few simple ingredients is really surprising.
Handful green veg - French beans, sprouting broccoli, spring greens or pak choi would all work
20ml/1tbsp cooking sake
30ml mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
60ml dark soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
Sprinkle of nanami togarashi / shichimi (Japanese hot spice mix) - optional
Peel the potato, carrot and onion and chop into large chunks. Heat some vegetable oil in a wok or casserole and fry the veg for 5-10 minutes on a med-high heat. You want good colouring all over.
Mix the seasonings (sake, sugar, mirin and soy) in a small bowl and add to the pan, then add water to just cover the veg and bring to a simmer. Cover and leave to bubble gently away.
If you're using non-deep fried tofu you need to pre-fry it. Slice into 1cm pieces and blot well with kitchen paper. Dust with corn flour and shallow fry in oil on a medium heat until golden and crisp on both sides. After the veg has been cooking about ten minutes, add the tofu to the top of the pan.
After another ten minutes,add the green veg. Give another five minutes to just cook the green veg - the potatoes should be soft and cooked through now and the sauce reduced a little. Sprinkle in the nanami togarashi if using, or season with black pepper (it shouldn't need salt)
Leave for 5-10 mins off the heat to get all the flavours fully mingled, and serve on its own or with sticky rice. Serves 2 with leftovers to spare (it tastes great the next day), or 4 with rice.
I really enjoyed watching Michela Chiappa‘s recent Italian cooking series on Channel 4. The short series went from the basics of pasta making up to showstopping occasion pasta. Lots of veggie stuff too that was more exciting than the standard Italian fare too, like these ‘Nidi’ rolled pancakes.
Pic: Channel 4 Food
I’ve already had somesuccessfulexperiments with pasta making, so decided to level-up and try this lovely ‘silhouette’ pasta: the sheets are sandwiched with herbs before being cut into strands, leaving a pretty see-through effect as well as extra flavour.
I used some herbs from my garden pots – basil and sage – shredding them instead of keeping the leaves whole to distribute the flavour a bit more, and also added a generous amount of chilli flakes.
My pappardelle could have done with being a bit thinner – though you do add thickness from having two layers and risk ruining the effect if you re-roll too thinly – but the colour effect and extra flavours definitely came through.
The cold no-cook tomato sauce Michela paired the pasta with was really punchy and fresh, a great complement to the spiced herby pasta and perfect for a warmer evening. As the recipe warns, the sauce is VERY garlicky, so you might want to reduce the amount if you’re not a garlic fiend. I also blitzed mine a bit with a stick blender to make it coat the pasta better.
You can find the recipes for the pasta and sauce here. Making your own pasta is so much fun and really easy after a few practice runs. All you need is a basic cheap machine and you can even make the dough in bulk and freeze portions so you have fresh pasta practically on tap.
Time for a roundup of what I’ve been eating lately. Sorry for mostly iPhone pics, my semi-broken camera means I don’t carry it around as much as usual..
We went to the soft launch of the new Wahaca on the South Bank. It’s constructed from shipping containers, beautifully designed and decorated, and the menu has loads of new dishes (hellooooo, 3-chilli tacos) as well as old favourites.
Macaroni cheese, tacos and griddled corn, washed down with lethal slushie margaritas, at the super-hip Rita’s pop up in Dalston’s Birthdays bar. In fact it was probably all a bit too hip for Sarah and I, and the food and hectic service not quite good enough to encourage a return visit.
I’ve had a sore tummy for the last couple of weeks so I’ve been trying to cut down my wheat intake, which (unfortunately) seems to be helping it to settle down. Sob – bye bye Pasta Sundays for now! To be veggie and wheat-free requires a bit of creative thinking – and shows how me often I default to pasta or pizza – so I’ve been trying things I haven’t done before.
After having a Japanese stir-fry the other night, I used the leftover tofu to replicate a lovely garden scramble I had for brunch in San Francisco. As well as being an Asian mainstay, firm tofu is really good as a more substantial (and vegan) substitute for scrambled egg, and its bland creaminess works well with all sorts of other flavours, from Mediterranean to Indian.
I teamed it with the contents of my veg drawer, some leftover pesto and a squeeze of lime to make a delicious dish that took under ten minutes. You could sub the green veg for whatever you have: I used my favourite, samphire, because I spotted it in Waitrose (on the fish counter instead of veg aisle, natch), but it’d also work great with broccoli, green beans or peas. I also used an amazing fiery chilli pesto from Romeo Jones at Broadway Market but normal red pesto would work, with a sprinkle of chilli if you like it hot. I served it on a wheat (whoops) tortilla to bulk it up a bit, but actually found it made quite a filling supper on its own.
For this week’s pasta dinner I made orecchiette – one of my favourites but sometimes hard to find in the shops. The name means ‘little ears’ and they are thickish little domes of pasta with more bite than some of the usual shapes. I didn’t quite nail the cut ‘n’ roll technique so mine turned out a little too thick and chewy – one to try again.
But I have to say the sauce I made to go with it was delicious, which i why I’ve written up the recipe to make it again. Inspired by an awesome sandwich I had for lunch at Fernandez & Wells, I tried a smoky, spiced mixture of charred aubergine with my usual concentrated tomato base, and some spicing that’s unusual for pasta pairings: Middle Eastern-inspired cumin, sumac and chilli. In fact the ingredients are all pretty similar to last week’s lasagne, just the spicing gives it a twist. Try it – this sauce would go with any shaped pasta, or would be great with gnocchi.
Orecchiette pasta - fresh or dried. Farfalle, fusilli or gnocchi would work, too.
1 medium aubergine
1 tin plum tomatoes in juice
4 sun-dried tomatoes, diced
Half a white onion, peeled and halved again
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1/2 tsp sumac
1/4 tsp dried cumin powder
For the sauce, add the tinned and sun-dried tomatoes, onion and butter to a pan and simmer on a medium heat for 25 mins until jammy and reduced. Discard the onion, season, and stir in the spices.
Slash the aubergine's skin all over with a knife and place onto gas hob, turning often, until deflated and charred all over. Alternatively, halve and place skin-side-up under a hot grill - or barbecue it! When completely soft, pop into a bowl and cover with clingfilm to cool and soften some more.
Cook the pasta. Peel and discard blackened skin from the aubergine and tip the flesh into the sauce, mix to combine, and reheat. Mix in the cooked pasta and serve with feta cheese crumbled over the top.
It was starting to feel like ages since I’d properly cooked anything – been really busy with work lately, plus another cat in the household = busy times! So I made sure to uphold Pasta Sunday this weekend, my mini-mission to try using my pasta machine for a different dish every week. So far we’ve had ravioli, tortellini and last week, tagliatelle with broccoli and cream (actually knocked up mid-week with some frozen unrolled dough, which works great):
This week I made a lasagne to use up some of the vegetables in the fridge. I’m getting speedier with the pasta machine each time, and the bonus of lasagne = no fiddly cutting or stuffing required. This was ready in under an hour from start to finish.
The thinness test – I can see the placemat through it!
This lasagne is really richly flavoured from the concentrated tomato sauce, charred veg and made extra-rich with the cheesy top. Josh (not a vegetarian) said it was one of the best lasagnes he’s eaten.
Chop the vegetables into 1-inch chunks, spread on a baking sheet with the pine nuts and a liberal glug of olive oil, and season. Pop into a 200-degree oven for 20-25 minutes, until soft and a little charred round the edges.
Tomato sauce - chuck the tomatoes (tinned and sun-dried) and onion into a pan with a knob of butter and bubble on a medium heat until jammily reduced. Discard the onion and mix the roasted veg into the sauce.
Bechamel - Whisk together a tablespoon each of butter and flour and cook for a minute. Pour in a mugful of milk and whisk until smooth and thickened. Season well and stir in a handful of cheddar.
Assemble the lasagne. If you're using dried sheets, parboil them for 5-6 minutes until slightly soft. Butter a baking dish and layer up, pasta first, ending with béchamel. Top with a crumble of feta and a little more cheddar and bake for 20 minutes until bubbling and browned.