1. Lentils, Beans and Crunch

  2. An Easy Indian Feast (of Sorts)

    I was very lucky when I was in Melbourne to attend a pooja in the home of friends with whom I was staying. The prayer service itself was a beautiful series of rituals and chanting (and I got to wear a badass outfit), but it was of course the food that came afterwards that I’ll remember! We ate incredibly delicious dishes of Punjabi origin made from things like pumpkin and chickpeas, and of course we had my absolute favourite: puri with face-puckering mango chutney. No amount of a nagging hangover from touring the Yarra Valley the previous day could keep my appetite down!

    With influences from the Pujab, Kerala and, er, Ireland, the recipes that are coming up this week are spiced, warming, tempting and easy. They can be made together or served individually with rice. Here’s what’s coming up:

    Chana Masala - Spicy Tomato Chickpeas
    Cheater’s Spiced Mango Chutney
    Gobi Pachadi - Mild Buttermilk Marinated Cauliflower
    Potato Coriander Flatbread - A puri meets a potato farl

    A combination that should please just about everyone! As always, the recipes will be vegan, easy to follow and adaptable for gluten-free diets.

    - Deirdre

    hummus and spuds

  3. Drowned Butterfly Aubergine

    This has been a week of pearl couscous and Simon Hopkinson. It’s also been one of those weeks where (almost) everything I made was brilliant (if I do say so myself!). That said, I of course had one big clanger, but that’s inevitable. I’m just amazed that those recipes that have worked have worked so well. I’ve greatly enjoyed taking inspiration and techniques from Hopkinson, even if I greatly disagree with his opinions on peeling potatoes!

    Inspiration for this aubergine and couscous dish came from a recipe Hopkinson gives in Simon Hopkinson Cooks for aubergine simply dressed with olive oil, persilade and feta. I went with something a little more dramatic that took no more time, and was filling, pleasing and vegan. I greatly enjoyed it and hope you do too. That said, don’t attempt to put the white dish under the grill in a lazy attempt at avoiding washing up: I broke a lovely casserole dish because of it!

    Hopkinson described his style of cutting the aubergine as resembling a heart. Perhaps there is no romantic in me, but I thought more of how one butterflies a chicken before grilling it! And drowned? Well it’s drowning in couscous and herbs, as you can see!

    This recipe is given per serving and takes about thirty minutes to prepare.

    An aubergine
    50g pearl couscous
    170ml light stock (marigold!)
    5g fresh basil
    5g fresh parsley
    1 tbs cold pressed extra virgin rapeseed oil, and more to finish
    juice of half a large lemon
    2 tbs cashew sour cream - blended cashews thinned with a little unsweetened almond milk, a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt (plain yoghurt would substitute quite well here, I think)
    3 green olives
    2 preserved garlic cloves (mine were coated in a little crushed black olive, which was an added bonus!)
    salt and pepper

    Turn on the overhead grill in your oven to heat. About 1cm down from the stalk, cut the skin of the aubergine in a loop. Don’t dig into flesh! Then make four slices along the length of the aubergine at even divides. Again, be careful that you cut the skin but nothing else. The skin of the aubergine should now be sliced into four equal long sections.

    Put the aubergine on a baking tray and grill for 6 or 7 minutes. Turn it 4 times so each section is given a chance to char. The skin should become papery and the insides should begin to pull away from it.

    Meanwhile, cook the couscous. Let it boil rapidly, without a lid until the water is almost evaporated. Fluff the couscous, take it off the heat and cover. Stir it occasionally to keep it from sticking as it absorbs the last of the steam.

    Chop the basil, parsley, olives and garlic together into the chunky paste. Mix it into the couscous with the rapeseed oil and a big squeeze of lemon. Season. Leave aside to cool a little.

    When the aubergine has cooled a little, peel the skin. This is a very satisfying task, I must say. Cut the aubergine in half lengthways up to the stalk. Don’t slice through the stalk. You should now be able to pull it apart so that it resembles a flattened butterflied chicken (or a heart, for you romantics).

    Arrange on a dish and spoon the couscous around and over the aubergine. Scatter the cashew sour cream over the dish and finish with a little more lemon juice and rapeseed oil. Be sure to add plenty of black pepper!

    Enjoy when it is warm, but not too hot. The cashew cream should be cool.

    hummus and spuds

  4. Tahini Potato Gratin

    It is August. Yesterday I set about my hungover Sunday when I was presented with a kitchen counter covered in courgettes. Courgettes: a summery glut of summerness. Not so in the howling west of Ireland. It of course rained all day yesterday and is raining all day today. We turned on the stove. I am wearing a woolly jumper but my appendages are still decidedly chilly. So while the courgettes were a testament to the summer bounty still plaguing the garden, I needed something warm and oozing in my grey-skied, headache-hazed stupor. So with the fresh and springy courgettes, I threw these complex, creamy and comforting spuds. Hangover sorted. Grey skies embraced. I kicked back with the wine that was left and watched the BBC documentary on Kate Bush (it’s great, she’s great, oh Kate Bush you fantastic thing you).

    Incidentally, I then watched this pretty hilarious video of Delia Smith interviewing Kate on her vegetarianism in 1980. Certainly not a menu that would inspire many conversions, I suspect.

    Tahini, garlic and wine make for a tempting and complex flavour combination that allows for speedy gratin preparation, without any need for cashews. Though children may find it a little much, I loved it. I served it with baked herby courgettes, a herb paste and a few dashes of hot sauce to ensure we were truly warmed up! Who says vegans can’t have creamy garlic spuds!

    - Serves 3 as a side dish, though 2 with a simple green salad, takes about an hour -

    300g potatoes, washed, in very thin slices (I used a mandoline - so quick!)
    2 tbs light tahini
    50 ml dry white wine
    100 ml light stock
    3 cloves crushed garlic
    15 capers, rougly chopped
    A little rapeseed oil for greasing

    Preheat the oven to 200 degress Celsius.

    In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and whisk to form a creamy liquid. Add the potatoes and ensure they are thoroughly covered.

    Grease a small baking dish (I used a circular Le Creuset one that has, maybe, a 20cm diameter). In concentric circles, evenly lay out the potato.

    Cover with tinfoil and bake for about 30 minutes. Uncover and poke the potatoes with a butter knife to ensure that they are soft and give way to the knife quite easily. When this is the case (it may take longer without the superpower of those Le Creuset dishes), remove the tinfoil and return the dish to the oven. Check again in ten to fifteen minutes when it has become a gratin: that is, gloriously browned on top.

    hummus and spuds

  5. Herby Baked Courgettes

    Gawd bless the mandoline. My mother owns one (it was recently rediscovered after many years of languishing in the back of a cupboard) and it makes this recipe a very quick affair altogether. Any and all things that are basically just gadgety knives please me a great deal: mandolines, mezzalunas, lemon zesters, garlic presses, superduper powered food processors… They’re all great. Someday I will own all of them (and a Vitamix to boot). For now, I borrow from my mother. Though I do own a mezzaluna and a lemon zester so I’m getting there (though the mammy has about 7, so I suspect I just stole one from her!).

    As well as her glut of kitchen appliances, Mammo is also currently suffering from a courgette glut (why can’t the garden space out its bounty!) so this fresh and pleasing dish came about. I served it with a potato gratin for Sunday lunch.

    Serves 3 as a side dish - Takes about an hour (mostly oven time)

    500g courgette, in thin slices
    150ml dry white wine
    15g parsley
    5g each mint, dill
    10 chives (with 2 heads (purple flowers), if possible)
    3 garlic cloves, crushed (I used a lemon zester, being a rebel)
    2 tbs pinenuts, sesame seeds
    2 tsp cold pressed extra virgin rapeseed oil

    Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.

    Using a mezzaluna, a food processor or a great deal of patience, finely chop the herbs together. In a bowl, combine the courgette slices, 3/4s of the herbs, and the garlic. Mix with your hands, massaging the herbs and garlic into the courgette. Season well.

    Lightly grease a baking dish (I use a small Le Creuset one (about 10cm x 20cm) that I adore). Layer in the courgette in overlapping spirals evenly throughout the dish. Pour over the wine. Cover with tinfoil.

    Bake for about 30 minutes. Poke with a butter knife. It should slide in but give some resistance. Remove the tinfoil and return to the oven for about 15 minutes, when the top should be browning nicely. Scatter over the nuts and seeds and return to the oven for about ten minutes. Be very careful at this stage as the pinenuts will go from golden to burnt very quickly. Meanwhile, mix the last of the herbs with the rapeseed oil.

    Remove from the oven. Sprinkle over the herb paste and dot with petals from the chive flowers.

    hummus and spuds

  6. Perli e Bisi (Pearls and Peas)

    There is an Italian dish called Risi e Bisi (Rice and Young Peas). It isn’t counted as a risotto as risotto is supposed to ooze like lava while Risi e Bisi is more like a thick soup. Well now, I am a great fan of Slow Club Cookery. On her Instagram a few months ago it became clear that the author, Kara, was going through a fanatical Israeli (pearl) couscous phase. She was eating it with radishes a great deal of the time and the images and descriptions awakened a strong desire for a food I hadn’t eaten in years.

    Oddly enough, I had only eaten it once before: In the Four Seasons Boston, for some bizarre reason. I have absolutely no idea why I was having dinner there as I was a lowly student at the time, but there yeh go. Anyway, being told that couscous is the vegetarian option normally sends shivers down my spine. That gritty excuse for food that one gets in little plastic tubs for too much money… yuck. But that which was placed in front of me, these bouncy, chewy pearls: well, they were a revelation. And now, five years later I have to say that their charm has remained.

    I had many great intention of valiantly making a simple salad tossed with cooled fried courgette shreds and lemon. However, the contents of my currently bountiful fridge got the better of me. As such, I was soon gleefully chopping asparagus and rumaging for peas. I flung them into the couscous, still assuming that I would valiantly drain the cooking liquid before fluffing and steaming to dryness. But then I tasted the water and knew that I couldn’t do it. As such, my salad became Perli e Bisi - not a risotto, but perhaps a relatively dry soup!

    This is enough for one generous portion, took 15 minutes from start to finish and is a joyful way to enjoy the magical grain. In a rare move for me, it is entirely oil free.

    65g pearl couscous
    4 asparagus spear, sliced into thin round with the tips reserved
    1 scallion, in thin rounds
    2 tbs peas (I use frozen)
    1/2 a large courgette, grated
    1 garlic clove, crushed
    500ml hot light stock (I used Marigold)
    1/2 lemon, zest and juice

    Set the couscous to cook in the stock, uncovered. Meanwhile, chop and grate the vegetables. Put the courgette and garlic in a pan. Shaking occasionally, let the water content of of the courgette cook off. Make sure it doesn’t stick to the base. When it is greatly reduced and beginning to colour, remove from the heat. When the couscous has been cooking for eight minutes add the peas and asparagus. Cook for another 3-4 minutes until the cooking liquid is almost entirely absorbed. Taste the couscous - it should be springy and soft. Mix in the courgette and lemon juice. Serve with the asparagus tips on top and the zest sprinkled over.

    hummus and spuds

  7. Onion Soup (and a guide to Cashew Cream)

    This is the best soup I have ever eaten, by a long mile.

    It requires time. Hours, in fact. But I cannot begin to describe how much it is worth your time. If you have a very good blender or don’t mind the taste of that soy cream stuff you could certainly save a good deal of labour. I truly do think that the cashews add something very special to this soup though. And maybe I can even taste the hour of monotony (love) that went into it - ha!

    My father appeared with a plastic bag consisting mostly of dirt. Within it lay two beetroot and four onions from my Grandfather’s neighbours. I had been planning on making a cashew cream for an aubergine dish I was making so the sight of the onions sparked a memory of an ostensibly simple soup I had read about in Simon Hopkinson’s masterpiece (no, that’s not overstating it) Roast Chicken and Other Stories. Of course, the recipe itself isn’t vegan: but no matter.

    I have become a recent devotee of Lakeshore Donegal cold-pressed extra virgin rapeseed oil. It has a rich yellow colour that accurately portrays its rich taste. I cannot recommend it enough. Its richness, with a whack of salt added, is a great butter replacement (with a higher smoke point to boot!).

    In fact, owing to the simplicity of its ingredients, I would say good ingredients are necessary all-round here. I used the Lidl Acentino Bianco white wine vinegar and a good bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Contrary to most assertions that home-made stock is absolutely necessary (blah-blah-blah), I used the Marigold vegan stockcubes to great effect. Stickin’ it to the man. Ahem.

    Hopkinson describes his version of it as tasting “sweet, rich and intensely savoury”. That is absolutely accurate.

    Enough for three big bowls - Anticipate that one and all will want second helpings

    4 yellow onions (medium sized), sliced very thinly (I remembered too late that my mother has a mandoline slicer, but careful knifework is sufficient)
    2tbs Donegal cold-pressed extra virgin rapeseed oil
    50ml white wine vinegar
    250ml dry white wine
    600ml marigold stock
    4 tbs cashew cream (instructions to follow)
    salt and pepper

    In a heavy based pot, combine the rapeseed oil, some seasoning and onions. Cover and leave to stew over a very low heat for 60 to 90 minutes (mine took 90 minutes, but I may have had them on too low for a good while). Stir them occasionally. You want them to reduce, ooze juices, smell amazing and have almost turned completely to mush. They will have a rich yellow colour and be pleasingly sweet to the taste.

    While they slowly cook, begin the task of dealing with the cashew cream.

    Cashew Cream

    This recipe will make more than twice the amount you will need, but if you’re going to put yourself through making it, you might as well plan on a decadent week (or day!) of creamy things.

    200g cashews
    50ml + 50ml water

    If you have the good sense to be planning this meal in advance, soak the cashews overnight in plenty of cold water. Drain and rinse. (If you don’t have the good sense, cover them with boiling water and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse.) Overnight soaking is preferable as the cashews tend to puree with a great deal more ease if they are soaked. Pour them into a very good blender or food processor. I used a Magimix 900W beast that my mother owns. If you don’t have something very good, prepare for a very long process. Puree the cashews to the best extent you can without any liquid first, scraping down the sides with a spatula at times. Then add 50ml of water and process again. A thick paste should be formed. If it is still stubbornly dry, add the other 50ml, one tablespoon at a time. Using a fine metal mesh sieve (I really mean fine, not a glorified colander), smush (that’s the technical word for it - ha!) the cashew puree through it until a thick, smooth cream gathers in the bowl below. Any stubborn bits can be returned to the processor with a splash more water before again being sieved. The resultant cream will be a great deal thicker than regular cream. Reserve it in its thick form and add almond milk or water to attain the consistency desired for different dishes. For this soup, I didn’t use any dilute.

    Returning to the onions, when they are sufficently yellow and gooey, add the white wine vinegar. Raise the temperature to a medium heat and allow it to cook off. Then add the wine and allow it to reduce by two-thirds. Add the stock, cover and simmer for thirty minutes. Taste the broth and season more, if you wish. Remove from the heat. Add three tablespoons of the cream. Blend. Taste and add the fourth tablespoon, if you wish.

    I enjoyed it with rosemary tinged focaccia. Fiercely crispy garlic and rosemary tinged chickpeas would also be a treat to act as croutons.

    hummus and spuds

  8. Aubergine and Herbed Cream (with a Fanfare of Simon Hopkinson)

    I am currently in the midst of really reading Simon Hopkinson. Over the years I’ve read all his cookbooks, but in that cursory glancing way (probably, I fear, only focusing on those that seemed to be strictly vegetarian). Now I am reading everything: cover to cover. I am ankle deep in the details of cooking offal. I have no desire to cook offal, but that’s not a problem. Here are a few things that I love him for:

    1) His love of food. He loves cooking and eating equally, it seems, and has done since an early age. He associate it with memories, places, friends and family. I suspect that he spends almost every waking moment engaging with it in some fashion.

    2) Speaking of friends and family: he is constantly lauding the effect of his parents, his early mentors and the many fantastic chefs from whom he has learnt. As such, a book by Richard Olney arrived for me today and I am greatly look forward to reading it.

    3) His writing style is so, so pleasing. I would read his books even if they contained no recipes. I’d probably read them if the content relayed a history of toy trains.

    4) This man loves meat. Really and truly, every part of the animal has been covered in his repetoire. Entire sections are given to brains, kidneys, pigeon and, hilariously “pork pieces and bacon bits”. However, he speaks with equal passions of pea risotto, potatoes, tomatoes and, here I really agree with him, the unrivalled bliss of well cooked aubergine. He even has a book of vegetarian dishes (though, rather funnily, one of my least loved by him!)

    5) He uses such well-thought out techniques. Reading him allows one to pick up tips and methods that I suspect most people need many years of old-fashioned French tutelage to gather.

    6) He’s also useless at baking (well, he says he is). Hurrah!

    I think his wonderful writing style is to be displayed in the anecdote he divulges as an introduction to “Baked Aubergine with Tomato, Onions, Garlic and Olive Oil” in Gammon and Spinach (MacMillan 1998):

    "In my many years in the restaurant trade, I have found it to be the case that a small minority of vegetarian folk, radical in thier beliefs, are often those that it seems fail to appreciate dishes on the menu that are specifically made with vegetables in mind rather than them; the dish prepared simply as something good to eat. It has not, how shall one say, been fashioned with a ‘theme’ in mind. Moreover, it has been cooked or assembled because it is a good idea. The following story is not a dig, but a happy and amusing tale of restaurant life.

    Several years ago now, the personable, steadfast and upright Mr Graham Williams (then maître d’, now head honcho of Bibendum) took the order of a particular American lady who was, it transpired, a vegan. G.W. went through the whole card with her, explaining all the dishes so she would know what she could, and could not, eat. The lady finally went for the Piedmontese peppers - roasted peppers with tomato, olive oil, garlic and anchovies. Quite correctly, and with deference, she asked that the peppers might be unadorned by the anchovy fillets. ‘Of course, madam,’ the charming G.W. replied.

    So off he sped to the kitchen to dispatch the order, where, promptly, the dish was swiftly assembled, complete with salty brown slivers, and placed before the vegan from Virginia (or was it Vegas?). ‘Forgive, forgive,’ muttered G.W., suddenly seeing the offending anchovies just that brief moment too late.

    Back in the kitchen. ‘I told you not to put bloody anchovies on it! Why can’t you just listen for once!’ he bawled quite rightly at the cold started chef, or some similar words to that effect …Si we picked off the fishy bits and sent the plate back to the dining room.

    'Erm… did you, by any chance, just remove the anchovies and give it back to me?' the lady asked. 'Erm… yes, we did do just that,' G.W. whimpered, honestly. 'Well, I'm sorry, but I can't eat it. I'll have the risotto with white truffles instead.' - one of the other possible vegetarian choices on our lenghty menu of internaitonal cuisine. 'But, madam,' G.W. shrieked, 'you can't possibly have that! The truffles have been on the end of a pig's nose!'

    Here is a really nice little vegetable dish for everyone to enjoy.”

    (p219-20 Gammon and Spinach, Simon Hopkinson, Pan Books, 2001)

    Just because Hopkinson enjoys a pig’s snout does not mean that vegans and vegetarians cannot enjoy his fantastic back-catalogue. Many plant-powered peeps could indeed do with a dose of reason at times too … (preparing myself for some nasty emails there).

    Anyway, he makes reference to aubergines with herbed cream at some point along the way. This is my really quite different version of it.

    - Serves three, as a light lunch -

    3 blocks of frozen spinach
    A very good quality can of tomatoes
    2 cloves garlic
    half an onion, finely diced
    a glug of white wine

    An aubergine, in thin rounds
    2 big splashed of rapeseed oil (the Lakeshore golden elixir variety, not the dreaded American Canola shite that looks like well-hydrated piss)

    3 tbs cashew cream
    handful each of basil, parsely, chives
    1/2 cup almond milk

    salt and pepper

    Put a splash of oil in a frying pan. Rub it about with a piece of kitchen paper to ensure it’s sheening but not greasy. In batches, fry off the rounds, flipping when browned.

    Meanwhile, dump the onions and spinach in another pan. The water from the defrosting spinach should keep the onions from sticking. When it is defrosted, add the tomatoes, garlic, wine and seasoning. Allow to simmer, covered for about 20 minutes (until you’re finished with the aubergine, realistically).

    Chop all the herbs finely, add to the cream and milk. Stir until well combined. It should be the thickness of regular pouring cream. Adjust if it isn’t.

    In a small baking dish, assemble the spinach and tomato first, then layer the aubergine rounds on top. Sprinkle with the second splash of rapeseed oil and salt and pepper. Pour over the herbed cream and bake in an oven at 200 degrees celsius for about 40 minutes. The tomato should begin to bubble up the sides and the lid should be golden.

    Serve with rocket dressed with balsamic vinegar, some fresh bread and a glass of the white wine.

    hummus and spuds

  9. Focaccia - An Update (with Rosemary and Olive)

    I have mastered Focaccia.

    This recipe acted as my guide once again the other day and, as always, it worked an absolute charm. However, a mistake on my part led to a new trick to speed along the process.

    Typically one uses a ‘hook’ attachment for a standard mixing bowl when making dough (It looks like this). For the more solid doughs of standard bread, this is a necessity. However, since focaccia dough is supposed to be ‘wet wet wet’ (I still think I’m hilarious for coming up with that), I have discovered through error that the ‘K beater’ attachment usually used for beating things like  butter and sugar together works a treat (it looks like this).

    Blah-blah-blah, you say, what matter. Well! Well! Instead of spending 15 minutes combining, using the precise instructions from my previous post and a K beater led to the kneading process taking 7 minutes from start to finish (2 minutes to get it all together and then 5 minutes of kneading). Hurrah! Time saver!

    Other alterations:

    In this recipe, I subbed my latest obsession Donegal Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Rapeseed Oil for the olive oil. I also flavoured it with a tablespoon of Herbamare instead of regular salt (adding a bit more due to the herb content) and used black olive marinaded olives (oh Lidl, you wonderful bastards) and a huge sprig of fresh rosemary to dot the top. She rose like a magnificent beast and turned a glorious golden brown, as you can see in the above photo.

    Basically, this post is partially to gloat and partially to help. Hope it helped somewhat or you’ll think I’m a total witch.

    hummus and spuds

  10. Hopkinson Week

    In Simon Hopkinson’s seminal work Roast Chicken and Other Stories he scatters his introductions with ‘fanfare’: the chefs who he has loved and have influenced him are described with immense care, joy and devotion. This week I’m looking at veganised takes on different pieces that Hopkinson has written. And then there’s a focaccia too. Hopkinson claims that he can’t bake bread so I suppose I want to rub it in his face - ha!

    Here’s what’s coming up this week:

    Rosemary, Olive and Herb Focaccia
    Cream of Onion Soup
    Baked aubergine with herb cream
    Perli e Bisi

    It will be intersprersed with me waxing lyrical about my devotion to all things Hopkinson. Basically, it is my fanfare.

    - Deirdre

    hummus and spuds

    Photo of Hopkinson is from the Guardian: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2013/5/14/1368526000579/Chef-Simon-Hopkinson-at-h-001.jpg