Sweet Potato and Broccoli Soup

We nearly always have soup available in our house; you never know when somebody might drop in, or when hunger pangs will bite. There are times though when I get caught out and I have to whip up something delicious in a hurry.

I was introduced to this unpromising-sounding but actually quite delicious soup by my sister-in-law. It’s one of Jamie Oliver’s, and the secret is no secret at all: use the freshest ingredients you can get your hands on. Oh, and harissa. Harissa is THE ingredient that lifts that soup from run-of-the-mill to exceptional. Make your own if you can, my recipe is here and it’s far better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.

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RECIPE serves 6, extremely generously

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, roughly chopped

2 fat garlic cloves, crushed

500g sweet potato, chopped into 2cm cubes

750ml (approx) chicken or vegetable stock

200g broccoli, stalk chopped and florets detached

2 tsp harissa


METHOD

In a large pan, gently fry the onion in the oil for ten minutes until lightly golden.

Add the garlic and cook for a further minute, then add the sweet potato and broccoli stalk. Stir thoroughly then add the stock, sufficient to cover everything. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes until everything is almost tender, then add the broccoli florets and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Using a stick blender (or a jug blender, but be careful of the hot liquid) blitz the soup until smooth, adding a little more water or stock to loosen it if necessary. Season to taste.

Stir the harissa through the soup just before serving, alongside crusty sourdough.

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Couscous with Preserved Lemon and Harissa

Often, what you pair a dish with is every bit as important as the main element itself. You wouldn’t, for example, serve a steak and kidney pie with a bowl of steamed Basmati rice. Because we eat a lot of Middle-Eastern dishes, we get through a lot of couscous, but I have to be careful not to put the couscous on the table first, because my family love it so much they will just eat it all by itself.

If you are not familiar with it, couscous are small steamed balls of crushed durum wheat semolina that is traditionally served with a stew spooned on top. You can also use it as the basis for a salad: just add some salad leaves, perhaps some chick peas and always, always (in my house), a little harissa on the side to add spice and heat. You can use ready-made preserved lemon and harissa, but I always use home-made – the links are in the recipe below – and the results are incredible.

This has to be the easiest recipe I will ever put on this blog, in terms of both simplicity and speed. I make no apologies for that, great tasting food doesn’t have to be difficult.

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RECIPE 

75g of dry couscous per person

just boiled water, 1.5 times the weight of couscous (so 112g of water per 75g dry serving)

1/4 tsp bouillon powder per person

some preserved lemon peel

harissa, to stir through


METHOD

Weigh out the appropriate amount of dry couscous, depending how many people are eating. Put it into a saucepan for which you have a lid.

Chop up the peel of your preserved lemon, into 5mm dice. How much you use is entirely up to you, I tend to use the peel of half a lemon when feeding four.

Measure out the appropriate amount of bouillon powder (you can get vegan bouillon, if you need it) and stir it through the dry couscous. Add the chopped preserved lemon peel and stir it through thoroughly. Boil the kettle, and immediately after it has boiled add the appropriate weight of water to the pan. Stir thoroughly and vigorously and quickly put a lot on the pan. Set aside for at least ten minutes, the couscous will absorb the water and the flavours will mingle.

When ready to serve, fluff it up with a fork and transfer to a warmed serving dish if you like. We only ever do this if we have company, otherwise we dig in straight from the pan. Serve with whatever Middle-Eastern dish you fancy, with a jar of harissa ever-present alongside it.

Grilled Fish Skewers with Hawayej & Parsley

Another from Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem”, this is a wonderful way to serve fish and is perfect for summer evenings in the garden.

Hawayej is a Yemeni spice mix which you will have to make yourself. It’s dead easy though, just a little grinding in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. The marinading stage is essential, try to allow 6 to 12 hours, though if you decide to make it late in the day then an hour will do.

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Image credit: Dev Wijewardane


RECIPE serves 4 to 6 depending on what you serve it with

Hawayej spice mix:

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

4 whole cloves

1/2 tsp cardamom seeds

1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric

For the fish:

1kg firm-fleshed white fish (cod, hake, monkfish, tilapia etc)

two bunches of finely chopped flat leaf-parsley

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp fine sea salt

2 tbsp olive oil

lemon wedges to serve


METHOD

First, make the spice mix: place the whole spices in a spice grinder (I use a coffee grinder set aside for just this purpose) or a mortar and pestle, and work it until finely ground. Add the turmeric and mix well.

Remove the skin and any pin-bones from the fish, and chop into regular 2.5cm cubes.

Place the fish, parsley, garlic, chilli flakes, lemon juice and salt in a large bowl with the spice mix. Mix well with your hands, massaging the fish with the mixture until everything is well coated. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for a minimum of one hour and a maximum of twelve.

When it comes time to cook them, thread the fish chunks on to skewers (metal or wood, but if using wood then soak them for an hour beforehand to avoid them scorching) and brush each piece of fish lightly on all sides with a little olive oil.

To cook: either place on a very hot ridged griddle pan for around 90 seconds, before turning and cooking for 90 seconds on the other side, or: grill under a hot, pre-heated grill (broiler) for around 2 minutes each side until cooked through. You can also cook them on a barbecue, taking great care not to burn them.

Serve immediately with lemon wedges. These go brilliantly with fattoush, the creamy dressing of which tempers and complements the spice perfectly.

Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta

The first bite we had of this resulted in a collective “wow”. It comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s superb book “Jerusalem”, and though he has called it a risotto it doesn’t require the constant watching and stirring of an Italian risotto, instead it’s an all-in, one-pot dish that cooks like a stew. It’s delicious, simple and quick to make, there is no excuse for you not to try this one.

The revelation here is the addition of strips of lemon rind. They soften and mellow as they cook, and provide a sharp counterpoint to the richness of the barley. Likewise, the marinated feta adds another taste and texture that elevates this from the merely great to the truly wonderful. If you don’t like feta then try it this way, I’ll wager it will convert you.

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RECIPE serves 4

200g pearl barley

30g unsalted butter

90ml olive oil

2 small celery stalks, cut into 5mm dice

2 small shallots, cut into 5mm dice

4 garlic cloves, cut into 2mm dice

4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1 bay leaf

the rind of a whole lemon, cut into strips

1/4 tsp chilli flakes

400g tin chopped tomatoes

700ml vegetable stock

300ml passata

1 tbsp caraway seeds

300g feta, broken roughly into 2cm pieces

1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves


METHOD

Rinse the pearl barley well under cold water until the water is no longer cloudy, and leave to drain. You can substitute pearl barley for pearled spelt if you wish.

Melt the butter and two tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large frying pan, or risotto pan, and cook the celery, shallot and garlic on a gentle heat for around 5 minutes, until softened.

Add the barley, thyme , paprika, bay, lemon rind, chilli flakes, tomatoes, stock, passata and 1/2 tsp of fine sea salt. Stir to combine, bring to a boil then reduce to the gentlest simmer possible. Cook for around 45 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure it doesn’t catch on the pan. When the barley is ready it will be tender with a little ‘bite’ and most of the liquid will have been absorbed.

While the risotto is cooking, gently toast the caraway seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes until aromatic. Then, using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush them so that some whole seeds remain. Add them to the feta with the remaining olive oil, mix gently to combine thoroughly, and set aside.

When the risotto is ready, check the seasoning and divide it between four shallow bowls, topping each with the marinated feta (including the oil) and a sprinkling of fresh oregano leaves.

In this hot weather our thyme was in full flower so I picked some off and added small flower heads to each dish as well. They were also delicious and added even more flavour.

Sea Bass with Roasted Fennel and Tomato Agrodolce

I spotted this Italian sweet and sour dish in an old Jamie Oliver magazine a couple of weeks ago. It looked simple (it is), uses ingredients that I know work together, and looked like an interesting twist on tradition. If you know Italian food then you know, of course, that the sweet and sour agrodolce is indeed traditional. I looked it up and it is used in a similar way to a French gastrique, adding piquancy to a dish. 

That’s just one more thing that I love about cooking: there’s always something new to learn. More than that, every new thing I discover takes me off down other hitherto uncharted avenues.

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RECIPE serves 2

1 medium fennel bulb (around 200g after trimming), finely sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

150g very ripe cherry tomatoes

3 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped

6 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp runny honey

50g fresh pine nuts

2 sea bass fillets, pin-boned

2 tbsp raisins


METHOD

Heat your oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7.

Remove the tough core from the fennel, trim off and reserve any fronds and slice it very finely, using a mandolin if you have one.

In a roasting pan. toss the sliced fennel in the oil with a little seasoning. Spread in a single layer in the roasting pan and roast for ten minutes.

Mix the vinegar and honey together, remove the pan from the oven and drizzle the vinegar over the fennel. Add the tomatoes, garlic and pine nuts, toss everything together and return to the oven for a further ten minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven again and switch the grill to high.

Using a very sharp knife, score the skin of the fish 4 or 5 times each, rub a little oil over the skin and season it lightly with sea salt. Toss the raisins into the roasting pan, lay the fish on top – skin side up – and grill for four or five minutes until the fish is just cooked through.

Take the roasting pan to the table and serve from it, alongside some crusty bread and a simple rocket salad.

Pea, Courgette and Basil Soup

This is another brilliant way to use a glut of herbs and vegetables, this time making use of our courgette and basil mountains. We are not growing peas this year, but we are fortunate to have a greengrocer who stocks peas in their pods so I bought a massive bag full.

It’s very quick, simple and heavenly, testament to the magic of just-harvested ingredients.

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RECIPE serves 6

30g unsalted butter

1 medium onion, chopped

2 large courgettes (or 3 medium) diced

1 fat garlic clove, crushed

1 litre of hot chicken or vegetable stock

1kg of peas in the pod, or around 400g shelled peas

a few sprigs of fresh basil


METHOD

Melt the butter in a large pan over a low heat, add the onion with a good pinch of salt, cover and soften gently for around 15 minutes.

Add the diced courgette and garlic, stir well and cook for a couple of minutes more before adding the stock and most of the peas – save a handful to put in whole at the end – with the basil.

Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for around ten minutes until the courgette and peas are tender.

Blitz using a hand blender – or in batches in a worktop blender – until smooth, season, then add the remaining peas. Bring back to the boil then simmer gently for a few minutes until the whole peas are cooked but retain their crispness.

Serve in bowls with a light drizzle of olive oil, or a swirl of double cream, alongside some toasted ciabatta or rustic bread.

Low-Calorie Chilli con Carne

I seem to spend a lot of time searching for my ‘definitive’ take on classic dishes. Trying different variations and tweaking them until they are exactly how we want them to be. This is my current definitive take on Chilli can Carne, suitable for vegetarians and if you can find vegan quorn mince or similar it can also be made for vegans.

The key ingredients here are chipotle chillies to add smokiness, and raw cacao powder, which adds a hint of bitterness. I also like to use some liquid smoke to amp up the umami, it’s not vital but since I have it in my pantry why not use it? Browsing Amazon recently I spied a catering size can of chipotle chillies in adobo sauce, three or four of those in place of dried is delicious. I just froze the rest of the can in convenient sized bags.

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RECIPE serves 4  

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 red pepper, cut to small dice

1 green pepper, cut to small dice

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

4 fat garlic cloves, crushed

500g Quorn mince (the vegan variety if you can get it)

1 heaped tsp dried oregano

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp ground cumin

4 dried chipotle chillies, rehydrated (keep the liquid)

1 tsp liquid smoke (optional)

200ml red wine

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 vegan vegetable stock cube (or 1 tsp bouillon powder)

1 400g tin of kidney beans, with the water

1 tbsp raw cacao powder (or cocoa)

a small bunch of coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves to garnish

the zest and juice of a lime, to garnish


METHOD

In a large pan over a moderate heat, soften the onion, peppers and celery for between 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic for the last few minutes.

Add the Quorn mince, stir well then add the oregano, bay, cumin, chipotle chillies (chopped) and liquid smoke. Stir well so everything is well-coated, then add the red wine, turn up the heat and cook it off for a few minutes until there is almost no moisture left. Keep stirring it so it doesn’t catch on the pan.

Add the tomatoes, kidney beans (with the water from the can, there’s flavour there), the chipotle water and the stock cube or bouillon. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, so the sauce is really thick.

Add the cacao powder and chopped coriander stalks right at the end, stir thoroughly so they are fully incorporated.

If you can make it a few hours before serving, so much the better. The flavours will deepen and mellow, and if you can make it the day before it will be even better.

To serve, garnish with the juice and finely grated zest of a lime and coriander leaves.

Serve with lime wedges if you like, alongside steamed rice (brown basmati is amazing), guacamole and a bright and zingy salsa for a real treat.

Chickpea Mushroom Burgers with Turmeric Aioli

The best thing about sharing recipes on a blog is that people share theirs with you as well. These delicious vegan burgers were devised by Ella Woodward but came recommended by my friend Bridget, who raved about them. She was right, they are absolutely gorgeous, as well as being quick and easy to make.

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RECIPE serves 4  

For the Burgers:

2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

4 fat spring onions, white and green parts separated and finely chopped

150g of mushrooms, finely chopped

1 large carrot, grated

1 heaped teaspoon of cumin

1 teaspoon of hot chilli powder

salt and pepper

2 400g tins of chickpeas

2 tablespoons of gram flour

a small bunch of coriander, finely chopped

olive oil

For the aioli:

100g of cashews (soaked for at least 4 hours)

1 lemon, juiced

1 small clove of garlic, chopped

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon of ground turmeric

4 tablespoons of water


METHOD

Gently fry the chopped garlic and the white half of the spring onions in olive oil over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until they are cooked through and just beginning to brown.

While those cook, finely chop the mushrooms then add them to the pan along with the cumin and chilli powder, with a pinch of salt and a grinding of black pepper and cook for another 3 minutes.

Grate the carrot, finely chop the green ends of the spring onions and add both into the pan, then cook for another 2 minutes.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and finely chop the coriander then add both to the pan along with the gram flour. Mash the mixture with a potato masher until all the chickpeas are crushed then scoop up handfuls of the mix and mould into eight patties. Place these in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

While these cool, drain the cashews and add all the aioli ingredients to a high speed blender and blend until totally smooth.

Heat a little olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and cook the burgers for about 4 minutes on each side, until they turn golden brown. Alternatively, heat your oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6, brush a little olive oil on each side of the patties and cook for 15 minutes, turning them over half way through.

Serve alongside the turmeric aioli, with a salad and pitta bread.

Mushroom and Lentil Pappardelle Bolognese

This is a wonderfully rich, low-calorie vegan version of Bolognese, so good that even the hardened meat-eaters in my family love it. The key is to use puy lentils (the dark speckled green type) which hold their shape and bite when cooked, and building flavour through the use of minced mushrooms, a good quality vegetable stock and a rich tomato sauce.

It does take a little time to put together, but most of that time it is bubbling away doing its own thing and it is very simple to make. This is an adaptation of a Jamie Oliver recipe, so you know it’s going to be good…

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RECIPE serves 4 

For the tomato sauce:

2 tbsp olive oil

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp dried oregano

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

For the Bolognese:

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 stick of celery, roughly chopped

2 fresh bay leaves

a small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked

4 large portobello mushrooms

100 g dried Puy lentils

400 ml dark vegetable stock

350 g dried pappadelle

To garnish:

freshly picked basil leaves

vegan Parmesan cheese


METHOD

First, make the tomato sauce:

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat and add the garlic, cook gently for a minute until aromatic, then add the chilli flakes and oregano. Cook for a further minute, allowing the flavours to infuse the oil, then add the tomatoes and fish sauce. Mix thoroughly, bring to the boil, then simmer gently for an hour to allow the sauce to reduce, thicken and intensify.

After an hour, add the red wine vinegar and cook for a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and prepare the carrot, onion and garlic, trim the celery and roughly chop it all. Pulse it all in a food processor, until finely chopped.

Heat a good splash of oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the chopped veg mixture and bay leaves, pick in the thyme leaves and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes or until soft.

Blitz the mushrooms in the food processor until finely chopped. Add to the pan and cook for 3 minutes, until softened.

Stir in the lentils, tomato sauce and vegetable stock, bring to the boil and simmer uncovered on a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Check and adjust the seasoning right at the end.

When the lentils are almost done, cook the pappardelle according to the packet instructions, until al dente.

Drain the pasta and stir it through the Bolognese sauce. Pick the basil leaves and sprinkle over the Bolognese with shavings of vegan Parmesan to serve. The Parmesan is used as a seasoning here, so feel free to omit it if you cannot find the vegan version.

Serve alongside a bowl of rocket, splashed with a little freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Potato Pastry

This idea is pure genius.

I saw it in a Hairy Bikers’ diet book, but a quick internet search told me that it’s not a new idea at all. I must have been walking around with my eyes shut…

It is simply a development of potato gnocchi, kneading some flour into dry mashed potato to make a dough. It is amazing though, I made a chicken pie last week and didn’t tell anybody that the dough wasn’t regular shortcrust – nobody knew. The edges catch and crisp just like shortcrust, and the ‘mouth feel’ is almost exactly the same, it’s just lower in calories. You can use it pretty much anywhere you would normally use a savoury shortcrust pastry.

The only thing it has against it is that it doesn’t reheat very well, it tends to go soggy, so if you make a pie with it be sure to eat the whole thing! The recipe quantity below easily makes enough to cover a standard pie-dish.

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RECIPE

275g floury potatoes (e.g. Maris Piper, Roosters)

40g fridge-cold butter, diced

80g plain flour

1 or 2 tbsp semi-skimmed milk

a pinch of salt


METHOD

Peel and cut the potatoes into large pieces, so they don’t absorb too much water, then put into cold water and bring to the boil. Just as the water comes to the boil, turn the heat right down and let the potatoes slowly poach. This will ensure that they cook through and is another way to ensure they don’t absorb water. When tender, drain the potatoes and space them out on a wire rack to dry thoroughly.

When completely dry, mash them without adding any butter or moisture.

Put the diced butter and flour in a food processor and pulse until it forms crumbs. Add the flour and butter to the mash with a tablespoon of the milk and a pinch of salt and gently bring it all together into a dough, if it is a little dry and not holding together then add a little more milk – a tiny bit at a time. Handle it as lightly as possible, and when it holds together, shape it into a ball, wrap it in cling film and chill it for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out, as you would for shortcrust pastry.

When rolling, be sure to turn it around on a floured surface regularly to ensure that it doesn’t stick. Don’t try to roll it too thinly, it needs to be slightly thicker than normal pastry in order to hold together when you pick it up to drape over your pie.

Glaze with a beaten egg and cook it as usual. You can use this in any situation that normally requires shortcrust – it makes a great pie lid, can be used to make pasties and hand-pies, even sausage rolls.