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15-minute supper that zings

8 Nov
cauliflower cheese

Traditional cauliflower cheese, but slow, and lacking that extra zing

A favourite British supper dish from my childhood is cauliflower cheese – a brilliant wheeze by parents keen to get their kids to eat vegetables, but also just plain delicious. But the British recipe involves making a heavy cheese sauce based on white sauce (the French call it sauce anglaise) made with flour, butter and milk with some grated cheese melted into it.

Nah. I realised that you can make a scrumptious cheese sauce without any of that faffing… AND you can pin a label on it that says gluten-free and low-carb. And it only takes 15 minutes from getting the idea.

Last night I was hungry, but not in the mood to spend ages in the kitchen. Nor in the mood for cheese cold from the fridge eaten with an apple (often my can’t-be-bothered-to-cook solution).

CauliI had a cauliflower, I had cheese, I had spices and other interesting ingredients. I had 15 minutes. Hey! A lightbulb pinged on in my head. Cauliflower…cheese…quick…

Half the cauliflower chopped into bite-sized florets,pan on with salted water coming to the boil…

cheeses

Cheesey spicy tangy things pulled from the fridge and off the spice shelf…

Cheeses chopped, spring onions chopped, bit of bacon chopped. Dash of cayenne, good pinch of parsley… screw of black pepper… spoonful of sour cream ready…

Fling everything into a non-stick pan, simmer while you drain the just-cooked cauli…

Cauli in bowl, sauce given final stir and poured over cauli with a good screw of fresh black pepper…

EAT!

What and how

Feeds two hungry people for supper. 

1 cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized florets

3 spring onions, chopped

200g (total) of various cheeses eg feta, cheddar, brie, edam etc

Dash of cayenne (according to your preferences)

1 tbsp dried parsley or a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 tbsp sour cream

[Optional for carnivores: 50g bacon]

cauliflowerBoil the cauliflower in salted water for 3 to 4 minutes, until the leaves are bright green and the florets just tender. Drain and keep warm.

While the cauli is cooking, chop your cheeses (last night I opted for feta and cheddar), put into a pan (NB you don’t need oil as there’s enough oil in the cheese as it melts) with the spring onions, cayenne, bacon (if you’re not veggie) and sour cream. Be careful with adding salt – the cheese (and bacon) are usually salty enough, but season to your taste.

cheese sauceBring to the boil gently and simmer until the cheese melts and everything is bubbling. Two or three minutes, maximum five if you’re using really hard cheese. While it’s bubbling, it will be time to drain the cauli.

Serve in bowls – just pour the cheese sauce over the cauli, give it all a good grind of black pepper, and serve with crusty bread, if you like.

Eat immediately! Scrummy yummy…

 

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Free-form lunchtime delights

19 Aug

A friend commented on the food I’d produced for a sunny summer lunch a couple of weeks ago, that her mother would never have eaten the salad, as it contained raw peas and weeds. My friends, however, were more daring, and ate the lot with gusto.

salad, wildflowers, Carpathian Mountains, free food, foraging, nutrition

Weedy salad, full of vitamins, minerals and Carpathian sunshine

Salads are free-form food. Brought up in boring British kitchens of the 1960s and 1970s, where ‘salad’ was limp lettuce, soggy tomato slices, bits of cucumber and (in liberal circles) some grated carrot, I gradually realised that a salad could incorporate almost anything edible, from leaves to nuts, fish to fruit, spices, herbs and flowers. I went through a knickerbocker-glory phase of salad making, with layer upon layer of exciting ingredients in a huge bowl, delighting in the planning of it. But these concoctions took forever to produce, so these days I’ve scaled back a bit.

However, I now live amongst organic wildflower meadows, 1,000 metres up in the mountains, and my lawn is full of free and delicious greenery which gives me more nutrition than any shop-bought veg (including curly kale). What many call ‘weeds’, I call lunch. These are plants common to British gardens, so frustrated gardeners fed up of the unwanted leafy squatters in the veg patch: embrace them. Eat them. Ribwort and broad-leaved plantain, Fat Hen, wild carrot, Good King Henry, dandelion, chicory, caraway, chickweed, purslane, ox-eye daisy, smooth sow thistle, nettles, and the bane of gardeners, ground elder: all add texture and flavour to mild lettuce leaves or wilted spinach. Raw or steamed for 30 seconds, these are tasty, healthy and free-of-charge additions to your menu.

Back to salads. We know now that the more colourful the food we eat, the greater the health gains. Fruit, salads and veg come in the full spectrum of hues, and every colour brings different benefits. Raw is almost always healthier than cooked, so salads are the optimum eats.

So be bold. Experiment with different combinations. These bowls contain little heaps of: red cabbage (vivid purple when grated), tomatoes, crushed peanuts, peas (raw) from my garden, toasted sesame seeds, wild leaves (see list above), and spring onions. Topped with a wild carrot flower, and dressed with olive oil and a choice of lime juice or balsamic vinegar, they are filling, satisfying, pretty and delicious. Cheap, too, and easy – nothing clever required. Have a go.

Spicy greens stir-fry

8 Mar
brassicas, broccoli, cabbage, spicy, spices, sesame, vegan, vegetarian, cheap easy delicious, vegetables

Intriguing, zingy, fresh, crunchy and full of character

Here’s a zingy vegan recipe that – if you’re dubious about brassicas – will transform your feelings about cabbage and broccoli. If you’re already a fan, this is another way with the greens.

Lots of people hate the idea of broccoli and cabbage, probably because as children they were fed them cooked to the point of disintegration.

Such a shame – not only are they incredibly good for you, full of nutrients and health-promoting goodies, but when properly cooked are delicious, fresh, crunchy, lively veg; and in this form, all the supper you can eat.

For four people (or three greedy ones) as a supper dish. As ever, this is how I did it, but you can improvise as you please:

What:

Two good broccoli stems (heads 6-8cm across)

Quarter of a cabbage (I used winter green cabbage, but choose your favourite leafy green)

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 tbsps of fresh ginger, finely chopped

2 tbsps sesame seeds

2 tbsps flaked almonds

1 tsp cayenne pepper or chilli flakes

1 tsp of Thai 7-spice powder

A good pinch of mixed herbs

Salt to taste

How:

Chuck everything except the green veg into a wok or a big saucepan, with a slug of oil (by preference, toasted sesame oil, but whatever you like to cook with).

Stir it thoroughly and let it all sizzle gently until the sesame and almonds are starting to colour, and the spicy aroma is getting heady (about 10 mins).

While that’s doing, chopped the broccoli into bite-sized bits, and the cabbage into fine slivers. Dump them into the wok and stir everything together for two minutes to coat the veg in spices, then turn up the heat and fry, turning and stirring continuously to avoid burning. It’ll take about 10 minutes to cook the veg till they’re bright green and al dente – still with a bit of crunch and character.

Serve with rice or noodles and eat immediately, while good and hot.

You can turn it into a meaty treat just by adding some chicken, pork or fine-cut beef, but I think it’s utterly scrummptious as it is.

California shrimping

31 Jan
shrimp, California, lime, garlic, chilli, cheap easy delicious, cheapeasydelicious

fresh, succulent Pacific shrimp

Six weeks in San Diego, Malibu and Los Angeles, and I’ve made a mission of shrimp.

Living up in the mountains of Central Europe, shrimp is hard to come by, except as ice-coated lumps with next to no flavour. So almost as soon as I landed at Lindberg Field, there was a beeline made to the nearest cantina.  Rocky’s, at Oceanside harbour, delivered a plate of shrimps in a lime, chilli and garlic sauce that – as a combination of four of my favourite flavors – was simple, perfect heaven.

I had shrimp with avocado, shrimp tacos, Chinese chilli shrimp and all manner of pink crustacean delights. But nothing came close to that first, exquisite, succulent mouthful of spicy, zingy, fresh, aromatic shrimp at Rocky’s. Thanks, guys.

Tocana – a Transylvanian autumn treat

20 Oct
Gogosar is the Romanian word for rounded peppers, compared to the long, pointed ones known as ardei

Gogosar, the sweet capsicum you find in their natural shape and colours in Transylvanian markets

This is a fabulous foodie treat that hasn’t yet escaped its home cuisine in Transylvania (Romania). Tocana is a relish of the last summer vegetables, for sale in the market for buttons in October as the autumn takes hold and winter beckons. [Zacusca is a close relative, made by roasting the vegetables rather than cooking in oil like a confit.]

Housewives buy 20 kilo sacks of peppers and aubergines to cook and put in jars for a reminder of summer in the depths of a harsh winter, with smaller sacks of onions and carrots grown in the smallholdings of rural Transylvania.

Sweet with a hint of smoky bitterness, full of flavour and colour, the autumn peppers (ardei and gogosar) from the south of Romania and imported from Turkey are a far cry from the pretty but tasteless peppers you find in British supermarkets, grown in Dutch polytunnels without benefit of mineral-rich soils and southern summers. These aren’t perfectly shaped, uniformly coloured things, but organic vine fruit folded and twisted and coloured by the sun, grown without the synthetic encouragement of agrotechnology; the difference in taste is so marked that they might be different species altogether.

Tocana, the Transylvanian foodie secret that is one of the treats of the year

Tocana, organic, simple, naturally colourful and bursting with late summer flavour

So – tocana. A simple recipe, but cleaning and chopping takes time, so it’s best done as a family, or with a group of friends; if you’re on your own put some music on and surrender yourself to an annual ritual of aroma and maturing textures. Then you have the delicious reward of warm tocana for supper, and the looking forward to helping yourself to a jar of tocana from time to time through the long, frozen winter.

This is a dish of such rich summery colour and flavour that I’m amazed it hasn’t been swiped by savvy chefs in Britain, or exported by canny Transylvanians. An opportunity for you to make a coup, and worth every minute of preparation.

Ingredients

5kg red peppers

1kg carrots

1kg onions

800g tin of tomato paste

1 litre oil (sunflower or another mild-flavoured oil)

seasoning to taste

NB You’ll need a big pan for this amount, and several large jamjars. If you live in a northern climate, peppers might be prohibitively expensive in these quantities, but the 5:1:1:1 ratio of ingredients is easy to scale down for an occasional dish.

How to do it

Clean and deseed the peppers, skin the onions and peel the carrots. Chop the veg to a fine dice in a food processor (stop short of a paste) and put in a large pan (a jam pan is ideal) with the tomato paste, oil, salt, black pepper and/or cayenne, and if you like, a little sweet paprika. (Better to add a little seasoning and add a little more if needed, rather than overdoing it all at once.)

Cook over a high heat until the mixture is bubbling. The veg release plenty of water, so once boiling, turn the heat down and leave to cook (stirring often to stop burning) for a good couple of hours, until the water has evaporated, and the mixture is a thick, rich, glossy red conserve. Adjust the seasoning if you need to, then let it cool to blood temperature.

While still warm, put into sterilised jars and seal thoroughly. It should last for weeks, if not several months, in a dark place. Eat with a spoon straight from the jar, or if you want to be a bit more civilised, serve with toast or oatcakes. You can use it as a sauce for pasta, or as a relish with cold meat or cheese.

Green tomatoes given a spicy kick

22 Sep

It’s green tomato season – here’s something other than chutney that you can do with them. Sounds delish!

25 Aug

(from Arabella) Another scrumptious way of cooking sprouts. I love them in all variations, raw and cooked, but some people are sproutphobic, usually because they were forced to eat overcooked soggy sulphurous sprouts at school. And for British Christmas lunch eaters, sprouts can be an annual nightmare. But no more! Try this for starters. Maybe not as a starter, but as a first pro-sprout recipe.