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Gourmet tastes for next to nothing

18 Sep

If you ever wondered how to make a filling, hearty, scrumptious and attractive meal from a few roots and a bit of cabbage…. to satisfy even the most carnivorous of people, read on.

I had lot of root veg in the house, so for supper tonight I chopped sweet potato and half a butternut squash into chunks, turned them in oil and mixed herbs with a heavy pinch of chilli flakes, and bunged them in the oven on top heat. So far, so good.

Then it was the spuds – peeled, chopped and boiling, they toiled away while I peeled garlic and got Rich to pick parsley and chop it very finely. Jules was shredding red and white cabbage, meanwhile, and I was eyeing up the spice shelf.

When the spuds were soft, I drained them, pressed four garlic cloves into the steaming pan, added a sizable chunk of butter and a slosh of milk and mashed their socks off before dropping in the parsley for a final stir.

The cabbage was boiling hard for three minutes while the parsley was making the mash look pretty; then the cabbage was well drained and put back on a gentle heat. Three heaped tablespoons of sour cream, half a teaspoon of nutmeg and a generous shaking of paprika, lots of black pepper, and a thorough stir to coat and colour the white and purple shreds… and it was all ready.

The variety of flavours – sweet roots with an aromatic herby savour and the bright warmth of chilli; earthy mash with tangy garlic and parsley freshness, and the wonderfully complex spicy, creamy cabbage… contrasts that complemented perfectly, and won compliments. The colours and textures, too – I’ll definitely be doing this combo again – an off-the-cuff experiment that worked perfectly. It would be great for autumn and winter, and wonderfully cheap. Spuds, roots and cabbage, with a bit of spice and cream to add the luxury. Can’t be beaten.

Cheap? Yes, for sure.

Easy? Yes – nothing complicated, just some chopping and seasoning to think about.

Delicious? Oh…. yes… mmmmm.

cheap easy delicious

Sweet roots, garlic mash, spiced creamy cabbage

Summer greens – make me feel fine

19 Jul

Seven kinds of greens, all picked from my veg patch, boiled for a minute and added to pasta with three cloves of garlic gently sizzled in oil, a spoonful of sour cream and lots of black pepper. Greens: purple mange tout, sugar snaps, ruby and golden chard, spinach, redshank and Fat Hen (the last two are wild veg, aka weeds, crammed with far more vitamins and minerals than any cultivated veg. Simple, cheap (some free), very easy, utterly delicious.

Wild, organic greens

Seven kinds of wild and home-grown organic veg, with pasta, garlic, sour cream and black pepper.

Mediterranean veg with seedy mamaliga (polenta)

2 Oct

When I get a visitor with food needs I haven’t met before, it’s a challenge I love. This week’s visitor eats meat, but has allergies to dairy and gluten. No dairy, no problem, but no gluten (wheat, oats, rye, barley) is a restriction I haven’t catered for yet.

Mamaliga, polenta, aubergine, red pepper, garlic, seeds

Colourful and flavoursome

Last night I made this and served it with late-summer Romanian yellow beans (and I had feta cheese crumbled on top).  There are endless variations you can try, including a bit of chicken or tuna grilled or pan-fried, any green veg such as Savoy cabbage, broccoli or chard; you can try different herbs with the polenta, different cheeses, either crumbled or melted on top… The choice is yours. But here’s what I concocted last night. [This long list of ingredients and instructions might look as if this post doesn’t qualify as “easy”, but I’d say it does – the recipe is flexible and forgiving, so unless you leave the polenta cooking while you have a bath, or don’t cook the Med Veg for long enough, it’s hard to go wrong. It’s not fiddly or over-precise, so it’s a good one for less experienced cooks.]

Seeded mamaliga

Mamaliga is the Romanian word for polenta, and is a staple food here. I find it – as normally served – like wallpaper paste, tasteless and gluey. but with a little extra something, then sliced and grilled, it becomes something altogether different.

Ingredients

300g maize meal or instant polenta

Boiling water

Big handful of fresh parsley (or 2 tablespoons of dried), chopped finely

Handful of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds

Toast the seeds till pale brown and set aside

Boil a kettleful of water and pour half into a large pan on full heat – when boiling, add the dry polenta/maize meal and stir vigorously (use a whisk to get rid of the lumps) for 15 mins or so (follow cooking instructions on packet), topping up with water as polenta thickens. Add the toasted seeds and the parsley, and a salt to taste – check seasoning several times. You want the polenta thick, but still pourable. When it gets to that point, pour it into a shallow dish and let it cool while you cook the veg.

Meanwhile…

Mediterranean veg

I call this Arthritis Relish because it consists of all the veg that do no good for arthritic hands – but they’re all so delicious I put up with a couple of days of discomfort.

Ingredients

1 aubergine (eggplant) –  cubed into 1” pieces, skin on.

2 red peppers (bell peppers) – chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 medium onion

2 or 3 fat cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed

2 large tomatoes, chopped

1 chilli pepper, chopped – with out without seeds, depending on how hot you want it

Herbs of choice – basil, thyme, marjoram or a Provencal mix

A teaspoon of a spice mix like Baharat or Ras al Hanout

Salt & pepper

How to do it

Put all the ingredients in a big pot with plenty of oil (extra virgin olive, for preference) and frazzle slowly for at least 45 mins, so the aubergine has softened thoroughly and tastes sweet and rich. Check flavours and adjust seasoning if needed.

When cooked down to a jammy chunkiness, take off the heat and keep the lid on the pan.

By now the polenta wshould have cooled and set so that you can slice it; cut a slice for each person and put them under the grill or in the microwave for a few minutes to heat through. (If you’re all cheese-eaters, a bit of grated cheese of choice goes well on top of the polenta slices.)

On each plate: a slice of polenta, a scoop of Mediterranean veg, something green and leafy, and perhaps some crumbled feta cheese or grated Pecorino, and a good twist of black pepper.

NB There should be polenta left over (it’s very filling) – a grilled slice works very well as breakfast, topped with scrambled, poached or fried eggs, mushrooms or grilled tomatoes. And/or bacon, if you’re so inclined.

 

Stirring things up with spice, girls

14 Mar
Vegan, vegetable, spicy, spices, colour, flavour, cheap easy delicious

A colourful plate of goodness

Another colourful plateful, inspired by my veggie guests Katie and Suzie. Tonight it was a spicy stir fry that was really flavoursome and satisfying, full of scrumptious spices and textures, crunchy greens and melting noodles, nuts and seeds for protein and plenty of fibre.

Health in a plate, but more delicious than such a virtuous dish deserves to be. This recipe should serve six.

What

1 pack of wok noodles

2 medium aubergines (eggplants)

1 large red (bell) pepper

1 head of broccoli

1 large onion

4 cloves of garlic

1 large carrot

1 thick slice of green cabbage, finely chopped

2 tbsps sesame seeds

2 tbsps flaked almonds

1 small bowl of red-skin peanuts, soaked for an hour

big pinch of mixed herbs

soy sauce

dollop of your favourite Asian spices (Thai 7 spice, mild curry powder and a good shake of cayenne for me)

How

Chop the aubergine and roast in oil for 30 mins on high heat.

Chop all veg except the broccoli and cabbage, and sizzle in wok over low heat with spices, herbs and seasoning, and the nuts and seeds.

When veg is soft, glossy and aromatic, turn the roasted aubergine into the wok and let it absorb the spices. Add the broccoli and cabbage and sizzle of high heat, adding the noodles (prepared as per packet instructions) for the last five minutes.

Serve and eat immediately.

 

 

Mushrooms to kill for

12 Mar

Wow. Some dishes are just knock-out. Our supper tonight was one of those. Knock-out delicious, and knock-out for any passing vampires – the garlic content must be driving every vampire out of Romania, and every flu bug out of existence. Vegetarians, say huzzah – this is a dish worthy of a celebration.

Mushrooms, cauliflower, garlic, vampires, healthy food, veggie gourmet, vegan option, breadcrumbs, super supper, Transylania food

Mushroom crumble with a cheese lattice, served with cauliflower in white sauce

I had a box of field mushrooms (half a kilo @ 12 lei per kilo) demanding to be eaten, and a fat bulb of garlic sitting by a tub of sour cream. What was I to do? Could I neglect a whining mushroom any longer? Was the garlic to be denied? Not to mention a bag of crumbs made this morning from a belly of crusty brown bread and four lebanese flatbreads whose hey-day was past.

I wasn’t sure what would result, although I was confident of the ingredients – just wondered how it would all emerge from the burning fiery furnace of my oven.

By the way, I’ve swallowed half a litre of  organic pear cider (we used to call it perry), hence the purple prose. I shan’t apologise, but shall get on with the recipe.

This serves between 4 and 6 people, depending on their level of hunger. I served the mushrooms with barely-boiled cauliflower in a white sauce made with the stalks of the mushrooms.

What

500g large (field or Portobello) mushrooms

4 or 5 big cloves of garlic

1 heaped teaspoon of sour cream per mushroom

lots of breadcrumbs

fresh black pepper, mixed herbs, salt

50-100g grated cheese, for topping

How

Pull the stalks out of the mushrooms. Give the mushrooms a wipe and put them gills up in an oiled gratin dish, and wedge the stalks in amongst them. Two or three mushrooms per person is more than enough (depending on the size of fungi and appetites).

Crush or chop the garlic and put a bit in each mushroom; add the herbs and seasoning, then the dollop of sour cream.

Scatter the breadcrumbs liberally over the mushrooms till they’re well covered, then grate the cheese over the top.

Hurl it into a medium-hot oven for 30-40 minutes until the cheese melts into a lattice and the breadcrumbs are dark gold.

Serve with caufliflower in white sauce. (I chopped the four remaining mushroom stalks into the white sauce.)

This is a seriously good supper dish, and if presented with more care than I bothered with this evening, it would make a stunning meal for the most exacting of veggie gourmets. With the cauli, it is a triumph.

Vegans – substitute hummus or nut butter for the sour cream.

Cheap – yes. Easy – certainly. Delicious – unutterably.

 

 

Ratatouille and barley

11 Mar
ratatouille, sour cream, vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean recipe, colourful food, barley

Suzie’s first taste of ratatouille

An extravagant dish for winter, when all the ingredients come in from Turkey, but there are days wen you just can’t resist the lure of summer, still four months away. In summer, all these delicious Mediterranean veg are very cheap here in Romania.

What:

2 large aubergines (eggplants)

3 courgettes (zucchini)

1 enormous red (bell) pepper (or several small ones)

1 large onion

4 big cloves of garlic

4 tbps tomato paste

basil leaves

cayenne pepper, salt & black pepper

big pinch of mixed dried herbs (or handful of fresh ones)

How:

Chop the aubergines, turn them in oil and mixed herbs and roast on high heat for half an hour.

Chop onion, garlic and red pepper and sizzle gently in oil (separate pan) until soft and smelling delicious. Mix in the tomato paste (I’d use fresh tomatoes in summer) and a bit of water to make a sauce.

Chop the courgette into inch-square chunks and add to the tomato pan, with some basil leaves. Mix everything together and turn the heat down to the minimum (or turn it off) until the aubergine is done (browned or slightly charred, soft and aromatic).

Tip the aubergines into the main pan, mix, season to taste, and simmer slowly for another 20 minutes.

Serve with boiled barley (preferably whole grain, not pearl barley), or brown rice.

Vegan at this point, but a dollop of soured cream on top will render it veggie.

(Carnivores can eat this with a bit of grilled pork or chicken, or lamb cutlets.)

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.