Friday, 11 March 2011

Two spiced brassica recipes: Cauliflower Dhal & South Indian Cabbage

The hungry gap is the name gardeners give to this time of year, when the winter crops are over but before the spring vegetables appear. Mainly we're left with brassicas. But what to do with cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli week after week? I find they take to spice well (as do I) and so last night we had a double whammy - Cauliflower Dhal & South Indian Cabbage.

I know, I know, curry made at home is never the same as a curry house, but these really are good recipes, honestly - Madhur knows best. What, are you going to have cauliflower cheese AGAIN? Go on, give these a whirl. I think you'll be surprised.

Cauliflower Dhal (serves 4)
Adapted from Leith's Vegetarian Bible, with many amends (New Testament, perhaps)

225g green lentils (we only had Puy lentils, they were fine)
1 large onion, sliced
5cm piece of fresh root ginger, bruised (no fresh, so I used a teaspoon of ground ginger)
1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced (oops, I read the recipe wrong and used two, but they were mild ones)
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 small cauliflower, cut into florets
110g creamed coconut
290ml boiling water
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the lentils into a saucepan with the onion, ginger and chilli. Cover with water and simmer for about 30 minutes until tender (the puy lentils I used took longer - perhaps more like 45 minutes. Just keep testing them).
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan, add the mustard and cumin seeds and fry until they begin to pop. Add the garlic and cook over a low heat until soft, then stir in the turmeric. Add the cauliflower florets and stir until coated in the spice mixture.
3. Dissolve the creamed coconut in the boiling water and pour over the cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until the cauliflower is tender.
4. When the lentils are cooked, remove the ginger and drain away any remaining liquid. Toss together with the cauliflower and serve hot.

South Indian Cabbage (serves 4)
Recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian

4 tbsp vegetable oil
A generous pinch of ground asafetida
1 tsp brown mustard seeds (or black ones... Who has more than one type of mustard seeds in the cupboard? Not me.)
1 tsp urad or chana dal, or yellow split peas (I used mung)
5-6 fenugreek seeds
2-3 dried red chillies
10 fresh curry leaves or fresh basil (I used about 5 dried curry leaves)
340g green cabbage/spring greens, cored and shredded
1-11/4 tsp salt

1. Put the oil into a large wok or frying pan and set over medium-high head. When hot, put in the asafetida. A second later, put in the mustard seeds and dal. As soon as the mustard seeds start to pop - a matter of seconds - put in the fenugreek seeds and whole red chillies. (To make life easier, I set out a series of little bowls, Blue Peter style, containing mustard seeds/dal, and another with the fenugreek and chillies. This way you can act immediately, as Madhur says, without leaving anything to chance.)
2. Allow the dal to get red and for the chillies to turn dark, then put in, first, the curry leaves, and then the cabbage. Give it a few quick stirs. Add the salt. Stir, and cook for one minute.
3. Now cover, turn the heat to low and cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the cabbage has wilted completely (you might need to add a sprinkling of water). Uncover and taste for salt. Stir and cook for another 1-2 minutes, then serve.

Obviously you will want rice with this. I am renowned for getting rice wrong – too much, not enough, too mushy, stuck together, blah blah – but I tried cooking it in the microwave and it was a triumph. I am also a fan of Indian breads, and would always welcome a naan or chapati to the table, along with a chutney selection. Mango and Brinjal both went well with this, as did a dollop of natural yogurt.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

How do I love tea? Let me count the ways...


Since my post about coffee, I've felt a little, well, like I have been unfaithful to the good leaf. Tea is my true love when it comes to hot drinks, with coffee only coming into play for it's energising qualities. Today the baby slept until 6.09am which is unheard of, and means no need for java. So here is a little love letter to my poison.
Tea is the way I like to start my day, and it punctuates the hours as they go by. It is the default I always return to whenever I'm not quite sure what to do with myself - it restores my factory settings. A quote about the restorative qualities of tea adorns our official Malago WI apron: There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea - Bernard-Paul Heroux
Amen to that.

A while back, I got tired of making tea in a cup rather than a pot. A pot is fine if you have company, and I do love my Ikea pot and it's woolly, bobble-hat tea cosy, but it's too large for a single cup. What I needed was a dinky pot which would hold just enough for one. A bit like those lovely ones the Tate cafes use. Well, wouldn't you know it? Tate shops sell them - hoorah. They are pricey at £25, but if you use it at least once every day the cost-per-use is so tiny it's irrelevant.

While we're on the subject of the great Tate, I have to admit to being a bit of a groupie despite living hundreds of miles from my nearest. The galleries and exhibitions are, of course, incredible - you don't need me to tell you that - but I am also obsessed with the cafes, and the shops too. Brilliant stuff for kids, and beautiful things for everyone else. Such a good place to buy presents. Oh, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter and you'll feel like they're a part of your daily life. My favourite is Tate St Ives, and they do a brilliant job of writing the loveliest Facebook updates that transport me to Porthmeor Beach with the sun on my face and the salty breeze in my hair. Sitting on top of the Tate teapot is my beloved Tate St Ives mug, which I cannot seem to find hide nor hair of online, strangely. And while we're on the subject of museums, my other favourite mug sits top left, and is from the Guggenheim in New York.

Mug is empty. Baby needs waking. Tea break over.


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Recipe: American style pancakes

Image: Toa Heftiba/Unsplash

My son has a book illustrated by Eric Carle called Pancakes, Pancakes! The protagonist is a small boy who wakes up one morning demanding pancakes for breakfast (this is why my son loves it - he does the same). Mrs Pancake is wise to Master Pancake's demands, though, and tells him he must go to the farmer, borrow a flail and thresh his own flour from the wheat fields, then take the wheat to the miller to make flour. Our hero then has to milk a cow and churn his own butter. His final quest is to encourage a friendly hen to lay him an egg. When he has all these ingredients, she will then make him his long-awaited and much-wanted pancakes (surely too late for breakfast? And what mother would send her child off to work on an empty stomach? And, frankly, what child would still be interested - or even remember what he was doing in the first place?? Eric has no answers).

Plot inconsistencies aside, I find myself wondering how amazing those pancakes would taste with the freshest ingredients you could possibly use rather than the ordinary, shop-bought ones we have to make do with. One day, I really hope I can send my boys off down our real-life garden path to fetch a fresh egg or two, but in the meantime there's always Aldi (99p for six free-range eggs, cheapest I have found).

So yesterday was Pancake Day. Writing this post feels rather stabledoorhorsebolted, but a pancake is for life not just for Shrove Tuesday. We love pancakes. Weekend breakfasts often consist of American-style pancakes with berries and maple syrup, and I wouldn't be averse to a pancake-based meal for lunch as well. And probably in the evening too, if I'm totally honest. It would be quite possible to eat nothing but pancakes in their various forms for every meal, and so, with this in mind, here begins a season of pancake recipes (uber-fresh ingredients not obligatory).

American Pancakes
250g plain flour (2 cups)
2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp sugar (although this could be left out - see below)
250ml milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
50g unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp cinnamon (optional, depending on toppings)

1. I simply stick it all into the blender but if you don't have one sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Mix the milk, eggs and melted butter in a large jug, add the flour and mix quickly. Don't worry about lumps.
2. Heat a frying pan until medium hot and grease lightly with extra butter, pour in batter in batches to make rounds. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until bubbles form on top and the underside is golden. Flip each one over and cook for 1 minute. Keep them warm in the oven while you finish the batch, or nibble on them as you're going if you find them as irresistible as I do.

Note: For little babies, I have experimented with using mashed banana instead of the sugar, and one banana added to this quantity of batter adds a little more sweetness but does affect the consistency - you get a slightly heavier, more textured pancake. But still totally delicious, and the American pancakes are easy for fat little fists to grip (you can adjust the size accordingly or cut them into chip-sized pieces). Another nice banana thing to do is to slice bananas thinly and add to the side that's uppermost while the first side is cooking. Push them down into the wet batter so that it comes up around them to avoid them burning when you flip them.

My Master Pancake had his with syrup; we had ours with stewed apple and honey (not for babies under one - the honey, that is). Superquick stewed apples: Bramley apples sliced thinly, with a slug of apple juice, in a bowl with a lid, into the microwave on full power for 3 and a half minutes.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Recipe: Moroccan chickpea and squash stew

This is a fantastic recipe for a warming, chickpea stew that sets itself apart from most veg stews by virtue of an authentically multi-layered spice blend. You can leave out the hot spices and seasoning if you are going to feed this to babies and children, and add them afterwards in the form of salt and pepper at the table, a deeply seasoned couscous, and/or harissa (mmm, harissa, how I love you so). The gentler spices are not off-putting to nippers, perhaps because the other ingredients are fairly sweet and we all know that in the battle to get kids to eat, sweet is our friend (shh, don't tell Jamie Oliver).

Moroccan chickpea and squash stew
(adapted from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe)

1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground paprika
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (leave this out if cooking for small people)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into fine half-rings
1 tin plum tomatoes
1 tin chickpeas, drained
310g peeled, seeded butternut squash (or other squash, pumpkin etc), cut into 1cm dice (or larger if you like a stew with firmer veg and a slightly thinner sauce)
2 tbsp raisins
4 dried apricots, cut into 0.5cm dice
500ml vegetable stock (use very low salt stock or water if cooking for babies)
1/2 large courgette, cut into 1cm dice
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

To serve:
Couscous, bulgar wheat, quinoa or similar grain of your fancy
Harissa! Oh yes.

Combine the spices in a cup and set aside.
Put the oil in a generous pan and set over a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Stir and fry for 3 minutes or so, until the onion has started to brown.
Add the spices from the cup, stir once, and add the tomatoes.
[A note on tomatoes: I have recently started using tinned whole tomatoes, after years of using chopped. I read somewhere that using whole means you are in charge of deciding how large a chunk you end up with, as well as the ratio of tomato to juice being more appropriate and easier to control if you aren't using a whole tin. They are also cheaper - everyone's a winner. As you were.]
Stir and cook the tomatoes for 3-4 minutes or until they have softened.
Add the chickpeas, squash, raisins, apricots and stock, and bring to a simmer.
Cover, turn the heat down and cook for 15 minutes or so. The pan should be bubbling away nicely - not Vesuvius, but you want to hear it chatting away to you.
When the squash is just tender when pierced with the point of a knife, add the courgettes and simmer, uncovered, for another 10 minutes or until the courgette has softened to your liking, stirring now and again.
Add the coriander and parsley just before serving - give it a couple of minutes to cook down as, unless you have the knife skills of a sous chef, parsley can be a bit on the tough side if it's not cooked in.

To serve, put a mound of couscous or whatever you're having on each plate. Make a well in the centre and put a chunky spoonful of stew in the well. Dampen the surrounding couscous generously with some of the sauce, and serve with the hot stuff on the side.

This quantity should serve 4, or (in our house) 2 adults, 1 toddler and one baby. OR 2 adults who like to have seconds and three baby portions (you could sling a couple in the freezer for a rainy day). I made up a small amount of couscous (25g left for 5 minutes in 50ml boiling water to rehydrate) and mixed this with the baby portions, along with a couple of tablespoonfuls of apple juice and whizzed the lot up with a hand blender. You will know if this is suitable for your baby in terms of texture and quantity - my babe is 7 months and has been an enthusiastic eater from 21 weeks, and he wolfed this down with a satisfying 'mmm' after each mouthful.

I cannot extol the virtues of this lovely meal more effusively - it's a healthy one, lots of lovely vegetable protein, vegan, actually, come to think of it, and a great gentle introduction to spice, but one sophisticated enough not to make adults feel they are eating a tedious, compromised, 'family' meal. It's a rare thing.

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