Category Archives: Condiment

How to make your own Vietnamese spring rolls

As an extension of my blog post about living in Plum Village, a Vietnamese Zen monastery in France, I thought it would be worthwhile attempting to cook my own home made spring rolls.

Turns out to be relatively easy – not at all what I expected.

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Vietnamese spring rolls differ from both Chinese and Indian versions – in that they’re not made using flaky pastry, nor are they deep fried or crispy, but are instead made with rice paper and are usually steamed.

For this reason they tend to be fresher, more delicate and lighter overall.

It’s not unusual to pack the rolls with crunchy shredded vegetables, meat, seafood, aromatic herbs and sweet black bean sauce (or soy sauce) – along with some spongy rice noodles for an added carbohydrate hit.

Another inspired addition to these rolls are roasted seaweed sheets – which are packed with protein and add a subtle texture to the overall dish. These sheets are layered over the rice paper before heaping the meat or vegetables on top.

You can buy both from Chinese supermarkets.

The recipe below is for vegetarian Vietnamese spring rolls. Bon Appetite!

Ingredients

  • 2 – 4 12 x 20cm round rice paper wrappers
  • 2 – 4 Roasted seaweed sheets
  • 2 –3 baby gem lettuce, sliced thinly
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 5 spring onions
  • 1 tsp each coriander and cumin seeds
  • a small handful of mushrooms
  • 100g bean sprouts
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 4 – 5 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • a small handful of coriander, finely chopped
  • some pickled ginger
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Soy sauce, for dipping (optional)

Directions

For the rolls

  • When you are ready to make the rolls, dip one of the rice papers in a bowl of hot water, moving it around until the whole wrapper is soft – about 10-15 seconds – then drain on a plate.wp-1454659865393.jpg
  • Place a roasted seaweed sheet on top of the rice paper whilst it dries.

For the vegetables

  • In a pan, over a medium heat, add some olive oil and cook the mushrooms for 5 minutes.wp-1454659874578.jpg
  • Add the garlic, coriander seeds and cumin seeds and cook for a further 1 minute.
  • Throw in the carrots, bean sprouts, spring onions and baby gem lettuce and cook for 1 minute.
  • Sprinkle over the coriander herb.
  • Remove the pan from the heat.wp-1454659716888.jpg
  • Place some lettuce on top of the seaweed / rice paper sheet, followed by the vegetables and some pickled ginger. Don’t overfill or they will be hard to roll.
  • Lift the edge of the rice paper wrapper nearest to you over the filling and, holding the filling in position with your fingers, start rolling up tightly.wp-1454659709841.jpg
  • When you’re about halfway, fold the ends of the rice paper in and over the filling so that it is completely enclosed.
  • Keep on rolling tightly until the whole rice paper wrapper is rolled up. To serve, cut the rolls in half on the diagonal and serve with a soy sauce dip.
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Chestnuts

Chestnut vendor When we were on holiday in Madrid a few years back I remember buying the most amazing roasted chestnuts (pictured right) – freshly roasted in vast cauldrons – from the many street vendors around the city.

They were dished out to us piping hot in small paper bags – often selling for as little as 1 Euro per 100g (a large handful).

Here in the UK, since the chestnut season is so brief (September to December) I think it’s always useful to take advantage whilst we can.

Types / availability

· Whole peeled chestnuts, canned or vacuum-packed, are available from most UK supermarkets. 450g fresh chestnuts (weighed in their shells) are equivalent to 175g dried, reconstituted chestnuts or 350g tinned or vacuum packed nuts.

· Canned chestnut purée, plain or sweetened, available in tins, is a godsend as it saves hours of preparation for use in pudding recipes.

· Chestnut flour (gluten-free and with a slight earthy smokiness) is often available from speciality food stores and delicatessens. This is useful as a substitute for flour in cakes (see below), pancakes or as a thickener for soups and stews.

Chestnuts roastedCooking with fresh chestnuts

Fresh chestnuts should be cooked and never eaten raw – due to their high acid content. I find the oven to be the most effective way of roasting them.

First, pre-heat the oven to 200 C / 390 F.

If you are using fresh chestnuts which contain the outer shell / husk then one of the most important steps before roasting is to cut an incision in the shell using the end of a sharp knife.

Alternatively you can roll your foot over them until they crack slightly. This prevents sudden explosions of chestnut shrapnel from inside the oven due to a pressure build up in the shell.

Next, place approximately 200g chestnuts on an oven tray and roast for 20-25 minutes.

Once cooked, peel off the tough shell and the papery thin skin underneath. Peel the nuts whilst hot – it’s impossible to peel a cold chestnut – to ensure the complete removal of the inner brown furry skin, called the ‘tan’, which is bitter.

Alternative recipes

A great cake recipe of Italian origin is Montebianco – using chestnuts, chocolate and coffee, with layers of mousse, praline and almond meringue. Who could say no to that?Chestnuts aerial view

If you prefer something a bit more homely then I cannot think of anything more inviting than steaming ladlefuls of hot chestnut soup.

First, take 1kg fresh, cooked and peeled chestnuts (or 600g pre-packaged and vacuum-packed), 1 onion, 1 garlic clove (finely chopped), 25g butter, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 litre stock and 1 tbsp brown sugar.

Next, In a saucepan, heat a the butter with the olive oil over a medium heat, then add the garlic and onions. Cook them for about 5 minutes or until they become soft and begin to brown.

Add the stock, brown sugar and bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and blitz with a hand blender until smooth, then adjust the seasoning to taste.

The soup is naturally creamy so there is no need to add cream.

Serve into soup bowls and enjoy.

Autumn reflections – with a comforting hummus dish

I think the Autumnal time of year is a great opportunity to cosy up with friends and family and share food which is a little bit more comforting than we might do in Spring or Summer – foods like mackerel, chicken casserole, spinach, kale, beetroot, pumpkin and other root vegetables (oven-roasted).

Don’t get me wrong; I love the Autumn for what it is, especially the vibrant orange colours of the leaves on  the trees against the dusk skies – see below – and the briskness, crispness and freshness that we experience most mornings in the UK. Autumn skies

I recently posted a blog on how to make homemade falafel and I posted another blog on making your own dips for entertaining a crowd.

The purpose of this blog is to delve, once more, into Middle Eastern cuisine, with a recipe for creamy hummus – something I’ve always found to be a good accompaniment to vegetable or meat dishes.

Homemade courgette (zucchini) hummus with spices

Grilled courgette (zucchini)

Grilled courgette (zucchini)

I was fumbling around in the vegetable box receently thinking what might make a decent hummus recipe. Courgette’s (Zucchini) are one of my favourite vegetables and are pretty versatile – so I settled with that.

Grilled, fried or roasted, the courgette is blitzed in a food processor with chickpeas (garbanzo beans), aduki beans, fresh garlic, tahini (sesame paste), lemon juice, herbs, spices and extra-virgin olive oil.

It can be eaten hot or cold.

You can use it as a dip for pitta bread, spread it on a wrap or pair it with roasted vegetables and any meat dish.

Hummus complete

Hummus

It’s gluten-free, low-carb and vegan friendly. Nutritionally, it also has a decent amount of protein and fibre.

Ingredients

Chickpeas (garnazo beans), aduki beans and tahini

Chickpeas (garnazo beans), aduki beans and tahini

  • 1 courgette (Zucchini) – grilled, fried or roasted
  • 400g can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
  • 400g can aduki beans, drained
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 4 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
  • ½ tsp salt, more to taste
  • ½ tsp cracked pepper

    Ingredients for hummus (clockwise from top - chickpeas and aduki beans, courgette, spices, lemon, garlic and coriander leaf)

    Ingredients for hummus (clockwise from top – chickpeas and aduki beans, courgette, spices, lemon, garlic and coriander leaf)

  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 tbsp coriander or more fresh herbs
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

 Directions

  • Cut courgette into ½ inch thick strips, brush with a little olive oil and grill on medium heat until charred and tender.
  • (Alternately courgette may be roasted in the oven until tender. If you have very large zucchini with thick skin, you can half it lengthwise, roast in the oven and then scoop out the flesh, leaving the skin out, if necessary)
  • Place the grilled courgette along with the rest of the ingredients (except the oil, coriander herb and 2 tbsp of the chickpeas and aduki beans) in a food processor, and puree until relatively smooth.
  • Serve it in a bowl, making a little circular “well” using a spoon, and drizzle a little olive oil in the well.
  • Garnish with the 2 tbsp chickpeas and aduki beans and mix in the coriander herb.
  • Serve either warm or chilled.
Blitz hummus

Blitz hummus

Blitzed with coriander

Hummus blitzed with coriander

 

Summer canapes

A few months ago I published a blog on “entertaining a crowd” which focused on a variety of dips for canapes / appetisers. I’ve decided to revisit this subject – this time focusing on something a bit different.

What comes to mind when you think of “Canape” ?

For me, it brings to mind large prissy platters at fancy parties that quite simply overdo things – like thinly sliced carpaccio of beef with quail’s eggs or weird shot glasses filled with foam – who has the time for that?

Well, I like to keep things simple.

The Recipes

These recipes are great for appetisers, breakfast, brunch, lunch or just as a snack or appetizer. All you need is any type of crisp bread, flat bread (e.g. pitta), oatcake, sliced baguette, crackers or you could use a pizza base, sliced into bite-sized portions, toasted, fried or grilled until crispy and topped with the ingredients.

Once assembled all that’s required is a quick drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Flaked salmon crisp breads

I’ve used Peter’s Yard rye flour crisp breads for this recipe. Utterly delicious.

Salmon

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 200g hot smoked salmon, flaked
  • 4 – 6 Peter’s Yard crisp breads
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • Arrange the crisp breads into “half moon” shapes and top with the salmon.
  • Drizzle over the lemon juice/zest, olive oil.
  • Serve on a plate in the sunshine!

“Tricolour crisp breads” of tomato, basil and mozzarella

You can grill these crisp breads for a couple of minutes to warm and soften tomatoes and mozzarella.

Tri colour crisp breads

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 100g mozzarella cheese, sliced into small chunks
  • a handful of fresh basil, torn
  • 4 – 6 crisp breads
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • Brush the tops of each crisp bread with olive oil.
  • In a medium bowl, toss tomatoes, olive oil and mozzarella cheese, salt and pepper together until combined.
  • Drizzle each crisp bread with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped basil. Serve.

(For grilling)

  • Heat the grill to a medium-high heat and grill the crisp breads, on a heat-proof tray, for 2-3 minutes . Serve.

Crackers and Camembert

An old classic. Slightly less colourful than the previous recipes but just as appealing.

Crackers and Camembert

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 round of Camembert (you can also use Brie), sliced into chunks
  • 6-8 crackers
  • Butter, for spreading

Directions

  • Spread each cracker with butter and top with cheese.

How to make… homemade mayonnaise

It may seem like an enormous effort for a small dollop of the stuff on your sandwiches – but real homemade mayo is well worth the effort. It’s a great condiment and yet is so simple to make as it only requires two ingredients: oil and egg yolks. Other flavourings help, obviously, like mustard, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper, but they are not mandatory.

Mayonnaise how to makeThe texture of this mayonnaise recipe is velvety and smooth without the overpowering taste of vinegar which you’ll find from many bland shop-bought varieties.

If you are simply looking for something quick and easy from the shops, then Hellman’s is pretty tasty and there are a few good organic options out there which have a nice creaminess and tang. However, when you get into the ‘reduced-fat’ territory then, for me, the game is up. I don’t understand how ‘low fat’, ‘reduced fat’, ‘nonfat’ or anything else can constitute anything like real mayonnaise. Don’t even mention salad cream!

Preparation

Make sure all of the ingredients are the same temperature before you set about combining them as it helps the emulsification process (take the eggs out of the fridge around an hour before you start).

Ingredients

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • A few drops of white wine vinegar
  • 250ml olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  • Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and save the whites in a suitable fridge container.
  • Place the egg yolks in a large, clean bowl and add the mustard and vinegar.
  • Blend the mixture together using a whisk.
  • Add a very small amount of the oil and whisk until it’s well blended in.
  • Continue to add small amounts of oil and whisk rapidly until the sauce thickens and emulsifies. This will take a few minutes.
  • When you reach a thick consistency the mayonnaise is ready (If it is too thick you can thin the it by adding a drop of warm water).
  • Add salt and pepper to taste

Great alternative recipes:

  • For tartare sauce, add some chopped gherkins, capers, dill and a squeeze of lemon. Add this to your fish and chips, vegetables, potato salad, or spoon it onto your scrambled eggs in the morning.

Entertaining a crowd

We’ve all been there. You’ve decided to have guests round for a mid-week gathering and you need some form of dip selection, appetiser, or clever coffee table snack to keep them sated.

Browsing your local supermarket, you inevitably opt for the requisite ‘3-of-a-kind’ packaged dip trio: sour cream and chive, guacamole and chilli salsa, all laden with salt and sugar and not a lot else. After a brief flurry or munching and nibbles when your guests arrive, each of the little pots become somewhat more and more neglected as the evening wears on; the sour cream forms a skin and then goes stale; the guacamole ends up in the bin; and the leftover salsa might, if you’re lucky, survive ’till the next day, makinh it onto a pizza base or alongside a steak or chicken breast.

esquirehandbookforhosts

Esquire’s handbook for hosts

I do occasionally like to host a small party of close friends myself. Now, I’m no Pippa Middleton (interpret that as you please), but I have a few tried and tested ‘finger foods’ which I think are good to have around for you need them most. Pretzels and salted peanuts are nice, if a litte bit unimaginative and cliche – try mixing it up with a medley of cashews, roasted almonds or pecans, tossed them in a sticky dark-brown sugar glaze and some spicy cayenne pepper. For dips, you could opt for a punchy home-made Mediterranean concoction like a tapenade (black olive) or bagna cauda (anchovy and garlic), or engineer a quick Baba Ghanoush by roasting and mashing an aubergine, before whizzing it up with some olive oil and chickpeas. Failing that, adding some chopped fresh herbs to some plain yoghurt can be great as a party dip.

For me, though, hummus is definitely where it’s at. This Middle Eastern chickpea and sesame creation has many guises; from the vibrant roasted red pepper and goat’s cheese to the more muted broad bean and herb hummus. All finished off with a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon for sharpness and some chopped parsley. For a really good ‘themed’ casual dining scene with excellent food I recommend The Hummus Bros in London’s Soho district.

If you’re really struggling for inspiration (and not only on the food front) then Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts (image above), a publication from the United States, offers some pointers for cocktails, party games, conversation topics.

For the dip recipes I’ve chosen below, the ingredients speak for themselves. They’re also perfect for breaking the ice and getting people in the mood.

Recipes: Trio of dips

Feast your eyes on these dip combinations, great for any occasion and made with quality ingredients (recipes below).

Trio of dips with platter

Clockwise from left to right: platter (tortilla chips, grilled ciabatta and vegetable sticks), beetroot hummus dip, spinach and artichoke dip, guacamole with chilli and spring onion dip.

For the platter (suggestions):

  • Crostini or sliced ciabatta, toasted.
  • Breadsticks, potato crisps, vegetable crisps, baked pitta chips, brown bread, sourdough, flatbread, homemade baked potato skins
  • Hard boiled eggs, radishes, celery sticks, carrot sticks

1. Guacamole with chilli and spring onion

Ingredients

  • 3 ripe avocados
  • 1 lemon, juice only
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 red chilli, finely sliced
  • ½ tsp salt

Directions

  • In a large bowl place the scooped avocado pulp and lemon juice.
  • Mix the avocado with the lemon juice to coat. This prevents discolouration of the avocado flesh.
  • Using a fork or a potato masher, mash the avocado together with the salt, chilli, and spring onions.

2. Beetroot Hummous

Ingredients

  • 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 200g cooked beetroot, roughly chopped
  • 2 lemons, zest and juice
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  • Blitz half of the chickpeas and beetroot with the remaining ingredients in a food processor, blending into a smooth paste.
  • Fold in the remaining chickpeas and beetroot.
  • Garnish with a few springs of dill or thyme (optional)

3. Spinach and Artichoke dip

Ingredients

  • 300g fresh, canned or frozen spinach
  • 400g tin artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 2tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts (optional)

Directions

  • Combine half of the spinach and artichoke hearts with the other ingredients in a food processor and blitz into a fine paste.
  • Fold in the remaining half of the spinach and artichoke hearts.
  • If using, sprinkle the pine nuts on top of the dip for garnish