Category Archives: Spice

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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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

 

How to make homemade (baked) falafel

Falafels are a handy “store cupboard” meal for an easy weekday lunch or dinner. You can make a large batch and demolish them whenever takes your fancy – which, for me, would be for every meal.

Falafel Salad

The falafel patties will keep for several days in the fridge. Having said that, they do start to crumble and dry out the longer you leave them. If this happens just drizzle some extra oil over the patties before baking.

The recipe below is for a colourful salad – but you can easily turn the patties into mini burgers and stuff them into pitta bread with sliced tomato, rocket and fried red onion. Just a suggestion.

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the falafelHomemade Falafel

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 x 400g can chickpeas
  • 1 x 400g can mixed beans (kidney, borlotti and black eyed beans)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs
  • 1 lemon, zest grated
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander (herb)
  • Salt and pepper,
  • 1 tbsp chickpea flour OR 1 egg (for binding the ingredients together)

For the salad

  • 2 tbsp red cabbage mayonnaise
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 2 x red and yellow pepper, sliced
  • a handful of rocket
  • 1 tomato, sliced thinkly
  • 1/2 small cucumber, chopped
  • 1 tspb jalepeno peppers

Directions

  • Heat a tablespoon of oil in a small pan. Fry the onion over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and fry for a further two minutes and remove from the heat.
  • Drain and rinse the chickpeas and mixed beans and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the sautéed onion and garlic and crush together with a potato masher until the mixture is broken down.
  • Add the cumin, mixed herbs and lemon zest and mix well. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the flour / egg and mix together.
  • Preheat the oven to 200C. Divide the mixture into 16 walnut-sized balls and place on a non-stick baking tray.
  • Rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
  • Remove the falafel from the fridge, drizzle with the remaining oil and bake for 25 minutes, or until crisp and golden-brown. Turn occasionally to ensure even cooking.
  • For the salad, arrange the ingredients on a plate with sliced (cooked) falafel placed on top.

Smashing Pumpkins: 3 ways with pumpkin seeds

When I have an inevitable energy slump in the afternoon, usually around 3 o’clock, I always need to go foraging for food. For instance a slice of hot toast smothered with crunchy peanut butter with a few berries or a mashed banana on top. Oatcakes with roasted nuts are another option, or perhaps a chunky granola bar, encased in sugar syrup and smothered with seeds. Pumpkin seeds

I think you can see where I’m going with this… Pumpkin seeds also fall into this category.

As far as all-round health benefits are concerned they’re pretty hard to beat. Their nutrition is, shall we say, “brain boosting” – with zinc, magnesium and Omega-3 in abundance, all of which are beneficial when it comes to improving memory and critical thinking skills.

This is definitely a good choice for the afternoon cognitive deficit.

As well as for snacking pumpkin seeds are great for general cooking purposes; such as garnishing sweet and savoury bakes; blitzing into a pesto sauce for pasta or pureeing into a smooth and creamy seed butter or for toast.

For the recipes below I’ve opted for a selection of 3 of the best (and indeed simple) uses for pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkin seed breadPumpkin seed bread

Seeded bread recipes often call for different seed varieties like linseed, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin. This loaf uses only the latter of the four – which I find the most flavoursome.

Ingredients

  • 20g fresh / 14g instant yeast
  • 500g strong wholemeal bread flour
  • 5g salt
  • 10g unrefined sugar i.e. brown cane sugar or demerara
  • 50ml olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 275ml/9fl oz warm water
  • 150g pumpkin seeds

Directions

  • Heat a small pan to a medium-high heat and spread the pumpkin seeds out evenly. Toast for around 7-10 minutes, shaking the pan so they do not catch or burn. Remove from the heat and leave to cool
  • In a bowl mix together the yeast, flour, salt, sugar and oil until well combined. Add the warm water and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together as a soft dough.
  • Add the pumpkin seeds and knead gently for 5-8 minutes, or until the seeds are combined and the dough is smooth and elastic.
  • Place the dough into a large bowl and cover with a clean tea towel.
  • Set aside in a warm place to prove for 2 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 200C
  • When the dough has proved, transfer to the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until the bread has risen and is golden-brown.

Porridge with pumpkin seeds and maple syrup blackberries

There are countless recipe variations around for porridge – what can you expect for something that’s Porridge with pumpkin seeds and blackberriesbeen around since 1000 BC..

This is my take on it.

Ingredients

  • 50-75g steel cut oats
  • 250ml water or milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • a generous drizzle of maple syrup

Directions

  • Put the oats in a saucepan with the water (or milk) and salt.
  • Slowly bring to the boil over a low-medium heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring from time to time and watching carefully that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Before serving, pour some boiling water into your serving bowl, leave for 10 seconds, then pour out. This warms the bowl in preparation for the porridge.
  • To serve: Pour into the warmed bowl, spoon the pumpkin seeds on top and drizzle with honey.

Spice-roasted pumpkin seeds with cumin, coriander and cardamom

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Ingredients

  • 100g pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp each ground cumin, coriander, cardamom and salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Directions

  • Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add seeds, lower heat and boil gently for 10 minutes. Drain well then transfer to a paper towel-lined tray and pat dry.
  • Meanwhile, mix the oil together in a bowl with the ground spices.
  • Transfer the seeds to a medium bowl, toss with the flavoured oil and spread out in a single layer on a large baking sheet.
  • Roast the seeds, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until just crisp and golden brown, about 1 hour total. (They will become crispier as they cool.)
  • Set aside to let cool completely then shell or eat whole.

Related:

Peanut Butter and date flapjacks recipe

Homemade cashew, cocoa and date ‘Nakd’ bars

Nuts about Almonds!

How to make… Tarka Dal

Over the last few weeks I’ve had an incredible craving for lentils. Creamy red, yellow or green lentil recipes always remind me of the hearty broths I used to have growing up: mixtures with the consistency of porridge – largely due to the amount of pearl barley and vegetables – and a great all round flavour.

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Combining this craving with my love of India (and Indian food) can result in only one outcome: creating the perfect Tarka Dal recipe.

How to make Tarka dal

Ingredients (from left) – ginger, garlic, coriander leaves; (tea spoons) – chili flakes, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric and yellow split peas.

The recipe below is simple and can be done in two stages: the lentils are cooked in turmeric-infused water and left to rest while preparing the seasoned spice mixture or “tarka” as it is known in Indian and Pakistani cuisine.

Ingredients

  • 250g yellow dried split peas
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 2cm/¾in piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • ¾ tsp ground turmeric
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 Scottish oatcake (optional)

Directions

  • Bring the lentils to the boil in a pan with enough cold water to cover them two inches over the top. Stir in the turmeric and leave to simmer for 40 minutes (whilst skimming off the scum that rises to the surface every so often) until the water has been absorbed.
  • In a small frying pan, dry-fry the cumin and coriander seeds over a medium heat.
  • Remove the seeds from the pan and grind into a powder.
  • Heat the vegetable oil in the same frying pan over a medium heat and gently fry the chopped garlic, with the chili flakes and the ginger.
  • Fry for 1 minute.
  • Once the garlic is golden, mix in the ground cumin and coriander. Add some water as necessary to loosen the mixture.
  • Give the lentils a stir.
  • Add more water as necessary before finally mixing in your aromatic fried ‘Tarka’ mixture.
  • Season to taste, then serve topped with coriander and an oatcake on the side.

Nuts about Almonds!

Always good for a munch when you’re feeling peckish – almonds are without doubt one of my favourite store cupboard ingredients.

Almonds

Oven roasted almonds

Although this delicate, mellow and creamy nut might not seem as exciting lined up against it’s more flavourful cousins; namely the walnut, pecan or brazil varieties, almonds do have their strong points; like providing the foundation for all great baking recipes, exotically flavoured tagines, pilafs and stews.

Not only that, almonds are also extremely nutritious:

  • They are rich in vitamin E which promotes healthy skin, bones and acts as an intoxicant which protects cell membranes.
  • Compared to other nuts they also contain the second highest amount of magnesium, after Brazil nuts, which is necessary for healthy teeth, muscle, nerve function and great for energy distribution throughout the body.
  • They are also high in protein and monounsaturated fats.

Almond varieties:

Almonds aerial view

Oven roasted almonds aerial view

  • Whole almonds

My favourite almonds are the skin-on whole variety (brown in colour) although blanched almonds (white in colour, skin-off) are also available.

I whole find almonds eaten straight from the packet a little bland; it usually helps to toss them in a little olive oil, salt and cayenne pepper before blasting them in a hot oven for 10 – 15 minutes. Not only does this bring out their flavour but it also gives them a crunchier texture.

  • Ground (powdered) almonds

Great for home baking (think lemon, almond and poppy seed cake) – lending a chewy consistency to cakes and excellent for a healthy flour substitute for making pancakes.

  • Flaked almonds

These are readily used as a garnish on savoury dishes like Moroccan tagines, pilafs and Indian curries. On the sweet end of the spectrum you’ll find toasted and flaked almonds adorning all manner of cakes and sweet pastries – like Bakewell tarts, nutty florentine biscuits, pralines, creamy trifles and (my favourite) sweet almond croissants filled with marzipan paste.

On that note, feel free to browse my recipe for Macaroons from a previous blog.

Recipe ideas:

If I’m not eating almonds straight from the packet or munching them straight from the oven I’ll often use a food processor to prepare smoothies, milkshakes and thick sauces.

  • For a great smoothie recipe – blitz a handful of almonds with 150g blanched kale, 1 banana and 2-3 dates, along with a good splash of almond milk or water. This can be chilled in the refrigerator or served at room temperature.
  • For a bright, fiery sauce you can’t go wrong with Romesco – from the Catalonia region in Spain. Romesco is made with almonds, roasted red peppers, garlic, tomatoes and a thick slice of country bread for texture, making it an excellent accompaniment for meat, fish and as a dressing for roasted vegetables. Just take 100g of whole roasted almonds, 4 garlic cloves, 2 diced tomatoes, 3 roasted red peppers (blackened on an open flame or roasted for 20 minutes in a fierce oven) and 1 red chilli. Add this to a food processor with 100ml olive oil, 2 tbsp sherry vinegar, 1 tbsp smoked paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Puree until smooth.

I’ve focused two recipes below: the first has all the flavours and textures from the Middle East; with the second offering up a healthy non-dairy alternative to milk.

Almond, apricot, pomegranate, quinoa and bulgur Pilaf

Pilaf is a long-standing favourite of mine which usually contains rice, spices and various other grains. I’ve gone with quinoa and bulgar as the two main ingredients which give the dish a fantastically nutty texture.

Almond, apricot, quinoa and bulgar pilaf

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g each of uncooked quinoa and bulgar wheat
  • 1 can chickpeas/garbanzos
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • salt and pepper to taste
Almond, apricot, quinoa and bulgur pilaf ingredients

Ingredients (clockwise from left): quinoa, bulgur wheat, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, chilli flakes and (middle) 1 whole cinnamon stick

To garnish

  • 100g mixed almonds
  • 75g apricots, chopped
  • 75g pomegranates
  • a handful of coriander

Directions

  • Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan, then fry the onions, coriander seeds and cumin seeds until soft and golden. Add the garlic and chillies and fry for 2 minutes, then add the quinoa, bulgur, stock and cinammon. Season, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes until the stock is absorbed or until the you have fluffy grains. Transfer to a bowl.
  • Garnish with the remaining ingredients and serve.

Homemade almond milk

A fresh and tasty vegan alternative to cow’s milk. You will need a blender.

Almond milk recipe

Ingredients

  • 200g whole almonds
  • 570ml/1 pint water
  • 6-7 good quality pitted dates (Medjool variety are good) OR 3-4 tbsp maple syrup

Directions

  • In a container, soak the almonds in just enough water to cover.
  • Cover with a towel and let it sit in a cool place for about 8 – 12 hours.
  • Pour off the water from the almonds and rinse well.
  • Place the rinsed almonds into a blender, add the water with the dates or maple syrup, blending for a few minutes on high speed until well mixed.
  • Strain the almond milk through a very fine sieve or a bag strainer and serve. You will be left with some almond meal residue in the sieve or bag strainer (you can use this for macaroons, cookies, almond but butter or other baking recipes).

Alternative flavour suggestions

Add these extra ingredients at the blending stage

  • Chocolate almond milk: add 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Cinnamon milk: add 1 tsp cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg
  • Vanilla almond milk: add 1 tsp vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod

Bowled over: instant noodles work their charm

Following my blog post on Japanese cuisine, which focused mainly on sushi, I’ve since been interested to know more about another Japanese national obsession: instant noodles.

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‘Instant’ noodles are the most popular type of noodles and they come with a mixed reputation: seen as either cheap and nutritionless or scrumptous and time saving. They often come dried in thin foil packaging with a salty, potent sachet of flavourings and little freeze-dried nubs of vegetables. When I was backpacking / travelling they were a lifesaver: I’d often poach an egg in the boiling liquor before serving them up. Let’s be honest: you need all the extra nutrition you can get!

In Japan, instant noodles are seen as a symbol of the nation. Japanese magazines and even museums are said to exist with the sole purpose of glorifying instant Ramen noodles with their cult status.

Noodles are, of course, the pre-cursor to Italian pasta. It was Marco Polo, the Italian explorer, who took the recipe back to his homeland from China, before making a few adaptations. It’s something not often acknowledged in the West, but we certainly have a lot to thank our Far Eastern compatriots for their noodle-based inventiveness.

Furthermore, I was reading recently that British appetites for Asian cuisines is continuing to grow. The could be put down to the sheer range of dishes on offer throughout the region. In Vietnam the two main noodle dishes, which I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying, are ‘Cao Lao’ from Hoi An and ‘Pho Bo’. The noodles in Cao Lao are all about texture; they are firm, chewy and delicious served alongside ground pork, spices, fresh mint, basil and coriander. As for ‘Pho Bo’, the broth is slightly lighter, the noodles flatter and is commonly served with a refreshing mixture of lime, peppers, mint, bean sprouts and either pork or chicken. The herbs make the taste quite strong and almost floral.

Malaysian fried noodles, known locally as mi goreng, are definitely one of my all time favourite dishes. Such is the profusion of street food in Malaysian hawker stalls you can literally buy a bowl anywhere. Mi goreng are egg noodles served with either meat (chicken, prawns, beef) or vegetables (tofu), with a hint of sambal olek (spicy chilli sauce), before being topped with a fried egg.

So, I hoped this has peaked your appetite for a steamy bowl noodles. For the recipe below I’ve gone with a Chinese noodle classic.

Chicken chow mein

Never mind phoning up for a takeaway, this is an incredibly quick and easy recipe to make (15 minutes max) and makes a great chicken dish. It has a range of different flavours and textures: the salty soy sauce, heat from the ginger and chilli and lots of crunchy vegetables like bok choi, red and yellow pepper, water chestnuts, spring onions and (optional) bean sprouts.

Chicken chow mein image two

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts sliced into thin strips
  • 1 green chilli, finely chopped
  • 2.5cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp groundnut oil
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 heads bok choi, chopped
  • 4 spring onions, chopped
  • 400g egg noodles, cooked according to packet instructions
  • 1 yellow pepper, chopped into 2 cm squares
  • 1 red pepper, chopped into 2 cm squares
  • 1 small bunch fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped
  • 1½tsp nam pla (Thai fish sauce – optional)
  • 4 tbsp light soy sauce
  • Black pepper, to taste

Directions

  • Heat the oil in a wok or medium pan to a medium-high heat and throw in the chilli, ginger and garlic. Stir immediately to prevent burning the ingredients.
  • Cook for 30 seconds and then add the chicken . Continue to stir fry and stir continuously until golden-brown all over.
  • Transfer the seared chicken, along with any juices, from the wok or pan into a bowl and set aside to rest.
  • Return the pan to the heat and add the sesame oil.
  • Fry the remaining peppers for 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken back into the wok (reserving the juices) along with the nam pla and soy sauce. Add the chopped bok choi and spring onions to the wok along with the cooked noodles. Stir fry for 1-2 minutes to heat through.Cook for one minute, or until the liquid has thickened slightly.
  • To serve, season the chow mein with the black pepper and garnish with the fresh coriander leaves.