Thursday, 5 November 2015

Barley and Vegetable Bake

This barley and vegetable bake has its roots in another old recipe from my student days. The original rice and veggie bake was an old favourite and will definitely make an appearance in a future post. However, as we fancied a good old fashioned rice pud for dessert, I decided to try barley in place of the rice. It worked well and was just the thing on a cold winter's evening. And the rice pud went down very well too.

The veggie layer had butter beans added, which made it a bit heavy. They could be omitted or substituted with some other cooked pulses or beans. Brown or green lentils would probably work well. On balance I think I would use courgettes in place of the butternut to make more of a lighter ratatouille style middle layer, but I had half a large butternut to use up from a risotto yesterday, so butternut it was.

Barley and Vegetable Bake

Serves 4
Base layer:
200g pearl barley
1l vegetable stock
1 onion, chopped quite finely
1 egg, beaten

Veg layer:
150g (dry weight) butter beans, cooked, or easier from a can
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1" chunks
1 red or yellow pepper
1 aubergine, chopped into 1" chunks
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
Olive oil
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cheese sauce topping:
25g butter 
25g plain flour 
500ml milk 
100 - 150g grated cheddar 
1 beaten egg

For the base layer
Sauté the onion in some olive oil until softened. 
Add the barley and stir around.
Add the stock, boil fast for 5 minutes, then simmer for about 50 mins until the barley is cooked adding a bit more stock if it dries out too much during the cooking process. It should have absorbed the stock by the end, but still have some 'bite', ie al dente, not soggy. Allow to cool slightly then stir in the beaten egg. Put in the base of a large, fairly deep ovenproof dish and set aside.

For the veggie layer:
While  the barley is cooking, toss the butternut, aubergine and peppers with the crushed garlic, some salt and pepper in a large baking tray. Roast at 200 c for about 30 mins until the veg is cooked and nicely browned.
Stir in the cooked beans and the tin of tomatoes.
Spread over the barley layer.

For the cheese topping:
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan
Add the flour and stir and cook for a few minutes. Stir in the milk, heating and stirring until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. Allow to cool slightly, then beat in the egg. (Don't add the egg too soon or the heat of the  sauce will scramble it.)
Spread over the veggie layer.

Bake at 200 c for about 20 -  30 mins until it bubbles and the topping is golden brown.

Serve with green veg or salad.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Vegetable and Ricotta Lasagne

This has become one of veggie daughter's favourites. It was first cooked for us by my mum, who found the original recipe on the BBC Good Food website here:

Stir fried leeks
It is a very simple recipe, particularly if you have a food processor to grate the veg, which goes into the lasagne raw. Whilst the original recipe is delicious, I felt it lacked a bit of oomph and as is my wont, I added some extra ingredients to jazz it up a bit: stir fried leeks, a dollop of Patak's curry paste, some garlic and some chopped herbs (coriander and basil). I used passata with added chili too. I also mixed up the vegetable combination a bit, based on what I had in the fridge (swede, sweet potato, carrot, parsnip and a courgette). Even though veggie daughter and I are not big parsnip fans, I did leave the parsnip in, and it didn't spoil it. Perhaps parsnip is growing on me... Veggie daughter says she still prefers the original recipe, but I like the spicier version.

Vegetable and Ricotta Lasagne

(I guess on quantities - depends on how many I'm feeding. This made a lot, enough for 5 hungry people and enough to put a second lasagne in the freezer for another day)
For the vegetable layer:
2 or 3 large leeks, sliced
mixture of vegetables, grated (I used two large carrots, two large parsnips, half a swede, a large sweet potato, a large courgette)
chopped coriander and basil to taste
2 cartons of passata (I used Napolina with peppers and chilis)
1 tbsp Pataks curry paste (I used madras)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the cheesy layer:
250g ricotta
250g creme fraiche
2 beaten eggs

lasagne sheets

grated cheese (Parmesan or vegetarian hard cheese and cheddar or similar mixed together)

1. Stir fry the leeks in some olive oil until soft.
2. Mix together the grated vegetables (use a food processor to grate them unless you have a lot of stamina) and the leeks.
3. Mix in the passata, garlic, curry paste and chopped herbs and season well.
The veggie mixture
4. Mix together the creme fraiche, ricotta, beaten eggs and some grated cheese (quantity depends on how cheesy your diners like their fare).
5. Assemble the lasagne, starting with a layer of vegetables, then lasagne, then cheese sauce, repeating these layers at least once more and ending with a layer of the cheese sauce.

Layer the veggies, cheese mixture and lasagne sheets
5. Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the top.
Top with grated cheese - a mixture of vegetarian hard cheese and red leicester here - and you're ready to bake it
6. Cover with foil and bake in a preheated oven at around 200 degrees C for half an hour, then remove the top and let it brown up for about another 20 minutes, until the pasta is cooked and the top is golden. Serve with a salad.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Korean-style Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday

When veggie daughter was just 4 months old we upped and moved from the UK to live in Seoul, Korea for five years. As a result the whole family developed a strong taste for the delights of Korean cuisine. Now, eleven years after leaving Korea this still often manifests itself as an irresistible craving for some kimchi, or maybe a bowl of soft tofu stew or bibimbap.... Sadly, Korean restaurants are few and far between where we now live, although we did just discover a new bibimbap restaurant in Cambridge last weekend. 

Anyway, on pancake day this week, veggie daughter decided she would like to try making one of our old favourites, pajeon, or Korean pancake, with spring onion. We found a couple of recipes, one of which called for mung bean flour, not something we tend to have in our larder. It also called for a spoonful of toenjang, or fermented soybean paste, which we did happen to have.  The recipe that veggie daughter found here on the Maangchi Korean food website didn't have any eggs, which I found strange as the pajeon we consumed in various Korean restaurants in the past have always tasted decidedly eggy. The Maangchi lady had even picked her own green onions from Central Park in New York! That option not being open to us, we bought a bunch of spring onions from Morrisons. Veggie daughter was determined to try the no egg recipe and I was determined to chuck in an egg or two. So we made both. Then the two of us called in cheffy son to help us decide on a winner.

Maangchi's recipe was half a cup of flour, half a cup of water, a teaspoon of toenjang, half a teaspoon of sugar mixed into a batter, poured over the sliced onions in a frying pan and fried until golden. That was where we started. We used half plain flour and half gram flour (besan, or chick pea flour).

Here's the batter and the sliced onion.

Here's veggie daughter's pancake - not bad at all! Nice and crispy, and very tasty, but cheffy son and I definitely felt it lacked the egg. The consistency was quite dense. So I took the remains of the batter, tossed in a beaten egg, a splash more milk and a bit more flour. In my usual style I didn't measure. but I wish I had, because the resulting pancake was pretty good. I tried a third pancake, throwing in yet another egg, some more milk and flour, and a squeeze of Korean kochujang, or hot chili paste. That one was not so good - the texture was heavier and more like a Canadian breakfast pancake. So it will be back to trial and error to try to emulate the second pancake. We served them with a dip made from soy sauce mixed with some rice vinegar, but veggie daughter preferred just plain soy sauce.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Crispy oven baked tofu cubes

When my kids were younger it's safe to say that tofu was not one of their favourite foods. In fact one of them genuinely thought it was called toad food and felt sorry for the toads forced to live on it day after day. A lot of the dislike stemmed from the texture (after all it doesn't have a lot of flavour to dislike). This recipe produces nice flavoursome, crispy cubes, delicious with stir fried veg and noodles. It's still tolerated rather than loved by my boys, but veggie daughter is definitely a big fan. Firm tofu is drained, then marinated before being coated in cornflour and baked in the oven to crispy perfection.

You need a block of firm tofu (I use Cauldron as it's the one that all the local supermarkets seem to stock). To get the crispy texture of the finished dish, it's really important to press and drain out as much of the liquid from the tofu as possible. Wrap it in paper towel, put on a plate, place another plate on top with a weight on it and leave for about an hour. You'll need to replace the soggy paper towels a couple of times.

pressing out the liquid under heavy weights

Cut the tofu into chunks (a couple of centimetres across) and they're ready to be marinated. I have to admit that I don't normally measure the ingredients for the marinade, adding a squirt of this and a dollop of that, so it is never the same twice. I tried to keep a note of the amounts I used this time, and the recipe for this batch is below. The ingredients that go down well with my family are mainly Chinese and Korean flavours, but I think Thai green curry flavourings might work well too, or perhaps some kind of chili peanut satay marinade. I will experiment at a later date and report my findings. Basically, you dollop the various ingredients into a ziplok bag, squish them around to mix them, then throw in the tofu cubes, toss them around in the (closed) bag until they are all nicely coated, then just leave them to marinate for a few hours. I have left them for as little as half an hour when I have forgotten to marinate them earlier and actually they were fine too.

Coriander, cumin and sesame seeds ready to be crushed for the marinade

Squish the marinade ingredients together in the bag
Toss the tofu cubes in the marinade and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours or so

Crispy Oven Baked Tofu Cubes

1 400g pack of firm tofu, drained
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sunflower oil
1 tsp Korean kochujang (chili paste)
1 tsp rice wine
1 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp crushed coriander seeds
1/2 tsp crushed cumin seeds
1/2 tsp crushed sesame seeds
1 clove smoked garlic, crushed
2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder

1. Wrap the tofu in paper towels and press under a heavy weight for about an hour to remove all the liquid, changing the paper towels when they become saturated.
2. Cut the tofu into chunks of about 2cm square
3. Put all the marinade ingredients into a large ziplok bag and squish them together to mix
4. Toss in the tofu, tossing around until the pieces are all coated.
5. Leave the bag in the fridge for a couple of hours or more, tossing the tofu around a couple of times to ensure that the pieces are evenly coated.
6. Add 2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch) to the bag and toss around to coat the tofu.
7. Tip the tofu out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil to aid in the clean up.
8. Bake at 200 degrees C for about  20  - 30 minutes, until the tofu is crispy and browned.

Serve with noodles or rice stir fried with vegetables and a handful of salted peanuts.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Easy Tomato Sauce

This is the tomato sauce I served with the soya bean croquettes. It could equally be tossed with some pasta for a quick and easy meal. Or poured over some gnocchi. Sometimes I puree it and stir in some single cream. You can vary it according to what you have in the fridge - sometimes, as here, I add some chopped red pepper. Sometimes a chopped chili pepper, or a chopped courgette, some chopped aubergine, a handful of olives, some capers... it really depends what needs eating up and what you feel like. You can also throw in some chopped fresh herbs just before serving. Basil is the best.

Easy Tomato Sauce

good glug of olive oil
1 onion (red, or white, or shallot)
1 or 2 cloves garlic (I used smoked garlic this time)
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 red pepper (antipasto from a jar)
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper

1. Fry the onion in the olive oil until it is soft - if you want it a bit caramelized, throw in the sugar and continue to cook until it browns, it adds a different flavour.

2. Add the garlic - don't cook it for too long or burn it as it goes bitter. Add the mixed herbs and stir around.

3. Throw in the tinned tomatoes, swishing out the tin with a little water and adding that to the pan. If you have some left over, add a glug of wine, or  a dash of balsamic vinegar, so tomato puree if you want it a bit thicker and more tomatoey. Simmer for a few minutes, taste and season.

Soya Bean Croquettes Recreated

Many years ago, before veggie daughter and her brothers were even thought of and when their dad and I were impoverished students, we decided that we would eat more vegetarian food to save money. There were many spectacular failures, but a recipe that we returned to many times was one for baked soya bean rissoles. A crispy breadcrumb coating encased a creamy mixture of soya beans and seasonings. The recipe came from a magazine, I have no idea of the title, and the torn out page became increasingly dog-eared and eventually got lost. 
Since then I have searched in vain for it online and in many vegetarian cookbooks. Determined to introduce veggie daughter to these delights, I decided that I would try to recreate them. I could remember quite a few of the ingredients, including the fact that they had a white roux or bechamel sauce base. It also occurred to me that they may not have been called rissoles, but rather croquettes. So I googled 'croquettes bechamel sauce'. Bingo! Well almost. The search revealed several recipes for Spanish croquettes (croquetas), but no soya bean version.  The versions I found had ham, cheese and chorizo in varying combinations, stirred into a bechamel sauce, coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried, which sound delicious, but would not do for my current purposes.

One thing I do remember about the recipe was that it was quite a pain to make, with the soya beans needing to be soaked, then cooked in the pressure cooker, which always made a huge mess as they were guaranteed to froth up and overflow. I also remember that shaping the croquettes was a complete sticky nightmare, with my fingers each looking like a breaded croquette at the end of the process. We used to make up a massive batch and freeze them to avoid the inevitable major kitchen clean up happening too often. Now the recipes for the Spanish croquettes all called for the bechamel to be made very thick, then left to cool and set for at least an hour or two before attempting any shaping into croquettes. An aha moment! I remember that the mixture was always warm when I tried to shape my croquettes and concluded that therein lay the reason for the sticky nightmare. 

The other difference was that our croquettes were baked in the oven rather than deep fried. Now I'm sure they would be totally delicious deep fried, but I'm not a fan of the actual process with the mess it entails along with the pervading smell that lingers for days afterwards, not to mention that deep frying is not exactly the healthiest cooking method. I wouldn't rule out frying a batch in future as a treat, but for this batch I wanted to bake them in the time honoured fashion of the old recipe. So back to google to search for 'oven baked Spanish croquette' and I find this rather tasty sounding recipe for oven-fried Spanish croquettes on the rather oddly titled website I decided to use their method for cooling and setting the bechamel mixture and for baking the shaped croquettes. I winged the rest of the recipe, but fortunately it worked! I made half the batch without cheese for dad, but veggie daughter and I preferred the cheesy ones. I think the croquettes were somewhat firmer than the old recipe, and veggie daughter was not entirely convinced that she liked the texture of the bean mixture, but on balance they received the seal of approval.

A note on the addition of smoked garlic. As far as I can remember, the original recipe did not have garlic, but I was intrigued to see smoked garlic on sale in the local supermarket. It smells delicious, almost like chorizo, which I thought would be a nod to the Spanish croquette recipes I saw.
Smoked Garlic - a great new discovery!

Baked Soya Bean Croquettes

Makes 12 (enough for 3 people)

150g dried soya beans
2 bay leaves
450ml semi skimmed milk
1 small onion or shallot
50g sunflower margarine (or butter)
50g cornflour (cornstarch in the US/Canada)
25g wheatgerm
1 clove smoked garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried mixed herbs (eg oregano, basil, thyme)
salt and pepper
70g cheddar cheese, grated (optional)
1 egg, beaten
70g breadcrumbs (I made my own from stale bread, processed in the food processor then lightly toasted to dry them out in the oven, but panko or other packet breadcrumbs would work fine)

1. Cook the soya beans. If cooking in a regular saucepan they will need overnight soaking, then fast boiling for about 10 minutes, before simmering for about 3 hours. I used a pressure cooker, and covered the beans in boiling water before leaving them to soak for one hour. Drain and rinse, then put in the pressure cooker with 300ml water and a bay leaf (no salt or they will toughen). Bring to the boil in the open cooker, skim off any scum, then get them to the point where they are boiling but not rising up in the pan. Close the pan and bring to pressure and cook for 22 minutes. Switch off the heat and leave the pressure to come down on its own before opening the cooker. This was the first time I have ever cooked them without them overflowing - perhaps because it was a small quantity, but I was careful not to turn the heat up too high and the beans were cooked to perfection.

2. Meanwhile peel the onion and put in a heavy saucepan with the other bay leaf and the milk. Bring to the boil, then take off the heat and leave to infuse for an hour or so.
3. Make the bechamel sauce: melt the sunflower margarine, stir in the cornflour and cook gently for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the strained milk and heat until thickened, stirring to get rid of any lumps and to stop the mixture from sticking. Stir in the wheatgerm, smoked garlic, paprika and herbs. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix in the cooked, strained beans and the cheese if using. Cover and leave in the fridge for an hour or two to set firmly.

4. Put the beaten egg in a bowl, and the breadcrumbs on a plate. Shape 50g lumps of the mixture into logs and dip each into the egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs to coat. Place on an greased baking tray. Put them in the fridge for at least 20 minutes to firm up before baking.

5. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Spray the croquettes with olive oil or cooking spray, then bake them for about 15 minutes until they are golden brown. 

I served them with stir fried bok choi and sugar snap peas, tomato sauce (recipe in the next post) and baked sweet potato wedges (peel and slice the sweet potatoes lengthwise into wedges, toss with sunflower oil, salt and pepper and bake for 30 minutes or so until browned and cooked through).

Monday, 2 February 2015

Butternut and Leek Lasagne

Lasagne is always a great veggie option and one where it really doesn't feel like the dish is missing that meaty component. There are loads of options for fillings; this one was based on a Jamie Oliver recipe for Butternut and Sweet Leek Lasagne with a few tweaks and additions and it was delicious.

My tweaks (the full recipe with my additions is below, follow the link above for the original recipe):

I only used 2 tins of tomatoes in the sauce instead of 3 because I was trying to read it without my glasses. However I did add a glass of red wine, some tomato puree and a tin of cooked lentils. I threw in a bit of sugar as it tasted a bit acidic, oh and a chopped red pepper (the antipasto type from a jar lurking in the back of the fridge).

I also didn't drain off any of the liquid from the leeks (maybe the frozen spinach doesn't have as much liquid anyway) but I added some butter and cornflour and some milk to make a bit of white sauce in the leeks. I thought some lemon zest would add a nice extra dimension to the creamy leeks, so about 1 tsp of that went in, along with a good grating of nutmeg, which I liked, although the general consensus was to leave out the lemon zest next time.


Jamie Oliver says to cook it without peeling. I wasn't sure about leaving the peel on to bake it; I didnt know you could eat it! It did add a bit of texture, although there was a slightly bitter taste, not entirely unpleasant. I double checked to see if Jamie said to remove the skin after the butternut was baked, but he didn't so I didn't! It certainly speeds up preparing butternut - it's one of those vegetables that I hate peeling. The second time I cooked this, I did remove the peel after I roasted the butternut, which I preferred.

Cheese topping - one quarter (for dad) was left without any veggie hard cheese/grana padana, the rest only had a little as I accidentally grated my finger and gave up on the cheese due to the length of time it took to find and apply a plaster to my finger. The lasagne was cheesy enough anyway (and incidentally no finger scrapings made their way into the lasagne in case anyone was worried). The next time I cooked this, I just sprinkled a little grated mozzarella over the top of the mozzarella chunks, which worked well.

Butternut and Leek Lasagne

  • 1 butternut squash (approximately 1kg)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil
  •  2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs (Italian seasoning, oregano or whatever)
  • 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp or to taste sugar
  • 1 cooked chopped red pepper (antipasto type from a jar)
  • small glass of red wine
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 400g tin green lentils
  • 3 - 4 fairly big  leeks
  • 200g frozen spinach
  • 250g ricotta cheese
  • nutmeg
  • 1 tsp lemon zest (optional)
  • knob of butter
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 150 ml semi skimmed milk
  •  300g dry lasagne sheets
  • 1 x 125g ball of mozzarella
  • 100g grana padana cheese or other vegetarian hard cheese (or other grated cheese of your choice)

For the butternut squash

  1. Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5
  2. Carefully halve the butternut squash, then scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard
  3. Chop the squash into 3cm chunks, leaving the peel on
  4. Place the squash in a roasting tray, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper and drizzle well with olive oil, then toss together
  5. Cook in the hot oven for 45 mins - 1 hour, or until soft and cooked through

For the tomato sauce

  1. Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves 
  2. Put a saucepan on a medium heat and add a glug of olive oil, the chopped garlic, dried mixed herbs 
  3. Cook for a couple of minutes, softening the garlic but don't let it burn
  4. Add the tinned tomatoes, wine, lentils, tomato puree and sugar, season with salt and pepper and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.

For the leek mixture

  1. Trim, wash and finely slice the leeks 
  2. Heat a large deep frying pan on a low heat and add a splash of olive oil and a knob of butter 
  3. Add the leeks and sweat slowly for about 10 minutes, or until soft but not browned
  4. Add the cornflour and stir around to cook for a few minutes.
  5. Add the milk and stir over a low heat until thickened
  6. Add the frozen spinach and cook for another minute or two until defrosted and wilted 
  7. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes,  
  8.  Mix the ricotta into the pan and season well with nutmeg, salt and pepper (and lemon zest if using)

To assemble the lasagne:

  1. Spoon a layer of the tomato sauce into the bottom of an ovenproof dish (approximately 25cm by 25cm - I found this amount of mixture made another smaller lasagne, which I froze, uncooked) 
  2. Follow with a layer of lasagne sheets 
  3. Spread half of the creamy leeks over the lasagne sheets and poke in half of the chunks of squash,then top with another layer of lasagne
  4. Repeat these layers one more time, adding a little of the tomato sauce to the top layer
  5.  Tear the mozzarella into small pieces and dot over the top of the lasagne • Finely grate the Grana Padana or vege hard cheese, if using over the top 
  6. Cover with tin foil and cook in the hot oven for 20 minutes 
  7. After that, remove the foil and cook for another 20 minutes, or until the lasagne is golden and bubbling 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Old El Paso Creamy Poblano Pepper Casserole - A 'Quick' Meal...?

I'm not above grabbing the odd sauce mix to knock up a quick meal and I picked up a packet of Old El Paso Creamy Poblano Pepper casserole mix from the bargain bin at Sainsbury's last week. (I never can resist a yellow reduced sticker and it sounded a bit different.)  The packet instructions call for chicken, but obviously that was not an option, so I had a think about what to use instead.

Recently I came across a blog called Chelsea's Messy Apron, (I love that title) which has lots of recipes (not all veggie) that I'd like to try. She raves about quinoa cooked in the slow cooker and I thought that might work with this sauce mix and some vegetables. Another blogger made the dish with Quorn in their slow cooker. I also wondered about using some butter beans and butternut squash. As it happened, I had been looking in vain for soybeans to revive an old recipe I used to make as a student, more of that in a later post. So I popped into Holland and Barrett and although they didn't have soybeans, they did have dried soya chunks which I thought might be a handy thing to have in the larder, even though it does bear a strong resemblance to dog kibble. 

That was what I used. But reluctant to discard the butter bean idea, I also cooked up a 300g batch of those to bulk it out a bit. Perhaps the quinoa was overkill, but the Messy Apron blog had put me in mind to try cooking it in the slow cooker, so 50g of well-rinsed quinoa went in too.

The soya chunks have to be soaked in water to reconstitute them before cooking, although the package instructions don't give a time. I found that the water did not all get absorbed, even after an hour or so, but the 'kibble' did soften up.

As for the butter beans, well that's a story in itself. I have an old pressure cooker instruction manual that smugly extols the virtues and ease of cooking dried beans and pulses in the pressure cooker. So simple and quick, everyone would be whipping up batches of beans all the time if only they knew! Right. I followed the instructions to cover them in boiling water and leave to soak for an hour. True, it is quicker than soaking overnight and then using a traditional saucepan and the high temperatures in the pressure cooker kill the toxins found in dried beans. BUT the beans froth up and spurt thick beany liquid all over the hob, in the process clogging up the numerous little valves and rings in the pressure cooker lid and leading to a major cleaning fest later on involving poking toothpicks into said valves and rings to get the gunge out. And yes I did make sure to avoid filling the pressure cooker more than half full as per the instructions. So much for a quick meal. 

With hindsight I should have just boiled the beans for long enough to kill off the toxins (about 5 minutes at full pressure) or better still used a can, but I let them cook the full amount of time (about 15 minutes) . Therefore they were already mushy when they went into the slow cooker with the soya chunks, the quinoa, the sauce mix and the green pepper and onion, as well as a glug of olive oil. I also added a de-seeded chili pepper, but I think it was quite a mild one.

 I added a lot more liquid (I used the stock from the butter beans) than the 50ml recommended on the packet, so that the quinoa would have enough liquid to cook in. I even had to add more of the stock several times through the cooking process as the casserole was starting to stick to the slow cooker.  I cooked it for about 3 and a half hours on high and I added single cream instead of the double cream about 10 minutes before serving the casserole. 

The verdict? It was nice and creamy and the flavour was good, but very mild - I would have liked more of a kick. It was a bit on the mushy side too. I'm not sure whether I would cook quinoa like that again, but I do plan to try the  Slow Cooker Mexican Quinoa from Chelsea's Messy Apron at some point. The soya chunks weren't bad, kind of like soft chicken pieces. We ate it with tortillas, spring onions, guacamole, sour cream and lettuce.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Filo topped Lentil and spinach pie and the protein question

The rest of the family were having roast lamb infused with garlic and rosemary, mmmm, but I needed something quick to serve up alongside the veg for veggie daughter. One thing that nags away at me about a vegetarian diet is whether she is getting enough protein, and whether it's the right sort of protein to ensure that her teenage body gets what needs to grow and develop properly, particularly now that she has taken up rowing. A quick delve into the back of my mind makes me think that the type of protein in meat is difficult to find in vegetarian food but that's about as far as my knowledge stretches. I need to do a bit more research to fill in the gaps, so it's off to the internet. Or if you want to jump straight to the recipe, feel free to skip over the next two paragraphs.

The Protein Question

I started with a BBC iWonder guide entitled Should you worry about how much protein you eat? This quotes a figure of 0.75 g protein per kilogram of body weight as the amount we are recommended to consume (I'm not sure who is doing the recommending). So a person weighing 60kg would need to eat 45g protein per day, which apparently is around two palm sized portions of meat, fish, pulses, nuts or tofu. Most westerners eat considerably more, which I learn could be a whole other problem in itself. Addressing my concern about extra protein needed for increased exercise levels, this web page recommends chocolate milk as the ideal post-exercise drink, which will go down a treat with veggie daughter when she emerges from the mists of the Great Ouse after a strenuous rowing session.

Then I stumbled upon the website of Viva! Health,  'registered charity....set up to monitor and to explain the increasing amount of scientific research linking diet to health'. Their fact sheet The Protein Myth was very useful. To summarise, there are around 20 amino acids that build the protein we need to build and repair muscle. Our bodies can make some of them, but there are nine 'essential' amino acids that we can only get from our diet. Meat and soya products (and also, as I read later, quinoa) are classed as complete proteins, because they contain all these essential amino acids. Other forms of protein are classed as incomplete because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. According to the fact sheet it is difficult to be protein deficient on a western diet, even if it is vegetarian. If you eat a balanced diet with sufficient calorie intake, you are likely to get the mix of proteins you need to supply the amino acids. So I think I can silence that nagging voice in my head that keeps telling me that veggie daughter needs more protein.

And that leads me back to the recipe, which uses red lentils and cashews as the protein. The dish provided around 12g protein from the lentils and 9g from the nuts as well as around 6g in the spinach.

Filo topped lentil and spinach pie

1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp harissa paste (or to taste, depending how much spice you like)
200g red lentils
400ml veg stock 
250g frozen spinach
50g cashews
chopped fresh herbs, depending on what you have, I used basil
3 sheets frozen filo pastry (thawed)
olive oil

1. Fry onions, spices, garlic for a few minutes until the onions are softened.

2. Add the lentils and stock and cook for 15 minutes (you probably don't need to add salt unless your stock is unsalted)

3. Add the frozen spinach and stir around until the spinach wilts, then stir in the nuts and fresh herbs.

4. Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish.

5. Brush the filo sheets with oil, scrunch them up and arrange on top of the lentil mixture. Bake at 190C for about 20 minutes, or until the filo is lightly golden.

I served it with buttered cabbage, roasted sweet potato and brussels sprouts and roast potatoes.