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.