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Lemony lentil salad

After all the sweet shenanigans of my last post, I need something savoury to to bring my tastebuds back into balance (and maybe my waistline too ;-) ).

Although, considering that there are two lemons, a tablespoon of capers and a healthy dose of chopped onion in this earthy salad, you might think I’ve gone too far in the other direction… However, it mellows down a bit after a night in the fridge and the flavours mingle to produce something that’s not quite as mouth-puckeringly tart but still definitely satisfies all my savoury leanings.

Happily, it’s also turned out to be an easy-and-versatile little number – which guarantees both a place in my heart and my regular repetoire. So far we’ve served it warm with baked trout for dinner and I’ve taken the leftovers in to work for lunch as part of a salad, layered up with veggies and some salty feta to top it off. Now that’s savoury and no mistake.

When the weather gets colder (not yet! not yet!) I’m thinking it would go well with roasted veggies, or act nicely as a sharp foil against the creaminess of a cheesy potato bake. In fact, you could dollop it on the side of just about anything you care to think of. Maybe just scoop it out straight of the bowl with a hunk of crusty bread to mop up the dressing…

This recipe is my entry for the June edition of No Croutons Required, hosted by Lisa’s Vegetarian Kitchen. The latest challenge was to produce a soup or salad based on legumes/pulses – always handy to have as part of a healthier lifestyle, so I can’t wait to see what everyone else comes up with :-)   

Lemony lentil salad from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.

Serves 4

You’ll need:

1 cup lentils, sorted and rinsed (preferably something like Puy or Beluga lentils, ones that will hold their shape well)
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 cup minced fresh chives, shallot or red onion
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Put the lentils in a medium pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Add the bay leaf and the garlic, and bring to a boil. Cover and lower the heat so that the lentils bubble gently. Cook until just tender but not burst – 20 to 30 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure there is always enough water at the bottom of the pan to keep the lentils from burning.

2. Squeeze the juice from one of the lemons into a large bowl. Peel the other lemon and chop the segments roughly into smaller pieces, taking care to remove the seeds. Add the segments to the bowl along with the olive oil, capers and minced onion. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and stir.

3. Drain whatever water remains from the lentils and stir into the dressing while hot. Let the salad rest, stirring occasionally to distribute the dressing, until it cools down a bit. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve warm or refridgerate for up to several days.

Interesting alternative: Bittman suggests using two tangerines instead of the lemons. Will be trying that version out as soon as the current batch is used up. Which will be very soon at this rate :-)

Lemony lentil salad

spicy lentil and pumpkin soup

Some days I think I should just rename this blog ‘I ♥ Soup’ or ‘Queen of Soups’, because we seem to be getting through lot of it around here at the moment. Tis the season, I guess. We all crave something hot, simple and hearty when the weather is playing silly buggers and daylight is just a dim memory. 

And right now I feel like the soup witch as I huddle over my bubbling cauldron of mysterious gloop, mumbling incantations to ward off the winter blues (and cackling like a mad ‘un, of course).

Except it’s just a big pot on the stove, filled with spicy dal-pumpkin soup and I’m not that bad or mad (yet) – just wishing February would get its skates on and disappear. It’s such an uninspiring time for anyone who loves cooking.

So it’s a big thanks to Holler at Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa at Lisa’s Kitchen for coming up with No Croutons Required - a new monthly challenge to create a veggie soup or salad, sometimes according to a theme. It’s the kick in the backside I’ve needed to look at my kitchen cupboards and cookbooks with a fresh eye.

The inaugural challenge is to cook a veggie soup ‘that even the most carnivorous diner would drool over’. Hence my witchy attempts to cast a spell over all soup-lovers out there with this offering from Nigel Slater ;-)

Silky roasted pumpkin marries perfectly with the grainy texture of the lentils… the zingy spices make this a soup to warm your soul as well as your body… the fresh note of coriander lifts your spirits, whispering of better, brighter times around the corner. And in these dark, dreary days, who couldn’t do with a bit of hope like that in their belly?

Just remember, I’ll turn you all into toads if you don’t like it.

Dal and pumpkin soup from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

Serves 4 generous bowlfuls

You’ll need:

a small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
walnut-sized knob of ginger, cut into thin shreds
little bit of olive oil
225g split red lentils, picked over and washed
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 teaspoon ground chilli
250g pumpkin, peeled weight, cut into fat chunks
small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
1.5 litres veg or chicken stock

1. Put the onion, garlic, ginger and olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the lentils and pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down to an enthusiastic simmer. Stir in the tumeric and chilli and leave to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

2. While the soup is cooking, bring a medium-sized pan of water to the boil. Boil the pumpkin pieces for 10 minutes until they are tender enough to take a skewer without much pressure. Drain and set aside. (Or roast it in the oven for 20 to 30 mins at 200C/gas mark 6.)

3. Remove the lid from the lentils and turn up the heat, boiling hard for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, then add the drained pumpkin. Put the soup through the blender until smooth. Stir in the roughly chopped coriander and check the seasoning (Nigel mentions that he likes more than the usual amount of salt in this soup). 

Cook’s notes

I didn’t have any ground chilli, so I guesstimated with some chilli flakes. Seemed to do the trick.

I roasted the squash – I was shoving a bunch of other veggies into the oven, so it made sense.

roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup

Ah soup, glorious soup - there’s nothing quicker to make or better at warding off the cold, or offering comfort after you slip on some ice and measure your admittedly short length along the pavement.

Still, not too much bruised except my pride :-)

This recipe from Rose Elliot’s Vegetarian Express is fantastic, not just for the comfort factor but because it pretty much makes itself: roast the vegetables, then liquidise - that’s all there is to it. My kind of soup.

Rose also mentions that because the ingredients are rich in beta-carotene, this soup is good for healthy eyes, hair, nails, lungs and throat, and increased resistance to infection. So if anyone’s got the sniffles/lurgy/man flu this weekend, you’re practically on orders to try this out!

red peppers, sweet potatoes and red onions

Roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup adapted from Vegetarian Express by Rose Elliot

Serves 4

You’ll need:

3 red peppers, halved and seeded
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 red onion, peeled and quartered
1 pint vegetable stock
Red chilli flakes to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

2. Toss the vegetables together with some olive oil in a large roasting dish.

3. Roast in the oven for around 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little.

4. Blend the cooked vegetables in a liquidiser, together with the stock and red chilli flakes to taste.

5. Reheat, season with salt and pepper to taste, then serve. 

Cook’s notes

I served this up with some chunky garlic croutons – see the recipe below. Very addictive…

A friend of mine (hi Susan! :-) ) has a nice variation where you chuck a whole chilli in to roast with the veg. It all depends on how much heat you like.

Sweet potato and black bean burrito

Up for some more chopping board therapy? Well, I’ve got to admit, I didn’t go too far to find this recipe for sweet potato and black bean burritos – it’s only  few pages along from Fat Tuesday’s Skinny Red Beans in the Moosewood Restaurant’s Low-Fat Favourites.

Apart from the chance to stand around, happily slicing my way through a mountain of sweet potatoes and onions (with all the teary snifling you’d expect that would bring on), what caught my eye about this dish was the intro blurb claiming that it didn’t need cheese.

Oh yeah?

I’m sorry, but there’s no such thing as ‘no cheese’ in my world. Does. Not. Compute. Cheese makes the sun come up around here at Bird Towers. How could anything not taste better with cheese? So I was intrigued to see how it would turn out.

Of course, the Moosewood authors are right. The sweet potatoes make for an unexpectedly satisfying and creamy filling, which means that you don’t miss cheese one little bit. And that can only be a good thing for those of us trying to cut down on extra calories after the festive season ;-)   

Sweet potato and black bean burritos from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favourites

Serves 4 to 6

You’ll need:

5 cups peeled, cubed sweet potatoes
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3½ diced onions
4 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon minced fresh green chile
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground coriander
4½ cups cooked black beans, (2x 400g cans, drained)
2/3 cup lightly packed coriander leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Another pinch of salt
8 eight-inch flour tortillas
Fresh tomato salsa to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

2. Place the sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan with a pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer until tender – about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

3. While the sweet potatoes are cooking, warm the oil in a medium frying pan/skillet and add the onions, garlic and chile. Cover and cook on a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are tender, about 7 minutes.

4. Add the cumin and coriander to the onion mixture, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and set aside.

5. In a large bowl, combine the black beans, coriander leaves, lemon juice, salt and cooked sweet potatoes. Then use a potato masher to squish the whole lot together. Stir through the onion mixture.

6. Lightly oil a large baking dish. Spoon about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of the filling in the centre of each tortilla, roll it up and place it, seam side down, in the baking dish.

7. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until piping hot. Serve topped with tomato salsa.

Cook’s notes

I reckon that if you left the coriander leaves out, the sweet potato mixture would be good for freezing if you have leftovers/make up extra on purpose.

But the leftovers also make a fab and very portable snack – that’s my lunch in the pic at the top of this post.

The tomato salsa recipe Moosewood provided didn’t really blow me away. It was nice but not really blogworthy. If anyone out there has an outstanding salsa, let me know!

Skinny Tuesday’s Fat Red Beans

Scroll down to the recipe and you’ll see the reason for this post’s title…

There’s a fair bit of chopping involved to get Fat Tuesday’s Skinny Red Beans on the table. But sometimes, perversely, that’s exactly what I want to do – stand at the kitchen counter and do a bit of slicing and dicing for a while, letting my brain wander… (not too far, though – I’d like to keep all my fingers and thumbs). It can be an extremely relaxing and satisfying activity – which is the order of the day after all the recent seasonal mayhem.

chopped veggies, ready to go into Fat Tuesday’s Skinny Red Beans

Edward Espe Brown has a great quote about the mediative nature of chopping veg – I must go and look it up. And I can heartily recommend the sound advice offered by Shauna over at Gluten-Free Girl about how to chop an onion. This is going to sound silly but it turns out I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. I bet I’ll never be able to do it as quickly as the Chef, although I’m one heck of a lot better at it than I used to be :-)

Anyhoo, once you’ve accumulated a multi-coloured mountain of diced veggies (just looking at them makes you feel healthier – if only that translated into reality, eh?), this dish is a snap to put together – just a bit of pushing round in the pan, some simmering and you’re ready to curl up with a big bowl of something comforting while you watch the weather report on the TV. In fact, as I type this, it’s just starting to snow…

Fat Tuesday’s Skinny Red Beans from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favourites

Serves 4 to 6

You’ll need:

2 cups chopped onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped bell peppers (red, green, yellow, orange or a combination)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
pinch of cayenne, or more to taste
3 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes (or two 400g tins)
1½ cups cooked or canned kidney beans (one 400g tin – although I often throw in two tins’ worth)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup fresh or frozen sliced okra (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley or minced spring onions

1. Combine the onions, garlic and olive oil in a large pot with a heavy base. Cover and cook on a medium heat for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened.

2. Add the carrots, celery, peppers, oregano, thyme, basil, marjoram and cayenne. Cover and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking.

3. When the veggies are just tender, stir in the tomatoes, kidney beans, mustard, brown sugar and okra (if you want it). Simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with rice/crusty bread/cornbread and topped with parsley or spring onions.

Cook’s notes

This is a great ‘make a big batch for the freezer’ recipe – it’s easy to multiply up and it’s one of those rare dishes that actually tastes just as good, if not better, after a while in the big chill.

Mr B. has run away to Kerry for work purposes and he’s taken the camera with him :-( Nevermind, he’ll be back tomorrow.

In the meantime, this has given me the perfect excuse to go trawling through my photo archive, weed out the rubbish (of which there is a lot) and see if there’s anything interesting and food-related to post here.

Icecream on a sunny May day at the Edinburgh farmers market seems to fit the bill. More specifically, low-fat, no-sugar, vegan strawberry icecream,* which was absolutely delicious. And I wasn’t the only one who thought so – the stall selling it ran out by mid-morning.

This was a treat that sparkled with flavour on the tongue. It performed that wonderful trick of tasting more like strawberries than the real thing. Sunshine somehow captured in a cone. A real pleasure to be lingered over on a warm day, while taking in the view of the Castle – I don’t know of too many other farmers markets with such an amazing backdrop. (Although I’d love to put that to the test by visiting all the markets in the world, just to make a fair comparison, of course…)As for the icecream makers, they were local farmers who had come up with an ingenious solution to their strawberry glut (rather than just going the usual jam-making route), so it could have been just a one-off thing for them to pitch up on that particular Saturday. I don’t know if they ever came back as I moved to Ireland not long after taking these photos. But I truly hope so.

*Being an inquisitive/nosy person by nature, I asked what went into the icecream. I was expecting to hear that there was at least some soya milk or cream, because the resulting flavour and texture was so creamy. The answer turned out to be just water and incredibly ripe strawberries (hence the need to make something with then before they turned bad). Who’d have thunk it?

The great NaBloPoMo marathon has kicked off and I’ve got to confess that I’m too chicken to sign up. Partly this is because I’m going to be away for a couple of days this month and may not be able to post, but mostly it’s just that I’m a whole barrel-load of lazy. OK, I’ll commit to writing for as many days of the month as I have access to a computer. (I don’t think they have a blogging group set up for the partially committed…) Although, much like Hellojed over at It Had Better Be Good, I’m not sure what I’ll be writing about. Guess that’s all part of the fun!

So here’s the first post of 30(ish).

Something magical happens when you drop kale into a saucepan of boiling water. Almost instantly, the dark green leaves take on a striking emerald hue, becoming a little transparent in the process. In fact, they wouldn’t look out of place in a stained glass window. (Hmmm – a great vegetable window anyone? No?) How can eating in winter be considered dull or a deprivation when you have such wonderful produce to play with? And I love playing with my food :-)

This dish was my lunch the other day (and the day after – it reheated well). I had to fiddle with the recipe a bit to suit what I had in the house (not enough kale, basically) but I think it worked out ok: the higher bean-to-kale ratio made it more of a main course than a side dish.

Kale with cannellini beans adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Provides 2 main course portions

You’ll need:

250g kale or mixed greens, stems and ribs removed
Salt and pepper
1 small onion, finely diced
1½ tablespoon olive oil
2 plump cloves garlic, minced
Pinch red chilli flakes
2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
½ cup white wine or water
1 x 400g tin cooked cannellini beans, rinsed well
Freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
Croutons to serve

1. Simmer the kale in salted water until tender – around 7 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve the cooking water, and chop the kale.

2. In a large pan, sauté the onion in the oil with the garlic, pepper flakes and rosemary for about 3 minutes. Add the wine/water and cook until it’s reduced to a syrupy sauce.

3. Add the beans, kale and enough cooking water to keep the mixture loose. Heat through, taste for salt and season with pepper, and serve with a dusting of Parmesan.

Cook’s notes

Just for interest, Deborah specifies 1½ to 2 pounds of kale, in order to serve 2 to 4 people. The rest of the recipe is exactly the same as shown above.

I didn’t have any white wine around, so I just used water. Sounds dull but worked well. But I’d like to try the wine version at some point – it probably adds an extra savoury note.

Garlic, it seems. This time, my favourite member of the allium family makes an appearance in a chickpea salad with roasted peppers. It keeps well in the fridge, it’s a good lunchtime keep-you-going kind of dish, and it’s tastier once it’s had a chance to sit for a while and let the flavours develop.

But this does mean the garlic flavour is pretty prominent (although not overwhelming), so – in the name of love, peace and harmony – make sure that your loved one or all your co-workers eat it too. Unless you’re trying to break up with your loved one or you hate your co-workers, in which case go right ahead and chomp the lot on your own. Then breathe. Heavily.

Chickpea salad with roasted peppers from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Serves 2 hungry people or 4 as a side dish

You’ll need:

2 large red peppers, roasted
3 cups of cooked chickpeas, rinsed if canned
¼ cup of parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons of chopped mint
3 tablespoons of capers, rinsed
1½ tablespoons of fresh lemon juice or red wine or sherry vinegar
¼ teaspoon of salt
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1. Cut the peppers into ½-inch wide strips and put them in a large bowl, together with the chickpeas, herbs and the capers.
2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, salt, garlic and oil. Pour over the chickpea mixture and combine.
3. Serve (or refrigerate and allow flavours to mingle).

Cook’s notes

Despite my resolution to boil all beans from scratch, I just used a 400g can here. Oh the shame. What can I say, I’m just a very impatient person. But I think this meant I only used about half the amount specified. However, I like the ratio of chickpeas to peppers that this produced and would recommend it.

I didn’t have any capers, so I just left them out. But I don’t think they were any great loss, just a ‘nice to have’.

Again, I didn’t use as much oil as specified because recipes always seem to add too much for my taste. In this case, 3 tablespoons of oil worked just fine.

Actually, I think it looks more like an egg yolk surrounded by the white of the mug in the above picture. But that’s a loooong post title.

A weekend trip to York for a christening meant we only returned to Ireland very, very late last night. After sleeping in and still feeling groggy, a trudge to the shops for supplies wasn’t really on the cards, so I had to russle something up for lunch from whatever I could find lying around – preferably something that didn’t require a lot of effort.

Which led to…

Garlicky butternut squash soup
, adapted from Soup Kitchen
You’ll need:
1 butternut squash
2 or more unpeeled cloves of garlic (I used 5, but it depends how garlicky you want to go)
Some olive oil
1 pint of veggie stock
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/ gas mark 6. Slice the butternut squash into segments and place them in a roasting tin, along with at least two cloves of garlic (or more to taste.)
2. Toss the squash and garlic with some olive oil and then put the tin in the oven for about 40 minutes, until the squash is soft and browned around the edges.
3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit.
4. Scoop out the squash flesh, pop the garlic cloves out of their skins and add them to a blender, along with the pint of veggie stock. Blitz.
5. Adjust the seasoning to taste and reheat the soup if necessary.

6. Serve.

A rare opportunity to curl up on the sofa on a hazy spring morning and eat breakfast while watching what’s going on in the park across the road.

Kids setting up the posts for their Saturday football practice, some hanging around on the sidelines and not looking quite so keen (I can sympathise). Joggers cracking a fair pace across the square in ones and twos. A toddler running at full pelt across the grass, his arms bouncing up and down, his smile broad – he hasn’t quite worked out how to stop without falling over. And it looks like a bit of a shock when he does (but dad comes to the rescue). Cherry and apple blossom slowly falling off the trees dotted around the park – white and pink petals drifting gently in the breeze to land across the street in the tiny scruffy strip of garden around our flat. People wandering past with the papers and a pint of milk from the corner shop – off to do the same thing as me and watch the world go by.

It’s a beautiful place and I’m going to miss it so much.

Yes, I was starting to fall into my own navel with introspection. So I scarfed down the rest of my breakfast and retreated to the boxroom kitchen (no window = no chance of depressing thoughts) to make muffins for Veggie Kate and D, who were coming round for a cuppa.

Veggie Kate is a slight misnomer as she’s actually vegan. I looked at what was lurking in the fridge and what Isa Chandra recommended in her fantastic book Vegan with a Vengance. Recently published in a UK edition, it’s a sign of the times that you can find it readily available in any good bookshop near you. (And it’s doing quite nicely on the veggie page at Amazon.)

The fridge rummage turned up some carrots, so…

Carrot and raisin muffins
From Vegan with a Vengance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

You’ll need:

75g raisins – soaked in hot water to plump them up
175g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground/freshly grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
250ml of rice or soy milk
4 tablespoons of rapeseed oil
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
4 medium carrots, grated.

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 4. Spray a 12-hole muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray or lightly grease with oil.

2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour. baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and salt.

3. Create a well in the centre and add the milk, oil and vanilla. Mix until just combined. Fold in the grated carrots and raisins.

4. Fill the muffin tins three quarters full. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes until a cocktail stick/knife inserted in the centre of one comes out clean. Let cool on a cooling rack.

Cook’s notes

Of all the things I was expecting a vegan muffin to taste like, it wasn’t eggy. I think it was the brand of soya milk I used, so I’m going to experiment with some others to see. But it wasn’t overpowering-ly eggy – just a background taste. Mainly just lots of lovely cinnamon and carrots. Mmmmm.

Also, it only made enough batter to fill six large muffins holes in my tins (mini carrot cakes really) – the alternative was 12 small wide pancakes. So I need to get some cupcake tins or double the recipe. Either way it’s a winner.

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I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
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