Tag Archives: dairy free

Sweet Potato Wedges

Autumn is now with us. The mornings might be bright, but there is that unmistakable crispness in the air that signals things are about to get a lot “fresher” in the coming weeks, and the evenings are getting dark very quickly. Sure, it might still feel warm if you’re in a sunny spot, but when you’re in the shade, or a breeze blows past, you feel just how nippy things are getting.

With the chaos of moving house almost at an end, I’ve finally been back in the kitchen. All of a sudden, my cooking has moved away from the salads of summer, and quick, light suppers, and into much more substantial fare. Lentil dishes with lots of spices, curries, baked squash, soups, fritters…it’s the time of year to batten down the hatches and do all you can to fend off the cold weather that is approaching. It’s not a conscious change on my part, but there are certain dishes the you just have a craving for as the seasons roll by. I have, however, resisted the urge to buy Christmas pudding, even if my local shop has decided that this is exactly what we want to eat in October.

In much of my cooking at this time of year, I use a lot of spices, and I take a heavy-handed approach. I somehow feel that lots of cumin, pepper, ginger, garlic and sambal will help to fight off the sniffles during the colder months. It might work, it might not, but it certainly makes things a lot more tasty. It’s also worth getting a little more creating in how you season things – one of my current favourites is ground allspice, which is very common in sweet treats like biscuits and gingerbread, but it adds an interesting dimension to savoury dishes too.

It was with all this in mind that I got round to trying something that was on my “to make” list for quite some time. I love sweet potatoes baked and topped with feta, so I expected great things when they were spiced and baked as wedges.

Pleasingly, these are very, very simple to make – nothing much more than peeled sweet potato, cut to size, then tossed in oil with some spices, and then baked. They also have the benefit of looking very impressive – a jolly autumnal bust of orange when freshly cut, turning a deeper colour after baking. They can also be prepared hours ahead of time and left in the spice mixture to marinade (if it is possible to marinade potatoes?), and make a great snack or side dish. However it is the spices that take these from so-so to wow-wow. The spices you use are completely up to you – I went with some personal favourites (allspice, paprika, curry powder, black pepper and cumin). A tasty little dish as the long nights draw in.

As you can see below, these wedges hold their shape rather nicely too after being baked in a hot oven.

To make sweet potato wedges:

• 2 large sweet potatoes
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• spices – select 5, and use 1/2 teaspoon of each(*)

1. Preheat the oven to 220°C (420°F).

2. Peel the potatoes. Cut lengthways into eight wedges, then slice each wedge diagonally (so each potato provides 16 pieces).

3. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil and spices. Mix well, then add the potato wedges.

4. Transfer the coated wedges to a tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 30-40 minutes until you can insert a knife easily, and the wedges are just stating to brown at the edges.

5. Serve immediately with the dip of your choice.(**)

(*) For the spices, I used allspice, paprika, curry powder, black pepper and cumin. And then I cheated and added some dried thyme too.

(**) I served these with a sprinkle of salt, and a dip made from tahini, yoghurt, sambal and lime juice.

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Tumis Buncis (Indonesian Green Beans)

Gosh, it has been a rather hectic week! Packing, sorting, tidying and living between two places. However, it’s also a rather cathartic process of sifting through what feels like mountains of “stuff” and getting rid of things that I either no longer want or need. One of the perks of where I live at the moment (Stoke Newington) is that if you put something in the street that is vaguely usable, it’s a virtual certainty that someone will take it and give it a new home. As a result, I’ve managed to de-clutter without actually throwing much in the bin. Result!

As part of all this packing, I’ve also rediscovered some long-lost items. Old t-shirts which I had forgotten but which I now love once more, books that I read years ago and want to read again, photos from my travels and…my recipe file. Yes, I’m old enough to have a recipe file. I started this when I lived in Brussels and it contains recipes from magazines, Internet print-outs and some scrappy hand-written ideas. As you can tell, this pre-dates the days when everyone has Internet access at home, and back then there was a need to have a bundle of never-fail recipes at your fingertips.

Funnily enough, I recently read an article in which the author was musing about the way that we record our recipes today. Wind back a decade or so and it was all about writing down recipes or cutting them out of magazines, but in the age of online content and blogs, there is just not that imperative to tear out recipes from the weekend papers to file for later reference. So it seemed fortuitous to me that I dug out my old file, and I was rather curious about what was in there.

Leafing through, I came across a simple but quite tasty recipe that I received from an Indonesian colleague when I lived in Brussels. It’s incredibly simple – just garlic, green beans and tomatoes, seasoned with salt, sugar, nutmeg and sambal or chili. It makes a great main dish with rice and some chopped peanuts, or as a side dish. The nutmeg in particular adds a little extra something to the overall flavour. So there you have it – a recipe for tumis buncis rediscovered as part of my packing, and I suspect the last recipe that I post from North of the River!

To make tumis buncis (main for 2 or side for 4)

• 350g green beans, washed and sliced diagonally
• 350g cherry tomatoes, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
• 2 tablespoons oil
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• sambal or chili

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Saute the garlic for a couple of minutes.

Add the green beans and tomatoes and cook for a further two minutes. Add the salt, sugar, nutmeg and sambal/chili and cook on a high heat until the tomato juice has made a slightly thick sauce, but the beans are still firm. Check the seasoning, and add more salt and sugar if needed.

Serve with white rice, and if you want to go to town some satay (peanut) sauce.

Worth making? This is a really easy dish to make, but bursting with flavour from the tomatoes and nutmeg. It all comes together to make a very satisfying dish that can be whipped up in a few minutes, and makes a great main or side dish.

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Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Yaki Onigiri

That’s fried rice balls to you and me. Now think about it…fried starch…sounding pretty good, eh?

My first experience of yaki onigiri was in Brussels at a Japanese restaurant called Kushetei. It was a great dinner, but things got a little weird when we got to dessert – no selection of exquisite Japanese sweets, but instead we got mochi filled with ice-cream. Straight from the packet, complete with cute anime-style characters. I am sure that this would be delightfully whimsical to aficionados of Japanese culture, but to me, back in the day, it just seemed a slightly odd way to complete a meal.

Of the many tasty things that I tried that night, what stood out for me were the fried rice balls. The staff did have an annoying habit of sprinkling fish flakes over them (I don’t think they got that fish flakes were not a vegetable), so each time a fresh batch arrived, the fish flakes had to be picked off with forensic precision. Once that was done, the rice balls were delicious.

Back in my Brussels kitchen I decide to try making them myself, but my early attempts went rather spectacularly badly. What went wrong? Well, I failed at almost the first hurdle. I reached into the cupboard for rice, any old rice, and it was a packet of the plain white stuff. I had put enough thought into the process to realise that the rice needs to be somewhat sticky so that it could be formed into balls, so I just boiled it until sort of soupy, drained, and proceeded on my way. Well, whatever I did, it didn’t really work and I ended up with rice balls that had a tendency to collapse. I ended up with a large plate of oily, partially-fried rice swimming in soy sauce. It just about tasted alright, but this was not something that would cause the skilled chef in a Japanese restaurant to lose sleep. If anything, he’s probably have attached me with a sushi knife for my lame efforts!

Fast forward more than half a decade. Putting aside the fact that time seems to fly past with increasingly alarming speed, I would be so bold as to suggest that I am now a better cook, but more fundamentally, I also have access to much better ingredients. Brussels had good shops, but if you really want to get hold of culinary items that are strange, niche or obscure, London will oblige (with the exception of yuzu fruit – still no trace of it!). I’ve blogged about my searches for peculiar raising agents for baking (like ammonium or pottasche). For the rice balls, I needed sushi rice. Well, luckily that’s actually pretty easy to come by in this town. So as they say in the movies, let’s do it again, but once more with feeling (and the correct rice).

This time, I am happy to report that my rice was obligingly sticky, the rice balls could be formed with ease (and very sticky hands), and the result was sensational. Utterly sensational. One of those it is so good I can’t stop at three types of dishes. My only regret is that I did not make double the amount, and this is definitely going to be one of my kitchen staples from now on. I mean – fried starch. We all love that, right?

The good news – all you need is rice, oil and soy sauce. You’re about an hour away from something utterly delicious!

To make Yaki Onigiri:

• sushi rice
• oil (I used grapeseed)
• soy sauce(*)

1. Cook the sushi rice according to the instructions on the packet. Assume 75g per person.

2. While the rice is still warm, shape into balls or cubes. It’s easiest to keep your hands very well-oiled, as the rice is super-sticky.

3. Fry the rice balls. You probably don’t need more oil – what’s on the balls should be enough. Once golden all over, remove and brush with soy sauce. Fry again until crispy. And that’s it! Just sit back and enjoy!

(*) If you are feeling adventurous, mix the soy sauce with other things – I added a dash of sambal to mine (Indonesian rather than Japanese, but never mind) for a tiny dash of heat, and a little sesame oil for a nutty flavour.

Worth making? Get the right rice, and O-M-G these work amazingly well. These are fantastic as part of a meal or as snacks with drinks. While utterly delicious, they are also vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free, so they should be a winner with everyone.

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Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)

My “twelve cookies of Christmas” series continues with one of my favourites, and again, there is a bit of a German theme going on here.

Today, we are making Zimtsterne (German cinnamon stars). I absolutely adore these ones, and they always prove very, very popular. How do I know this? I gave a box of them as a gift to a friend a couple of years ago, and her house-guest found and ate most of them. But hey, I can’t blame her, they are incredibly more-ish.

While they undoubtedly look impressive, they are relatively straightforward to make, with the only really tricky bit being perfecting the rolling of the dough, cutting the cookies and glazing them. The dough has lots of fresh ground almonds and sugar, flavoured with cinnamon, orange zest and just a touch of honey. The resulting cookies are crisp at the edges, but soft and chewy in the middle, and topped with a crisp sugary icing, which turns a gentle light golden colour in the oven. If you leave them out for a couple of days, they will get softer and even more chewy.

I like to make my Zimtsterne using whole almonds that I grind at home, as I think the flavour is better than using pre-ground nuts, and the brown speckling from the skin looks quite nice in the finished product. The nut mixture can also be tweaked a little, with a 50/50 mix of almonds and hazelnuts, or even all hazelnuts if that’s what floats your boat. You can also miss out the orange if you want, but I think this adds a pleasant extra aromatic note.

Finally, these are also wheat/gluten-free and contain no milk products. Not something that is usually top of my worry list, but it proved to be very helpful at the weekend – I had Christmas drinks where two guest were, in turn, gluten intolerant and dairy intolerant. Lucky I had these to serve. That, and the Germans in the room also seemed to be suitably impressed. Whew!

To make Zimtsterne (makes around 50)*

For the dough:

• 2 egg whites
• 500g unskinned almonds, finely ground(**)
• 300g icing sugar
• 2 tablespoons acacia honey
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• zest of 1 orange

For the glaze:

• 1 egg white
• 100g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a metal tray with baking paper and grease with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, lightly whip the egg whites until just frothy. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. The mixture might seem dry at first, but keep going (eventually using your hands) and it will come together into a soft dough.

Sprinkle the kitchen worktop generously with more icing sugar, and roll out portions of the dough to 1cm thickness. Cut out star shapes with a cutter and place the baking sheet. Make sure there is sufficient icing sugar under the dough to stop it sticking to the worktop (this I know from experience!).

Next make the glaze: whisk the egg white until just frothy, then add the icing sugar and mix until it is thick and syrupy. Spread thinly on the top of the stars (using the back of a teaspoon or a brush). Aim just to cover the tops, you will need a thinner layer than you think. If you add too much, it will bubble and blister, rather than forming a smooth surface.

Bake the stars for 10-15 minutes until the edges of icing are just starting to colour.

Once ready, remove from the oven and allow to sit for a minute before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

(*) Recipe can be easily halved, results are equally good.

(**) If you are grinding almonds, ideally use a coffee grinder to reduce them to a fine meal. If the almonds/nuts are too coarse, the stars will be too moist and lose their shape in the oven. If the dough seems very sticky, add most ground nuts and icing sugar.

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things