Tag Archives: gluten free

Spicy Lentils with Mint and Goat Cheese

I’m still in the post-Christmas health kick phase. There has been lots of walking instead of taking the bus, “body attack” classes at the gym, and I’m still sticking with my attempt to cook lots of healthy dishes based on lentils and beans. So mostly, I’ve been feeling the effects of exercise on a scale that I’m really not use to – ouch!

But on the culinary front – we did beans last week, so today, it’s lentils, and one of my favourite easy dishes.

This dish basically consists of lentils in a spicy tomato sauce that is enlivened with crumbled goat cheese and some shredded fresh mint. You’ve got a filling lunch or supper which is, in turns, warm, spicy, creamy, tangy and minty-fresh. It therefore lends itself very nicely to this time of year, but it’s equally suited to a lazy lunch or dinner on a warm day (remember those? Just a few months to wait…).

This is one of those dishes that is easy-peasy. I know that so many blogs promise recipes that are “really easy” (which begs the question – would anyone really post a recipe that requires three days in the kitchen???), but I promise you, this really, really is. You essentially throw everything into a pot, and then let it simmer slowly until the lentils are tender. Allow to cool slightly, then add the cheese and mint – job done!

For the spices, you can pretty much go with whatever you have to hand, so take this more as a guide rather than any sort of precise list. I like to add turmeric (for a slight yellowish tinge), paprika or piment d’Espelette, a dash of cumin and coriander, dried oregano and thyme, and a few cumin and mustard seeds for busts of flavour. Most likely I have never used the same combination twice – I just go with what I see in the store cupboard.

If you’re after more depth of flavour – and don’t mind some extra steps in the cooking process – you can fry the spices before adding the lentils (either dry fry or cook in a little olive oil), but that is about as complicated as this dish gets. I often fry the spices in oil, but when I’m in a lazy mood, I go for the “all in” approach and it works just fine.

The only thing that I add towards the end of the cooking process is a tiny pinch of salt – I read somewhere that it can make lentils tougher if added too early. I have no idea is this is true or not, but it’s become one of my kitchen rituals, so I guess it’s a habit that I am stuck with.

To make spicy lentils with mint and goat cheese (4 portions):

• 250g brown or green lentils
• spices, according to taste (around 4 teaspoons in total)

• 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
• stock cube or salt

• goat cheese or feta, crumbled
• fresh mint leaves, chopped

Rinse the lentils and put into a large saucepan with the spices.

Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, then add the tomatoes and simmer until the lentils are tender (around 30 minutes). Season with the stock cube or salt, then keep cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Serve warm or cold, with crumbled goat cheese or feta and some chopped fresh mint.

Worth making? Definitely worth making – this is quick, easy and very, very tasty. Tweak the spices according to preference, and you get a delicious lunch for the next day too!

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Black Bean Stew

First of all, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

Now that all the festive fun is over, it is time to make up for all that indulgence. This year, I think I was actually rather restrained, but upping the intake of healthy stuff in the middle of winter is never a bad thing. So this year, my resolution is to cook with less salt, less butter and more pulses and legumes. This is for January initially, but we’ll see how things go. You’d think I would have learned to be careful about basing lots of posts around a theme after all the Christmas baking, but I’m just a glutton for punishment!

Now, let’s be honest – salt and butter are fantastic. They are delicious, work wonders in food, and sometimes there is no substitute. however, it is easy to get lazy and just add more of each in a dish under the guise of “adding flavour”, and before you know it, you’re using too much. So this is less about eliminating the, and more about cutting them down for a while and trying other things to boost the taste of a dish – slow cooking, adding spices, a twist of lemon juice, chargrilling…and if nothing else, it will get me trying a few new things in the kitchen. Remember – it’s about cutting down, but cutting out, so when I do slip a bit of butter on a slice of bread, I’ll appreciate it all the more.

The “beans and legumes” element is about using ingredients that it can be all too easy to overlook in the kitchen, particular those that need to be soaked overnight. I am a huge fan of pasta, and when you get home a little late in the day, pasta will always win out over beans that need soaking overnight. So…my hope is that by using them more, I will change that and become better acquainted with…eh…the magical world of beans!

So here is my first dish, which I think is simplicity itself – an easy stew of black turtle beans and tomatoes. You throw everything in one pot and in less than an hour, it’s done. There is also no added salt in the stew itself. Instead, I’ve made liberal use of aromatic spices and added a dash of paprika for some warmth. The tomatoes all add some tanginess too. Basta!

To make black bean stew (serves 4):

• 200g black turtle beans
• 2 tins chopped tomatoes
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
• 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted and crushed
• 1/2 teaspoon nigella (black onion) seeds, toasted and crushed
• grated cheddar, to serve

Soak the beans overnight.

The next day, drain, rinse well, then put back in the pan. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

Next, add all the spices and chopped tomatoes. Stir well and keep simmering – uncovered – for another 30 minutes until the stew is thick and the beans are soft. If the stew gets too dry too quickly, add more water – the beans need a total cooking time of 60 minutes.

Serve with a spoon of low-fat natural yoghurt and a small sprinkling of grated mature cheddar.

Worth making? I love this as a main dish – it’s very easy to prepare and has lots of flavour. It defiantly comes under the “easy winter suppers” category and is a good recipe for the repertoire.

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Scottish Food: Macaroon Bars

The elegant arcades of Paris are dotted with pâtisseries selling dainty macarons in vibrant colours and all manner of exotic flavours. All very sophisticated and famous the world over.

Well, today I present one of Scotland’s national sweets: the macaroon bar. It’s about a million miles from the French macaron. They both contain sugar and the names are a little bit similar, but that’s about as far as it goes.

The Scottish macaroon bar is something of tooth-aching sweetness. It has a snowy-white intensely sugary interior that has been dipped in chocolate and then rolled in toasted coconut. This is probably as bad as sweets can get (and a dentist’s worst nightmare) but it has a firm place on the heart of a nation that, well, loves just about anything that is very, very, very sweet.

You might also wonder where the name comes from – is this in any way linked to the French macaron? The answer is…I don’t know. But here in Britain, coconut macaroons are quite common, so I think it is the addition of the coconut that gives rise to the name. Just a hunch.

Now, you might be looking at these things and thinking “wow, that looks an awful lot like a peppermint cream/pattie then you are sort of right. The filling is like fondant, but it hides a surprise. Whereas true fondant centres involve boiling sugary syrups to the right temperature, then working the syrup on cool marble surfaces with spatulas and kneading them to encourage the formation of the right type of sugar crystals, macaroon bars take a shortcut. And that shortcut (and I promise I am not making this up) is to use cooled mashed potato.

That’s right. Potato!

It seems surprising, but you mix one part potato to four to five parts icing (confectioner’s) sugar, and hey presto – a smooth filling that is easy to work and just as sweet as the more complex version. What this does mean, of course, is that if you are making this with kids on a rainy afternoon, it’s very easy to do and much safer than leaving a toddler to work a tray of scalding sugar syrup. Of course, it won’t do their teeth any good, but this is of course not something that you would be making on a daily basis.

The profess of making them takes a little time, but it’s actually quite easy. You start with the potato, which looks like it won’t ever take the best part of a kilogram of sugar. But with the first addition, it turns from dry-looking mashed potato to a very sticky syrup. Looks odd, but keep going and it becomes firm and turns snowy-white. Then you chill it in the freezer, so that once you come to dip the pieces in chocolate, it sets quite quickly. But something I learned by macaroon bar number two was that you either need to work with a friend (one dipping, one rolling) or use one hand for dipping, and keep the other free for the rolling. Otherwise you end up with fingers covered in chocolate, coated in coconut, and one very, very big mess in the kitchen.

The bar shape is classic, but once I’d cut the fontant into strips, I ended up with a few scraps. Clearly worried that I didn’t have enough highly sugary sweets already, and as I still had ample chocolate left, I rolled the fondant into balls, flattened them slightly, and dipped them in chocolate and rolled them in untoasted coconut. I think that they look rather pretty. Who knows, they could even take off as the must-have petits fours for smart dinner parties!

To make macaroon bars (makes 18-20):

• 1 large potato (100g after boiling)
 • 400-500g icing sugar
• 2-3 drops vanilla extract
 • 300g dark chocolate
 • 100g dessicated coconut

Boil the potato until soft. Drain, measure out 100g, then mash until there are no lumps, and leave until cold.

Put the cold mashed potato, vanilla extract and 100g of icing sugar in a bowl. Mix well – the potato might seem very dry, but it will change into a very thick, sticky paste. Keep adding the icing sugar, 100g at a time, mixing well after each addition, until you have a stiff white fondant.

Line a tray with greaseproof paper, put the fondant in the tray, and press flat. Cover with cling film and leave in the freezer for an hour.

In the meantime, toast the coconut in the oven – spread thinly on a large baking sheet and cook in the oven at 150°C (300°F) for around 5 minutes until the coconut is just golden. Watch it carefully – it can burn very easily. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Remove the fondant from the freezer. Cut into bars (mine were finger length and just wider than finger width).

Melt the chocolate in a bowl above a pan of barely simmering water. Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, dip each piece of the sugar paste into the chocolate, then roll in the coconut. Transfer to a sheet of greasproof paper and allow to set.

Worth making? This is quite a fun and easy recipe to try. It’s super-sweet, so not something you would make often, but worth having a go at!

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Good Morning! Buckwheat Pancakes

I’ve had a bit of a thing for buckwheat for a while. It’s a versatile little grain that lends itself to being used whole in salads, but it also makes for delicious pancakes, and these are they.

So this is the situation: it’s early, you want pancakes, and you don’t want to do much thinking. The method is simplicity itself – pour everything into a bowl, and whisk. That’s it. No rubbing, no stirring in melted butter, no whipping of egg whites or folding in. Just mix, cook, drench in honey or syrup and…that’s it!

These are quite different to “normal” breakfast pancakes – there is a real earthy “nutiness” to them from the buckwheat. And…at the risk of sounding like I am jumping on the bandwagon, they are gluten-free, so perfect to whip up when you’ve got house guests who can’t eat wheat.

Now there is no need to sit there taunting them with your off-limits pancakes – make the buckwheat version instead! Just be sure to serve them with lots of honey.

To make buckwheat pancakes (makes 14-16):

• 225g buckwheat flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 300ml milk
• 50ml water

• 1 egg
• pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until the batter is smooth.

Heat a frying pan and grease with a little oil or butter. Pour enough batter to make palm-sized pancakes (you will get three in a large pan) and cook until the top is covered in bubbles. Flip over and cook until golden.

Worth making? These are really quick and taste really great. Best eaten warm with salted butter and honey.

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Wickedly Sinful Chocolate Torte

I’m not going to write very much today…

…instead, I’ll just tell you a little about this Wickedly Sinful Chocolate Torte and let your imagination and the pictures do the rest: it is made from layers of chewy meringue made with toasted hazelnuts, filled and topped with a rich chocolate ganache, and finished with a rich salted caramel sauce, studded with hazelnuts dipped in caramelised sugar.

Hopefully by now you’re drooling with notions of rich, decadent luxury.

Just a couple of tips: be sure to use good-quality hazelnuts, and do toast them lightly. This will release their full, rich flavour. Use a dark rather than milk chocolate for the ganache – the meringue is quite sweet, so you want something to counter that. And make sure to use salt in the caramel topping. Yes, salt. It takes the caramel from being sickly-sweet to something that is rich and  sophisticated. All this, and it’s gluten-free – not even a dash of wheat flour comes near this torte.

The recipe below looks quite elaborate, but each stage is quite easy. You can even skip the caramel on top, and it is still richly delicious.

Tempted yet? You should be!

To make a Wickedly Sinful Chocolate Torte:

I know this looks quite long and labourious, but it’s actually three relatively easy stages – I’ve just tried to set out what happens and what to watch out for as you’re going, so you don’t get any surprises.

For the layers:

• 4 egg whites (120g)
• 225g white caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon vinegar
• 2-3 drops vanilla extract
• 100g skinned hazelnuts, toasted and ground

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line two 20cm (8 inch) cake tins with greaseproof paper (I recommend double-lining them – this prevents burning.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until you have stiff peaks. Add the sugar in 4-5 batches, whisking very well after each batch. Keep mixing until you have a stiff, glossy mixture.

Stir in the vinegar and vanilla, then fold in the ground hazelnuts. Divide the mixture between the two cake tins. Spread level, and bake for 45-50 minutes until crisp (it won’t puff up much, if at all). The surface will develop to a light beige, but should not get brown.

Once the meringue layers are ready, remove from the oven, and leave to cool completely.

For the chocolate ganache filling and topping:

• 300g double cream
• 150g dark chocolate
• 1 scant tablespoon caster sugar
• 1-2 drops vanilla extract

Put the cream, sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Stir and put to one side.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Leave to cool until lukewarm. Pour the chocolate into the cream mixture and whisk immediately. The mixture will quickly thicken into chocolate whipped cream (takes only a few seconds, so act quickly and do not over-whisk!).

Spread half the filling over the base meringue. Put the second layer of meringue on top, and add the rest of the chocolate cream  Finish as desired – smooth, swirly or peaks. If you are going to add the caramel on top, then make peaks around the edge to keep the caramel from dripping off the top.

Store the filled torte in the fridge, removing about 30 minutes before serving.

For the caramel:

• 150g white sugar
• 2 tablespoons water
• 150g double cream
• 25g butter
• fleur de sel/kosher salt, very finely ground

Put the sugar in a saucepan with the water. Cook on a medium heat until the water has evaporated, and the sugar turns to a light caramel (watch like a hawk – it goes from golden caramel to bitter and burnt in a matter of seconds).

Pour about two-thirds of the cream into the caramel, and stir vigorously. Be careful, as the mixture will bubble up. Add the butter, and stir well. Leave to cool for around 5 minutes.

Stir in the rest of the cream, and add salt to taste – this really is matter of personal judgement, but it is easy to add to too much, so little by little is the way to do it.

Leave the caramel until completely cool. It should flow, but be very thick (if too thick, add a teaspoon of cream and stir well). Pour or drizzle over the chilled torte.

To make caramelised hazelnuts:

• 100g white sugar
• 2 tablespoon water
• 100g skinned hazelnuts, toasted

Put sugar into a saucepan with a little water. Cook until you have a light caramel. Add the nuts, mix quickly, and transfer to a non-stick baking sheet. Using a fork (because they’re very hot!) separate the nuts. If the caramel is too hard, put the lot into a hot oven and it will soften.

Worth making? Indeed! I made this for a party – it lasted about 5 minutes on the table.

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Creamy Baked Fennel

Fennel is a funny old vegetable. I like its aromatic, aniseed-like qualities, but this also means that I’m often at a bit of a loose end about what to do with it. My normal fall-back position with vegetables is to throw them in a mixed salad with lots of green leaves, but with fennel, it just doesn’t seem quite right. The flavour needs to be appreciated.

One delicious idea that I do make from time to time is use it as a starter. Slice it wafer-thin, then serve it with slivers of strong cheddar and drizzle with a sherry/honey reduction. The sharp, tangy cheddar makes the perfect foil for the crisp, cool shards of fennel. But…that’s been about the limits of my adventures with fennel (a phrase that I really never thought I would write. Not that I ever worried about when I would write that, but you know what I mean).

Now, this is where the new recipe comes in. It’s one that I picked up from the saveur.com website, which is always good for a new idea to do with just about any ingredient you can imagine. This way of cooking fennel is an absolute doddle to make – lots of pepper, cream, Parmesan cheese and slabs of fennel, all mixed up in a bowl, thrown in a dish, then baked for about an hour and a half until the whole lot has become soft, creamy and delicious. I did make a bit of a tweak to the recipe, adding less cream than recommended, and it was great.

For all that time in the oven, the fennel becomes nice and soft, but it doesn’t turn mushy. Then towards the end, whip off the foil, and the cheese on top becomes crisp and tasty. You’ve still got the distinctive fennel flavour, but it’s milder and partners well with the Parmesan.

I admit that my version of this dish did not look particularly pretty. I could have taken the time to lay out the pieces of fennel in some intricate pattern, but I adopted the “mix-it-and-put-in-a-dish” approach to preparing it. It still tasted great, and frankly, that is much more important.

To make creamy baked fennel:

• 2 fennel bulbs
• 300ml cream
• salt
• pepper
• 2 handfuls grated Parmesan
• large knob of butter, cut into small pieces

Pre-heat the oven to 220°C (420°F).

Clean the fennel and remove the green stalks. Cut the bulbs in half, then quarters, and slice into wedges about 1cm (1/3 inch) thickness.

Put everything except the butter into a bowl and mix well. Transfer to an ovenproof dish, dot with the butter, cover with tin foil, and bake.

After one hour, remove the tin foil, and bake for another 30 minutes until the fennel is golden on top.

Serve warm as a side dish for four people, or as a main with salad and a little pasta as a main for two.

Worth making? I love this way of cooking fennel. I’ve never tried it before, but it’s incredibly simple and yet incredibly tasty. It’s also very tasty at room temperature the next day as part of lunch. Just in case you feel like erring on the generous side when making this…

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Chickpea and Herb Salad

Summertime…and the living is easy….

…and standing next to the stove is not really appealing. Quick, light and fresh are the words of the moment, so here is a chickpea salad which hopefully ticks all these boxes, and is healthy to boot. So it’s a quick post for a quick dish.

The idea behind this is pretty much based on the ingredients in hummus, but rather than purée the lot, things are just mixed in a bowl, and each ingredient is allowed to shine through. Then just throw in a little spice and some fresh herbs, and you’re done. If you want to jazz things up, add some toasted pine nuts or almonds or a little Parmesan or feta cheese. The recipe can also be made vegan-friendly by skipping the yoghurt.

Easy!

To make chickpea and herb salad:

• 2 x 400g tins of chick peas
• 3 tablespoons lemon juice
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 tablespoon tahini
• 1 tablespoon natural yoghurt
• ½ teaspoon paprika(*)
• ½ teaspoon ground cumin
• Handful of chopped herbs (chives, basil, mint, oregano…)
• 2 large lettuce leaves, finely shredded

Rinse the chickpeas, pick out any black ones, and leave to drain.

In a bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, tahini, yoghurt, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper and mix well. Taste the sauce and adjust according to your preferences.

Add the chickpeas, 2/3 of the chopped herbs and the shredded lettuce. Toss the salad until everything is coated.

Just before serving, scatter the rest of the chopped herbs over the salad.

Worth making? This is a very easy dish to make either as a main or a side, and can be endlessly adapted depending on what you’ve got in the cupboard.

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Mamma Mia! Pea Shoot Risotto

OK, mamma mia indeed.

I can imagine Italians out there rolling their eyes as yet another cook thinks this is a way to jazz up a risotto, and how odd to do it with an ingredient as English as pea shoots. I, of course, being Scottish, would be outraged at that suggestion. Just kidding! Bring on the creativity.

Now, let’s start by admiring the grace of the pea shoot. Very art nouveau, isn’t it?

The idea for this risotto came to me from seeing quite a few recipes recently for pea shoot pesto. Now, I flatter myself that I can make a pretty darn good risotto anyway, and I make a version with peas and mint that is usually very well received. So it was not much of a mental hop, skip and jump to combine pea shoot pesto and my risotto. Literally – make the risotto as usual, but stir in the pesto right at the end, so that the intensely fresh “pea” flavour of the shoots is retained.

I ummed and aaahed a little about how to approach the pea shoot pesto.

I had initial plans to make something involving olive oil, cashew nuts and Parmesan, but I did not want to detract from the delicate flavour of the shoots. So instead I added the pea shoots to a blender with a little water, and blitzed them to a puree. I left this mixture to drain in a strainer – the liquid that drained off went into the pot early to give the rice a jaunty green colour, and the now-slightly-drier puree went in at the last minute.

The result was a brilliantly green risotto – bring, fresh and very spring-like. A nice counter-balance to all those chocolate eggs and hot cross buns we’ve been eating of late.

To serve 4 (or 2, with lots left over):

For the risotto

• 25g butter
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped (optional)
• 250g arborio rice
• 1 glass dry white wine
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 litre vegetable stock
• 120g peas (fresh or frozen)
• 50g Parmesan cheese, grated
• handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons cream

For the pea shoot paste:

• 100g pea shoots
• cold water

Start by making the pea shoot paste – rinse the shoots, then put most of them in a blender with some water (keep a few for decoration) and blitz until smooth. Transfer to a sieve and allow to train (reserve the liquid).

Next, start the risotto. Melt the butter and olive oil in a pan over a low heat. Add the onion and fry gently until translucent. Add the garlic (if using) and cook for another 30 seconds.

Add the rice, raise the heat to medium, and fry for 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Add the wine, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the rice seems “oily”. Add the black pepper, the liquid from the pea shoots and the stock (one ladle at a time, stirring well after each addition). Add more stock when the previous addition has almost evaporated.

Once all the stock has been added, add the peas and cook the risotto to the desired consistency (some like it runny, some like it thick). Add the Parmesan cheese, stir well, and remove from the heat. Stir in the cream, chopped mint and pea shoot paste, then and allow to sit for two minutes with the pot covered.

Serve with a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan and an artfully arranged pea shoot.

Worth making? If you are a risotto fan, this is a great version for spring time. The result is impressive and looks stunning on the plate, and all for not too much effort.

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Beaches and Buckwheat

It was a scorcher last weekend. Virtually no cloud for about three days, but it looks like we are in the final moments as there have been a few April showers since Monday. Update: by the time I got round to posting, it was decidedly cooler, but hey – good for the garden!

Like about two-thirds of the UK population with access to a car, I took the opportunity on Sunday to head to the coast and soak up some rays at the picturesque Camber Sands in Sussex, just along from the very pretty town of Rye. It used to be on the coast, but over time, the coastline moved out, and now it is about two miles inland. Well worth a visit to see the cobbled streets and charming old houses.

Camber Sands has fantastic sand dunes (some of the best in Southern England), lots of open beach and, of course, the chilly waters of the English Channel reminding those that ventured into the sea that it was still early April. I’ll be back when they water has warmed up though!

Everyone brought along a few things for the picnic. I had a green salad, various crackers and dips, and a buckwheat salad. Yup, buckwheat.

Buckwheat is a funny, some might say gritty little grain. Try one – that’s the texture, right? It appears in blinis, galettes bretonnes, poffertjes, soba noodles and…not much else, at least in terms of my cooking repertoire. Fair to say, it’s also not a frequent star on British dining tables. Bit of a shame, as they are also quite a pretty, jaunty little grain, which just happens to be gluten-free, so useful if you’re unable to eat wheat, or are just trying to cut down (personally, I’m far from being gluten free, and will happily wolf down anything a bakery throws at me…).

I’ve recently made a lot using cous cous, from the fine French type to the large-grained Palestinian variety, so I wondered if I could do something similar with buckwheat as the main grain in a dish. But how to cook the stuff? Oh, what to do?

Boiling is one (obvious) option, but that tends to be rather aggressive and can make grains break down into a gloopy, soupy, starchy mess. So I opted for the gentler option of soaking the grains overnight, then rinsing them and steaming for about 30 mins.

The result was, quite simply, amazing. Far better than I hoped for in fact. The grains became soft and plump, but stayed fluffy and kept their shape. Then I just mixed the buckwheat with some sliced vegetables and added a simple dressing for a healthy, filling dish. Also doubled up later in the week as a tasty supper.

At this stage, I realise this is sounding like every stereotype of vegetarian cooking you could possibly imagine, short of this being used to make a lentil nut loaf. Well, rest assured, the result is delicious and filling, with plenty of taste. I had meat eaters chowing down on this with glee. I put part of this down to the dressing, which contained sesame oil and a little bit of chili, so it still packed a flavourful punch and had plenty of interesting textures.

So next time you want to make a dish for a picnic, give the pasta a break and perhaps try that funny little packet of buckwheat you’ve been wondering exactly what to do with.

To make buckwheat and green bean salad (side dish for 4, main for 2):

For the salad:

• 200g buckwheat
• 100g cherry tomatoes
• 1/4 cucumber
• 1 small celery stick
• 200g green beans

For the dressing:

• 6 tablespoons dark sesame oil
• 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons rice vinegar / white wine vinegar
• 1/2 teaspoon sambal/harisssa paste (or chili)
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• pinch of sugar

The night before, soak the buckwheat in a pan of cold water.

The next day, rinse the buckwheat well in cold, running water. Drain and place in a steamer (*). Cook for around 30 minutes. The grains are done when they are plump and soft – you may want to fluff the buckwheat every 10 minutes to ensure it is cooked evenly.

While the buckwheat is cooking, prepare the tomatoes, cucumber and celery by cutting into pieces according to your mood (chunks or paper-thin slices, as you like it!). Shred the green beans on the diagonal, and add to the steamer for the last 10 minutes of the cooking process (**). Once the buckwheat/green beans are done, put in a salad bowl with the rest of the vegetables.

Next, make the dressing – combine the ingredients in a jam jar, and shake it madly until smooth. Check the flavour and adjust to taste (you might want more oil, or vinegar, or soy, or chili…go with what tastes right to you). Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well until everything is well-coated.

Serve the salad warm or at room temperature (***).

(*) I don’t own a steamer. I improvise with a metal sieve placed in a saucepan of boiling water,and place a saucepan lid inside the sieve. It forms a pretty good seal, and seems to do the job. Might be an idea for the kitchen wish list…

(**) This way, no extra pot to clean!

(***) As the grains don’t really absorb the dressing, you can easily mix everything ahead of time, rather than waiting until just before serving.

Worth making? I was pleasantly surprised how this method of cooking buckwheat worked out. It has texture and a nutty taste, and cooked in this way with vegetables and a robust, flavourful dressing, it makes for a filling supper or a nice picnic side dish. G’won. Try it!

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Oh, mon amour! Risotto aux betteraves rouges

Ah, ’tis nearly Valentine’s day! Blink, and you might miss it. Seem like only yesterday that all the Christmas decorations were up(*) but the local stores are already awash with chocolate Easter eggs. I am constantly amused how you can check the time of the year by the range of sweets and goodies on offer at the till.

Now, I could have made some form of heart-shaped biscuits or chocolates, or a red cupcake, but that would be (1) predictable, and (2) against the spirit of blogging more savoury dishes. Not to miss out on the luuuurve that is in the air at this time of year, I’ve produced something that is perfect for a romantic dinner with that special someone, and also keeps the red theme going. Just be sure that the relevant special someone likes beetroot.

This really is just a simple risotto, but chopped beetroot goes in with the first ladle of stock to make sure the colour is a vibrant dark magenta, and a few tweaks at the end of the cooking process to play on the flavour and colour of the beetroot.

The key thing is to use fresh beetroot, rather than the stuff that comes preserved in vinegar. I feel that it’s almost too obvious to point out, but something that has been sitting in acid for weeks and weeks is not going to be your best friend in a risotto. I appreciate that I am not speaking from experience here, and by all means give it a bash if you think that it would work, but it strikes me as a flavour combination I could happily miss. And really – who serves their beloved a plate of vinegar? But…that being said…a slight sharpness does work with beetroot, so I actually add a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar at the end, just to add the tiniest hint of sharpness. Just a touch though!

But let’s face it, the reason for making this is just the fantastic colour. It looks utterly stunning, and quite amazing to think this is completely natural. When I add the beetroot, I chop into a combination of larger and smaller pieces, so that you can still see the darker beetroot (which ends up looking like the dish is studded with garnets) next to the vibrant red rice. If you prefer, grate the beetroot – you’ll get more colour, but you’ll also have pink juice everywhere. Up to you…

To top this, I add a light sprinkling of Parmesan cheese (not too much, don’t hid the colour), plus some toasted pumpkin seeds and a little chopped chives. Their green colours contrast with the redness, and the flavours play well with the beetroot. However, toasted pine nuts and/or a light sprinkling of fresh dill would also work well.

(*) In fact, a certain house down our street seems to be stuck on 24 December, with the plastic tree still in the window…I’ve checked, and there are people alive in there, so not to worry.


To serve 4 (or 2, with lots left over):

• 25g butter
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 250g arborio rice
• 1 glass dry white wine
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 litre vegetable stock
• 300g beetroot, boiled, peeled and finely chopped or grated
• 50g Parmesan cheese
• 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
• 2 tablespoons cream

Warm the butter and olive oil in a pan. Add the onion and fry gently over a low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Add the rice and fry for 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Add the wine, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the rice seems “oily”. Tip in the beetroot and black pepper, and add the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add more when the previous addition has almost evaporated. The rice will start as light pink, but will change to a deep reddish-pink towards the end.

Once all the stock has been added, cook the risotto to the desired consistency (some like it runny, some like it thick). Add the Parmesan cheese, stir well, and remove from the heat. Stir in the cream and balsamic vinegar and allow to sit for two minutes with the pot covered.

Serve with a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan and a scattering of toasted pine nuts or pumpkin seeds, and a scattering of chopped chives or dill.

Worth making? I love risotto anyway, but this one looks stunning on the plate and has a fabulous flavour. The beetroot and dill make it a little more unusual, but I think this is a great combination.

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Filed under Recipe, Savoury