Tag Archives: paprika

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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Fourth of July: Boston Baked Beans

Today it’s the Fourth of July – so let’s make something traditionally American, the good old-fashioned Boston Baked Beans!

Well, I say “good old-fashioned” but actually, I don’t know very much about them other than I like their name, so I thought it was about time to give them a bash. And a recipe from The Well-Cooked Life looked just perfect.

I know some people get terribly snobbish about baked beans and don’t like the tinned ones, but I’m not one of them. One of life’s greatest pleasures is a Saturday morning involving toast covered in cheese, grilled and then topped with baked beans. Delish.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the idea of making beans from scratch that had a bit more pep to them. A few minutes on Google told me that they are normally made with salted pork and molasses, so you’ve got a powerful savoury/salty yet sweet flavour. Clearly the pork was not going to happen in my case, so I added a bit of soy sauce instead to get more “savoury” than just salt would contribute. The other ingredients also promised something rather grand – lots of spices, hotness from sambal (my preferred way of adding heat to a dish), sweetness from molasses and fried onions and sharpness from some cider vinegar.

Boston Baked Beans are also a complete doddle to make, albeit a little planning is needed to make sure that the beans are properly soaked and cooked, but it’s mainly a case of soak, boil beans, mix sauce, bake.

One little wrinkle that affected my beans – I didn’t have dinky little beans (like you get from the tinned ones) so I used the ones I had in my cupboard, which were crab-eye beans. They were a little larger, and stayed a little firmer when cooked. They were still delicious, but when I make these again, I’ll be using the smaller beans in the future.

What you do need to be prepared for is that these beans are not a neon orange hue – all that molasses or treacle makes the sauce a rich red-brown colour. However, the flavour is completely, totally, utterly sensational. The sum is greater than the individual parts – and actually, that makes this a rather fitting dish for Fourth of July.

To make vegetarian Boston Baked Beans (adapted from here):

• 350g beans
• water
• 3 tablespoons oil
• 1 clove garlic, chopped
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 white onions, chopped
• 2 heaped teaspoons paprika
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 2 large pinches ground cloves
• 2 tins chopped tomatoes
• 2 tablespoons concentrated tomato puree
• 1 teaspoon of chili or sambal
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 240ml treacle or molasses

• 120ml cider vinegar

1. Soak the beans overnight in cold water.

2. The next day, cook the beans according to instructions on the packet (how long you boil and simmer depends on the type). When cooked, drain the beans.

3. In the meantime, make the sauce. Fry the onions in the oil until golden. Add the garlic, cook briefly, then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.

4. Mix the cooked beans and the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.

5. Pour the beans into an ovenproof dish. Cover and bake in the oven at 160°C (320°F) for 2-3 hours until the sauce is thick and the beans are soft. If the beans get too dry, top up the water.

Worth making? This is a complete flavour explosion, and utterly delicious. The basic recipe should appeal to most tastes, and you can tweak and adjust the spices to suit what you like. Definitely worth having a go at.

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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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Halloween: Spicy Pumpkin Soup

The leaves are turning riotous shades of red and gold, and there are pumpkins to be seen everywhere! The witching season is nearly upon us…and who can resist making a pumpkin lantern? Not me anyway. This little fellow is now perched on the windowsill to spook passing children who are hoping to extort sweets from strangers.

But while pumpkin lanterns look frankly awesome in the dark, you are inevitably left with lots and lots of pumpkin to use up. And, of course, it would be a shame to waste it.

In carving this bad boy, I ended up with a large bowl of shredded pumpkin flesh, thanks to my carving technique. I cut the top, scooped out the seeds, and then used a spoon to scrape back the flesh. The less flesh left inside the pumpkin, the brighter the orange glow from the pumpkin when you put a candle in there, and of course, that’s what we want to see!

This approach, however, means that any recipe that suggests slow-roasting chunks of pumpkin flesh is pretty much out of the question. This left me with two basic choices: pie or soup. Given that I’ve just survived making one of the most sugar-packed sweets on the planet, I opted to make a big pot of something savoury.

Pumpkin soup and I have had a slightly odd relationship over the years. My early attempts were not great. I tended to throw everything in a pan and let it simmer. The resulting soup was often bland, watery and lacked much colour. That something so insipid could come from something as vivid, orange and downright fun as a pumpkin seemed desperately unfair.

Since those early attempts, I have refined my approach, and I reckon I have nailed it. First thing is to fry some onions for a long time over a gentle heat so that they caramelise nicely. Then add lots and lots of spices. You can add pretty much whatever you like, but I find that cumin, curry powder and some paprika are great, plus a good dash of turmeric to add a bit of earthiness and some colour. The pumpkin flesh is then added to the onions and fried for around five minutes, so it starts to cook but doesn’t just go watery. It is at this stage that you see just how much water the pumpkin actually contains already, so when you do come to add some stock, you see why you don’t need so much of it. I also add a potato to the simmering broth for a little extra richness of texture. Finish it off with a nice big dash of double cream and it’s a perfect autumn warmer – a thick, rich, spicy soup.

For me, pumpkin soup needs to be silky-smooth, so it has to be pureed to within an inch of its life, and then passed through a sieve. However, it is also nice to have a bit of texture to provide some contrast. So how to do this when you’ve just gone to great lengths to ensure the soup is essentially texture-free? Well, there are two easy ways to do it, and not mutually exclusive. Some black pepper croutons are great in this soup, as are some pumpkin seeds that have been lightly toasted in a little oil and some spices. This all helps to make the dish richer and more spicy, with a welcome crunch in the soup.

When it comes to serving this soup, you can score some easy points on presentation by drizzling over a tablespoon of double cream, and the a spoonful of olive oil. Slightly Jackson Pollock, assuming that Jackson Pollock ever made pumpkin soup. But if he did, I have no doubt it might have looked something like this.


Happy pumpkin carving!

To make pumpkin soup (serves 6-8):

For the soup:

• 4 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 onions, peeled and chopped
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon curry powder
• 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

• 1 teaspoon paprika
• flesh of one large pumpkin
• 1 litre vegetable stock

• 1 potato, peeled and diced
• 4 tablespoon double cream
• water, as needed
• salt and pepper, to taste

For the croutons:

• 2 handfuls cubes of bread (baguette or sourdough)
• freshly ground black pepper
• large pinch salt
• 3 tablespoons olive oil

Put the olive oil and chopped onions in a large pan. Cook over a gentle heat until the onions are caramelised and lightly browned but not burned (around 5 minutes).

Add the spices and cook for around 30 seconds. Add the pumpkin flesh and cook on a medium heat for around 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Add the vegetable stock and the potato, bring to the boil, and simmer for around 30 minutes until the pumpkin flesh and the potato are very soft. Add any water (if needed) and add salt and pepper to taste.

In the meantime, make the croutons: put everything into a bowl, stir well, then transfer to a baking tray and bake in the oven at 200°C (400°F) until golden.

Once the soup is ready, put into a blender and blitz until smooth. Pass through a sieve, stir in the cream, then reheat briefly before serving. Finish each bowl of soup with a swirl of cream, a swirl of olive oil and a few croutons.

Worth making? When you’re faced with the aftermath of pumpkin carving, this is a great way to use up the pumpkin flesh. The slight warmth from the paprika and the spices make it a great lunch or supper dish as the weather starts to get colder.

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Lebkuchengewürz

For quite some time I have been promising/threatening loyal readers that I would make a start on Christmas baking. So here goes.

I think that cookies, cakes and all manner of sweet treats are a big part of the festive season, and I particularly like anything German in this regard. Lots of sweet, spicy cookies, flavoured with citrus and honey, which go well with glasses of hot mulled wine. But, before we start on the actual baking, we need to prepare something that features in a lot of German Lebkuchen.

You might think by way of spices a spoonful of cinnamon and  dash of nutmeg will do to trick, but just as Germans take their Christmas markets to the next level, so they do with their cookies and how they spice them up. The secret is Lebkuchengewürz, or Lebkuchen spices. This mixture is indeed made with mostly cinnamon, but with the addition of a few other strategic spices: ground coriander seeds, aniseed, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and a pinch of paprika. This makes for a warm, fragrant spice mixture, which is in turn woody, sweet, fresh and spicy. The trick is for these other flavours to be present, but not to dominate. And what you end up with is something that is the very aromatic essence of Christmas.

If you are making this, one question is what sort of spices to use: pre-ground or whole?

Well, that could be the wrong question. The number one factor in making a good spice mixture is to use fresh spices. If they have been at the back of the cupboard since mid-2007 in an open packet, sure they will have some aroma and flavour, but they won’t pull their weight. And you who wants to be the one, Eastenders-style, who ruined Christmas, eh?

The next consideration is whether the grind or buy. There are some – star anise, nutmeg and cardamom – that I will do, as I have a useful Italian nutmeg grater which gets nutmeg and star anise into a fine dust (a useful gift, Miss E!), and a small marble mortar and pestle to grind cardamom or pepper. Once these are ground and sieved, you will have a great aromatic spice. But for tougher spices like cinnamon, coriander seeds or cloves, I go with the pre-ground stuff. I’ve tried attacking them with a grater and a coffee grinder, and while they will fill your kitchen with fabulous smells, they finished result is never as fine as when you buy it.

The big question: how it is as a spice mixture? Well, I find it really useful to have in the kitchen. Great at Christmas, obviously, but it can be used throughout the year in all manner of fruit cakes or chocolate dishes to add an interesting dimension to the flavour. And I can really recommend making truffles with Lebkuchengewürz – they truly taste like Christmas!

So, with the mixture made, I will shortly start on making all manner of sweet treats. In fact, there are a tray of Pfeffernüsse in the oven already. Mmmm…

To make Lebkuchengewürz:

• 5 tablespoons ground cinnamon
• 1/8 teaspoon ground aniseed or star anise
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• pinch of paprika

Put all the spices in a bowl, and mix well. Pass through a fine sieve to get rid of all lumps and ensure the spices are properly mixed. Store in an airtight container in a dark place until needed.


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Piment d’Espelette

Friends from Brussels were staying last night and brought a fantastic present from the south of France – Piment d’Esplette or Espelette pepper, a specialty from the northern part of the traditional Basque country.

It comes in a cute retro jar and looks like coarsely ground paprika, but the aroma is much richer, like earthy, smoky roasted peppers. The flavour is sweet and tangy, warm rather than hot – paprika with punch. They suggested adding it early on to a slow-cooked tomato sauce, so I’ll give that a try. I’ve also had a look online at what this is used for. The producers run a great website in French (only at the moment), with a few recipes (several vegetarian, to my surprise), ranging from starters through to desserts. A little digging shows that this stuff is enthusiastically used in all manner of dishes – on meat, fish, in sauces, jams, pizzas, mustards, mayonnaise and chocolates. This spice also has the prestigious AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) status, so only peppers of the right variety from a designated local area can carry the name.

This sort of thing is one of my favourite gifts to give and to receive – unique little pieces of local culture, and the sort of thing that can bring back memories of a holiday or a place in flash. I like to keep an eye out for local ingredients when I travel as they all make welcome additions to the kitchen. I’m looking forward to using this in a few dishes soon!

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