Tag Archives: tomatoes

Spiced Tomato Jam

It’s a public holiday today in London – but my visions of a warm day at the beach or in the country were knocked on the head by the lashing rain that appeared this morning! Making the most of an unexpected day in the house, I’ve finished sorting through three years worth of administration and vacuumed and generally tidied the house. I know – very rock’n’roll! Then the moment came to reverse all the good work in the kitchen by embarking on a spontaneous culinary exploit.

So, forgetting the rain, today was also the start of what might be tentatively called “festive baking” as I’m making something that I’m looking forward to eating at Christmas – a sharp-but-sweet spicy tomato jam that is a great addition to a cheeseboard. It also means I can use some of our garden produce and enjoy them later in the year – our tomatoes were better this year than we managed last year (2014 yielded just three tomatoes!), but I’ve also got some big plans for next year to really get the most out of our garden. It might be small, but I’m determined to use it to grow useful things out there!

tomatojam1

This is actually somewhere between a sweet jam and a chutney – it sets and is made with a lot of sugar (like jam), and while it has spices, salt and vinegar that you’d expect in a chutney, it doesn’t have onions or sultanas. It is in turns fruity, sharp, tangy and savoury, with little bursts of flavour from the spices I used. It is absolutely delicious with strong cheddar on oatcakes or crackers, and a little goes a long way.

I made this using cherry tomatoes – partly the result of a glut that we’ve got in the garden at the moment, but you could just as easily do this with bigger tomatoes, red, yellow or even green. I cut half of the cherry tomatoes in two, and trimmed the rest into quarters so that there is some variation in size in the finished jam. If you’re using bigger toms, then you’ll need to chop them into smaller pieces, unless you’re the kind of person that enjoys really chunky jam! I also let the tomatoes cook down in a bit of water so that they break down a bit before adding the sugar. If you add the sugar with the tomatoes at the start of cooking, it can stop them breaking down and leave you with large lumps. This doesn’t affect the flavour, and I think is really just a matter of aesthetics.

tomatojam2

A word of warning – this recipe does not make a lot of jam, but that is not really an issue as you only need a little as it is packed with flavour. As it is easy to make, you can play around with different versions – I like nigella and cumin seeds, but you can also try aniseed or ginger and chilli. Using different colours of tomatoes also looks pretty – yellow tomatoes will keep their golden hue, while red tomatoes will produce anything from a deep orange to a ruby colour. I’ve ended up with one small jar that I can eat over the next couple of weeks, plus a large jar that I can keep in a cupboard for the December festivities. Now…let’s see what cheese I’ve got in the fridge to test out this batch?

To make spicy tomato jam (makes 2-3 small pots):

• 600g cherry tomatoes
• 100ml water
• 2 teaspoons nigella seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 4 whole cloves
• pinch freshly-ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 75g soft brown sugar
• 100g white sugar
• 2 teaspoons pectin powder
• 60ml white wine vinegar
• juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Rinse the tomatoes and cut into a mixture of halves and quarters, removing the stalk part from each. Place in a saucepan with the water and cover. Bring to the boil, then simmer gentle for around 20 minutes.

2. In the meantime, dry toast the nigella and cumin seeds – put them in a saucepan and warm over a medium heat until they smell fragrant. Once done, pour them onto a cold plate.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients (apart from the lemon juice) to the tomatoes. Mix and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for around 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice, the boil until the setting point is reached(*) before decanting the jam into prepared sterilised jam jars(**).

(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little jam on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a minute. Push with your finger – if the jam visibly “wrinkles” when you push it, the jam is done. If it stays liquid, then cook longer and check again after a few minutes.

(**) How to sterilise jam jars? Wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 100°C / 210°F for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, allow to cool slightly (they should still be warm) and fill with the hot jam. You can leave the jars in the oven with the heat turned off until you need them, as this keeps the glass warm, and warm glass is much less likely to crack when you add warm jam (science, eh?). Remember to sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling them in a pot of hot water for a few minutes.

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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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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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Spicy Mixed Bean Stew

I don’t cook very much using beans, which is odd given that they are tasty, I like them and they are very healthy. For example, I love the things Wahaca do with beans – their black bean and cheese quesadillas as divine and I frequently over-order them. But I just don’t cook much with beans at home. So, it’s time to change that.

This recipe is nothing more than “a collecting of things in the kitchen” but the result is surprisingly good. It involves minimal effort, provided that you have the wherewithal to be a little organised and make sure things are left to soak or simmer for the requisite amount of time. Really, don’t skimp on soaking the beans. I can’t speak from personal experience, but if you don’t do it properly, I have read about people who have suffered all manner of “digestive issues” (which I take to mean nasty cramps) from eating undercooked beans. So whenever that thought pops into my mind, and I’m not sure if beans are cooked enough, I leave them boiling a little bit longer. Just in case. But let’s move on.

I’ve been looking for a way to use up a selection of mixed beans (“Wholesome 107 10 bean mix”) I bought in Waitrose about six months ago. They looked quite attractive in the packet – black-eyed beans, black turtle beans, butter beans, haricot beans, lima beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans, rose cocoa beans, alubia beans and mung beans. Sort of like this:

Probably the reason I am not so into cooking with beans is that when you’re home at night and hungry right then, the idea of soaking beans and waiting doesn’t really work (and besides, I don’t own a pressure cooker). However, this is a great recipe that lasts a couple of days, and has also been a great hit at lunch, topped with some natural yoghurt and a little grated cheddar in my groovy new lunchbox.

After all the stress of identifying the individual bean types (which it turned out were listed on the back…duh!), the rest of the recipe is a doddle, if you can commit to popping into the kitchen every thirty minutes for a couple of hours. I fried up some onion, garlic and red pepper, added some spice to get a bit of a kick, then added tomatoes plus a few mustard seeds (for appearance and a bit of flavour). After leaving the lot to simmer very, very gently for a couple of hours, it was rich, thick and tasty, and actually needs very little in the way of additional seasoning. Indeed, you would do well to add as little salt as possible, so that the sweetness of the peppers and tomatoes comes through, and match that with some good, tangy cheese for a tasty meal. Add a few baked tortilla chips for a very faux-Mexican experience.

My suggestion? Make loads, and feel virtuous about how healthy your lunch is at work during the week.

To make spicy bean stew:

2-3 cups mixed beans
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 3 garlic cloves, chopped
• 1 red pepper, very thinly sliced
• 1 teaspoon piment d’espelette or paprika
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1 tin chopped tomatoes
• 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
• zest of one lemon
• 1/2 stock cube
• plain yoghurt, grated cheddar and chopped coriander, to serve

Soak the beans overnight in cold water. The next day, drain, rinse well, then add fresh water and cook the beans according to instructions (usually – boil for 15 minutes, then simmer for about 1-2 hours until tender).

Meanwhile, heat the oil in another pot and add the onion. Cook gently until golden brown, then add the garlic, stir well, and a minute later, add the pepper. Cook until the pepper is soft, then add the spices. Cook for another minute, then add a splash of water – the spices will form a “paste”. Keep cooking until the water has cooked off, and the spice paste looks oily.

Add the tinned tomatoes, cooked beans, mustard seeds, lemon zest, stock cube and a cup of water to the spice mixture, and cook over a gentle heat until the beans are tender and the mixture has reduced to a thick sauce.

Serve topped with spoonfuls of plain yoghurt, grated cheese and some chopped coriander.

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Roasted Tomato Soup

More autumn food today!

I’m doing that terribly British thing where I go on about the weather. But the long, bright summer nights have gone, and my will to make salads and light suppers has likewise dwindled dramatically. As it gets darker, I like to come home and eat quick, easy, comforting foods. Forget light and fresh, this is the time of year where filling and spicy food comes into its own. Good homemade soup is just the sort of thing I want, and this easy tomato soup fits the bill.

This soup is a breeze to make – just chop up the vegetables, then roast in the oven and blend until smooth. By roasting the vegetables, you get the rich, intense flavour of the tomatoes, which marries well with the caramelised onion and garlic and the freshness of the thyme. This is a proper, satisfying, adult version of tomato soup, a million miles away from the stuff you get in a can. Perfect served up with a few slices of toasted bread covered in olive oil and rubbed with garlic.

For tomato soup (serves 4):

• 1kg cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
• 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled and crushed
• 2 small onions, peeled and quartered
• handful fresh thyme stalks
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
• 50ml olive oil
• 200ml vegetable stock
• salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F).

Put the tomatoes, garlic, onions, thyme, salt and olive oil  into a roasting pan, and toss gently(*). Roast for 25-30 minutes until the tomatoes have collapsed and the vegetables are starting to brown.

Remove the roasting tray from the oven, and allow to cool slightly. Retrieve the thyme stalks, stripping off the leaves and adding to the tomatoes. Peel the garlic and put back with the tomatoes. Transfer to a blender and blitz until smooth.

Put the soup into a pan. Add the vegetable stock and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for five minutes and serve with lots of crusty bread.

(*) If necessary, use two roasting trays. Don’t pile the tomatoes up too high in one dish, as otherwise they will just sit in their juices and will not roast properly.

Worth making? Yes. This is easy and delicious, and a great way to make a satisfying autumn supper.

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Oven-Dried Tomatoes

At the weekend, I was pondering what to do with a big bowl of wonderfully ripe, aromatic cherry tomatoes, and I hit upon the idea of preparing oven-dried tomatoes. The theory is simple – cut them, stick them in the oven on a low heat, and let them slowly, slowly, slowly dry out.

But how dry do we want them? I like the semi-dried variety. They are softer, and I think tastier, than their very dry cousins, which seems to be due to the higher moisture content. I first had them at a sandwich shop I used to frequent when I lived in Brussels. I became a creature of habit, taking a granary baguette with lettuce, goat cheese, semi-dried tomatoes, cress and rich mayonnaise. Calorific, but incredibly good. With my attempt, I was aiming for something similar – the tomatoes should shrink a little bit, but would remain soft and juicy.

I loved the result. They are so tasty, with an intense flavour that seems to remind you of the summer sun that seems to be getting less and less each day.

To make the oven dried tomatoes:

Wash your tomatoes, and cut in half. You can expect them to shrink to around 20% of their size. Spread the tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment. If you like, sprinkle with a little sea salt, but if you have very flavoursome tomatoes, this might not be necessary.

Put the tray into the oven at 70°C (160°F), and let the tomatoes dry for a few hours. Check on them from time to time to let out the steam, and let the tomatoes cook as long as necessary. This could take hours, so a good idea to make when you’re at home on a rainy day.

Once ready, eat them as they are as a snack, use in salads or sandwiches, or store in a jar with olive oil and some fresh oregano until you are ready to use them.

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