Monday, July 23, 2007

Homemade beansprout slaw

For serving with those veggie beanburgers, in homemade floury baps, to show those carnivores what they're missing... and being far, far healthier too. We ate this with guests on the weekend and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Beansprouts are small and inoffensive - a really great way to add vitamins and protein to any vegetarian meal. Add them to sandwiches, stir-fries, salads, even hummus.

1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp mustard powder
2 egg yolks
8-10floz olive oil
1-2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 carrot
1 box beansprouts

In a pestle and mortar, crush the salt and mustard powder until yellow and refined. Beat in the egg yolks. You might want to transfer to a larger bowl now. Using an electronic whisk or a wooden spoon (harder work, more reward), beat the eggs again. Add a drop of oil and beat. It's very boring but you have to be patient and add a couple of drops at a time, beating thoroughly. (I don't know why.)

After your hand starts to feel like it will never move again, the mixture will be a bit thicker, and now - hurray! - you can speed up a bit, and tip in a bit more oil. I get bored and start pushing my luck, rashly tipping in oil (it doesn't curdle quite as easily as others may have you believe). You can add 1tsp vinegar now, too. At the 8floz mark, or even sooner, when it starts to look like mayonnaise - thicker than helmann's - you should taste and add more vinegar if you like. Probably no need to add 10floz oil. To thin it out a little, add a small splash of water, and beat it all together again. Put it into a clean jar and it will keep for a week.

For my super-slaw, grate one large carrot into a bowl, and fill with beansprouts. Add mayonnaise - a little more than you first think - until the slaw will drop off a spoon.

Friday, July 20, 2007


At the farmer's market last week, as he was packing my bag of fennel, the farmer asked: "What will you DO with this much fennel?"
"Put it in a casserole, or braise it, or roast it," I told him.
"Oh!" (not convinced). "I never know what to do with it!"

Fennel is one of those strange vegetables that most people despise or don't know what to do with, I think. I am always frustrated when we receive just one bulb in our vegetable box. What are you supposed to do with just one? Roast it with peppers and onions and it kind of fades into the background. I want to taste the fennel in whatever-it-is, and it deserves to be the star. So here it is. We gobbled this up and now I'll have to make a quick trip to the market for more.

3 large bulbs fennel, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 large tomatoes, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup vegetable stock
1 slice fresh white bread
1tbsp finely grated parmesan

Warm up the oil in a large pan, over a gentle heat, and then arrange the fennel so it fits neatly in one layer, if possible. Put the lid on, leave the heat low, and allow it to start to soften and brown slowly. After about 10 minutes add the garlic, stir a couple of times, then add the tomatoes in one layer on top. Season with plenty of pepper and a little salt, then pour on the stock. Cover tightly, turn the heat to its lowest, and leave to bubble gently for another 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool. There should only be a little liquid left.

Tip the whole lot into a small baking dish, then chop the bread into crumbs, mix it with the parmesan, and sprinkle over the top. Bake at 160 degrees C for about 20 minutes, or until piping hot and crusty on top.

Serve with roasted red potatoes and red onions, and salad
if you like a bit of green.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Baked Butter Beans, Baked Gigantes Beans, Ful Medames...

.... oh, they have my heart. Ever since I discovered Odysea's Baked Gigantes there's only been one bean for me. Fortunately, they're available in Sainsbury's; unfortunately, they cost £3.49 for a jar that contains about five minutes' worth of urgent, fridge-side gobbling.
So I have tried to recreate them at home. How I've tried... with tomatoes (chopped and real), dried herbs and fresh ones, dill and parsley, olive oil and vegetable stock. According to my web research these babes should be oven-cooked slowly in a mass of tomato and olive oil. Matthew Fort, another addict, generously gave his recipe to the Guardian - that's my next test. But reading his ingredients doesn't make my heart pound. Celery? Onion? I fear he's no closer to the Real Thing than I am.
In my hopeless mission I have just bought a new book on Lebanese cookery. yes, yes, I know they're Greek not Lebanese, but there is a Middle-Eastern version being touted by trendy mid-east restaurants - Ful Medames - that is suspiciously similar.

Unfortunately, the book's recipe for Ful Medames has no tomato (damn you). Mind you, I am quite distracted now by the wonders of lentils-dill-and-rice, stuffed chard, aubergine in sesame sauce, and a lovely herby potato salad. We had dinner in a Lebanese restaurant once and it was incredible. Good place for a vegetarian holiday, I think.

Continuing my quest, I looked up Fagioli - Italian for beans - wondering if they have a similar recipe. They do. Hundreds. It will take me months to try them all. (Sigh). However, now you're looking at it, this is a very delicious book indeed. It has lots of variations on the Roman speciality pasta e cecci (pasta and beans) plus bean-centred bruschetta, a potato and chickpea whip, and some of those gorgeous Tuscan oven-baked bean stews. All of which will, I think, be very scrumptious. But....
...... they're not baked gigantes. (Sigh.......) The bean goes on.

I am quite happy to admit that when it comes to burgers, vegetarians are left on the sidelines, chewing a bit of cardboard. There's not a bean in the world that could tempt a carnivore to pick up a beanburger at a barbeque. Apart from the texture, it's very difficult to get a good, intense flavour that can stand up to barbequing, followed by the onslaught of floury baps and puddles of ketchup. Most veggie-burgers sort of morph into a vaguely vegetably slodge, if they haven't already collapsed over the barbeque grill. Shop-bought burgers are fine, although they're basically chopped vegetables in breadcrumbs, and don't you know it when you bite into that bun. How are we supposed to compete with a generous beef-burger, oozing its own fatty juices, that actually gains in flavour sitting on the barbie?

And don't give me vegetable kebabs or pretend-meat burgers. I want good, honest flavour, and lots of it. So, although I know nobody wants it, here's my best beanburger recipe. I've done a pretty good job of selling myself out. But if you're a vegetarian, and you fancy slapping some homemade burgers on the barbeque next time you're entertaining al fresco, perhaps you'll enjoy these. Add as much seasoning as you like, and pile the bap high with extra goodies.

(makes 6)

1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1tbsp sunflower oil

Saute the vegetables in the oil until soft, then add:

¾ cup red lentils
1 cup vegetable stock

Simmer for 10 minutes, on a very low heat, lid on.

In a bowl combine:
1 cup cooked/tinned kidney beans
1slice bread, chopped finely into breadcrumbs
1 beaten egg
1tsp paprika
1tsp chilli powder or Tabasco
1-2 tsp soy sauce
2 heaped tsp tomato puree

Add the mushy lentil mixture and then put into the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Flour your hands generously and shape into burgers (it will be sticky but firm).

Fry in a little oil, sear on a hot-plate, or bake in a medium oven for 25 minutes (they will be drier if you bake them).

Serve with different toppings – be imaginative, and pack in extra flavour. Try home-made mayonnaise, onion rings, rocket, and beansprouts!

Thursday, July 05, 2007


They do look weird, but these slices of green-smudged toast are much-beloved of the River Cafe chefs, Nigella, and Mr Slater. With all those admirers, they're definitely worth a try...

Here's my version, but the basic blueprint - shelled beans, herbs, grated cheese and olive oil - translates into a whole platter of delicious variations.


1 French stick, sliced diagonally into 1" slices
500g broad beans, podded
25g basil
25g grated parmesan
Good slug of olive oil

Drop the beans (in their grey skins) into boiling water and simmer for 1 minute. Drain in a colander over the sink and run cold water over them until cool enough to handle. Slip the skin off each bean, revealing a luminous green bean inside. Drop the skinned beans straight into a large bowl.

Finely grate the pamesan into the bowl and then shred the basil and add this. Use a fork to mush and slightly amalgamate the beans with the basil and parmesan - they'll probably be warm enough to melt it just slightly. Drizzle in enough olive oil to give a good, bright green mush. I make this on the rustic side with pieces of bean, but you can also whiz it in the processor for a finer puree (like hummus).

On a griddle brushed with olive oil, toast the slices of bread. Whip quickly onto a plate and top with the green beans. Drizzle with extra oil, if you like ("It's what they do in Italy!" insists husband, pouring spoonfuls over his). Serve straight away or at room temp.

VARIATIONS: Exchange the pamesan for feta; swap the basil for mint, or use a mixture of both. Puree in a processor for a smoother paste. Top with garlic or pea sprouts.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Greek spinach and feta pie

It might not be warm but it's summer, and the Mediterranean chefs know how to use these seasonal vegetables better than we ever did. I mean, what did the British ever do with courgettes and spinach before gratefully borrowing Ratatouille and Spanokopita? I don't mean to sound unpatriotic - it just seems to be the case that we eat more British food in the winter, and Mediterranean food in the summer. Probably because they know all about fresh alfresco-style dinners.

I've adapted this from a recipe by Sophie Grigson, whose book (Vegetables) I would highly recommend.

1 pack Filo pastry, defrosted
1 large bag spinach - around 500g raw
200g feta cheese
1tbsp olive oil
1/2 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
2tbsp fresh dill, chopped
2 eggs

Serves 4

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C.

Wash the spinach and remove the big stems - a boring job, but worth it to rid the spinach of the characteristic bitterness. Put it straight into a large saucepan, cover and steam gently for about 5 minutes - until the spinach has collapsed in a sorry heap at the bottom of the pan and you wonder if you have cooked enough.

Drain the spinach in a colander, pressing it hard against the sides with a spoon to get rid of moisture. Slide it onto a chopping board and shred finely. Return it to the pan with the tablespoon of olive oil, dill, and the spring onions, and soften very gently for a couple of minutes. Take off the heat and allow to cool while you start layering pastry.

Take 1/3 sheet of filo and lay it on a 10cm tartlet tin (or you could make one 30x20cm pie). Using a brush and a cup containing a scant tsp of olive oil, keep brushing and layering pastry and oil, building up perhaps 8-10 layers. There should be plenty of overhang on each one. (And don't worry, the pastry is fat-free, so the olive oil is the only thing to worry about, and you can brush very scantly). Do this for 4 tins.

To the saucepan, which is now cool, add the feta, and beat it in with a spoon. Finally add the eggs and beat it all together well. Use this to fill the pie(s). Now you can gather up the overhanging pastry and crumple it prettily over the filling, covering it completely. Brush with a few more dabs of oil, and whisk into the oven for 20-30 minutes. Serve with green salad and roasted cherry tomatoes.