Category Archives: Savoury

Smashing Pumpkins: 3 ways with pumpkin seeds

When I have an inevitable energy slump in the afternoon, usually around 3 o’clock, I always need to go foraging for food. For instance a slice of hot toast smothered with crunchy peanut butter with a few berries or a mashed banana on top. Oatcakes with roasted nuts are another option, or perhaps a chunky granola bar, encased in sugar syrup and smothered with seeds. Pumpkin seeds

I think you can see where I’m going with this… Pumpkin seeds also fall into this category.

As far as all-round health benefits are concerned they’re pretty hard to beat. Their nutrition is, shall we say, “brain boosting” – with zinc, magnesium and Omega-3 in abundance, all of which are beneficial when it comes to improving memory and critical thinking skills.

This is definitely a good choice for the afternoon cognitive deficit.

As well as for snacking pumpkin seeds are great for general cooking purposes; such as garnishing sweet and savoury bakes; blitzing into a pesto sauce for pasta or pureeing into a smooth and creamy seed butter or for toast.

For the recipes below I’ve opted for a selection of 3 of the best (and indeed simple) uses for pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkin seed breadPumpkin seed bread

Seeded bread recipes often call for different seed varieties like linseed, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin. This loaf uses only the latter of the four – which I find the most flavoursome.

Ingredients

  • 20g fresh / 14g instant yeast
  • 500g strong wholemeal bread flour
  • 5g salt
  • 10g unrefined sugar i.e. brown cane sugar or demerara
  • 50ml olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 275ml/9fl oz warm water
  • 150g pumpkin seeds

Directions

  • Heat a small pan to a medium-high heat and spread the pumpkin seeds out evenly. Toast for around 7-10 minutes, shaking the pan so they do not catch or burn. Remove from the heat and leave to cool
  • In a bowl mix together the yeast, flour, salt, sugar and oil until well combined. Add the warm water and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together as a soft dough.
  • Add the pumpkin seeds and knead gently for 5-8 minutes, or until the seeds are combined and the dough is smooth and elastic.
  • Place the dough into a large bowl and cover with a clean tea towel.
  • Set aside in a warm place to prove for 2 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 200C
  • When the dough has proved, transfer to the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until the bread has risen and is golden-brown.

Porridge with pumpkin seeds and maple syrup blackberries

There are countless recipe variations around for porridge – what can you expect for something that’s Porridge with pumpkin seeds and blackberriesbeen around since 1000 BC..

This is my take on it.

Ingredients

  • 50-75g steel cut oats
  • 250ml water or milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • a generous drizzle of maple syrup

Directions

  • Put the oats in a saucepan with the water (or milk) and salt.
  • Slowly bring to the boil over a low-medium heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring from time to time and watching carefully that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Before serving, pour some boiling water into your serving bowl, leave for 10 seconds, then pour out. This warms the bowl in preparation for the porridge.
  • To serve: Pour into the warmed bowl, spoon the pumpkin seeds on top and drizzle with honey.

Spice-roasted pumpkin seeds with cumin, coriander and cardamom

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Ingredients

  • 100g pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp each ground cumin, coriander, cardamom and salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Directions

  • Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add seeds, lower heat and boil gently for 10 minutes. Drain well then transfer to a paper towel-lined tray and pat dry.
  • Meanwhile, mix the oil together in a bowl with the ground spices.
  • Transfer the seeds to a medium bowl, toss with the flavoured oil and spread out in a single layer on a large baking sheet.
  • Roast the seeds, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until just crisp and golden brown, about 1 hour total. (They will become crispier as they cool.)
  • Set aside to let cool completely then shell or eat whole.

Related:

Peanut Butter and date flapjacks recipe

Homemade cashew, cocoa and date ‘Nakd’ bars

Nuts about Almonds!

Nuts about Almonds!

Always good for a munch when you’re feeling peckish – almonds are without doubt one of my favourite store cupboard ingredients.

Almonds

Oven roasted almonds

Although this delicate, mellow and creamy nut might not seem as exciting lined up against it’s more flavourful cousins; namely the walnut, pecan or brazil varieties, almonds do have their strong points; like providing the foundation for all great baking recipes, exotically flavoured tagines, pilafs and stews.

Not only that, almonds are also extremely nutritious:

  • They are rich in vitamin E which promotes healthy skin, bones and acts as an intoxicant which protects cell membranes.
  • Compared to other nuts they also contain the second highest amount of magnesium, after Brazil nuts, which is necessary for healthy teeth, muscle, nerve function and great for energy distribution throughout the body.
  • They are also high in protein and monounsaturated fats.

Almond varieties:

Almonds aerial view

Oven roasted almonds aerial view

  • Whole almonds

My favourite almonds are the skin-on whole variety (brown in colour) although blanched almonds (white in colour, skin-off) are also available.

I whole find almonds eaten straight from the packet a little bland; it usually helps to toss them in a little olive oil, salt and cayenne pepper before blasting them in a hot oven for 10 – 15 minutes. Not only does this bring out their flavour but it also gives them a crunchier texture.

  • Ground (powdered) almonds

Great for home baking (think lemon, almond and poppy seed cake) – lending a chewy consistency to cakes and excellent for a healthy flour substitute for making pancakes.

  • Flaked almonds

These are readily used as a garnish on savoury dishes like Moroccan tagines, pilafs and Indian curries. On the sweet end of the spectrum you’ll find toasted and flaked almonds adorning all manner of cakes and sweet pastries – like Bakewell tarts, nutty florentine biscuits, pralines, creamy trifles and (my favourite) sweet almond croissants filled with marzipan paste.

On that note, feel free to browse my recipe for Macaroons from a previous blog.

Recipe ideas:

If I’m not eating almonds straight from the packet or munching them straight from the oven I’ll often use a food processor to prepare smoothies, milkshakes and thick sauces.

  • For a great smoothie recipe – blitz a handful of almonds with 150g blanched kale, 1 banana and 2-3 dates, along with a good splash of almond milk or water. This can be chilled in the refrigerator or served at room temperature.
  • For a bright, fiery sauce you can’t go wrong with Romesco – from the Catalonia region in Spain. Romesco is made with almonds, roasted red peppers, garlic, tomatoes and a thick slice of country bread for texture, making it an excellent accompaniment for meat, fish and as a dressing for roasted vegetables. Just take 100g of whole roasted almonds, 4 garlic cloves, 2 diced tomatoes, 3 roasted red peppers (blackened on an open flame or roasted for 20 minutes in a fierce oven) and 1 red chilli. Add this to a food processor with 100ml olive oil, 2 tbsp sherry vinegar, 1 tbsp smoked paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Puree until smooth.

I’ve focused two recipes below: the first has all the flavours and textures from the Middle East; with the second offering up a healthy non-dairy alternative to milk.

Almond, apricot, pomegranate, quinoa and bulgur Pilaf

Pilaf is a long-standing favourite of mine which usually contains rice, spices and various other grains. I’ve gone with quinoa and bulgar as the two main ingredients which give the dish a fantastically nutty texture.

Almond, apricot, quinoa and bulgar pilaf

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g each of uncooked quinoa and bulgar wheat
  • 1 can chickpeas/garbanzos
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • salt and pepper to taste
Almond, apricot, quinoa and bulgur pilaf ingredients

Ingredients (clockwise from left): quinoa, bulgur wheat, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, chilli flakes and (middle) 1 whole cinnamon stick

To garnish

  • 100g mixed almonds
  • 75g apricots, chopped
  • 75g pomegranates
  • a handful of coriander

Directions

  • Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan, then fry the onions, coriander seeds and cumin seeds until soft and golden. Add the garlic and chillies and fry for 2 minutes, then add the quinoa, bulgur, stock and cinammon. Season, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes until the stock is absorbed or until the you have fluffy grains. Transfer to a bowl.
  • Garnish with the remaining ingredients and serve.

Homemade almond milk

A fresh and tasty vegan alternative to cow’s milk. You will need a blender.

Almond milk recipe

Ingredients

  • 200g whole almonds
  • 570ml/1 pint water
  • 6-7 good quality pitted dates (Medjool variety are good) OR 3-4 tbsp maple syrup

Directions

  • In a container, soak the almonds in just enough water to cover.
  • Cover with a towel and let it sit in a cool place for about 8 – 12 hours.
  • Pour off the water from the almonds and rinse well.
  • Place the rinsed almonds into a blender, add the water with the dates or maple syrup, blending for a few minutes on high speed until well mixed.
  • Strain the almond milk through a very fine sieve or a bag strainer and serve. You will be left with some almond meal residue in the sieve or bag strainer (you can use this for macaroons, cookies, almond but butter or other baking recipes).

Alternative flavour suggestions

Add these extra ingredients at the blending stage

  • Chocolate almond milk: add 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Cinnamon milk: add 1 tsp cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg
  • Vanilla almond milk: add 1 tsp vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod

Courgette ribbon salad recipe

Courgettes (or Zucchinis) are often seen as a bland, tasteless vegetable, treated more as an afterthought as part of, say, a vegetarian stew or Ratatouille than as a dish in it’s own right.

I can see the reasoning behind this but, for me, there’s a lot more to courgettes than meets the eye.

You can choose to cook courgettes in a range of ways including some recipes using courgette flowers which are attached to little fingerling courgettes during the early stages of growth. These flowers only grow on the female plant – the male counterpart is completely flower-free.

In some recipes the flowers themselves are often served as part of a starter dish on the menus of expensive Italian restaurants. They are often stuffed with the likes of ricotta, goats cheese, garlic, sultanas, pine nuts and herbs.

In Scotland, we’d probably try deep frying them – which sounds equally delicious to tell you the truth!

Other ways of preparing and cooking courgettes offers up plenty of options: stuffed, grated or whole, baked, fried, boiled, steamed or stewed. If you decide to grate courgettes then crispy courgette fritters would make a simple, tasty dish. Alternatively, roasted in a Gratin or lasagne made with sliced courgettes, herbs, aubergine and parmesan cheese makes an appetising supper. I also love courgettes with any type of pasta.

For the recipe below I’ve taken a slightly different approach to the above.

Courgette ‘ribbons’ with sun-dried tomatoes and lambs lettuce salad

This is a very simple to prepare and the slicing technique can be easily mastered.

Courgette ‘ribbon’ salad with sun-dried tomatoes aerial view

Ingredients

  • 3 courgettes
  • 150g sun-dried tomatoes in oil
  • a handful of lambs lettuce
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  • Using a vegetable peeler or mandolin, slice the courgettes into long thin ribbons and place in a  dish.

 DSC_1523 Courgette ‘ribbon’ salad with sun-dried tomatoes sliced

 

Courgette ‘ribbon’ salad with sun-dried tomatoes preparedCourgette ‘ribbon’ salad, sun-dried tomatoes and lambs lettuce

  • To make the dressing, whisk the lemon juice with the olive oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix together with the rest of the ingredients in a wide serving bowl.

Artichokes

The first time I tried artichoke was in the form of loose leaf Artichoke Tea from the hill town of Dalat in Vietnam. A strange way to start a new tasting experience, perhaps, but it was enough to get me hooked.

Artichoke

Globe artichoke

Artichokes grow wild in the Mediterranean and the US. Whilst they are also hugely popular around France and Spain, they have fallen on deaf ears here in the UK, which completely baffles me.
image

Thinking about it, however, this could be put down to the following:

Preparation – artichokes are tricky to prepare compared to other vegetables – as you may have worked out from the gnarled, prickly image above – requiring some assertive trimming work with a kitchen knife.

Economies of scale – they are not very economical: once scrubbed and peeled half of the vegetable ends up on the compost heap. They’re obviously not going to be on any best-selling ‘15-minute meals’ Christmas cookbook then.

As an ingredient they have an earthy, nutty and robust flavour and are especially flavoursome if you buy them marinated in olive oil (and char-grilled – yum). They also go well with tomatoes, green beans, chicken (see recipe below), spinach or baked with goats cheese. Artichokes are also extremely well-suited to seafood as Nigel Slater shows to great effect in his recipe. For a great pasta recipe, Rick Stein goes all-out in his recipe for Italian artichoke pasta with fresh herbs and garlic.

The nutrition levels in artichokes are substantial; containing a high amount of vitamin C, folic acid, potassium and soluble fibre.

Types of artichoke:

Globe artichoke: Part of the thistle family and related to the burdock leaf and salsify.

Jerusalem artichoke:  They may be artichokes by name but there’s an elephant in the room (two in fact) – Firstly, they are not real artichokes. Their more commonly known name is the ‘Sunchoke’. It is the underground tuber or root of the plant and part of the sunflower family. They resemble ginger root more than anything else.

Secondly, they have nothing whatsoever to do with the Holy Land.

Chinese artichoke: Part of the mint family and used extensively in Oriental cooking. You can usually buy them fresh or tinned in most Asian supermarkets in the UK.

Recipe:

Chicken salad with marinated artichokes and mushrooms

This colourful and filling salad is a great way to use marinated artichoke; providing a very tasty meal without much preparation.

Chicken and artichoke salad aerial

Serves 1 -2

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cooked chicken breast, sliced
  • 150g char grilled artichoke halves, marinated in oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 100g mixed mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, button), washed and sliced
  • 1 baby gem lettuce, shredded
  • A handful of lambs lettuce
  • 6 – 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 spring onion, sliced diagonally into 2 cm lengths
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  • Heat the oil in a small pan over a medium heat and cook the mushrooms with the garlic for about 4-5 minutes stirring occasionally.
  • Set aside and leave to cool.
  • Combine the rest of the ingredients in a salad bowl and toss together.
  • Season with salt and pepper, add the mushrooms to the bowl and serve.

For the love of broccoli

I’ve been reflecting on the recent plight of dairy farmers in the UK regarding the price of milk – which has sunk to such a level as to be almost unsustainable.

Broccoli florets

Broccoli florets

Farmers in the UK have always been a source of great admiration for me. We rely on them as a vital resource to supply us with food through multiple levels of an increasingly complicated agricultural supply chain. Long hours and hard work often do not always equal a solid living on what they produce.

In the face of such low prices there is a doggedness that really stands out for me and we should be grateful to all UK farmers for their efforts in bringing food into our lives.

Purple sprouting brocolli side view

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

One of the reasons to be grateful right now is that April is the start of the season for one of my favourite vegetables: Broccoli.

Right now I just can’t get enough of this leafy green. I love all things broccoli. Just as our dairy farmers are the unsung heroes of our entire food system, broccoli is the unsung hero of my kitchen.

Unfortunately, just as one crop comes into season, another is going out (Purple sprouting broccoli).

See below for details on the UK growing season for the two main varieties:

  • Broccoli Calabrese (April to October);
  • Purple Sprouting Broccoli (February, March)

Culinary uses

It’s rather more exotic than we give it credit for, coming originally from Italy, and it pairs up very nicely with loads of ingredients; like chili, garlic, goat’s cheese and will also go well alongside the more distinct Asian flavours like soy, sesame and ginger.

Oven roasted broccoli image 2

Oven roasted broccoli

One of my favourite broccoli recipes involves roasting the florets in the oven, adding only olive oil and salt. Simply drizzle over the oil and salt and bake in the oven at 200C for about 35 minutes. This will produce the most outstanding end product with a much more concentrated flavour than you would get from steaming or boiling. You can also make a great broccoli soup using very few ingredients – onion, garlic and stock usually does the trick. If you want to steam the broccoli it will go well tossed in a little butter, lemon juice and a few capers. A nice blanket of cheese sauce with a topping of parmesan and bread crumbs goes down a treat too.

It just goes to show that sometimes it’s the simple things in life that win you over.

For the recipes below I’ve focused on the two main varieties of broccoli. Both recipes work well on their own or with a few slices of crusty bread alongside.

Purple sprouting broccoli with anchovy, chilli and garlic and toasted cashews

Purple sprouting brocolli recipe image two

This is a great recipe to have just on its own or as a side dish for roast lamb or another type of meat.

You could also serve it as a starter or toss it with linguine.

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 200g purple sprouting broccoli
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 red chillis, roughly chopped
  • 6 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Half a lemon, juice only

Directions

  • Boil the broccoli for 4-5 minutes until cooked but still with a nice bite to it.
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan on a low-medium heat and add the cashew nuts. Stir them in the pan for 4-5 minutes until beginning to colour. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • Add the garlic cloves with the chilli and chopped anchovies. Turn up the heat and add a splash of water to help the anchovies break down into a  loose ‘sauce’ consistency.
  • Season, add the lemon juice and drizzle the sauce, with the toasted cashews, over the broccoli.

Roasted Broccoli florets

This recipe works well on it’s own as a healthy supper dish.Oven roasted broccoli served warm

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 head of broccoli, cut into florets, stems peeled and sliced or diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • a pinch of black pepper

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 200C
  • Toss the broccoli florets with the olive oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet. Spread them out and then roast for 20 minutes – until the edges are crispy and the stems are crisp tender.
  • Serve warm.