Leek and Potato Soup

Washing the leeks in cold water to remove grit
Washing the leeks

A very delicious and simple no fuss Leek and Potato soup, which has the merit of being veggie. Much better than you might imagine. This is based on a Delia recipe. Lovely warm. Can also be served chilled as Vichysoisse

Ingredients

  • 4 large leeks
  • 1 medium onion, chopped small
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced, about 1cm cubes is fine
  • 50g butter
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (I use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon, it’s indispensable)
  • 250 ml milk
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
To serve:
  • Snipped fresh chives or chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons cream or crème fraiche

Method

Cooking the leeks and potatoes in butter
Cooking the leeks and potatoes in butter
  1. Start by trimming the leeks, discarding any tough or scraggy outer layer.
  2. First, cut the bottom half off each leek (the white bit) a short distance below the point where the leaves splay. This bit doesn’t have any soil or grit and can be quickly cut in half lengthwise and sliced.
  3. Split the top sections in half lengthways and slice them quite finely, then wash them thoroughly in two or three changes of water to get rid of any grit. Drain well.
  4. In a largish saucepan, melt the butter, then add the leeks, onions and potatoes.  Season with some salt and pepper, then cover and let the vegetables sweat over a very low heat for about 15 minutes. You don’t want any colouring or browning.
  5. Then add the stock and milk, bring to simmering point, cover and let the soup simmer very gently for a further 20 minutes – take care, if you have the heat too high the milk in it may cause it to boil over.
  6. Now you can put the whole lot into a blender – leave it to cool first – and blend to a purée.
  7. Blend the soup in batches, then return the soup to the saucepan and reheat gently, tasting to check the seasoning.
  8. Add a swirl of cream or crème fraîche to each serving and sprinkle with freshly snipped chives (fabulous) or parsley.
I like croutons with this.

Aloo Gobi – A Lovely Vegetarian Dish

This Aloo Gobi is based on a Felicity Cloake recipe. It’s fabulous.
You can get harder to find ingredients here Spices of India. This is where I buy less common spices and I bought my Methi and Nigella Seeds.
Generally, I make it with tinned tomatoes though fresh ones might be nice if you can get good ones in summer. Because of the tomatoes, it is slightly acidic. Felicity Cloake suggests adding the juice of half a lime at the end and I omitted as I felt it wasn’t needed. Your mileage may vary.
Cooking the potatoes well before adding the cauliflower is an important point, as the potatoes take a good bit longer to cook. Otherwise, the cauliflower florets can really break up before the potato cooks.
With a decently sized cauliflower, I had a good bit more cauliflower than potatoes, but this was no bad thing. That made me add some more tomatoes and some extra methi etc to balance it out the sauce. I think the quantities flex pretty freely without destroying the recipe. So, if you like it more “saucy” then increase the tomatoes, onion and spices a bit.
I like it quite “hot” and used red Kashmiri mirch chilli, it’s very good. Serving with some nice yoghurt can cool it down and the yoghurt works well with it anyway.
The methi is essential to the Aloo Gobi, the recipe usually suggests adding it at the end. Despite this I do think the curry benefits from being allowed to cool and rest in the fridge overnight after adding the methi; it really seems to develop the flavour.
The Aloo Gobi is delicious served on its own with some bread – your choice – naan, chapati, etc. Or, it is a great side dish for a wider Indian meal.
Though it’s not traditional I liked some frozen peas added for 5-10 minutes at the reheating stage.

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp nigella seeds (though these look like Onion Seeds, they ain’t – they are different.)
  • 350g waxy potatoes, cut into 2cm dice (remember the larger the potato pieces the slower they are to cook. I think the smaller ones are better too.)
  • 1 cauliflower, cut into florets slightly larger than the potato
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, or 5 chopped medium fresh tomatoes and 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted in a dry pan and ground
  • ½-1 tsp chilli powder (I used 1 tsp of Kashmiri mirch, a hot powder, which also gives a reddish colour)
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 2-4 small green chillies, slit along their length (I left the seeds in)
  • 1 tsp salt (the potatoes, cauliflower and tomato can all stand salt so taste at the end as you may need more.)
  • 1 tbsp methi (dried fenugreek leaves – these are an essential flavour component in my opinion.)
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • Small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped, for serving
  • Yoghurt for serving if preferred

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a wide, lidded pan over a medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the cumin and nigella seeds and cook for a few seconds until they pop, then add the potatoes and sauté until golden. Scoop out the potatoes with a slotted spoon and then repeat with the cauliflower, then scoop this too out into a separate bowl.
  2. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add a little more oil if necessary, and add the onion. Cook until soft and golden but not brown, then stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for a couple of minutes. Tip in the tomatoes, ground coriander, chilli and turmeric and cook, stirring regularly, until the oil begins to pool around the side of the pan.
  3. Add the potatoes back in along with the fresh chillies and salt, bring to a simmer, turn down the heat, cover and cook for as long as it takes to cook the potatoes.
  4. Add the cauliflower only once the potatoes are cooked, and add a good splash of water, cover and cook until both are tender, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick and adding more water if necessary. Don’t overcook the cauliflower or it will disintegrate. If you think you will be re-heating then just leave it slightly al dente.
  5. Take off the heat, stir in the methi and garam masala and leave for 10 minutes
  6. Either serve the Aloo Gobi right away with coriander and yoghurt, or cool and fridge overnight, or freeze, all work well. (I really think leaving at least overnight helps massively. The methi seems to work its magic if left for a while.)

Simple Tomato Sauce – A Freezer Essential

This is based on a Rick Stein suggestion and works very well. It’s a great simple tomato sauce which freezes nicely in portions. I always have portions in the freezer.
It’s flavoured with bay leaf and having fresh bay leaves really helps. Every garden should have a bay tree, they are easily grown in pots by the back door. It can be jazzed up by adding basil or oregano (dried or fresh) when using to add a different flavour edge.
I use tinned tomatoes and they work well. If you have fabulous ripe fresh tomatoes they would work too (you need to skin them) but I don’t think it will work so well with supermarket water balls…. This is probably a good way to use up that tomato glut at the end of the season if you grow your own. If using fresh from the supermarket, you might find some tomato puree helps the colour and flavour a bit. The tinned approach is tasty, easier and less work.
Did you know that most tomatoes sold in our supermarkets are grown in water (a system called hydroponics)? This is where buying organic can make a difference. The Soil Association certify what is organic, which they do by certifying the soil. So tomatoes that are organic have to be grown in soil.
It’s quite possible to grow all the ingredients in your own garden (assuming you have somewhere like a greenhouse for the tomatoes.) The onions, garlic and bay leaves are all grown easily at home. Get started with some garlic, it’s the easiest.
I find this sauce useful for:
  • Being the tomato base to smear on top of a pizza before adding other toppings
  • As a sauce for pasta. A simple cooked pasta with this sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan with fresh basil works really well.
  • As a basic sauce, it’s acceptable to most kids with pasta as it doesn’t have any “bits” or anything green.
  • Great with homemade ravioli, perhaps stuffed with ricotta and herbs.
  • Rick Stein uses it in a Spanish lamb stuffed aubergine recipe which is really nice. So can be added as a bit of a cheat to some minced beef or pork to make a quick ragu for that emergency guest situation.
Oil… yes, it’s a lot of olive oil (no need for extra virgin) but it gets blended into a smooth sauce and emulsifies nicely. Trust me, it’s fine.
I usually make a bigger quantity and freeze portions in labelled freezer bags. One piece of work, many meals.
Ingredients
Single
Double
Olive oil (don’t waste extra virgin)
125ml
250ml
Onions
250g
500g
Garlic cloves
2
4
Tinned tomatoes (400g tins)
1
2
Bay leaves
3
6
Water
150ml
300ml
Salt
1 teaspoon
2 teaspoons
Sugar
1 teaspoon
2 teaspoons
Method
  1. Sautee the onions in the olive oil till soft. Do not brown/colour/crisp, so a low heat works best and this will take 15 to 30 minutes. Start this first and then look out the rest of your ingredients.
  2. Make the garlic to a paste and add to the onions for the last 5 minutes to cook off.
  3. Now add everything else and bring to the gentlest of simmers.
  4. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until the sauce and oil have cooked together and reduce to be a bit thicker.
  5. Remove the bay leaves
  6. Allow to cool and then blend in a food processor or blender. You end up with a slightly orange looking tomato sauce that tastes delicious.
  7. Make in advance and freeze or fridge till needed.
Portion Thoughts
For an 8-year-old, I find that 80g of dried pasta and 140g of sauce works well. That might leave room for that essential scoop of ice cream afterwards.
For an adult 120g of dried pasta, you might want about 180-200g of sauce, depending on how wet you like your pasta and what else you are adding. Eg. pan fry some courgette chunks quickly and add to the sauce along with some fresh oregano.
The 140g portion size works well with a portion of 6-8 homemade ravioli.
Oh, if you’re defrosting from a freezer bag then don’t put the bag of sauce in the microwave. The oil in the sauce will melt the bag and you will have an awful mess. Just sayin’.
If you run the bag under the cold tap you can remove the sauce from the bag quite easily and either melt in a pot or heat in a microwaveable bowl.

Carrot Sultana Salad

Lovely carrot sultana salad, based on one from my Lebanese book. Works well with middle eastern dishes and Indian. For me it’s actually got a Chinese sort of flavour, I think because of the toasted sesame seeds, ginger and spring onions.
Quite simply, it works with everything. Great with barbecues where you want a range of salad types and textures, with grilled meat or fish.
The modern plump “ready to eat” sultanas/raisins that are not fully dehydrated work well.
Quantities are approximate as with all salads you will want to vary to taste and preference.
Ingredients
  • 5 medium carrots
  • 100g of nice sultanas, you could use raisins
  • Chopped coriander to taste
  • 2-3 teaspoons of grated ginger
  • 3 spring onions
  • Drizzle of balsamic vinegar to taste
  • Teaspoon of runny honey
  • A Generous tablespoon of sesame seeds, which you have toasted in a dry frying pan.
Method
  1. If you have one, use a mandolin to julienne half of the peeled carrots, then grate the rest coarsely. You could just grate all of them, it depends what sort of texture you want. I like the crunchiness of the little carrot julienne in my salad. Texture is important.
  2. Add all the other ingredients and mix
  3. The finished salad needs to stand for at least 30 minutes for the flavours to get to know one another, don’t rush it.
For your carrot sultana salad to work you really just need to adjust the ingredients to taste. I think it needs a bit of vinegar and a bit of sweetness. If it’s too sweet add a teaspoon of white wine vinegar, too sour add a bit more honey.
Some toasted peanut, cashew, or pistachio might be a welcome addition.

Spanakopita – A Classic Greek Dish

My brother put me on to this and it’s a tasty lunch or dinner, best veggie I think. It is an easy Greek filo pastry based pie and can be prepared a bit in advance. Serve at room temperature, or just lukewarm.
It’s really a traditional spinach and feta Greek “pie”, but can be varied in many directions. The dish is traditionally veggie but I suppose you could put some minced lamb in it and some Middle East type spices? Probably a hanging offence in Greece.
I use my loose bottomed flan dish that I also use for quiche. It works well and makes removing the finished pie much easier.
I find I have more filo than I need for one. You could get two spanakopita from a pack. Don’t think it would freeze well from a cheese/egg perspective so you’d need to eat them both from the fridge over a couple of days.
Lovely served with a nice salad.
Ingredients
  • A pack of filo pastry
  • Small butternut squash
  • 120g of young spinach, wilted and drained. Use a sieve or muslin/tea towel.
  • 200g Feta chopped up, there need to be cubes of cheese, probably about 1.5cm square
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 50-75g melted butter to coat the filo
  • Mint leaves chopped (careful not to overdo as it can be a bit too minty), some basil wouldn’t go amiss
  • Optional – some small chopped courgettes.
  • Courgette flowers for decoration or you can put some in the pie if you have enough.
Method
  1. The butternut squash needs peeled and cut into 2cm chunks. Coat in olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast it at 180C fan for about 30-40 minutes till cooked. A bit of colour is no bad thing.
  2. Mix the cooled butternut squash with the eggs, cheese, spinach, herbs. Season well with salt and pepper.
  3. Cover the bottom of the flan dish with a sheet of filo then brush it with butter. Put on two more, coating them with butter and rotating them a bit so that all the sides of the dish are covered.
  4. Tip the filling into the dish and level out.
  5. Fold the edges of the filo base back over towards the middle
  6. Now cover with about another 3 layers and any loose scraps of filo, buttering each piece.
  7. Decorate with some courgette flowers, coating them in butter, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
  8. Cook at 180C fan for about 20 minutes, more or less depending on how golden it goes
Best served lukewarm or at room temperature, probably with a Greek salad. The Spanakopita can be kept chilled overnight in a fridge. It also reheats to crisp up the soggy pastry.
The filling is easily varied:
  • Leaves could be rocket, horseradish, chard, kale
  • Cheese could be gorgonzola or any other cheese but not sure how well some would work. Experimentation carries a risk.
  • Herb could be mint, basil, thyme, tarragon, fennel, oregano, dill, parsley
  • Squash could be carrot, could add some finely chopped onion, probably cooked off slightly for best results.
  • Mix and match veg as you wish just be careful not to add something too wet, or that needs a lot more cooking. In which case, pre-cook and/or drain.

Green Onion Chutney – The Ultimate Indian Side Dish

A very good Green Onion Chutney. It has a zingy flavour with a mixture of sweet and sour from the lime and sugar, and fresh herbs from the coriander and mint, the chillies add the final kick. Best eaten fresh. I’d say within an hour or two. But may keep for a few hours longer in the fridge. It is great as part of a small set of raitas, pickles, salads, and chutneys when serving Indian nibbles like pakora.
It’s particularly easy to make. I have a small food processor and find it essential for this. Just put everything in the processor and blitz, I use the Pulse feature. If you have the patience then you could chop it all finely by hand, but for me, life’s too short.
 
This chutney works with almost any curry, pakora, poppadoms etc. It’s particularly nice with Kheema.
Ingredients
  • Large handful mint leaves
  • Large handful coriander leaves
  • 2 fresh green chillies roughly chopped (I leave the seeds in)
  • 1 small (about 75g) onion roughly chopped
  • 1½ tsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • ¼ tsp salt
Method
  1. Tip it all into a food processor and blitz on pulse; you might need to scrape it off the sides a couple of times. Doesn’t want to be too smooth in my opinion. Some texture is required otherwise you will just make a paste.

Red Cabbage – An Easy Autumn Classic

Red Cabbage is another autumn/winter favourite.

It’s a very useful side dish which has many virtues:
  • it can be made a few hours in advance
  • it can be spiced up and made as “festive” as you like. A thin slice of orange peel might make a festive flavour.
  • it is easy to do and hard to go wrong
  • it’s quick and simple to cook.
You must use eating apples as they will keep their shape when cooked. Cooking apples, like Bramleys, will just go to mush so should be avoided.
Ingredients
  • knob of butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely sliced or chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 x 600g red cabbage, shredded finely using a food processor (white core discarded)
  • 3 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 3 eating apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 100ml red wine vinegar
  • Pinch of salt
Method
  1. Heat the butter and oil in a large lidded saucepan.
  2. When the oil is hot, add the onion and fry gently until softened.
  3. Then stir in the spices. Add the cabbage and fry for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until glossy.
  4. Stir in the sugar, apples and red wine vinegar. Cover with a lid and let it cook gently for 30 minutes.
  5. Taste and adjust salt/sugar/vinegar, and cook longer if needed, as you prefer.

Pakora – The Best Indian Streetfood

This Pakora is lovely, and can easily be made in advance and reheated. Made by deep frying. If you are reheating then this can be done by heating in a hot oven, or refrying to crisp and heat up. The Pakora freeze well too, and like all of these things, I think this helps the flavour.
Ingredients
  • 250g chickpea (besan) flour
  • 50g self-raising flour
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½-1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (vary this according to how many bits of green chilli you will use and how hot you like it)
  • 250-300ml cold water
  • 300g potatoes, coarsely grated. You need to squeeze the water out of the grated potatoes.
  • 300g onions either all grated or very very finely chopped, or you can leave some in longer pieces to make the finished pakora a bit more gnarly if you like. But you really need to grate at least some of the onion to get the flavour.
  • 100g fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 1 or more fresh green chilli, with or without the seeds depending on preference.
Method
  1. Mix the flours, salt and spices in a large bowl.
  2. Add water till you get the thickness of double cream
  3. Add everything else and mix it in. (If the mixture is too wet add a bit more chickpea flour and mix it in)
  4. Using a deep fat fryer at about 180C fry the pakora in batches. My fryer is small so I find I can only do 2-3 at a time. It takes 3-4 minutes per cook and I usually try and flip them over halfway.
You can veg this up in lots of different ways. I’ve made with courgette rather than potato and it’s been lovely. You can substitute some of the potatoes with whole frozen peas.
Serve with some salad and dips/sauces/yoghurts/raita/chutney/pickles etc. Let’s be honest, what’s wrong with a bit of tomato ketchup on its own or even mixed with some greek yoghurt. Green onion chutney is a winner too.