Heatwave Gazpacho

Rather than moaning about the heat, I’m going to admit I absolutely adore hot weather, which we don’t get enough of in Britain. But it’s only pleasant if you are well prepared, with iced drinks and refreshing food. As it’s a roasting 34° C in London today, I felt the urge to make the most ultimately refreshing and cooling thing I could think of. So it just had to be gazpacho.

Gazpacho reminds me of sweltering summer holidays in Trujillo, a small, historic town on a hilltop overlooking the baking plains of Extremadura. There’s something so cooling and quenching about the “gazpacho extremeño” they make there. When it’s hot we’d have it as a starter or accompaniment to every meal (ok, not breakfast!). We’d slurp it greedily out of terracotta bowls in the main square, with storks chattering in their untidy nests, the ancient stones finally cooling after a magnificent golden sunset.

So here’s my best gazpacho recipe for parched throats.

I think they actually use white onions in Extremadura but I’ve used red this time.

Gazpacho

Heatwave Gazpacho

Serves 4 as a starter or accompaniment

Ingredients

  • 100g stale bread (white, for the Spanish effect, although I used wholemeal sourdough as that’s what I had!)
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 650g ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 a cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 a small red onion, chopped
  • 1/2 a red pepper (or green, for more authenticity), deseeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon white (or red) wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • large pinch of salt, some black pepper

Method

Tear up the bread into small pieces, put in a bowl with the crushed garlic and pour over 100ml cold water, stir to combine.

Put the tomatoes in a bowl and pour boiling water over them, leave for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the water, skin them and chop up the flesh, squeezing out the seeds. reserve all the liquid and seeds (you can do the whole thing into a sieve over the bowl). Squeeze the skins and seedy pulp to extract all the juice and throw away the skins and seeds. Add the tomatoes to the bowl with the bread.

Add the cucumber, pepper, onion, and put it all in a food processor, with the vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Whiz to a fine puree. You can then strain it through a sieve for an even smoother texture.

Cover, and leave to chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Then test for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.

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Spicy Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Soup

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When it’s grim and freezing outside, few of us are in the mood for salads and I find myself turning to stodgy comfort food a little too often. However, there is a super solution: soup! (Sorry.)

This is a brilliantly easy winter soup that’s warming and nourishing. With a little kick from the spices and chilli it really feels like it’s doing your immune system some good. And at only 250 calories per portion this is diet food that tastes like comfort food.

Spicy Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 250g sweet potato (1 large one), peeled and diced
  • 200g red lentils, rinsed
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3cm ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (or less if you prefer it less spicy)
  • 500 ml vegetable or chicken stock

To serve:

  • Plain yoghurt
  • Chopped coriander leaves

Method

Heat the oil in a deep pan with a lid and throw in the cloves, mustard seeds and onion, fry gently until the onion is soft and starting to turn golden.

Add the garlic and ginger, fry for about 2 minutes, before adding the rest of the spices and the chilli powder, stir well and let the spices cook for a minute.

Add the sweet potatoes, the stock and the lentils (plus more water if necessary, the sweet potatoes should be covered), pop the lid on and simmer for 25 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper if it needs it.

I find by this point you can just crush the sweet potato into a mush with a masher and you have a rustic soup. But if you prefer it on the smoother side you can then whizz it up in a blender.

Serve with a spoonful of plain yoghurt and sprinkle with coriander leaves.

 

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Bejewelled Persian Chicken

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I had some friends coming round for dinner and wanted to make a non-spicy Persian chicken dish that was full of flavour, super easy, could be made in advance, and finally, that would be pretty to look at.

So I cast around on the internet for inspiration, searching with combinations of ingredients until I found a recipe that sounded like a good starting point: Sainsbury’s magazine – Persian Chicken. But this was for grilled chicken thighs and I prefer the slow cooked, meltingly tender result when you stew chicken thighs slowly in liquid. (And you get a delicious soupy sauce too – bonus!) So I adapted it for slow cooking, making a kind of marinade inspired by my favourite Persian saffron and orange stewed chicken recipe.

Stewed chicken thighs can look rather unattractive but the green, red and white of the coriander leaves, almonds and the jewel-like pomegranate seeds make it look a lot prettier, hence the name.

Bejewelled Persian Chicken

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 8 large chicken thighs (make sure you go for really high quality meat, it makes all the difference)
  • 1 red onion, finely sliced
  • grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom (grind up using pestle and mortar)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • 2 preserved lemons, seeds removed, finely chopped
  • handful of dried apricots, chopped
  • handful of almonds, finely chopped
  • handful of coriander, leaves picked and chopped
  • sunflower oil
  • 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • seeds of half a pomegranate
  • salt and pepper

 

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Method

Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Mix all the dry spices together, plus the grated orange zest, the preserved lemons and a teaspoon of salt. Add two tablespoons of sunflower oil and stir to combine.

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Put the chicken thighs in a large bowl and pour over the spiced oil to marinade. Time to get your hands dirty: rub the marinade all over the surface of the chicken thighs.

Cover and put in the fridge: allow at least an hour for the marinade to work its magic on the chicken.

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In a large casserole dish that can go in the oven, cook the sliced onions on a medium heat, stirring frequently, until they are completely soft. In batches, add the chicken pieces and seal them all over.

Return all the chicken to the pan, add the chopped apricots, orange juice and some hot water until the chicken is more or less submerged but not totally swimming. Bring to the boil and then put the lid on tightly and pop it in the oven for about an hour to an hour and a half, checking and stirring a couple of times. Taste to check the seasoning.

When you are ready to serve, add the chickpeas and bring to the boil, stirring to distribute them evenly.

Remove from the heat, transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the chopped almonds, coriander leaves and pomegranate seeds.

I served it with basmati rice and a garlicky yoghurt dip sprinkled with zata’ar on the side.

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Roasted spiced cauliflower with almonds and a garlicky yoghurt dip

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When I saw that my local fruit and veg shop had some of the most enormous and beautiful cauliflowers I’d ever seen, it reminded me of a whole barbecued cauliflower I’d had at the restaurant Berber and Q in Haggerston.

I decided to attempt something similar, but by the time I’d worked out what spices to use and had read through a few recipes I realised that cooking it whole would take too long and I was too hungry to wait! So that will have to wait for next time. I took a Jamie Oliver recipe and added a few bits and pieces to it. It’s a kind of Indian-Middle Eastern mash up.

The flavours of this version were insanely good. I served it with the delicious fresh roti that my veg shop sells, and with a garlicky yoghurt dip with zata’ar stirred through.

Roasted spiced cauliflower with almonds and a garlicky yoghurt dip

Serves 4 as a main or 6-8 as a side dish

1 large cauliflower head, leaves removed, broken into florets
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp garam masala (containing black pepper, cloves, cinnamon)
60g ground almonds
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tsp salt
handful of flaked almonds

For the dip

200ml Greek yoghurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp zata’ar
pinch of salt

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Preheat your oven to 200°C.Blanch the cauliflower florets in boiling water for a few minutes, drain and allow the water to steam off them completely. In a dry pan, toast the spices for a minute or so before adding the ground almonds, chilli flakes, salt, lemon zest and juice and stirring well. Toss the cauliflower in olive oil and then roll the florets around in the spice mix. Arrange in a roasting tray and put in the oven for about 20-25 minutes or until they are golden with crispy bits.

Meanwhile add the ingredients for the dipping sauce, or dressing, and mix well. Chuck the flaked almonds in a dry pan and toast until golden, sprinkle on the cauliflower to serve.

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Spiced Beetroot and Yoghurt dip

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This dip is such a gorgeous colour as well as being incredibly moreish. I can’t get enough of it. I have tried making it with vacuum packed pre-cooked beetroot, and although it looks and tastes pretty good, if you make it with fresh beetroot you’ll be rewarded for your extra work with a flavour that’s even better and a colour that’s so unbelievably, gobsmackingly PINK! The photos really don’t do it justice here.

It’s great as a dip with warm pitta, pitta chips, crisps or whatever you like, or as part of a mix and match lunch with salads. It’s also brilliant in a wrap with salad and avocado/feta/anything else, giving a pop of colour and a taste of delicious earthy goodness.

My version is an amalgamation of two different beetroot-yoghurt recipes, from Sabrina Ghayour’s Sirocco, and Meera Sodha’s Fresh India. Both are great but – with apologies to Sabrina and Meera – here’s the version I like best.

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Spiced Beetroot and Yoghurt Dip

Serves 6-8 as a dip or side

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 300g raw beetroot, peeled and grated (easiest to grate it using a food processor attachment)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely sliced
  • 300ml Greek yoghurt (the thick kind, no watery/low fat ones!)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (half a lemon)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp nigella seeds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • olive oil

Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium high, add the mustard seeds and, when they start to pop, add the garlic and fry until golden.

Add the grated beetroot and stir fry for at least 5 minutes, or until it has softened. Let it cool slightly and then whizz it in the food processor until fairly smooth.

Add the lemon, salt, coriander and yoghurt, blitz to mix it all together. Check for seasoning (add more salt or lemon as you wish)

Serve with a sprinkle of nigella seeds and a drizzle of olive oil (or without if you want to keep it healthier!).

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Quinoa, Roast Butternut and Feta Salad

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This is a really simple salad that’s perfect for autumn. It’s zingy and colourful and yet pretty filling for a so-called salad. It’s certainly more than the sum of its parts. I find the sweet and sour tang of pomegranate molasses finishes it off perfectly. You could serve as one of several salads, or as a main dish accompanied by some rocket or other greenery, or just by itself. The leftovers make a pretty good packed lunch, too.

Quinoa, Roast Butternut Squash and Feta Salad

Serves 4

220g quinoa
1 medium butternut squash
juice of 1 lemon
a handful of fresh coriander, stalks and leaves, finely chopped
100g feta
pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on top
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
pomegranate molasses (optional)

Quinoa, butternut squash, feta, pumpkin seeds, pomegranate molasses

Peel the butternut squash and cut it lengthways into quarters. Scoop out the seeds, brush with olive oil, season and roast for about 35 to 45 mins, until it looks nice and caramelised on top and is soft enough to cut through easily with a knife. When cool enough to handle, chop into small cubes, about 2cm.
Cook the quinoa according to instructions.When it’s cooled slightly, add a glug of olive oil, the lemon juice, and stir the butternut chunks and chopped coriander through it. Add salt and pepper to taste, spoon it into your serving dish and sprinkle the crumbled feta over the top. Scatter some pumpkin seeds and, if you like, drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses over the salad just before serving.

Best served warm.

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