When it comes to food, does your inspiration well ever run dry? I must admit that, even though I teach about healthy eating for a living, I am sometimes stumped when it comes to snacks. If I am feeling a bit peckish I am as likely as the next person to be tempted by anything random, easy or rubbish that happens to have made its way into the house. Months’ old marshmallows from a summer barbeque (s’mores of course), old tortilla chips that need reviving in the oven, cheese of dubious age lurking in the inner recesses of the fridge: anything is eligible. Of course I always try and have more suitable grazing fodder around. I really do. But sometimes you want something that seems, well, a bit delinquent. Do you ever feel that way? Does your inner-child ever want to come out and wreak havoc in the kitchen?
No apologies for another lentil recipe in such quick succession. It’s the blinkin’ weather, I’m afraid. We really should be flirting outrageously with the new season’s produce, but since none of them are up for it – being under the snow and all – we are still indulging in stews, roasts, crumbles and other wintry fare.
No matter. It’s a great excuse to eat potatoes. And spicy potatoes at that. Thinnish coins of scrubbed new potatoes; little hash-style cubes of plump, regal eggplant; hearty, toothsome obsidian-black lentils. All sizzled up in a heady fug of Indian spicing. Although I am still a bit cross that someone ordered a double winter, Asian comfort food provides needed warmth and welcome spice. Continue reading
By now regular (and cherished) readers will have got the message that I am a) animal-mad, b) a bit of a nutrition geek, c) have a thing for tofu. I am also rather fond of big flavours – clashing, bold, in-your-face tastes and aromas. Maybe it’s because my eyesight is a bit poor, and my hearing isn’t too far behind, but I can’t be doing with too many bland or one-note foods.
Although I do graze from the fruit bowl and pick through the nut jar, I truly have a hard time sitting down and eating, say, a banana – I want it sliced and sprinkled with cardamom. I must be a latent sensationalist, and instead of kite-surfing or gambling I find my thrills with food. But not in a quantitative, all-you-can-eat kind of way (well, not usually); for me it’s about the sensuous meeting of taste, smell, texture, sight and even touch. Think of how much nicer it is to eat corn from a cob, dripping with real butter, than to chase the kernels around your plate with a fork. Or appreciating the pop and sizzle of a stir-fry – the hot smell of ginger and garlic taking over your kitchen, your house. Many a fully-booked Malaysian and Korean restaurant says that I am not alone in my love of big flavours. I suspect that you have such leanings too. Continue reading
All of a sudden everything in the garden – mine and others – seems to be growing at an exponential rate, at least to my mind. Rhododendrons are spoiling us with their showy pink faces, apple blossoms are carpeting my rather hen-pecked lawn -replaced on the tree by pea-sized apples, and all of my aquilegias are soldier-straight with their formal spiked hats on. All is quite literally rosy in the garden. But not very veggie. Because of the hens our hit rate for veg and herbs won’t be that high but, as they give us eggs, it seems like a fair enough deal. And I have a wonderful neighbour who shares his allotment pickings with us, including the hens. Warwick’s nippy-sour sorrel has been gilding salads, omelets and filled rolls for at least a week now, but with no leftovers for ‘the girls’. Love his chard, too.
Mr A has been able to get some stuff going however, all cosseted in the conservatory. I looked at the salad leaf seedlings yesterday morning, and I swear by the end of the day they had grown half a centimetre. It is quite possibly down to the rain and garage roof water we have been liberally sprinkling from our newly installed ‘garden feature’. Other people have softly murmuring fountains, or those sneaky garden elongating mirrors but no, we have a gigantic water butt. Mr A has for ages been threatening to get a water butt to capture the copious Scottish rainwater with which we are blessed (I can say that at this time of year when it isn’t in the form of plan-wrecking snow). So this weekend, while Miss R was slogging through driving wind and rain to achieve her Duke Of Edinburgh Bronze award (five amazingly large blisters were her other prize), Mr A and I were in Lidl’s rival for cheapness and utility, Aldi, when he saw such a receptacle. As it is the size of a small car I am glad we hadn’t arrived on the bus, or in our teeny weeny Figaro. Once home Mr A set about assembling it throughout the afternoon, making an excellent job of it, despite not knowing much German. It is masterfully attached to the down pipe running off the garage roof and was a quarter filled with rainwater by the end of the rather soggy weekend. My only contribution was to occasionally shout, in a loud voice, ‘How are you getting on with your butt?’ ‘Is your butt okay?” Maybe you had to be there.
It’s a funny old day today. At the crack of dawn (well, 8.30) Mr A and I bid a temporary adieu to Miss R as she set off with some of her classmates on their Duke of Edinburgh Bronze walk. As a nearly 15-year old she has of course been away from home. But she’s never been dropped off in the middle of nowhere armed only with basic provisions of NASA-type food, compass and water. No adults, no personal phones, no GPS. That’s what I can’t get out of my head – they are literally alone, with nothing but an emergency phone in a sealed envelope to connect them to the world, 15 miles away. Prior to departure they were all leaping about the car park in giddy anticipation of their 18 hour pass away from parental controls. But us parents, despite our smiling facades and cheerful waves, were probably all distracted basket cases, a packed weekend planned to stop us wondering how they are getting on, and if what’s her name remembered the matches. Or maybe that is just me. Mr A is fine about it as he did DoE in his day – achieving his Gold award, which culminates in more of the same but for a longer, blister-inducing time. The most intrepid thing I have done on my own was go to the Soviet Union when I was 20. I think my parents thought I was in Greece. Because I am me and rather known for coming a cropper when away from home, I ended up ill in hospital, with US embassy staff bringing me toilet paper and contraband trashy magazines. That must be what is guiding my thoughts, that Miss R may have inherited my gene for not-quite disasters. Must get a grip and realise that she is her father’s daughter, a capable leader-type with a calm head and a brave heart. She’ll be absolutely fine. No doubt really. But, can she make s’mores like her old American mum, probably not. Hang in there, dear reader: a totally unrelated recipe follows the page break, after a bit more musing – about blood pressure.
I’m afraid this is a bit of a cheat. Our three-day week – thanks to lovely Kate (err, Katherine) and William – has got me feeling a bit lazy, so this will be a quick post. Not only is it a quickie, it’s borrowing from my last post – Wild Garlic Pesto Risotto. In that post I made a wild garlic pesto that I used in a simple spinach risotto. Think of this recipe as the sequel. A good one. Not like Superman 4, or Rocky V. God forbid. Continue reading
I’ve pretty much just given you the ingredient list in the title. I actually got the idea for this recipes ages ago from the back of a box of Cauldron Foods tofu. Trying packet recipes is often a good idea, especially if you are unfamiliar with the product. If you think about it, it’s bound to be easy to follow and decent tasting because they want you to buy the product again. Anyway, although I don’t make this for work (I bring in home-prepared food rather than do food demos) it happens to be one of my family’s favourite meals. In fact, until I started buying gorgeously fresh Pittenweem fish from the visiting fish van, my daughter and I used to jokingly refer to Thursday as ‘Tofu Thursday’. I’m fairly certain we are unique (strange) in that respect. Unrestricted by a designated date, Tofu and Aubergine Basil-Lime Stir Fry still features regularly in our household, although my toned down version of Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Black Pepper Tofu’, from ‘Plenty’ is right up there, too. I’ll post that one at a later date, once I take some photos.
The Science Bit: Some of you may not have cooked with tofu, or think tofu is too bland to bother eating. Tofu IS bland – that’s what I think is so good about it. Its very blandness makes it very easy to taste like what you want it to taste like. Plus, the nutritional benefits are pretty top-notch, depending on who you ask. According to the Cauldron Foods website (whose information is a concise version of that found on most websites and books describing tofu’s plus points): “Tofu is… one of the (sic) only 2 plant-based proteins that contain all 8 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Soya is also cholesterol free and low in saturated fat, with no trans fat. It contains fibre and is a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, and some B vitamins. It also contains linolenic acid, which is a polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid, which helps maintain a healthy heart. The American FDA has stated that diets containing 25gms of soya protein combined with a low in saturated fat diet can help decrease cholesterol. Helping to normalise blood sugar levels is another feature of soya foods, since they have a low glycemic index. It may also be in keeping blood pressure under control, it’s low in sodium/salt. Soya products can help reduce menopause symptoms and act as a natural alternative to HRT, because soya is a source of genistein, which is an antioxidant rich in oestrogen-like isoflavones.” That’s us told.
Cancer-fighting credentials?: On my cancer nutrition course, women with breast cancer sometimes ask whether soy will help their cancer or if it in fact causes tumour growth. Although in recent years there has been some concern at the possibility that eating soy products may promote growth of existing breast tumours, it is now thought that food sources of phytoestrogens – including soy – are safe. The general advice from doctors is that most women with breast cancer can include fermented and traditionally made soya products in a varied diet – one or two modest servings a day. Certainly it seems to be a good idea to include soy regularly in the diet if you are at risk of developing colon or prostate cancer. Discuss this issue with your doctor if you have any concerns or questions.
Now, back to the recipe. As with many stir fry dishes, this recipe is easily adapted to the contents of your veg box/CSA box. Right now you might have cauliflower coming out of your ears (there’s a bad joke in there somewhere). If so, instead of including aubergine, try adding steamed, (or roasted) sliced cauliflower stems and florets. Whack these in the wok, along with some frozen green beans and the rest of the ingredients, and you have a seasonal take on this surprisingly-interesting-for-tofu dish. I sometimes add leftover sweet potato cubes for a sweet note and pretty colour. The lead photo shows the dish with cooked brown rice noodles, but we usually have it with a side of oven-baked basmati rice to which I have added a tiny pinch of frozen, chopped lime leaves. And greedy so and sos that we are I slice and lightly steam a huge pile of pak choi for a crunchy, slightly bitter counterpoint.
This recipe has slightly Thai overtones, using as it does lime juice, muscovado sugar (instead of Thai palm sugar), basil and soy/tamari sauce. Add the optional chillies if the children are having something else.
What You Need:
1 -2 firm aubergine(s), sliced into 1 cm wide batons (amount doesn’t matter unless they are both huge)
Oil spray OR 2 tbsp olive oil
1 x 200g packet basil tofu (I use Taifun brand), sliced in scant 1 cm strips OR marinate plain tofu*
150g fine/green beans, topped, tailed and sliced in half
juice of 2 limes
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 tbsp muscovado sugar or other unrefined dark brown sugar
approx 4 tbsp tamari or soy sauce (it depends on how much juice is in the lime)
freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ tsp arrowroot or cornflour/cornstarch
handful fresh basil leaves (sweet kind if you can get them)
1-2 red or green chillies (optional)
Toss the aubergine batons in the oil or spray with an oil spray. Spread the aubergine batons onto a baking tray and bake at 200C/400F for between 15 and 20 minutes: you want it to soften and take on a little colour in places. Set aside while you make up the sauce and steam the beans.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, minced garlic, sugar, soy sauce or tamari, and the ground pepper. Steam the sliced beans for four minutes, or boil for two minutes. Drain the beans and ‘refresh’ by running them under the cold tap for a few seconds. Set aside to drain.
When the aubergine is ready, heat a wok or large sauté pan and add the sliced tofu, aubergines and beans; stir fry for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle over the arrowroot or cornflour and mix through the ingredients, then pour over the lime juice mixture, tossing to coat. Continue to stir fry for a further minute before adding the chilli and tearing in the basil leaves. Serve with Jasmine or basmati rice, brown rice noodles or soba noodles, and scatter with chopped cashew nuts.
* To marinate plain tofu, wrap the tofu in several sheets of paper towel and squeeze between two cutting boards, or between your palms – keep it in its square shape. Squeeze the juice of ½ a lime into a bowl and whisk in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and 1 tablespoon of tamari or soy sauce. Slice the tofu into cubes and toss in the mixture, lightly pressing the tofu to help it soak up the flavours. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes before adding to the dish.