If you don’t know what a shawarma is, this recipe will not particularly surprise. But, if you know shawarma, you could be forgiven for uttering a popular acronymed Anglo-Saxon epithet beginning with W and ending with F. If you are from the Levant, you will no doubt be thinking an equivalent in Arabic or Turkish. Just perhaps not as rude. Continue reading
Admission time. For a semi-professional cook (if we use the term loosely) I’m not the most brilliant stock maker. Sure, I can make a decent enough chicken stock, or even fish stock if called for, but vegetable stock? Not really. Oh the shame. Continue reading
After the challenges of what is usually a disappointing summer – weatherwise at least – we are often treated to a rather beautiful September. All summer long, folk up and down the country have been chased indoors from picnics, fetes, celebrations and barbecues by plant-ripping hailstones and sudden gusting winds. Sadly, grey skies and Great Britain seem to go hand and hand. You get used to it. Continue reading
You don’t know how much I wanted to title this “Pock Marked Old Woman with a Drunken Sailor.” I could have got a whole new readership on that one title alone. Possibly not a readership whose comments I could publish. More the readership that clicks on ‘certain’ ads, for ‘certain’ products, shall we say.
So I resisted. The reason it was tempting was because, if you remember from awhile back, when I posted Cauliflower and Almond Pizza with Fresh Sauce and Greens, I mentioned this very translation. I did a whole post on odd-to-Western-ears translations, but Ma Po Tofu was my favourite, mainly because it is also my favourite Chinese dish. Although disputed here in this very odd tale, the classic Sichuan recipe roughly translates as ‘pock marked old woman.’ So, joining in the spirit of poetic namings, I thought that the dry sherry and salmon could be the drunken sailor. But then you probably wouldn’t want to try what to me is the best Chinese dish ever. And trust me, you want to try it. Continue reading
I hadn’t meant to hit you with tofu straight after the excesses of Christmas. Truly. It smacks of detox and diet, and other depressing ‘d’ words. If you know me, or read me regularly, you’ll know that’s not what I’m about. I’d rather rub chillies in my eyes, or grate my knuckles on a Microplane ® grater than go on a diet. And as for detox, that’s what our livers are for; we don’t need to go on juice fasts, just stop eating rubbish and drinking alcohol (I know, easier said than done). But also if you know me you’ll know that I love tofu. Or rather, I love what you can do with tofu. Bland beyond belief on its own, I grant you, but when even briefly introduced to things with flavour – I’m thinking miso, soy, chillies, citrus, garlic – it transforms from a simpering slab of blah to a delightful dish of mmm. Perhaps I’m overselling the old beancurd, but I really think this simple, straightforward recipe may change your mind. Continue reading
Edinburgh Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres turned 15 this past week. Born from one woman’s idea of supporting those affected by cancer in a beautiful space, and with cancer support specialists, the Edinburgh centre was the first of 15 such centres around the UK. More are being built around the world as I write. Maggie herself, who died before the landmark Edinburgh centre was completed, would be truly stunned at her legacy. It is a remarkable place that means a lot to so many.
As for myself, every time I step through the elegant, transparent front door I am suffused with a sense of calm. Even when I am running late and the rain is lashing down while I’m bringing in nutrition workshop bits and bobs, my breathing slows and my shoulders drop. The natural light, the colourful handmade cushions, the burbling of the ever-on kettle, and of course the wonderful volunteers and staff, make this building so welcoming. Like a beautiful friend who also happens to have a PhD in something useful, the Maggies’ Centres combine form and function to great effect.
The occasion/achievement of turning 15 was marked with a day-long open-house event attended by I don’t know how many hundreds of people: a teensy bit like some fifteen-year olds’ Facebook -advertised birthday parties – minus the smuggled in alcohol and broken furniture. But unlike the parties our teens get asked to this one served soup (I made soup for 300), fresh bread and tables of delicious-looking home-baking. I say ‘looking’ because I didn’t get a chance to sample any. I was too busy getting a ‘soup sauna’, as wit and colleague Issy dubbed it, ladling out this and this. Volunteer Margaret did a fab job with the mental maths and money collecting while I ladled and chatted over my two 37-litre soup pots. It was a terrific atmosphere with lots of laughter, cake eating, and surreptitious ogling of Maggie’s Scotland rugby team calendar. And lots of ‘friends reunited’. 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
Any of you reading this who are not from Florida or Cuba may be asking yourself, ‘What the heck is picadillo? Isn’t that a sin or naughty habit of some sort? What are you on about?!’ Well the latter is ‘pecadillo’ which is Spanish for a trivial sin, perhaps best described as coveting your neighbour’s lawn mower rather than wife (that would be a proper sin, a ‘pecado’). The former is utterly delicious Cuban-Spanish beef hash – much nicer and eminently more digestible than a lawnmower. In an case, it is not sinful in the least and may just be a perfect weekday meal, using ingredients many of us already have in the cupboard and fridge. I know I have tofu in the title, because I like to encourage its use in traditionally meaty recipes, but as often as not we have it with lean organic beef mince. Really delish either way. Whenever I am stuck for something to make quickly (it does happen) this is my go-to, under 30 minute recipe. Take that, Jamie.
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.
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.