Given yesterday’s news that nuts are tied to lower risk of cancer and heart disease, I thought I’d share this cashew curry recipe which I made recently as part of an Indian feast for my friend Sam’s birthday a couple weekends ago. The recipe is adapted from Reza Mahammad’s “Cashews in a Rich Coconut Sauce” from Rice, Spice and All Things Nice. Yes, this is a curry based entirely on nuts! A strange idea, I thought, but it works really well and makes a most interesting option for a vegetarian curry.
And if you’re worried about the fat content of nuts, don’t be! The study showed that people who ate nuts actually tended to be slimmer than their non-nutty counterparts. And, bonus, they also had:
29% reduced risk of heart disease
11% reduced risk of cancer
20% reduced risk of death
The results applied to all nuts, even peanuts, which are actually a legume, not a nut (in fact, I’d be willing to bet that people who eat legumes regularly experience the same benefits as nut fiends).
My mom and I recently took a trip to Marrakech. It was our first time in Morocco and one of the things we looked forward to the most was the food. We both thought we knew what Moroccan food was like, but in retrospect, we hadn’t a clue beyond couscous and vegetable tagine. However, we quickly learned…
Our education began at our riad, Riad Tizwa, in Marrakech’s Old City. A riad is a large traditional house built around a central courtyard; in Marrakech many of these riads operate as guest houses and provide a much more intimate experience of the city than a traditional hotel. Ours was hidden amongst the maze of the Medina’s winding passages and we wouldn’t have found it were it not for our taxi driver (word to the wise traveller: if your hotel or riad offers airport transport, take them up on it). But behind an unmarked door was a beautiful palatial home scented with local perfume and full of light, greenery, fruit trees and flowers.
Our host greeted us with Moroccan mint tea (which I only knew about thanks to Urvashi Roe’s excellent write-up on the Art of Moroccan Mint Tea) and some sound advice on where we should go for great Moroccan food. As a result, we had some amazing, epic meals – most notably at Ksar Essaoussan and Le Tobsil - that were real lessons in how to feast Moroccan style.
To our collective vegetarian delight, meals started with a selection of cooked and raw salads, but not salads as I’m used too. These were more like little tasting plates of vegetables in various chopped, grated or pureed form. As a result, you didn’t quite know what you were eating until you tried it, making each dish an exciting surprise. Memorable salads include a celery and tomato diced salad with herbs which reminded us of tabbouleh without bulgar. We also had some amazing cooked peppers and tomato seasoned with paprika, cumin and garlic. Spices. Spices were used across the dishes in all kinds of crazy unexpected ways (tomato and cinnamon, for example, and it works).
Main courses were less of a surprise, but I think this is largely due to the vegetarian thing. Everywhere we went we got couscous and vegetable tagine, all delicious and wonderful, but with surprisingly very little variation. Carrots and parsnip was par for the tagine course, with the occasional cauliflower or green pepper. Only once did we get chickpeas in our tagine. We kept talking about how good the tagines were, but how much we wished they had more of this or that, particularly cauliflower (my mother and I both are cauliflower fiends). But a glance at the city’s food markets made it pretty clear that these people were working with a pretty limited selection of ingredients, purely dictated by what was in season at the time. But isn’t that the way it should be?
In a way, this makes the tagine the ultimate seasonal stew, and one of the first things I did when I came home from Marrakech was to make a tagine.
In case you’re unaware, a tagine is a fragrant spicy stew named after the earthenware pot in which it is made (a normal pot, preferably cast iron, also works). With Marrakech in mind, I made my tagine using what was in season, but this time I was working with British ingredients: carrots, romanesco cauliflower and the last of the season’s courgettes and green beans. But this dish would work with almost anything and seems particularly adept to autumn and winter vegetables like swede, butternut squash, pumpkin, potato and cauliflower. I like to keep the vegetables in large chunks and serve it with sprinkled with toasted almonds. It’s the perfect thing on a cold, wet, dreary British day. And oddly, it also happens to be the perfect thing on a sweltering hot and sunny afternoon in Morocco: further proof that the tagine is one of the most miraculous dishes around, globe-spanning and eternally versatile.
1-3 tsp harissa (start with 1tsp and adjust to suit your spice tolerance)
2 cups canned chopped tomatoes
1 lemon, juice and zest
a handful fresh cilantro
1 small pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 small cauliflower, broken into big florets
½ cup cooked chickpeas
a handful of raisins
toasted sliced almonds
couscous to serve
Heat olive oil in a large pot and sauté the onion for a few minutes until it softens.
Add garlic, ginger and the spices and stir around a bit.
Add the harissa, tomatoes, lemon juice and fresh cilantro. Bring the tomato sauce to a boil and then lower the heat.
Add the vegetables and stir around, make sure that all vegetables are somewhat covered in tomato sauce. Put the lid on and simmer for about an hour. Stir carefully once or twice, otherwise leave the lid on – and be patient!
Serve with couscous and a sprinkle of toasted sliced almonds.
As I ramp up for the imminent release of my new book, Smarter Fitter Smoothies, I’ve been playing around with new smoothie recipes. The ultimate test of whether a smoothie works is whether I can’t resist making another one the very next day.
Such has been the case with this pear and avocado smoothie, which I’m calling “Pear and Avocado Thickie” in the book. Fresh pear and avocado go really well together. The avocado, combined with the flaxseed, make this smoothie super thick and creamy. You can substitute the flaxseed with other nuts or seeds, or omit completely if you don’t have it to hand. What I like about this smoothie is that you know the avocado is there, and the pear gives it just a little sweetness (if you like it even sweeter, you can add a few dates, but I prefer the less sweet version; it allows more of the avocado and pear flavours to come through).
Taste aside, the smoothie is full of all of the good stuff that makes it balanced and wholesome. It’s got loads of fiber from the pear, flax seed and leafy greens, plus lemon which aids digestion and avocado for healthy fats and delicious creaminess. Eat one of these for breakfast and it will totally set you up for the day; sugar crashes be gone!
If you like this smoothie, me a huge favour and subscribe now for updates on my upcoming smoothie book. I’m giving away free copies of the ebook to 10 lucky subscribers so you have nothing to lose and only health, happiness and perfect blends to gain!
Today I’m catching up on some highlights from my summer road trip through France and Spain. And since it seems I’ve been talking a lot about chilled summer soup revelations lately, here is a story about such a revelation from mountain high!
I was nearing the end of my summer road trip through France and Spain. I had just bid my travel buddies farewell at the airport in Bilbao and had four nights before I needed to catch my Brittany Ferry in Santander and reluctantly head back to Britain and life as usual.
I had already set my sights on the Picos de Europa, part of the Cantabrian mountains, about 20 km inland and conveniently just a couple hours drive from the Santander ferry port.
The mountains called to me, not only for its proximity to my exit point, but for its impressive massifs magically packed together in a relatively small space. People rave about the wonder and awe of the Picos. And I liked the idea of hiding away in the mountains for a few days before having to face the real world again.
I chose as my base Posada de Tollo, a mountain house about 10 minutes’ drive from Potes, the main market town in the Picos. I chose it for being unabashedly dog friendly and for reviews that its food was “scrummy”. But the place had a lot more going for it than that.
My first impressions were of the clean and modern entry room with Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin posters on the walls, Leonard Cohen playing on the radio, and Berta. Berta had a nose ring and wore black from head to toe except for a few dramatic grey streaks in her long hair and a pair of ginormous slippers, designed in the style of ogre feet (with painted toenails and all!).
After checking in I said I’d like to have dinner at the posada in the evening, and Berta got all excited because this was the first year she was cooking with vegetables she’d grown in her garden. She also seemed to like the challenge of cooking for a vegetarian.
I spent the afternoon walking to and from Potes via the Picos’ wonderful system of hiking trails (a whole other story in itself) and was ravenous by the time I got back. So when Berta brought out a huge basket of bread and a giant bowl of something red and seemingly delicious, I became almost giddy. (Forgive the lousy photo, but I was working with my iPhone and the rapidly fading light of Spain at sunset. Life could be worse.)
Berta explained that the dish was a “soup” traditional to Extremadura, a community in western Spain where her family is from. The soup is made with roasted red peppers, fresh tomatoes and – what was that spice I tasted? Berta called it “comino”, and because my Spanish is pathetic, I had to use powers of deduction to realise it was cumin! Not toasted, she said, just ground to a paste with garlic and salt, then mixed in with the tomato and red pepper and a generous amount of “good” (Berta stressed this word!) olive oil.
The dish is called “Moje de Pimientos Asados Con Tomate y Comino”, which translates to “Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Tomato and Cumin”. And being a “dip”, you’re meant to sop up the “soup” with lots of bread.
This vegetarian soup was as magical as the Picos. Of course, part of the thrill was having a home cooked meal made by a recipe that had been passed down through the generations as it were. But also, it was just really really good. Pure, simple, seasonal ingredients: a true case of the sum being more than the parts! And the cumin – a real dash of genius, giving the soup just a little hint of smoky earthiness.
And the final lesson: life is too short for lesser quality olive oil. Use the good stuff, and use it generously!
Also known as Moje de Pimientos Asados Con Tomate y Comino.
4 red peppers
3-4 ripe tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp cumin seed
Roast the peppers in the oven or over an open flame until black all over. Remove into a sealed container. Once cool, peel the peppers, de-stem and de-seed them, then slice into strips.
In a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic, cumin and a good pinch of salt until it forms a paste.
Dice the tomatoes into big chunks (you can peel them if you’d like by blanching them in boiling water).
Combine everything together with a good glug of quality olive oil. Let sit for an hour or so to let the flavours marinade. If it’s not “soupy” enough for your taste, add a bit of water (and more olive oil if you’d like) to the desired consistency.
Serve cold or at room temperature with bread.
Picos de Europa
I went to Spain with Brittany Ferries (0871 244 1400; www.brittany-ferries.co.uk), which has sailings from Portsmouth to Santander. It’s about a two hour drive from the Santander ferry port to Potes, the main market town in the Picos de Europa.
I stayed at Posada de Tollo (Mayor, 13, 39575 Tollo, Spain; www.posadadetollo.es), about 10 minutes’ drive from Potes. It’s a mountain house with friendly owners, friendly dogs, home-cooked meals and incredible views of mountain summits and villages.
This smoothie has become a staple of mine in recent weeks, largely thanks to the abundance of blackberries in the hedgerows at the moment. If only avocados grew so readily, alas, I have to rely on Lidl for my avocado fix (yes, Lidl, where avocados seem to be both cheaper and tastier than those from other supermarkets, the exception being The Organic Farm Shop which occasionally has organic avocados from Mexico which are pure bliss).
But I digress. I like to add interest to this smoothie with mint and orange flower water, but if you don’t have those it’s not the end of the world. This is really all about the berries, and the avocados and dates make it creamy sweet deliciousness.
I’m currently not eating tomatoes or peppers as part of my 21-day “detox” experiment. The reason being that these vegetables, along with potatoes, eggplants and other vegetables of the nightshade family, are often rich in alkaloids that can be mildly toxic (so says Dr. Junger, who designed this detox, as does Ayurvedic medicine interestingly enough).
This has been challenging because tomatoes and peppers were a staple of mine, and with the weather being unbelievably warm, summery and beautiful here in the UK for the last few days, I’ve been madly craving gazpacho.
Last summer I tried Nigel Slater’s tomato gazpacho and absolutely loved it (the same recipe also led me to discover the joys of sherry vinegar). So this week I decided to try getting my gazpacho fix by using beetroot instead of tomatoes and peppers.
The result, as Kanna put it, was “very special” and “exceptionally good” (I blush – Kanna does not deliver her compliments lightly). I followed the recipe pretty closely – I used three very large beetroot, cut back on the smoked paprika, omitted the sugar, upped the cucumber and added some fresh dill. The garnish: sliced spring onion, more dill and cubes of avocado. We sprinkled the avocado with Le sel au piment d’Espelette, salt with dried pimento chillies (one of my summer road trip acquisitions from Espelette – when in Basque!).
As an added bonus, this soup also satisfied my craving for Cold Beet Soup, my Lithuanian grandmother’s family recipe where buttermilk (not detox friendly) is a key ingredient.
I almost hate to associate this soup with the detox, because it really stands alone as a delicious summer soup and a beetroot revelation. The only question I have is: have I created something new, or did I really just make borscht?
Scrub the beetroot well, then cook in boiling water until they are absolutely tender (pike a skewer through them – it should go through easily and the beetroot should fall off the skewer). Let the beetroot cool then remove their skins.
Now, get your blender ready. Coarsely chop two of beetroot, along with the red onion and cucumber, and add to the blender. Remove most of the green shoots (reserve for garnish) of the spring onion and add the white part to the blender, too, along with the garlic. Pulse until you get a soup that’s of the consistency you like – I like to keep it a little bit chunky.
Pour the soup into a big bowl. Finely dice the last beetroot and add that to the bowl, along with the sherry vinegar, dill, smoked paprika, olive oil and a bit of salt. Mix well, then taste and add more vinegar, paprika, olive oil, dill and salt to your liking.
Chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to let soup get cold and the flavours mingle.
Serve garnished with sliced spring onion, more dill and diced avocado. (A swirl of sour cream would probably be nice, too!)
Don’t let the word caviar fool you: there’s not a fish egg to be found in this vegan recipe I learned while road tripping through France and Spain this summer. One of my stopping points was Kate Hill’s place at Camont (aka Kitchen at Camont) in Gascony where I spent a life-changing weekend last summer on a food photography workshop with Kate and Tim Clinch. This time, the visit was more of a social call, a reunion if you will with Kate and Mardi, and since the focus wasn’t on food photography, I was actually able to participate more in the food itself.
One of the highlights was this aubergine caviar, which is sort of like a Gascon twist on the Moutabel I wrote about a few weeks ago. Kate recently published the recipe in her latest “Basix” eBook of Summer Recipes from Gascony, but as Kate explains, it’s so simple that you don’t need a strict recipe at all.
To make the aubergine caviar, Kate grilled a large aubergine until it was blackened on all sides and soft in the middle (you can achieve this by roasting the aubergine in a hot oven for 30-40 minutes). After the aubergine cooled, Kate peeled and scooped out the flesh into a large bowl, added a couple cloves of minced garlic, a good squeeze of lemon juice, a good glug of olive oil, salt, pepper and – the Gascon moment – about half a cup of coarsely chopped pitted black olives.
Kate served the aubergine caviar on toasted bread, like a bruschetta (or “tartine” – this is France, after all) for a marvellously simple lunch, alongside fresh picked salad leaves from her garden.
It’s a hallmark of much of Kate’s cooking, and Gascon cuisine in general: use really good ingredients, cook them simply and – most importantly – taste your food. Pay attention to flavours. Does it need more lemon? Salt? And don’t be afraid to experiment – you could try adding some anchovies to the caviar if you’d like.
When you take the time to source quality ingredients, cook it with care and eat it with deliberate attention to your senses, you can’t help but slow down and enjoy what’s on your plate. It’s the Gascon way! And another life-changing moment, aubergine style, courtesy of Kate, Camont and the land. Merci!
I travelled to Gascony by car from with Brittany Ferries (0871 244 1400; www.brittany-ferries.co.uk), sailing from Portsmouth to St. Malo.
Kate Hill is an author and professional cook who runs cookery classes, charcuterie workshops and road trips at Camont and in the Basque country (kitchen-at-camont.com).
More vegetarian French recipes can be found in Kate’s eBook: 6 Summer Recipes from Gascony.
I’m so excited about these pickles. There are a few reasons for this…
They take advantage of the marrow glut that’s been bestowed upon me by Sam and the Shipton Mill biodynamic garden (I mentioned this in my previous post on Marrow and Ginger Chutney).
They take advantage of a plentiful vegetable that is relatively unheard of in the pickling scene.
[I think] they have a very good chance of proving to my awesome canning friend, Gloria Nicol, who is rightfully skeptical about marrow, that they are a worthwhile vegetable to grow, cook and ingest.
They’re super easy to make.
They have opened my eyes to the world of pickling possibilities for all manners of vegetables.
Most importantly, marrow pickles are freakin’ delicious. And this is only after a day or two post pickling – word on the street is that pickles like these get better with age.
So what’s the story with these marrow pickles? They’re basically a riff on zucchini pickles, which themselves are a riff on traditional cucumber pickles. Marrow’s got a thick skin and inherently crispy (but somewhat flavourless) flesh which isn’t really all that different from cucumbers.
I went two ways with these marrow pickles, and both rock my world in their own different ways. But before I divulge the details, an important note: the pickles I’ve made are technically “quick pickles”, or “refrigerator pickles”. In other words, I haven’t canned them properly in a hot water bath so they won’t keep eternally. But they should last a good long while in the refrigerator.
Marrow Pickles, Zuni Cafe Style
My first thought for marrow pickles was to do a bread and butter style, sweet and sour pickle. And then I stumbled across Zuni Cafe‘s recipe for Zucchini Pickle’s and I knew my search had ended.
I followed the recipe exactly. It’s all pretty simple: slice the marrow paper thin then pack into jars. Boil up some vinegar, water, sugar, turmeric, dry mustard and mustard seeds. Pour this over the marrow, refrigerate and enjoy!
One of the reasons this works so well for marrow is that the paper thin slices make the marrow a bit more manageable as a pickle. The the slices fold all over themselves making them perfect for piling on top of a sandwich or burger.
I can’t wait to try them in a week or two. Right now the mustard really stands out but I think the flavours will mellow and balance over time. To be revealed!
As a long time fan of Clausen’s Kosher Dills, I decided to adapt this recipe for Zucchini Dill Pickles using marrow in place of zucchini. I mixed up the spices a bit, adding fennel seed, all spice and cassia bark (courtesy of the Kitchen Nomad box and inspired by this recipe for Pickling Spice). I didn’t boil the marrow in the brine; instead I just packed the marrow sticks into a jar and poured the hot brine over the marrow.
This was yesterday. Today I tasted a “pickle” and then promptly had three more. They’re good, surprisingly similar to cucumber dill pickles. In fact, I think the marrow skin – slightly tougher than zucchini skin – helps the pickle keep its bite. Slap it on a Chicago style [veggie] hot dog and call me happy.
I have a few other marrow pickles I’d like to play with. A Chicago-style giardiniera calls to me. Another thought is to combine marrow with other vegetables to make a Lebanese style pickle, something I love to eat with hummus. So watch this space – I still have one massive marrow to get through. I suppose I could just eat it as is, but this pickle-making lark is fun.
Last week my friend Sam came over with what seemed like half of her kitchen and a huge load of beautiful vegetables from Shipton Mill‘s biodynamic garden. Much of the booty became salad (see my previous post on cooking from Ottolenghi), but the vegetable that eluded us was marrow, perhaps the most substantial and most plentiful item in the Shipton veggie stash.
Marrow is a vegetable that I’d only heard of since moving to the UK. It’s like a ginormous zucchini (aka courgette), and like zucchini, is very easy to grow. As a result, it’s very easy to end up with marrow glut (as I’m sure the gardeners at Shipton Mill can attest to).
I never really understood why people bothered growing marrow when zucchini seems far more easy to deal with. But I was willing to give it a try and reached out to the Twittersphere for suggestions. Elaine Stocks came back with this Marrow Chutney recipe from the BBC Good Food website so I thought I’d give it a go.
A little bit of a disclaimer: I’m not a massive chutney fan, especially of the typical apple and raisin variety. It’s not so much that I don’t like chutney, it’s just that I don’t eat much of the things that chutney typically goes with: namely meat and cheese. So while I enjoy making chutney, I’m usually hesitant to do so because it just ends up sitting around taking up valuable shelf and jar space.
However, this marrow chutney appealed because it contained ginger and suggested that it might go well with Indian food (something I do eat quite frequently and often enjoy with mango and ginger chutney – particularly in curried omelets and chickpea flour pancakes – so why not marrow and ginger chutney instead?).
So I did make the chutney – which used up two marrows! – and before I tell you how it tasted, let me report on the process which was a moment in my country living experience that made me laugh. The day I made the chutney, I also had Airbnb guests coming to stay and so was also baking bread, too. The moment my guests arrived happened to be exactly when the bread was coming out of the oven and the chutney was bubbling away in the pan. Add to that the gentle breeze bustling around the apples in the orchard, birds dancing around the bird feeder and my dog Rocky‘s eternal – but polite – exuberance at meeting new people, I was feeling pretty good about having lived up to the foodie countryfile portrait I’d painted of myself and my cottage on Airbnb!
The best part was when my guest exclaimed how good the chutney smelled and went right over to the pot to have a whiff (she is a Brit who lives in France and I suspect she’s been missing her British food).
To my great relief, the chutney tastes as good as it smelled. It’s got a good hit of ginger without being overpowering, but what I really like is the texture that the marrow brings. They’re soft, but discernible. They also work flavour-wise. I find most chutneys to be cloyingly sweet, but the marrow creates a good balance.
The real proof of its goodness is in my guests’ response: they’ve had marrow chutney with Keens cheddar and toast for breakfast for the last three days (over my other breakfast options which include yogurt, fruit, muesli, almond butter and jam). They’ve also been saying that the chutney gets better and better with each passing day.
The next test is to see how the marrow and ginger chutney goes with Indian food. I think it will work.
Adapted from BBC Good Food. The weight of the marrow is BEFORE peeling and de-seeding. I was also short on malt vinegar so used about 550ml malt vinegar and 300ml of apple cider vinegar. I also used golden delicious apples but I suspect any apple will do!
1½ kg/3lb 5 oz marrow, peeled and deseeded
225g shallots, sliced
225g apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2cm piece ginger, finely chopped
225g demerara sugar
850ml malt vinegar
12 black peppercorns
Cut the marrow into small pieces (about 1cm dice), put in a large bowl and sprinkle liberally with 2 tbsp salt. Cover and leave for 12 hrs. You should wind up with a lot of liquid at the bottom of your bowl.
Rinse and drain the marrow, then place in a preserving pan or large saucepan with the shallots, apples, sultanas, ginger, sugar and vinegar. Tie the peppercorns in muslin (or put into a small enclosed tea strainer) and place in the pan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring from time to time, until the consistency is thick (I simmered mine for a couple of hours, though the BBC’s website says “cook time” is 25 minutes; I suppose it all depends on how much moisture is in your ingredients!).
Leave to settle for 10 mins, then spoon into sterilised jars (see tip on BBC Good Food‘s website), put on the lids and label. Will keep for a year in a cool, dark place.
This was a very simple, one-pot (er, one-wok) meal. A few people on Instagram asked about it, so I thought I’d share it here, thus rekindling my long neglected daily food diary. I think it’s time to start it up again!
Here’s how I made the braised carrots and cabbage with tofu…
First I heated some oil in the wok on medium-high heat. I then added thin strips of firm tofu to the pan and sauteed until they were golden brown on each side. I sprinkled some salt and pepper on the tofu, mixed it all up in the pan, then removed the tofu from the pan and set aside.
In the same wok, I turned down the heat a bit, added a couple teaspoons of grapeseed oil, quickly followed by a clove’s worth of minced garlic and some carrots (they were small, young sweet and delicious; with larger carrots, I would have cut them into long spears; I would have added ginger, too, if I had it around!).
I sautéed the carrots and garlic until the carrots started to colour, and then added water to just cover the carrots, along with a few glugs of soy sauce (about 1 Tbsp or so). I then added the cabbage (big leaves from a young spring cabbage), mixed it up with the carrots and turned up the heat so everything simmered gently. I let it simmer until most of the water was evaporated, and then check the carrots and cabbage for done-ness. They were still a little firm so I covered the pan and let everything steam for a bit.
When everything was cooked, I put the cabbage and carrots on a plate, topped with the tofu and garnished with sliced spring onion, chopped coriander, sliced red chilli, toasted sesame seeds and fresh lime.