Tag Archives: tomatoes

Roasted Tomato Tart

18 Oct

Tart!Tonight’s dinner was a work in progress during the day. It was one of those meals that you find a bit of time for, leave, and then come back to. Slow roasting the tomatoes for the tart took a while, and they really benefitted from being left in a hot oven (that I turned off) when we went out for the day.

I also roasted butternut for a soup – but that one was so simple, a recipe is kind of silly. I basically peeled and seeded a butternut, chopped it up, added a few tablespoons of olive oil and some spice – paprika, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg – salt and pepper, and roasted it in a hot oven (225 C / 450 F) until it was soft. I mashed it, put it in a pot, poured a cup of water over, and brought to the boil. Blended it to a puree, and added a touch of milk and adjusted spices. Pure butternut heaven!

I must admit, I used Whole Foods bought puff pastry (from Dufour – amazing stuff!) for the tart. You could use best quality puff pastry, or make a cheese pastry as per the spinach pie I did the other day. Either way, you want a flat pie – almost a pizza but better ๐Ÿ˜‰

I roasted these tomatoes in a very hot oven for about 20 – 25 minutes – until they were very soft, slightly burnt and caramelised, but still holding their shape and size. I then flipped them over, turned the oven off, and went out – and when we got back home, the tomatoes were slightly dried – almost like semi-sun-dried tomatoes. They had intensified in colour and flavour, without losing their shape or size. Absolutely gorgeous. I recommend this if you can – roast for half an hour in the morning, and then just leave them there. When you get home, you will have an amazing tomato dinner waiting for you! These are soooo good in pasta, in a grilled cheese, in salad, soup, just about anywhere you need a pure shot of tomato flavour.

Roasted Semi Dried Tomatoes

You will definitely have extra left over. Seems a shame to roast these tomatoes for just the one tart! Anoint your extras with a bit of olive oil and save in the fridge.

  • 10 – 12 juicy red tomatoes
  • 1 – 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Basil (fresh or dried)
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • 8 – 10 garlic cloves, sliced

Preheat oven to 225C (450F). Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Wash and dry the tomatoes. Slice them thickly (about 3 – 4 slices per fruit), destem if you feel the need, and arrange in a single layer on your baking sheet. Sprinkle olive oil judiciously over all.

Sprinkle with salt, pepper, basil and sugar. Add sliced garlic (I usually stick one or two on top of each tomato slice).

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the tomatoes are oozing juice, blistered a bit, but still holding their shape and size.

Take the baking sheet out of the oven, switch off the oven, and flip the tomatoes over. Put back into oven and leave for at least 2 hours if not the whole day.

Roasted Tomato Tart

  • 1 large sheet puff pastry (or cheese crust pastry to line a baking sheet)
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 2 tbsp ricotta or cottage cheese
  • 1 tbsp cream cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 + 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • Roasted tomatoes

Preheat oven to 180C (375F). Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper.

Remove parchment paper from the baking pan, and place flat on table. Place a sheet of puff pastry (or a square of your own made cheese pastry) onto the parchment.

Roll out the pastry to to a rectangle about 18″ by 12″ and then fold over the edges by about 2 inches all around. Pinch to make sure the folded over edges stick, and using a fork, prick holes in the centre of the pastry. Slide onto your baking sheet or pan, and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the pastry has puffed up and is a light golden brown.

If you are using puff pastry, remove from the oven, and dig out about half of the centre layers. You will have very puffed edges, and a crisp centre.

Beat together the sour cream, ricotta, cream cheese, garlic, egg, salt and pepper and 1/4 cup of grated cheese. Pour into the centre of the pastry.

Arrange the roasted tomatoes on top of the mixture, and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese, making sure you dont cover the tomatoes completely.

Bake in the oven for a further 20 minutes or so, or until the centre is puffed and browned.

Slice into pieces and enjoy! This can be served at room temperature, or even from the fridge the next day and is still very scrummy.

 

Kind-of-Ratatouille-a-la-Karo

14 Oct

with Spinach Couscous!Tonight’s dinner may not be much to look at but it sure was delicious! And it was an intersection of different food thoughts that have been running through my head in the last few weeks. Inspired by so many things – my friend Karo’s post about the grated courgettes (zucchini), the Medjool dates at Per Se, and Karo’s link to Ottolenghi’s website.

Dinner needed to be fast and yet different tonight. Suddenly, autumn is upon us. I think we had our last 80 degree day a few days back, and now the crisp chill of cold is in the air around us. So dinner needed to be a response to that – warm and hearty, yet with echoes of sunshiney places. I didnt really think I wanted to do a ratatouille (though that often speaks of sunshine and warmth), mainly because I didnt have enough tomatoes. And I wanted to do the zucchini grated, and see what happened.

I started cooking with the thought that I was going to grate everything – but it didnt work out that way. Im pretty glad about that because I think I would have had a dark brown looking sludge by the end of it! Some stuff was grated, some stayed basically intact. You could serve this kind-of-ratatouille with french bread, rice, pasta – or as I did, with spinach couscous for a lush hint of colour and raw spinach flavour.

This is an example of my favourite free-form cooking – starting with a few ideas, and some beautiful ingredients, and seeing what happens. The end result was pretty damn tasty, completely vegan, rich and complex. The spice choices leant a hint of sunshine to the dark cold night, and we all went to bed happy and satisfied. All is right with the world ๐Ÿ™‚

Serves 4

  • 1 tbsp plus more as needed olive oil
  • 1 small onion grated (mostly liquid)
  • 2 cloves garlic (or more as is your preference), grated
  • 1 small eggplant (aubergine) – diced
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Pinch (or more) cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 portobello mushrooms, peeled and minced
  • 1 zucchini (courgette) grated
  • 1 Medjool date, pitted and chopped very small
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds
  • 1/2 orange sweet pepper
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped tomatoes (I used baby heirloom)
  • 1/2 cup or so water
  • 1/2 cup cashew nuts (toasted)
  • Spinach couscous

First off, toast your cashew nuts if they are raw. Use a non stick frying pan, dont add any oil, and toast over a medium fire until lightly browned. Pour off into a small bowl and set aside.

Add about 1 tablespoon olive oil to the frying pan. You might need to add more oil as you go through the various ingredients, but try to be miserly with the oil – you dont want an overly greasy end dish. Instead, use more or less heat (and eventually water) to control the cooking process.

Grate a small onion directly into the pan. The onion I grated ended up being quite watery – this is fine. If you have lovely little grated shards of onion, this is good too. Saute for a few minutes until the onion is glossy and soft. Grate in the garlic and stir to combine. Lower the heat and let the onion and garlic get acquainted.

While the onion and garlic are bubbling together gently, dice the eggplant into small cubes, keeping the skin intact. Bring the heat up a little (and add a touch of olive oil if you think it needs it), and add all the eggplant, mixing well.

Season the eggplant and onion mixture with the paprika, oregano, pepper, cinnamon and salt and pepper. Taste and adjust if needed.

Cook for about 5 minutes on high-ish heat. You want to burn the eggplant a little bit, and allow the onions to melt into the mix. When you start smelling that wonderful eggplant roasted burnt scent (its unmistakable) add the next part.

Add the mushrooms and mix extremely well. The mushrooms will let go of their liquid – encourage this by mixing thoroughly.

Lower the heat to medium, and let everything simmer together while you grate the zucchini. Squeeze most of the liquid out of the grated zucchini, and add to the pan. Sautee together, and mix very well. The zucchini will act as a paste and start to incorporate everything together. Taste and adjust for seasoning. add the minced date, and mix together. Allow everything to saute on medium heat for a few minutes.

Add carrots, sweet pepper and tomatoes to the pan, bring the heat to high, and stir to combine. As soon as everything starts to pop and sizzle, add the water, and allow the mixture to bubble. Taste for seasoning and adjust.

Add the cashews, and taste everything to make sure its a singular whole. Serve over spinach couscous or a grain of your choice!

 

Gnocchi with Gorgonzola, Mushrooms and Tomatoes

8 Oct

It was cold and rainy and wet a few days ago. We needed a hot comforting meal so I decided to make a sauce for the potato gnocchi I had bought at Trader Joe’s. Gnocchi are wonderful springy little pillows of potato pasta – easy to make and very filling and delicious. Theyre great for a cold day because they really demand a hearty strong sauce as an accompaniment.

You can make them at home (and they really are quick and easy to make) but if youre in a rush, store bought gnocchi are quite good. Just follow the instructions on the packet – boil in salted olive oiled water until the gnocchi pop up and start floating. Taste, and if theyre still a bit undercooked, continue boiling for a minute or so. Remember that you will put the gnocchi in the sauce and heat them up so its OK if theyre a little undercooked.

Drain and set aside until youre ready with the sauce. It should take about ten minutes to put the sauce together, so make sure the gnocchi are well oiled or prepare them at the same time youre making the sauce – otherwise, if you ask them to sit and wait, they might start sticking together out of rebellion.

I started with a bit of olive oil and truffle oil, five or six white button mushrooms and a portobello mushroom. Sauteed the mushrooms in the oil until they had given off their liquid and started to brown a bit. Seasoned with dried basil, salt and pepper, and then a whooosh of aged balsamic vinegar. There is something about mushrooms and balsamic that is just beyond delicious – its the perfect pairing.

Once the balsamic had been absorbed into the mushrooms, and they looked all glistening and sticky gorgeous, I added about a cup of roughly chopped baby heirloom tomatoes. The tomatoes gave off a lot of liquid, and I squished them into the pan to encourage them. I added a teaspoon of whole grain dijon mustard, and a few tablespoons of sour cream. About half a cup of gorgonzola (mainly the white bits because I didnt want it to start tasting too blue). Let the mixture bubble together, tasted and adjusted for seasoning.

Tipped the cooked gnocchi into the sauce, and let it heat up – the gnocchi plumped up even more and absorbed some of the delicious pan juices.

Served 4 and was comfy as a loving hug. Definitely not haute cuisine, but something fast and infinitely loving.

Vegetable Soup with Matzoh Balls

19 Sep

With Matzoh Balls!My sister and I caught the Baby Queen Z’s cold, so we are all a tad miserable. Even though its a gorgeous day outside, colds and flus almost demand a good, homemade vegetable soup. When we were little, it used to be a chicken soup with matzoh balls, so I decided to make them and add them to the vegetable soup. Matzoh balls are a supremely comforting Jewish tradition – matzoh cracker meal, combined with salt, egg and a bit of soup stock to make dumplings. Eating them feels like being enveloped in a pure cashmere blanket. And when youre ill, they are very nourishing.

I went vegetarian with the matzoh balls, though I did find good vegan recipes here and here. To be honest, I just wasnt up to trying the vegan version … not feeling focused or well enough to pay attention to multiple ingredients. But the soup is vegan – and I made it creamy and thick by whizzing it up with my immersion blender. Literally less than a minute and all those amazing veggies were pureed in a silken mass. I made the matzoh balls and boiled them in the soup pot (with the soup safely stored in a heatproof bowl) and then when they were done, introduced them to the soup.

Good, healthy, nourishing and full of vegetable love. Sure to make us all better in a jiffy!

Vegetable Soup

This makes 1 big potful. Adjust the vegetables to what you have in the fridge, but note that I almost always use onion or leek or both, carrot, and a can of plum tomatoes. Everything else comes and goes, but those are the constants ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 3 small carrots, topped and tailed, and roughly chopped (leave the skin on)
  • 1 zucchini, roughly chopped (skin on)
  • 1 can plum tomatoes in their juice
  • 1 cup potatoes, chopped (skin on)
  • 1/2 head of rapini or broccoli, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped spinach
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, over medium heat, heat the olive oil and saute the onion and leek until they go soft and slightly melty, and a little browned along the edges. This is quite important as they form the basis of the soup, so you want to cook them long enough to caramelise a bit. This can take up to ten minutes depending on heat source.

Add the carrots, stir to combine, and let them soften, about three to four minutes.

Add the zucchini, stir to combine and let it soften, about two to three minutes.

Open a can of plum tomatoes in their juice, and pour over the soup base. I usually use one hand to hold and pour the tomatoes, and the other hand to catch the tomatoes as they fall into the soup and lightly crush them.

Fill the can with water twice, and add to the soup pot. Stir everything to combine.

Taste and lightly salt and pepper.

Add the potatoes, rapini and spinach, and lower the heat to a soft simmer. Allow the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes, checking every ten minutes or so to make sure there is enough liquid in the pot. If there isnt, top it up.

Adjust salt and pepper.

You can eat the soup just as it is – broth and wonderful chunks of vegetables. But when I am ill, I like a smooth soup, so I take it off the heat, and use my immersion blender to make a really thick silky soup. The choice is up to you.

Matzoh balls

To be honest, you could use just about any cracker in this soup – saltines or oyster or water biscuits would all do. But if you have matzoh, use it – there is something very particular about this delicious taste that owes itself to the matzoh meal. Also, if you use salted crackers, adjust salt accordingly.

This will make for quite a salty unboiled mixture. Dont worry. A lot of the salt will boil out in the pot.

  • 1 cup matzoh meal
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp soup stock

To make the matzoh meal, take a matzoh cracker or two, break it up into smallish pieces, and place in a sturdy ziploc plastic bag. Using a wine bottle, rolling pin or other hard, heavy implement, smash the matzoh cracker until it is dust! Very therapeutic ๐Ÿ˜‰

In a small bowl, combine the matzoh meal and the salt. In a separate small cup or bowl, beat together the eggs, oil and soup stock until combined well. Pour the egg mixture over the matzoh meal, and stir lightly to combine. It will be quite sticky and soft.

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To boil the matzoh balls, transfer the soup into a large heatproof bowl. Its okay if a bit of soup remains – this will enrich the boiling liquid for the matzoh balls.

Fill the pot with water, and bring to the boil.

Take the matzoh mixture out of the fridge, and using your hands, make small balls (about 1 inch in diametre) and drop them in the boiling water. Remember that matzoh balls expand to more than twice their size, so dont make huge balls!

Boil for 20 – 30 minutes, or until cooked through. You will know when they are completely cooked when you cut through one and it is light and fluffy all the way through, having absorbed enough water to cook the insides.

Transfer the cooked matzoh balls to the soup, drain and rinse the pot, and transfer soup and matzoh balls back. Reheat gently. Eat and feel better!

Spinach Croquettes with Tomato Garlic Mushroom Sauce

18 Sep

With Tomato Garlic Mushroom SauceThe Tiny Queen Z (M’s baby) was having a tough day today. She is teething AND has a cold! Poor thing! But it also meant that my sister was completely exhausted, having been up every hour on the hour with the baby last night, and having to be with her all day today. I wanted to make dinner that would really feel like an indulgence, but be easy to eat, quick and extremely tasty. First I thought of a simple tomato and garlic pasta, but pasta can sometimes be too heavy. We have huge amounts of spinach in the fridge (and its so good for energy and strength) – so I thought spinach croquettes!

These arent the “traditional” croquette, made with mashed potato and rolled in breadcrumbs. To be honest, thats quite an involved recipe, and I wanted to get dinner on the table in under an hour. This actually took about 30 minutes all told, and it was really good. Simple, bold flavours, hot and comforting, the indulgence of fried foods, and yet the healthiness of spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes – simply cooked, without too much fuss.

This is easily convertible to a vegan dish. In the croquettes, substitute almond meal or ground almonds for the parmesan (they give the same wonderfully nutty hit) and a few tablespoons of soy milk to bring it all together instead of the eggs. In the sauce, you could either leave the vegetables clean, or you could substitute wine or soy or coconut milk for the sour cream. Any which way, this is a wonderful meal — it makes people feel comforted and happy. We needed that today!

Serves 4 people. Makes approximately 10 croquettes / patties.

Spinach Croquettes

  • 2 tbsp olive oil (plus a drizzle of truffle oil or roasted sesame oil if you have it for depth of flavour – but not neccessary) plus more for the frying
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar or red wine or vegetable stock
  • 4 – 6 cups raw baby spinach, rinsed, and then chopped fine
  • 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (I used Panko crumbs, but you can really use anything – whole wheat would be lovely, as would sour dough)
  • 2 eggs (vegan substitution: 2 – 4 tbsp soy milk or coconut milk)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan (vegan substitution: ground almonds)

In a medium saucepan, over medium high heat, saute the onion until it is soft and glossy, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and dried basil, and mix to combine. Add the balsamic or wine to the onions, and mix well. This will just soften the onions a little bit more, and add even more flavour to the dish.

Add the baby spinach in 2 batches, stirring until the spinach is just wilted, a few minutes. There will be some liquid in the bottom of the pan – this is great! You want it ๐Ÿ™‚

Once all the spinach has been added, and lightly cooked, transfer the entire contents of the pan to a heatproof bowl.

Tip in the breadcrumbs and eggs and stir very gently just to combine. The mixture should come together easily. If not, add water, a tablespoon at a time. You want the mixture to bind together, but lightly – you dont want it mushy and wet.

Add the parmesan or ground almonds and mix lightly.

Put in the fridge to firm up while you make the sauce.

Once you are ready to eat (about 10 – 15 minutes before hand), preheat your oven to 100C (200F), and place a pan in the oven. Sprinkle a medium to large non stick frying pan with a touch of olive oil and place on medium heat. Make palm sized patties of the spinach mixture, and saute for about 4 – 5 minutes on the first side. You should be able to get 3 – 4 croquettes in a frying pan.

Flip the croquettes and saute for about 3 – 4 minutes on the second side. As you make the croquettes in batches, transfer the cooked croquettes to the pan in the oven to keep warm. Otherwise, place on serving platter, and cover with a dishtowel or paper napkin.

Tomato Garlic Mushroom Sauce

This is wonderful with the spinach croquettes. It is wonderfully tomato-ey, sweet and slightly gooey. The mushrooms give it depth of flavour too … I use this sauce on everything – on toasted bread for bruschetta, with pasta, as a filling for a decadent omelette. Its a great sauce to have on hand and it gets put together in a matter of minutes.

  • 1 1/2 ย tbsp olive oil
  • 5 – 7 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 cup mushrooms (I used portabello), peeled and sliced thinly
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 – 2 cups baby tomatoes (I used a mix of baby heirloom tomatoes which were amazing!), chopped
  • 2 tbsp sour cream or soy milk (optional)
  • Pinch of sugar (optional)

In a small frying pan, over medium low heat, saute the sliced garlic cloves in the olive oil. Let the garlic saute for about 5 minutes or so. You want it to get soft and slightly sticky, and lose its bitterness. This extended cooking time really allows the garlic flavours to bloom and soften. Its critical. Be patient. Everything else goes quite quickly.

Bring up the heat, and add the mushrooms in two batches. You want to encourage the mushrooms to lose their liquid, and just start to brown a little on the edges. They will go slightly caramel and sticky in the pan. They wont do this if you put too many in at the same time, which is why you are doing this in two batches. This should be the work of minutes, and watch carefully – you dont want the mushrooms to burn, but rather to brown.

Once the mushrooms have browned, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the baby tomatoes all at once. They will immediately start to melt in the high heat, and their liquid will bubble and start forming a lovely sauce. Mix everything together well and taste. Add sour cream or soy milk if you want a creamier sauce, and add a tiny pinch of sugar if the tomatoes are not very sweet, to bring out their tomato essence.

Serve the sauce over the spinach croquettes. YUMMY.

Sticky Fingers Bakery + Fried Rice

5 Sep

Today was a totally vegan day. We planned it that way, but to be honest, no one ever even vaguely missed the dairy! For brunch, we went to Sticky Fingers Bakery – a Washington DC vegan institution. M and I had been talking about it for ages … when she got married, I thought of getting her a cake from Sticky Fingers, but I couldnt get my act together! Finally, we went and ate there. It was a bit of a mission to get to, but thank Goddess for GPS, she found it fine!

Sticky Fingers is a really cool, relaxed place. There were families, teenagers, a young woman studying for her LSATS, guys drinking coffee and Skyping, and a man who came in and bought himself a huge sundae, and sat all by himself and ate it with great relish. As you walk in, there is a cold case with pre-made food: everything from TLT’s (tomato, lettuce and tofu bacon sandwiches) to pasta to gyros. Straight in front of you is the bakery section with cookies, cakes, brownies, cupcakes. Everything is home made, fresh and looks incredibly tempting. There is a menu on a chalkboard above the payment counter, and drinks from a cooler or you can order coffee and tea. You can choose between take out and eat in, and because we were with the baby, we sat and ate. There are a few tables (one big communal and 6 smaller tables) inside, and a few outside.

I had the iced vanilla latte, and it was absolutely superb. The coffee itself was brilliant, and I couldnt tell the difference between the soy they used and regular milk. I think they used Silk, which we have tried, and its great. M suggested we have the breakfast sandwich. It came from the pre-made cooler, and it was sublime. Sooooo bloody good! Two english muffins sandwiched a tofu egg omelette (coloured with tumeric and creamy and delicious), with soy protein sausage, and a yeast vegannaise. It was one of the most delicious things I have had in a long time.

M and B had seconds, and I decided to be adventurous by ordering the biscuits and gravy, with scrambled tofu and roasted potatoes. To be honest, I should have stuck with the breakfast sandwich. The biscuits were bland, the gravy was this floury white sauce that was completely tasteless, the scrambled tofu was just ok, and the roasted potatoes had no flavour to them at all. We were all quite disappointed after the delights of the sandwich.

To make up for it, I ordered a sweet and salty cookie which was really good! A chocolate chip and raisin cookie, baked with a sprinkle of salt over it. Really lovely, wonderful juxtaposition of tastes. I would have those again and again! M had a peanut butter fudge cupcake for dessert and B had an oreo cupcake. They were delicious (I think B had seconds on that too!)…. Not too sweet, velvety, moist, and very chocolaty. Even Baby Z got into the fudge cupcake. But when everything is vegan, cholesterol free, lower in saturated fats and sweetened with evaporated cane juice … its actually kind of okay ๐Ÿ˜‰

I also ordered, and took home, a sticky cinnamon bun. How can you not when they are the bakery’s name inspiration? They were good, if a bit doughy…I should have gotten another sweet and salty cookie instead. Though this bakery is not cheap, it is very much worth the trek to find it, and the expense. I wish I could say everything was delicious, but what was good, was phenomenal! We were so busy eating, I didnt even have time to take photos ๐Ÿ˜‰

Sticky Fingers Bakery
1370 Park Road, NW Washington DC, 20010
1 block north from Columbia Heights Metro
Tel: 202.299.9700

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vegan!We had a busy afternoon, walking around downtown, shopping, playing… When it was time for dinner, we wanted something really light and yet satisfying. Fried rice was the perfect solution. I made it really quickly and very simply, with a few ingredients.

Because we had rice, curry and rendang potatoes for dinner last night, I had left over rice – this, as any Malaysian will tell you, is the key to good fried rice – cold rice! Once rice has been cooked and refrigerated, the starches solidify over each grain. When you apply heat again, the grains of rice remain intact, firm and rice-y. If you try and fry hot just cooked rice, it will turn to mush!

I used what was in the fridge for this dish, and heated up the remains of the rendang potatoes (mmmmmmm) to serve as a side dish. It was a delectable vegan dinner! You could use any manner of vegetable in this dish – peas are wonderful, as is spinach. Toasted cashew nuts would be great too.

Serves 4

  • 2 – 3 tablespoons oil (I used 1 tablespoon each of olive, truffle and toasted sesame oil – use what you have – peanut oil is good too – it gives a nutty smoky flavour) plus additional if needed
  • 1 cup sliced and chopped red onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 inch ginger, sliced and chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon plus extra soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 – 2 cups button mushrooms, peeled and sliced
  • 3 – 4 cups cold rice (at least overnight in the fridge)
  • 1/2 cup baby roma tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup baked seasoned tofu, cubed
  • 2 tbsp chili sauce (I used Lingam’s)

In a large, non stick frying pan, over medium high heat, saute the onions, garlic and ginger in the oil. This is the longest part of the dish – you need to get the onions past the soft stage to the slightly burnt and sticky stage. Adjust your heat accordingly so they dont over burn, but keep stirring and let them really cook down so they are soft and brown at the edges. Salt and pepper well.

Pour over the soy and balsamic vinegar, and let the onion mixture cook for several minutes more. Peel and slice the mushrooms, and add them to the onions. Encourage them to burn a bit too – you want them to lose all their moisture, and cook well. Once the mushrooms have coloured, add the rice all at once, and mix the rice into the pan ingredients. Fold over and over again, using a spatula or wooden spoon. Incorporate everything, and then taste. Pour over a bit more soy so that the rice colours a little. Taste again.

Add the tomatoes and tofu, and stir to incorporate. Taste. Adjust. Add the chili sauce and taste again. Adjust to your liking, and serve hot. M and I love scraping the pan from fried rice – its where the best bits hide!

The Elements of a Perfect Salad

3 Sep

Summertime, and the living is easy … Every time I get an urge to make a salad, I hear that song singing in my head. I never used to like salads (strange for a vegetarian, I know!) but that was because I grew up in the olden times when salad was iceberg lettuce with some washed out supermarket tomatoes. These days, salads are a whole different creature. They are sumptuous, delicious, delectable and can serve as an entire meal.

Dont get me wrong, I have learned to love side salads too – I think there is much to be said for the perfect accompaniment to say, mac and cheese, or pasta … where a salad needs to be fresh, sparkling, with a few key ingredients that will highlight and compliment the meal. But what I am thinking about here is a salad that is an event. A salad that stands on its own, and is immensely satisfying. When I go to non-vegetarian potlucks, I often bring the salad. I usually find that even the carnivores want more!

Here, then, are my nine elements of a really perfect salad, one that will create for you a fearsome reputation as a master salad maker.

Theme

Decide on one theme and stick to it! Salad is ripe for interpretation, and for creativity, but just as with any meal, a mishmash of ideas and thematic flavours will muddy and confuse the eater. Decide on the direction in which you want to go, and let your imagination flow from there. An Asian inspired salad could have mung bean sprouts, sesame seeds, and a rich soy honey dressing. An Indian-Asian inspired salad could have a curry mayonnaise dressing, green beans, potatoes and possibly cubes of grilled paneer. A breakfast salad could have poached eggs in it, along with toasted brioche croutons, and may be some roasted tomatoes. You get the idea…

Remember though that its important for you to depend on your sense of taste and balance when deciding on where you want this salad to go …And think very carefully about each ingredient you add. You will know if there is dissonance. I often write down exactly what I am thinking of putting in a salad. Sometimes an ingredient just jumps out at me and says, Wrong! Even if I am really craving that thing, I trust my instinct and judgement about how things will go together, and I usually take that element out, or serve it on its own. If you are making an Asian inspired salad, dont add parmesan cheese – it just does not go well! But a banana or pineapple might. If you are making an Italian salad, then may be you should think twice about having soy basted tofu as your main protein.

Your whole meal does not have to coordinate around a singular theme, but your salad should definitely incorporate elements that naturally go together. Dont try and stuff ten different vegetables together, that have no complementary value, and call it a salad. No one will believe you, and no one will eat it!

Green

While I do love a simple salad of chopped tomatoes and avocado, or a roasted potato and garlic salad, most salads in my estimation have to begin with green leaves. My green of choice is baby arugula (rocket ) – I love love love it. I love the peppery taste of it – it is substantial if you know what I mean. I love how it stands up to most anything you throw at it. But, if arugula is not available (or I am serving arugu-phobes), I also love raw baby spinach. Baby leaves of any kind are usually a good bet – they are infinitely tender, and their taste is clean and sweet. Play around with green – and if you like, add a few surprises, like some chopped basil leaves for a change of taste.

And if you know a farmer, or have your own garden, whatever green there is, use. My wonderful organic delivery guy back home delivered lettuce picked from his crop that day. I stood in the kitchen, and ate the lettuce as is, it was so beautiful. Go with your taste, and go with what is freshest. But add green!

Also, make sure the leaves are impeccably clean. Even if the package says its been cleaned already, clean it again. I read somewhere that there is more bacteria in a washed packet of lettuce than in an unwashed bundle. Just clean the leaves – it doesnt take long. I usually immerse the leaves in cold ย salted clean water. The salt will make sure any little bugs left living in the leaves are encouraged to let go ๐Ÿ˜‰ I swish them around in the water and make sure that any grit or dirt is rubbed off. One of the best investments of my life is a salad spinner – you can get a cheapo one from Ikea for a few bucks, and a fancier, but far sturdier one is made by Oxo. Whichever you choose, spin those leaves like your life depended on it! And then spin again! My nephews love to help to “cook” by spinning the salad leaves. Its a nice way to incorporate non cooks in the cooking process ๐Ÿ˜‰ The leaves will be very crisp and dry once they have been spun a couple of times… wrap them in a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, and refrigerate them until you are ready to put the salad together (which really should be just before you serve it).

Protein

I like to have a little protein in my salads, especially as a vegetarian. There are so many lovely things to choose from – garbanzo beans add a creamy richness, seasoned baked tofu adds meatiness, quinoa adds nuttiness, as do any variety of nut (from pine to almond to cashew to macadamia – which happens to be one of my best), eggs add a silky quality, and shavings or cubes of cheese (parmesan and cheddar are my favourites) are always welcome.

I think its important to think about proteins when you serve a salad as a main course, but think carefully about what kind of protein you will use, and also if there is protein in your dessert or starter. If so, you dont need to get too het up about big amounts of protein in your salad.

I think protein adds a certain heaviness to a salad which is good. Most people think that eating salad leaves you starving. If you have a reasonable amount of protein in your salad, this can be a very filling and fulfilling dish.

Sweet

I love adding an element of sweetness to my salads. People like that surprising contrast of flavour, and they often dont expect cubes of apple or caramelised macadamias to make an appearance. But once they have a taste of that sweet juxtaposition, they often hunt for more! Sweet can come in lots of different ways – tomatoes are actually a fruit, after all, and carrots have a sugary sweetness all their own.

I usually only add one dedicated sweet element to a salad, but I try and think of something really delectable to add this sweet element. Beautiful juicy grapes are often very popular, and creamy pears are surprisingly refreshing. Roasted beetroot or butternut caramelise in their own juices and add colour as well as sweetness to any salad. I have added chunks of sesame brittle to a salad with great success. Raw corn is another great addition – if it is really fresh, its incredibly sweet, and absolutely delicious. But dont go overboard! Just one thing – and make it good!

Balance, Texture and Contrast

These to me are the most important elements when thinking about your salad. How does each ingredient juxtapose against the other? Are you getting juicy, crunch, soft, sweet, savoury, salty, bright, sparkly, rich, creamy, fresh, bitter, sharp? You need to have contrast when eating a major salad, otherwise it gets boring, and quickly. Carrots and avocados and roasted onion are very different from one another, but bound together by a beautiful dressing, they contrast in texture, but are balanced on the palate.

Boring salads, in my opinion, are salads where everything feels the same in the mouth. Salads made of soft ingredients – eggs, peas, boiled potatoes, avocado. These all have the same textural patterns, and they can totally negate each other simply by their similar mouth feel. Dont get me wrong. Sometimes, at a family meal when everyone is tired, or when eating with a baby ๐Ÿ˜‰ … there is a place for texturally alike foods. But I love contrast. I love the crunch of a crouton against the juiciness of a ripe tomato. I adore the toasty rich nuttiness of sesame seeds coating the crisp snap of a green bean. Its why I always incorporate something sweet into my salads… it contrasts with the main players, but at the same time adds a much needed balance to the dish.

Also, think about how you are going to present each ingredient. A raw mushroom is very different from a sauteed one. Raw corn totally contrasts with roasted corn, rubbed with soy. A fresh juicy tomato is completely distinct from a sun dried tomato dripping with olive oil. Sometimes its fun to add the same thing but in different incarnations. This is contrast, balance and texture, and its also an intelligent way to challenge and engage the people you are serving.

Salads are compositions. Think of your salad as a work of art, a symphony, a play, a beautiful poem. The elements must be different, and yet work together as a whole. Go with ingredients that on a singular note may be beautiful, but a tad boring, but joined with other ingredients, will really sing.

Exotic or Special

When you say salad most people cant resist yawning, or rolling their eyes sadly. Salads are much maligned, but really, shouldnt be. There is so much room to play in a salad, and to that end, I often try and introduce something exotic or special into my salads. When I cook, I want to celebrate the people I am eating with. I want to honour them, amuse them, and satisfy their senses.

I often try and incorporate an exotic or special element into my salad. This could be as simple as using truffle oil in the dressing. Shaved truffles in the salad would be nice, but unfortunately totally out of my price range! Sun dried tomatoes are exotic to some, but commonplace to others. Remember who you are serving, and think about what they like – what they would consider a treat, something special. Or, conversely, think about what would surprise them in a salad – what they would find unique or exotic.

In Malaysia, strawberries and avocados are very expensive, as are nuts like pine nuts or macadamias. Pomegranate seeds are gorgeous visually, and often considered very exotic. Good parmesan is like gold. Putting one of these ingredients in a salad makes it feel like a celebration – a special meal, and for many, makes the salad much more exotic. Conversely, in America, adding star fruit or guava, cubes of papaya or slivers of rambutan, adds a certain exotic deliciousness to the salad.

Sometimes, it can be as simple as thinking about what your eaters really love. If I know my sister will be eating the salad, I often put sprouts in it. She is crazy about them. Another friend adores sun dried tomatoes. When I cook for her, my salads always incorporate them. The special doesnt have to be exotic or expensive… it can be as simple as knowing the person youre serving, and making sure her favourite flavours and tastes are represented.

Presentation

Not only do you need to think about colour and texture, but you need to think very carefully about how you will present your salad. Is everyone going to serve themselves from a communal bowl (thats how I usually do it) or are you going to present every person with a plated salad, composed like a still life water colour? Is everything going to be cold, or is there something you will cook at the last minute to add textural heat to the dish? Are you going to dress the salad first, or allow each person to dress the salad themselves (my preferred option is the latter). What kind of plates, or bowls are people going to use to eat the salad? Knives and forks? Spoons and forks? Sitting down at a table, or on the ground outside at a picnic, or gathered around the tv? Is the salad going to arrive in a big bowl, jumbled together, or laid out on a huge plate, layered in an artful arrangement? Or do you have a big glass bowl, like a trifle jar, that you can literally layer each element of the salad in, and get gorgeous stripes of colour?

How the salad will look when it is served is really important. If everything is cut the same way (whether that way be cubed, strips, or melon balled), you will have one very clean visual pattern, even if everything is a different colour. But if things are jumbled, or roughly chopped, then the salad will “feel” different.ย Sometimes, I feel like everything should be green and yellow and white … all similar colours, but with markedly contrasting flavours and textures. Other times, I want a riot of colour – I throw in edible flowers, and try and find ย lots of different colours to create a merry riot. It depends on what you feel like, but take a moment to think about how your salad will look. Its important because people eat with their senses, and they see it first and foremost.

Think about what you want to convey when you serve the salad, and how people are going to eat it. Think about if may be serving a crusty warm loaf of bread alongside to mop up the juices would be a good idea, or if you need some other element to complement it.

How you present your salad is definitely one of the most important ways to ensure that people enjoy eating it. So give it some time and thought, and then compose!

Freshness and Limits

I have linked these two elements together because they really are about the shopping experience. I have often made a list for a salad, and gone to the market only to find that the tomatoes are completely ugly and insipid looking. Or all the avocados are rock hard or pulpy. If you have a theme in mind, you should be able to quickly find and figure out a substitute. Freshness is key in a salad because most of the ingredients you serve will be raw. If you had to choose between tender perfect figs and overripe mushy pears, choose the figs, even if the pears are your favourite. Be open to the market – be open to finding a gorgeous gem that is unexpected or not on your list. Add it if it adds value to your salad, and drop what is not of absolute perfect quality.

If freshness is key to a beautiful salad, so are limits! I have served a salad with 20 ingredients, and to be honest, its as muddy and horrible as if I were to serve lettuce leaves, and only lettuce leaves for dinner. Too much is overkill, and instead of contract, juxtaposition and texture, you will short circuit your eaters sensibilities. Try and limit your salads to 7 – 9 key ingredients at the max, though less also can. More than that, and I find its too much. Like a baby when it gets overstimulated by too much colour or too many games or too much music, an overloaded salad just makes me want to lay down and cry.

Your Own Signature Dressing

Spend a little time, and make your own salad dressing. All this though, cutting, chopping, shopping, tasting, texturalising… and you pour on a mass market made dressing? Are you kidding? Salad dressing takes almost no time to make. Its as unique as your signature, and can elevate a salad into the sublime.

Have a few salad dressings under your sleeve. I make a killer Asian dressing. I have a varied number of ingredients I use for it, and its never quite the same each time, but it does have a few basics, and its amazing. Its so good, you could literally eat it out of the jar with a spoon. People ask me for the recipe, and I always give them an outline … but they say it never turns out the same. Well, it never turns out the same for me either, but I know what I want it to taste like at any given time!

Salad dressing is easy to make ahead, and it is what ties everything together in your salad. If you make your own blue cheese buttermilk dressing, I promise you, it will be a hundred times better than anything you can purchase at the store. Even a basic balsamic and olive oil dressing can be elevated with a few fresh herbs, or a spark of fresh lemon juice. And it will be your signature, your hallmark, an expression of your creativity.

Please, if you want to be a salad master, make your own dressing!

Hopefully these few guidelines will make you think about salad in a new way. Its one of the great joys of life, one of the remarkable treats of summertime – a wonderful salad to share with those you love.

Tomatoes + Garlic +Quinoa + Spinach

1 Sep

Spinach + QuinoaToday was yet another eventful day – our mother left, and by the end of the day, we were all really tired. We needed a quick meal, but I wanted something delicious. Something that would be comforting and yet incredibly fresh. Nothing too heavy, but definitely delectable, lip smacking, delicious. I decided to lightly saute some garlic until it was soft, mix it with some burstingly fresh tomatoes, encourage the sweet sweet sauce with a lick of cream. Mix that up with some protein rich quinoa and fresh spinach. A meal that is a balm on the senses – pretty, delightful and happy making.

Because its summertime, the tomatoes are so luscious I cannot even begin to describe them. The smell of them is heady, almost perfume-y. Their juices dribble and drip as soon as they even see a knife. I did not really want to do much with them – certainly not cook them for too long. I wanted that fresh tomato taste to be honoured and respected. I managed to ensure this by cooking them only briefly, and mixed in a little bit of cream for richness. If you are vegan, you dont have to use cream – add some soy or almond milk if you want, or just leave the tomatoes without cream.

I chose quinoa because of its high protein content. I chopped fresh baby spinach fine, and as soon as the quinoa was ready, I mixed the hot quinoa with a teaspoon of butter and the spinach. It wilted the spinach, and added a pure green flavour to the quinoa, a lovely contrast to the richness of the tomatoes. This meal was really good! We finished everything and as I write this, the house is quiet, happy and satisfied. Exactly right ๐Ÿ™‚

This recipe will serve 4 people, and can be adapted to be vegan

Tomato + Garlic

You can serve this sauce with pasta, quinoa, couscous, or even on toast – its fresh, easy and delicious

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp truffle oil (if you have it – it adds a depth of flavour)
  • 4 – 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp dry basil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 – 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp light brown sugar (optional)
  • 3 tbsp heavy cream (or soy or almond milk if you are vegan)

Heat the olive and truffle oils in a medium non stick pan, over medium high heat. Turn the heat to medium low and saute the garlic in a single layer for about five minutes or more. You want the garlic to soften and infuse the oils. This also enables the garlic to cook off its bitter taste. You will have that lovely hit of garlic, but without the sharpness.

Sprinkle the garlic with basil, and liberally season with salt and pepper. Raise the heat to medium high and drizzle the balsamic over. Add the tomatoes, and cook them long enough so that they release their juices. Taste. You may need a little bit more salt and pepper, or you may need to enhance the natural sweetness of the tomatoes with a little bit of sugar. The fresh late summer tomatoes I used were so sweet I didnt need any sugar, but trust your instincts. This sauce should be sweet with tomato-y juices.

Add the cream if you decide to use it, and let it cook down and reduce over low heat for a few minutes. Set the sauce aside while you prepare the quinoa.

Quinoa + Spinach

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 cup baby spinach, chopped fine

In a small saucepan, mix the quinoa with the water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Place on high heat, and allow to come to the boil. Lower heat so that the quinoa is at a simmer, and cover. Simmer for 20 – 25 minutes until the quinoa is cooked through, and all the liquid has been absorbed.

As soon as the quinoa is ready, spoon into a serving platter. Cut butter over the quinoa, and using a spoon, mix in well. Taste for salt, and adjust. Mix in the fresh spinach and mix well. The spinach will wilt just a little bit and flavour the quinoa.

To Serve

Spoon the tomato + garlic over the quinoa + spinach, and, if you want, scatter a few parmesan shavings over the top. Serve at room temperature. Delight in the freshness of summer!

Birthday Dinner!

23 Aug

Tonight was my beloved sister’s birthday dinner. It was a feast of feasts. I am so full I can barely type, let alone remember all the recipes! So am going to let the pictures do the talking. I will post recipes soon, I promise! Happy Birthday beloved MZ!

By the way, I decided that everything was going to be served cold or at room temperature except for the mushroom pie, which came hot from the oven. It is a hot humid summer’s day, and it was just so much nicer to eat things that were not burning hot. I also found that this really enhanced flavour… things just taste better, in my opinion, when they are not at extremes of temperature (the only exception to this is of course ice cream)… room temperature lets the full flavour come out undisturbed.

Hope you enjoy these pictures as much as we enjoyed the meal – family, friends, laughter and a whole lot of love.

Broccolini with lemon and almonds

Broccolini – very easy, and astoundingly delicious. Toasted almonds. Broccolini (basically baby broccoli with little flowers) given a boiling water bath for a mere minute or two until just tender. Cooled for a moment in ice water. Then dunked into about 1/3 cup olive oil + juice + grated rind of a lemon. Bit of salt and pepper. Toss with almonds and refrigerate overnight. The almonds make this dish really nutty and beautiful, and the lemon makes it bright and sparkly.

Roasted Butternut + Arugula

Roasted butternut on a bed of arugula. A simple olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper dressing sparingly poured over the top. Strewn with sprouts, which I dislike, but which the birthday girl adores!

Parsnip Mash with Truffle Oil

Parsnip mash with truffle oil and cracked black pepper…. easy peasy. Peeled, sliced parsnips, simmered in milk. When soft, drained, mashed with a bit of the reserved milk, some butter, salt and cracked black pepper. About a tablespoon of white truffle oil mixed in at the end. Sublime and silken.

Honey glazed carrots

Gorgeous organic carrots – honey glazed, with a touch of cinnamon and a heap of butter. A little burnt, and a lot delicious. Our Mum’s recipe…

Heirloom tomatoes

Chopped heirloom tomatoes, slicked with olive oil, salt + pepper, and chopped parsley and basil from the garden. So goood!

Fig, ricotta + goat's cheese tart

A fig tart from my imagination that turned out beautifully! A walnut crust, with a ricotta + mascarpone base. Sweet wine poached figs, sliced and stuffed with goat’s cheese. It was REALLY good. I will post the recipe tomorrow!

For the Birthday Woman!

Personalised mushroom pie ๐Ÿ˜‰ Portobello, white button, shiitake, and truffle oil, bound with a bit of sour cream, panko and fresh parmesan, baked in a puff pastry crust.

:)

And finally a blackout birthday cake, with lashings of fresh cream.

Happy Happy Birthday to my most beloved sister. You are my heart ๐Ÿ™‚

Summer Stew

22 Aug

Perfect Bright Summer FlavoursWow, today was such a lovely day! Lunch at Le Pain Quotidien – perfect tart lemonade with loads of mint, and a gorgeous open face sandwich of fresh ricotta, mission figs, cracked black pepper, honey and chopped tomatoes. I know, it doesnt sound like it would all go, but oh boy, did it! Superb. And then home, and loads and loads of cooking. Dinner was a cold potato salad – roasted garlic and baby tomatoes, mixed as soon as they came out the oven with a few tablespoons of mayo. SO good. And summer stew – the best, brightest and tastiest of the summer veg, stewed briefly together, served with some rice. Vegan, and delicious. And for dessert, a strawberry fool – those gorgeous strawberries I bought yesterday, macerated with a bit of balsamico, and then folded into lightly whipped cream which had been sweetened just a bit, and flavoured with a bit of vanilla. Actually, it turned out to be an Eton Mess, because we also had some store bought meringue which we crumbled over the top. So bloody good!

And then of course, I had to do some prep cooking for M’s birthday tomorrow. I have decided that since it is summertime, I am not going to bother with huge numbers of hot dishes. Most everything can be served cold or at room temperature. Tonight I made broccolini with toasted almonds and a bright lemon olive oil dressing. Roasted butternut which will go into an arugula salad with a few shavings of parmesan. The stuffing for the mushroom pastry. The pudding for the chocolate cake. My feet hurt! And its late. But at least tomorrow, I can bake the cake in the morning, and do the mushroom pastry in the afternoon, and assemble all the salads in between, without having to worry I dont have enough time. Plus, we are planning on going to the farmer’s market! I cant wait! That should be wonderful fun.

So now, back to this summer stew. These are a few of the beautiful vegetables I found at Whole Foods. I didnt want to over cook them, as their bright clean flavours were just too delicate. Also, to be honest, I only put a tiny bit of flavouring into this stew – I wanted the veggies to perfume the gravy with their own fragrance, and I felt it really didnt need any additional enhancement. Please go to the market and see what is bright and fresh and tasty. Use that. If you dont see a squash, but there is a wonderful array of carrots, substitute! This stew is about using whats best in the summertime, and celebrating it. Enjoy!

Serves about 6 – 8

  • 3 – 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 Vidalia onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 large (or 2 small) aubergines (eggplant), washed, sliced and chopped fine
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 yellow zucchini squash, halved and chopped
  • 1 zucchini, halved and chopped
  • 1/2 butternut, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
  • 2 ripe large heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 – 1 cup water
  • 1 package firm seasoned tofu, chopped roughly
  • Large handful baby spinach, washed well

In a large pan, over high heat, in about 2 tbsp olive oil, saute the onion until glossy and softened. Add the aubergine, and sautee until the aubergine starts to brown and burn a bit. Season with paprika, oregano, salt and pepper.

Add the yellow zucchini squash and zucchini to the pan, and sautee until slightly softened. You may need to add more olive oil.

Add the butternut, and combine well. You may want to put a lid on the pan to soften the butternut a bit, but I usually just let all the ingredients bubble and saute for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, and encourage the sauce that will start to form with the addition of some hot water. I usually add about 1/2 cup, and let the stew cook for about 5 minutes, and then check the butternut. If it needs more time, I add more water. Let cook and meld together for about 10 – 15 minutes, and taste and adjust seasonings.

Dont overcook. This is a delicate stew, and you want to really allow the clean fresh flavours of the vegetables to remain intact.

Add the tofu and baby spinach, and cook just until the spinach is wilted.

Serve warm over jasmine rice.