Warm curried cauliflower and mixed grain salad

Most people find food shopping a chore but I enjoy it as it feels like a journey of exploration and discovery:  I think that it is amazing that we have such a variety of incredible food from around the world readily available for us to try.  In this recipe alone, quinoa originates in the Andean region in South America, farro from Europe.  Bulgar wheat comes into European, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine whilst curry powders, which vary considerable in composition, are usually based on spices found in South Asian cuisine.  The concept of curry powder is thought to have been invented by British colonialists in India to describe a specific mixture of spices, and has been popular in British cuisine since the eighteenth century.  Although I also love using local produce I think we are lucky to be able to experience the richness of culinary heritage and flavours from across the globe and really enjoy mixing these into my cooking.  This simple salad was inspired by the wealth of lovely grains and spices now available in many shops and a tasty cauliflower curry I tried in my work canteen and wanted to recreate at home.

Curried cauliflower and mixed grain salad

Cooking time: ~40 minutes (about 5-10 minutes preparation, 30 minutes cooking and about 5 minutes re-heating and assembly needed on the night)

Dietary info: vegan, to make a gluten-free see the “tasty little twists”

Serves: 2 (easily doubled)

  • 1 cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 30 g quinoa
  • 30 g Bulgar wheat
  • 30 g quick cook farro
  • 2 tbsp mild curry powder, or replace with any other curry powder or mix of spices of your choice (see the “tasty little twists”)
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, liquid (you may have to heat it slightly to make it liquid), or vegetable oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp salt, optional
  1. Steam the cauliflower for 5-8 minutes until it is starting to soften but isn’t mushy
  2. Toss the cauliflower in the coconut oil, curry powder, salt and half the lemon juice in an oven-proof dish and roast in the oven at 180C fan for about 20 minutes, stirring half way through, until the cauliflower is starting to brown and go a little crispy at the edges
  3. Cook all the grains, separately, according to the packet instructions.  These are usually:
    • For the quick cook farro: rinse the farro. Bring a saucepan of water (about 600ml) to the boil and add the farro, simmering for about 10-12 minutes until tender then drain.  Alternatively put the farro into a microwave safe bowl with enough water to come about 1cm above the farro, cook for 5 minutes, stir and add more water if necessary (there should be very little water left at the end) and cook for another 5-7 minutes until tender then drain
    • For the quinoa: follow the same steps as for the farro but simmer for 20 minutes, or 15-20 minutes in the microwave
    • For the Bulgar wheat: rinse and place into a heatproof bowl. Cover in boiling water, leave to stand for 25-30 minutes then drain
  4. Mix the cauliflower and grains together and serve drizzled with the remaining lemon juice, and the chilli tomato sauce below, with perhaps a few mixed leaves / lettuce on the side

A few tips to prep ahead:

      • Cook all the grains the night before and keep in a sealed container in the fridge overnight.  Heat through thoroughly (in a microwave safe container, in a pan or even in the oven) before serving
      • Steam and roast the cauliflower (steps 1 and 2) and then store it in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days, re-heating in the oven for about 5 minutes before serving to warm through and crisp up just before serving

A few little tasty twists and extras…

      • Although quinoa is gluten-free, farro and Bulgar wheat are not.  To make this salad gluten-free you could substitute the faro and bulgar wheat for any of the following grains or pulses: amaranth;  buckwheat; lentils; chickpeas; beans; split peas; rice; sorghum; teff. Or you could just make it all with quinoa
      • You can also try different grains just for variety. Alternative grains (which aren’t gluten-free) include: couscous; durum wheat; einkorn; khorasan wheat, also known as Kamut®;  small pasta such as orzo; or pearl barley
      • Try different vegetables such as onion, aubergine, fennel or courgette, either in addition to the cauliflower or instead of it
      • I have just used a ready-made curry powder in this recipe to be quick and easy.  However, the cauliflower will work nicely with almost any spice mixture so feel free to try different curry powders or if you want to make your own try 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp chilli powder, and 1 tsp mixed spice (or a mix of any of the following ground spices: ginger, cloves, mace, bay leaf, cardamom, or star anise)

Chilli tomato sauce

Cooking time: <5 minutes

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 2 (easily doubled)

      • 4 tsp mild chilli powder, or replace with the curry powder you used for the cauliflower
      • 2 generous tbsp tomato puree
      • 8 tbsp white wine vinegar
      • 4 tbsp soy sauce
      • 8 tbsp water
      1. Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and heat for 1 minute, stirring to combine. Alternatively you can stir to combine in a small microwave safe bowl and heat in the microwave, covered, for 1 minute,
      2. Serve drizzled over the salad above.

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Turmeric and soy stir-fry

This has been the hottest weekend of the year so far and gloriously sunny (which is really quite exciting in Britain).  I love to cook but I certainly don’t think it should ever feel like a chore and when the weather is this good I don’t want to spend hours hovering over a hot stove.  I also don’t feel like heavy, rich food therefore this weeks recipe is a light and quick stir-fry: quick and easy to cook, light and tasty to eat so that I can spend my time enjoying the sunshine while it lasts.  This stir-fry makes use of courgetti (noodle like ribbons of courgette) mixed with noodles to make it a light and fresh noodle dish and sneak some more vegetables in, and soy mince.  You can buy dehydrated soy mince which is a great store cupboard ingredient for quick and protein packed vegan meals without worrying about going shopping, but if you don’t like soy then there are a selection of alternatives in the “tasty little twists” section.  The courgetti and soy are brought to life by a mix of spices, starring turmeric whose wonderful yellow colour seems very fitting for sunny days.  Just be warned that as lovely and uplifting as the colour is, it also stains most things it touches.  I have previously made the mistake of putting turmeric dishes in plastic bowls which have then stayed stubbornly yellow for weeks however thoroughly I have washed them.

Turmeric and soy stir fry

Cooking time: 10 minutes preparation, 10 minutes cooking

Dietary info: vegan (if you use vegan noodles), can be gluten-free if you use gluten free noodles

Serves: 2

  • 1 courgette, spiralised (you can spiralise the courgette yourself, buy ready-spiralised courgette or just cut the courgette into fine ribbons with a peeler or sharp knife)
  • 1 portion dried or ready to cook noodles, if you want to make this dish vegan check that they are not egg noodles
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 50g dehydrated soy mince -100ml water rinse 10 mins
  • 1 vegetable stock cube (make sure this is vegan if you want to make this dish vegan)
  • 150ml boiling water
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • Juice of  ½ lime, with the juice of the remaining ½ lime to serve
  • A handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  1. Rinse the soy mince and the soak in 100ml water for 10 minutes
  2. If the noodles are not ready cook, then cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, rinse in cold water to stop them getting sticky and set aside
  3. Dissolve the stock cube in the 150ml hot water
  4. Put the onion in a non-stick frying pan with a splash of water to stop it sticking and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes until it is starting to soften
  5. Add the garlic powder, turmeric, ginger powder, ground black pepper, chilli powder, soaked soy mince, courgetti and stock to the onion in the frying pan, and cook until the courgetti has softened (probably about 5-8 minutes, you can cover the pan for the first 3-4 minutes to let the courgetti cook down and make it easier to stir everything together).
  6. Stir in the juice of ½ lime and the cooked noodles into the mixture in the frying pan.
  7. Serve garnished with the fresh coriander, grated ginger and remaining lime juice.  This can also be nice with a cool and crispy salad of grated carrot, sliced cucumber and shredded lettuce dressed with lime juice, and pinch of salt and a sprinkling of chilli flakes.

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • This is actually pretty quick to cook completely on the night but if you want to prepare ahead you can:
    • Dice the onion the day before and keep in a sealed bag or container in the fridge 
    • Spiralise the courgetti the day before and keep in a sealed bag or container in the fridge
    • Rinse and soak the soy mince the day before and keep in a sealed container in the fridge
    • Measure out the garlic powder, turmeric, ginger powder, ground black pepper and chilli powder into a small covered bowl or sealed container up to a week before (these can be kept at room temperature)

Some tasty little twists…

  • For a lighter dish, replace the noodles with an extra spiralised courgette, or a different spiralised vegetable such as carrot
  • Add extra vegetables, such as a handful of finely sliced mushrooms, babycorn, sugar snaps, peppers or beansprouts
  • For other vegan versions replace the soy mince with crumbled tofu, green lentils or finely diced vegetables
  • For a vegetarian version replace the soy mince with chopped up boiled egg (about 2-3 eggs) or scrambled egg (scramble 2-3 eggs beaten with a pinch of salt in a separate pan and stir in when you stir in the cooked noodles)
  • For a meat version replace the soy mince with lean minced pork or turkey, or diced chicken.  Add the mince or diced meat to the frying pan after you have cooked the onion for about 2-3 minutes then add everything in step 5 (except the soy mince) after 4-5 minutes and continue as per the instructions above.

Bacon rolls with mushrooms and tomato sauce

The people I love are a huge inspiration for my cooking.  Preparing food for someone can be such a gesture of care and demonstration of love.  Honing and adapting recipes to create a personalised meal for someone is not only an investment of time but shows how much you understand them and listen to them.  As I have mentioned before, my husband loves bacon in pretty much any guise, and bacon rolls have to be one of his favourites.  There is something inexplicably enticing about a bacon roll but it isn’t known as a great health food.  In my mind healthy eating is all about moderation.  It doesn’t mean that your favourite foods are off limits, just that you can’t necessarily eat everything you want all the time, and also, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a treat meal that you can’t make at least a bit healthier.  Therefore, here is my version of bacon rolls, cooked with much love, which I have tried to make as healthy as possible while still retaining the essential elements that my husband loves so that I can give us a treat while still looking after our health.  I have reduced the fat by dry frying then trimming the bacon and cutting out the butter, used wholemeal or seeded rolls rather than white to increase the fiber, removed the sugar by replacing commercial tomato ketchup with a homemade tomato sauce and added vegetables in a side of onions and mushrooms.

Bacon rolls

Cooking time: 10 minutes preparation, 10 minutes on the night

Dietary info: dairy-free (vegetarian / vegan variations in the tasty little twists)

Serves: 2-4

  • 4 fresh soft rolls, I like to use wholemeal or seeded rolls
  • 1 packet of bacon, about 300g

Mushroom mix

  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 300g mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ pork stock cube, crumbled
  • 1 tsp garlic powder

Tomato sauce

  • ½ pork stock cube dissolved in 100ml hot water
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp tamarind powder
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp mild chilli powder
  • 2-3 tbsp tomato puree
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • 2 tsp malt vinegar
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar
  1. Put the sliced onions and mushrooms into a non-stick frying pan with a splash of water, sprinkle over the garlic powder and crumbled stock cube and stir to combine.  Cook over a medium heat for 8-10 minutes until they are soft.  You can remove the lid for the last few minutes of cooking to let any excess water evaporate.  The mixture should be juicy but not be sitting in lots of liquid
  2. To make the tomato sauce, combine the onion powder, garlic powder, tamarind, allspice and chilli powder with the tomato puree then gradually stir in the pork stock,, vinegar and lemon juice
  3. Dry fry the bacon for a few minutes each side until opaque all the way through and getting crispy around the edges, then drain on kitchen paper and trim off large bits of rind / fat
  4. Cut the rolls in half and fill each with a quarter of the bacon, topped with a spoonful of mushroom onion mixture and a drizzle of tomato sauce.  Serve with the remaining mushroom onion mixture and tomato sauce on the side.  You can also add some salad on the side to increase the amount of vegetables

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A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the mushroom onion mixture and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4-5 days
  • Make the tomato sauce and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week
  • All you need to do on the night is cook the bacon (I think it is best hot and fresh from the pan) and assemble the rolls

A few tasty little twists and extras…

Your favourite meals never have to be static and set in stone.  Each time you make them you can try something a little different to suit your tastes that day (or the contents of your fridge).  You can also try to adapt them to suit other people you love who may have different requirements.  Here are a few of my variations including some vegetarian and vegan options:

  • For an extra luxurious version my husband likes to add a few slices of good quality black pudding.  Fry and drain these along with the bacon and pile into the rolls with the other ingredients
  • Never be afraid to test out new and unusual ingredients in old favourite recipes.  I had some sweet apple vinegar and added 1 tsp to the tomato sauce instead of the cider vinegar which was a lovely addition (apple goes beautifully with pork) – I realise sweet apple vinegar isn’t easy to get hold of but why not try replacing the cider vinegar with a tsp of apple sauce / pureed baked apple or something else fruity such as plum sauce, crushed raspberries, balsamic vinegar or a fruit syrup
  • For a vegetarian version, nothing quite replaces bacon, but you could swap it for eggs fried in a little bit of olive oil and / or a few slices of strong cheese such as smoked cheese or cheddar. You could also try vegetarian version of bacon such as Quorn bacon.  Also remember to replace the pork stock cubes in the mushrooms and tomato sauce with vegetable stock cubes
  • Similarly for a vegan version you can swap the pork stock cubes for vegan vegetable ones, and swap the bacon for sliced of smoked or cheddar-like vegan cheese, or something like tempeh or tofu rashers, marinade in a little soy sauce and fried in a drizzle of olive or vegetable oil
  • Our local farm shop does amazing bacon, including chilli and garlic bacon or rosemary and thyme bacon.  To fit with the rosemary and thyme bacon, one night I made the all in one tomato and mushroom mix below to replace the mushroom mix and tomato sauce in the recipe above.  this would also go nicely with normal plain or smoked bacon
  • For a low carb version, mix the bacon in with the mushroom mix above and serve drizzled with tomato sauce, or mix it in with the mushroom tomato mix below and serve with a salad.  If you want to eat it like a roll, but want to still make it lower carb either do open rolls (e.g. don’t put the top of the roll on, effectively halving the amount of bread) or serve sandwiched between two slices of grilled aubergine
  • The tomato sauce for these rolls is one of our favourites, and it goes nicely in a range of dishes e.g. brushed over and on the side of grilled meat, fish or vegetables, as a dip for vegetable sticks or any kebab, drizzled onto burgers or anywhere you might use tomato ketchup

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Rosemary and thyme mushroom and tomato mix and sauce

Cooking time: 5-10 minutes preparation

Dietary info: dairy-free (vegetarian / vegan if made with a vegetable stock cube and served as part of one of the vegetarian / vegan variations in the tasty little twists)

Serves: 2-4 as a replacement for the tomato sauce and mushroom mix in the recipe above

  • 1 red onion,  sliced
  • 300g mushrooms,  sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 pork stock cube
  • 1 tsp smoked garlic powder
  • 100ml water
  • 1 tsp cornflour mixed to a smooth liquid with 1 tbsp. of cold water
  1. Put all of the ingredients except for the cornflour into a non-stick saucepan, cover and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft
  2. Drain off the liquid into anther saucepan and reserve the remaining tomato, mushroom and onion mixture
  3. Add the cornflour to the liquid and bring to the boil and bubble, stirring continuously until the liquid has thickened so that it coats the back of the spoon like a gravy
  4. Serve the  tomato, mushroom and onion mixture in place of the mushroom mix in the recipe above and the thickened “gravy” in place of the tomato sauce

 

Tortillas three ways – pizza, quesadilla and bake

It’s always useful to have a few short cuts “cheats” up your sleeve for those extra busy days or just times when you want to minimise the time you spend cooking, but don’t want to compromise on taste.  Probably our favourite “cheat” ingredient is the tortilla.  These are cheap, readily available from most corner shops or supermarkets and can quickly be transformed into a variety of delicious dinners. Here I give three of our favourite ways to use tortillas: as a pizza base, as the outside of a quesadilla, or rolled up around a filling and baked.  All three recipes use exactly the same ingredients and are simply assembled and cooked in a slightly different way to make distinctly different dishes.  Not only are they so simple and easy to make, but the tortillas are low-fat and the fillings are packed with vegetables.  To be honest, you can use pretty much any filling that you like, and these can be fun to make with children as well (particularly the pizzas) as everyone can design their own topping.

Tortilla pizza (see the “tasty little twists” for how to put together the quesadilla or bake)

Cooking time: 15-20 minutes preparation, 10-15 minutes cooking

Dietary info: vegan

Serves: 2-3 (easily scaled up or down) – the sauce makes double quantities

  • 4 wholemeal tortillas
  • 1 aubergine, sliced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 peppers, any colour, sliced
  • 150g spinach (I used frozen whole leaf spinach)
  • 60-80g sliced or grated vegan cheese (you can replace this with any kind of cheese e.g. mozzarella, if you don’t want to make a vegan / dairy-free version, you can also experiement with different types of vegan cheese, I particularly like creamy cheese for the quesadillas)

Tomato sauce (makes a double quantity)

  • 600 g passata
  • 1 vegetable stock cube (check that this is dairy-free if you want to make this vegan / dairy-free)
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp smoked garlic powder (or normal garlic powder if you can’t find smoked garlic powder – I get mine from http://www.thespicery.com)
  • 1 tsp ground celery
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  1. Put the aubergine, onion and peppers on a non-stick baking tray in the oven at 160C fan for 15 about minutes, until they are softening
  2. Steam the spinach, for 5-10 minutes until cooked through (hot and wilted)
  3. Mix together all of the ingredients for the tomato sauce, except for the lemon juice, and heat in a saucepan or in a bowl in the microwave until the stock cube has fully dissolved (about 3-4 minutes) then stir in the lemon juice
  4. Put the tortillas on non-stick baking trays
  5. Spread 2 tbsp of the sauce on top of each tortilla, then sprinkle on a quarter of the roast vegetables and spinach, and top with a quarter of the cheese
  6. Put the tortillas in the oven at 160C fan for 10-15 minutes until the edges are crispy and the cheese has melted
  7. Serve with some extra tomato sauce on the side and a salad dressed with lemon juice

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the tomato sauce and keep in a sealed container for up to a week.  This is a really useful and versatile sauce which is why I have given the recipe for a double quantity: freeze half for a quick store cupboard dinner in the future, or use it for 2 different variations within the week
  • Chop the aubergine, onion and peppers and keep in a bag in the fridge for 2-3 days ready to roast.  You can even roast them ahead of time and keep them in a sealed container in the fridge for 2-3 days ready to sprinkle on your pizza / quesadilla / bake
  • All you need to do on the night is assemble the pizza / quesadilla / bake and pop it in the oven

Some tasty little twists and extras…

For the quesadillas or bake follow the pizza recipe up to step 3 then follow the assembly instructions below.

To assemble and serve the quesadillas:

  1. Spread 1-2 tbsp sauce over half of a tortilla, top with a quarter of the roast vegetables, spinach and top with a quarter of the cheese
  2. Fold the tortilla in half over the filling and put in a large non-stick frying pan (you can do this for two tortillas at a time).  When the bottom of the tortilla is starting to get brown and a bit crispy (about 1 minute) carefully turn the tortilla over to brown the other side (another minute)
  3. Once both sides are browned slide each tortilla out of the pan onto a piece of foil per tortilla.  the foil should be large enough to wrap around the tortilla
  4. Wrap the foil around the tortilla and put in the oven at 160C fan to heat through (and to let the cheese become lovely and melted) for 10 minutes
  5. Serve with some extra tomato sauce on the side and a salad dressed with lemon juice

To assemble and serve the bake:

  1. Spread 2 tbsp of the sauce on top of each tortilla, then put a quarter of the roast vegetables and spinach in a line across the tortilla slightly off centre, and top with a quarter of the cheese 
  2. Fold the edge of the tortilla nearest the filling over the filling and roll the tortilla up to  in a tube.  Place the rolled up tortillas into an ovenproof dish and top each with another tbsp of tomato sauce.
  3.  Bake in the oven at 160C fan for 20-25 minutes until the top is starting to brown and is crispy
  4. Serve with some extra tomato sauce on the side and a salad dressed with lemon juice

Variations on these tortilla recipes are a fall back for my husband and I whenever we want a super simple supper, so we have tried out a lot of topping variations over the years, usually dictated by what we happened to have in the fridge or cupboard at the time.  Experiment to find your personal favourites, but here are a few ideas that we have tried and enjoyed to get you started:

  • There are lots of different types of tortillas available – try some different ones (white, wholemeal, seeded, flavoured) to find out what you like best
  • Aubergine, red pepper, cooked chickpea and cheese, maybe with a sprinkle of a Moroccan spice blend such as ras el hanout (you can also use this instead of the seasoning in the tomato sauce) makes an unusural topping
  • Red pepper and sliced onion is super simple and quick, you can also add some canned sweetcorn for extra vegetables and sweetness or olives for some saltiness
  • Try a Florentine like pizza by doubling the amount of spinach, forming it into a wall around the outside of the pizza  (on top of the tomato sauce) and breaking an egg into the middle.  this can be done with no cheese or you can sprinkle on a little parmesan (dairy or  a vegan equivalent).  This might be more difficult to assemble as a quesadilla or bake as the egg might run out of the tortilla but I am sure you can do it if you’re very careful
  • One of my husband’s favourites is (unsurprisingly if you know him) bacon and cheese.  Cook 2-3 rashers of bacon for 4 tortillas and try out different types of cheese (vegan or dairy) – my husband likes blue cheese, camembert or brie.  As the cheese is one of the stars there you might want to add more cheese (about 80-120g for 4 tortillas)
  • Any of these combinations of fillings would also make nice pasta dish or bake – cook the pasta of your choice until it is al dente, then mix with enough tomato sauce to coat, stir in the filling ingredients and top with the cheese.  this can either be served straight away like this or put in an oven proof dish and baked at 160C fan for 10-15 minutes until the top is crispy and the cheese has melted

Beth’s tomato and ginger butterbean bowl with crispy salmon or ginger sweet potato tofu croquettes

Food carries a lot of capacity for nostalgia and love and often has strong connections to family: the food you grow up with, the food you make for each other, the occasions when you get together to eat.  For me, my family is central to my life.  We are very close and I speak to my immediate family (my parents and sister) almost every day.  When times are difficult they are always there to comfort and support me, and I don’t know what I’d do without them.  This recipe is close to my heart because it is something that my sister, Beth and I have made together since we were teenagers, particularly for our special “sister evenings”.  Originally it came from a Ken Hom recipe of shallow fried crispy salmon with a ginger and tomato sauce but over the years we have found that you don’t need to fill a pan with oil to get crispy salmon, the salmon will crisp perfectly well in its own fat, and we have varied the ingredients and proportions of the tomato sauce until we have got it just how we like it, which conveniently also happens to be very simple to make.  We have tried it with various accompaniments over the years, but I particularly like the mix of butterbeans and vegetables below.  It manages to be both light and hearty, healthy and filling, and in my opinion very tasty.  If you are vegetarian or vegan you can replace the salmon with ginger sweet potato and tofu croquettes.  These not only taste good but I love the sweet gingery smell that they fill the kitchen with as they cook, and their cheerful pinky orange colour.

Beth’s tomato and ginger butterbean bowl with crispy salmon

Cooking time: 25-30 minutes

Dietary info: dairy-free (vegan version in the tasty little twists)

Serves: 2

  • 2 fillets salmon, skinned and cut into bite sized pieces
  • About 20-25g wholemeal flour (enough to coat the salmon)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1-2 cans butterbeans (depending on how hungry you are), rinsed and drained
  • ½ a broccoli, cut into florets
  • 150g beansprouts
  • 1 aubergine, cut into chunks
  • Lemon juice to serve, optional

Ginger and tomato sauce

  • 6 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp ginger, finely chopped
  • 50ml water
  • 1-2 tbsp soy sauce, to taste
  1. Put the tomatoes, water, ginger and garlic in a saucepan and simmer, covered, until the tomatoes break down to form a sauce. Remove the lid and let the sauce bubble down until it is thick but still juicy. Season with the soy sauce
  2. Heat the butterbeans in a saucepan or the microwave for 3-4 minutes until heated through.
  3. Steam the aubergine until it is starting to soften (3-5 minutes) then put on a non-stick baking tray and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until it is crispy on the outside.  You can sprinkle with a pinch of salt and / or garlic powder for extra flavour.
  4. Steam the broccoli and beansprouts until tender (about 6-10 minutes for the broccoli, 3-5 for the beansprouts)
  5. Mix together the flour and salt and toss the salmon chunks in it until they are coated.
  6. Fry the salmon in a non stick frying pan over a medium heat for about 4-5 minutes per side until it is cooked through, with the outside brown and crispy.  there is no need to add any oil as the natural oil will come out so that the salmon fries in its own fat.  Drain the salmon onto kitchen paper.
  7. To serve, toss the beans with the vegetables, pour the sauce over them and top with the crispy salmon, with lemon juice to squeeze over everything if you want.

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the sauce and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week.
  • Chop the vegetables and keep in a bag in the fridge, ready to cook on the night.
  • On the night you just need to prepare and cook the salmon, steam the vegetables, and heat the beans and sauce.
  • If you are making the vegan version then make the ginger sweet potato tofu mix and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days then make into croquettes and bake on the night.  If you want a quicker meal, you can bake the croquettes 2-3 days in advance and just reheat in the oven on the night.

Some tasty little twists and extras…

This tomato and ginger sauce, and the way of cooking salmon, are two of the easiest and most versatile recipes / techniques I know:

  • The sauce and salmon or croquettes works well with any other beans, noodles, pasta, rice or other grains instead of the butterbeans
  • You can miss out the vegetables or replace them with any other combination of vegetables that you like, such as shredded cabbage, sugar snap peas, baby corn or pak choi
  • Try adding spices, such as ground chilli or ground ginger, to the flour to coat the salmon or add a spice mix such as curry powder or jerk seasoning and serve with lemon juice and beans or rice
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Crispy salmon with tomato and ginger sauce and black rice

For a vegetarian / vegan version of the tomato and ginger butterbean bowl, replace the salmon with the ginger sweet potato tofu croquettes below.

Ginger sweet potato tofu croquettes

Cooking time: 20 minutes preparation (including steaming the sweet potato), 30 minutes baking

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 2-3

  • 1 large sweet potato, scrubbed and cut into sliced (no need to peel)
  • 300g silken (soft) tofu
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated or finely chipped
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  1. Steam or boil the sweet potato until very soft (about 10-15 minutes)
  2. Mash the sweet potato with the other ingredients, either by hand or in a food processor
  3. Spoon tablespoons of the mixture onto a nonstick baking tray (I use a nonstick silicon sheet to line the baking tray) and shape into small oblong lozenges with your hands.  This is easiest if the mixture has cooled and been chilled first as it becomes quite firm
  4. Bake at 180C fan for 30 minutes, turning half way through, until the outside is crispy and beginning to brown

Moroccan inspired ginger sweet potato and coconut pie

I can be quite an indecisive person.  This isn’t because I don’t know what I like, but because I like so many things I find it difficult narrowing it down, and am very happy with a wide range of things.  One weekend we knew that we wanted to cook some fish, but not how we wanted to cook it.  I had a think and curled up on the sofa with some of my old and trusty cook books to look for some inspiration.  After flicking through about 5 or 6 books the ideas that appealed to me most were either a Thai inspired coconut soup, fish pie or Moroccan spiced grilled fish with sweet potato mash. My husband was equally content with all three so I decided to combine the ideas into one dish.  I love sweet potato, not only for the taste but also for the unfailingly cheerful colour, so that element was definitely staying, as was the Moroccan spice as ras el hanout is a wonderfully complex and balanced spice mix.  I kept the coconut from the Thai soup as I though its sweet creaminess would work well with the sweet potato and, as anyone who has read many of my blog posts will know, I love things that can just be baked in the oven (as they are such low effort) and my husband loves pies so I put everything together in the shape of a mash topped pie.  I never miss an opportunity to shove a few extra vegetables into a dish so I picked a few that I thought would soak up the sauce nicely and added them to the filling and voila, there was my indecisive mishmash of a dish which actually turned out to be pretty tasty!

Moroccan inspired ginger sweet potato and coconut pie

Cooking time: 20 minutes preparation, 15-25 minutes baking in the oven

Dietary info: diary-free, gluten-free, pescatarian (vegan option available in “tasty little twists”)

Serves: 3-4

Filling:

  • 400g fish cut into chunks, I use fish pie mix
  • 400ml coconut milk (I usually use a coconut drink milk alternative for a lighter dish than coconut milk in a can)
  • 1 aubergine, cut into cubes
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • ½ a broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 fish stock cube, crumbled (check it is dairy-free /gluten-free if you want to make this dish dairy-free / gluten-free)
  • 1 ½ – 2 tsp ras el hanout seasoning
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 ½ tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 50ml water
  • 1 tsp cornflour

Topping:

  • 1 sweet potato, scrubbed and chopped into chunks (no need to peel unless you like your mash super smooth)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp coconut milk (again, I usually use a coconut drink milk alternative)
  • 1-2 tsp freshly grated ginger (depending on how strong you like the ginger taste)
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  1. Put the onion in a saucepan with the water and cook, covered for 2 minutes.  Add the aubergine and cook for a further 2 minutes then add the broccoli and cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in the all of the remaining filling ingredients, and simmer until the fish is opaque and flakes easily (about 5-10 minutes).
  3. Boil the sweet potatoes in plenty of water until they are soft (about 10-15 minutes) then drain. Add all of the other mash ingredients and either blend in a food processor or mash by hand until you have a smooth mash (don’t worry if there are some bits of potato skin as this can add an interesting texture.  If you want a super smooth mash then peel the potatoes but this does get rid of some of the nutrients and fibre).
  4. Spoon the filling solids into an ovenproof dish using a slotted spoon, reserving the liquid, and cover with the mash. I like to score the top of the mash with a fork to make ridges as these go crisper than a smooth top.
  5. Bake the pie for 15-25 minutes until the top is crispy.
  6. Simmer the reserved liquid from the filling until it thickens enough to lightly coat a spoon to make a kind of coconut gravy to serve on the side of the pie.  This pie is particularly nice served with a fresh crispy salad or steamed vegetables dressed with the coconut gravy and a squeeze of lemon.

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the sweet potato mash up to 5 days ahead and keep in a sealed container in the fridge.
  • I like to eat fish as fresh as possible (within a day or two), but you can prepare the rest of the filling up to 5 days ahead and keep in a sealed container in the fridge then just cook from step 2 ahead on the day or a day ahead.  If cooking a day ahead then you can assemble the whole pie and keep, covered in the fridge, then just bake on the night.

Some tasty little twists…

Make a vegan version of this pie:

  • Replace the fish stock cube with a vegetable one (make sure it is vegan stock cube if you want the make the dish vegan).
  • Replace the fish with 250g oyster mushrooms and/or 400g firm tofu, drained and patted dry with kitchen paper.
  • Cook as above, adding the mushrooms / tofu when you would add the fish

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Make this a stew with ginger wedges and gravy:

  • Cook the filling (fish or vegan version) and coconut gravy as above.
  • Slice the sweet potato into wedges and steam or boil for 4-5 minutes until just softening.
  • Put 1 tbsp of vegetable or coconut oil on an ovenproof tray and put in the oven at 160C fan for 4-5 minutes until it is hot.
  • Toss the wedges in 1/2 tsp salt and 2 tsp ground ginger then mix into the oil on the baking tray and put them into the oven for 15-20 minutes until they are crispy.

If you want to skip the baking time, just heat through the mash and serve on the side of the fish or vegan stew with the coconut gravy to pour over everything.

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Coconut and cauliflower soup

It might be because in my family my grandma’s chicken soup is regarded as a cure-all, but I tend to associate soups with healing. I’ve been feeling a bit tired and run down for the last few weeks and I find that a nice bowl of nourishing hot soup really hits the spot after a long day at work. Many soups are also very simple to make which is perfect when you are low on energy. Cauliflower makes a wonderfully creamy dairy free base for soup and here I have combined it with a fusion of flavours that remind me of a fantastic trip we were lucky enough to go on a few years ago to Japan and Thailand, which adds an extra element of happy nostalgia for me. I have included soy and miso for Japan alongside coconut, lime and lemongrass for Thailand, set against the hearty background of cauliflower and lentils to perk you up when you’re feeling drained.

Coconut and cauliflower soup

Cooking time: 10 minutes preparation, 10-15 minutes cooking (not including cooking the lentils)

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 2-3

  • 1 cauliflower, cut into bite sized chunks
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, finely chopped
  • 1 heaped tsp ground ginger or fresh grated ginger
  • ~400 g cooked lentils (either cook 200g dried lentils in advance or buy a packet of ready cooked), I like to use larger ones that keep their shape like green lentils
  • 400ml coconut milk (I often use coconut drink milk equivalent as a light alternative to cans of coconut milk)
  • 550ml water
  • 2 tbsp miso paste
  • Soy sauce and lime juice to season (~2 tbsp of each)
  1. Cook the cauliflower, onion, lemongrass and ginger in the water in a saucepan until soft (about 10 minutes).
  2. Put half in the cauliflower, onion and water mix in a blender along with half the lentils and all the miso paste and blend to a smooth puree then return to the pan along with the un-blended lentils.  If you don’t have a blender, remove half the solids and mash by hand before returning them to the pan.
  3. Heat the soup through, taste and season with the soy and lime before serving.

To prep ahead:

  • If you’re using dried lentils, you can cook these according to packet instructions the day before you want to make the soup, drain them and keep them in a sealed container in the fridge.  I find this more time efficient as pulses usually need very little looking after while cooking but often need 30-60 minutes to soften
  • Make the soup, except for adding the soy and lime seasoning, and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 6 days.
  • On the night just heat through and season with the soy and lime.

Some tasty little twists…

The creamy cauliflower base of this soup is highly adaptable so feel free to play with the seasonings and extras:

  • Swap the lentils for beans such as haricot beans, pinto beans or cannellini beans.
  • If you’re not a fan of pulses, swap the lentils for small cubes of firm tofu.
  • For a vegetarian (but not vegan version) you could add wedges of boiled egg, or use this to replace the lentils (though don’t puree the egg with the cauliflower, just add the wedges when you would add the un-blended lentils)
  • For a meat version, replace the lentils with cooked shredded chicken (as with the egg, don’t puree the chicken, add it when you would add the un-blended lentils.
  • Replace the miso with 1/2-1 vegetable stock cube (check it is vegan if you want to make this dairy-free/vegan) and a generous tablespoon of red or green Thai curry paste for a spicier soup. If you are not making a vegetarian / vegan soup then you can also swap the soy sauce for fish sauce.
  • Try other variations on a curry soup by replacing the lemongrass and miso paste with 1/2-1 vegetable stock cube (depending on how salty you like it) and 1-2 tbsp (depending on the strength) curry paste or powder of your choice.  There is a huge variety of good quality blends available so experiment to find your favourite one.  You can also swap the lime for lemon for more variation.
  • Garnish the soup with chopped fresh coriander and / or extra freshly grated ginger for more of a zing.
  • Serve with naan breads to make this a more filling meal (though this will not be gluten-free unless you use gluten-free naan breads).

Baked fish (or tomato) with aubergine and fava bean mash

I have written before about how much I love visiting my friend Iphigenia in Greece. My sister recently booked a holiday to Greece which made me long to go back there. As I don’t have an opportunity to travel there soon I had to content myself with cooking some Greek inspired food.  From the food I’ve had in Greece, I love the focus on unpretentious cooking that showcases the fresh ingredients to their best advantage and distinctive flavours.  This dish was inspired by several of the culinary highlights we enjoyed last year. As we stay near the sea when we go to Greece the fish is always wonderful, usually simply grilled with a little seasoning. We also loved the fava bean puree and aubergine puree that we usually had as a starter so I decided to use these as a kind of mash to serve alongside the fish.  Greek tomatoes are hard to beat so I have added a vegan alternative to the fish of baked stuffed tomatoes. I have then used popular Greek seasonings of oregano, pepper and garlic throughout the whole dish to tie everything together.

Baked fish with aubergine and fava bean mash

Cooking time: 20 minutes preparation, 10-15 minutes baking

Dietary info: dairy-free, gluten-free

Serves: 2

  • 2 haddock loin portions or sea bass fillets
  • Salad to serve, optional (see step 7)
  • Lemon juice to serve, optional

Sauce for fish

  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • A pinch of sugar or sweetener
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 heaped tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried oregano

Aubergine and fava bean mash

  • 1x400g can fava beans (replace with butter beans or haricot beans if you can’t get fava beans)
  • 1 aubergine
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  1. Cut the ends off the aubergine, put it on a baking tray or into an ovenproof dish and bake in the oven at 180C fan for about 15 minutes, or until it is soft but not charred.
  2. Mix together all the ingredients for the sauce for the fish.
  3. Put the fish into an ovenproof dish and rub the sauce into it.
  4. Bake the fish in the oven at 160C fan for 10-15 minutes until it is opaque all the way through and flakes easily.
  5. Finely chop the aubergine then blend it with the fava beans and all the other mash ingredients to a coarse mash. This is very easy to do in a food processor but you can also do it by hand with a potato masher if you don’t have a food processor.
  6. Heat the mash through.  You can do this a variety of ways:
    1. Put it into a non-stick saucepan and heat gently, stirring until heated through; or
    2. Put it in a covered, microwave safe bowl and heat for 2-3 minutes on high power in a microwave; or
    3. Put it into the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, this method will give it a nice crispy top.
  7. Serve the fish with the mash and a salad of romaine lettuce, sliced cucumber and chopped mint dressed with lemon juice. You can also serve with the baked tomatoes and tomato sauce below or replace the fish with the baked tomatoes for a vegan version.

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A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the sauce for the fish and keep for up to a week in a sealed container in the fridge.
  • Make the mash and keep for up to 4 days in a sealed container in the fridge and reheat on the night.
  • If you are making the tomatoes (below) these can be prepared about 2-3 days ahead and kept, covered in the fridge and bake on the night.
  • If you are making the tomato sauce (below) this can be kept for up to 5 days in a sealed container in the fridge then reheat on the night.

Some tasty little twists and extras:

These baked tomatoes make a nice vegan alternative to the fish, or a good side dish, as well as this extra tomato sauce as my husband’s motto is there can never be too much sauce.

Baked stuffed tomatoes

Cooking time: 10 minutes preparation (including the mash), 15-20 minutes baking

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 1-2 as a main (depending on how much bread you serve it with), 2 as a side dish

  • 2 beef tomatoes or 6 normal tomatoes
  • 1 quantity aubergine and fava bean mash (see above)
  1. Slice the top off the tomatoes and spoon out as much of the pulp as you can, leaving enough of the wall to keep its shape.  Reserve the pulp to make the tomato sauce below.
  2. Stuff the tomatoes with the mash and replace the top of the tomato like a lid.
  3. Place the stuffed tomatoes into an ovenproof dish and bake at 160C fan for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Serve with crusty bread and a salad as a main, or as a side dish to the fish above.

Mint and oregano tomato sauce

Cooking time: <5 minutes preparation, 5-10 minutes cooking

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 1-2 as a side sauce

  • The pulp from the stuffed tomatoes (above), finely chopped.  If you aren’t making the stuffed tomatoes replace this with 1 beef tomato or 3 normal tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 50ml water
  1. Put all of the ingredients in a saucepan and heat on a medium heat, covered, until the tomato starts to break down.  You can help break up the tomato by stirring.
  2. Remove the lid of the pan and let the sauce bubble until it doesn’t taste watery but is still juicy.
  3. Serve with the baked tomatoes and/or fish above.

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Vegetable sushi rolls with lemon wasabi sauce

Sushi has really taken off in the UK, transforming from a “that sounds a bit odd” kind of food to a pretty standard item in the national cuisine.  There are 3 sushi restaurants that are almost knocking shoulders a short walk from where we live, and it is a common site in any supermarket food-to-go section.  However, I don’t know nearly  many people who make sushi rolls at home as who eat them out.  They can be a little intimidating and fiddly to make at first, but once you get the hang of it they become pretty simple (as long as you aren’t going for the perfectly even shop bought look) and it gives you a glow of achievement when you can serve up a platter of homemade sushi rolls.  The thing that can be quite off-putting is trying to get the sashimi grade fish that is required to make proper raw fish sushi, but luckily there are a lot of other options for fillings that don’t involve any raw fish at all.  They may not all be particularly traditional but it doesn’t stop them tasting good and being a lot more home cooking friendly.  Here I wanted to make something light, tangy and vegetarian to celebrate all the plants bursting back into life as a Spring progresses so went for two vegetable options: oyster mushrooms and sugar snaps or roast pepper and aubergine strips, both soaked in a zingy dressing of wasabi, lemon and black pepper.

Note: you will need a sushi mat to make these rolls, but these can easily be bought online, from some supermarkets or cooking shops for less than £5, which is likely to be less than a box of sushi, and take up barely any storage room in your kitchen.  If you don’t want to get a sushi mat then look at the tasty little twists section for ideas that don’t involve using one.

Vegetable sushi rolls with lemon wasabi sauce

Cooking time: 25 minutes preparation, 15-20 minutes assembly (depending on how practiced you are)

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 2-3

  • 75 g sushi rice
  • 75 g quick cook farro
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt, optional
  • 3-4 sheets nori
  • 1 quantity lemon wasabi sauce (see the “tasty little extras”)
  • Soy sauce to serve, optional

Filling

  • 180-200g oyster mushrooms, torn into strips
  • 100g sugar snap peas, cut in half lengthways
  • 2 peppers, any colour, thinly sliced
  • 1 aubergine, sliced lengthways with slices about 3-4mm thick
  1. Put the rice and farro in a saucepan, rinse it a few times and then cook it for 10-15minutes with just enough water to cover it at the start. Check it every 5 minutes to make sure it hasn’t run out of water.  At the end the water should have evaporated so that it is sticky and you don’t have to drain it but it hasn’t started to stick or burn on the bottom.  I find this can be easier to do in the microwave, in a large microwave safe bowl with the rice just covered in water.  Microwave on full power, checking the water level and stirring every 5 minutes until it is done (10-15 minutes).  If using a microwave it can be sensible to put the bowl on a plate as it does occasionally boil over.
  2. Stir the vinegar into the rice, and the salt if you want to add salt.
  3. Roast the aubergine and pepper slices on a baking tray at 180C fan for 20-25 minutes until soft and starting to darken at the edges, then slice the aubergine into strips.
  4. Put the mushrooms and sugar snaps in a saucepan with 2 tbsp. of the lemon wasabi sauce and cook, covered for 4 minutes, stirring halfway through to stop them sticking. Remove the lid and continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated
  5. To assemble the sushi (see pictures below):
    1. Wrap a sushi mat in clingfilm (this helps when cleaning it later as you don’t have to try to pick out little squashed bits of sushi rice from between the sticks) and lay a whole or half piece of nori on top of the sushi mat.
    2. Cover the nori in a thin layer of the rice (which should be quite sticky – you can smooth it out with the back of a spoon), leaving a border of about 1-1.5cm gap at the bottom of the nori sheet and 0.5cm gap the rest of the way round.
    3. Lay a thin line of the oyster mushroom and sugar snap peas or the aubergine and pepper slices (or mix it up and use a mix of all the vegetables, or one of the other fillings suggested in the tasty little twists) along the bottom edge of the rice. Drizzle with a generous tsp of lemon wasabi sauce.
    4. Fold the bottom edge of the nori over the vegetables, holding the filling in place with your middle fingers while you use your thumbs and first fingers to fold over the nori, and then use the sushi mat to help roll the nori and rice up into a tight roll.  This is done using a kind of upwards and forwards motion, using your thumbs, first fingers, middle fingers to guide the roll.
    5. When it is all rolled up use the sushi mat to squeeze the roll so that it is tightly packed together.
    6. Put the sushi roll onto a chopping board and cut into 8 pieces with a sharp knife.
  6. Serve with the remaining lemon wasabi sauce and soy sauce (optional) for dipping.

Tips:

  • If you are having problems with the sushi rice sticking to your fingers, then you can wear food-safe thin plastic gloves rubbed with a little vegetable oil.
  • If you want to see someone rolling sushi then there are some good videos on YouTube – I thought that this one was nice and clear

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the lemon wasabi sauce and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week.
  • Cook the rice and farro up to 1 day ahead.  However, don’t prepare the rice any further ahead than this and make sure that it is cooled and refrigerated quickly after cooking (within 1 hour).  Then reheat the rice on the night you eat it until it is steaming hot all the way through.  
    • This is because uncooked rice can contain spores of Bacillus cereus and these spores can survive when rice is cooked. If rice is then left standing at room temperature, the spores can grow into bacteria which can multiply and cause food poisoning. The longer cooked rice is left at room temperature, the more likely it is that the bacteria or toxins could make the rice unsafe to eat. The best way to avoid this is eat the rice on the day it is cooked, but if you can’t do this then eat it within one day, make sure it is thoroughly reheated before eating and do not reheat more than once.
  • Prepare and cook the vegetable fillings and keep them in sealed containers or bags in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Some tasty little twists and extras…

Here is the recipe for the lemon wasabi sauce and some ideas for variation on the sushi theme, or different ways you can serve the ingredients if you don’t want to make sushi rolls.

Lemon wasabi sauce

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 2-3 as part of the recipe above

  • 2 tsp wasabi paste
  • 50ml water
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Pinch of sugar or sweetener like stevia
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  1. Mix the wasabi paste gradually with water to make a smooth liquid.
  2. Stir in the lemon juice, sugar or sweetener, soy sauce and black pepper.
  3. Put the cornflour in a small saucepan and gradually add about half of the wasabi / lemon juice sauce, stirring to prevent lumps forming.
  4. Put the saucepan containing the cornflour / sauce mix over a gentle heat and keep stirring until it thickens so that it thickly coats a spoon.
  5. Remove the sauce from the heat and gradually stir in the rest of the wasabi / lemon juice sauce.

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There are plenty of other fillings for sushi rolls that you can try that also don’t involve getting hold of sushi grade raw fish:

  • Batons of raw cucumber or avocado are very common vegetable maki fillings, but pretty mush any vegetable can be tasty in sushi so try out your favourite vegetables to find the perfect combination for you e.g. grated carrot, grated beetroot, pickled ginger, raw peppers, roast squash, rocket, pea shoots etc.
  • If you want to try some non-vegetarian versions then smoked salmon, or smoked salmon and avocado like the popular hand roll, can be a good option, as can any other cooked smoked fish.
  • I originally made this lemon wasabi sauce to make sushi with a filling of smoked kippers and hot smoked salmon, both baked in the oven then flaked and mixed with some shredded lettuce and finely sliced cucumber for crunch.
  • Breaded chicken or crispy prawns are also nice non-vegetarian options, and particular favourites of my husband.

If you don’t have time, equipment, or just don’t feel in the mood, for sushi assembly, then here are some other ideas to try:

  • Hand rolls are easier to put together than sushi rolls and would work well with any of the filling combinations mentioned in this post. See my salmon and ginger hand roll recipe for instructions on how to make a hand roll.
  • For an almost no assembly option just top the rice with the toppings of your choice, drizzle with the sauce and top with some shredded nori or other seaweed sprinkles for a mixed grain/rice salad.  
    • If you take this option you are not limited by needing the stickiness of the sushi rice so you can experiment with any of your favourite grains e.g. quinoa, wild rice, risotto rice, brown rice, pearl barley, buckwheat, or even a short pasta like orzo, beans or lentils.

Stuffed peppers with BBQ sauce

It is a stereotype that the British always talk about the weather, but it is hard to deny that the subject does crop up pretty regularly in everyday conversation. Now we are getting more sunshine and less rain as Spring progresses I have heard a lot of people discussing whether the weather might be good enough for a BBQ at the weekend.  Despite some suitably dry and warm weekend weather, I haven’t actually got round to having a BBQ yet this year, but all the talk of them did make me want BBQ sauce.  However, I went for the much safer option of using it on baked rather than BBQ food. There are lots of variations of BBQ sauce, but most tend to be thick, full of robust flavours and with a delightful balance between sweet, salty and tangy which makes them very moreish. They are usually rather high in sugars, but in this version I reduced this down to 1/2 tsp or less and compensated with spices and tangy vinegar instead.  Here the sauce is used to flavour a kidney bean mixture which I have stuffed into pepper halves and is also a lovely accompaniment to the finished dish. This stuffing can also be used in a variety of other vegetables such as marrow or squash, or even in meat or fish dishes.  The sauce is great for glazing pretty much any grilled or BBQ meat, fish and vegetables as well, so it is a good one to have handy just in case you get some good BBQ weather.

Stuffed peppers with BBQ sauce

Cooking time: 15 minutes preparation, 30 minutes baking on the night (but you don’t need to supervise this)

Dietary info: dairy-free (vegan if you use tamarind rather than Worcester sauce), you can make it gluten-free by replacing the malt vinegar with cider vinegar and the Worcester sauce with a gluten-free tamarind paste

Serves: 3

  • 3 peppers, any colour, washed, halved and de-seeded

Stuffing

  • 1x235g can kidney beans, drained
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 courgette, finely diced
  • 1 tsp sugar or sweetener such as stevia
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 50ml water

BBQ sauce

  • 500g passata
  • 1 tbsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp tabasco sauce
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste or powder, or 1 ½ tbsp Worcester sauce (which is not vegetarian)
  • ½ tsp sugar or sweetener such as stevia
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tbsp malt vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Put the onion in a saucepan with enough water to stop them sticking, cover and cook over a medium heat until they are until softening, about 5 minutes, then add the courgettes and continue to cook for another 5 minutes until cooked through.
  2. Put all of the BBQ sauce ingredients in a saucepan and heat, stirring until combined. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 1-2 minutes. Alternatively, put in a microwave safe bowl, covered and cook for 3 minutes, stirring half way through.
  3. Blend all of the stuffing ingredients, except for the onion and courgette, and 6 tbsp of the BBQ sauce to a rough paste. This is most easily done in a blender but if you don’t have one, mash by hand until the beans are roughly crushed and the seasoning is incorporated.
  4. Stir the onions and courgettes into the rest of the stuffing mixture.
  5. Place the pepper halves in an ovenproof dish and fill each with stuffing.  The stuffing holds its shape well so you can be quite generous filling the peppers. If you have a lot of stuffing left over see the “tasty twists” sections for ideas to use it up.
  6. Put the peppers in the oven at 160C and bake for about 30 minutes until the peppers are starting to soften and the top of the stuffing is getting a bit crispy. Serve with the rest of the BBQ sauce and a salad.

A few tips to prep ahead: 

  • Make the BBQ sauce and keep it in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week.
  • Make the stuffing and keep it in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week.
  • You can even stuff the peppers and keep them in an ovenproof dish in the fridge, covered, for up to 4-5 days if you have room in your fridge.

Some tasty little twists…

  • Use the stuffing to fill marrow or squash, or top large mushrooms. For harder vegetables such as the marrow and squash you may need to bake them, wrapped in foil for 20-30 minutes before stuffing them to allow them to soften.
  • This also makes a good stuffing for squid tubes. This quantity of stuffing fills about 6 large squid tubes.
    • Clean the squid tubes, put them on an ovenproof tray and fill with stuffing.
    • Brush the outside of the squid tubes with extra BBQ sauce and put the squid under a medium grill for 4-8 minutes per side, until the squid is cooked through (it should be opaque all the way through), the stuffing is warm and the surface of the squid has started to brown. Turn the squid carefully to avoid the stuffing falling out!
  • Extra stuffing makes nice bean patties (or you can just use it all to make patties if you prefer them to stuffed peppers / other vegetables / squid).
    • Put tbsp of the stuffing mixture on a non-stick baking tray (I like to use a non-stick silicon baking sheet on a tray as it stops the patties sticking). If you don’t have a non-stick tray, use lightly oiled baking parchment.
    • Bake at 160C for 20-30 minutes. The patties should have darkened on the outside and gone crispy but not be too dry on the inside.
  • Bump up the vegetable content of the stuffing by adding 250g of spaghetti squash or other winter squash (e.g. butternut, queen). Steam the squash and mash / blend it with the beans and seasonings (step 3 above).
  • The BBQ sauce makes and nice glaze for meat or vegetables: brush the sauce over sliced vegetables, fish or meat (e.g. steak, fish fillet, chicken pieces) then bake, grill or BBQ until cooked through, turning halfway through. Kebab work very well like this: thread chunks vegetable (e.g. courgette, peppers or aubergine make good kebab), pieces of meat, fish or seafood (prawns work well), brush with sauce and cook under the grill (probably about 3-6 minutes per side).