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Introduction
You do not need to be an accomplished chef to attempt to construct this dish. In fact, you do not need to know anything about cooking at all. It would probably be better if you were a simple bricklayer. Just follow the instructions, stay true to your quest, and you shall be rewarded with the finest lasagne in all the land. Good luck.
Ingredients
6 sheets fresh lasagne
1 aubergine
1 bag spinach
300g asparagus
1 large red onion
100g sun-dried tomatoes
300g mozzarella
200g mexicana cheese, or substitute cheddar with chilli flakes
1 large jar white lasagne sauce (700g)
1 bag fresh basil
1 bag fresh coriander
3 cloves garlic
soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper

Tools
ovenproof rectangular dish – 12″ x 8″ x 2″ deep
a second dish of similar size for holding hot water
large non-stick frying pan
small shallow pan
plastic potato masher
garlic press
steamer, grill or microwave for softening asparagus
colander
spatula
kettle
knife and chopping board

Preparation
These can be done simultaneously depending on your competence and number of helpers. When each bit is done you can simply set it to one side until needed. If you are really motoring this can all be done in 30 minutes. Give yourself 40 and enjoy a nice glass of wine while you do it.

1. Press the garlic into a small shallow pan. Chop the onions and sun-dried tomatoes and add to the pan. Add a bit of olive oil if your tomatoes are not already drenched in it and fry on a low heat until the onions are soft but not brown.

2. Heat a large non-stick frying pan on a high heat. Slice the aubergine into half-centimetre slices and add to the pan in a single layer. Douse with soy sauce and after a few minutes press the aubergine using a plastic potato masher, being careful to hold the pan steady. You should be looking to gently crush the aubergine so that it gives up its moisture and starts to fry in its own juices. Flip the aubergine slices as necessary and fry until browned on both sides. Continue until all slices are done.

3. Steam the asparagus for 5 minutes to soften it up. Alternatively, put under a grill for 10 minutes. As a last resort, microwave for 3 minutes. If you have bought fine asparagus then this step is not necessary.

4. Wash the spinach and place in a colander. Pluck the leaves from the basil and mix with the spinach. Pour over a litre of hot water from the kettle and mix gently with a spatula so that all of the spinach wilts.

5. Slice the mozzarella and mexicana – the mexicana needs to have enough area make a single layer in your dish and the mozzarella, two. You might find the mozzarella doesn’t look enough – don’t worry, you can leave gaps and it will melt.

6. Roughly chop the coriander.

7. Fill the second shallow rectangular pan or dish with hot water from the kettle, and dunk your fresh lasagne sheets in there to make them malleable.

8. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Construction
This is from the bottom up. At each stage you should be looking to minimise the amount of air in the dish by packing the ingredients tightly together. After each layer of lasagne you can even press down evenly across the whole dish to squish everything together. Shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.

1/4 jar of white sauce – spread evenly
2 sheets of fresh lasagne side-by-side but overlapping
spinach and basil
1/2 of the mozzarella
generous black pepper
1/4 jar of white sauce – spread evenly
2 sheets of fresh lasagne side-by-side but overlapping
tomatoes, garlic and onion
coriander
aubergine – lay slices flat, try to fill the available space
other 1/2 of the mozzarella
generous black pepper
1/4 jar of white sauce – spread evenly
2 sheets of fresh lasagne side-by-side but overlapping
asparagus
1/4 jar of white sauce – spread evenly
mexicana cheese

If you have any ingredients left at this stage, you have failed. Go back to “Introduction”.

Cooking
Put it in the oven for 40 mins at 180C. If you like the top layer a bit browner and crispier, turn it up to 200C with 10 minutes to go.

Serving suggestion
Trust me, you do not need chips. A nice green leaf salad with a simple balsamic and olive oil dressing, and maybe a halved tomato or two should be ample.

Variations
Try adding any of the following:

  • pan-fried courgettes or peppers
  • broccoli
  • black olives
  • sliced artichokes in oil
  • stir-fried Mexican chicken (caution: may not be strictly vegetarian)
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I discovered this recipe from Masterchef: the Best of British Cooking a few weeks ago and it has quickly become a new favourite. Although it says it serves four people I always have leftovers which are great reheated in the oven or microwave the next day. I typically use more garlic than is called for here and substitute black pepper for white. I haven’t managed to take a picture of it yet since I’ve always made it for guests and didn’t want them to wait while I faffed with photography.


Dauphinoise Potatoes

Serves 4.

3 cloves garlic
1 tsbp sea salt flakes
300 ml (1/2 pint) double cream
300 ml (1/2 pint) milk
freshly ground white pepper
1 kg (2 1/2 lbs) potatoes, peeled and finely sliced
butter, for greasing
50g (2 oz) grated Parmesan

1. Crush the garlic into a paste with the salt. In a large pan, combine the garlic paste, cream, milk and white pepper.

2. Add the sliced potatoes, turning into the cream mixture to ensure all the slices are evenly coated. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the mixture has thickened.

3. Butter a ovenproof dish (9×13 or bigger). Gently pour the potatoes into the dish and level the top. Sprinkle over the grated Parmesan and place in a preheated oven at 150°C (300°F) for about 1 hour, until the top is nicely golden.

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Delicious Big Bowl – Quinoa

I’m moving out of my flat in a few weeks and I’ve been trying to use up some of my many opened bags of grains in the cupboard. I have paella rice, risotto rice, wild rice, basmati rice, long grain brown rice, buckwheat groats, quinoa, millet and bulghur. I made kasha for breakfast the other day and today I decided it was a day for quinoa so I had a quick search on 101cookbooks.com for quinoa. I have previously made Heidi’s Lemon Scented Quinoa Salad and it was fab so I had high hopes for the Delicious Big Bowl – Quinoa. And let me say, it did not disappoint.

I substituted some green beans and a courgette for the asparagus, toasted some pine nuts and for the dressing I used lemon juice, parmesan and freshly ground pepper. I wouldn’t normally think to put potatoes with quinoa, but the textures and flavours in this recipe combined wonderfully. I’ve just eaten a big bowl for supper and am looking forward to eating the rest for tomorrow’s lunch. It was one of those meals where I constantly thought” wow how good is this”. Thanks Heidi for another great recipe. You’ve really perked up my day.

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Mustard-crusted Tofu with Kale and Sweet Potato

Mustard-Crusted Tofu with Kale and Sweet Potato

I came across this Bon Appetit recipe in my weekly Epicurious Recipe Flash a few weeks ago. I’m always looking for new tofu recipes and I had some wholegrain mustard in the fridge that I needed to use up so I thought I’d give it a try. I made sure to dry the tofu well as recommended by lots of the reviews on the Epicurious site to make sure the mustard would stick. Some of the mustard seeds did fall off, but I just poured the crispy seeds from the pan on top at the end and they were great. I thought this recipe would have a strong mustardy taste, but there was actually very little mustard flavour in the end. I thought the lime juice went really nicely with the kale but next time I would put the kale in nearer the end. By the time the sweet potato was cooked the kale was overdone. The recipe says to grill the tofu for 2 minutes on each side but I found that to get a nice crust on it took at least 5 minutes a side. Although the recipe says it makes four servings, I only had enough kale and sweet potato for two servings using their amounts.

In short, interesting flavours and good way to eat kale, a source of calcium, iron and lots of other minerals.

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Broccoli, sultana and chilli penneI found this recipe in the August 2007 issue of delicious magazine. Always in search of my creative and healthy ways to eat pasta, I was intrigued by this low-fat and low-salt recipe. Like a few other recipes I’ve seen recently, it uses chilli and lemon to add fat-free flavour. I went for the meaty variation and added some bacon as extra protein (and fat unfortunately). I used multi grain bread instead of ciabatta for the crumbs because I had some that needed using up. I had lots of extra Parmesan crumbs, which kept I kept in a sealed container. When I made this recipe for a second time the next week (for a different crowd of course!), I used up the leftover Parmesan crumbs, but they would also go well on a salad on top of other pasta dishes.


Broccoli, Sultana and Chilli Penne with Parmesan Crumbs

Serves 4.
Ready in 20 minutes.

350g penne
50g ciabatta bread, roughly torn
2 tbsp olive oil
20g vegetarian Parmesan, finely grated
1 small onion, finely chopped
250g tendersterm broccoli, cut into bite-size chunks
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 large red chilli, deseeded and chopped
25g sultanas
2 tbsp chopped fresh curly parsley
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

1. Cook the penne according to the packet instructions, until al dente.

2. Meanwhile, preheat the grill to medium and line the grill pan with foil. Mix the torn bread with half the oil in a bowl and season with black pepper. Spread out on the grill pan and grill for 2-3 minutes, turning frequently, until crisp and golden. Cool slightly, transfer to a blender and whizz to coarse crumbs. Stir in the Parmesan.

3. Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, until softened. Add the broccoli, garlic, chilli and sultanas, until the broccoli is tender – add a splash of water to prevent it catching.

4. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the parsley and lemon zest and juice. Season, toss, then divide between 4 bowls. Top with the toasted Parmesan crumbs to serve.

Per serving: 457 kcals, 9.8 fat (2.2g saturated), 17.2 protein, 80.1g carbs, 8.9 sugar, 0.3g salt

Variation: For a meaty version, fry some chopped bacon or chorizo along with the onion.

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I found this recipe in a delicious magazine (July 2007) that my friend Anika gave me when she moved away. I was reading the magazine in bed one night and oohhing and ahhing over lots of great looking recipes, but so far have only made this one. I even made it twice in one week.. partly because the first time I only made half a batch and had chicory leftover, but mostly because it was good!

The chicory used in the recipe is not the kind that has blue flowers and grows along roadsides that I remember from my childhood, but what I more commonly know as endive, or Belgian endive. According to Wikipedia, “Endive (Cichorium endivia) is a variation of the winter leaf vegetable chicory which can be cooked or used in salads, created by growing chicory (or certain similar breeds) until its foliage sprouts, then cutting off the leaves and placing the still-living stem and root in a dark place. They grow a second bud, but without the sunlight it is white and lacks the bitterness of the normal chicory bud.”

Although I found this recipe in a magazine, it is actually Angela Hartnett’s recipe from her new cookbook, Angela Hartnett’s Cucina: Three Generations of Italian Family Cooking.

Notes: I couldn’t find golden raisins in the shops, so I used sultanas instead. I also substituted curly parsley because that’s what I had on hand.


Chicory, Golden Raisin and Green Bean Salad

Serves 4 as a starter.
Ready in 25 minutes.

Adding nuts and dried fruit to salads makes them more interesting and, here, the sweetness of the raisins offsets the bitter chicory. Dress the beans while they’re warm so they take on the flavours of the dressing.

150g golden raisins
300g green beans
4 small chicory heads
Handful fresh flatleaf parsley leaves
120ml red wine vinagrette (see below)
1 tsp wholegrain mustard

1. Soak the raisins in warm water for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil. Add the beans and cook for 4 minutes. Drain and plunge immediately into iced water. Drain and set aside.

3. Halve the chicory lengthways and separate the leaves. Toss in a bowl with the raisins, beans and parsley.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk the vinagrette with the mustard. Add just enough to the salad to coat. Season and serve immediately as it won’t keep in the fridge.

Per Serving: 295 kcals, 19.3g fat(2.8g saturated), 2.8g protein, 30g carbs, 26.9g sugar, 0.2g salt.


Red Wine Vinagrette

Makes 120ml.

1. Put 20ml red wine vinegar in a bowl, season well with Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix until the sea salt has completely dissolved. Add 100ml extra-virgin olive oil and whisk together.

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Tabouli

Another one of my favourites from my mom’s cookbook. I often put in more garlic and add about a third of an English cucumber. Great to take to a BBQ or picnic. I almost always get asked for the recipe when I bring it to a pot-luck. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

A salad with grain. Can be a meal in itself. Take your time. Chew slowly while reading a magazine if eating solo.


Tabouli

Serves 4.
Make at least 3 hours before serving.

Bulgur are wheat kernels that have been steamed, dried, and crushed. So, it is pre-cooked and easy to prepare, but also perishable. Store in fridge for months or freeze for up to a year.

1 C bulgur, medium grind
1 1/2 C boiling water
1 tsp salt
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C olive oil
1/2 tsp dried or 1 TB fresh mint, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced 2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 C fresh parsley, chopped (packed)
1/3 English cucumber, sliced and cut in half

1. Combine bulgur, water, and salt in a medium glass or pottery bowl. Cover and let stand 1/2 hour. Liquid should all be absorbed. If not, drain it and put it back in the bowl.

2. Add lemon juice, garlic, mint and oil. Mix thoroughly (even with your hands). Refrigerate 2 hours.

3. When serving, add vegetables. Toss together gently. Taste for seasoning. Fresh ground pepper and/or crumbled feta cheese can be sprinkled on top.

Keeps for a few days in the fridge.

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