Thursday 26 May 2011

Fried Rice with Turmeric

Fried Rice with Turmeric
from Thai Vegetarian Cooking, Vatcharin Bhumichitr, Pavilion, 1991.

I’m never successful when I try to cook Asian food. I don't seem able to get the flavours right. Now I have been given a new cookbook to try and so it looks like here I go again.

The book has an introduction that is full of interest for vegetarians for the author was not vegetarian before they began the book nor are they now. However they have been won over by true Thai vegetarian meals. 

In Thailand they looked for meals that were not just modifications of meat meals with items such as fish sauce left out. They had a difficult search but eventually found places where the meals were genuinely vegetarian. The author has since gone back to London and helped open the first Thai vegetarian restaurant in Britain. 

After reading this introduction I was certainly ready to try the recipes.

I began with a simple recipe for fried rice with turmeric. Now the one Asian meal I can cook successfully is fried rice and I can do this because over time and over many repeats I have been carefully drilled into how to go about a Malaysian fried rice. I am quite proud of my efforts in this. 

So I now tried this particular fried rice with some trepidation as I knew it was not just a matter of tipping all the ingredients into the wok and stirring them together.

The dish turned out to be somewhat easier than the one I usually make. But I was very pleased with the result. It was full of flavour and very colourful. In fact I think I’ll have to make another one for the teacher of the Malaysian fried rice.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Curried Chickpeas with Fresh Ginger and Coriander

Curried Chickpeas with Fresh Ginger and Coriander
from The Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker, Lynn Alley, Ten Speed Press, 2010.

For vegetarian food to be slow cooked seems quite odd. Vegetables don’t need to be cooked for a long time whether it’s slowly or not. Of course, there’s always dry beans. They can do with a good slow cook.

But then, to add ‘gourmet’ to the slow cooked gave me a bit of a laugh. I just couldn’t imagine a gourmet meal coming out of a slow-cooker. So I had to give it a go to see just what the cookery book recipes were like, especially since the cover also has the line ‘Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World’. Just a bit of advertising blurb, I know, but here we have on one page ‘gourmet’, ‘simple’ and  ‘sophisticated’ teamed with ‘slow cooker’. Interesting.

The book is arranged in sections according to the area the recipes come from: India, Mexico and the Southwest, Asia, Italy, France, Greece and The Middle East. It is an American publication and so the Southwest is presumably the south west of the US.

I wanted something to go with potato croquettes so chose to cook the curried chickpeas. The recipe was very simple: add the chickpeas and water to the cooker and cook. Later in the process fried onions and spices are added. And later lemon juice and seasonings. No problems at all in this.

And it turned out to be very tasty. Not gourmet certainly, nor sophisticated, but certainly simple to make. I’d certainly make it again.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Sunday 22 May 2011

Stuffed Potato Croquettes

Stuffed Potato Croquettes
from A Month in Marrakesh, Andy Harris, Hardie Grant Books, 2011.

I’ve been going through a bit of a Moroccan food binge so finding this particular recipe book set me off to try something from it. It’s not a vegetarian book but there are quite a few meatless meals in it. 

The author has been going to Marrakesh each year for ten years and claims to do nothing very much except explore the food markets and shops and cook for friends. There appears to be a great collection of items to try in the book and I hope I have time to make them all.

Potatoes are my favourite vegetable. I love to eat them any way they are cooked. When I found this recipe I was really keen to try it out. But, of course, it was a meat dish so I decided to try and modify it and turn it into a vegetarian variation.

I chose a mock mince instead of the minced beef for the filling. The mixture of spices and other ingredients helped make it a reasonably tasty alternative—perhaps even better than the original.

The potatoes were mashed and mixed with spices, so tasty that I could have eaten the mash right away instead of continuing with the remainder of the recipe.

I tried to make the croquettes following the instructions (rolling out the potato dough and using biscuit cutters to make rounds onto which the filling is placed and then the dough is folded over) but found that it was too difficult to do this way. Instead I took a quantity of the dough and flattened it into the palm of my hand. I then cupped my palm and placed the filling in the middle of the cup shape. It was then reasonably easy to fold  the dough over and shape the croquette.

The croquettes were served with slow-cooked curried chick peas with fresh ginger and coriander.

For me it was a delicious meal. All of the croquettes were not eaten but on the following day I got into them cold. Great.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔

Saturday 14 May 2011

Slow-Cooked Onion and Cider Soup

Slow-Cooked Onion and Cider Soup with Fontina Croutes
from New Vegetarian Kitchen, Nicola Graimes, Duncan Baird Publishers, 2011.

I have cooked a few meals from this book before. They have usually turned out to be satisfactory ones. It was well worth another try.

The book is organised under cooking techniques rather than types of meals. This recipe was found under the technique of simmering.

I do find this way of arranging recipes is rather an unsatisfactory one. Under each technique you will find appetisers, main meals and sweets. They are not listed as such though if you work through a particular technique you will find that they run from first course to last throughout the section.

I do enjoy a good onion soup so I was interested to see just what difference the slow cooking would make to this one, and what the addition of cider would do to its flavour.

There was nothing particularly difficult about cooking this. It was all straightforward but I was somewhat surprised to find that the slow cooking only took an hour. I expected longer.

It was a satisfying soup though not the best onion soup I have had. It had a slight sweetness to it from the cider but not enough to make a great difference.

Taste: ✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Steamed Chinese Pearl Balls

Steamed Chinese Pearl Balls
from Vegetarian: It’s not all beans and tofu, Murdoch Books, 2011.

I’ve cooked one other dish from this book (Blue cheese mille-feuille with glazed red onion) and quite enjoyed it. The exercise of making that dish was also interesting. So I thought I would go for another from this book.

The steamed pearl balls were one of those recipes that seem to take ages before you can really get started on the main part of it. The sticky rice had to be soaked overnight. Then it had to be laid out on a cloth in a steamer and cooked in that. Dried mushrooms also had to be pre-soaked before using. A lot of preparation before I was really ready to make the balls.

When had mixed all the ingredients and then tried to make the ball shapes I found that they would not hold together. I added more cornflour as the recipe suggested but it was still extremely difficult to make the mixture hold its shape.

I eventually managed to get half the mixture into balls. I abandoned the idea of rolling the balls into some of the rice that had been put aside for this purpose. It just would not stick and the more I tried the more the shapes fell apart.

I settled for half the mixture. It was reasonable when it was cooked though nowhere near worth the effort of making it.

The dipping sauce was also less than inspiring. I had cut back on the ginger because I always find that the quantity in recipes is too great.

All in all it was a bit on the disappointing side.

Then my partner added a comment about the fact that sticky rice was generally enclosed in something that helped it hold together. So, the remainder of the mixture was wrapped in ball shapes in foil. It was steamed the same way as the unwrapped was previously done.

This turned out totally differently. The rice balls were firm and had a slight chewiness about them. The flavour also seemed to have heightened. For the dipping sauce I used sweet chilli sauce. Much much better.

Taste: ✔✔
Ease of cooking:

Tuesday 10 May 2011

A Royal Wedding Dinner

A Royal Wedding Dinner

Tucked away in the back of a cupboard is a dinner set. It’s pink with gold touches and pink roses in the centre of the plates. We call it the pink set and never use it. It’s just there. Waiting an occasion, I suppose. And then the royal wedding night came. It seemed the right time to haul out the pink set.

Bringing it out to the light from the dark took some doing as it was behind everything else in the cupboard. It was also at floor level so I had to partly lie on the floor to dig it out. As I did I kept thinking of the fact that it had to go back at some time and that would be a pain. But the occasion seemed to be right.

It had to be a meal that was appropriate but also had to be simple so we could eat while watching the event. It also had to be appropriate for the pink set.

We began with a blue cocktail (the meal was roughly red, white and blue).

Next came a tinned tomato soup accompanied by cucumber sandwiches. Why we always think of cucumber sandwiches when we think of polite English society I don’t know. I have a feeling it’s somehow the fault of Oscar Wilde.

There was then an antipasto plate of tinned vegetables and olives with a mixture of cheeses and dry biscuits. These kept us going for most of the ceremony.

The sweet course was pink cupcakes and chocolate cupcakes with a cup of tea. The tea deviated somewhat for it was special gunpowder Chinese green tea.

All in all, it was great to get to use the pink set. The occasion was right. It was a fun night. Thank you William and Catherine.

Monday 9 May 2011

Mixed Berry Couscous

Mixed Berry Couscous
from Commonsense Vegetarian, Murdoch Books, 2011.

‘Commonsense’ is its name and it portrays commonsense clearly from its CWA-looking cover through to the long introduction explaining the whys and wherefores of vegetarian cooking. And then you reach the recipes. Here you are suddenly opened up to a vast range of different meals that you can easily make at home. The cover blurb claims that they are ‘easy everyday recipes’. From a check through the instructions it would seem that this is so; frozen pastry sheets are used instead of making your own, for example.

It is a thick book and every page has a new recipe with an accompanying full colour photograph. I didn’t count but the cover says there are more than 300.

The recipes are spread over a wide variety of cuisines meaning that the range of ingredients is also wide. Thankfully there is a large list of the, perhaps, more unusual ingredients with explanations in the introduction.

Having some couscous left over from a tagine I decided to make the mixed berry couscous. We had it as a dessert though it was listed as a breakfast meal.

Now that I’ve tried it out, I know that couscous is easy to prepare. In this dessert the hot liquid that is poured over it is apple and cranberry juice. Then it has mixed berries added, a dob of yoghurt on top and some maple syrup poured over it.

I was glad the maple syrup was added for the cranberry juice had a bitterness that I felt didn’t go over well with the berries. The maple syrup helped mask this a little.

While it was a pleasant dish I was not overly keen on the couscous as an accompaniment for the berries; the soft texture of the berries didn't marry well with the heaviness of the couscous. From the ingredients I thought that this would be a special dish but, though I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t make it again.

Taste: ✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔

Friday 6 May 2011

Spiced Carrot and Feta Gnocchi

Spiced Carrot and Feta Gnocchi
from Gourmet Vegetarian, Jane Price, Murdoch, 2007

I’ve never been able to understand why vegetarian food has a bad rap. Lately I tuned in to Master Chef and was stunned to hear one of the presenters say that if the contestants didn’t catch a fish they’d have to cook a vegetarian meal. It was all expressed as though this was a punishment.  At another time when watching My Kitchen Rules the presenter expressed amazement that a contestant was able to present a vegetarian meal which was tasty. These presenters are supposedly tops chefs. I can’t understand why they choose to present a whole vibrant cuisine in such a negative way.

Gourmet Vegetarian expresses the opposite view from these particular chefs and includes a range of recipes from cuisines all over the world.

The Spiced Carrot and Feta Gnocchi was easy enough to make: cook the carrots, puree them with feta and form them into gnocchi shapes. It was all a little fiddly though with the mixture softer than the usual gnocchi and tending to stick to the hands that had to be constantly floured. Consequently my efforts tended to be larger than I would normally expect gnocchi to be. 

And was it worth the effort? The gnocchi itself was pleasant to eat. The sauce was a failure for me. I just couldn’t get it to thicken. In fact, the longer I cooked it, the thinner it seemed to become. Should I make it again, I would make a different sauce.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔

Aunt Helen Rose's Gumbo

Aunt Helen Rose’s Gumbo with Avocado and Grapefruit Salad
from Vegetarian Dinner in Minutes, Linda Gassenheimer, Chronicle Books, 1997.

Vegetarian Dinner in Minutes is organised into sections according to different cuisines: Mediterranean, Modern American, Tex-Mex, the Far East and Cajun and Caribbean. It’s an American book and so it’s largely from an American perspective. From a look through the items included I’m not totally convinced about the authenticity of the dishes. However, it is a vegetarian cookery book and so I’m willing to give it a try.

This particular recipe is apparently a quicker version of Aunt Helen Roses’s gumbo. It certainly is an easy dish to prepare.

The secret of gaining the proper flavour of a gumbo is, so the recipe tells us, to make sure that the oil and flour are cooked until a good brown roux develops.

To make the gumbo, it’s all largely a matter of do this bit, then add some more ingredients. After a bit of cooking add some more. Then cook a bit longer and add some more. Until the thing is all done.

The instructions call for the use of Worcestershire sauce. I did not include this as it has fish among its ingredients. I substituted light soya sauce.

I was also unable to obtain filé powder so used a Cajun spice mix (Lousiana style).

The gumbo was flavoursome and enjoyable. The spice flavours were different from those I am used to so it was good to try a different range.

As the instructions for the gumbo stated its flavours improve with age, I was able to test it out the next day—sufficient to agree with the statement.

The salad was easy to make and truly appetising. The avocado went particularly well with the grapefruit and the whole was blended together extremely well by the yoghurt, mustard and honey dressing. A pleasing salad.

As some of these books may be out of print if anyone would like a particular recipe, email me ( and I’ll send an abbreviated version. Of course, the whole book would be better; it’s loaded with other goodies.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Middle Eastern Double Lentil Soup

Middle Eastern Double Lentil Soup
from The Country Cookbook, Belinda Jeffery, Lantern, 2010.

I keep returning to this cookbook as everything I’ve tried from it has worked and usually turns out to be a tasty and satisfying meal.

I hesitated a little over starting this recipe because I had already made a double soup and, while I enjoyed it, it was really like making two different meals and then combining them. Nevertheless, this looked as though it might be worth a try.

It was a matter of making two soups but the method for both was the same. The basic savoury elements and spices were cooked and then divided between the red and the puy lentils in two saucepans to make the two soups.

I deviated from the instructions at the serving stage. The recipe calls for the two soups to be put into two jugs and then poured simultaneously into the bowl. Thinking of washing up, I just poured from the two saucepans. The result was quite reasonable though with a bit of a bow in it.

The taste was wonderful. It was rich and bursting with flavour. Totally more-ish. I loved it.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Old-fashioned Garden Salad

Old-fashioned Garden Salad with Garlic Toasts
from Market Vegetarian, Ross Dobson, Ryland Peters & Small, 2008

I always enjoy a good salad and this was an enjoyable one, though, to my mind, nothing really out of the ordinary. Though it was called ‘old-fashioned’ it was not as I remembered salads. It had a variety of greens and, with the addition of boiled eggs and garlic toasts, it had a much more modern feel about it. This does not in any way decry it, rather, I guess, the title.

The dressing was new to me. I had never before had a dressing that included milk with the oil and vinegar. It worked extremely well and tasted great. An enjoyable salad and easy to put together.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔