Royal Paneer

Using cashew nuts as a thickener is something that I have been hearing about for several years now but never actually tried for myself… until this recipe. They are somewhat of a miracle ingredient in this regard, as they provide not only their thickening properties but also their flavour – and their fat content. The flavour helps to meld the other ingredients together whilst mellowing out anything that would be too strong, and the fats and cashew oils help give the sauce a smooth consistency.

This thickening quality isn’t only a property of cashews. My mother makes a delicious cauliflower and almond soup which uses ground almonds to achieve its velvety texture; I have used peanut butter to make sauces which thicken considerably upon cooking; and walnuts are often used in gravies to give them extra texture. Any raw nut butter will work for thickening sauces as the thickening agent (the starch contained in the nuts) has not been cooked yet. It works just like adding flour or cornstarch to a sauce to thicken it (except the nuts also add fat and flavour). The nuts can be ground in advance and added to the cold sauce (or whisked into the hot sauce and cooked for two minutes), added whole to the sauce at the start and then blended at the end or a small quantity of the sauce can be mixed into a nut butter (to slacken it) before whisking this back into the original sauce and cooking out the nuts.

Fat is necessary for making a good, smooth, sauce. The fats in this recipe come partly from the vegetable oil (to sauté the onion and prevent the butter from burning later on) but mainly from the cashew nuts and the butter. Fats give a smooth mouthfeel to sauces which is unobtainable in almost any other way. People talk a lot about avoiding vegetable oil because it is unhealthy and replacing it with things like coconut oil or nut butter but all they are doing is replacing one fat with another – because you need it for BALANCE. The fat will help cut through acidity from the tomatoes and rawness from the onion – but remember that fats need seasoning. If you add fat, you need to add salt. I’m not saying that you have to put in an artery solidifying quantity of the stuff, just enough to help cut through the fat. People will often look at a recipe and see a tsp of salt and just ignore it because salt has been villainised but really, it is necessary for a healthy diet. Like all things, the answer is moderation. If you are cooking for yourself and not eating ready meals, too much salt is unlikely to be an issue as fresh ingredients do not contain much salt (in most cases). That teaspoon of salt in the recipe suddenly isn’t much when you see that the recipe serves six people so don’t just leave it out. It is there for a reason – it will make the food taste good!

Tomato isn’t always used in royal paneer and I have seen recipes both with and without it. Often the tomato (and sometimes the butter) will be replaced by yoghurt which gives an intense creamy richness to the sauce. It is still highly spiced though so don’t worry about a lack of flavour. The term Shahi comes from the title Shahansha which was given to emperors, kings and other royalty in Iran. It refers to the luxurious texture of the sauce and the richness it contains.

The sauce freezes really easily and can be easily made in a batch in advance and defrosted when needed. Just make sure to re-season when you reheat the sauce.

 

 

 

Royal Paneer (Shahi Paneer)

Base sauce mix:

2 tbsp vegetable oil

50g butter

8 garlic cloves – peeled

1 inch piece of ginger – peeled

1 tbsp cashew nuts

2 bay leaves

2 onions

2 large, ripe tomatoes (or 200g tinned tomatoes)

2 tbsp tomato paste

3 cardamom pods

8 black peppercorns

2 dried chilis

2 cloves

1 cup (250ml) water

2 tsp sugar

½ tsp salt

 

To finish the sauce:

1 tsp chilli powder (Kashmiri chilis give the best red colour)

1 tsp turmeric

2 tsp coriander

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp fenugreek powder (if you have it)

50g butter

1 tbsp vegetable oil

 

To finish:

450g paneer

Chopped coriander

3 tbsp double cream

 

Instructions:

Grate the ginger and tip it into a large saucepan with the vegetable oil and the butter.

Add the cardamom, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, garlic cloves, dried chilis and cashew nuts and fry until the aromatics of the spices are released. Be careful not to burn them!

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Roughly chop the onion and add it to the saucepan. Sautee until the onion becomes translucent.

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Core the tomatoes and roughly chop them.

Add them to the onion along with the water, salt and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook for fifteen minutes until the tomatoes have fully broken down.

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Blend the sauce mix and push it through a sieve. It will be thick! You should be left with small bits of spice and tomato skin which can be discarded. The cashew nuts provide the thickness to the sauce which can be intimidating to start with but I guarantee it will strain!

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This is the sort of wastage you will be left with after straining (I would give it an extra push through the sieve after I think that everything that can strain has strained because there is always more).

 

Melt the butter in a large pan along with the vegetable oil and heat until it begins to foam.

Tip in the spices and lightly fry them until aromatic – this will bloom them allowing the spices to release their flavour into the rest of the sauce.

Pour in the strained sauce base and stir until everything is combined.

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Season with a little more salt and sugar to taste! You could also add some extra pepper or chilli if you wanted.

The sauce can now be frozen if you wish.

 

Finishing the dish method one:

Chop the paneer into ½ inch cubes.

Heat the sauce until it is bubbling, add the paneer and cook for five to ten minutes until the paneer is hot all the way through.

Stir through the cream.

Pour into a serving dish and top with chopped coriander and a small drizzle of cream.

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Method 2:

Add a little oil to the base of a non stick frying pan.

Chop the paneer into ½ inch cubes.

Fry the paneer until it is golden on the base. Flip the pieces and continue to fry until most sides of most pieces are golden.

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Pour over the sauce and heat until the sauce is bubbling.

Stir through the cream.

Pour the curry into a serving dish and top with fresh coriander and a small drizzle of cream.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. The sauce is incredibly flavourful but not spicy (unless you want it to be) so it is perfect for serving people who don’t like their food too hot. This makes a wonderful accompaniment to any curry as the fats in the sauce will help eliminate spice from other dishes but the paneer also stands up by itself as the main dish should you wish it to be.

If you would like to try a different (also vegetarian) curry, check out my recipe for a classic tofu based one or if you eat meat (or are happy to find your own meat substitute), why not treat yourself to a delicious Thai Curry.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with an amazing cultural pastry.

H

 

 

 

Vegetarian Dumplings

The biggest issue I have faced when creating vegetarian dumplings is that the filling does not stick together. When meat is cooked, the pieces bind together as they cook but this does not happen with vegetables. You can buy an enzyme called transglutaminase which will bind meat together when it cooks and can be used to make some very Frankenstein-esque meals, but no such thing exists for vegetables (as far as I am aware). The best way I have come across to bind fillings together is by using egg and flour. Both of these will help prevent your filling from tumbling out of the dumpling after you take a bite.

These dumplings fall under the heading of potstickers. This means that have been steam-fried. The dumplings are first lightly fried on the belly (the plump base away from the pleats) before water or broth is added and they are covered and allowed to steam. Once all the liquid has been absorbed the dumplings are again cooked uncovered, allowing the base to crisp up again to provide a wonderful contrast of textures. The dumplings should be cooked in a non-stick pan because I can guarantee that, if they are cooked in a regular pan, they will stick and tear. You could also cook them in a steamer or plain boil them – both of these methods work – but I think they are far nicer if the base is crispy.

There is some disagreement about overcrowding the pan when making potstickers. If the dumplings are pushed up against each other they will lightly adhere to their neighbours. This means that you can flip out the entire pan of potstickers onto a plate and they will stay in their beautiful formation. The counterargument is that, when the dumplings stick together, they will then tear when you try to serve them. This has never been too much of an issue for me – I find that they generally come apart without tearing and you can serve the entire batch on a central plate and people can take what they want. I have even seen recipes when people add seasoned cornflour water to the pan which cooks and crisps up a layer on the base of the frying pan and dumplings, which really does stick everything together and results in a more “tear’n’share” kind of meal.

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Of course you can use any filling you like with this cooking method. I used to eat a lot of turkey dumplings at university because the minced turkey was often reduced in shops, meaning that the meal was incredibly cheap – we are talking one to two pounds per person. I am also partial to beef dumplings but I do find that the quality of the minced beef is really noticeable in the final product. Pork and cabbage or kimchi is another popular filling, as is shrimp, so you can see how versatile these dumplings can be.

Let me know how you get on if you try them as I love hearing about your cooking!

 

 

 

Vegetarian Dumplings

Prep time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

 

400g firm tofu

2 bunches spring onions

5 garlic cloves

1 inch peeled ginger

1 medium heat chilli (or more if you prefer)

1 medium carrot

Half a cabbage

150g mushrooms

1 tbsp tomato paste

3 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tsp sugar

4 tbsp plain flour

1 egg

A couple of grinds of black pepper

1 tsp salt

Two packets of dumpling skins

 

Crumble the tofu into a sieve and then gently press on it to squeeze out lots of the liquid. You will get a good third to half a cup of liquid out of the tofu. Tip this squeezed tofu into a large bowl.

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Finely chop the spring onion, chilli and mushrooms and add these to the tofu.

Finely slice the cabbage, grate the carrot and add to the rest of the veg.

Grate the ginger and the garlic into the vegetable mix.

Whisk together the egg, soy sauce, vinegar, tomato paste, sugar, cornflour, salt and pepper.

Pour the egg mix over the vegetables and tofu and use your hands to mix until everything is coated.

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Fill your dumpling skins and pleat the edges. For instructions on how to pleat properly, see my recipe for beef dumplings. You can also just fold them over and crimp the edges with a fork if you don’t want to go to the effort of pleating the entire batch.

 

Pour a thin layer of a oil to the bottom of a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. MAKE SURE THIS FRYING PAN HAS A LID FOR THE NEXT STEPS.

Add the dumplings to the pan belly side down. Try to pack the dumplings in so they are touching each other. Overcrowding is not an issue!

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Fry for three minutes until the base of the dumplings are a deep golden brown.

Pour in 100ml water and cover immediately. Be careful as this water will spit when it hits the pan.

Cook covered for about three to five minutes until the water is fully absorbed into the dumplings. The skins should have started to turn translucent. If they haven’t, add another few tablespoons of water and cook again.

You want to make sure the pan has basically boiled dry as this will allow the bases of the dumplings to crisp up again.

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To serve, place a large plate upside down over the pan and quickly invert the frying pan to flip the dumplings onto the plate.

 

For a delicious dipping sauce, allow people to mix soy sauce, rice vinegar and chilli sauce (I use sriracha) in a little ramekin to make their own personal sauce.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of dumplings, check out my recipe for the beef variety and you can even use my turkey burger filling in them!

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for an absolutely stunningly good tart (and it’s even vegan – but you wouldn’t know from the taste).

H

Decadent Mushroom Pasta Bake

This post marks the end of the second year of That Cooking Thing’s existence. When I started back in August of 2017 I had no idea that I would still be creating weekly recipes two years later. Many blogs seem to fizzle out within a few months of their inception and, to be honest, that is kind of what I expected to happen with this one. I was going into the Master’s year of my undergraduate degree and really didn’t have the time to spend writing weekly posts and making pretty dishes for the Instagram but here we are – procrastination is a powerful motivator for things you do not have time to do. I am now coming towards the end of my second degree and even with the working life looming ahead I hope to continue this blog for the foreseeable future.

I thought that it would be nice to revisit an old recipe and jazz it up for the final post of the year. This recipe was the second savoury one I posted: a chicken and mushroom pasta bake. I like to think that I have come on in my techniques and cooking ability since then, and this updated recipe hopefully shows that. The biggest difference from the original recipe is that this one is vegetarian; there is no chicken to be found in this dish. You could, of course, add chicken if you so wished and it would still taste excellent, but with the growing number of vegetarians and vegans in the world I like to make sure that my recipes are as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. I still eat meat (although with the current political climate and possibility of a significant change in the UK’s food standards, I cannot say that this will not change in the near future) but lots of people don’t and I like to make recipes which do not come across as meaty ones that have just had the chicken or beef etc. removed. Vegetarian recipes should not need meat to be delicious!

Instead of a stock and cornflour-based sauce, the sauce for this bake is based around mushroom paste. The first thing you do is blend mushrooms until they are almost a puree (a far finer chop than you would use to make a duxelle) and then cook them to drive off all the liquid and really intensify the mushroom flavour. This mushroom paste, when mixed with cream cheese, will become the base of the sauce. It should be noted that this sauce can be put on anything you like – it doesn’t have raw egg or cornflour so you can just eat it as it is. You could even serve it as a mushroom pate! The remainder of the mushrooms are then cooked down and the liquid they release is collected and stirred into the sauce to slacken it. All this liquid will be absorbed into the pasta when it cooks in the oven giving it a far stronger mushroomy flavour. I went a bit wild and bought some posh woodland mushrooms for this as I wanted it to be a bit celebratory and didn’t want to use just the standard mushrooms but obviously the recipe does work just as well with those.

Cheese is an important part of this dish. Whilst most pasta bakes have a crust of cheese on top, this one also has chunks of mozzarella stirred into it so when the bake comes out of the oven and is served, all of the stringy goodness can be seen and it is really satisfying finding a big blob of cheese in the middle of your portion. Other cheeses could be added too: goat’s cheese works well with mushrooms, parmesan is always welcome in this kind of dish and cheddar is good too if you don’t want to go out and buy special cheese just for this. The final decoration on top of the cheese crust – finely chopped parsley and basil – is sprinkled over the bake after it comes out of the oven. This prevents the herbs from burning but also means that the aroma isn’t driven off during cooking. The heat from the pasta bake will wilt the herbs and cause them to release their fragrances before propelling the smell of fresh basil through the room as the herbs heat up.

I hope you have enjoyed the blog so far and that you use the recipes. If you do, let me know in the comments or tag me on Instagram @thatcookingthing – you could also use #thatcookingthing because I seem to have commandeered the hashtag. If you have friends who would like these recipes, let them know about the blog because I would love to help and inspire more people in the kitchen.

See you next week for the third year of That Cooking Thing!

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Decadent Mushroom Pasta Bake

Serves 5-6

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

 

Ingredients

750g mushrooms

1 large onion

50g cream cheese

20g parmesan

400g mozzarella

1 mushroom stock cube

4 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic

30 ml milk (optional)

250-300g pasta

5 grinds black pepper (or more to taste)

3 large basil leaves & a few sprigs parsley

 

 

In the bowl of a food processor, blend 250g of the mushrooms with half an onion, two cloves of garlic and 60ml water until it is a thick paste (it doesn’t have to be fully pureed).

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Pour this out into a large pan and cook until the majority of the liquid has boiled off (about 10 minutes). It should be rather sludgy at this point.

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Tip the mushroom paste into a bowl and add the cream cheese. Stir to combine.

Finely chop the rest of the onion and sauté it in a pan with the remaining oil.

While the onion is cooking, chop the remaining mushrooms into quarters (or sixths depending on their size).

Once the onion turns translucent, add the mushrooms and another 60ml water. Cover with the lid of the pan and leave to simmer for five minutes. Give the mushrooms a stir and let them cook for another five minutes.

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While the mushrooms are cooking, start cooking the pasta. You want to take it off the heat and drain it about two minutes before the packet says it will be done as it will continue to cook in the oven and you don’t want it turn mushy.

Drain the liquid from the cooking mushrooms into the mushroom paste and stir it through. Taste and season with salt and pepper. This will become the sauce.

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Once you are happy with the seasoning, stir in the cooked mushrooms.

Grate two thirds of the mozzarella and chop the rest into 1cm cubes. Finely grate the parmesan. Set the cheese aside.

Drain the pasta and stir through the sauce.

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Allow to cool for a minute and then stir through the chunks of mozzarella, the parmesan and half of the grated mozzarella. Do not stir it too long as the heat of the pasta will start to melt the cheese. You just want it evenly distributed.

Tip the pasta into a greased dish and top with the rest of the mozzarella.

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Bake for 40 minutes at gas mark 6 (200°C) until the top of the bake has turned golden and crispy.

Finely slice some fresh basil and parsley and sprinkle this over the top once the pasta bake is removed from the oven. The heat of the bake will cause the herbs to release their oils and the aroma will come out without the herbs drying and burning as they would in the oven.

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I hope you enjoy the recipe. I have made this several times recently because it is just so good! I also take it for lunches because it tastes fab cold as well as hot. If you like mushrooms, you should have a look at my mushroom carbonara dish as it is amazing – you could even make your own fresh pasta for it.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with an amazing recipe for a truly celebratory cake.

H

 

Black Bean Burgers

Veggie burgers have a bit of a mixed reputation. A lot of the time they pretend to be meat and I always find that they are slightly disappointing as a result. The best veggie burgers I have eaten have always presented themselves as exactly that: veggie – not “beef style” or anything like that – just “veggie”.

The most common problem faced by homemade bean burgers is that they become mushy. This is usually caused by over mashing the beans. The best way to combat this is to pack the burgers full of different vegetables with different textures. Make sure not to use a food processor as this will puree the ingredients – especially the beans – which will cause a lot more liquid to be released. I have found that the best way to mix everything together is with my hands which is a little messy but it prevents anything being mixed too aggressively. Precooking the onion and carrot will also cause some of the liquid in them to be cooked off, which again reduces the moisture content of the final mix. The flour which you add will help to bind the burger together and dry it out. Some people will also add tapioca starch or cornflour which thicken when cooked, and again these will help bind the burger and give it some texture.

When it comes to cooking fresh bean burgers, you want to avoid overcrowding your pan. If you are cooking for a lot of people the best thing to do would be to bake the burgers in the oven and then take them out a few at a time to crisp up the outside in a frying pan. After crisping the outside, the burgers can be kept warm in the oven while the rest are fried so everyone can be served at once. Adding a thin layer of flour on the outside provides a surface to fry and helps dry out the outer layer of the burger. This drying is what eventually makes the outside crispy as heating in oil drives off more and more water. The same result can be achieved without the flour but it really does speed up the process and give a much more even cook.

These burgers are not only vegan but can easily be made gluten free too so everyone can eat them. Instead of frying the burgers you can bake them in the oven for about 25-30 minutes at gas mark 6 (200°C) flipping them halfway through. This will not give you such a crunchy exterior but is obviously a little more healthy (although in my opinion, there is so much goodness in these burgers that it more than makes up for the oil that is absorbed during frying). As always, if you choose to fry the burgers, never leave the pan of oil unattended and, if you do end up with a fire, for the love of god do not pour water on it! Turn off the heat and if you can get close enough, lay a damp (but not dripping) tea towel or fire blanket over the pan. I don’t expect there to be an issue with this recipe because the oil shouldn’t be getting so hot that it reaches its flashpoint but it is better to be safe than sorry.

You won’t miss the meat when you try these burgers. They are filling, flavourful and look amazing. Let me know if you try them for yourselves!

Black Bean Burgers

Cook time: 20-30 minutes

Prep time: 15 minutes

Resting time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

1 can black beans – 400g

1 medium carrot

1 medium onion

1 small tin sweetcorn – about 200g (frozen sweetcorn will also work)

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground chilli (you can reduce or increase this to your personal tolerance and enjoyment of spice)

½ tsp salt

Pepper to taste

1 cup flour + extra for dusting (you can use any flour for this – buckwheat flour will make these gluten free)

 

 

Finely chop the onion and the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and lightly sauté the onions and garlic until translucent.

Whilst the onion is cooking, finely grate the carrot.

Add the carrot to the onion and cook until it starts to soften. Remove the pan from the heat.

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Drain the black beans and tip half of them into a big bowl.

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Lightly mash them with a fork until all of them are broken up but not completely pureed.

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Drain the sweetcorn if you are using the tinned variety

Add the rest of the beans, the onion and carrot mix and the sweetcorn.

Mix well.

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Sprinkle over the spices, salt and pepper and stir through.

Add the flour and mix until combined.

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Split the mixture into quarters – these will become your four burgers.

 

Take one quarter of the mixture and shape it into a patty with your hands.

Place it into a small bowl of flour to dust the outside and lay it on a lined baking sheet.

Repeat with the remaining mixture.

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Place the burgers in the freezer for half an hour to firm up before cooking.

(The burgers can be frozen at this point.)

To cook the burgers, heat half a centimetre of oil in a large non-stick pan and add the burgers – you may have to cook them two at a time as you do not want to overcrowd the pan.

Allow the burger to fry on a medium heat for about five minutes until it has turned a deep golden brown on the base.DSC06003

Flip the burger and repeat. If you like a bit more colour on the burger, continue to fry on each side for a little bit longer.

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Serve in a lightly toasted bun with your choice of relish and salad. Here I have used a spicy tomato relish and added some fresh coriander.

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You can jazz these things up with any veg you fancy, I have seen many recipes for Mexican style burgers with lots of peppers and fajita seasoning. You could swap out the black beans for another type too if you prefer.

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If you are a fan of pulses, why not check out my recipes for falafel and hummus?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a nice and easy sweet recipe.

H

 

 

 

 

Watercress Soup

I first had watercress soup when my mum took me out to a posh restaurant for lunch several years ago. The restaurant has sadly shut down since then however it is still something we talk about. Why? Well there are several reasons (all of them good) but one of the main ones was the fact that I had never actually tried a lot of the food that I had there. It would be quite an expensive mistake to go to a fancy restaurant and order something you didn’t like so it was a bit of a risk ordering food I had no experience of. Luckily, the food was delicious. The starter, as you may have guessed from the introductory sentence, was watercress soup.

Watercress is a semi-aquatic plant – it grows in a very wet environment either with soaked soil or where the roots are fully submerged with the plant floating above. It can be eaten raw or cooked and is picked at different stages of growing depending on what it is required for – the plant can grow to around a metre From what I can ascertain from the internet, it seems like the name watercress derives from the growing conditions rather than the fact that the leaves are 95% water but all evidence appears to be highly circumstantial.

Watercress soup is a classic vegetable soup which is thickened with potato. The starches from the potato provide the texture while the stock, onions and watercress provide the flavour. Like any leaf based soup (for example: spinach), the leaves are added right at the end of cooking, just before blending. This is because you want the leaves to wilt a little in the heat but not cook through and go soggy. No one likes soggy watercress. What you are effectively doing is blanching the watercress in the soup and then blending and serving.

Like many soups, this is simple to make dairy-free and vegan by simply substituting the butter with oil or margarine and the cream with some sort of dairy alternative.

 

Watercress soup

Servings: 4

Time: 25 minutes

 

50g butter

1 medium onion

300g potato

2 bags watercress (probably around 150g altogether)

750ml vegetable stock

50ml single cream

Salt for seasoning

 

Melt the butter in a pan and heat until foaming.

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Roughly chop the onion and add it to the pan. Sweat the onion until it is translucent.

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Roughly chop the potatoes (no need to peel them) and add them to the onion along with the stock.

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Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Roughly chop the watercress and add it to the pot.

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Lightly simmer for no more than five minutes.

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Blend the soup.

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Stir through the cream and season to your taste.

Serve with a drizzle of cream.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of soups, check out my tomato soup recipe or maybe even my recipe for coconut and purple sweet potato soup – the colour is fantastic and the taste is pretty good too.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for sweet, yeasted treat.

H

Black Pepper Tofu

We have all experienced it. You place the food in your mouth; you like the taste and it isn’t too spicy; you swallow it and take another bite; the heat begins to build… and build … suddenly you are regretting your choices. A deep regret that a glass of water will do nothing to placate. Your mouth is on fire.

The flavour profiles of chilli peppers is one of their most interesting traits.  Some chillies are like an explosion of fire that is rapidly extinguished and then you are fine, some warm slowly to an uncomfortably hot level before reducing to a more manageable experience and then there are the slow burners. These hit you in the back half of your mouth. They start with nothing and rapidly grow in spiciness – the ghost pepper (bhut jolokia) takes almost 30 seconds to start heating your mouth to a level which can lead to excessive sweating, shortness of breath, flushing, crying etc. and this level of heat can hang around for over half an hour!

Capsaicin is the “active ingredient” in chillies – it’s what makes them hot. The capsaicin binds to the receptors in your mucous membranes – this is why it affects the nose as well as the mouth – and stimulates the same response as burning. Exposure to concentrated capsaicin causes irritation to the skin – inflammation and itchiness – which is why capsaicin is used in some forms of pepper spray. The hydrophilic nature of capsaicin means that water will do nothing to alleviate the affects. The best way to get it off your skin is by rubbing with some sort of oil and then washing with large quantities of soap as the soap will emulsify the water and capsaicin allowing it to be rinsed off.

The most interesting hot sauces on the market employ many types of chilli. This gives their flavour a level of complexity that is not present if only a single variety is used, as the heat can come in waves. There is the added benefit that chillies have different flavours apart from their spiciness; some chillies are sweet, some are nutty and some are fruity. Mixing your chilli types in a dish is a great way to personalise it to your palate. The primary flavours in the recipe below are chilli…and black pepper – it is spicy. Pepper – as I have said before – produces a very different heat to that achieved from adding chillies to a dish. The active ingredient, piperine, is far less aggressively hot than capsaicin but gives a far more warming flavour. Of course too much warmth still feels like burning but with a well balanced dish, this shouldn’t be an issue.

The recipe below was originally taken from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. I have refined it a little to suit my personal taste but it is relatively true to the original. I hope you enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Back Pepper Tofu

Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 3

 

 

400g tofu

50g cornflour

½ tsp salt

75g butter

6 medium shallots

3 tbsp finely chopped ginger

6 medium garlic cloves – crushed

4 finely chopped red chillies (you can choose mild chillies to super spicy ones depending on the heat level you wish to achieve)

3 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)

1 ½ tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp black peppercorns

½ tsp pink peppercorns (these can be replaced by black ones if you prefer)

8 spring onions, finely sliced

 

Press the tofu. This involves cutting it into slices and wrapping them in a cloth before placing weight on top to squeeze out the excess liquid. It will help give the tofu a firmer texture.

Combine the salt and cornflour in a large bowl.

Cut the tofu into cubes and toss these in the cornflour/salt mixture to coat.

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Fill a large frying pan with half a centimetre of oil and fry the tofu on all sides until it is crispy.DSC05659

Set the tofu aside and drain the oil out of the pan – I like to filter it into a jar and keep it for deep frying at a later date.

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Finely slice the shallots into half-moons.

Melt the butter in the frying pan and add the shallots, garlic, ginger and chillies.

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Lightly fry for about ten to fifteen minutes until the garlic is cooked and the shallots are soft.

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Grind up the peppercorns. You can either do this using a normal pepper grinder or using a pestle and mortar (I prefer the latter).DSC05671

Stir the peppercorns and sugar into the soy sauces in a bowl and then add this to the shallots.

Allow to bubble away for two minutes to combine all of the flavours.

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Tip the tofu back in and stir to cover the tofu in sauce.

Continue to cook until the tofu has been sufficiently reheated.

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I forgot to buy spring onions for this but you don’t need to make the same mistake!

Stir through the finely sliced spring onion and serve.

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UPDATE: the spring onion gives a proper burst of colour to the dish

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of tofu, you should definitely check out my recipe for ginger tofu or even my teriyaki recipe.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a flaky pastry which will easily outshine the ones you can get from the supermarket.

H

Mushroom Carbonara

I feel that for my own health and safety, in what is quite possibly a vain attempt not to be taken out by the carbonara mafia, I should start this post by saying that THIS IS NOT A TRADITIONAL CARBONARA. I will explain how to make the classic version of this dish but, for those of you who have not come across it before, this is very much a vegetarian alternative. Also, I would like to make it clear now that I do eat meat and this post is in no way passing judgement on anyone for their food choices: meat, fish, vegetarian, vegan or otherwise.

The main aim of this recipe is to show that you do not need to use a meat substitute to make a delicious vegetarian version of a classically meaty dish. A lot of the time vegetarian food can come off as a poor imitation of meat-based foods but if you just do away with the pretence and accept that dish is going to be different from the meaty version then a lot of problems can be solved. By all means take inspiration from a meat-based dish as a lot of cuisines have iconic meat and fish dishes woven into their culture and it would be a shame to completely ignore these if you choose to go vegetarian (or vegan). However instead of trying to find something like chicken flavoured Quorn steaks or beef style soya mince to replace the meat, why not use something that can be proud of what it is instead of pretending to be something that it isn’t?

The most common complaints that I have heard from meat eaters about vegetarian food is that it lacks flavour or body – body as in substance, not as in the dead body of an animal. Items of food such as tofu are particularly good at getting around this problem by having texture (if it is pressed and cooked well) and can also absorb lots of flavour from whatever they sauce they are in. For this recipe, the mushroom is the star. The mushrooms are seared until all of the liquid has come out and they start to brown. This browning occurs as a result of the Maillard reaction when sugars and amino acids in the mushrooms react with each other. The result is a wonderful depth of flavour which makes the dish far tastier. Mushrooms have a very distinct texture (one which not everyone likes) but it is a texture none the less. By searing them, the mushrooms do not end up boiling in their own juices which would lead to them going soggy so they give a lot of body to the dish.

At the start I said that I would explain why this is not a traditional carbonara – and I’m not just talking about the mushrooms. A true carbonara sauce does not have onion in it but more shocking is the fact that there is no garlic. For anyone who knows me or has followed this blog for some time, you may have noticed that almost every savoury recipe I have starts with garlic – in fact, I will be providing you in a few weeks with a recipe which has two whole bulbs of garlic in it.

Back to classic carbonara, the only things in the sauce are olive oil, guanciale (pork cheek), egg, pecorino cheese and pepper (and maybe some salt – that depends on you). To make this, you first cut the pork into small cubes and fry it in the olive oil until all the fat has rendered out. You then whisk together the egg, cheese, salt and pepper. The still hot, cooked pasta is added into the pan with the pork followed by the egg mixture and everything is then stirred until the egg has thickened from the latent heat in the pasta and the pan. You can then serve the dish and garnish with more cheese, pepper and sometimes fresh herbs.

The recipe below is a great way to enjoy carbonara without the meat – great for vegetarians or people who don’t eat pork. There is an alternative to the classic carbonara, created by Roman Jews where the pork is replaced with carne secca, a cured, salted beef. Alternatively, you could just have the pasta with the egg and cheese sauce and forgo any sort of meat or veg if you do not want to meddle with the tradition too much.

I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I did when I was making it. I discovered that a little goats cheese instead of some of the parmesan works wonderfully well with the mushrooms so why not give that a go too if you like this?

 

Mushroom Carbonara

Serves 2

Time: 20 minutes

Cost per portion: around £1.25

 

150-200g pasta

200g mushrooms

3 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion

4 cloves garlic

1 whole egg

2 egg yolks

80g pecorino romano or parmesan cheese (I prefer parmesan myself)

1½ tsp salt

5-10 grinds of black pepper

1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)

 

Place a pan of water onto the stove to heat. Add 1tsp salt.

Destalk the mushrooms before chopping them into quarters. Chop the stalks in half lengthwise

Heat a large empty pan for about a minute.

Add the oil to the pan. It should begin to shimmer immediately and coat the base of the pan.

Tip in the mushrooms and gently toss to coat with the oil.

Leave the mushrooms for around five minutes until they begin to brown. They will release liquid in this time which will boil off immediately. At this point, you should begin to cook the pasta in the water you heated earlier.

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Gently stir the mushrooms to turn them over so they begin to brown all around.

 

While the mushrooms are cooking, finely dice the onion and slice the garlic thinly.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks before grating in the cheese and whisking again.

Add ½ tsp salt and the pepper to the egg mix and whisk again.

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Once the mushrooms have browned, add the garlic and onion.

Stir while they are cooking to avoid the garlic burning. You don’t really want to brown, just cook them through.

Drain the pasta just before it is fully cooked as it will finish cooking with the mushrooms. Make sure to reserve a cup of water from the pasta before you drain it.

Add a quarter of this reserved water to the mushrooms. The water will boil immediately and deglaze the pan, lifting up all of the mushroom flavour that is stuck to it.

Tip the pasta into the pan with the mushrooms and continue to cook until all of the water is gone. Turn off the heat and leave for two minutes to cool a little.

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Whisk one third of the remaining water (60ml) into the egg mix. This will temper the eggs so they do not scramble when they hit the hot pasta.

Tip the egg mix into the pasta and stir continuously for a few minutes until the liquid has thickened into a creamy sauce as the egg cooks. Make sure to stir across the whole base of the pan to ensure the egg doesn’t cook unevenly. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little bit of the reserved pasta water.

Stir in the parsley and serve.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of mushrooms and pasta, why not check out my mushroom pasta bake – it is one of the first things I posted on this blog; if you are vegetarian just ignore the chicken in it as the dinner works perfectly well without it. If you are looking for something a little bit more on the sweet side, why not make yourself some miniature almond cakes? They are divine.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next weeks with a deliciously flaky baked dish.

H