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

Falafel

When most people think of falafel, they think of chickpeas. Now, they aren’t technically wrong as the main constituent of modern falafel is chickpeas however they were traditionally made with fava beans. Falafel is still made with fava beans in many places – notably Egypt which is believed to be where falafel (ta’amiya) originated from. It is not uncommon to find a mixture of chickpeas and fava beans in falafel either but for most people, especially those in the western world, chickpeas are the favourite.

As with hummus there is much debate over the specific origin of falafel. It is generally accepted that the food which evolved into the falafel we know today was Egyptian, however many countries in the Middle East claim falafel as their own, even going as far as calling it their national dish at various points in history. In a surprising turn of events, there are also those who claim that India owns the rights, as it were, to the falafel’s creation – although I cannot find any evidence to support this so if you know of any I would love to hear about it! The movement of nomadic groups around the middle east would have meant that falafel was transported all over the area. This could very easily give rise to the arguments that exist today.

There are hundreds of different varieties of falafel, the main differences between them arising from the addition of different flavouring elements. Fresh herbs, dried spices, alliums, even the length of the time the dried beans are left soaking can all have an effect on the final product. Fava bean falafels often contain leeks whereas a chickpea-based mixture will usually include onions or spring onions (scallions). Both varieties have a hefty amount of garlic (as they should) and regularly contain fresh parsley and coriander which gives rise to a lurid green centre when you bite into the falafel. I have seen recipes for both falafel and hummus where you are instructed to leave the chickpeas in their soak for days until they sprout as this apparently gives a sweetness to the final product. Again, I have never tried this but let me know if you have and if it works. I doubt I would be successful if I tried this as the salt in the soak I leave the chickpeas in is probably high enough in concentration to kill any part of the chickpea which is still alive.

When making falafel, it is imperative that you start with dried chickpeas. This is because canned chickpeas come pre-cooked and, while this is just about acceptable when making hummus, for good falafel the chickpeas must be raw. When chickpeas are cooked, the starch inside them bursts and comes out into the liquid they are cooked and cooled in giving rise to aquafaba. Unfortunately, this starch is essential to making good falafel as without it they will fall apart during cooking. You can avoid this by adding some flour to bind the mixture together but it won’t have the fluffy inside and crispy outside that you want for the best falafel. This can only be achieved by making them from scratch (which is brilliant if you are cooking on a budget as a bag of dried chickpeas can make twelve generous portions of falafel and only costs about £1.20).

The final combination of herbs and spices is of course completely up to you. The ones given in the recipe below are my favourite but everyone has their own preferences. By adding salt to the original soak, the chickpeas are already a little bit seasoned so you may have to play around with the amount you add depending on whether you are a salt fiend like me or not. The bicarbonate of soda and flour are there to help soften the skin of the chickpeas so they can absorb more water but will not impact the flavour in any way as they are completely washed off.

I would serve these with fresh hummus and pitta bread – perhaps a laffa or taboon bread if you are feeling like a bigger portion. You can stuff the pitta with hummus and spicy sauces, pickled veg and fresh salad (tomato and cucumber are popular) before topping it with these glorious crunch balls. Enjoy the recipe and let me know how it goes for you.

 

Falafel

Soak time: 12-36 hours

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 6

Cost per serving: around 50p

 

 

250g dried chickpeas

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 medium onion

4 large cloves garlic

3 tbsp chopped parsley

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground coriander

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Place the chickpeas into a bowl and fill it with water.

Mix the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda with four tablespoons of water to make a slurry.

Stir the slurry into the chickpeas and water.

Leave overnight or for up to 36 hours for the chickpeas to rehydrate.

 

Drain the chickpeas and rinse them to remove all of the flour mixture.

Roughly chop the onion and garlic and put into the bowl of a large food processor.

Add the parsley, chickpeas, cumin and a little salt and pepper.

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Blend to make a rough mixture. It will begin to clump with the liquid from the chickpeas – this is good! As the chickpeas are raw, you will not get a smooth paste.

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Shape into patties just under an inch thick  – a rounded tablespoon of mixture per patty should give you 35 falafel from this recipe.

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Add a centimetre of oil to the base of a large frying pan and heat. Use a little of the falafel mixture to tell when the oil is ready, it should bubble around any falafel added – please note that the oil will not bubble unless something is in it and is very hot. Do not let children near hot oil.

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Place the falafel in the pan and leave for two minutes until the base is golden. Flip and repeat with the other side. Continue to flip the falafel until they are a dark brown all around the outside.

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If you are cooking the falafel in batches, keep them warm in the oven (on its lowest setting) until all the falafel are cooked. Place them onto a piece of kitchen roll when you take them out of the pan to remove any excess oil.

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Serve with hummus, pitta, schug and fresh salads for a delicious, middle eastern feast.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you want to make your own hummus to go with these falafel, check out my recipe. It’s ultra-smooth and pairs beautifully with the crispiness of the falafel.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a miniature cake recipe.

H

 

 

 

Chicken Pie

Hands up if you have ever made puff pastry. Now keep them up if you have made it more than once. Chances are, 90% of the people who own up to making puff pastry have only made it once because let’s be realistic, nobody has time to make puff pastry at home unless they are trying to show off. It’s one of those things (like croissants) that you do to be able to say you have done it and never again.

The difficulty with puff pastry is how easy it is to go wrong. Patience is the key but even that only goes so far. The pastry must be kept cool – but not to cold otherwise the butter will seize and crack – and you must let it rest between every single fold. It takes a whole day. Some people call it a labour of love. I call it proving a point so when that one difficult person at your dinner party asks if you made the pastry yourself, because they have been watching too much Come Dine With Me, you can say that you did with a clear conscience.

Puff pastry is comprised of many incredibly thin layers of dough sandwiched with layers of butter or shortening. The fat stops the layers from adhering to each other so that when it goes into the oven, the steam created in the pastry can push the layers apart creating the flaky texture we all know and love. Of course, if your heart is set on making the pastry yourself, there are plenty of recipes out there but for most of us mere mortals, buying premade pastry is just fine.

The same process of lamination – creating the alternating layers of butter and dough – is performed when making croissants however unlike puff pastry, Danish pastry dough and croissant dough contain an extra leavening agent: yeast. This gives the dough a larger rise in the oven and results in a far softer finish. Puff pastry is hard and flaky but Danish pastries are soft and flaky. To be fair to the puff pastry, it’s still less time consuming than making croissants which, if you follow some recipes, will take days to prepare.

The recipe for my chicken pie is a relatively universal filling. For this one, I have given a basic pastry topped pie however the same filling can be used with a fully lined pie dish and I also use it for filling hot water crust pastry when I make giant chicken pies. It takes a little time to make but it keeps in the fridge so you can make it the day before and just pop on the pastry before it goes into the oven. The filling is delicious and is a good way to make a little chicken go a long way. When using hot water crust pastry, I can stretch the two chicken breasts to eight big portions

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Hot water crust pastry chicken pie

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Chicken Pie

Serves: 4

Prep time: 45 minutes (must be done in advance as the filling has to cool)

Cook time: 20 minutes

Price per portion: around £1.50

 

2 large onions (around 400g) – finely diced

2 large carrots (around 400g) – chopped into 1cm cubes

4 cloves garlic – minced or finely diced

2 chicken breasts – chopped into 2cm cubes

200ml strong chicken stock

200ml milk (can be replaced by water or 100ml milk and 100ml cream for an extra creamy filling)

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

¼ cup cornflour mixed with ¼ cup of water

Salt and Pepper

Puff Pastry

 

Optional:

Egg wash

200g chorizo

 

 

For the filling:

If using chorizo, finely chop it and add to a pan with a teaspoon of oil (just enough to stop it sticking and burning).

Fry the chorizo for a few minutes to allow the fat to render out of it.

Remove the chorizo from the pan and set to one side. Keep the oil for frying the onions in.

If you are not using chorizo, add 2 tbsp oil to a large pan and add the onions. Fry until translucent.

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Add the carrot and the garlic and fry for another 5 minutes.

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Push the vegetables to the side of the pan and add the chicken into the well in the centre.

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Stir the chicken until it’s all sealed (white on the outside).

Add the stock and the milk and stir everything together.

Simmer for 10 minutes to soften the carrots.

Add the parsley and half the cornflour slurry stirring it through to thicken the sauce.

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If it is still very runny, add more slurry a tablespoon at a time until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. It should flow slowly as you want a gravy but you don’t want it to go everywhere when you cut into the pie!

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer for another five minutes and then pour the filling into a pie dish and leave it to cool.

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Once the filling is cold, preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (2100C).

Roll out your puff pastry. Half a block/half a sheet should be enough to cover the entire pie if rolled out enough. (The rest of the puff pastry can be frozen or made into another pie or little snacks like cheese straws or palmier.)

Place the pie crust over the filling and tuck it down the sides so the pie bulges in the middle.

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If you want to do an egg wash, beat an egg with a tablespoon of water and then lightly brush the top of the pie. You can also use the egg wash to bind any off-cuts of pastry on as decorations.

Bake for 25 minutes turning about halfway through.

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Serve hot with potatoes and probably something green.

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Sometimes the green doesn’t make it but Hasselback potatoes always will!

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy a beef pie instead, my recipe for a saucy cottage pie is divine and you can easily replace the mash with puff pastry as above or if you are looking for something a little bit sweeter, then check out how to make a delicious batch of scones!

Have a good one and I’ll see you next week with a recipe for a tangy lemon drizzle cake.

H