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.

 

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

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

 

 

 

Hummus

I have mentioned several times on this blog about how pasta is my ultimate comfort food however I had clearly overlooked one thing – hummus. Don’t get me wrong, I adore pasta and when I am feeling down it is just what I want but there is something about hummus which makes it a perfect accompaniment to almost every meal. I am not kidding with that last sentence – last time I was in Israel I ate chicken dipped in hummus and one of my housemates at university would put sweet chilli hummus on pasta whenever she was feeling down.

Another thing about hummus is that it is packed full of protein. It is great for vegans or people who cannot digest meat properly. Not only that but the protein content of the chickpea cooking water is so high that you can actually whip it up like egg white and use it in meringues. Each medium egg white should be replaced with two tablespoons of aquafaba, as the liquid is called, when baking. Whilst you can extract aquafaba from all dried beans and legumes, chickpeas seem to produce the most effective one to use as an egg replacement.

The name ‘hummus’ means ‘chickpea’ in Arabic. The full name ‘ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna’ means ‘chickpeas with tahini’. The tahini is a very important part of hummus. It is created from blended sesame seeds and the ultra high fat content enables the hummus to be deliciously smooth and creamy. A lot of supermarkets save on costs when producing hummus by using less, or lower quality, tahini and you can taste this in the final product. Ethiopian tahini is generally viewed as the best among hummus connoisseurs with people all around the Middle East using it to make their hummus. Of course, it is not the most readily available in shops but if you have time to order it online, and the patience to wait for it (or you just want to make the best hummus of your life) then I would definitely recommend ordering some and seeing what you think of the result.

Although it takes a little bit of planning, hummus is a super simple food to make. It also makes a great starter (either for one or at a diner party) as it is served cold so can be prepared in advance. I hope you like it.

 

 

Hummus

Work time: 15 minutes

Waiting time: 12-36 hours

Cook time: 1.5 – 2 hours

 

 

250g dried chickpeas

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Water

200ml tahini (t’hina)

4 garlic cloves

Juice of 3 lemons

1/8 tsp dried cumin

2 tbsp olive oil

 

In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda with a little water to form a paste.

Add another litre of water whisking to ensure all the lumps are removed.

Place the chickpeas in this and add more water to cover if necessary.

Leave overnight (or up to 36 hours) for the chickpeas to rehydrate. They will increase in volume a lot.

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Drain the chickpeas and rinse well to remove all the flour mix.

Place them into a pan with 1.6 litres of water.

Bring the water to a boil and then simmer for one and a half to two hours until the chickpeas are soft and can be gently squished between your thumb and index finger.

Leave the chickpeas to cool for an hour in this water.

Drain the chickpeas (reserving some of the liquid for later use in this recipe. The rest can be discarded or used as an egg replacement in meringues and mousses – this is aquafaba).

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Leave the skins on. They will blend well so there is no point in going through the hassle of removing them.

Mince the garlic and let it rest in two tablespoons of the lemon juice for a few minutes. This helps to remove the aggressive rawness of the garlic before it is eaten.

In the bowl of a blender, place the chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon juice mix, cumin and olive oil. Blend to a thick paste.

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Taste the hummus and soften the consistency with the aquafaba. Season with salt and the reserved lemon juice.

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You can also add fresh herbs to the hummus for extra flavour. Here I have added coriander but parsley, chives and tarragon also work well.

Scrape the hummus into a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with ground paprika.

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You do not have to keep the hummus in the fridge but make sure it is covered! Ideally you want to serve this within 36 hours of making it but it is still perfectly edible after this time.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are still in the Christmas spirit (we are still in the 12 days of Christmas after all) why not try making yourself a delicious Christmas cake or if you are more of a fan of savoury things, treat yourself to an amazing tricolour loaf of woven vegetable bread.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for the infamous puff pastry.

H

Teriyaki Tofu

As someone who doesn’t particularly care for sandwiches, one of my aims in the kitchen is to construct a repertoire of foods which are just as good cold as they are hot and so can be taken to university for lunch. If I weren’t so fussy, this wouldn’t be an issue as I could just take sandwiches and make do but I am so I can’t. As a result, I ended up developing a selection of Asian style tofu dishes with different versions of my standard ‘teriyaki sauce’ as I have found tofu to be a very nice cold dish.

The reason I put ‘teriyaki’ in inverted commas is that this is not a classic teriyaki sauce, it has been westernised. A traditional version would have sake or mirin (types of rice wine) in it and would not have the sesame. As sake and mirin were very difficult to get hold of in the West when Asian food began to become popular, substitutions had to be made that would satisfy customers without changing the sauce too much. The replacement of mirin with sesame oil was one of these. The oil emulsifies into the sauce very well and doesn’t split during cooking – leading to a thick sauce packed full of flavour – and salt, so you shouldn’t need to season this at all. I sometimes add a little bit of rice vinegar if I have it in the house as it helps cut through the sweetness so you get a far more balanced sauce.

As with most cooking terms, the word ‘teriyaki’ comes from the combination of words describing the process. Teri describes the shine that this sauce gives to food because of the high sugar content and yaki refers to the actual cooking method of grilling or broiling. This origin of the word goes some way to explaining the reason why there is no ‘official’ recipe for teriyaki sauce in Japan. The only requirement is that it is a soy sauce based glaze. I could make an argument that, using this definition, my sauce is technically a teriyaki sauce as the result is a glossy dish but this version is certainly not authentic and is deeply rooted in western cuisine.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and decide that you want to try it out for your own lunches. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Teriyaki Tofu with Coriander

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Serves 4

Cost per portion: around £1.20

60ml Dark Soy Sauce

60ml runny honey

40ml sesame oil

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp hot sauce (I use sriracha)

400g extra firm tofu

1 large carrot

I bunch spring onions

1 cup frozen edamame beans

20ml vegetable oil

If necessary: 2 tbsp cornflour mixed with 4tbsp water

I bunch of fresh coriander

Remove the tofu from its packaging and drain it. Wrap it in a hand towel and place it on a firm, flat surface with a heavy weight on top (a large cookery book is ideal). This will press any excess liquid out, making the tofu firmer and nicer to eat. (This is, of course, optional depending on how firm your tofu is to start with.)

To make the sauce, grate the garlic and whisk it together with the soy sauce, honey, sesame and hot sauce.

Cut the carrot into 2mm thick rounds and then cut these again to make tiny batons.

Slice up the spring onion.

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After the tofu has been pressed for about ten minutes remove it from the towel

Cut the tofu into 1 or 2cm cubes.

Place the tofu and the vegetable oil into a non-stick pan and fry until the tofu begins to develop a hard crust underneath. This will soften later so don’t be afraid to get a little crispyness on the tofu.

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Toss the tofu and continue to fry until most of it has formed a crust.

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Remove the tofu from the pan leaving as much oil as possible in it as this will be used to fry the rest of the dish.

Add the carrots to the pan. Fry for two minutes on high heat and then add 50ml water. BE CAREFUL – this will spit a little. The water will help soften the carrots.

Fry for another three minutes until the water has mostly evaporated and then add the spring onion.

Fry for another minute before adding the frozen edamame beans.

Add another 50ml of water and cook until the water has all gone.

Tip in the tofu and the sauce mix. Simmer for at least five minutes to ensure the garlic in the sauce is fully cooked.

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If the sauce is still very runny, add one tablespoon of the cornflour mix and stir it through. Continue to add more cornflour, cooking between each addition, until the sauce has reached a thick, oozing consistency. As this can be eaten cold, you do not want to add so much cornflour that the sauce sets when it cools.

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Roughly chop the coriander and stir it through the still hot mixture.

Serve with rice either hot or cold! I like to take this to university with me for lunches as it doesn’t need to be hot to be delicious.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of tofu, check out my ginger tofu recipe, it’s another one which is good cold and my lord is it tasty. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little bit more on the sweet variety, why not treat yourself to a delicious devil’s food cake? It’s rich, chocolatey and devilishly good.

Have a good one and I will be back with a recipe for those of you looking to indulge your sweet tooth.

H

Coconut and Purple Sweet Potato Soup

Blue food. The very notion conjures up thoughts of sweets and food colouring – neither of which are particularly appealing. This reaction most likely arises from the fact that there are almost no naturally blue foods so eating something with such an unnatural colour can be a little unsettling. The closest that nature comes to presenting us with blue food are the butterfly pea flower (which isn’t eaten itself, just used for its dye) and purple plants.

Most naturally occurring purple foods contain the indicator anthocyanin. This is what gives red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries, purple sweet potato and even black rice their colour. Anthocyanins are red in acidic solutions and dark purple and blue in more neutral ones. The colourful nature of anthocyanins has lead to their popularity among chefs who like to employ a bit of pageantry in their cooking. With only a few drops of vinegar or lemon juice, food and drink can be made to change colour in front of the consumer’s eyes leading to an exciting meal (which can also cost a lot of money).

The purple sweet potato has a vibrant purple colour which stems from the high concentration of anthocyanins in its flesh. When boiled, the colour darkens, becoming closer to navy blue, as boiling water is slightly more acidic than cold water and the indicator in the sweet potato reacts accordingly. As a result, the majority of recipes using purple sweet potatoes will tell you to bake the potato and then scoop out the cooked flesh, as this way none of the colour is lost. You also don’t lose any of the flavour which is important as there are a lot of subtle undertones which can be easy to miss if all the taste is cooked out of the potato. As they have such a sweet flavour, purple sweet potatoes are commonly used in desserts and not savoury dishes. Cakes, tarts, swiss rolls and even bubble tea have all benefitted from the taste and colour of purple sweet potatoes and, because of this, the sweet potato has become one of the most versatile ingredients you can use.

The recipe below can of course be made with normal orange sweet potato or even with white sweet potatoes if you can get your hands on them. I imagine a small trio of soups, one with each of the different potatoes, would be both visually and gustatorily fantastic – though I’m sure that the contestants on Come Dine With Me would say that it’s still too simple, even with the homemade bread that you spent the day baking. Either way, the soup is delicious and I hope you like it as much as I did.

 

Purple Sweet Potato and Coconut soup

Time: 45 minutes

Serves: 7/8

Cost per portion: around 35p

 

2 large purple sweet potatoes

2 medium onions

3 cloves garlic

2 tbsp chopped ginger

1 medium spicy chilli

400ml coconut milk

500-750ml vegetable stock

3 tbsp vegetable oil

 

Chop the potatoes into quarters lengthwise, place onto a baking tray and drizzle with two tablespoons of the oil.

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Bake for half an hour at gas mark 6.

While the potatoes are baking, dice the onion. This doesn’t have to be super fine as the soup will be blended later.

Place the onion into a pan with the remaining oil and saute until it is translucent.

Roughly chop the garlic and chilli and add them to the onions along with the ginger.

Fry until the garlic and ginger become fragrant and then add the coconut milk and 500ml of the vegetable stock.

Once the mix is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer the soup until the potatoes finish cooking in the oven.

 

Remove the potatoes from the oven and let them rest for a few minutes until you can touch them without burning yourself.

Peel off the skins which should have released during cooking.

Chop the potato into chunks and add it to the soup – if it is not quite soft yet, let it simmer in the soup for five minutes or so.

Using a stick blender, blend the soup until it is smooth.

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Slowly add the remaining stock until the soup reaches the desired consistency. I like it to be thick enough to coat a spoon – similar to the thickness of double cream.

 

This soup is really filling and really tasty so it will go a long way. It’s also super vibrant and, if you make it with purple sweet potatoes its colour is phenomenal. Extra portions shouldn’t be an issue as the soup freezes well so you can just grab a portion and whack it in the microwave for a quick meal.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe, if you are a fan of soups, you should definitely check out my curried sweet potato soup or my butternut squash soup. If you are looking for something a little bit sweeter, why not treat yourself and make a honey cake?

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a recipe for an amazing unicorn cake.

H

Ginger Tofu

Herbs and spices enhance a dish in a way that nothing else can. Spices add layers of flavour whilst herbs provide a freshness that lifts a dish to another level. The difference between a herb and a spice is the region of a plant where they are found. Herbs are the leaves of a plant (like basil or mint) whereas spices can be the root (ginger), the seeds (caraway) or the bark (cinnamon). Some species of plant can provide both herbs and spices like coriander from which we use both the leaves and the seeds. The powdered coriander you buy is made by grinding the seeds.

While herbs and spices are found mostly in savoury foods, there are several which are used in sweet dishes too. People are often afraid to use herbs in desserts which is understandable, herbs have relatively strong flavours and you wouldn’t normally put leaves in a pudding but sometimes it just works. Basil pairs beautifully with white chocolate, peaches, strawberries and mango; mint pairs with dark chocolate; sage and thyme work wonderfully with citrus flavours; saffron gives an incredible yellow colour to a dish and of course, sweet tea flavoured dishes – especially matcha green tea with white chocolate – are very in at the moment. Spices, on the other hand, are used all the time in sweet treats without anyone batting an eyelid: chilli chocolate, gingerbread, cinnamon rolls and pfeffernüsse immediately come to mind. Of course we cannot leave out one of the most common spices used today, in fact this item is so common that it is never really considered a spice, cocoa. Chocolate comes from the seeds of a plant making it a spice!

One of my favourite spices is ginger. It has grown on me a lot over the past few years and now I love it. It’s such a versatile flavouring, you can use it dried or fresh in dishes to give them a spicy kick without making them too hot or just use a little to pack a dish full of flavour. The ginger that we know and love is the root of the plant Zingiber Officinale. It is related to galangal (which it can be substituted for in recipes) as well as turmeric – a spice which provides a vibrant yellow colour at a more affordable price than saffron – and cardamom although we only eat the seeds of the cardamom flower. The zingy nature of ginger makes it a delicious flavour to pair with garlic and chilli. Many of my dinners at university were flavoured with some combination of these three, the proportions adjusted depending on how I was feeling at the time.

The recipe below has ginger as a dominant flavour and when mixed with the soy, honey and sesame oil, creates a sauce which is incredibly more-ish. This dish is amazing both hot and cold so can be whipped up for dinner and then the leftovers can be taken to work and eaten for lunch the next day.

Quick disclaimer: Whilst people get very worked up about reheated rice or eating it cold, they never seem to worry about it when eating sushi and other such dishes. Of course there is a chance that reheated rice can give you food poisoning, there is a chance that any type of food could give it to you. The main issue with rice is a bacterium which lives on the surface of dried rice and isn’t killed by cooking – in fact, it’s the cooling cooked rice that it feeds best on so the moment the rice is cold, place it into the fridge and you should be alright for a few days. I wouldn’t advise keeping rice for more than two days but if you do, make sure you reheat the rice fully until it is steaming. I have never had a problem with rice but it never hurts to be careful.

Enjoy the recipe. This sauce can be used for chicken and beef too if you aren’t a fan of tofu, just substitute them in when cooking and make sure to cook all the meat through properly.

Ginger Tofu

Time: 30 minutes

Servings: 3

Cost per serving: around £1.50

40g peeled ginger

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 ½ tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp honey

400g firm/extra firm tofu (not silken)

2 ½ tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp cornflour mixed with 1 tbsp water

1-1.5 cups rice

1 onion

1 carrot

80g edamame/soya beans

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp Sushi vinegar mixed with 1 tsp sugar and ¼ tsp salt (optional)

1tbsp chilli oil (optional)

Place the rice into a saucepan and rinse a few times by half filling the saucepan with water, swilling the rice around until the water turns cloudy and then draining it.

For one cup of rice, add one and a half cups of water to the pan (scale this up for more rice) and bring to the boil over a high heat. Turn the heat down and simmer the rice, covered for about 15-20 minutes.

(If using a rice cooker, rinse the rice and put it into the cooker with the instructed amount of water and turn the rice cooker into cook mode – if it finishes early, it will keep the rice warm.)

Drain the tofu and place it between two boards. Press down on the top board and drain off any excess liquid that comes out of the tofu.

Cut the tofu into small cubes, I tend to do one horizontal cut through the block and then several along each edge giving me around 40 small pieces.

Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan. It is important to use a non-stick pan as tofu can be a real pain to cook in stainless-steel.

Add the tofu to the oil and leave to fry – I like to add salt and pepper to the tofu while it is frying to season it.

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While the tofu is cooking, grate the garlic and the ginger into a small bowl.

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Stir the honey, soy sauce and one tablespoon of the sesame oil into the ginger and garlic mix.

Once the tofu turns golden on the base and starts to go crispy, turn it over and cook the other side. It will take about five minutes per side to start going crispy.

While the second side is cooking, finely slice the onion into half moons. Thinly slice the carrots into two inch long thin strips. A julienne peeler is ideal for this.

Once the top and bottom of the tofu are crispy, add the sauce mix along with one quarter of a cup (60ml) of water. Be careful as it will spit when you add it to the pan.

Allow the mix to bubble for a minute to cook the garlic and ginger before pouring in the cornflour slurry and stirring to coat the tofu.

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Pour the tofu into a dish and use a spatula to scrape out as much of the sauce as possible.

Add the remaining vegetable and sesame oil to the frying pan and heat.

Tip in the onion, carrot and edamame beans and fry until the beans are cooked. This will ensure that the onion and carrot still have a little crunch.

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I like to add a tablespoon of chilli oil at this point to give the vegetables a little kick.

When the rice is cooked, drain off any water that may be left, place a lid onto the saucepan and allow to steam for a minute to make sure the rice is dry.

Stir together the sushi vinegar, salt and sugar. It may be necessary to heat this in the microwave for ten seconds or so to help everything dissolve.

Pour the seasoning over the rice and gently stir it through.

This can be eaten hot or allowed to cool and then taken for lunches at work or on the go. The seasoned rice will keep in the fridge for a few days (long enough to eat it all safely) and the tofu and veg will also keep in airtight containers. Cold tofu tends to have a slightly firmer texture than warm tofu; personally I prefer the former.

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All packed up in a lunch box and ready to go.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you like tofu, check out my delicious tofu curry – the tricks in it can be applied to any curry to make them vegetarian/vegan or if you would like something a little bit sweeter, check out how to make some delicious, crumbly shortbread.

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a recipe for an annual favourite – the honey cake.

H

Onion Soup

I have found that whatever I am making for dinner, my recipes tend to start out the same way: dice/slice/cube the onion and lightly sauté it in a pan. Onions are a great way to bulk out a dish and add a wonderful flavour but they are rarely showcased as the main ingredient. This is a massive shame as onions are delicious and deserve to be shown the respect they are due.

The origin of the onion is not well known as the original wild onion variety is now extinct – and has been for some time. The cultivated version that we know today has been around for over five millennia and has been cultivated by different cultures around the world over this time period.

One of the most famous traits of the onion is that cutting onions makes you cry. This is an evolutionary defence mechanism in which damage to the flesh of an onion starts a chain reaction in which enzymes within it cause the production of syn-Propanethial-S-oxide – or as normal people call it, “the stuff that makes you cry”. This gas irritates our eyes when we cut onions but more importantly for the plant, if it gets attached by pests whilst growing, the gas makes it painful to eat the onion so the pests will move onto a different plant. The gas is sulphur based and the majority of the sulphur in an onion is located near the root end. This is why people advise not cutting off the bottom end of an onion until you have cut up the rest of it as this will reduce the irritation on your eyes. Another interesting thing about this onion based tear gas is that if you cut up enough onions, your eyes will get used to it and you will stop crying – you can actually become immune!

Onions make a great star ingredient for many vegetarian dishes. French onion soup – for which the recipe is given below – is a fantastic example of this. It’s warm, filling, packed full of flavour and completely vegetarian (even vegan if you replace the butter with olive oil). Onion tarts are another popular dish. I am very partial to a tart we make at home which has red onions and balsamic vinegar with a little cheese and a scone like base. Goats cheese and red onion are another classic pairing. Of course we cannot forget one of the most popular forms of the onion – the pickled onion. Soaked in a spiced vinegar, these are often served as a side dish, are popular in sandwiches and together with cheese, bread and sometimes ham, make the Ploughman’s lunch.

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The photo isn’t the best as it’s from about seven years ago but the taste of this onion tart is simply stunning.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and that it opens the onion up to far more possibilities in your kitchen.

 

 

 

Onion Soup

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 90 minutes

Serves 4

Cost per serving: around 60p

 

 

3 medium onions

3 cloves garlic

2 tbsp olive oil

25g butter

3 tsp sugar

1/4 cup (60ml) cooking sherry

750ml vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

 

 

Thinly slice the onions and add them to a pan with the oil and the butter.

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Lightly sauté until the onions are translucent.

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Finely crush the garlic and mix it in along with the sugar.

Allow to caramelise for at least three quarters of an hour stirring every fifteen minutes.

Add the sherry and simmer for another fifteen minutes.

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Stir in the stock and cook for another half hour to allow the flavours to meld.

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Serve with croutons or crusty bread for dipping.

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This soup keeps well in the fridge – but never seems to last longer than 48 hours in my house anyway.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a big fan of soups, check out how to make my butternut squash, curried parsnip or tomato and red pepper soups or if you prefer sweet dishes to savoury ones, why not try to master the art of macarons?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a classic British biscuit.

H