Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Scandinavian potato salad and a free recipe book for vegetarians

I like Scandinavian cuisine. Lots of salted fish, pickles, potato and black bread. Just like Russian and Ukrainian, but more grim.

I came across this recipe in the recipe supplement of Waitrose monthly in-store magazine. I was never a big fan of Waitrose recipes, for years they always contained an expensive ingredient. Like a ready-made 'food for cooks' sauce or dressing, or something pre-prepared and thus pricier than it needed to be.

But they obviously improved on that with recession and all. And this month's selection, entitled Spring Harvest 2013 is full of delights and perfect for vegetarians too!

Out of the 25 recipes on offer, only one of them features meat (roast leg of lamb) - the rest - veggie paradise!

Here it is. I need to say straight away, I am not paid by Waitrose to publish this - not big enough fish, so to say. So it's all based on my pure enthusiasm for this month's recipe book.

I made this salad and it was a triumph. Just what the doctor ordered. Easy to make, cheap, with yummy taste of home (well, Scandinavia, which is close enough). Delish!

Scandi Potato Salad
(Serves 4)

The ingredients: 

500g new potatoes
2 red onions (I actually think one medium one is plenty) - finely sliced
100ml white wine vinegar
6 black peppercorns
1tsp coriander seeds
50g caster sugar
4 eggs
100ml sour cream
1tbsp wholegrain mustard
fresh dill - a bit - to garnish

The method: 

Cook the potato till ready.
Meanwhile, put vinegar with sugar, coriander seeds and peppercorns in a pan and heat till the sugar melts.
Pour the hot vinegar over the sliced onions and leave for about 30 min to infuse
Boil the eggs till hard. Cool and cut in half.
Now make the sauce: mix the sour cream and mustard, adding a teaspoon of the vinegar mixture to loosen up.
When potatoes are ready and slightly cooled, cut them into chunks. Mix with the sauce. Drain the onions from vinegar and add them plus the eggs to the potato and sauce. Garnish with dill.

It is wonderful!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Russian vegan mushroom soup with pickles!

It is week one of the Russian Orthodox Lent. Russian Easter falls on the 5th of May, so people are only now starting to fast. And Russian Orthodox fast is strict: no meat, eggs or dairy.  Fish is only allowed twice. So, vegan they turn.

To mark this occasion I thought I could make a nice and simple Russian vegan mushroom soup. It is called Solyanka - which means 'salty' and it is a bit salty, as gherkins and capers are added. It is a bit unusual, but well worth trying. And believe you me, it's not the weirdest thing we eat! (And in the Soviet time it was a bit of a luxury too. Mushrooms, capers, olives and even lemons were hard to come across).

Mushroom Solyanka
(from The Practical Encyclopedia of East European Cooking)
(my photo doesn't do it justice)

Makes 4 portions

The Ingredients

About 500g mixed mushrooms (you can get away with just one variety, like button mushrooms, but I find it's a bit more fun when you have a variety).
just over 1 liter of veg stock
2 onions diced
1tbsp tomato puree
a few small gherkins
1 tbsp capers
Olives and a slice of lemon to serve (rather important, or it won't be a true Solyanaka)
Olive oil (optional)
A few leaves of parsley to garnish (optional)

The method: 

You can either saute onions in a little oil and fry mushrooms in oil beforehand, or go oil free.  

Stage 1: For the latter, saute the onions in a little bit of stock, add the rest fo the stock, all the mushrooms, cover and cook for 30 min or so. 

Go to stage 2.

I did it a bit differently. I sautes the mushrooms in a bit of oil, I also sauted the mushrooms in some oil. I used a mixture of button and oyster mushrooms.

I then put it all in a pot with the stock and cooked for 20 min. Then I did Stage 2.

Stage 2: While the mushrooms are cooking, mix the tomato puree with a bit of stock or water. Slice the gherkins and drain the capers.

Add the tomato puree and capers and gherkins to the soup. Cook for 10 more min. Season at the end, as the pickles add saltiness to the dish.

Now serve with a few olives and a think slice of lemon. Garnish with parsley.

If you are not vegan or doing Russian Lent - add some sour creme,

Friday, 22 March 2013

Only 8 days to go till roasted leg of lamb

The closer I get to Easter the more I struggle with having no meat in the diet. And it's not even the lack of flesh itself, it's the lack of cooking knowledge. What I found most challenging is having to look for things to cook. B/c I never really lived a fully meat free life, I do not have a mental glossary of meat free cooking ideas. So every week I have to look at recipe books and plan from scratch. I don't have an intuitive knowledge of what I can cook next.

I also have to confess, while lots of vegetarian food (apart from Indian curries) make a perfectly good lunch time meal, I really struggle with veg dishes for dinner. For me they lack the main focus.

Take this lovey recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (given to me by uncle Vic), it makes a lovely lunch, a good side dish, but it lacks a slice of meat/sausage to make a good dinner dish.

Roasted Squash with shallots and Merguez chickpeas

Here is the recipe from Channel 4 cooking pages.

(I now see that I should have served it with cous cous - that may have helped)

So yum, but before 4pm!

The good news is that I still have 8 days and hopefully I will discover more yummy dishes to try. And then, then it's Easter and Tim's slow cooking a leg of lamb!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Oriental fish - success at last

I haven't been having much luck with fish recently. But yesterday Tim finally cooked something yummy - almost dinner supper party yummy. Oriental ramen type fish.

Tim's Oriental Salmon

1 pint of miso soup from a packet (Tim used 1 sachet for about 500-600ml of water)
Jazzed up with some soy and fish sauces
4 cloves of garlic crushed
2-3cm of ginger peeled and grated

Heat all of the above and poach some salmon in that. Take salmon out, add juice and zest of 1 lime - and keep it warm.

Meanwhile stir-fry some veg in a wok (Tim used Sainsbury's pre-packed stir fry mix with Chinese cabbage, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, some greens, fresh pepper). When ready add fresh rice noodles, then add the miso stock and salmon. It should be a bit soupy.

It is absolutely delish!

He thought there would be enough for today too, but we wolved it all.

So today, while I was selling some stuff at the local NCT sale and sampling some Polish cakes, Tim made penne with red and white sauce and croutons. Which was a big success, polished off with trickle pudding.

Our plan for the week is to have some Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's roasted squash and shallots with merguz chickpeas (thank you Uncle Vic for the recipe) as well as some penne with a slightly dull red sauce. I say dull, b/c this is our - not sure what to cook - lets make red sauce - recipe, which I ate too many times. But hey-ho!

Tim is not too keen on the squash, while I am really looking forward to it - love squash. I did remind him that our meat free Lent was all part of a challenge to open our non-meaty culinary horizons. So he had to agree to give it a go.

Will tell you whether it works.

I would also like to thank everyone who sent me recipes in reply to my recent culinary disasters! It looks like I encouraged yout o eat more fish and veg too! Especial thank you to Vilena and Minal and uncle Vic too!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Crisis reached and overcome: Ukrainian Hash Browns

I hit a really low point with my no meat life last Sunday. Tim and I sat down to plan our weekly menu and my mind went blank. Yes, totally blank. There was virtually nothing I wanted to eat which had no meat in it.

My exciting idea of experimenting with new flavours and eating more fish and veg had a brutal reality check with a cascade of rather uninspiring on plainly yuky dishes I cooked in the last few weeks (that tagine, and that fish... Brrrr!

It was so bad, I didn't plan a menu at all. I just replenished my store cupboard stuff - tinned toms, onions... I fancied NOTHING!

Luckily, a couple of good friends were coming for lunch that day and we made some home-made pizzas. Which was perfect, as the kids loved them, our friends who didn't give up meat for Lent could make their own with yummy salami and ham and we constructed out veggie ones.

So there were lots of cool jars of Italian delicatessen like roasted peppers, artichokes and aubergines left.

Yesterday I was polishing up those and had an uninspiring, but good pasta with shop bought pesto.

However, today I though I'd claw my enthusiasm back and I made two yummy -whatever-is-in-the-fridge dishes. Which given my total lack of inspiration last Sunday, was a true miracle!

Lunch - Bean Salad with Jarred things

A tin of white beans drained, mixed with some roasted peppers from a jar, capers, chalotes (you can use a bit of red onion), artichokes from a jar, capers, salt, pepper, olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar.

I wolved it with some flat bread and was delighted.

Dinner: Deruny -  Ukrainian Hash Browns

As my fridge was empty, I looked for something simple, which would give me a nice meal without having to go shopping. I thought of Deruny. I've never actually made those before, but ate my fair share back home.

(makes 10 large-ish Hash Browns)

3-4 large or 6-7 small potatoes - washed and grated with skins on.
1 large onion - grated
(I did both in a food processor)
1-2 eggs
1 tbsp plain flour
Salt (quite a bit - I made a mistake of underseasoning them)
Black pepper
Sunflower oil for frying
Sour cream or yoghurt to serve

The Method: 

Mix all ingredients together. The onion will keep the potato from colouring.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Take a heaped table spoon of the mixture and place on the frying pan, flattening it a bit, so it's relatively thin. Fry on a medium heat on both sides till ready.

My deruny were underseasoned, so I added some anchovies to the yoghurt, which added a delish salty and savoury flavour.

I know, it sounds weird, but anchovies taste not unlike salted herring which goes beautifully with any potato dish, so give it a try.

Vegetarians can add some fried crispy onions instead.

Hopefully I am back on track! Wish me luck.

Friday, 8 March 2013

International Women's Day and a simple pasta dish

Happy International Women's Day! I bet most of you have never heard of it! Well, it's a day that most Commy-leaning (China, Cuba) or former Communist countries celebrate. It is meant to be all about women's rights, but it of more of a Velentine's Day and Mother's Day combined. I miss it loads here in London.

(Now I am being rather serious) For me it's not just about flowers and adoration of women, it's about us girls, our rights and place in this world. It's not that bad here in the UK, but think of our sisters in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, where being a woman means being a second class citizen. So don't just write off today as yet another Commy thing and celebrate what we have and what is yet to be achieved! (Seriousness over)

Sadly, it's a complete non-event in the UK. However, after many years of being married to me, Tim knows that he cannot miss the 8th of March, so we are off to a restaurant. I am yet to get all the details of the venue, but I am told it's a famous fish restaurant in South London and I cannot wait! Nothing like some fish on Women's Day, especially after my not-so-successful attempts to cook fish at home.

Meanwhile I leave you with a super recipe - my dinner last night and lunch today.

Tortellini and pesto minestrone

Taken from the BBC Good Food website: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/449616/tortellini-and-pesto-minestrone

Quick and easy and very fresh. Just what the doctor's ordered.

Have a wonderful Women's Day, whether you celebrate or not! 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Fishy stuff - and a question to vegetarians proper

The whole point of our no meat Lent challenge was to cook more of what we wouldn't ordinarily cook. And we definitely didn't eat enough fish.

So I came across this recipe in the Ideal Home magazine (why does one need recipe pages in an interior design magazine is a whole different matter). It looked good. It had fish (yum) and I was keen.

Smoky Saffron Haddock
(what's not to like?)

Saute leeks and garlic in olive oil, add a bit of flour and a good pinch of saffron then add fish stock and a few glugs of white wine. Season. Cook for good 10 min until the sauce thickens. Add equal amounts of smoked and unsmoked haddock. And a bit of green peas. Cook till the fish is ready.

It doesn't look bad. But it tastes... of not much. The soupy mass is pretty tasteless - maybe b/c my stock wasn't good enough. The leeks cooked like that were a bit gross. The only good thing was the fish. But poached smoked and unsmoked haddock tastes decent anyway.

So another one for the - 'file under F' - failure. Won't be cooking that one again. I think I am better off with classic fish combos in the future. Or a fish curry.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I feel that Italian and Indian veg dishes are the way forward and as for the fish... Well, I need a bit more practice.

Now, back to veggie stuff. I came across a nice little recipe of ravioli served in stock with various veg and pesto.

Proper vegetarians, please tell me, do you ever bother making proper veg stock or do you get Marigold/any other veg stock powder/cube and use that? 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The best snack ever!

This is the best, most satisfying snack I ever had. Toasted sunflower seeds! Back home we buy them in shells, roast on a dry frying pan and sit there for hours chatting, or rather not chatting, and shelling and eating the seeds. 

My parents always bring me some unshelled sunflower seeds from Ukraine when they come and visit. e all sit down to have 'a few seeds' and end up still there hours later! You literally cannot stop doing it. 

Here in the UK one can't get the unshelled stuff as easily, but you can get the already shelled seeds. 

Toast them in a dry frying pan and just eat by handfuls. (It only takes 5-10 minutes to roast on a low heat, but make sure you keep turning them, as they burn easily). 

It is not as satisfying as shelling and eating, but still tastes amazing. And you kids would love them too! 

Monday, 4 March 2013

Seasonal - shmeasonal!

Now that I am a temporary vegetarian, I turned to some vegetarian magazines for inspiration. Vegetarian Living made it to my kitchen table last weekend.

It is everything you imagine an aspirational publication to be: full of grow your own-save the planet-cook you way out of depression kinda thing.

It kicks off with a 'hot' topic of which veg is better - supermarket bought or the stuff from the veg box schemes. I don't need to tell you what the consensus of the readers had been.

Anyway, made me think how magazines and food box distributers like to bang on about seasonality a lot. (And non-vegie food mags are as guilty in this as Vegetarian Living). Yet even in their 'in season' sections they give recipes where one of the ingredients is in season, while all others are way out.

The April issue of Vegetarian living features recipes with the following main ingredients: tomatoes, courgettes, strawberries, sweet pepper, aubergines, blueberries, peaches, raspberries, asparagus. To name but a few.

Now, where are all of them coming from this time of year? Not from your locally grown veg box scheme - that's for sure!

But I guess being a vegetarian and eating only the seasonal stuff would be difficult. There are only that many dishes one can cook with parsnips, beetroots, potatoes, last season's apples, curly kale and sprouts.

Even non-vegetarians are limited, let alone if veg is your prime source of calories.

Anyway, outraged I may sound, but I am no better. When it came to cooking a veggie meal off the cuff, the only thing I could think of was a Mediterranean Roast Veg. Full of out of season courgettes, red peppers, aubergines...

And delicious it was too!

Mediterranean Roast Veg

Feeds 4

The Ingredients: 

2 small to medium courgettes - sliced into 1cm circled
1 medium aubergine - cut into chunks
1 medium red onion - cut into chunks
1 sweet red/orange or yellow pepper - cut into chunks
10-20 cherry tomatoes
8-10 cloves of garlic with skins still on
3-4 tbsp of olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
400g tin of chopped toms

The Method: 

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (fan) - 200C (electric).

Mix all the ingredients except chopped toms with olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Spread them in two baking trays and roast for 30-40 min turning occasionally.

While the veg are roasting, cook down the chopped toms with a bit of olive oil.

When the veg are ready, find all the garlic and remove the skins. Mix with the cooked down tinned toms. Serve with pasta and Parmesan/veg Parmesan-style cheese.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Some Fishy Houmus and an Award

First things first. I won an award! My Russian Winter Salad was chosen a winner on the February potato salad challenge on Tinned Tomatoes - here is the announcement! See the banner on the right!

Thank you to all my friends who voted! I have to say it wasn't exactly like the X-Factor or Strictly - only a handful of people voted (we are talking under 50 votes between all the contenders in total), but several votes from you was enough to get my Russian salad to the top of the list.

Here is he recipe if you like - well worth trying - it's properly vegetarian and really easy to make!

Winter Russian Salad recipe. The Winner of No Croutons Required February 2013 challenge!

OK, back to food.

I made a super easy Tuna Houmus today. Not veggie. Has fish in it, but really worth trying. A perfect store cupboard lunch if you fancy something a bit more exciting than leftovers or a tin of Heinz Tonato Soup.

Sorry, no photo, the houmus was consumed by my hubby, the oldest son and myself in a flash. The recipe was given to me by a former neighbour of mine called Linda who didn't like eating butter and used to cook lots of olive oil based dishes. She once offered me this one to try. I made it ever since.

Tuna Houmous

200g tin of tuna steak in sunflower oil (use the whole thing - oil and all)
400g tin of white beans (drained) - or any other chickpeas would work too
2 anchovy fillets (those brownish ones - not fresh)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
A glug or two of olive oil
Pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Taste, it should be a bit lemony. I never add any salt as the tuna and anchovies give it enough saltiness, but you may need more. You may need to add a bit more oil if you are using chickpeas.

Serve with olives and parsley with pita or any other flat bread. Yum!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

A superb dhal from my husband

After two days at a wedding, during which meat was consumed by both Tim and I (yep, have to add two meat free days after Lent is over) we are back on home ground and back on track.

Tim cooked a superb red lentils dish again - the one I told you about earlier in the week. I have to say I don't think I ever tasted a better one (yes, apologies my lovely Indian friends). So here is the recipe, written down as Tim was cooking it.

(The photo does not give it credit. It is an awesome dish! Complex, deeply savoury, but not overpowering!)

Tim's Dhal


Part 1

3-4 table spoons vegetable oil
2 large onions - sliced (Tim makes small veges)
Thumb size piece of ginger - finely chopped
4 whole garlic cloves
About 300g red lentils
4 generous tsps Marigold reduced salt vegetable stock powder
1/2 -2/3 tsps ground coriander
1/3tsp asafoetida
2tsp ground fenugreek
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsps tamarind paste (well worth having this in the fridge, as using tamarind block is a faff)
1 generous teaspoon of tomato puree
1/2 tsp chilli flakes (or to taste)
Lots and lots of black pepper - if using a pepper mill - about 20 grinds)
Water - about 1l

Part 2

Juice of 1/2 lemon
20 fresh curry leaves
200ml coconut cream

The method:

Heat the oil in a large pan, add onions and saute till starting to soften, but not to colour. Add ginger and garlic and saute a bit more.
Add lentils, mix well and add a splash of water, so the ingredients do not stick to the pan while you are adding all the spices from the 1st part of the ingredients list. Mix well and add half of the water. As the lentils cook, keep adding water and mixing it to stop it sticking and becoming too stodgy. It should have a slightly soupy consistency.

Leave it all to cook for 40-50 min till lentils fall apart and are cooked.

Taste and adjust the acidity by adding a bit more tamarind paste or lemon juice if needed. It shouldn't be sour, but it should have a sour note in it.

Add coconut cream and curry leaves and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Make sure you do not add the ingredients from part 2 of the list too early. They have delicate flavours which disappear when cooked for a long time.

Taste for salt and season if necessary.

Serve with rice/Indian bread. We add peas to it for additional colour, but that's optional.


Friday, 1 March 2013

Photos from the Cooking Demo at the Southfields Library

Tim and I are in Wales - going to a wedding of Tim's brother, so not much cooking going on. But here are some photos from the cookery demo I did last week at Southfields Library.

And here is my son with his friend taking it all in.

And here is a video too! You cannot make out what I am saying, but it gives you an idea of what a marvellous job I do and the crowds go wild! (Photography and video by Vilena)