Sunday morning. A wee bit over-tired after a lovely lazy meal with friends on a hot summer Saturday night. What better way to fumble into the day than to mooch around in my nightie baking Meera Sodha-style vegan garlic foccacia as featured in Guardian Feast Issue No.182?
Undemanding and therapeutic, bread-making – with its blend of mixing, kneading and resting – has a way of easing you into a daunting or unpromising Sunday. Plus, there’s the certainty of a comforting fresh-from-the-oven loaf to look forward to for brunch.
I’m not going to warble on about the process of making Meera’s ten-garlic-clove focaccia: take your time, follow the instructions, leave time for the proving (during which you do something undemanding like, say, clean your teeth, have a shower, read the paper, or sit quietly in a cool, dark corner), and enjoy pressing oil dimples into the bouncy dough with your fingertips when the time comes.
It’s win-win: you’ve faced a potentially lost day, achieved a loaf to sigh for and gained a garlic aura that no vampire will breach.
Life feels pretty unpredictable right now and it’s kind of nice to have a steady week-by-week mission to work on. Having said that, I am having a moment of ‘why am I even doing this?‘ with my project to cook at least one recipe each week from Guardian Feast magazine.
I guess the answer is, that as well as keeping me writing regularly, it keeps me cooking way outside my knowledge zone and, hopefully, entertains a few people along the way. I’d also like to think that some readers are encouraged to ‘give it a go’ when they spot a fabulous mouthwatering pic which turns out to be the sidekick to a seemingly insurmountable recipe. Also, to take power in substitution of niche, unobtainable or simply not-in-stock ingredients. This week, for example, I used – shock, horror – tinned peaches instead of fresh for Liam Charles’ roast peach bao buns from Issue No.181 of Guardian Feast.
Read on, because this truly is an example of a recipe that is a bit time-consuming but not that difficult. And it SO pays back the energy investment in novelty value and taste sensations.
This is the first week of Feast I’ve tackled that is sponsored – sorry, supported by – Ocado. I see this is a good partnership for both but, frankly, when you live in North Northumberland… Ocado don’t deliver to Berwick-upon-Tweed and our nearest Waitrose is 59 miles away in Edinburgh’s Morningside. So, good on you Guardian and Ocado but your little QR ingredient buy codes mean nothing to me.
The great thing about Liam’s recipe for roast peach bao buns is that you simply follow it step-by-step. I have learnt, now I’m half way through this marathon year of cooking, to get all my ingredients ready from the get-go. It makes life so much easier. For this recipe, I also had to make my own pistachio paste – not available in the shop I tried and no time to go elsewhere to search. This is not difficult. Simply whizz the nuts in a blender as you do for nut butter. I did try to husk the pistachios (soak in boiling water for 1-2mins and rub gently in kitchen roll) to achieve a super green paste but wasn’t totally successful.
I also had to pound my cloves in a pestle and mortar to get ‘ground cloves’ and for ‘ground cardamom’ whizz my cardamoms in my coffee grinder. Ingredients set. Let’s cook!
Making the dough for the buns is easy peasy (I’ve wanted to make bao for a while, so I was super-excited). The radio accompanied my 10-minuted kneading session. As did the smug satisfaction that kneading always adds to my Fitbit footstep total. Over 94,000 steps in total this week (Mon-Fri). Thanks for asking.
The dough proved for an hour and, in that time window, I achieved the roast peaches and the custard (I’d had my doubts I’d make it). I’m sure fresh peaches would have given a fruitier tickle but tinned was what I had. I thought about reducing the roasting and syrup-reduction times but my peaches held their shape throughout the full cooking timings. I didn’t have lemon thyme so just used lovely fresh thyme from the garden.
The custard (my most angst-inducing element of the recipe) was also a doddle. I cut back on the caster sugar (actually I ran out!) using 100g instead of Liam’s 150g. I also had only semi skimmed milk but whisked in a dollop of double cream – that makes full fat, right? I had to battle through the foam I’d created through possible over-whisking to see if the custard was thickening – I enlisted Student Daughter, home from uni, to do a spoon test. In the event, the thin-to-thick turn was sudden. Into a sieve it went and out it squished. I’d just laid clingfilm over it when I remembered why the butter was winking at me. You have to stir 60g into the hot sieved custard and that makes all the silky smooth difference.
A couple of year’s back I bought The Husband a steamer from the charity shop. Now was it’s moment to shine!
Just take a moment to enjoy my buns. Look at the perky shape. Look at the rich colour palette. Now imagine the pillowy, chewy bite of the buns spiked with clovey deliciousness. Then let the flavours of honey, thyme, peach, cardamom and vanilla harmonise with the crunchy creamy pistachio. And don’t forget to scoop up that dollop of custard and syrup squelching down your chin.
The Husband has since discovered that Liam’s clove-spiked boa buns work deliciously with pork pie meat (from a homemade pork pie), spring onions, lettuce and hoisin sauce. Deep joy!
For me, this recipe is everything that my challenge is about. Give it a go and let me know what you think and how you get on.
Tofu is not universally celebrated in our house. The Husband considers it ‘blandness incarnate’. In some ways I guess he’s right. A bit like bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, tofu’s basically a vessel for flavour. But just look at the miraculous flavours and textures you can create using these superhero vessels.
If you are ambivalent about tofu, read on.
Our favourite tofu dish to date has been the ridiculously easy to prepare chilled tofu with soy sauce, ginger and katsuobushi (dried fermented tuna flakes) from Tim Anderson’s inspiring JapanEasy. In his introduction to the dish, Tim concedes that the dish sounds unprepossessing. However, he also says it’s a cracking dish. He’s right: it’s lipsmackingly delicious. A perfect introduction to bean curd for the tofu sceptic.
However, it’s time we branched out. London Daughter and I agree that Meera Sodha’s dry-fried beans with minced tofu sounds both straightforward and intriguing – a good weekend supper dish. Confession time: it was the mention of Sichuan peppercorns that caught my eye. I’d bought a sackload of them when London Daughter took on Ixta Belfrage’s (from Ottolenghi Kitchen)biang biang noodles with numbing oil and tahini soy sauce.
That was from Guardian Feast back in November 2020 before my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 began. And so to Issue No.180 and week 25 of the challenge.
Bring on Meera Sodha’s vegan dish: dry-fried beans with minced tofu
London Daughter and I both decide to cook Meera’s plateful. We head out for ingredients – me in Northumberland, her in North London.
I manage a pack of green beans from our Saturday market and pressed tofu and dried shiitake from our local organic gem the Green Shop. I receive a WhatsApp from London Daughter: ‘Got fresh shiitake but no green beans 😂. Only in Crouch End!’
London Daughter cooks her version of Meera’s beans and tofu the night before I do. From the pics, I’d say she makes a better job of the dish than me. I rather overdo the burning of the beans but hers look just right.
The combo of minced tofu and mushrooms gives an almost meaty chew to the dish and both the daughter and I opt to chuck in a few extra red chillies on top of the crushed Sichuan peppercorns as suggested by Meera.
London Daughter declared the dish ‘salty and crunchy, quite different’. For The Husband it ‘makes tofu interesting – no small achievement!’.
Praise indeed for this underrated superhero of vegan food.
Erchen Chang’s dan dan tofu noodles
Clearly at a loose end, London Daughter decides to use up her block of pressed tofu on another dish in Issue No.180 of Feast: Erchen Chang’s dan dan tofu noodles. I suggest she might like to blog about it for me. She sends pics and comments instead:
Erchen describes the noodles as a ‘simple, savoury dish’. London Daughter describes it as:
London Daughter couldn’t lay her hands on any black vinegar and used balsamic instead. In the taste test she judged it as having ‘lots of oil, not much veg, but it’s very tasty’. She thought the heat might defeat her, but slurped down the whole bowl. She says I should definitely cook it.
Rachel Roddy – gateau au yaourt
We were completely beguiled by Rachel Roddy’s wonderful tale from an Italian kitchen this week which involves an elderly gentleman, yoghurt and a careless supermarket trolley driver. The Husband, London Daughter and I agree it would make the youngest daughter weep. We discovered through lockdown that anything involving elderly men and vulnerability (in films, cartoons, stories) will for some reason set her off.
London Daughter was so beguiled by Rachel’s story that she cooked the yoghurt cake of the tale. In the end, she was a little underwhelmed by it. She wondered if it was to do with ingredient quantities: the cake rose magnificently but remained rather dense and a ‘a bit bland’. Fortunately the youngest daughter is on her way to London to visit her sister and loves an olive oil cake (and she’s always hungry!).
I’ll sign off this week with three cheers for two superheroes of the kitchen: tofu (and its sidekicks heat, rice and noodles) and London Daughter.
‘Moroccan or Thai,’ asked The Husband as he cooked the prawns to go with my marinating peppers. I was on the phone to London daughter and gave her the choice. Thai it was. Perhaps not the obvious choice with vegan red peppers drenched in soy sauce, cider vinegar, garlic, maple syrup, sesame oil and topped with a cumin seed, pine nut and coriander crunch. The moral of the story: don’t consult someone who’s not there on your menu creation. Or, maybe, just don’t give options.
Fortunately, Yotam Ottolenghi’s sweet ‘n’ sour peppers with pine nut crumble from Guardian Feast Issue No.179 is so easy peasy and so darn delicious, you could serve them with old shoe leather and they’d still dazzle and dance around all your senses. These beauties made right pepper pigs of us!
And so my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues to surprise and delight.
I was right out of red romano peppers but Billy at Berwick market’s fruit and veg stall supplied me with some spot-on red peppers ordinaire. As there were just two of us, I halved the quantity of peppers to 500g (wish I hadn’t – so tasty!) but stuck to the same amount of nutty cuminy crumble (Yotam counsels to make double: he’s right, it’s a super crunchy, salty topping – a condiment as well as a crumble).
The only faff is peeling the roasted red peppers – but it’s worth the time. This easy vegan recipe punches above its ingredient and effort-weight in terms of flavour, aroma and prettiness.
Some weeks the urge to mix it up is irresistible. With our lockdown clan (The Husband, the two daughters and me) reunited for my birthday, this was just such a week.
We needed celebration. We needed snacking. We needed playful food. Enter Guardian Feast Issue No.178 the let me entertain you issue with Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly, Felicity Cloake’s perfect cheese empanadas and Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls.
My challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues apace. This week it was lovely to have the return of the eldest daughter’s nimble fingers and strict kitchen protocol.
Read on for the usual useful insights into tackling unknown recipes and tempting mouthwatering deliciousness.
The photo of Ravneet’s beautiful pineapple and coconut jelly was simultaneously droolingly succulent and terrifying. I wanted to grab a spoon and plunge it into the photo but I wanted Ravneet to make it for me. However, part of my reason for tackling a recipe a week from Feast is to wrestle through recipes I would otherwise skip over. Here goes.
Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly
We only have one jelly mould in the house and I felt a tad offended that The Husband considered it ‘eccentric’ for the jelly in hand. I mean, it is ‘a great jelly mould’ as required by Ravneet, perhaps just not the one she had in mind (see below).
Since the coconut jelly (a delicious smooth, creamy panna cotta) must set before the pineapple wobble is poured on top of it, I made this over two days (I’m learning to read a recipe properly before I start it!). I used the gelatin powder I had in stock, rather than the recommended platinum leaves. It seemed fine. I ended up with more of both jellies than required – a small ramekin of the coconut and double pineapple and lime! My daughter was clearly right in her interpretation of the recipe: ‘400g pineapple, trimmed, peeled and cut into small chunks’ means the unpeeled and untrimmed weight. Oh well, double dibs on pineapple jelly? No one’s complaining.
If I were to make this gorgeous party centrepiece again – it’s a wibbly wobbly pina colada, why wouldn’t I? – I would clingfilm the surface of the coconut panna cotta to prevent it forming a slightly rubbery skin while it’s setting (although The Husband loved the ‘texture’).
The eldest daughter picked up the baton for Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls and Felicity Cloake’s perfect cheese empanadas to create a welcome home feast for the youngest daughter.
Feleicity Cloake’s the perfect… cheese empanadas
The eldest daughter ordered in masarepa (pre-cooked cornmeal) specially to make these golden cheese toasty wraps.
The biggest challenge was (as Felicity hints) handling the corn pastry. Felicity counsels ‘handling it with wet hands at all times’. The issue for us was that the pastry tore and holed really easily. Wet hands helped but the biggest breakthrough was using extra masarepa and greaseproof paper in the envelope creation. That way you barely need to touch the empanadas with your hands.
Felicity suggests a range of acceptable extras to add to your cheesy filling. To be honest ours needed a bit of flavour-plumping – the blend of mozzarella and halloumi was not the most flavoursome. We all agreed that we’d add jalapeno peppers in the mix next time and probably change the cheese combo for something with a bit more oomph. We baked ours – although I can see the appeal of deep frying!
Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls
Like Ravneet’s jelly, Yotam’s vegan rice rolls look so pretty and appealing on the page. We couldn’t wait to recreate them. Yotam’s right to call them ‘zingy’. Bursting with pine nuts, sesame seeds, chestnuts, ginger, garlic and chilli, they have exactly the right balance of chew and crunch and zest and heat.
The eldest daughter took charge of prep while I got the shitake shrooms soaking and searched out the rest of the ingredients. Instead of adding the fried ingredients to the cold marinated tofu, we popped the tofu in the pan and let it warm through and soak up the soy saucy flavours. Other than that, we stuck to Yotam’s instructions. Bish bash bosh: top nosh.
It’s probably the same countrywide but I didn’t realise until we moved to Northumberland that many people judge a café purely on its scones. We’ve lived here nearly 11 years and I now know people who won’t enter the doors of certain establishments because of perceived scone quality.
Such people would surely celebrate were Yotam Ottolenghi to set up shop selling pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta on the corner of Marygate in Berwick-upon-Tweed. These gluten-free, veggie beauties are scones, Jim, but not as we know them.
My take on Ottolenghi’s pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta from Guardian Feast: they are scones, Jim, but not as we know them (in a good way)!
I’m six months into my epic challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), and the goodies just keep coming.
Some may take issue with a 16-ingredient scone. They’re wrong. But they’ve probably stopped reading already so they’ll never know. The only ingredient I couldn’t source here in Berwick was ‘powdered pectin’. After much consideration and a bit of Googling, I decided to eschew gelatin and agar agar and up the quantity of ‘finely grated lemon zest’ to a full lemon instead of 1/2 tsp. My square baking tin wasn’t quite the dimensions required by Yotam, but all was well with the end product.
My za’atar was what I’d term cupboard vintage – but it worked a treat.
Only two crisis points for me in the recipe:
Yotam says: ‘Pour in the cream mix, pulse again until the ‘crumbs’ are moist but not quite coming together’ – see picture below. Also, am I the only person who, when a recipe says ‘in a small bowl’, takes it literally and then has to upgrade to a bigger bowl? There was no way I could safely whisk my cream, yoghurt and egg in my chosen bowl.
Not sure what a ‘rough 15cm long rectangle’ looks like. I made a square – see below. The pile of cheese looked impossibly huge heaped on it, but it wrapped up just fine.
As Yotam promised, I ended up with nine scones and had 54g of dough left over rather than the predicted 80g – not bad!
The alchemy of Yotam’s scones is not only in magically making something gluten free feel light and fluffy (I know enough people with celiac disease to understand the sad hefty mouthfeel of many gluten free products), but also in the perfect balance of intense cheesy herbiness and floaty pastry.
The kind of dish that makes me think being a vegetarian might be possible
Praise indeed for Meera Sodha’s fabulously easy walnut-stuffed aubergines. A super vegan supper dish from Guardian Feast Issue No.175. Couple it with Felicity Cloake’s masterclass fruit fool from the following week’s Issue No.176 and you’ve practically got a party on your hands!
First the aubergine. I was relieved to read that Meera doesn’t advocate salting aubergine. Personally, I don’t find salting removes any ‘bitterness’ but does give you salty aubergine. I was also comforted to learn that aubergine doesn’t need ‘drenching in oil to cook’. As with mushrooms and other oil guzzlers, it’s always tempting to go over the top with oil and end up with something bordering on greasy rather than unctuous.
With the cumin, cinnamon, paprika and walnuts, there’s something of a Lebanese riff with this dish. And Meera says she’s loosely based the stuffing around the Levantine dip muhammara.
We served our aubergine and its perfect blend of textures and balance of flavours with asparagus and Meera’s suggested salad. It was wonderful.
With no children in our household currently, the cooking with kids special was a bit of a challenge. But hurrah for Felicity Cloake and her masterclass fruit fool. We have a glorious crop of rhubarb in the garden and are total fool addicts. I was delighted to follow Felicity’s instructions which totally mirror my own approach to fools.
Straining the rhubarb to create a pot of bright, clear pinkness to pour over your fool is almost my favourite element. However, the addition of orange zest, syrup from stem ginger and garnish of chopped stem ginger turns this pinkly happy summery pud into a more grown-up treat.
Cheers to children’s week in Guardian Feast – particularly when there are no children around to snaffle all the fruit fools! And we could easily have made this meal totally vegan, by replacing the cream I used with a vegan alternative.
The Husband (not the biggest fan of chicken wings) wolfed down Yotam Ottolenghi’s chicken wings with banana ketchup from Guardian Feast Issue No.174. These sticky spicy delights are scrumptious with dollops of the yummy sweet, sour and chilli rich banana ketchup – and all very easy to make.
I personally wouldn’t make a beeline for them at a picnic – not without a ready source of soap and running water. I would, however, cook them for a quick and easy evening meal – particularly for kids (maybe with a little less chilli in the ketchup). Although, when I say quick, remember marinade time – something I always manage to forget! The wings and ketchup are also fab cold (which maybe they would be for a picnic?).
The ketchup’s super easy to make and the recipe creates three times the amount you need – so there’s plenty to have with another batch of wings. In fact, it goes well with everything, from pork pies to cheese on toast. Wonderful to have a truly delicious recipe for overripe bananas that, as Yotam says, is ‘not banana bread’.
I never tire of the joyous fragrance of onions, chilli, garlic and ginger chopped then fried. Mouth-water central.
I was celebrating submitting my final assignment for the first year of my master’s degree, so filling a couple of chicken-wing-marinating hours marinating myself with a glass of fizz and a fire was rather pleasing. The wings soaked up garlic, chilli, lime and freshly made banana ketchup while I gazed at the fire. Kind of like the old TV test card in the 70s but with more movement.
The cooking’s as you’d expect for chicken wings high and fast. Yotam’s salad of spring onions, lime juice and olive oil (come on Yotam, surely this is a garnish, not a salad!) is the quickest thing in the world to make and totally the right sprinkle for the wings.
Never in the course of human pudding endeavours has one woman spent so much time wondering if she was doing it right. And this is a great thing about this project: I’m learning so much! And, as you’ll see from my triumphant end product, Tamal’s pie is so worth overcoming terror of processes, lack of knowledge and general apathy when faced by cooking setbacks.
I don’t think my tinned mango pulp was the ‘kesar’ or ‘alphonso’ in the recipe but it seemed to work and tasted superb. For the mango filling, Tamal asks you to put the mango and lime juice into a saucepan and reduce them by 300g in weight – I’ve never had to do this before. I protected my scales from the hot pan with a cork mat and managed the reduction – although it took a little longer than 40 minutes. I think I was a bit cautious about the mix sticking to the bottom of the pan. It didn’t.
I’m getting a bit better at pastry (pricking, blind baking and all that) – but still not great at rolling out the pastry to the right size. As you’ll see from the pics below, my pastry shrunk too far in places.
The filling finally chilling, the pastry case baked, I set about making the meringue. I followed Tamal’s instructions and whisked the egg whites, taste of lime juice and salt to soft peaks bang on the moment the golden syrup, sugar and water hit 110C. Then, ass soon as the syrup reached the required 118C, I drizzled it gradually into the whites, whisking all the while. It looked like it would never go stiff and glossy. In fact it looked as deflated as I felt.
Don’t tell Tamal, but in a panic I put in some cornflour in the hopes this would remedy it. No luck. I did a quick internet search on Italian meringue and read something that said to whisk for ten minutes plus. By this time, I was overheated and so was my hand whisk. However: success! I had sprayed meringue over the recipe, across the work surface and up the walls. I didn’t care: my meringue was ‘stiff and glossy’.
The next challenge came with pouring the filling – which was a tad liquid – into the case – which was a tad challenged at the sides. I tucked some of the cooked offcuts into the worst gaps and tipped the orange mango nectar in. I ladled on the meringue and began to feel pretty good about myself. A quick blowtorching of the meringue and, hallelujah!
It is true that the filling was a bit runny when cut, so maybe I didn’t reduce quite enough after all but…
Dear reader, this pie is a beautiful thing. A fine centre piece for any celebration. Sweet, yes, but the touch of lime in filling and meringue is transformative. My Sri Lankan friend says that lime juice reveals the true flavour of mango. She is absolutely right.
This week’s recipe from Guardian Feast Issue No.172 is a moreish fab Japanese-ish vegan rice and greens dish from Meera Sodha. This bright, clean, fresh dish packs an umami lip-smacking punch way above the sum of its ingredients. It’s fragrant and crunchy with pings of salt, a tang of sake and green sweetness from the peas.
The Husband and I enjoyed it so much that we pretty much polished off the quantity for four (and, yes, with 350g of rice, there was plenty for four) between the two of us.
As regular readers will know, I’m celebrating my love of the food columns and supplements in The Guardian by trying to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021. Find out a bit more about that here.
Along with the garlic, spring onions, sake and soy sauce, Meera steams pak choi, mange tout and frozen peas. I couldn’t lay my hands on mange tout so used some French beans instead – they worked just fine.
I don’t think I’ve ever cooked Jasmine rice before (available in Berwick from The Green Shop on Bridge Street) and felt a bit sceptical about infusing it with teabags. Oh me of little faith! Meera gives precise instructions about cooking the rice which deliver perfect fluffy, fragrant results. I appreciate these exact directions. For something so ‘easy’, rice is often the thing that goes wrong.
Just a brief word of caution: don’t do what I did and leave the green teabag strings dangling down the side of the pan. A gas hob will ignite the paper tabs!
Meera Sodha – green tea rice with sake and vegetables