Kheema

We’ve all met vegetarians who are evangelical in their vegetarianism, and I’d like to think I’m not one of them.

I don’t buy meat. I don’t cook meat (or allow it to be cooked) in my home. If I’m in someone else’s home and they need a hand with dinner, I will put my big girl knickers on and chop meat if there is nothing else I can do to help.

I haven’t forbidden my children to eat meat or fish or seafood. When they were young enough that I made all those decisions, I chose not to feed them anything I wouldn’t eat myself (except breastmilk. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to try breastmilk – but I gave it to them anyway, convinced it was the best thing they could have. And because I’m lazy). Now that they are old enough to make more decisions about what they eat, they choose to be vegetarian. Even though they know I would turn a blind eye to marshmallows (gelatine) and certain shop-bought desserts (animal fat) and they don’t have to tell me what they eat when they’re at their friends’ homes, they are animal lovers who don’t want to eat animals. That may well change when they are older, but for now, they are happy to be vegetarian.

The reason I’m waffling on about vegetarianism on a vegetarian food blog (!) is that there are certain things I used to make when I had a non-veg diet that I still like to make but, obviously, without the meat. Carnivores have given these dishes the thumbs up, so I guess it’s safe enough to suggest that if you are cooking for meaties, these recipes might appeal to their tastebuds, too.

Yesterday, I made kheema – or what I told my guests was ‘Indian mince’ – and I used Quorn mince. Quorn is great, but I find the range very limited here in the South. A trip across the border provides a much broader choice; and I’ve been known to do my grocery shopping in Sainsbury’s on my way home from a trip to Belfast for just that reason.

There are a few things I like about Quorn: It’s products look and taste different from each other. To the best of my recollection, the textures of their different products resemble what they’re emulating. Except for the ‘rashers’ (bacon slices). There is virtually no fat in Quorn, it cooks faster than meat, and it comes without the health concerns of animal-to-human transmission of bacteria and disease. Do bear in mind, though, that some Quorn products have egg in them – making them unsuitable for vegans. Also, at E2.69 per 300g (which made five servings), it’s less expensive than its animal alternative.

I’ve reproduced the kheema recipe here. I know it’s a long list of ingredients, and it takes about an hour start to finish – but please don’t let that put you off. It’s a one-pot-wonder, if that’s consolation enough for the effort. I know it also looks like a lot of chilli – dried, fresh and powdered – but it really isn’t that hot. Maybe a ‘two’ on a five-point scale.

Kheema

Kheema

1 x 300g bag of Quorn mince

4 Tablespoons of Cooking Oil

1 Teaspoon of Cumin Seeds

2 Dried Chillies

1 Onion

3 Teaspoons of Ginger-Garlic paste OR

2.5cms Ginger & 6 Garlic Cloves, Bashed or Grated

2 Fresh Chillies

1/2 Teaspoon of Turmeric Powder

2 Teaspoons of Coriander Powder

2 Teaspoons of Cumin Powder

1/2 Teaspoon of Chilli Powder

1 Can of Tomatoes

1 Tablespoon of Natural, Unsweetened (or Greek) Yogurt

125g Frozen Peas

1 Tablespoon of Ground Almonds

2 Teaspoons of Garam Masala*

Salt to Taste

Peel and chop the onion.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan.

Add the onion to the oil, keep the heat at medium and stir, until starting to brown.

Add the cumin seeds and continue to fry until they pop.

Add the dried chillies.

Add the ginger-garlic paste (or bashed ginger and garlic cloves), the fresh chillies and cook for about three minutes – until the raw smell of the ingredients is gone.

Stir in all the spice powders, except the garam masala.

Add the tomatoes, Quorn and salt.

Stir until all the ingredients are well mixed together.

Continue cooking until the mix simmers (it will ‘rustle’ slightly in the pot).

Turn the heat down low.

Stir in the yogurt.

Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Add the frozen peas, ground almonds and garam masala.

Continue simmering for another ten minutes, until the peas are cooked through.

The final dish will be more ‘saucy’ than ‘soupy’.

*Garam Masala is a mix of roasted spices. You can buy it ready-made, or make your own. It’s a bit fiddly to make, but I’ll post a recipe here in the next few days. Because the spices are already roasted, you can add the garam masala towards the end of cooking without worrying that they won’t cook through before serving.

 

Potato Cakes & Beetroot Salad

Let me tell you a secret.

You remember the original Austerity Bites series, where I said I had an unusually small amount of money to spend on food? Well, the truth is that it isn’t all that unusual for me to struggle to make sure that my girls have a well-balanced diet.

Of course, I know I’m not alone, which is what gives me the courage to keep writing these blog posts. If I thought I was the only one engaged in this constant attempt to provide delicious, nutritious meals for my family, I’d be too ashamed to mention it. Knowing that there’s loads of us in the same boat makes this feel like fun – like we’re this fraternity of cupboard-scrapers who are making a game out of rustling up stone-soup for our loved ones.

Today, I had six of those lovely Wexford potatoes left from last weekend, and felt it was time to use them up before they went rubbery. Kashmira, my youngest, expressed a desire for potato cakes so that’s what I made today.

Potato Cakes

6 Potatoes

2 Tablespoons of Plain Flour

1 Medium Egg

2 Spring Onions

Salt & Pepper to Season

Oil for Shallow Frying

Peel the potatoes and put them in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover them.

Put the saucepan on the stove and bring to a boil.

Turn the heat down low and simmer the potatoes for another 10-15 minutes.

When they are cooked enough for a fork to penetrate – but before the spuds fall apart – turn the heat off and drain the potatoes.

Mash the potatoes slightly – you want them still in discernible chunks rather than pureed.

Trim the spring onions (cut off the hairy bits at the root end and any withered bits at the tips – basically, get rid of any bit you wouldn’t want to eat) and snip them into the pot with the potatoes.

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

Form the potato mix into patties. I do this with my hands: Remove your rings, wash your hands and flour them slightly. Take a ball of the mix – about the size of a ping-pong ball – in your hands and flatten it into a disc about 3 cms thick.

If you don’t fancy handling your potato cakes, though, you can use a soup spoon and a spatula. Use the spoon to scoop the mix out and the spatula to flatten it down slightly.

Heat the oil in your frying pan and put 3-4 of the potato cakes in the pan. Cook, for about three minutes each side.

I got a baker’s dozen out of this mix and we had it with the avocado dip I made the other day.

Potato Cakes

With that, we had a beetroot salad – it was one of those invented recipes. You know the ones – they can go horribly right or horribly wrong…..this one worked, for which I was grateful.

Beetroot Salad

3 Vacuum-Packed Beetroot

2cms of Ginger

1 Apple

2 Carrots

3 Sticks of Celery

1 Apple

50g Walnuts

Olive Oil (about a tablespoon – enough to make the salad glisten)

Juice of Half a Lemon

1 Teaspoon of Cumin Seeds

Peel the carrots and the ginger.

Trim the celery.

Chop the celery, carrots and beetroots into bite-sized pieces and mix them together.

Halve and toast the walnuts in a dry pan.

Add them to the vegetables.

Toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan – this takes just a minute, they burn really quickly.

Add the seeds to the vegetables.

Peel the ginger and grate it into the bowl.

Add the lemon juice.

Drizzle the olive oil over the salad.

Mix well.

Enjoy!

Spuds & Strawberries

We were in Wexford over the weekend and, as soon as we passed the county border, there were stalls and huts and mobile units of every description selling potatoes and strawberries – foods for which Wexford is famous.

I’m not terribly fond of potatoes – but new potatoes are lovely and it would have been an awful shame to have left Wexford without a bag of their finest spuds.

New Wexford Potatoes

These are lovely just boiled in their jackets with a blob of butter melting on them.

Today, there were two very ripe avocados in our fruit bowl and I figured it was time to use them up. I made this avocado dip to go with boiled potatoes:

2 Ripe Avocados

2 Red Chillies

2 Teaspoons of Ginger-Garlic Paste

4 Tablespoons of Thick Yoghurt (Natural or Greek)

1 Teaspoon of Soy Sauce

8 Leaves of Fresh Mint

Peel and de-seed the avocados.

Snip the ends off the chillies. If you want to take the heat factor down, use just one and cut out the seeds and the membranes. The membranes (not the seeds) are where the heat is stored. Cut the chillies into small pieces.

Cut the mint as well. The easiest way to do this is put it in an egg-cup and hold the egg-cup at a tilt, snipping away at the leaves with the tip of a small kitchen scissors.

Blend all the ingredients and chill before serving.

Avocado Dip

The other thing we did with the potatoes was make a meal that was inspired by a Polish woman I know. Magda’s recipe calls for caraway seeds, but I don’t like them (and, therefore, don’t have any in the house), so I used fennel seeds instead.  I was also able to use up the second half of a bag of beetroot and the mushrooms that had been in the fridge for a few days. Another beetroot wouldn’t have hurt, but I didn’t have one.

Beetroot, Mushrooms & Potatoes

The recipe for this one is as follows:

1 Onion

3 Tablespoons of Plain Flour

300mls Stock or Warm Water

300g of Cooked (not pickled) Beetroot

5 Tablespoons of Thick Yogurt (Natural or Greek)

1 Teaspoon of Hot Mustard (I used English)

1 Teaspoon of Fennel Seeds

25g Butter

1 Shallot

250g Mushrooms

800g Potatoes (Floury rather than Waxy)

150mls Milk

Salt & Pepper to Taste

Peel the spuds.

Chop the beetroot into bite-sized pieces.

Peel and chop the onion.

Peel and chop the shallot, but keep it separate from the onion.

Trim and slice the mushrooms.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Lightly oil a 23cm baking tin.

Put the potatoes in cold water with a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 15-20 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion.

Fry until soft, without letting it colour.

Stir in the flour and remove from the heat

Gradually add the stock, stirring until it’s all well blended.

Return the pot to the heat and simmer for about a minute.

Add the beetroot, yogurt, mustard and fennel seeds.

By this stage, the potatoes will probably be done, so drain them well and mash with the milk (maybe a knob of butter) and some salt and pepper.

Dribble a little oil in a frying pan and fry the shallot.

Add the mushrooms and fry until they start to brown and release their liquid.

Spoon the potatoes into the tin and make a well in the centre.

Spoon the beetroot mix into the well in the potatoes.

Spoon the mushrooms over the beetroot.

Cover and cook for about half an hour.

It probably wouldn’t hurt to take the cover off the dish and sprinkle a bit of grated cheese over the top before returning to the oven for a final ten minutes, until the cheese bubbles and the potato crisps a bit.  I didn’t, but I might the next time I cook this.

Now for the strawberries. 🙂

On Twitter yesterday, @babsbear (Barbara Murray) was talking about her glut of strawberries and wondering what to do with them. (Aren’t they gorgeous?)

Barbara's STraberries

One of the things my mother did really well was strawberry cheesecake. This is her recipe – so I can vouch for it being delicious – but I have no idea of the provenance of it: It could be from the back of a packet of Philadelphia cheese or a Woman’s Weekly or she might have made it up. We’re estranged now, so I can’t ask her. In any event, here it is:

175g Digestive Biscuits

75g Butter

225g Cream Cheese

1 Packet of (Vegetarian) Strawberry Jelly

200mls of Boiling Water

500mls of Cream

2 Tablespoons of Caster Sugar

500g of Strawberries

Wash, dry, hull and slice the strawberries.

Put the biscuits in a Ziploc bag and close the bag.

Bash the biscuits with a rolling pin until they are in small pieces, but not dust.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat.

Tip the bash biscuits in with the butter and mix them together.

Press the mixture into a tin (if you have a springform one, so much the better).

Pop the tin in the fridge to let the base cool while you make the filling.

Whip the cream with the sugar.

In a separate bowl, beat together the jelly and the cream cheese.

Fold in the strawberries. If you like, you could reserve a few for decoration.

Spoon the filling over the biscuit base and return it to the fridge.

Chill for about 3 hours.

Ratatouille

There’s something about so-called ‘peasant food’ that makes it far tastier than haute cuisine.  It’s comforting and wholesome and earthy. Most of my favourites dishes are, essentially, peasant meals. Like ratatouille.

Now, I won’t lie to you. This dish takes a bit of time to prepare, but it’s worth it. Due to the time it takes to prepare, it’s a lovely one to make with your family over the course of an hour on a lazy weekend afternoon. The most time-consuming part is the tomato sauce, but making it from scratch is well worth the effort.  This tomato sauce is a great basic sauce – perfect for slopping on pizza (thicken it up with a bit of tomato puree for that purpose, if needs be), running through pasta, using as a dip or crusty bread, or – as in this case – providing the base for a stew.  In fact, this sauce is good enough to put in an attractive pot (or a kilner jar) and bring it (with or without a baguette) to a dinner party. (We all have those weeks when the budget doesn’t stretch to a bottle of wine.)

This week – with tomatoes and courgettes both on special offer in Aldi – is the perfect week to make big quantities of this recipe. It freezes well and, in spite of (or maybe because of!) its humble origins, I think it makes a lovely meal for sharing with lovely friends.

Start with the tomato sauce:

800g Tomatoes (fresh or tinned)

10 cloves (Approximately 1 Bulb) of Garlic

3 Tablespoons of Dried Herbs OR 8-10 Leaves of Fresh Herbs

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper

If you’re starting with fresh tomatoes, slip them out of their skins: With a sharp knife, cut an ‘x’ on the bottom (the opposite side to where they were attached to the vine) and pop them into a bowl of boiling water. Leave for about 30 seconds, then tip them out of the hot water and into cold. The skins should come away easily from the fruit.

Chop the tomatoes, removing the hard white membranes.

If you’re starting with tinned tomatoes, open the cans 🙂

Peel and bash (or press) the garlic.

Pour enough of the olive oil into a medium-sized pot to cover the bottom. The fruitier the oil you have, the better.

Heat the oil over a medium heat.

Turn the heat to medium-low and add the garlic.

Saute the garlic until it turns golden. Garlic burns really easily, so be vigilant here! If you’re worried that your pot may be too hot, take it off the stove and let the residual heat in the pot cook the garlic.

When the garlic is golden, add the tomatoes, the salt, pepper and herbs. I know it may seem like a lot of herbs, but please be generous with them. Forget your little dainty spoonfuls of dried herbs and add a good handful. Trust me on this! I use a selection of whatever is in the kitchen – or a pre-mixed Herbs de Provence . If I have a live plant knocking about, I’ll add fresh leaves – maybe 4 basil leaves, 4 sage leaves and 20 rosemary spines.

Add a sprinkle of salt and a really good grinding (about a teaspoon) of pepper.

Turn the heat up until the sauce is just under the boil, then reduce the heat to low and leave the it alone – partially covered – for about 40 minutes.

At the end, you can add a glug (maybe 3 tablespoons)  of red wine if you happen to have a bottle open, or a splash (about 2 teaspoons) of balsamic vinegar. (Don’t despair if you find you’ve been too heavy-handed with the vinegar – a teaspoon of sugar, dissolved into the sauce should right things)

Tomato Sauce

While the sauce is cooking, prepare the veg. You’ll need:

1 Medium Sized Onion

1 Aubergine

2 Courgettes

1 Bell Pepper

Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

I salt aubergines and courgettes before I use them. This removes excess water and ensures they don’t disintegrate in the stew.  Top and tail the vegetables, cut them into discs and pop the disks into a plastic sieve or colander (metal, salt and water not being the best combination). Shake a generous amount of salt over the eggplant (you can use cheap salt like Saxa for this job!). Leave it to drain over a bowl for about half an hour. Then (and I know this seems counter-intuitive) rinse the salt off under running water and gently squeeze the discs against the sides of the sieve to get all the water out. If you like, you can pat the discs dry in kitchen paper or a tea towel.

Sometimes, I manage to time it so my sauce is ready at about the same time as my vegetables are salted, but that’s only when I’m pretending to be really efficient.

Anyway, while the veg are salting, peel and roughly chop the onion.

Cut the pepper into bite-sized chunks.

Halve the bigger aubergine and courgette discs, so they are roughly the same size as the peppers.

Get a big pot (possibly your biggest) and, over a medium heat, warm enough olive oil to cover the bottom.

Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes.

Add the aubergine and courgette to the pot and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes, until they are slightly coloured.

Add the bell peppers and, still stirring, cook the lot for about another 5 minutes, until the peppers start to colour as well.

Tip in the tomato sauce and cook the lot, partially-covered, over a gentle, medium-low heat for 20 minutes.  A few more herbs won’t do it any harm if you fancy lobbing them in.

Season with salt and pepper and serve with plenty of grated cheese.

We have this with rice, quinoa, pasta or – if we’re feeling Continental – fresh baguette.

Pot of Ratatouile

Jackfruit Curry

We descended upon our local Asian shop the day before yesterday and stocked up on some of the things we needed. Fortunately, there was a bit more in the coffers than usual, so I went a bit mad.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I just decided to buy food rather than pay my phone bill.

Anyway, the main point is that stocks were replenished. I picked up  12 tins of tomatoes for €3.99 and paid €4.99 for a dozen cans of chickpeas. Chillies were €5.99 per kilo – I got about 30 of them for €0.24 – way cheaper than even the cheapest supermarket. Economies of scale, I think it’s called.

In the middle of all this cheapie-cheap stuff, I got us a treat: Jackfruit. If you have been to South East Asia, chances are you’ve come across durian. This is a large fruit (about the size of a basketball) that  very prickly on the outside and, when cut, smells similar to cat’s pee. In colour and texture, it is similar to custard and it’s an acquired taste. A taste, I hasten to add, I never acquired.

The reason I mention durian is because jackfruit is its Indian first-cousin. Less cat-pee, less prickly and less custard-y, though – I love jackfruit. It’s in season at the moment and we picked up 1.5kg for €5.

Jackfruit

After we’d had our fill of the fresh, raw fruit, I suddenly remembered that when I’d been pregnant with Kashmira (ten years ago!) our nanny used to make me a jackfruit curry. Normally, if you’re using a fruit in a curry, you use it when it’s slightly under-ripe. Jackfruit is an exception, though – you can use the under-ripe or the ripe fruit.

To the best of my recollection, this is the recipe Nishanthi used to cook for us:

Jackfruit Curry

150g Ripe Jackfruit

1/2 Teaspoon of Chilli Powder

1/2 Teaspoon of Turmeric

Salt to Taste

100mls of Water

20g grated coconut (I use dried because I can’t get it fresh)

2 Fresh Green Chillies

1/2 Teaspoon of Cumin Seeds

1/2 Teaspoon of Mustard Seeds

1 Red Chilli

3-4 Curry Leaves

2 Teaspoons of Coconut Oil

Cut the jackfruit into bite-sized pieces.

Cut Jackfruit

Put jackfruit, salt, turmeric, chilli powder and water into a medium-sized saucepan.

Bring to the boil and then simmer for about ten minutes.

While the jackfruit is cooking, make a paste using the grated coconut, chillies and cumin seeds (grind with a blender, adding a little water as necessary).

When the jackfruit is done – it will be tender but not mushy and still holding its shape – add the paste to the fruit and bring the lot back to the boil.

Heat the coconut oil in a small pan, and add the chillies, curry leaves and mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to sputter, remove from the heat and pour over the curry.

Jackfruit Curry

Cooking the fruit changes the texture completely.

The raw fruit is quite sweetly pungent – though not unpleasant – it hits the back of your throat rather than the tip of the tongue. It has a thick texture – similar to that of raw mushrooms. Cooked, it’s more like stewed apple before it gets pulpy.

If you can get your hands on a bit of jackfruit, it’s an interesting addition to the dinner table.

Austerity Bites – A Reflection on the Recipes

I posted my recipes this past week pretty much as I cook them, so I thought I’d add a few words here about things that go on in my kitchen that I didn’t address properly/at all in the recipes I posted.

First, a word on… salt: At the moment, I’m using Pink Himalayan Salt – because it’s pretty (!) and because it’s inexpensive – but otherwise I use Maldron Sea Salt.  That table salt stuff I buy to use for cleaning and for salting certain ‘squashy’ vegetables – courgettes, aubergines etc.

We need salt. We don’t need lots. The pink salt I use is very ‘salty’, so a pinch is enough. Otherwise, the average adult needs about 1.5g of sodium per day, and we all need more in the heat (when we’re perspiring more than usual).

Pink Salt

Himalayan Pink Salt

A word on…..portions: I’m a big fan of cooking once to eat twice. The recipes I used last week allowed us to do just that – and even have some left for sharing/freezing. Few things were finished. The exception being the masoor (red) lentil dish on Day 6.  You could easily halve the ingredients I listed and feed an adult and 2 kids with moderate appetites.

A word on…..utensils: We don’t use non-stick utensils in our house. For years, we kept pet birds. Teflon is not kind to little birds (in fact, it kills them) and Kashmira reasoned that if it’s not good for them, it can’t be much good for us, either.  In order to ensure things don’t stick, I don’t increase the amount of fat I use – I just cook a little more slowly, and add a bit of water if I need to.

A word on…..chilli: I don’t use buckets of chilli. I think that the purpose of chilli – and other spices – is to add flavour to dishes, not mask the flavours of the food you’re cooking. Being able to eat really hot food is not a sign that you are ‘hard’, ‘tough’, or ‘cool’. It means you need to find a new hobby. And possibly that you’re lacking in zinc.

Chillies

A mixture of dried and fresh chillies.

Finally, a word on…..spices: Spices are wonderful to add something special to your food. Don’t be too heavy-handed, though. While a little is good, more is not necessarily better. Again, you want the taste of the spices to enhance the taste of your cooking, not overwhelm it.

When it comes to buying spices, don’t forget that they are far more expensive in supermarkets than in Asian stores. In Asian stores, however, they can often come in larger quantities than you’d like. If you don’t use spices a lot in your cooking, why don’t you consider buying with a friend or two (or three)? For about a fiver each, you could buy a bag of each of the basics and divide them up between you.  That way, you can each get ‘starter’ packs of all the basics for way less than you’d get them in a shop with a well-recognised name.

Spices

Back left: Fenugreek Powder

Back Right:Turmeric Powder

Centre: Ground Cloves

Front Left: Cardamom Pods

Front Right: Coriander Seeds

Austerity Bites – A Reflection

Six Days of Austerity was a wonderful experience. I really enjoyed sharing my recipes with you – and I was delighted by all the support you gave me in my endeavours.

The first post in the series felt like the bravest post I’d ever published. Braver than talking honestly and openly about my own mental health issues; braver than talking about sexual abuse, spousal abuse or other family issues. Braver than taking an unpopular stance on political or parenting issues. Braver than anything else I ever wrote about because, in that first Austerity Bites post, I admitted to being financially insecure.  I have always felt that Ireland is a land of inveterate snobs, where people are judged by material possessions and looked down on when they are in financial difficulties. I’ve always felt that, in Ireland, there was nothing worse than being poor. So to come out and admit that I was trying to raise two kids on next-to-nothing felt like the bravest thing I’d ever written.

The kind, supportive reactions of people who read and commented on this blog turned that from ‘brave’ to ‘liberating’. So thank you all for your kindness and support.

Of course, after the social welfare cheque hit and I’d paid (a bit) off  (some of) the bills, I realised there’s  not much more this week than there was last week. The thing about this past week – which was particularly punishing – is that I used up much of my reserves. I went in to the six days knowning that there were still certain staples (lentils and tins of tomatoes, for example). They have been used up now. The cupboards are bare. Before heading into the next week, I have to sit down and think how on earth I will manage to replenish the stocks somewhat in order to provide nourishment for my girls.

Given all that,  I have a feeling there will be more Austerity Bites posts and recipes in the near future.  Stay tuned! 🙂

There will be reflections on the recipes to follow.