Sometimes you need a kick up the bum when it comes to cooking. Your repertoire gets a bit dull, your imagination doesn’t seem to extend past the things you have made the week before. Well, I certainly got a kick up the kitchen bum this month; I spent three weeks eating the glorious, magical, indescribably good food in South India.
Real Indian food is far from the cheap parody of what we have been eating in the UK for all of my life. It’s varied, nuanced and full of fascinating ingredients, many of which we’ve never even heard of. It’s also incredibly cheap; a regular lunch “meal” consists of a number of different, small curries, salads and chutneys, served with breads, rice and a sweet, which is eaten before the savouries, and barely ever runs more than 150 Rupees, which is more or less £1.50. I came back from my trip feeling fantastic and eager to remake these recipes at home. Here’s one of the first I tried my hand at.
Alright, I’ve used the word “classic” here, but you should know me well enough now by now to know that I can never resist adding a couple of little tweaks into any “classic” recipe. The two that I’ve added into this fantastically simple soup don’t change the flavour; they merely enhance it.
It’s getting colder by the day here in Edinburgh, meaning that those sniffles and snorts of winter are becoming more and more common. The garlic and ginger in this recipe help to keep that damn sickness at bay, and the turmeric is added in for extra wonderful colour and for its whole host of health benefits. The coriander seeds warm the flavour a little without changing it (though you can use ground coriander if you prefer), and the whole shebang ends up being one of the best carrot and coriander soups I’ve ever had. Honestly.
Figs. They’re sort of new to me. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten one before this year, when they were sat looking delicious at my fruit and veg man’s stall and I took a punt on four for two pounds. I put them in porridge, I roasted them, I put them in salads. Delicious.
I brought some more figs this week, and realised I wasn’t being nearly enough inventive with them. I had got some of my usual pre-made vegan puff pastry (I know, Paul Hollywood; I should be ashamed) and, because autumn has definitely arrived in Edinburgh, I’ve got it into my head that warming, crispy, fruit-filled desserts need to be made. Figs pair beautifully with blueberries and vanilla – so why not wrap the whole shebang in that gorgeous, crispy, layered pastry and serve?
Why not exactly.
I’m a big fan of brunch, as you well know. I sometimes rely a little too heavily on potatoes in some sort of fried manner (because fried potatoes are the only actual, scientifically proven cure for a hangover), so I like when I come across a brunch idea that’s not all root vegetables and regret. I first read about shakshuka not that long ago, and chalked it up as a potential brunchable. Turns out, it’s amazing.
Shakshuka is argued to have originated in Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen, but its popularity spread all across the Middle East, and it’s now a popular breakfast in Libya, Algeria and Morocco as well as a common evening meal in Israel. The traditional version of the dish is made with eggs, which are cracked into wells in the tomato mixture and slowly poached this way.
For me, avocados are the natural vegan equivalent to eggs. They’re fatty and delicious, and they can be cooked (or prepared) in a number of different ways. Shakshuka is also served with a yogurt drizzle in a lot of places, and I’ve used my favoured basic tahini sauce as the drizzle here, as the flavours go really well with the spices and tomato (and of course, with the avocado). The result is a dish that I’ll be coming back to time and time again; easy, quick and a total crowd-pleaser.
Banana bread. One of the cheapest, easiest, most singularly satisfying things that you can make in your oven.
For me, banana bread brings with it memories Australia, of inhaling a slice of banana bread and a flat white on the Manly ferry after a Saturday of trying to surf. I’d shove the whole lot in my mouth while trying to keep my eyes open – usually followed by a nap on the ferry and a nap in the back yard hammock before heading out that evening. Even the smell of banana bread cooking makes my paddling muscles ache these days. I miss those Saturday afternoons on the beach.
A couple of fresh slices of this delicious cake bring a little of that Sydney sun to the ever-ripening autumn of Edinburgh.
When I returned from Berlin last week, I’d decided that summer was over. September to me means cardigans and jumpers and layers and cups of tea and hot, hot dinners. Unfortunately Edinburgh decided to unleash the summer we hadn’t really had, so all my plans were scuppered. Still, I fancied a super hot dinner – so this recipe was born.
I don’t own a slow cooker. I never have. But there is one in my kitchen at the moment; one leftover by a wonderful friend who came to stay and forgot to take it with her. What better time to discover the joys of a food cooked over a matter of hours instead of a matter of minutes? What better reason to cook the first chilli of the encroaching autumn?
People love slow cookers because they can fill them with ingredients over breakfast, flip the “on” switch as they’re leaving for work, then come home to a beautiful meal after a long day. I love them because the method of cooking allows for flavours to mingle and to affect one another, to settle and enrich each other and become full and satisfying. For this method of cooking, chilli is the perfect recipe; a little sugar lets the tomato flavour come out full force, a little cocoa brings a chocolately overtone to the dish, and the beans end up less gassy, meaning less post-chilli farts. It’s a win-win-win.
I’m not a huge pasta fan. I didn’t grow up eating it, and like pizza, I didn’t really enjoy it properly until I was at university or after. Though I never had the same obsession with it that others did, I experimented making my own before I went vegan, I had some delicious dishes in Italy, and while living in Panama I did get a bit too into the very cheap Italian place around the corner. But honestly, I don’t feel the same passion for a plate of spaghetti that other people seem to.
However, I’ve start to experiment a lot more with different types of pasta these days, and I’ve got a lot of time for a pasta dish that isn’t just pasta and sauce. This meal started out as a play on my own version of a Nigel Slater recipe, but when I realised I didn’t have half the ingredients, I improvised. Orzo seemed a great choice for this spicy but simple dish, and it was. It’s funny how a recipe with ham, chickpeas and aubergine can turn into a hot orzo salad with kale, but that’s just how cooking goes.
I love crumbles. They’re quite literally the best desserts in the world. But what’s the difference between a crumble, a crisp and a cobbler?
According to The Kitchn, a cobbler has a strictly biscuit topping, whilst both crisps and crumbles have a streusel-like topping but only crisps traditionally contained oats.
I’ve called this dish a “crisp” as it’s got a more crispy topping than I would normally expect of a crumble, thanks to the pistachios and the pecans, and it most definitely contains oats. It’s also a little heartier of a topping, as I used half wholewheat flour and half white flour. However, if you want to call it a crumble, that’s alright with me.
My often tumultuous relationship with aubergine (eggplant) has been well documented on this site. I go through periods of hating them, then loving them, then not being bothered with the potential rubberiness of them when they’re badly cooked.
Thanks to the Honey and Co cookbook, however, I’ve started to love them – specifically when they’re sliced thinly, grilled and stuffed with pomegranate and walnuts.
As much as I now like aubergines, I also hate throwing things away. Last night’s leftover Basmati rice was calling my name from the fridge, just begging to be used before it turned dry and tasteless. I had also made an entire jar full of Harissa paste in a fairly successful attempt to avoid doing any work yesterday. And these two aubergines were going off.
So this recipe was born.