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.
Since I’ve moved back to the UK, I’ve rediscovered a lot of great ingredients that I had barely used over the last 6 years – and, in fact, I’ve discovered some that I didn’t even know existed. Yesterday, that was samphire.
Samphire is (apparently) a coastal plant of the parsley family. It’s vibrant green, and looks like a cross between seaweed and green beans – which, actually, is what it sort of tastes like too. It grows on shorelines and salty mudflats, and its leaves are the parts that people eat. It was just a pound yesterday so I grabbed some, excited about the idea of trying something new.
Well, newsflash: It’s amazing.
With the subtle saltiness of the vegetable, a lot of people use samphire as a bed for grilled fish – but of course, we can’t do that here. I decided to set the crisp tastiness of the samphire against the crispy softness of barely-fried potatoes, with some brightly coloured and creamy/crunchy ingredients, with the whole thing covered in a thick, tangy vegan aioli.
It was just as good as it sounds.
Tofu is one of those things that I probably don’t use as much as I should. I hate the silken stuff with an aggressive passion (so gross) so I only really use the extra firm version, and for some reason it just slips my mind a lot of the time – until I’m cooking something like the phenomenal Vegan Steamed Bao Buns that I made a few weeks ago. For these, tofu is perfect.
Of course, the best thing about tofu is its ability to take on flavours from other ingredients. Marinated tofu one of the most delicious and cheapest ways to hulk up on vegan protein sources, and it can be used in a whole variety of cuisines. As Bao buns are a mainstay of Taiwanese and other Asian diets, the tofu to go inside them needed to be thick with an Asian flavour. Teriyaki was just what they needed.
Making bread is the closest thing to actual magic that really exists. A few cheap ingredients, a little bit of movement, and the whole mixture turns into something else entirely – something that’s warming, hearty, delicious and just perfect to dip into balsamic vinegar (the measure of all great things).
Making bread is also one of those gorgeously physical things that you can do to de-stress while you listen to the Moth podcast, chatter away to a mate on Skype or dance embarrassingly around your kitchen to the Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show. And when you’re done, you’ve got BREAD!
It makes your whole house smell like a bakery, it saves you money and it makes you healthier (if you stop buying that horrible store-bought sliced bread that’s mainly plastic, that is). It’s a skill that we shouldn’t lose, and a source of creativity that we shouldn’t overlook. If you didn’t guess yet, I love making bread.
A couple of weekends ago, I had the pleasure of spending most of the day at Paradise Palms here in Edinburgh. As well as amazing cocktails and proper steez, this place serves Ninja Buns, an absolutely incredible take on Taiwanese Gua Bao; delicious things sandwiched between flat steamed bread.
I had one of their tofu bao, as well as a rice bowl (and more than a couple of cocktails), and I was blown away – as was everyone else who had one. I say again: incredible.
Me being me, though, I started to wonder what make the bread so different to normal bread. Was it just the steaming process? How hard was it to make them vegan? What was the method compared to normal bread?
And so, the following Wednesday, I spent absolutely all day figuring this out. And the results were just perfect.
One of the first ‘veggie burgers’ I ever tried was a disc of butternut squash, roasted and sprinkled with basil. Whilst some might scoff at the lack of effort involved on the chef’s part, something about the simple flavour combination made it really memorable.
This recipe starts with that simplicity, adds more texture and a few additional herbs and spices to create a substantial gourmet veggie burger!