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Mulligatawny musings

Mulligatawny soup this week — I mainly selected this recipe out of curiosity, to see if the sensory issues that made me loathe carrots in soup and chickpeas in any non-hummus context had changed at all.

Happily, they have! Both ingredients were rendered perfectly palatable by the cooking procedure, and the rest of the dish was pretty good too 🙂

I omitted the step of partially blending the vegetables into the stock — for one thing, my stick blender is a bit naff, and for another thing, I prefer my home-made soups chunky (the texture of them when they’re liquidised is… ekkk). I also used 100g of sticky rice (my preferred type of rice), added before the 20-minute simmering, rather than 100g of basmati rice cooked separately and added near the end. These tweaks came together to make the soup more of a spiced vegetable stew, but that was all right ^^

1/2 teaspoon each of turmeric, cumin seeds, dried coriander and ground ginger seemed to work pretty well as a substitute for mild curry powder, though in retrospect I should perhaps have used 1/4 teaspoon of the turmeric — its flavour came through quite strongly in the finished dish. Next time, I could probably use less dried chilli as well, given that the soup had a very noticeable spicy kick. It fits with the current warm weather, though — spicy heat = more sweating = cooling down faster 🙂

All in all, I think this recipe was a success and is something to put on the ‘occasional’ roster 🙂


This week’s recipe was something I’ve been looking forward to trying out since I got my copy of Hairy Dieters Go Veggie — vegetarian miso soup!

I’ve been a great one for miso soup ever since I first tried it in a lovely little sushi place in Vancouver, Canada some years ago. The standard recipe, though, calls for dashi stock, which is made using bonito — dried tuna — flakes, and hence isn’t suitable for vegetarians.

This recipe calls for vegetable stock, garlic, ginger and miso paste for the soup base — I’d recommend using low-salt stock cubes if you don’t have the time or resources to make the stock from scratch, as miso paste can run quite salty. I got the ginger from my local Asian food store, which proved to be a good move — a few pence more than I’d have paid at Sainsbury’s, perhaps, but the flavour was much stronger and more interesting than the supermarket ginger.

The vegetable component was chiefly composed of mushrooms — a 100g tub of shiitake and a 200g tub of ‘specialist’ mushrooms (maitake, shiitake, oyster and enoki) covered things pretty well. I have to admit, the enoki mushrooms worried me a little, given that they’re much longer and skinnier than the sorts of mushrooms I’m used to, but they turned out to have a very acceptable flavour and texture. Enoki mushrooms figure in a recipe for beef sukiyaki I have in my collection, so I’ll definitely be casting a close eye over that at some point ^^

The bulk of the rest of the vegetable component was specified in the ingredients list as ‘2 to 3 heads of Asian greens’. I wasn’t certain of what specific vegetable that referred to, so I picked up a bag of pak choi from the Asian food store, reasoning that it has green leafy bits and is Asian. It worked really well! Very easy to chop (even when I absent-mindedly spent a few seconds trying to use the blunt side of the knife…), lovely flavour and it cooked and softened very well, neatly nullifying my worries that the saucepan wouldn’t be able to hold everything.

The end result was pretty darn tasty! The miso was a subtle, savoury background presence while the garlic, spring onions and ginger provided a good kick that stopped everything being too bland. The mushrooms and the dried shredded seaweed I sprinkled on top added some good umami notes.

As an unexpected bonus, I was able to calculate that one teaspoon of miso paste in a standard mug, plus dried shredded seaweed, (maybe) some chopped spring onion and boiling water to fill would make a very acceptable quick miso soup for snack-attack type moments! 🙂

Not playing socca

Socca and salsa this week — chickpea flatbreads served with a concoction of deseeded diced tomatoes, raw diced red onion, herbs and a bit of chilli. Yum yum!

The socca turned out more like pancakes than crispy-at-the-edges flatbreads and I’m not entirely sure why. They tasted good, though! I’m less sure about the flavour of the lightly caramelised wedges of onion that the recipe mentions adding to the pan after the batter — they tasted quite ‘roasted’ and I’m not a fan of roast onions — but the introductory commentary for the recipe did mention that they were entirely optional, so in future I can feel comfortable cooking up a batch of plain socca to go with sausages and gravy or something. I did also get an idea for lower-calorie onion bhajis — make up a quantity of gram flour batter, stir in a large quantity of finely chopped onion, dollop the mixture into paper cake cases set ready in cupcake or muffin trays and bake at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 30-45 minutes. I’ll definitely try that at some point!

The salsa was absolutely delicious — fresh and zingy — and it goes very well with lots of stuff besides socca. Brussels pate, mushroom pate, cream cheese… you name it! I’ll definitely remember this for future reference 🙂


Work has been very intense over the past few days, with one manuscript coming in almost as soon as the previous one was submitted… Things have quietened down a little now, though, which gives me some breathing space 🙂

Ferocious though it was, the pace of work over the weekend did not prevent me from making feta-and-spinach cigarillos! I used three 100g bags of pre-washed, ready-to-eat spinach instead of the 150g frozen spinach mentioned in the recipe — partly because they were on yellow label and partly because I thought it’d shrink down in the cooking anyway.

The quantity of spinach necessitated that I use a whole pack of feta — 200g, as opposed to the recipe requirement of 100g — in order to keep the right ingredient ratios. This did not trouble me unduly, as I already had plans to use any filling that didn’t go into the cigarillos for a big filo parcel/pie to go into the freezer for iron rations.

It turned out that I should probably have cooked the spinach down a bit before making the filling — even with the double feta, the ingredient ratio still skewed quite heavily toward spinach and the filling itself was rather awkward to handle when I was assembling the cigarillos. At least I got an additional densely-filled pie out of it! ^_^

Ingredient-wrestling awkwardness and wobbly ratios aside, this recipe turned out rather well — the filo pastry didn’t fall apart during or after cooking and the cigarillos tasted pretty good 🙂 Next time, though, I’ll probably either use a bit less pre-washed spinach and cook it down somewhat, or I’ll use frozen spinach as per the recipe. This one is definitely in my ‘to remember’ pile. I’m also thinking of trying this sort of filling in a pie using the potato pastry from the ‘miscellaneous’ section of this particular recipe book.

A special satay

Tofu satay this week! Another good ‘un from the Bikers 🙂

The marinade for the tofu was lovely and punchy — lots of lime juice — though I might have added slightly too much dried chilli, as there was an intense kick of heat after a few seconds when I tested it. In any case, eight hours of marinading the tofu cubes lent them a delightful flavour. I don’t actually have any bamboo or other skewers, so I couldn’t impale the tofu for grilling — I put the marinated tofu (plus the marinade; no point in wasting it) into a pie dish and put that under a medium grill while I made the peanut sauce. It worked pretty well 🙂

The peanut sauce is one of the best things I’ve gotten from the Hairy Dieters books! Smooth, delicious, just enough kick from the soy sauce, lemon juice and black pepper to balance out the smooth richness of the peanut butter. I used sweet chilli sauce rather than sriracha — personal preference — but this didn’t diminish the flavoursome aspects at all. I also had to use 50ml of semi-skimmed milk with a tablespoon of coconut powder stirred in instead of coconut milk, and the latter is rather expensive and it didn’t make sense to pay for 400ml of the stuff when I only needed one-eighth of that amount. The substitution worked out all right, though, and there was something incredibly satisfying about stirring all the sauce ingredients together and seeing the peanut butter slowly integrate with everything else 🙂 I’ll definitely be keeping this peanut sauce recipe in mind for other dishes — for example, a casserole of chicken on a bed of caramelised onion, with the peanut sauce poured over the top. Delicious!

The other Dieters recipe I’ll be doing this week is the artichoke and lemon dip. Not a meal by itself, admittedly, but it should go well with the last of the Jarlsberg twist bread (another Bikers recipe, this one from the Big Book of Baking) I made last Friday. It was soft, moist, delicious and rose like the devil thanks to some very lively yeast and the unseasonably warm day. I’ll be using artichokes canned in water rather than oil — nowhere to store the drained-off oil and I don’t want to waste anything — but that should be ok. Apparently the texture of the artichokes in water should be slightly mushier, which should help when it comes to combining the dip ingredients.

Bon appetit!

Spinach is good!

Creamed spinach with hard-boiled eggs was this week’s Hairy Dieters recipe. I hadn’t had spinach in many years and so didn’t have especially lofty expectations, but I was blown away by how good this recipe tasted!

Turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon and cumin mixed with the sautéed onion — strongly scented during the cooking, but tempered by the cream to a delicious background complex of flavours. The spinach cooked down magnificently and its flavours worked well with everything else. The recipe instructed that the egg(s) be boiled for exactly six minutes — approximately long enough to have the white fully solidified and the yolk still soft but no longer runny. Some care was definitely necessary when taking the shell off, but it was worth a little fiddling to get to the eggy goodness whose texture worked perfectly with the creamed spinach!

The recipe as given in the book was listed as serving 4 people (249 calories per portion) as a starter, snack or brunch, but it could easily serve 2 or 3 people as a light supper (at about 333 to 500 calories per portion).

Bon appetit!

I am a true millennial

I’ve had avocado toast for supper two days running…

Partly because it’s relatively cheap, quick and easy (essential when there’s a long and emotionally intense manuscript to be proofread on a tightish deadline), partly because I bought a two-pack of avocados and partly because it’s the first recipe in Hairy Dieters Go Veggie.

It went pretty well, although I think I added a little too much lemon juice to the avocado mix. I’ll probably use balsamic vinegar next time — should prevent oxidation just as effectively as lemon juice and has a sweet edge to the flavour to temper the acidic sourness.

I hadn’t actually had avocados on their own for well over a decade, so I’d forgotten just how creamy they are — certainly enough to temper my fiercely strong dried chilli flakes to scarcely a hint of warmth when I added my usual cautious small pinch to one mashed avocado.

All in all, I think this recipe was a success and I’ll keep it in mind for when the summer heat really gets going.

Hairy Dieters Go Veggie

I’ve FINALLY gotten around to this one, the latest in the Hairy Bikers’ series of glorious low-calorie recipe books 🙂 (the recipes are low-cal, not the books XD)

As the title suggests, there’s not a lick of meat anywhere in this particular volume — it’s all veggie, all the way. This helps keep the calories down a fair ol’ way, and is a good impetus for getting more creative with cooking one’s veg.

As per usual for Hairy Bikers books, the recipes are detailed and easy to follow, with preparation/cooking times and calorie counts for each dish. The book is as much a feast for the eyes as a feast for the stomach!

Given the all-veggie nature of the recipes, this particular book has slightly more recipes than usual that hit my ‘nope’ factor, through containing aubergines, courgettes, parsnips and other things that I really don’t like. This is a reflection of my personal tastes rather than a flaw in the book itself — there’s still plenty of good stuff there! For example, avocado toast (that millennial classic, though I’m not sure whether  I’m  actually a millennial), an avocado-based chilli chocolate mousse and caponata pasta. This last one contains capers and courgettes going by the ingredients list, but I’m working out ways to omit them and keep the dish tasting good.

One particularly interesting section is the soups — especially the vegetarian miso soup (miso soup usually uses dashi stock, which contains tuna in the form of bonito flakes). I’m a sucker for good miso soup, so this is a recipe I’m particularly looking forward to. The ingredients list mentions ‘Japanese greens’, not further specified, so I’m not entirely certain what to use there, but I suppose that if all else fails, spinach or pak choi should work reasonably well.

There are quite a few tofu recipes as well, such as a ‘TLT’ (tofu, lettuce and tomato sandwich) with smoked tofu, as well as an ingenious tofu satay. I’m pretty interested in these, though I’m a tad wary owing to the fact that tofu is soy-based, and soy products don’t always agree with me. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem if I do all the preparation correctly, though — sufficiently well-processed soy tends to be ok 🙂

All in all, the most recent Hairy Dieters book lives up to the standard set by its predecessors and is well worth a look!

Spring is sprung

The weather is FINALLY getting more springlike over here 🙂 The clocks have gone forward too, which always messes with my rhythm for a couple of days…

The upshot of that: this week’s culinary thing was almost identical to last week — pasta with home-made tomato sauce out of the freezer. The only differences were that this week I used whole-wheat fusilli, and that I added the rest of the frozen prawn from a couple of weeks ago.

There was about 5/6 of the block left, frozen pretty solid, and I was a bit reluctant to let it thaw overnight in the fridge because I was worried about the packaging slumping or splitting and sending melted prawn-water everywhere. My solution was to put the block in a sieve supported over the sink in the morning and let things defrost at room temperature. This certainly worked on the thinner outer layers of ice, but the main block was still frozen solid.

To deal with this, I boiled about 1 litre of water in the kettle, poured it into a saucepan and carefully placed the block of prawns into the water (this specific order of operations was intended to minimize the risk of damaging the saucepan from thermal shock). I’d intended to maintain the heat of the water on the hob, but this proved unnecessary — the outer layer of prawns was released almost immediately and I was able to work them off with a wooden spoon and set them aside in a bowl. The ice block, obviously, had a significant cooling effect on the water, but this only brought the temperature down to between blood heat and room temperature. This was sufficient warmth to gently thaw off further prawn layers, which I was able to extract with my (clean) hands. The result was a sizeable bowl of prawns which had been thawed but, for the most part, were still raw and hence would not be overcooked in the finished dish.

The procedure from there was pretty much the same as last week — cook pasta, drain, add sauce, heat through. I added the prawns at the same time and cooked and stirred until I was sure they were properly cooked (one can’t take too many chances with seafood). The end result was just as good as I’d anticipated, and went deliciously well with a few pieces of extra-mature cheddar melted over the top 🙂