In season

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Quick, healthy and filling: my lentil, new potato and asparagus salad

Life’s all about the simple pleasures, isn’t it? The smell of fresh coffee, clean and crisp bed linen, sun on your skin, and the first taste of summer strawberries.

If I’m sounding a bit smug, I apologise. But you won’t catch me eating strawberries in February. Why? Because they taste bloody horrible. I know it’s not always possible but eating seasonally is cheaper and healthier – and it tastes so much better. It’s obviously better for the planet too and a good way to support British producers.

British is best – in this case, anyway. My friend Avis always laughs at me because I once got very passionate about my preference for English strawberries. That’s about as Daily Mail as I get.

Now that summer’s here (don’t hold your breath though) we can enjoy sweet strawberries, rhubarb, Jersey royals and my favourite, asparagus. Next month, it’ll be broad beans and peas and I’ll be rushing down to Laura’s to get my fix.

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The best of British

Last week, feeling fat and fed up (it was Sunday night, after all), I rustled up a quick salad using some seasonal veg. The real star of the salad is the asparagus but the peppery radishes and soft, buttery potatoes work well to bolster the earthy and modest green lentils.

I’ll admit that I used green beans grown in some far-flung country but I got them reduced in Waitrose and we all know how much of a boon that is.

This dish is pretty filling as a main meal but a smaller portion would go well with salmon or a poached egg – for all you non vegans.

I hear that asparagus season ends in three weeks, so make this while you can… and use up any leftover asparagus in this summery salad recipe.

Lentil, new potato and asparagus salad

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

For the salad

200g green lentils

A bunch/packet of asparagus

A bunch/packet of green beans

A small bag of Jersey Royal new potatoes

A small bag of radishes

3-4 teaspoons of capers

 

For the dressing

2 teaspoons of wholegrain mustard

2–3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (optional)

1 tablespoon of maple syrup (or honey if you eat it)

The juice of half a lemon

Method

Rinse the lentils and drain. Add to a saucepan and cover with cold water. Add salt and boil for 30 minutes. After about five minutes, put the potatoes to boil. Meanwhile, make the dressing. Mix the mustard, olive oil, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Steam the asparagus and green beans for 4-5 minutes. Once everything is cooked, add all the ingredients to a large bowl, mix in the sliced radishes and the capers, and finally the dressing.

Meatless Monday

Meat Free (or Meatless) Monday is growing in popularity and Canton’s newest burger bar, Time and Beef, has wisely jumped on the bandwagon with Meatless Mondays when its whole menu goes vegetarian and vegan.

Steve and Sarah have converted the space next door to Home Bargains on Cowbridge Road East into a pared back modern diner/warehouse – think  exposed brick walls and sanded wooden tables with American tunes blasting from the stereo. As well as burgers, Time and Beef does breakfasts, lunches, coffee and cocktails. Whatever you’re ordering, you’re guaranteed a warm welcome and service with a smile.

Today’s been just another manic Monday and the only thing that kept me going was a dinner date with burger and beer – and my friend, Jess.

After a quick gossip, we met Sarah who talked us through the menu. It’s a bit like Ikea in that you build your own: a burger and a bun is £7.00, then additional toppings, including homemade vegan cheese, cost £1.00, and sides such as sweet potato fries and corn on the cob come in at £2.00–3.00.

There are also a range of starters; I’m hoping that one day the deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese will be dairy free, but until then us vegans can choose from Alex Gooch sourdough bread with houmous or spiced pakora vegetables in tempura batter. Don’t come here if you’re on a diet.

Choosing the burgers is a pretty tough task, especially after a taxing day at the office, and we had to toss a coin to decide. I ended up with the four bean burger with vegan cheese and beetroot crisp and Jess had the pulled oyster mushrooms with hickory BBQ sauce and kale slaw. We shared a portion of the sweet potato fries, which is a good thing as the burgers are pretty damn filling.

My bean burger was subtly spicy and the tang of the beetroot was a perfect pairing for the ‘cheese’, which was cool and creamy, like a combination of feta and goat’s cheese without being too overpowering. Don’t get me wrong – it was delicious – but I had a serious case of food envy when I tasted Jess’ burger. Wow. Words can’t really describe the taste but you get a mouthful of rich, sweet and smoky flavours. It’s definitely one to try. The fries were just right too. The potato bun was a bit on the heavy side for our liking but apart from that, we were happy customers.

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Pulled oyster mushrooms with hickory BBQ sauce and kale slaw served with sweet potato fries. No filter needed.

With more and more of us choosing to go veggie or vegan (watch Countryfile’s special National Vegetarian Week episode here) or just to eat a bit less meat, it’s really refreshing to see Meatless Monday on the menu. Let’s hope more places in Cardiff follow on.

Time and Beef is a great addition to Canton’s growing restaurant and bar scene and Meatless Monday will provide you with a good start to the working week ahead. It might even make Tuesday a little less painful…

If you want to try some more deliciously indulgent vegan treats (it’s not all about clean eating, you know), check out my recent Wales Online feature.

Salad days

It looks as though summer’s arrived and I’ve got the sunburn to prove it.

I love this time of year even if it does mean pink skin, insect bites and (as anyone working in a marketing or comms role in Wales knows – and dreads) the Royal Welsh Show.   The sudden appearance of the sun this weekend has really made me very happy and I hope it stays.

At the start of every summer, I think I’ll become more virtuous and fill the longer days with salads and evening runs. It’s a nice idea but it rarely happens, mainly because I hate running and also because as soon as the sun makes an appearance, my good intentions go on holiday. Two words: beer garden.

This weekend is a case in point.  Sure, I’ve eaten some avocado and I’ve been to the gym, but last night’s ‘dinner’ consisted of almost an entire tube of Pringles (no, I don’t want you to tell me the calories) washed down with plenty of red wine. But that’s the fun of an impromptu garden party with my pals.

Today, I took a little daytrip to Gwaelod y Garth where I marvelled at the beautiful bluebells in Coed y Bedw nature reserve and managed to a walk all the way to the top of the mountain. Full points to the city girl. After that, I was so hungry that I inhaled a bowl of chips and a couple of ‘cheeky’ beers at the pub.

It’s the weekend though so it’s allowed. I’m a big believer in eating a little bit of what you fancy and as long as you’re getting your five a day and doing a bit of exercise during the week, it’s OK to overdo it a bit the rest of the time.

With this in mind, I’ve put together this simple summer salad which is healthy and light, and thanks to the chickpeas, which are packed with protein, it’ll keep you full for hours. It works well as a main meal but could also be served as a side dish for meat or fish (for all you non-vegans out there) and is perfect for a picnic or as a packed lunch.

Use any green veg you like (I used asparagus because it’s in season plus broccoli, spinach and fennel) and the hazelnuts are optional but add some nice crunch. This is the first time I’ve cooked with buckwheat and it’s surprisingly easy. You can just boil it (like it says on the packet) although toasting it beforehand gives it extra bite. You can use quinoa, rice or couscous if you prefer but buckwheat has a nuttier texture and taste.

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Chickpea, orange and buckwheat salad

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

150g buckwheat

1 tin of chickpeas (400g) rinsed and drained

1 orange

Green vegetables of your choice

2–3 handfuls of hazelnuts, roughly chopped (optional)

Parsley

Olive oil

 

Method

In a frying pan, toast the buckwheat on a medium heat for five minutes. Bring a litre of salted water to a boil, add the buckwheat and simmer for 10 minutes (or as instructed on the packet), until the grains are almost tender and have absorbed most of the water. Drain and leave to cool a little.

Meanwhile, lightly steam your vegetables, and using the same frying pan, toast the hazelnuts for 2–3 minutes then remove from the pan and set aside. In a bowl, cover the chickpeas with the juice from the orange, season with salt and pepper and stir.  Place in the pan, and toast on a low heat (you don’t need oil for this) for 2–3 minutes. Add the buckwheat to the pan and cook for a minute then transfer the mixture to a bowl. Slice the orange and add this, with the vegetables, to the bowl. Top with the chopped hazelnuts and parsley and drizzle with olive oil.

 

Watch this space for more summer recipes.

Curry in a hurry

It’s official: vegans live for longer. That’s what a recent BBC documentary says anyway and I’m going with it.

In How to Stay Young, Angela Rippon and Dr Chris van Tulleken turn to science to discover the secret of a long and healthy life and discover that (surprise, surprise) stress is bad for us but that dogs and dancing do us the world of good.

In the programme, Angela and Dr Chris (who’s quite a dish and has an identical twin brother) speak to lots of important looking people in white coats who tell them that one way to stay healthy is by eating foods that contain inulin. Nope, not a typo: inulin is a starchy substance found in pulses and vegetables which can break down visceral fat (the type that you can’t see as it’s stored around your vital organs).

Lentils and chickpeas, and indeed most pulses, are inulin-rich and contain plenty of fibre and protein. They’re used in lots of curries and dhals because they’re filling and super cheap to boot. You can buy big bags of pulses for next to nothing in all supermarkets – or even better, get yourself to your nearest Asian supermarket where they’ll be even cheaper. Some pulses need soaking overnight so if that sounds like a faff just stock up on tins. Again, check out the international aisle at larger supermarkets as tins of chickpeas are much cheaper (you can get four for a pound at Tesco at the moment).

Why not give this quick and simple curry a try? It’s perfect for when you’ve had a long day at the office and want something quick and nourishing and is ideal for the weekend as it’s cheaper and healthier than a takeaway. I can testify that this goes well with a couple of beers and several poppadoms with mango chutney and lime pickle.

It’ll take you about twenty minutes to knock this up; just make sure that you start cooking the rice at the same time as the curry. Or you could use one of those microwaveable pouches of rice or quinoa which are usually on discount at the supermarket – yeah, it’s a bit lazy but needs must.

A lot of curry pastes are suitable for vegans, even if they’re not labelled as such so just check the ingredients. I used Patak’s Balti paste for a bit of spice. Of course, you can grind up spices like coriander and cumin seeds if you don’t want to use curry paste but remember that this will take you longer. You can also use tinned tomatoes if you don’t have fresh and if you want to add a bit of indulgent richness to the curry, include coconut milk or cream.

 

 

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Works just as well as a solo sofa supper as it does for a quick dinner when friends pop by

Chickpea and cauliflower curry

Serves 4

 

Ingredients

1 can of chickpeas, drained

1 head of cauliflower broken into florets

1 punnet of cherry tomatoes (or a tin of plum tomatoes)

A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed, grated or finely chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

Three tablespoons of curry paste

300g of spinach (fresh or frozen)

One tablespoon of olive or coconut oil

 

Method

Heat your oil in a large pan on a medium heat. Add the onions and let them cook for 2–3 minutes until soft. Add the cauliflower florets with the ginger, garlic and curry paste, and stir. After a minute, add the cherry tomatoes to the pan and squash them gently with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring the mixture regularly and add half a mugful or so of water gradually. After about ten minutes, add the chickpeas and another half a mug of water. Give it a good stir and add the spinach. Cook for another five minutes and you’re done. Serve with rice and/or poppadoms.