Mango tango

Hello there, British summer; it’s nice to have you back. After we moaned and groaned about the hottest heatwave since 1976, the skies are once again a shade of grey, making this Monday even more meh than usual. Thankfully I’m no longer working nine to five, but it’s still hard to get my act together after the weekend.

Now that I’m freelance, regular mealtimes have gone out of the window. It’s not that I’d ever forget to eat (as if) but sometimes after a late breakfast, I’ll get so engrossed in a piece of work that it gets to three o’clock and I’ll wonder why I’m so grouchy. A handful of nuts and dark chocolate and several strong coffees do not maketh a sustainable lunch.

This is where a tin of pulses and some veggies some in handy as you can use them to make a meal in mere minutes. You can knock up this stir fry faster than Theresa May running through a field of wheat.

I like to mix things up in the kitchen (I’m mad, me) so added a mango that was languishing in the fruit bowl. Use whatever needs using up but a bit of fruit adds a nice bit of sweetness to it. You can add rice (use the microwave type if you’re really starved of time) or noodles if you’re extra hungry.

speedy stir fry
Speedy stir fry with mango and avocado and a lime, chili and mint dressing

Speedy stir fry with mango and avocado and a lime, chili and mint dressing

Serves 2

Ingredients

For the stir fry

1 head of cauliflower or broccoli, broken into florets

1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced

1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced

2 spring onions, finely sliced

1 tin of green or brown lentils, rinsed and drained

Large handful spinach

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp soy sauce

For the dressing

1 lime, juiced

1 red chili, finely chopped

A few fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

 

Method

Heat a large wok then add the sesame oil. After a minute, add the cauliflower or broccoli, spring onion and soy sauce and cook for 2 minutes. Add the lentils and the spinach and cook for another 2 minutes. To make the dressing, quickly mix together the lime juice, chilli and mint. Serve the stir fry in bowls and drizzle over the dressing.

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Instructions for a heatwave

You know what they say about the sun – mad dogs and Englishmen and all that. Well, it’s true. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose brain is a bit addled by the current heatwave. I’m so glad that I no longer work in an office or worse still, have to face a hot and sweaty commute to work. Still, it’s hard going. Without wanting to sound like one of those people, it’s a bit too hot, isn’t it?

Anyway, ‘tis the season to eat salad (or sorbet, if you’re a vegan with a sweet tooth) and it’s pretty much all I want at the moment. I fell in love with a little lunch pot I bought from Marks and Spencer at the weekend and decided to try to recreate it.

The flavours in this salad verge on the sublime, thanks mainly to a creamy lemon and parsley dressing, and it’s a good way to use courgettes which are just in season. The peas (also in season if you use fresh) and chickpeas are full of protein so it’s a sustaining salad, too. Instead of fregola, I’ve used orzo, which looks like rice but is actually a type of pasta but much lighter – ideal if your appetite isn’t up to much in this weather. You can buy it in most large supermarkets but if you can’t find it, quinoa, couscous or brown rice will work just as well – just adjust your cooking times.

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Orzo with courgettes and peas and a lemon and parsley dressing

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

For the salad

100g orzo pasta

200g peas (fresh or frozen)

1 large courgette, diced

1 can of chickpeas (400g), rinsed and drained

2-3 handfuls spinach

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

For the dressing

Juice and zest of 1 unwaxed lemon (if you can’t get unwaxed, use the juice only)

½ tsp mustard seeds (black or yellow) or 1 tsp wholegrain mustard

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 handful of parsley, finely chopped

1 tsp maple syrup

Salt and pepper

 

Method

Add the orzo to a pan of salted boiling water and cook for 6-7 minutes, then drain and set aside. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan, then add the peas (shell them first if you’re using fresh) and courgette and squeeze over the lemon juice. Cook for 5-6 minutes, then add the chickpeas and the spinach and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir through the orzo then quickly make the dressing. If using mustard seeds, grind them using a pestle mortar or the base of a large mug, then mix together with the other ingredients – you can do this in a bowl by with a whisk or a fork or you can pop everything into a jar and give it a good shake.

Stir the dressing into the salad and serve. This goes particularly well with a cool glass of crisp white wine. Enjoy.

 

Broad strokes

Is it really a week since the general election? A lot has happened in the last seven days. We still don’t have a government so to speak, Tim Farron’s stepped down as leader of the Liberal Democrats (although really, that’s no bad thing) and fair-weather friend Owen Smith now has a starring role in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.

It’s certainly not the hung parliament we were expecting last Thursday night. Mind you, most of us were hungover (get it?) the next morning and boy, am I feeling that today. Yesterday the weather was GLORIOUS and like so many  of us sun-starved Celts, I found myself in a beer garden. To give myself credit, I delayed drinking until a very respectable 6.30 pm but in the space of three and a half hours, I got through a hell of a lot of white wine. There was no dinner, unless Kettle Chips count. Oops.

I’ll survive – and I think Labour might too. Over 70 per cent of people aged 18–25 turned out to vote last week (that’s astonishingly good) and it’s a fair bet that many of them were voting for the many, not the few. If the reds had won just 15 more seats they could have formed a coalition with Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Greens. Sigh.

The good news is that Labour won back its seats from the Tories in Cardiff North, Vale of Clwyd and Gower. I’m moving to Swansea in a few weeks and while Gower isn’t my constituency (I’m Swansea East, baby) I’m pleased as punch. I was in Mumbles on Friday afternoon and when I saw these Gower broad beans, I saw it as a sign and had to buy them. If you’re ever in the area,  by the way, The Choice is Yours is a great greengrocers.

I love broad beans, even if they do require a bit of TLC. Shelling peas is pretty simple but with broad beans you need to double-pod them, which means removing an extra layer – a bit like a vest, I guess. It takes a bit of time but it’s worth it for the flavour. I had a merry little time shelling peas and broad beans the other night while I caught up with Orange is the New Black (no spoilers please; I’m still on season four); then I used them in a dreamy Thai green curry.

Once you’ve prepared the peas and broad beans dish (of course, you can use the frozen variety if you’re in a hurry), this is a really quick and easy dish. It’s also pretty healthy and if you want to make a lighter version you can use coconut milk from a carton (the kind you’d pour over cereal or have in tea or coffee) instead of the canned variety. It can be tricky to find a vegan Thai green curry paste (most of them contain fish sauce or shrimps) but the Blue Dragon version is a good option and if you can find it, there’s also Geo Organics, which I used.

Thai green curry 2

Thai green curry with peas and broad beans

Serves 4

Ingredients

200g peas, shelled

200g broad beans, shelled

300g spinach (or half a big bag)

1 small onion or 2 shallots, diced

3 carrots, diced

1 tablespoon sesame or coconut oil (olive or vegetable are fine too)

1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste

1 can (400ml) coconut milk

1 to 2 teaspoons maple syrup

The juice of 1 lime

1 to 2 teaspoons soy sauce

Handful of parsley or coriander, chopped

425g brown rice

 

Method

Start by cooking the rice. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add the rinsed rice and continue boiling for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, warm a large saucepan or wok over a medium heat and when it’s hot, add the oil.

Cook the onion, ginger and garlic with a sprinkle of salt for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the carrots and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the curry paste and cook (keep stirring!) for 2 minutes.

Pour the coconut milk into the pan, along with half a mug of water and the maple syrup. Bring the mixture to a simmer then reduce the heat and after 5 minutes, add the peas and broad beans. Cook for another 5-6 minutes until the vegetables are tender and cooked through. Now stir through the spinach and cook for another minute or so – or until it’s wilted.

Remove the curry from the heat and season with the lime juice and soy sauce. Divide the rice and curry into bowls and garnish with herbs and sliced red chilies, if you like.

 

Half-baked

Another day, another omnishambles. The fallout from last week’s general election is unfolding like an episode of Borgen and I’m struggling to keep up with the subtitles. After the Tories failed to win its predicted landslide majority, Theresa May is hoping to get into bed with the DUP (eew) to form a minority government. Now, The Queen’s Speech (which is basically when the government sets out its legislative programme) has been delayed until the deal is done and dusted. Oh, and the speech is still written on vellum – yes, that’s goat’s skin – which takes a few days to dry. Because of Tory negotiations with the DUP, it won’t be ready in time, hence the hold up.

I’m confused, bemused, and actually a little amused. The news this weekend has had me chuckling away, because it’s not funny – it’s bloody farcical. I’m no political expert but surely it was a bit half-baked to trigger Article 50 and then call an election?

It’s so bad it’s almost good – and it is if you consider that Labour has had a surge in popularity and for the first time in ages, the party is putting on a united front. It doesn’t excuse the previous backstabbing (I’m looking at you, Eagle and Smith) but Corbyn is now the poster boy for common decency because a. he’s a genuine guy who seems to give a damn about other people and b. next to the May and her ilk, anyone’s a Messiah. And then, proving that like us, he’s an average Joe (or Jeremy) there’s this.

I could watch it for hours.

Apart from Labour, no one seems at all happy, apart from Arlene Foster and former Chancellor George Osborne who was swiftly sacked by May as soon as she became Prime Minister. Now the tables have turned, he can barely contain his glee at her inevitable demise, and like the cat who got the cream, he’s described her as a ‘dead woman walking’. Meow. That schadenfreude sure does look delicious.

It certainly appears that there’s trouble in paradise, and in a leaked WhatsApp conversation, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has urged his Tory chums to ‘calm down and get behind the prime minister’. Good luck with that one, Bo Jo; the claws are out.

Carry on we must and on that note, I turn to tofu. You might think it’s as rubbery as Michael Gove’s face (and politics) but it’s actually a wonderful addition to any recipe because, like a sponge, it absorbs everything – and yes, that means all the flavour. Recently, I’ve had a go at baking it and have discovered that it’s dead easy and it keeps its shape better. This recipe is tried and tested (unlike whatever the hell is going on at number 10 right now) and I promise you that you’ll like it.

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Here’s what you need to do…

Take a 400g block of firm tofu and use kitchen roll to blot and absorb all its water. Take a heavy wooden chopping board or a hardback book (wrapped in a clean tea towel) and place it on top of the tofu. This will press down on it and absorb excess moisture. Leave for 10-15 minutes then slice into medium-sized strips.

Preheat the oven to 200C (gas mark 6) and in an oven-proof dish, mix a tablespoon each of soy sauce and sesame oil, plus a little grated ginger and the juice of one small lime. Coat both sides of the tofu strips with the mixture and leave to marinate for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle over some sesame seeds so that both sides of the strips are covered and bake for about 30 minutes, turning every so often.

Serve with stir fried vegetables and noodles or rice.

Peas please

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I love this time of year. With each season, I look forward to a new chapter (mainly in the weather and the food but also, just like at the start of a new school term, starting afresh) and when I think of June, I imagine weddings, gin and tonics enjoyed in the garden and slow summer days and evenings. Obviously, real life often gets in the way and even if it’s not pouring with rain, we often find ourselves stuck at the office when the sun’s shining outside.

One of the nicest things about summer is all that fresh fruit and vegetables and because it’s so easy to prepare, you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying the summer – when the weather’s playing ball, that is. This is when peas and broad beans are just coming into season and once you get them out of their pods, they cook in a matter of minutes and by adding fresh mint, olive oil and lemon juice, they’re delicious served on their own.

Shelling peas is the closest I’ll ever get to mindfulness. I have the patience of a sinner but even I’m willing to sit down for half an hour and focus my full attention on popping them out of their pods. If you don’t want to completely switch off, shelling peas gives you a good excuse to catch up with a podcast or your latest Netflix binge.

Believe it or not, peas aren’t actually vegetables as each pod and its contents is collectively fruit and the peas are the seeds. That explains why they’re so sweet and how it’s almost impossible to shell them without snacking on a few.

Peas are something of a nutritional powerhouse as they’re low in sugar and a 100g portion provides you with 66% of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin C. Peas are also a good source of fibre and protein. If you can’t get fresh peas just use the frozen kind.

Peas please2

Spaghetti with pea and avocado pesto

Serves 2

 

Ingredients

200g spaghetti

200g peas, shelled and rinsed

1 lemon (juice only)

1 ripe avocado, peeled and halved

3 large handfuls kale, cavolo nero or spinach, torn

5-6 basil leaves, torn

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Flaked almonds (optional)

 

Method

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook your spaghetti for 8-10 minutes, then drain. Steam the peas for one minute before adding the kale, then cook for a further 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place the avocado, basil, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper into a blender. When the kale is cooked, allow it to cool for a minute, then add to the other ingredients and blend – you don’t need to be too thorough with this as you want a fairly coarse consistency. In a pan, mix the spaghetti and the peas and stir through the pasta, heating for a minute if you want to eat it warm, and serve. Scatter with flaked almonds for added crunch and a few basil leaves, if you like.