Summer spice

Long time, no blog post. I’ve been busy working, moving house and going on holiday – not necessarily in that order.

Last week I went to Manchester for a few days and fell back in love with this ravishing red-bricked city. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a place that pulls me back time and time again. Maybe I’m a northerner at heart.

One of the best things about Manchester, for me, is the food, and vegans are spoiled for choice. I enjoyed my fair share of rainbow salads and also an amazing jackfruit curry, a breakfast roll with veggie sausage, beans, hash browns and peanut butter and the closest thing I’ve got to heaven (in burger form, anyway) at V-Rev Vegan Diner. This place is world famous and it’s not hard to see why.

The rumours are true: @vrevmcr is AMAZING Very full bellies after this filthy feast.

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After gorging myself silly, I’m now taking it easy on the treats and trying to train for a half marathon – I hate running and having a goal is the only way to make me exercise. The weather’s been a bit grey this week so I’m making the most of summer vegetables while they’re still in season. Cue this colourful curry which is tasty, healthy and filling and takes under half an hour to make. Use whatever veg you can get your hands – the list below is just what I had in the fridge. Oh, and go easy on the curry paste if you’re not a spice girl like me.

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Summer vegetable curry

Serves 3–4

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower broken into florets, plus its outer leaves

150g green beans, topped and tailed

100g runner beans, topped and tailed and sliced thinly

1 small courgette, diced

1 punnet cherry tomatoes or 4–5 tomatoes, quartered (or a tin of plum tomatoes)

8­–10 radishes

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

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

1 small onion, finely chopped

2–3 tbsp curry paste

300g spinach

100ml coconut or other plant milk

70g flaked almonds (optional)

1 tbsp olive or coconut oil

Method

Heat the 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 and green beans with the ginger, garlic and curry paste, and half the plant milk and stir. After a couple of minutes, add the runner beans, courgette and radishes and the cherry tomatoes to the pan, plus the rest of the plant milk. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly, then add the spinach. Cook for another five minutes then serve with rice and some flaked almonds.

Just do it

I’ve started running again. What this actually means, for me, anyway, is a sweaty shuffle which causes me to become a. incredibly out of breath and b. alarmingly red in the face. On Tuesday, I managed a whole five kilometres, although in the interest of full disclosure, I stopped a fair few times. That’s OK, though. For someone who hasn’t run properly since the 2013 Cardiff Half Marathon, I’m pretty pleased with that. When it comes to running, or anything else that I’m mildly anxious about, I try to think like Nike and ‘just to do it’.

Immediately after running, I have no appetite, but I usually need food and lots of it in no time at all. Regular readers will know that I’ve never been one to shun carbs (take away my bread and you’ll be sorry) and after my victorious lap around the Liberty Stadium, I needed starch and I needed it bad. When I need a quick, easy dinner, it has to be spaghetti.

This recipe uses only a few ingredients so you can really taste the flavours. Broad beans are a great way to up your protein quota and if you use wholewheat or spelt spaghetti, you’ll have an even healthier meal in your belly.

The real secret to simple cooking is using good quality ingredients. That doesn’t mean you have to spend lots of money but it’s worth investing in a decent bottle of extra virgin olive oil. A word to the wise about oil: save that deliciously fruity XV stuff for sauces, salads and dressings and use the ordinary kind for frying.

I found some smoked garlic at my local supermarket and it worked so well with the lemon juice and salt but if you don’t have it, add a pinch of smoked paprika instead. Once you’ve dealt with the broad beans (use frozen, if you’re pressed for time), this one pot wonder will take about ten minutes to cook.

Broad beans
You can blame the lighting for this photo, but trust me, it tastes really, really good.

Spaghetti with broad beans, lemon and garlic

Serves 2

Ingredients

200g broad beans, podded

200g spaghetti

1 clove garlic, chopped finely

1 lemon, juiced

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

70g flaked almonds (optional)

 

Method

Double pod your broad beans – basically remove them from the pods and then remove their outer skins. Now bring a pan of salted water to the boil and add the spaghetti. After 4 minutes, add the broad beans and boil for another 6 minutes. Drain and set to one side. Using the same pan, heat the oil, then fry the garlic for a minute. Add the almonds, half the lemon juice and a generous sprinkling of salt and cook for another minute, stirring all the time. Return the spaghetti and broad beans to the pan and mix together with the other ingredients. Pour over the rest of the lemon juice, a generous glug of the extra virgin olive oil and season with more salt and pepper, then serve.

Too hot to handle

Blimey, it’s warm. It’s not quite heatwave hot but I’m not built for this weather. Pale-skinned English rose that I am, I’ve long learned to shun the sun. It’s not that I dislike it but I prefer it in small doses, as does my colouring. Extreme temperatures do me no good (I’m useless in the winter, too) so it’s no wonder that I prefer the milder months of the spring and autumn. I’ve just finished reading Maggie O’Farrell’s unputdownable Instructions for a Heatwave (timely, eh?), which is set in the summer of 1976, the hottest on record for more than 350 years. It’s hard to imagine that, for two weeks, temperatures reached 32 degrees Celsius and the government had to appoint a Minister for Drought. Take note, climate change deniers.

In the novel, people do odd things, things that they normally wouldn’t. Heat gets to us in ways that we can’t explain and can make us act completely out of character. That’s what some people must be thinking about Nigella Lawson, who was criticised last week for posting a recipe of sliced tomatoes topped with homemade salad cream. Leave the poor woman alone. Sometimes the simplest things are the most delicious. And it’s far too hot to think properly at the moment. No one wants to be cooking, do they?

In that vein, I’m sharing my ‘recipe’ for a very simple salad which is light enough for a warm summer evening but also full of flavour. I made it one lunchtime last month when I was gripped by what I call freelancer fear – yeah, that’s a thing. It didn’t completely quell my anxiety but I think it did me some good. This salad’s colourful, crunchy and quick to make, and the dressing’s pretty dreamy, too. You can always add rice, quinoa or boiled new potatoes if you want a heartier meal.

Too hot to handle

Cheerful chickpea salad with nectarine and avocado

Serves 2

Ingredients

For the salad

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

2 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin strips

2 small nectarines, sliced

1 large avocado, sliced

Half a cucumber, halved and cut into thin slices

For the dressing

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 lemon (juice)

1 tsp maple syrup

½ tsp cumin powder

A few leaves of fresh mint, finely slice

A pinch of salt

 

Method

This is so simple you could almost make it with your eyes shut – please don’t. Once you’ve sliced all the fruit and vegetables, assemble them on a plate. Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl, mug or glass. Put the chickpeas in a bowl and mix through half of the dressing, then add to the rest of the salad. Pour over the remainder of the dressing and serve.