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.

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.

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.