Ash Reshteh: Iranian Noodle Soup

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This Iranian noodle soup is an absolute delight. I was first introduced to ash resteh by Yotam Ottolenghi’s legume noodle soup recipe. This tangy soup often comes with several layers of texture (using different types of legumes), but Ottolenghi goes a step further. He also layers up the flavours. The tangy notes draw from sour cream, limes, and vinegar and the buttery notes from butter and butter beans. As my sister once said, he is a genius.

I was recently reminded of this delicious dish when I saw Nigel Slater’s noodle soup with lentils and soured cream recipe. Slater’s version uses brown lentils, rather than yellow split peas, which Ottolenghi uses. I was curious to try this dish with brown lentils, as I thought they would provide an interesting texture. On the otherhand, I really loved Ottolenghi’s layering of flavours. Each recipe has its merits, and in the end I blended the parts I loved most from the two of them, and added a couple of tweaks of my own. The recipe below is what I came up with.

Serves 6

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 onions
3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 x 400g tin chickpeas
1 x 400g tin butter beans
1 x 400g tin small brown lentils
1-2 litres vegetable stock
40g butter
100g linguine or Iranian reshteh noodles
200g baby spinach
30g parsley
20g coriander
15g mint

200ml soured cream
1½ tablespoons white wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime

Method

  1. Peel all four onions. Roughly chop two and thinly slice the other two. Peel and crush the garlic.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over moderate heat. Add the two chopped onions and fry for 10-15 minutes until soft and translucent. Stir in the garlic and turmeric and cook for two minutes more.
  3. Drain the butter beans, chickpeas, and lentils and stir them into the onion mix with one litre of the stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 30 minutes, stirring the pan occasionally.
  4. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan, then add the sliced onions and cook slowly over low to medium heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are a rich, caramel colour.
  5. Add the linguine or noodles to the bean soup and cook for four minutes, or until soft. Once you add the noodles, you’ll notice the soup thicken; if it’s too dense for your liking, add more of the stock until you’re satisfied with the soup’s viscosity.
  6. Stir the spinach into the soup.
  7. Roughly chop the herbs and stir most of them into the soup.
  8. Stir the vinegar, lime juice, and most of the soured cream into the soup.
  9. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the reserved sour cream, herbs, and caramelised onions.

Enjoy!

Gnocchi with Tomatoes and Chilli Tuna

This gnocchi dish is so simple, yet so rewarding. For those in a hurry, it’s easy to put together with pre-fabricated pasta and sauce, but if you have time to make this from scratch, you’ll easily achieve melt-in-your-mouth pasta and a rich, full-bodied sauce. I used Ginny Grant’s gnocchi recipe, replacing the Agria potatoes with dutch cream, and steamed the potatoes in quarters to save time. The brand of tuna I prefer is Sirena’s tuna in chilli oil, but you can use whichever brand suits. Gnocchi

Serves 6

Ingredients

Tomato sauce

1 tablespoon ricebran oil

3 large garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

1 onion, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 x 400g diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup red wine

 

Gnocchi

1kg potatoes

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 egg yolk

150g flour

 

6 x 95g or 4.5 x 125g tins chilli tuna

A few handfuls of baby spinach

Parmesan cheese to serve

Cracked pepper to taste

 

Method

Tomato sauce

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and saute until the onion is golden and translucent.
  2. Stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and wine. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and leave to cool for a few minutes.
  4. Transfer sauce to a food processor and process until smooth.
  5. Transfer the processed sauce back to the saucepan.

Gnocchi*

  1. Wash, peel, and quarter the potatoes.
  2. Steam the potatoes for 15 minutes, or until tender.
  3. Mash the potatoes until smooth.
  4. Mix the salt and egg yolk into the potatoes.
  5. Mix the flour through the potatoes.
  6. Turn the dough out on to a clean floured surface. Knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth. Divide the dough into quarters.
  7. Bring 1.7L of water to boil in a large saucepan.
  8. While the water is boiling, roll each dough quarter into a long sausage (about 30cm long and 1.5-2cm wide). Cut the length of dough into 2cm bites.
  9. Once the saucepan of water has come to a boil, cook the gnocchi in batches: Add one layer of gnocchi to the water at a time, ensuring there is space between each piece. When the gnocchi have floated to the top, scoop out with a slotted spoon.

To serve

Reheat the tomato sauce if necessary. Gently stir through the gnocchi, followed by the spinach and tuna. Transfer to bowls and serve with parmesan and pepper.

Enjoy!

*A couple of pointers on making gnocchi that I’ve picked up along the way: Make sure the potatoes aren’t too laden with moisture or too processed. So to cook them, either microwave, bake, or steam them – don’t boil them. And to mash them, stick to a hand potato masher – don’t use a food processor.

 

Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty’: Mushroom and Herb Polenta

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My sisters bought me Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty for my birthday this year and I finally cooked from it last week. Plenty is a compilation of the most delightful recipes, which happen to not include meat. In the book’s introduction, Ottolenghi makes the point that he is not vegetarian, but the drive behind his vegetarian interest is the increased availability of old and new vegetables, and the ethical growing and sourcing of them.

This has given birth to an array of unique and delightful recipes which appeal to both carnivorous and herbivorous palates, without seeming to lack in “meat”. The deep and interesting flavour and texture combinations are also highly influenced by his European upbringing in the Middle East. A mingling of cultures that has clearly brought forth amazing results.

Well, it was finally time to try cooking from this cook book. And last week provided the perfect occasion. I’d invited a friend over for lunch, but only remembered days prior, that my friend’s father was a Parisian chef. No pressure! I had to find a dish to impress. And it had to be vegetarian. And I knew I would be short on time that day. As it turned out, Ottolenghi’s Plenty had a recipe that ticked all these boxes: Mushroom and Herb Polenta. It took about 40 minutes all up to make – and my friend loved it! Plenty, definitely a home-entertaining winner.

Recipe: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2006/dec/16/foodanddrink.recipes1

Camembert and Broccolini Frittatas

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So I went to my first Victorian farm party on the weekend. A barbecue was on the menu, however I’d been trying – very, very hard to remain vegetarian for Lent. But I was determined not to announce this at the party – I didn’t want to appear precious! Nevertheless, I wanted to bring a substitute that was more interesting and substantial than a salad, something that I would enjoy. So the decision was made: camembert and broccolini frittatas. Here’s the recipe …

Camembert and Broccolini Frittatas

Small bunch broccolini, chopped into bite size chunks

6 eggs

300mL cream

2 spring onions, chopped

1T tarragon, chopped

1t rosemary, chopped

handful of grated parmesan

salt and pepper

100g camembert, sliced into 12 pieces

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C fan bake.
  2. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin.
  3. Steam or microwave the broccolini until al dente.
  4. Whisk eggs in a large bowl. Then whisk in the cream.
  5. Stir in the spring onions, tarragon, rosemary, and parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the muffin tin.
  7. Top each frittata with a slice of camembert.
  8. Bake about 18 minutes, or until set.

When ready, remove from the oven, cool slightly, and turn out to serve. New tip for tricky removal of frittatas from non-stick bakeware: Use a silicon spatula to scoop your cooked treats out. This will help preserve your bakeware, and your baked treats!

 

Shittake Risotto

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In anticipation of a busy week ahead, I decided to make a set of pull-out freezer meals. I’d also accumulated ingredients from weeks of past dinner makings. These ingredients looked rather risotto-ish …

Tired of my usual veg option (mushroom), I zhuzhed up the dish with shittake mushrooms. And the help of some young asparagus.

Not a bad effort for ‘making it up as you go along’. And as it turns out, shittake risotto tastes better the day after it’s made!

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Shittake Risotto

1T rice bran oil

half an onion

4 garlic cloves, crushed

2c arborio rice

1c white wine

6c vegetable stock

2c shittake mushrooms, sliced

1 bunch asparagus, sliced into 1-2cm pieces

100g light cheese, grated

zest of half a lemon

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large frypan.
  2. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent.
  3. Add rice. Stir to coat the grains with oil.
  4. Next add the white wine and stir until the liquid has reduced.
  5. Then add a cup of the stock and stir over medium heat until the liquid in the pan has reduced. Repeat this step with the remaining stock until the rice is half cooked.
  6. Next add the mushrooms and stir to distribute them through the rice mixture. Then continue to add the remaining stock until the the rice is almost tender enough to eat.
  7. Next, add the asparagus and cook briefly. The asparagus should still be bright green and firm to the bite when you serve the risotto. If the rice is still uncooked and the liquid has reduced, add more stock and keep cooking the rice until it’s done.
  8. Remove the pan from the heat and stir through cheese and lemon rind.

Baby Potato Halves with Garlic Aioli, Toasted Sesame Seeds, and Pistachios

Delicious and beautiful, this is an amazing dish to share. Imagine: Tender baby potatoes tossed with wholegrain mustard and garlic aioli … topped with a crumbling of toasted sesame seeds and pistachios … Trés jolie!

Baby Potato Halves with Garlic Aioli, Toasted Sesame Seeds, and Pistachios

1kg baby potatoes

Half a batch of aioli – I used Jamie Oliver’s aioli recipe, exchanging the Dijon mustard for wholegrain and using 2 whole garlic cloves (rather than just a half)

¼ c sesame seeds

½ c pistachio nuts

Method

  1. Wash the potatoes and cut them into halves.
  2. Boil the potatoes for 10-15 minutes, or until tender (but not mashable!). Leave to cool a little.
  3. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already done so, make the aioli. Then toast the sesame seeds in a pan over medium heat.
  4. Next, roughly chop the pistachios and toast them a little, in a pan, over medium heat.
  5. Combine the potatoes and aioli. Transfer to a platter.
  6. Just before serving, sprinkle over sesame seeds and pistachios.

Dinner Party Series: Our House

A short while ago, we hosted round three of the dinner ‘competition’ that I’ve been invited to join.

The theme for the night was Mexican-fusion. Not so much a ‘formal’ theme, but definitely fun. We decided on the following menu items: spicy black bean tostadas; pumpkin, feta, and pine nut quesadillas; and chocolate coconut molten lava cakes.

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The menu was shaped in part by our guests’ dietary requirements: vegetarian; and also onion, coriander, and chilli free. A common juggle amongst today’s dinner hosts! To cater to our party’s needs we also made variations of a few of the menu items, or omitted some of the original ingredients altogether.

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I think we fared well and I was particularly pleased with our entrée and dessert dishes. The tostadas were a novel introduction to the night, and the molten lava cakes were too inviting to refuse. Our guests seemed happy!

Coconut, Pumpkin, and Carrot Soup

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I’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to cook with coconut oil. I love coconut and it seems to be the superfood ‘flavour of the month’. Proselytising many (women at least), it’s being hailed as a mega-electrolyte source, an age-defying elixir, and of course, an aid to weight loss.

Back to coconut oil … I had some carrots in the fridge and so decided to make pumpkin carrot soup. Hence the (coconut oil) opportunity. I would sauté the vegetables in coconut oil and then also add coconut milk, to produce a rich coconut flavour. I would also add ginger and, at the end, chilli flakes and lime. Sounding Thai? I hoped so!

To get the vegetables to liquids ratio right, I sought guidance from Jamie’s Pumpkin and Ginger soup recipe.

Here’s what my recipe ended up looking like:

Coconut, Pumpkin, and Carrot Soup

1T coconut oil

1kg pumpkin

250g carrots

large thumb of grated ginger

1L vegetable stock

200mL coconut milk

chilli flakes to taste

salt and pepper

half a lime

Method

  1. Cut pumpkin and carrots into chunks.
  2. Heat coconut oil in a large pot and sauté pumpkin and carrots.
  3. Add ginger, vegetable stock, coconut milk, and chilli flakes.
  4. Bring mixture to the boil and then simmer for 40 minutes until vegetables are tender enough to mash or process.
  5. Mash or process soup mixture, to develop a texture to your liking (smooth or chunky).
  6. Season with salt and pepper and add a squeeze of lime before serving.

Quick Low-fat Mushroom Lasagne with White Wine and Lemon Ricotta

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Coming up with ways to use left-over wine is one of my favourite dilemmas. “Left-over” wine? Yes.

Regardless of how it’s neglected, I’ll always take the opportunity to enrich a meal with it. In this case, it was white wine and I decided to make a low-fat mushroom lasagne with it.

When making ‘skinny’ meals, I work extra hard to ensure they’re full of flavour. Why make healthy-eating torture? The wine would add depth and flavour to the mushrooms; and the low-calorie ‘creamy’ partner would be a low-fat ricotta. For lift and complexity, I also added lemon zest to the ricotta.

As usual, I researched the net for mushroom ricotta lasagne recipes, before deciding on how I would shape my own recipe. I based my initial structure on the BBC’s GoodFood Quick Mushroom & Lasagne recipe:

My key changes to the recipe were:

  • Adding white wine to the mushrooms
  • Adding lemon rind to the ricotta
  • Sautéeing the onions and mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter, for a hint of traditional comfort

Quick Low-fat Mushroom Lasagne with White Wine and Lemon Ricotta

1 T butter

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 small onion, diced

250g white button mushrooms, sliced

250mL white wine

pepper to taste

100g baby spinach

500g light ricotta cheese

grated rind of one lemon

6 fresh lasagne sheets

50g grated parmesan

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200˚C /180˚C fan bake.
  2. Prepare a 19cm x 28cm baking dish with cooking spray.
  3. Melt butter in a large frying pan and sauté garlic and onion until onion is soft.
  4. Add mushrooms and cook until soft.
  5. Add white wine and cook until liquid has reduced to a small sauce. Season with cracked pepper.
  6. Add spinach and cook until just wilted.
  7. In a medium-sized bowl, combine ricotta and lemon rind.
  8. Line the baking dish with two sheets of lasagne, followed by the mushroom mixture. Add another layer of lasagne, then the ricotta. Sprinkle half of the parmesan over the ricotta. Finish with a final layer of lasagne, followed by the remaining parmesan.
  9. Bake for 35 minutes, until the top is golden and the lasagne is cooked through.

Broccolini Mushroom Stir-Fry: Clean and Simple

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They say cats eat grass when they’re ill. Some believe cats eat grass to relieve sore throats. And I’ve also heard it’s a natural laxative … As for me, grass probably isn’t going to do it, but I know green’s what I’ve yearned for while feeling under the weather.

So, broccolini has been it. This broccoli-kai-lan hybrid has been around for a while, but it’s only recently that I’ve really come to love it. Light cooking produces a bright spring green colour and it has an easy-to-eat appeal, particularly when you’re feeling like baby-bites of food – it’s so tender that you can eat the entire stalk. It’s also high in vitamin C, A, and B6; calcium, iron, manganese, and potassium.

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When fresh, broccolini needs little attention. On this occasion, I stir-fried it with a few crushed garlic cloves; then added some tinned straw mushrooms, as well as some pre-marinated honey-soy tofu for protein. Keeping things clean and simple, I paired the stir-fry with rice (sushi rice, my favourite) and finished it off with a sprinkling of cashews.

Voilà. Clean, simple, healthy food for humans.