Loving the Legumes, the Lagos Remix

Regular readers of Gastrotastic will know I have a bit of a thing for legumes. High in protein, low in fat, with so many varieties that one would be pushed to get bored. Some recent discoveries that have become store cupboard essentials have included Urad or Black Lentils and Moth beans which resemble brown beads when raw but are beyond delish.  For those who think this is a recent conversion, check out the throwback video below:

Since moving to Lagos, legumes have been high on my culinary agenda. One of the amazing things about beans and other pulses is their relative ease to prepare. Most of the time it is a case of soaking and boiling until tender and boom – delicious meal, and whilst it is tempting to pimp the beans, and indeed many Nigerian recipes call for it, from akara to moin-moin, simply boiled is a no-brainer treat that can be accompanied with anything.

Ewa Oloyin

Difficulty rating: Anyone can do it, promise

Ingredients:

¼ cup of Nigerian Brown Beans sometimes referred to as Honey Beans

½ a Red Onion

Salt (to taste)

Method

A recipe with so few ingredients might raise eyebrows or make the nervous amateur cook cheer, but the reason for this is simple; the beans are the undisputed star of the show. To embellish or add would simply detract from this stellar ingredient.  Nigerian Brown beans come in two varieties, one in which the beans have a slightly thicker skin and the Honey variety that I used in this recipe. The name Ewa Oloyin is Yoruba for “Beans with Honey” although this variety of bean also grows in the Southern and South Eastern parts of the country, it has a distinct naturally sweet flavor when cooked.

First, pick out any grit or dirt that might be in the beans. I bought mine in the market, so whilst their freshness could not be disputed, cleaning them thoroughly was absolutely essential. For this dish as it really was a cheeky treat rather than my my main meal, I only cooked a quarter cup, but if the beans were forming your main meal a minimum of one cup is advisable multiplying the onion quantity to the same ratio.

Cleaning the beans - cheery coloured bowl an optional extra

Cleaning the beans – cheery coloured bowl an optional extra

Once cleaned, chop up half a red onion. The onions are best roughly chopped as this will allow them to cook at the same rate as the beans rather than completely breaking down. Add them to a pot with the beans and top up with one and half cups of water and salt to taste. Place on a high heat and bring to the boil before reducing to a simmer.

Sometimes the best things are the simplest

Sometimes the best things are the simplest

Many will baulk that I haven’t soaked the beans overnight, but I have found that Honey Beans don’t seem to require the same full on soaking treatment that their tough skinned cousins Black Eyed and Kidney do. What I would advise is keeping an eye on your beans while they simmer, as with all ingredients, batches vary, so one might find that your beans require a splash more water. You will know your beans are ready by testing one and it being easy to bite through with a soft centre. If the centre is in any way hard, leave simmering for a while longer adding water to the pot if it has all evaporated.

How you eat the beans is entirely up to you. One might choose to team them up with rice, or try my recent breakfast favourite of accompanied with a boiled egg. However, if we are being truly Lagosian, nothing goes quite like a dollop of stew. Stew in the West African context is essentially a tomato, Scotch Bonnet Pepper and Onion reduction; think African Passata with added heat and bass. However, there are many regional stew variants each positioning itself as the best. As this post is all about beans rather than stew, I will only say mine was Native Stew, super old-school with smoked fish added to the core ingredients. One word, yum.

Lick the plate worthy scrummy!

Lick the plate worthy scrummy!

Loving the Legumes Part 1

It has been a while since the last post but that doesn’t mean that lots hasn’t being going on in planet Gastrotastic . Our private dinner service has gone from strength to strength, where meals are created in the comfort of people’s homes and personalised recipe workshops are led by me to get anyone and everyone kitchen confident. For more information email mazzi@gastrotastic.com and your home could be my next stop!

Recently, I have been feeling the love for some neglected ingredients that are delicious, healthy and easy to prepare. I am talking lentils. Keen readers will note that I have plugged lentils before, but in a special two- parter I am moving away from the usual suspect Puy and green and heading east in a culinary sense, for two easy and often ignored varieties. The Red Lentil dish takes me back to student days, when a 20 kilo sack of lentils sat in a corner next to my vinyl collection and turntable, whereas the black lentil dish is a more recent addition when I was in search of alternative accompaniments to baked fish. Both take no time to prepare and excess lentils can be stored in the freezer for another meal.

In the Gastrotastic kitchen we are still playing Pharrell’s Happy. What’s not to love about this awesome track and what’s not to love about Lentils?!

Red Lentil, Spinach and Coriander Dhal with Chapattis
Difficulty Rating: Easy-Peasy

Ingredients:
220grams of Red Lentils
2 Echalion Shallots (finely chopped)
2 Cloves of Garlic
Thumb nail sized piece of chopped Ginger
30grams of Ghee
100grams of a block of coconut cream
1 Tablespoon of All Purpose Seasoning (I’m a fan of Rajah’s brand)
100grams of Coriander (roughly one large bunch)
200grams of Fresh Leaf Spinach
1 Tin of Tomatoes
1 Bird Eye Chilli
250mls of Vegetable Stock
2 tablespoons of Vegetable Oil
Salt (to taste)
For the Chapattis
250grams of Chapatti Flour
150mls of water
2 tablespoons of Vegetable Oil
1 teaspoon of Salt
Chapatti flour for dusting

Method
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy based pan and add finely chopped shallots and cook until they begin to clarify. Add the chopped garlic, chilli and ginger later as this will ensure that it doesn’t burn and cook for a minute or so, next reduce the heat and add the all-purpose seasoning. In my quest to discover the best All-Purpose seasoning that saves you the drama of crushing a million and one different spices to create the same effect, I have found Rajah to be the best brand. You can get Rajah in big supermarkets that have an ‘ethnic foods’ sections, or in South Asian speciality supermarkets, but whatever you do not omit, as it really does make a big difference especially in this dish.

Next add the Red Lentils to the pan and cook dry for a minute or so. Unlike other varieties, they do not need to soak overnight before cooking. I always dry fry first so that the Lentils have a coating of the onion and other assorted goodies before adding anything else.

Now add the tinned tomatoes, stock, coconut cream and coriander. Bring to the boil so that it reduces for fifteen minutes or so and cover to simmer. You will know the lentils are cooked when they are soft to the touch. It is at this point you add the spinach and ghee and ghee and stir in. Putting the spinach in any earlier and it will discolour and not make the pretty contrast with the Red Lentils on the plate. Once the spinach is wilted the lentils are ready.

For the Chapatti:

I have always loved chapattis. I was introduced to them as a child as a result of the Indian influence in Ugandan cuisine, which has seen this become the snack of choice for many. Chapatti flour is very easy to get hold and the dough itself is a doddle to make.

First put the flour in a large bowl and gradually add the hot water. As they combine, add some oil so that the dough has a bit of give and knead for ten minutes or so. At this point I always pre divide the dough into balls, so that when it comes to rolling out the chapattis they will be of a similar size and shape. Roll out with a rolling pin, dusting the dough with flour so that it doesn’t stick to the pin now and the pan later.

Next heat a heavy based frying pan with a drop of oil. Wait for the pan to get smoking hot before adding the rolled out chapatti and lightly frying. A minute or so normally suffices, but the chapatti should be dry to the touch rather than oily when cooked. I normally make a few extra than are needed, as I said before they are great as a quickie snack, but heat of the pan is paramount to getting the right consistency.

To serve I always have a couple of chapatti per serving of Lentils – and this is definitely a no cutlery affair!

Sexy Superfoods

Anyone wanting to make a change in what they eat can often feel compromised. Recently, a lot of my friends have been discovering they have various intolerances and as they wave goodbye to wheat, sugar, meat or dairy I can’t help but catch my breath. Can one really survive life without the pleasures of rice, pasta or bread? A food future where a slab of steak will be absent forever? It doesn’t bare thinking about. And don’t get me started on the Hammer House of Horrors that is a life without dairy. However, we all know the deal. Too much of life’s ‘good things’ can come back to bite you in the bottom (and give you an even bigger one), plus there has been so much research on ‘superfoods’; the gold medal ingredients that are meant to make us all feel a whole heap better, that these realities become difficult to ignore and not respond to. So I have embarked on a challenge to eat more of them, but not feel like supper is being served at the Binaisa Borstal Diner.

On today’s menu is Squash; said to have the highest incidents of Vitamin A. Beetroot said to improve blood flow, increase stamina and a favourite of Olympians before they compete and Kale currently considered the ultimate ‘superfood’. In fact such is Kale’s might there has even been a piece in the Huffington Post about it. Yes, vegetables can go viral too, although I hasten to add I have always had love for kale – check out earlier posts as proof! Also making an appearance is that hardy perennial of the health foods world garlic, a chili pepper brought back from a friend’s farm in Macedonia (I know, random), some walnuts and sesame seeds (slow release energy providers) and the current Don in Carb-Substitute Land, quinoa. If you are twitching as you read this and already reaching out for a restorative glass of wine or Lemonade to take the edge off this virtuous ingredients list, fear not. The recipe for the dish below is pretty hot Actually it is pretty and hot as the video will attest.
Playing in the Gastrotastic kitchen today and in keeping with the notion of Superfoods is Electronic’s Getting Away With It. Electronic was a super-group that formed back in the day and comprised of Bernard Sumner of New Order, Johnny Marr of The Smiths and Pet Shop Boys. Who knew dance, indie and pop influences could turn out such a classic tune? Bon Apetit and happy dancing round the kitchen afterwards.

Roast Harlequin Squash and Beetroot with Red Onion Chilli and Garlic Quinoa, Kale, Feta, Walnuts and Pumpkin Seeds

Difficulty Factor: Simple Enough

Ingredients
1 Harlequin Squash
1 Large Beetroot
100 grams (approximately a teacupful) of Tricolor Quinoa
100 grams of Curly Kale
100 grams of Feta Cheese
1 red onion roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped roughly
1 chilli pepper roughly chopped
A handful (approximately 20grams) of Roughly Chopped Walnuts
A handful (approximately 20grams) of Pumpkin Seeds

10 grams of dried Sage (fresh is better but there was none in the organic shop today)
Nutmeg
Balsamic Vinegar
Juice of Half a Lemon
Salt (to taste)

Method:

This meal is simple to prepare, but it is important that you cook things in the correct order so that no one element is getting cold whilst others cook. First cut the squash vertically into quarts and scoop out the seeds in the middle. Once you have done this you can cut the squash again depending on its size. Keep the skin on as this will protect the squash flesh from getting too soft in the roasting pan. Next wash the fresh beetroot and cut into similar sizes. Fresh beetroot is the way to go and so much tastier than the pre-cooked stuff that is in the chill cabinet in most supermarkets. Place in the same roasting pan as the squash, season with salt and generously coat with dried sage and grate around the third of a whole nutmeg over the squash. If you are using ground nutmeg a teaspoon should suffice. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into the roasting pan and place in a pre-heated oven (180 degrees Centigrade or Gas Mark 4). The cooking time should be 40 minutes, but I always check and if necessary take the pan out and baste the veg in the oil so that it doesn’t dry out or cook more on one side than the other, as everyone’s oven seems to be a teeny bit temperamental.

Whilst the squash and beetroot are in the oven, move onto preparing the quinoa. Cooking quinoa is very similar to cooking rice or couscous – the grain is cooked through the absorption of water. To make the quinoa a little bit more interesting I have incorporated slow sautéed red onions garlic and chilli. Chop your onions and garlic and chilli, keeping the seeds in. Heat a saucepan with olive oil so that the bottom of the pan is evenly covered and fry the onions and garlic, and chilli on a low heat. You want the onions to completely soften and begin to caramelise. At this point add your one cup of quinoa in the same saucepan, add two cups of water and simmer. The quinoa is cooked when all of the water has been absorbed.

The feta, walnuts and pumpkin seeds are not cooked but prepping for them ahead of plating is important as it saves time. I bought my walnuts already broken, but if you are using whole ones put them in a plastic bag and give them a bit of a bash with a rolling pin for the right size. The feta is cubed and the pumpkin seeds are left whole. The Lemon which will be used at the end for the dressing can also be pre-juiced and ready to go.

I have always espoused a less is more approach to vegetables, and with curly kale this is no different. Don’t put the kale on until everything is prepared, as readers of this blog will know, nothing makes me more miserable than cold or overcooked vegetables. Heat a tiny bit of water (no more than a centimetre deep) in a wide pan (wide enough to put the kale leaves whole) and then added the kale in. Sluice a tiny bit of olive oil – the pan will go mental and spit a bit, and cook for no more than two minutes or whenever the stalks, which on organic kale are pretty thin, begin to soften. You want your kale to still be bright green and not to have lost its distinctive curly shape from over-cooking.

It is now time to plate up and one has to be quick otherwise you are in Lukewarm Limbo. Remove the squash and beetroot from the oven and scoop three table spoons of the sage infused oil from the pan. Pass through a sieve into a bowl so you do not get any sage leaves in the dressing. Next add two table spoons of balsamic vinegar to the bowl and the juice of a lemon. You will drizzle the dressing at the end of plating up.

To assemble put the quinoa on the plate first then the squash and beetroot. You can remove the skin off the squash if you prefer, but I’m an eat everything kind of girl. Next sprinkle the walnut and pumpkin seeds, and place feta cubes around the beetroot and squash as they will add a colour and taste highpoint. Next place the kale around the above elements, garland style. Now tell me if that doesn’t look amazing? Never mind taste great too.

Summertime, And the cooking is easy…

For my readers in Blighty, the warm spell has gotten us all rather excited. At last an opportunity to ditch the drab clothing, and enjoy all the al fresco eating possibilities. And whilst barbeques might be the go-to of choice for many (the three supermarkets nearest to me were all cleared out of meat in all its permeations the other day, it was very  A carnivorous prelude to the Apocalypsetastic), they needn’t be the only one. Besides, for a barbeque to be really fun it’s preferable if there is a large crowd of people to keep grilling said meat for.

Today’s dish is a perfect mid-week supper option. Easy enough to prepare, high on delish factor, not too heavy, thus won’t disrupt any pre-holiday body regimen, AKA a diet, one might be on and finally just perfect to be eaten outside on a balmy evening. If you’re in it to win it blow the budget with a bottle of Puligny Montrachet to accompany the meal, but if means are slightly straitened a  New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Villa Maria is my bargainista favourite), should equally do the trick.

Pan Fried Lemon Sole in Herb Butter with Braised Fennel, Tomato and Parmesan

Difficulty Factor: Easy-Peasy

Ingredients

4 Lemon Sole Fillets

3 Bulbs of Fennel

1 clove of Garlic finely chopped

One large Vine Tomato

20 grams of Parmesan

Olive Oil

Salt (to taste)

For the  Herb Butter:

50 grams of Butter

I tablespoon of Fresh Dill

1 tablespoon of Fresh Parsley

 

Method

This is one of those dishes that takes hardly any time at all but looks quite magnificent on the plate. I like to think of it as my ‘casual chef’ meal. You know the one you throw together when you want to impress, whilst not  appearing too try hard, but that guarantees that  guests will ooh and ah for weeks to come about your mad skills. Think of this dish as the culinary equivalent of your go-to  dress or on-point shirt that has everyone complimenting you and wondering if you have just come back from a holiday, won the lottery or both. It really is that good.

With this dish it is the herb butter that makes everything  more festive. I had already made some herb butter for another dish, so no pictures today, but to make your own, simply soften about 50 grams of unsalted butter with a spoon by hand (doing this in a food processor can overwork the butter) and combine with a tablespoon of finely chopped parsley and finely chopped dill. Transfer the softened and worked through butter  onto some cling film roll into a sausage and secure each end. Then put in the fridge  for an hour or so and you have a stash of butter that in addition to fish can be used to pimp other dishes. You can of course cheat and use a ready-made  herb butter, but the down side of this is shop bought often  skimps on the herbs plus you miss out on the vibrancy of colour on the finished plate.

Onto the main dish itself: I start with the vegetables first as the fish literally takes moments to both prep and cook. Take one tomato and place in a pot and cover with boiling hot water. Leave for three minutes or until you see the tomato skin start to come away. At this point remove the tomato from the water and peel off the skin before dicing into small pieces. Put aside.Chopped Tomatoes

Next, chop the garlic and slice the fennel  into thick slices vertically.
Fennel and Garlic
If you get fennel which has some fuzzy leaves on the tips, remove.

Heat a frying pan with about a table spoon of olive oil, then reduce the heat and braise the fennel  and garlic on a medium heat until it softens, you might want to add some more olive oil so that the fennel doesn’t stick to the base, and keep the heat on medium so that the garlic does not burn.
fennel in the pan
An easy way of knowing whether the fennel is cooked is to try and pierce a fork through thickest part of the bulb.

At this point add the tomato and combine for three to five minutes, reduce heat to the minimum a whilst you cook the fish. If the sauce looks like it’s in danger of drying out add a splash of water to the pan.
fennel and tomatoes

Lemon Sole fillets, do not need much to taste delicious. Some Olive oil and a quick sear for a minute on each side will normally suffice.

Lemon Sole with Olive oil

For the fish, get your searing pan as hot as you can and when it is almost smoking add your fish to the pan and reduce the heat, cook for about a minute or two depending on how large your fillets are.

Next, flip the fish over and add the herb butter atop of the fillets. Cook for a further minute and remove from the heat (otherwise the fish will be overcooked, fibrous and not very nice).
Lemon Sole and Herb butter in the pan
Now it is time to assemble the dish.

Put the Fennel and tomato sauce on the base. Next, scatter a few Parmesan flakes both on top of the sauce (so they melt a bit) and the odd artful shaving that will remain visible on the plate. Finally, add the sole fillets at a jaunty angle, so you can still view the fennel, tomatoes and Parmesan. Now serve and enjoy.

The finished lemon sole

What, no meat?

As any regular reader will have figured out I am an omnivore when it comes to food. Did it have scales, shells, feathers or a hide before it checked out and landed on my plate? Who cares, as the good news is that it is indeed on my plate! I am equally happy eating vegetarian dishes: there is nothing remotely make-do and mend about aubergines, mushrooms, butternut squashes and those other substantive vegetables that often form the core of a dish as a meat substitute.  However, until relatively recently, okay maybe a few years than I care to type for fear of anyone figuring out my age,  I was highly suspicious about meat substitutes of the soya bean variety. And whilst I have never given in to the peculiar charms of soya milk, I have fallen in love with Tofu.

Image

Today, to gently convert those who still remain as skeptical as I once was, I present my vegan andall round taste winning Tofu, Spinach and Shitake Mushroom stir-fry. Many years ago, a friend, after eating this dish demanded the recipe and it came in handy when said friend started dating a vegetarian celeb. No it wasn’t a McCartney, although feel free to keep guessing!

Tofu, Spinach and Shitake Mushroom Stir-Fry

Difficulty Factor: Easy-Peasy

Ingredients:

1 Block of Tofu (used Cauldron Foods’ block in this instance) 396 grams

200 grams of Spinach leaves

150 grams of Shitake Mushrooms

1 Red Onion roughly chopped

3 cloves of Garlic peeled and chopped roughly

1 head about thumb-sized  of Ginger peeled and roughly chopped

3-4 Table spoons of Tamari Soya Sauce

2-3 Table Spoons of Honey

2 Birds Eye Chillies (you can use one if you’re not good with heat)

 

Method:

 

Stir-fries are all about getting your ingredients prepped together and ready to put in the pan in quick succession so that nothing gets cold. The good news with this particular dish are fancy knife skills are not essential. In fact part of the delish factor comes from there being bold flavours to bite into; from sweet onion to honey and chilli coated tofu that is crisp on the outside and soft in the inside.

Image

 

Fresh Tofu often comes in liquid, so drain it and cut into one centimetre by two centimetre cuboids. Beware though as if you cut too thin the crisp but soft in the middle texture could be compromised.

 

Heat the pan as hot as you dare and add a tablespoon of vegetable oil – don’t use Olive Oil as it will overpower the dish and doesn’t traditionally work with Oriental leaning flavours. Add your Tofu pieces to the pan and liberally douse with the Tamari Soya Sauce. Warning: the pan will go mental and there will be lots of hissing and spitting but this is how you get the crisp whilst soft in the middle element.

Image

 Move the tofu for about a couple of minutes and then reduce the heat before adding the honey and the chilli. Cook this for a minute or two or until the tofu begins to take the colour and remove from heat and put aside in a bowl.

Image

 

Now onto the other vegetables: Heat a pan or wok and fry the onions until they soften adding the garlic and ginger later so as not to burn.

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Next add the mushrooms for a minute and last the spinach.

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I am a big fan of NEVER overcooking vegetables. Who needs a miserable reminder of school dinners with the vegetables cooked to oblivion and double maths for afters?  Once everything has come together remove from heat and assemble.

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I tend to serve this dish with rice, but it works equally well with rice noodles or if you are having a no-carb moment on its own. Who knew no meat could taste so good eh? 

Another Day, Another Salad

Day 10 on Planet Comparative Abstinence and I have never felt better! It is true what they say, you are what you are eat and the only way to get rid of the carb coma lethargy is to chill it out on the carbs.  But as I’d die first before I entirely subsisted on liquid supplements (although the Detox Elixir is still in my daily consumption mix), interesting salads still need to be dreamt up.

Picking up where we left off a day or so ago is a delicious salad that uses some of the same ingredients from the previous Gastrotastic offering, as we always stick by our keenly priced, wherever possible principles (I’m assuming I am not the only one who is a teeny-tiny bit broke post-Christmas), and cherish our waste not want not values. Furthermore, it is the kind of dish that you can assemble in sub-five minutes, giving you more time to beat the bulge, be it in the gym, the park or in my case a mat on my living room floor!

Spinach, Mint, Cucumber and Feta Salad

Difficulty Factor: Do it Half Asleep Simple

Ingredients

120 grams of Baby Leaf Spinach

80 grams of Cucumber

60 grams of Feta Cheese

40 grams of Fresh Mint Leaves

1 red Onion

1 red chilli cut fine (or less if you cannot cope with heat)

 

For the Dressing

2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tablespoon of Balsamic Vinegar

2 tea spoons of Gordon’s Dill and Mustard Sauce (my new favourite)

Black Pepper (optional)

 

Method:

This salad is all about flavour combinations. Shops will often haze a customer with their ‘herb salad’ offerings , which often contain half the amount of leaves for double the amount of dosh. The good news is you can make your salad herby all on your own, by bunging whichever fresh herb you fancy in with your main leaves. Today’s salad brings Mint to the ingredients party as it compliments Feta and Cucumber beautifully. Plus there is an extra bonus of squint once you’re eating the three together and its a taste that takes you somewhere altogether balmier. On a verandah, with a cool refreshing drink in front of you and a hottie beside you, but I digress.

Firstly, chop a red onion and chilli finely, and pick the mint leaves off their stalks and put in a Salad bowl. Add your remaining spinach leaves from the night before and mix both lightly taking care not to bash the spinach leaves about too much. Cube the Feta and crumble the uneven bits that fall off when cutting on top. Finally cut the cucumber vertically rather than in rounds (for interest’s sake more than anything else) and also put in the bowl.

A Salad in a State of Undress

A Salad in a State of Undress

Now for the magic; also known as the dressing; it is probably best to admit now that I am a bit of a dressing obsessive. This ties in with my sauces and condiments of all types obsession as it is my belief that said condiments and sauces can often turn meals from drab to fab.

Home Made without an E-Number in sight

Home Made without an E-Number in sight

With this particular dressing the not so secret ingredient is a fabulous Dill and Mustard sauce by Gordon’s that I really got into this Christmas as a super accompaniment with baked salmon and new potatoes. The good news is that you can buy this Not-So-Secret-Ingredient in Waitrose  and all for the bargain basement price of £1.65. If you prefer you can substitute the Gordon’s for Dijon Mustard instead.

The Not-So Secret Ingredient

The Not-So Secret Ingredient

For the dressing combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. The same rules apply as before; make sure all the ingredients combine well together by stirring vigorously.

Finally add the dressing to the salad and enjoy the surprising yet scrummy salad. Who knew clean and serene could taste this good?