Sticky Chinese Vegetables

Adapted from a recipe for squirrel fish in an old Chinese cookbook. Fairly quick and simple once you get the hang of the technique.

In a small bowl, mix 1 heaped tsp sugar, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp tomato ketchup, and 2 tbsp fruit juice (I used pomegranate juice because it’s what I happened to have in the fridge – apple, orange, pineapple, cranberry etc should be fine as well. If using lemon or lime juice substitute 1 tbsp fruit juice with water). In another small bowl slake 1/4 tsp cornflour with 1 tbsp cold water to form a paste. Slice as thinly as possible 1-2 inches aubergine, 2 inches plantain, 1/4 bell pepper, a handful of red cabbage, a handful of frozen peas and 2 mushrooms. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a non-stick pan or wok above a high heat until a haze forms above the oil, then add all the vegetables. They should begin to sizzle immediately. Fry, stirring constantly, for 3-5 minutes or until the cabbage has softened and the plantain is beginning to caramelise. Stir in the sauce mixture, then stir the cornflour paste and add it to the pan. The sauce should thicken, making the vegetables look glossy. Take off the heat and serve in wraps or with rice.

Serves 1 or 2 with sides

Variations:

  • I’ve tried this with sweet potato, but it needs to be cooked for a few more minutes than the rest of the vegetables to make sure it’s softened. Onion would probably need the same treatment too.
  • Goes very well with smoked mackerel.

Buckwheat Salad

Cover 1/4 cup buckwheat groats with boiling water and simmer over a low heat for five to ten minutes. Meanwhile, mix together a handful of lettuce leaves, shredded, one cooked beetroot, finely diced, about two inches of plantain, finely diced, 1/3 red bell pepper, finely diced and a small amount of brie or other cheese, thinly sliced. Strain the buckwheat and stir in 1/2 tbsp soy sauce, a pinch of ground ginger and a pinch of cumin. Pour the buckwheat over the salad.

Serves 1 – can be eaten hot or cold.

Variations:

  • Any raw or pre-cooked vegetables can be used in the salad, depending on what you have in the fridge.
  • Omit the brie for vegan.

Lentil Lasagne

Takes some time and practice, especially the sauce, but it’s an old favourite of mine.

Cover 1/2 cup red lentils with boiling water and leave to stand. Fry 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced and 1 red onion, thickly chopped, in a little oil over a medium heat until beginning to soften. Add 1/2 medium sweet potato, cubed, 1/2 bell pepper, thickly chopped and 1/4 red cabbage, thickly chopped, and fry for five minutes, stirring. Strain the lentils and add to the pan with 4-5 mushrooms, quartered, 1/2 can chopped tomatoes, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard and 1 tsp cumin seeds. Leave to simmer while preparing the sauce.
To make the sauce, melt 2 tbsp butter (about 1cm cut from a 100g block) in a small saucepan, then at add 2 heaped tbsp plain flour and stir thoroughly. The mixture should be thick and gluey, coming away from the side of the pan. If it’s thin, stir in a little more flour. Stirring constantly, slowly add 1 cup milk in increments – allow the sauce to thicken before adding more. Continue to cook the sauce for 2-3 minutes, then add a pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp paprika and/or a handful of grated cheese if desired.
Spoon half of the lentil mixture into a large casserole dish and cover with sheets of lasagne (the amount you need will depend on the size of your dish). Pour over half of the sauce and smooth it out. Don’t worry if the sauce is thin – it will taste fine. Add the rest of the lentil mixture, cover with lasagne sheets, and pour over the rest of the sauce, making sure the pasta is covered. Crack pepper over the top and place in the oven at 180°C for 40 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked through and easily cut with a knife.

Serves 3 generously, easily frozen

Variations:

  • For vegan, substitute the butter for margarine and milk for a non-dairy milk. I think soya milk works best for this recipe – better than dairy milk – but other milks should be fine. I’ve tried making white sauces with coconut milk, though, and I wouldn’t advise it.
  • Any of the vegetables can be substituted out for others; hard vegetables should be added with the cabbage and soft with the mushrooms and tomato. Particular favourites of mine are aubergine, peas, carrot and cauliflower.
  • Sliced fresh tomatoes can be arranged on top of the lasagne before baking. Particularly impressive if you have guests.
  • The lasagne sheets can be replaced with thinly sliced aubergine, although it will take longer to cook in the oven.

Thai Prawn Noodle Soup

Adapted from a BBC Good Food recipe I tore out of a magazine years ago.

Snap and cook 1 portion of noodles (egg, udon, instant etc) according to packet instructions. While the noodles are cooking, thinly slice 1/4 green bell pepper, 1/4 courgette and 1 clove garlic, then fry in oil over a high heat for 2-3 minutes until beginning to soften. Turn down the heat and add 1 tbsp curry paste, 2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup coconut milk, a pinch of chilli flakes and a large handful of frozen cooked prawns. Cook for 3-4 minutes until prawns are heated through. Stir in the noodles.

Serves 1; the soup base keeps in the fridge for a few days but it’s best to cook the noodles fresh for each portion otherwise they go soggy on reheating.

Variations:

  • Also very good with sliced button mushrooms, added with the prawns.
  • The original recipe called for pak choi; I’ve also made this with spinach and chard. The stalks can be cooked with the garlic and leaves added with the prawns.
  • For a hotter variation use a thinly sliced chilli pepper instead of the chilli flakes; fry them with the garlic
  • You can use thai curry paste for this, although I don’t usually have it in the cupboard.

Eggy Buckwheat Salad

Boil 1/3 cup raw buckwheat groats and 1-2 bay leaves in water for 5-10 minutes, until softened. Strain and remove the bay leaves. Meanwhile, mix together 1 medium carrot, grated, 1/3 plantain, diced, a large handful of sweetcorn. Separate 1 egg and mix the yolk into the hot buckwheat. Fry the white in a little oil, then slice and mix into the buckwheat along with the rest of the ingredients and a dash (about 1/2 tsp) soy sauce.

Serves 1.

Variations:

  • Cous cous can be used instead of buckwheat. Pour 2/3 cup boiling water over 1/3 cup cous cous, cover, and leave to stand for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  • Any vegetables which can be eaten raw can be substituted into this recipe – thinly sliced or grated courgette, sliced olives, mushrooms, fresh peas, etc.
  • The white can be left out and used to make meringues or added to pancakes later
  • I haven’t tried this, but the plantain could probably be substituted for unripe (green) banana if plantains aren’t available

Leek and Potato Soup

Peel and dice 2-3 small potatoes into 1 inch cubes, cover with boiling water, add a little salt, and boil for 8-10 minutes or until the potatoes are easily crushed with the blunt edge of a knife. While the potatoes are cooking, fry 1 large leek, sliced and 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, in butter (or vegetable oil for vegan) until soft and beginning to caramelise. Drain the potatoes and add them to the leek and garlic. Make up 1.5 cups stock with 1tsp stock powder or one stock cube and boiling water. Pour over the vegetables and stir thoroughly, crushing up the potatoes a little. Season with pepper and thyme.

Serves 1, easily scaled. Serve with bread if desired.

Cauliflower Biriyani

Adapted from a vegetarian recipe with the help of a friend. Not very authentic, but adaptable to whatever’s in the fridge.

Fry 1 medium onion or leek, thinly sliced and 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or thinly sliced, in a little oil in a large (preferably non-stick) saucepan for 5 minutes, or until onion/leek is beginning to soften. Add 1/2 cup brown or white rice, 1 heaped tbsp curry paste, a pinch of chilli flakes to taste, 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp garam masala and stir well until the spices coat the rice. Add 1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets, 1 small courgette, thickly sliced, a handful of broken cashew nuts, a handful of raisins and a 400ml can coconut milk. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30-45 minutes (brown rice will take longer to cook), stirring occasionally and adding 1/2 cup water about halfway through the cooking time, until the rice is cooked through and the liquid has been absorbed.

Serves 2, or 3 with naans

Variations:

  • Easily scaled and frozen or eaten for leftovers. Keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days.
  • Instead of coconut milk, any other non-dairy milk or 1/2 cup yoghurt and 1/2 cup water or stock may be used
  • The best kind of cauliflower to use is romanesque, although it’s not always easy to get hold of! A mixture of cauliflower and broccoli can be used as well
  • The turmeric, chilli flakes and garam masala can be substituted for an extra tsp of curry paste if you don’t have them
  • If your cauliflower comes with leaves on, they can be added to the biriyani halfway through the cooking time
  • I would suggest keeping the cauliflower but any other vegetables can be substituted in and out as you have them. Soft vegetables like peas, spinach etc should be added to the biriyani halfway through the cooking time, or else they’ll cook down to mulch.

Simple Lentil Dhal

Neither traditional nor authentic, but a filling, easy to cook meal that can be made just with cupboard ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Mix 1/4 cup red lentils, 1/4 cup green lentils, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 1/2 tsp garam masala and 1/2 tablespoon curry paste in an ovenproof dish. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until lentils are soft, checking every 15 minutes and adding more liquid if necessary.

Serves 1.

Variations:

  • Sliced onion or garlic added to the dhal will improve the flavour. They can be pre-fried but it’s not necessary
  • Add any hard vegetables such as carrot, broccoli, cabbage etc can be sliced and stirred into the dhal. My personal favourite is Brussels sprouts
  • To speed up cooking time, soak the lentils in hot water for a few hours first
  • The dish can be made with any kind of lentil, although red lentils tend to cook more quickly than others
  • The coconut milk can be substituted for any other non-dairy milk, or water (the dhal will be less creamy if just made with water)
  • Can be doubled up and eaten for leftovers. Keeps for a few days in the back of the fridge.

Vegetable Ramen

Adapted from a Wagamama recipe.

In generous amounts of oil, fry 2 inches aubergine, thinly sliced; equal volume sweet potato, thinly sliced; 1/4 yellow pepper, thinly sliced; 1/3 green pepper, thinly sliced; 2 florets broccoli, thinly sliced. Once softened, take off heat, add 1/2 tbsp soy sauce, a pinch of chilli flakes and set aside to marinate. Cover 1 portion udon noodles in boiling water and cook at a rolling boil for 6-7 minutes or until soft to the bite. In a bowl mix 1 tsp miso paste and 1/2 tsp vegetable stock with a little boiling water. Fill the bowl half full, making sure the paste is well mixed. Add the noodles to the broth, followed by the vegetables.

Serves 1 – vegetables can be doubled up and the spare portion kept in the fridge for a few days

Variations:

  • Really any vegetables can be used for this. The harder the vegetable, the thinner it will need to be sliced and the longer it will take to cook.
  • Will also work with instant noodles

Vegetable Casserole

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Melt 1tbsp butter in a large saucepan. Fry 1 leek, sliced and 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped until soft. Add 1 can kidney beans, rinsed; 4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped; 6 small carrots, peeled and chopped; 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped; fry for a few minutes then stir in 1 can coconut milk, 1/3 cup chopped tomato, 1/3 cup stock, 1 tbsp paprika, 1/2 tbsp basil and 1 tsp cayenne pepper. Transfer to casserole dish, cover, cook for 35 minutes. Mix 1 tsp cornflour with a little hot water to make a paste. Stir into casserole, cook for a further 5 minutes.

Serves 3 generously

Variations:

  • Swap butter for vegetable oil for vegan
  • A large onion can be used instead of leek
  • Cornflour can be left out, just add a little less liquid or cook for a little longer
  • Any root vegetables can be used instead of carrot and potato
  • Sweet potato can be substituted for squash or pumpkin
  • Any softer vegetables should be added 10 minutes into the oven cooking time
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée or tomato ketchup and an extra 1/3 cup of stock can be used instead of chopped tomato