Centre stage vegetables with A Bit on the Side’s Ed Smith…

Described as a class full of inspiring side dishes, this demonstration at Divertimenti from Rocket & Squash’s Ed Smith was a welcome breath of fresh, light, flavourful, vegetarian air. Three hours, seven dishes and a lot of chat resulted in a slew of new ideas for both dressing up the supporting acts on your plate and also turning them into dishes worthy enough of being crowned the main event. Familiar, accessible & non-threatening ingredients like cauliflower, carrots & new potatoes sat comfortably alongside arguable wild-cards like seaweed, carrot tops & green tomatoes.

Ed, a former lawyer-turned-blogger-turned-writer-turned-chef, was friendly, easy going and totally at home juggling multiple pans; it felt less like we were in a Brompton Road basement kitchen and more sat round his table at home, dog underfoot & vino in hand. FYI I have no idea if Ed has a dog but he seemed like a nice guy and we all know – cat lovers look away now – that the best people in life have dogs.

The first dish of the night was one that could easily pass as a centrepiece statement rather than being relegated to the ‘sides’ bench. Chunky cauliflower florets were roasted in a mixture of rapeseed oil and cumin salt before being tumbled onto a platter with crispy roasted chickpeas, blanched spring greens and dollops of lemony, sumac sprinkled tahini. The blend of so-hip-they-hurt Middle Eastern flavours paired beautifully with the textures & colours of this minimum-fuss, maximum-flavour dish.IMG_7080Next, two gorgeously simple ways to dress up the kitchen knockout that is the Jersey Royal. One of our loveliest & most seasonal vegetables, usually Elvis-approved amounts of butter and a twist of black pepper are enough to elevate this humble little spud but here, Ed showed us the savoury moreishness of dulse seaweed melted into butter and a traditional-with-a-twist pesto made with ferny carrot top fronds. Vibrant yet delicate and eye-wideningly delicious, these brought the idea of how a Jersey Royal should be served into the modern age of cooking.IMG_7082

IMG_7081A traditional American wedge salad usually arrives drowning in blue cheese dressing and creaking under a mountain of bacon bits; Ed’s lighter & more summery version came with a dill-heavy buttermilk dressing that was joyfully fragrant and worth making double of because life’s too short for skimpy amounts of dressing, translucent radish slices and umami-packed soy seeds & popped quinoa. It may sound like a lot of elements but each took only moments to prepare, making the overall end result well worth the effort.IMG_7089Grilled green tiger tomatoes were sprinkled with white pepper and chilli leaving them fresh, juicy & sharp… IMG_7084…a fennel & tarragon salad delivered a beautifully clean, subtle aniseed tang and carrots were given a new lease of life, one that was silky with brown butter, full of chopped hazelnuts & fresh parsley and pan-to-plate ready in minutes.IMG_7085Great tips such as ‘cauliflower always needs a good 45 minutes to roast properly not the 20 minutes designated by cookbooks on a space-page budget’ and a desire to use the entirety of each vegetable & avoid excess waste were two of the nicest qualities of the evening, along with the fact that everything made could be used on so many more blank canvasses than those we saw painted tonight. Nothing was overly complicated, everything was delicious and it was inspiring, in our increasingly plant based culinary landscape, to see vegetables take their moment in the spotlight.

 

Farm Girl and the latte that won my coffee haters’ heart…

Farm Girl aka the place that made me like coffee. I’m not still quite yet the sort of person who downs triple shots of espresso until I’m as buzzed up as Donald Trump at the thought of a golden arches drive-through but I am now the sort of gal who enjoys a Liquid Gold Latte, made with cinnamon, turmeric & astragalus…

Originally opened in Notting Hill a few years ago when the rush for Aussie goodness in the form of London brunching really took off, Farm Girl delivers on trend ingredients, served beautifully and with a reasonable price-tag. Never take these 3 things lightly in a city where you’d be correct for thinking upon entering that the choice between paying your gas bill or feeding your avo-toast habit will now be an ever permanent question of your life. Read More

Glorious Assam Laksa to bring Asia to your kitchen…

I have always thought Asian food to be especially delicious yet forever imagined it to be ridiculously difficult to make in the peace and comfort of your own kitchen. A particularly rubbish summer cold paired with a recent leafing through ‘Vegan Street Food’ from former Masterchef finalist Jackie Kearney has drastically confirmed that while the first of those two thoughts is seriously true, the second couldn’t be further from the truth.

A traditionally sour soup based around fish sauce, chillies and tamarind and heralding from the Malaysian island of Penang, laksa is unquestionably a perfect dish if you’re feeling under the weather or simply looking for something beautifully fresh & fragrant to scent your home and delight your stomach with; it won’t blow your head off but it will definitely clear out the cobwebs and leave you feeling clean and utterly satisfied.

This version (which can easily be made vegan with a couple of tweaks) has a long ingredient list but don’t let that put you off; this is not the kind of soup you make once and then forever find half empty jars languishing in the back of your fridge for months after. If you cannot find some of the ingredients, don’t panic; my version was made without Kearney’s original inclusions of lotus root and laksa leaves and it was still incredibly aromatic & packed full of flavours.

Make it once; make it forever.

Assam Laksa aka Penang Hot & Sour Noodle Soup

INGREDIENTS (serves 4-6 depending on how hungry greedy you are)

Soup:

  • 6 red chillies, stems removed
  • 2 small red onions, unpeeled & quartered
  • 2 lemongrass stalks
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • vegetable oil (if needed)
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp vegan fish sauce or light soy sauce with optional pinch of seaweed flakes
  • 2 tbsp tamarind pulp or 2 tsp tamarind paste
  • 1-2 tsp salt, to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp soft brown sugar or rice syrup, to taste
  • 375g fresh udon noodles or dried egg free yellow noodles if going vegan

Fresh toppings:

  • 1/2 cucumber, halved length-ways
  • 1 fresh lotus root, peeled
  • 1/2 pineapple (canned in juice is fine if no fresh is available)
  • handful of Vietnamese mint leaves or a mix of mint and basil leaves
  • handful of laksa leaves
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 birds eye chilli, finely chopped (substitute with ordinary red chilli if preferred)

METHOD

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  • Preheat the oven to 210c/410f/gas mark 6.
  • Place the red chillies and onions on a baking tray and roast for 10-15 minutes until they start to blacken at the edges then remove from oven, cool and peel the onions.

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  • Put the lemongrass into a food processor and add the paprika, roasted chillies and peeled onions.
  • Blend to a paste and add a little vegetable oil if needed; don’t worry if some of the red onion pieces remain visible in the paste – the end soup will still be delicious.

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  • Spoon the paste into a wok or a large pan and cook for 2 minutes over a high heat.

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  • Add the stock, 1 litre of warm water, the vegan fish or light soy sauce and the tamarind to the pan then bring it to the boil and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
  • Taste and add salt, soft brown sugar or rice syrup to taste; personally I didn’t add any salt but a couple of teaspoons of soft brown sugar helped to balance out the stronger flavours in the broth at this stage.
  • If using dry noodles, soak them in hot water for 10 minutes then drain in a colander; if using fresh, cook as instructed on pack and set aside.

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  • To prepare your fresh toppings, use a teaspoon to scrape out the watery seeds of the cucumber before slicing finely into half moons.
  • Thinly cut your lotus root, blanch it in boiling water for 1 minute then set aside.
  • If using fresh pineapple, cut off the top and bottom followed by the peel then remove the core and chop the flesh into bite-size pieces.

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  • To construct your soup bowls, divide the noodles between your serving dishes.

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  • Add a selection of the fresh toppings then carefully ladle the broth over the top, making sure that the noodles are covered and serve immediately; top tip – if you find your broth still has bits of the paste in it, simply ladle through a small sieve into the bowls for an immaculately clear finish.

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Original recipe taken from ‘Vegan Street Food’ by Jackie Kearney.