Vegemite on Oatcakes

Recipes and the occasional review from an Aussie in Edinburgh

The TLT (Tofu-Lettuce-Tomato)

The TLT Tofu-Lettuce-Tomato

I hesitate to call this a recipe, but it made me smile on a Monday evening.

Serves 1

125g smoked tofu, sliced 1cm thick (I used Engine Shed tofu)
2 thick slices granary bread
½ avocado, thinly sliced
2 tbs good-quality mayonnaise (use vegan mayo if you prefer)
Small handful basil leaves
1 small tomato, thickly sliced
Red onion, very thinly sliced, to taste
Small handful thickly shredded cos (romaine) lettuce
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat a non-stick griddle pan on high heat, and brush the tofu slices on both sides with a little olive oil. When the pan is very hot, put the tofu on to grill for a few minutes on either side.

Meanwhile, lightly toast the bread. When it’s ready, arrange the avocado on one slice of toast, and cover this with half the mayonnaise. Grind over some pepper and gently press the basil leaves into the mayo. Layer on the tomato slices, red onion slivers, griddled tofu and lettuce. Finally, spread the remaining mayonnaise on the second slice of toast to top the sandwich.

Pesto tofu with green beans, butternut and red pepper

Pesto tofu with green beans, butternut and red pepper

This is a colourful warm salad that happens to be vegetarian, high-protein and low-GI. At first glance, it’s the kind of recipe that may only appeal to health-food nuts like me, but please try it before you write it off!

I used a fresh spinach and basil pesto from Pasta with Love, whose pasta kitchen is in Renfrewshire but who have a stall at my local Stockbridge Market. If you’re in Edinburgh or Glasgow, I highly recommend getting hold of some of this pesto, whether for conventional use on pasta, or less orthodox application as here!

The directions below assume that you have a separate oven and grill. If this isn’t the case, allow a little extra time to grill the red pepper before baking the butternut and tofu, or you could prepare the pepper the day before.

Serves 2 hungry people for dinner, or 3-4 as a light lunch

1 large red pepper (capsicum)
½ a butternut squash (I used just the neck of the squash)
400g firm tofu, well-drained and dried
250g fine green beans, trimmed
¼ cup fresh pesto
flaked toasted almonds, to serve
fresh basil leaves, to serve
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Start by preheating the oven to 220C. Meanwhile, prepare the red pepper. Quarter it, remove the stalk and seeds, and place the quarters skin-side up on a baking tray lined with foil. Place the tray under the grill at its highest setting until the skin is blistered and blackened. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

While the pepper is grilling, cut the butternut lengthwise in half (if it’s not already halved that way), peel, and remove any seeds. Then slice into half-moon shapes 1cm thick. Line a large baking tray with baking paper and lay the butternut slices out in a single layer.

Next slice the tofu block in half lengthways, and then crossways into 1cm slices. Lay these in a single layer next to the butternut. Brush the butternut and tofu with olive oil on both sides, and season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the butternut is tender.

While the butternut and tofu are in the oven, peel the skin from the pepper quarters and discard. Tear the flesh into thick strips. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, and cook the beans for 4 minutes. Drain, refresh under plenty of cold running water, and drain well again.

When the butternut and tofu are ready, remove from the oven. Place the tofu pieces in a large flat bowl, add the pesto and toss gently to coat.

Divide the beans between individual serving plates. Layer the butternut on top, followed by the tofu and pesto marinade. Top with the red pepper strips and scatter with the flaked almonds and basil leaves. Finish with a good grinding of black pepper.

Barley risotto with feta, mint, peas and green veg

Barley risotto with feta, mint and green veg

I recently discovered pearl barley through (what else?!) an Ottolenghi recipe (for barley and pomegranate salad, in Plenty). I’m still not quite sure what I think: it’s low on the Glycemic Index, which is great, but it can sometimes seem a bit heavy and indigestible. It’s far more interesting in both texture and looks than rice, however: the grains are larger and chewier, with tiny, decorative dark lines. All in all, give it a whirl if you haven’t already!

Serves 4

1 litre hot vegetable stock (I use Marigold stock powder)
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1 leek, white part only, quartered lengthways and finely sliced
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 small courgette (zucchini), quartered lengthways and finely sliced
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed and drained
1 cup white wine
½ cup frozen peas (petits pois are best)
240g broccolini or tender-stem broccoli, trimmed
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (I use a substitute made with non-animal rennet)
⅓ cup fresh mint, finely shredded
⅓ cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
100g feta, broken into chunks
1 lemon, zest and juice
butter
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Once all your ingredients are prepared, put the stock on to simmer in a saucepan over low heat. Heat a knob of butter and a lug of olive oil in a separate large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, leek and celery, and fry gently until softened but not coloured. Add the courgette and stir for a couple of minutes more.

Add the rinsed barley and stir until the grains are coated in the oil and butter. Turn up the heat to high and add the wine. Stir and let it bubble until nearly all the liquid is gone. Check the time at this point, and reduce the heat to medium. Now add your first ladle of stock, stirring over the heat with a wooden spoon until the stock is nearly all absorbed. Repeat this process, adding ladles of stock, until the barley is nearly cooked. For me this took 17 minutes from the time I started adding stock, but keep testing the barley between your teeth to check – it should still have some bite. You may not need quite all the stock – I used 900ml. (Be sure not to add too much stock all at once when the grains are nearly cooked, or you can wind up with excess liquid at the end.)

Towards the end of the cooking time, bring a large pan of water to the boil. When the barley is nearly cooked, drop the broccolini into the boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes, until just tender. While the broccolini is cooking, add the peas to the risotto. Continue stirring for a minute, then turn off the heat under the risotto. Add most of the parmesan and fresh herbs, the lemon juice, plenty of ground pepper, salt (if you want it) and a good knob of butter. Stir well and put the lid on for the flavours to absorb while you drain the broccolini.

Once the broccolini is ready, spoon the risotto into large flat bowls to serve. Top each portion with some broccolini spears, chunks of feta, the reserved parmesan and fresh herbs, lemon zest, and finally a drizzle of olive oil and grinding of black pepper.

Serve with crusty bread and butter; a dark, seeded loaf would work well.

Creamy carrot soup with ginger, orange and ras el hanout

If you (like me) are an Ottolenghi fan, then you (like me) may well have three-quarters of a tin of ras el hanout sitting in your spice cupboard, rapidly losing its fragrance. If that’s the case, I recommend first of all making my friend Helene’s amazing veggie cobbler – or estofado del zapatero – with butternut squash and ras el hanout. You may never feel the need to move on, but if you do fancy something not quite as colourful, but hopefully just as comforting, try this soup.

Serves 4

1 onion, roughly chopped
1 tbs olive oil
knob of butter
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ras el hanout
750g carrots, trimmed and roughly chopped (no need to peel)
500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock (I use Marigold stock powder)
180-250ml (¾-1 cup) single cream
juice of half an orange

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onion for a few minutes, until just softened. Add the fresh ginger and continue to saute until soft but not coloured. Then add the ground ginger and ras el hanout and saute for a further minute.

Add the carrots and vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, or until the carrots are very soft.

Transfer to a jug blender and puree until smooth. Return to the pan, add the single cream and reheat gently. Turn off the heat and whisk in the orange juice. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.

I like a soup that’s thick enough to park a bike in. If you prefer something thinner, just add more stock, cream or orange juice until you have the consistency you would like.

You can garnish this with a swirl of cream, some orange zest, or even a tiny pinch of ras el hanout. Don’t be tempted to add yoghurt (learn from me!) – the sourness doesn’t work with the flavour of the soup, which is creamy, sweet, warm and spicy.

Gluten-free rhubarb and ginger cake

Gluten-free rhubarb and ginger cake

This gluten-free batter produces a lovely light moist cake, and is extremely simple to make – it’s all done in the food processor. It’s based on a much-tinkered-with recipe first given to me at a teen cookery course run by the now-defunct South Australian Gas Company in the early 1990s. The original was flavoured with blueberry and lemon, and no doubt will appear on this blog at some point. I’ve since discovered that the base mixture adapts brilliantly to gluten-free – I imagine because of the cream cheese and yoghurt.

Ideally you want slim, pale pink wands of rhubarb for this recipe, the kind that appear in late winter (in Scotland, right now). The icing uses fresh ginger juice and therefore requires an electric juicer. If you don’t have a juicer (or want to serve the cake warm), just leave off the icing and serve with something creamy and ginger-flavoured, such as Rachel’s Organic Greek Style Ginger Yoghurt, or a stem ginger ice-cream.

Serves 8

2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger (use a Microplane grater or similar for best results)
1¼ cups (260g) caster sugar (ideally golden, but regular is fine)
50g unsalted butter, softened
125g Philadelphia cream cheese (full fat)
2 large eggs
2 cups (360g) gluten-free plain flour mix (I use Doves FarmOrgran is also good)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼-½ cup yoghurt (4% fat)
300g rhubarb (trimmed weight), cut into 1cm pieces

For the topping
⅔ tsp ground ginger
1⅓ tsp cinnamon
scant 3 tbs demerara sugar (40ml)

For the icing
1 cup (160g) icing sugar (not icing mix)
generous 1 tbs butter, softened (20ml)
35ml fresh ginger juice (I needed about 60g fresh ginger to yield this much juice – no need to peel before juicing – but juicers vary)

You will also need a 24cm round springform cake tin, lightly buttered, base and sides lined with baking parchment.

Preheat the oven to 190C. Place the sugar and grated ginger in a food processor and pulse briefly to mix. Add the softened butter and cream cheese and process until smooth. Mix in 1 egg and 1 tbs of flour; process briefly. Add remaining egg and process again.

Add the flour and bicarb with ¼ cup of yoghurt. Process briefly in bursts until batter is just mixed. Add enough of the remaining yoghurt to make a soft chopping consistency (not too stiff and not too runny). Process till just combined – do not over-mix.

Spread half the mixture over the base of the cake tin, and distribute half the rhubarb evenly over the batter. Cover with the remaining batter – it’s easiest to do this by dropping small dollops of batter at intervals across the fruit, then gently spreading with a spatula. (It doesn’t matter if some fruit shows through.) Sprinkle the remaining rhubarb on top.

Mix together the demerara sugar and spices for the topping, and sprinkle evenly over all. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Remove the sides of the cake tin and leave the cake to cool before icing.

Make the icing while the cake is cooking. Place the softened butter in a medium mixing bowl. (It needs to be very soft, but not melted.) Add the icing sugar and half the ginger juice to start with, and whisk well with a balloon whisk. Add more ginger juice, drop by drop, until you have the right consistency and any lumps of butter are whisked away. (You may need a little more or less than 35ml juice in total.) You are aiming for an icing that is only just thin enough to pipe in drizzly rows – too thin and the rows will spread into a messy sheet over the top of the cake.

Take a snaplock sandwich bag (the kind required under airport liquid rules) and sit it upright in a large mug, with the snaplock top open and turned down over the top of the mug. Scrape the icing into the bag using a spatula, then remove the bag from the mug, expel any air, and seal. Store the icing in the fridge until needed. (If you are serving the cake away from home, you can transport the icing in its bag and ice the cake at your destination.)

When the cake is cool and you are ready to ice it, remove the base and baking paper and place on a serving plate. (Don’t try to ice the cake warm or the icing will melt – as you can see in the photo!) Snip a tiny corner off the icing bag and drizzle the icing across the cake. I do two sets of rows perpendicular to one another, to form a drizzly criss-cross pattern. Slice using a large serrated knife and serve.

Sothi and pittu – served from a bucket and eaten by hand

Pittu and sothi

This is a guest post by my amazing friend Anne Fitzpatrick, whom I met in the playground on my first day of school, and who is now one of the best-travelled and most inspirational people I know. You can read more of Anne’s writing from her recent stay in Sri Lanka in The Australian travel sectionThe old men of Jaffna and Young ladies, take note. This is Anne’s take on how to make pittu and sothi.

Pittu is a food that ticks all of my favourite food boxes – cylindrical, involves coconut, needs to be eaten by hand, and has an ambiguous pronunciation. Ask for “pittu” in one little food stall in Jaffna and you’ll receive confused looks until you mime its shape, making the waiter shout gleefully “Ah! PUTTU!!”. Go to another one, and ask for “puttu” and the same thing will happen until they realise you’re asking for “pittu”.

Whatever you want to call it, pittu is a wonderfully simple but tasty dish found in Sri Lanka, Kerala in India and wherever in the world you can find someone from those areas. It’s simply flour that’s been roasted and then steamed with coconut in a special tall steamer. It may sound a little dull, but add a coconut milk curry (sothi), or a few ripe bananas, or some dhal, mush it all together with your right hand, then push a scoopful of it into your mouth with your thumb, and you have the perfect south Asian comfort food.

I ate pittu so regularly during my two-month stay in Jaffna, that I soon had no problems telling the shop owners what I wanted. I’d walk in for breakfast (or lunch or dinner) and they’d bring out a plate of pittu, a mug of tea, maybe a boiled egg, and always the metal bucket of sothi so I could ladle out my share before they put it on the next person’s table.

Unfortunately, my recipe only has vague proportions. My 80-year old Jaffna landlady didn’t measure anything when she was showing me how to make it. However, she did give me very specific dimensions for the pittu-pushing stick (see step 8) – 25 cm long and at least 5 cm in diameter.

Pittu

  1. Select your flour – standard wheat flour, white rice flour, red rice flour, ragi (finger millet) flour, or any other exotic flour you can find.
  2. In a large fry pan, dry roast the flour for a few minutes over a high flame.
  3. Let it cool, then add some hot, salted water to the flour, so the mixture is damp, but not wet. By hand, crumble the flour mixture as much as possible.
  4. If you have a metal tumbler like they use in India you can use it for this next step, otherwise a biscuit cutter should do the trick. Use the tumbler to “cut” the mixture until there are no big lumps.
  5. Get your coconut ready. If you’re lucky enough to have a coconut tree and the special grater that you sit on the floor with to grate out the inside out with, then you probably know what to do already. If you don’t, I think that frozen shredded coconut from an Asian grocer would work. Defrost it and make sure that it’s not too wet (just so it is the dampness of real coconut).
  6. If you have a pittu steamer, or some other phallic-shaped steaming device, put in alternating layers of a handful of flour and then pinches of coconut. If you don’t have one of these, you can put the same proportions of flour and coconut into any other type of steamer, but it will only be half as fun to eat.
  7. Let it steam for just a few minutes, until you see the steam coming out of the top.
  8. Use a specially designated “pittu pushing stick” to push the pittu out onto a plate.

Sothi

  1. In a wok or broad based saucepan, heat some coconut milk over a high flame.
  2. Add a handful of chopped shallots, garlic, and plenty of fresh curry leaves.
  3. Add pinches of salt, turmeric, pepper, and any other spices you might like to try.
  4. Add some sliced green chillis and boil for a few minutes.
  5. If possible serve it from a huge metal bucket.

Passionfruit, banana and ginger trifle

If you’re looking for a dessert to serve in lieu of Christmas pudding, can I throw this recipe into the mix? It’s a Scottish-Australian fusion incorporating green ginger wine, passionfruit, ginger marmalade, and many other good things suitable for Christmas in the northern or southern hemisphere. I’ve already served it at a trifle-off (oh yes!) and our office Christmas lunch, and chances are it’ll be making an appearance on Christmas day, too. It could equally play the centrepiece of a decadent afternoon tea, or dessert at a lunch or dinner party, summer or winter.

This recipe owes its structure (including its cut corners) to Delia’s Summer Trifle with Raspberries (or Strawberries) – one of the best, and easiest, trifle recipes ever. The flavours are based on my favourite breakfast combo of passionfruit, banana, Rachel’s Organic Greek style ginger yogurt, and Dorset Cereals marmalade granola (now sadly discontinued). I also owe inspiration to Nigella’s Ginger Passionfruit Trifle, but I’d like to think I’ve pushed the concept a bit further than her five-ingredient version – I’ve never quite understood why she didn’t go the whole hog with this one!

If you make this in individual dishes, do measure out the green ginger wine – 20ml per person. In smaller dishes you can get away with minimal fridge time following assembly. One large trifle does need time in the fridge to coalesce before serving.

Pretty photograph to follow once I have a nice glass trifle bowl that shows up the layers!

Serves 6

6 trifle sponges (the little ones measuring roughly 2 x 5 x 8cm)
¼ cup ginger marmalade (I used Claire Macdonald’s Isle of Skye label)
½ cup green ginger wine (I used Crabbie’s)
175g (peeled weight) ripe but firm bananas (about 2 medium bananas)
pulp of 4 large passionfruit (to yield about 175g)
250g mascarpone
500ml good-quality ready-made fresh custard (in the UK, try Waitrose, Sainsbury’s or M&S)
4 globes stem ginger in syrup
1 tbs syrup from the ginger
toasted flaked almonds, to decorate

You will also need a 1.75L trifle bowl, or 6 x 300ml individual glass dishes.

Split the trifle sponges in half lengthwise with a small serrated knife, so you have two thin flat pieces from each. Spread one side with marmalade and put back together to form sandwiches. Cut each one into 3 pieces and place in the bottom of the trifle bowl. Prick with a skewer or point of a sharp knife, and drizzle the green ginger wine evenly over all.

Thinly slice the bananas and scatter evenly over the trifle sponges, pressing down a little into any gaps. Spoon the passionfruit pulp evenly over the banana.

Place the mascarpone in a large mixing bowl and loosen slightly with a spatula. Gradually whisk in the custard until smooth. Finely grate the stem ginger (a fine Microplane grater, or similar, is best for this) and add to the custard mix with the tablespoon of ginger syrup. Whisk until well combined.

Pour the custard evenly over all, and sprinkle the top liberally with toasted flaked almonds. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least several hours before serving – ideally overnight for one large trifle. When serving, make sure that everyone gets a bit of all the layers, including the boozy sponge at the bottom!

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