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Fesenjan – A Persian Pomegranate and Walnut Stew

11 Nov

I have been wanting to make a vegetarian version of the savoury and sweet Persian celebration dish, Fesanjan for a long time. It is normally made with chicken or lamb but I have used aubergine and sweet potato as the meat replacements. Pumpkin or squash would also be lovely in this or maybe even some meaty mushrooms.

The reason that I have been desperate to make this is because I love pomegranates. There are hundreds of pomegranate trees were we walk with the dog and The Washer Up is always screaming at me to stop taking photos of them, but I can’t.

“Not another bloody picture of a pomegranate” he says “How many do you need?” he asks impatiently  “You must have thousands already, along with all the pictures of blooming oranges”.

“It’s what I do!” I reply.

This is the perfect dish to showcase the beautiful pomegranates that are plentiful and cheap here at the moment. I use their ruby jewels a lot as a final garnish, like on this Lebanese Lentil Salad where their sweet and sourness pops in your mouth, livens up the whole dish and, of course, they look lovely. I have also topped this Savoury Feta Cheesecake with a generous glistening pile of them for an impressively dramatic but surprisingly easy to prepare dinner party dish.

In this dish though it’s the juice that gets to take a leading role. Traditionally pomegranate molasses (a reduced thickened pomegranate syrup) would be used but I can’t seem to find any here. I used the juice of four pomegranates and some veg stock as the liquid in which the vegetables are cooked. Along with the ground walnuts that thicken the stew while it cooks, these are the two most important ingredients in the recipe. They give it colour, texture and flavour.

You can obviously buy pomegranate juice in a carton if you like, but I wanted to try it with my beloved pomegranates. Juicing a pomegranate is quite a mission but you get used to it. I did most of it on my normal hand orange juicer, bursting any jewels left in the top of the juicer and squishing the juice out with my fingers. I then squeezed what was left in the fruit directly into the pot by hand. I got about 500 ml of juice from four big pomegranates.

Fesanjan – Persian Pomegranate & Walnut Stew Recipe

Serves 4. Vegan, Gluten-free.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 large aubergine 300 g, cut in 1-2 cm cubes
  • 1 large sweet potato 400 g, scrubbed, cut into 1-2 cm chunks
  • salt & black pepper
  • 200 g walnuts, finely ground in a processor plus some chopped for garnish
  • the juice of four pomegranates (about 500 ml) reserve some jewels for garnish
  • 500 ml stock
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp honey or sugar
  • fresh parsley leaves to serve

Heat the oil, in a large pot, over a medium heat and cook the onion with a pinch of salt for about 4 mins until softened, then add the spices, cook for a minute or so (add a splash of stock if it’s dry), then add the ground walnuts, aubergine & sweet potato. Stir to coat in the spices then add the pomegranate juice and stock.

Bring to the boil then lower the heat, partially cover and simmer for 15 mins. Remove the lid then simmer again for 25-30 mins until the sauce is thickened, it shouldn’t be liquidy.

Taste for seasoning, it should be quite sweet and a little sour. Add more salt, lemon or honey/sugar until you are happy. Serve garnished with pomegranate jewels, chopped walnuts and a few parsley leaves. This isn’t authentic but it isn’t the prettiest of dishes otherwise, it’s very brown so the pomegranate seeds brighten it up a bit.

Serve with some plain rice and a herby green salad like the ones we served the lovely Iranian family that we cooked for over the summer. They use herb leaves whole as a salad leaf rather than as a garnish. I topped it with pomegranate seeds obviously, but then I am obsessed. Apparently.

I hope they approve of my vegetarian version of Fesenjan!


Laos Style Aubergine, Mushroom and Lemongrass Curry Rice Bowl

21 Apr

Laos is in South East Asia bordered by Northeast Thailand, Viet Nam, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia & China. It is another place on my list of must visit countries that keeps growing by the day. I found the link to this recipe on Tes at Home. Tes grew up in Northeast Thailand but now lives in India. This recipe is my vegetarian version of her childhood memories of  a dish called Or Lam that she found on Eating Asia.  I took ingredients and techniques from both recipes and cooked the rice in the same pot but it would normally be served with sticky rice on the side. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any fresh dill for this dish so I replaced it with fresh coriander. Feel free to substitute the dill back in or a mixture of both would be nice.

You start by making a curry paste with shallots, garlic, chilli, lemongrass, lime leaves, coriander stalks and salt.  This is fried off then veg stock is added before adding the vegetables. The idea is to cook the aubergine until it is very soft and thickens the stew. I used my metal tea infuser to flavour the dish with Sichuan peppercorns and black peppercorns. This way you get some of the aromatic heat from the peppercorns but not the full on numb lips experience. I used 15 of each in the tea infuser. You could also use a  piece of muslin tied at the top with string). Or crush a smaller amount of each to add to the dish, say five of each.

Laos Style Aubergine, Mushroom & Lemongrass Curry Rice Bowl

serves 2, vegan, gluten-free

  • 1 large aubergine, quartered lengthways then cut into 2 cm chunks
  • 100 gr mushrooms, cleaned & sliced
  • 100 gr green beans, trimmed & halved
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped( I used 2 garlic & 1 spring garlic)
  • 6 shallots (I used 1/2 spring onions), roughly chopped
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, roughly sliced
  • 3 lime leaves, sliced
  •  1 red or green chilli, roughly chopped
  • a handful of coriander stalks
  • 1 tsp salt (or 1 tbsp fish sauce)
  • about 500 ml veg stock
  • 15 Sichuan peppercorns
  • 15 black peppercorns
  • 150 gr wholegrain rice
  • 2 big handfuls of fresh spinach
  • a handful of fresh coriander, chopped plus leaves for garnish

Put the shallots, garlic, chilli, lemongrass, lime leaves, coriander stalks and salt (or fish sauce) into a bowl or food processor and blend to a smoothish paste. Heat about 1 tbsp oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add in the paste and stir fry for a minute. Add in the veg stock and put both sets of peppercorns in the tea infuser(or muslin bag) and hang it  over the side of the pan so it is submerged in the liquid (or throw in the muslin bag).  Bring to the boil.

Add in the mushrooms, aubergine and rice, season with salt and boil for another minute. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered for about another 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked and the aubergine is soft and melting into the stock. If you like you can take out a ladle full of the stew and blend until smooth before adding back into the pot.

Add in the green beans and spinach, stir, cover and cook for another 3 – 5 minutes until the beans are cooked. Stir in the chopped coriander and taste for seasoning.

Ladle into warmed bowls and garnish with extra coriander leaves.

Imagine yourself on the banks of the Mekong river watching the boats go by or strolling through a colourful food market selling exotic, unknown foods, listening to the strange language and trying to recognise the unfamiliar smells. I will get there.. one day….

Lentil and Spinach Dhal with Cashews and Coriander

9 Apr

This is my kind of comfort food.  All the flavour of a take away curry with none of the fat. It is easy, quick to cook (after the chopping) and really delicious. You could serve it with some whole grain rice if you like or poppadoms but on its own is just fine and filling enough. The soft spicy lentils with the irony richness of the spinach are topped off with toasted crunchy cashews, fragrant coriander and all the flavours are brightened by the zingy lime juice.

Lentil & Spinach Dhal with Cashews & Coriander

serves 3, vegan, gluten-free

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  •  1/2 tsp panch pooran (an Indian whole spice mix) use fennel seeds if you can’t get any
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • salt & black pepper
  • 1 chilli, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • about 250 ml veg stock
  • a 400 gr jar/ tin cooked lentils, rinsed
  • a tin of chopped tomatoes 400 gr
  • about 150 gr fresh spinach leaves (about half a bag)
  • 125 gr cashew nuts, toasted in a dry pan
  • 1 tbsp lime juice (about 1/2 a lime) and some wedges to serve
  • a handful of fresh coriander, chopped and leaves for garnish

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and panch pooran/fennel seeds until they start to pop. Then stir in the onions, celery, carrot, a big pinch of salt & grinding of black pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes until softened but not browned then add the garlic, ginger and chilli and cook for another minute being careful not to burn the garlic. Add in the ground spices and a splash of stock if it seems dry and cook for another minute.

Tip in the lentils, tomatoes, veg stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes then add the spinach, put the lid on and cook for another few minutes until the spinach has just wilted.  Season with salt, stir through the chopped coriander and lime juice and taste for seasoning.

Serve in warmed bowls sprinkled with a handful of toasted cashew nuts and coriander leaves with some extra lime wedges on the side.

 From the lentils you get an excellent balance of protein and complex carbohydrate as well as iron, B vitamins and soluble fibre that provides sustained energy and balance blood sugar levels. The carrots & spinach are super rich in beta carotene, which helps to protect the body from cancer and benefits the skin. The spinach also provides lots of vitamin C, folate and iron. Tinned tomatoes contain lycopene, another powerful anticancer nutrient and the cashew nuts supply protein, zinc & fibre.

I really didn’t know it was this easy to eat more healthily. I thought it would be a lot more difficult to give up cheese but I really don’t miss it and, as I said yesterday, I am not hungry, which is amazing if you know me. I am always hungry!! If you are not interested in the health benefits just ignore the paragraph above and enjoy the food. I just think it’s surprising/interesting how many good nutrients you can get from food and how good it tastes. And I haven’t even started on the health benefits of turmeric yet…..

Buen fin de semana!!

Mediterroccan Tapas Mezze

6 Apr

This is a bit of a mish mash of different mezze & tapas dishes that I wanted to try. I bought a tin of whole roasted peppers after seeing Jamie Oliver stuff them with ground almonds, Manchego cheese and breadcrumbs for one of his 30 Minute Meals. This is a tin of Pimientos del Piquillo.

This is taken from Iberia Nature “Pimientos del piquillo (piquillo peppers) come from Navarra. These small red peppers are charred over wood charcoal or old vines, then peeled by hand, marinated in olive oil with herbs, and eventually eaten either alone, in a salad or stuffed. The flavour of canned or jarred piquillo peppers is so extraordinary Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, Ferran Adrià and many other famous chefs use them. Indeed 99% of Spain’s cooks (amateurs or pros) use canned or jarred piquillos. In general, I’d never recommend a canned product over a fresh one, but in this instance I will.  In the case of piquillos, the essential flavour may actually be enhanced by the preservation, and the texture is definitely improved”.

Here in Andalucia one of the most popular ingredients used for stuffing the peppers is Bacalao, (salt cod) mixed with a kind of bechamel sauce. I have been caught out before in tapas bars when we first came here thinking the stuffing was mashed potato because that is what it looks like. Also when you ask most Spanish people if something is vegetarian they say yes even if it contains fish. I have always wanted to make a my own version of this dish as it looks so appealing.  I used some leftover mashed potato mixed with Jamie’s ground almonds, Manchego cheese, breadcrumbs and sherry (Jerez) vinegar to create the stuffing and used a piping bag to fill them. Much easier than trying to do it with a spoon.

Another recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a while is Foul Mdammas. A Middle Eastern dish made with fava beans/broad beans, tomatoes, lemon juice herbs & spices it is a fresh & seasonal salad. The recipe came from the beautiful Orange Blossom Water . I used frozen broad beans for this recipe which I peeled after cooking but you don’t have to. I just prefer the bright green colour and don’t really like the texture of the outer skins. I topped my Foul with some crumbled Feta because I couldn’t resist.

I haven’t made Hummus for a long time which is strange because it used to be my favourite thing. I think I may have OD’d on it slightly. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it was all that I ate for a long time when we had the restaurant. I didn’t have time to eat properly so I would just grab some crackers and hummus. I, not surprisingly, got sick of it and never wanted to see it again. I think I am now ready to rediscover it’s charms as a delicious, nutritious snack high in protein, fibre and iron.

Of course you need some sort of bread on a mezze / tapas plate. Something to use as a vehicle for all the delicious goodies. A scoop or shovel, if you like, to carry the food to your mouth. I bought some Atta the other day which is a soft wholemeal flour used for making chapattis. This was the perfect excuse to debut the new purchase.

I followed the recipe on the back of the flour packet and added in the flavours from my Leek & Fennel Seed Flatbreads to spice them up a bit. So there you have it, my justification for the fabulous  fusion of flavours on one plate. I’ve said it before, the southern coast of Spain is only eight miles from Morocco at the narrowest point across the Atlantic. Well that’s my excuse anyway….

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers Recipe

serves 2 or 3 as a tapa, vegetarian, adapted from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals

  • 1 jar/tin pimientos del piquillo or whole roasted peppers there are 8 in a 450 gr tin
  • some cold mashed potato (about 2 potatoes worth)
  • about 50 gr Manchego cheese, grated
  • 50 gr ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary plus extra for topping
  • 1/2 tsp sherry (Jerez) vinegar (or balsamic)
  • salt & black pepper
  • wholemeal breadcrumbs
  • olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Put the cold mash, manchego, almonds, chopped rosemary, Jerez vinegar, salt & pepper into a processor or bowl and blend until incorporated. Taste for seasoning.

 Put the mixture into a piping bag (or freezer bag with a corner cut off) and pipe the mixture into the peppers until full. Put in an ovenproof roasting dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, some chopped rosemary and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes.

Foul Mdammas Recipe

serves 2 or 3 as part of a mezze, vegetarian. Adapted from Orange Blossom Water

  • 200 gr frozen broad beans
  • 1 tomato, finely chopped
  • a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 clove garlic, finely minced
  • the juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp preserved lemon peel, chopped (optional)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • parsley leaves and Feta (optional) for garnish

Cook the beans according to the instructions on the pack, drain under cold water and peel when cool enough to handle. You don’t have to peel them but I think it tastes much fresher. Add the rest of the ingredients apart from the garnish and mix well. Check seasoning and serve garnished with extra parsley leaves & some crumbled Feta if you like.

My Hummus Recipe

makes about 5oo gr, vegan

  • 1 tin/ jar cooked chickpeas, drained, rinsed & dried
  • 2 or 3 tbsp tahini paste
  • the juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1  or 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp finely chopped preserved lemon peel (optional)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp yemeni lemon pickle (optional)
  • salt & black pepper
  • sesame seeds
  • chilli oil

Put everything (except sesame seeds & chilli oil) in a food processor or bowl and blend until smooth.  Taste and add more salt/lemon juice/tahini/olive oil if required. Hummus is such a personal thing you need to tailor it to your taste. Blend again and store in an airtight container in the fridge. When ready to serve, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and a little chilli oil (or olive oil).

Leek & Fennel Seed Wholemeal Chapattis Recipe

makes 4, vegetarian

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 leeks, cut in half lengthways, rinsed and finely sliced
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • a pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • salt & black pepper
  • 300 gr wholemeal chapatti Atta (or wholemeal bread flour)
  • cold water

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium high heat. Add the fennel seeds and when they start to pop add in the leeks, chilli flakes a pinch of salt and black pepper. Saute for about 3 minutes until the leeks are cooked and slightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Put the flour into a large bowl with 1/2 tsp salt and mix. When cooled stir the leeks through the flour to distribute evenly. Add cold water bit by bit until you have a stiff dough and it stays together in a ball. Knead the dough for 3 or 4 minutes, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Divide the dough into four balls and roll each ball out on a floured surface to about 2 or 3 mm thick. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and cook the chapattis turning frequently until golden brown. Rub with a little oil or ghee and keep warm under a clean tea towel (or warm oven) while you cook the rest. Serve immediately.

Buen Provecho! 


Turk(ish) Pizza with roasted squash, shallots, chilli, garlic and feta

16 Mar

 It has taken me a long time to find the perfect pizza dough especially because I want a wholemeal version. Most of my attempts up untill now have turned out like pastry rather than pizza.

By perfect I mean, thin, crispy and bubbling at the edges. To find my perfect pizza I did a lot of research and this is a hybrid of three different recipes I found. The lovely dough is from here and it is made with beer. It caught my eye because of the beer and thinking about it, it makes sense. If you want a bubbly crust add bubbles, it works with tempura and beer batter so why not with pizza.

The thing I have learned about getting a crispy base is don’t overload your pizza with toppings (especially tomatoes) as they make the base soggy. My favourite Italian restaurant, La Pergola in Fuengirola, have a dish called base de pizza which is not really a pizza at all. It is a pizza base with  roasted garlic and parmesan which they serve with the homemade chilli oil to drizzle over, it is so good. It is actually a starter, like garlic bread but we order it every time we go as a main dish because we can’t bear to not have it. We share that and a bowl of their homemade pasta, normally the parpardella al funghi. I’ve never tried their pizzas, which I’m sure are amazing too, because every time I go I have to have the base de pizza.

So for my perfect pizza topping I found a recipe for Roasted Onion & Garlic Parmesan Pizza which looked ideal. But then I found a recipe for Turkish Pizza called Pide which was topped with spice roasted squash, feta and chilli that I couldn’t resist. So I put them both together added some fresh herbs for a bit of greenery and came up with this gorgeous pizza which I just had to share with you. The flavours are unusual for a pizza but, I think, all the better for it. You should try it, it’s delicious….

Turk(ish) Pizza with Roasted Squash, Onion, Garlic, Chilli & Feta

makes 4 individual pizzas, vegetarian

For the dough: Adapted from The Red Spoon

  • 1 packet of active dry yeast 7 gr
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 55 ml warm (not hot) water
  • 150 gr white bread flour
  • 300 gr wholemeal bread flour
  • 165 ml or more of warm beer
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt

Mix together the yeast, honey and warm water in a large bowl and leave for at least 10 minutes until foamy. When foamy add in the flours, beer, olive oil and salt and stir to combine. You may need to add a splash more beer to make it come together.

Tip the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth.  Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 & 1/2 – 2 hours.

Cut the dough into quarters and store in the fridge until you are ready to use.

For the topping: Adapted from Delicieux & The Best I Ever had

  • 5oo gr butternut squash, peeled and cut into about 1cm cubes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp baharat seasoning & 1/4 tsp cinnamon (or 1 tsp allspice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon)
  • a pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • salt & black pepper
  • 3 0r 4 large shallots, cut in half & peeled
  • 1 whole bulb garlic, chop the top off
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • about 75 gr finely grated Parmesan or Manchego cheese
  • 200 gr Greek Feta
  • a handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • a handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven 2oo C.  On a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper, put the squash on one half, drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, chilli flakes, the Baharat seasoning & cinnamon. Toss everything together with your hands and spread out in one layer. On the other half of the baking sheet, put the shallots & garlic bulb, drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper, toss to coat and put the shallots cut side down and the garlic bulb cut side up. Roast for 25 – 30 minutes until everything is browned and the squash is tender. Leave to cool slightly then slice up the shallots and squeeze the garlic cloves out of their paper cases.

Now back to the dough. Preheat/turn up the oven to 220C and heat up 1 or 2 large baking sheets. (You can probably only cook one or two pizzas at a time). Roll out one piece of dough, on a floured surface as thinly as possible, brush all over with olive oil and place on a piece of floured baking parchment. Scatter over a quarter of the onions, smush on a quarter of the garlic, sprinkle with a quarter of the parmesan, a quarter of the oregano, a quarter of the chopped chilli and tumble over a quarter of the squash.  Season with a little salt & pepper and crumble over a little of the feta. Repeat with the next piece of dough etc..

Bake for 10 – 12 minutes until browned & bubbling.  Crumble over some more feta and sprinkle with the chopped coriander & parsley.

Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and enjoy!!

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