Resolution Result 2/52 – Magimix Le Mini Plus Food Processor

Browsing the electronics aisle during the January sales, I hesitated in front of the food processors.  For ages, I’ve had a number of recipes on file that sniffily declared that correct results could only be achieved using a food processor and warned of dire consequences if attempted with a blender, and cowed, I’d always reluctantly set them aside for that magical day when I did have the necessary equipment.  Mentioning this to Him Indoors sent him immediately into research mode.  I was leaning towards one of the micro or mini versions because I wasn’t sure if I’d find it useful enough to warrant the purchase of something larger and costlier, and I didn’t want something that would dominate the countertop.  After much deliberation, he settled upon the Magimix Le Mini Plus as just the thing for us.  The selling point of the Magimix, he explained, was not only the reliability of the brand but the after-sales support and the company’s comprehensive parts and replacements department.  (I’ll overlook the implication that H.I. was factoring in my natural predisposition to break things, into his decision.)

Watching me assemble the unit and bemusedly answering my rapid-fire questions about it, he was suddenly struck by a question of his own.  Brow slightly furrowed,  he asked if I’d never used a food processor before.  I had to admit that, unless the blender and handheld whisk counted as subspecies of the genre, no, I hadn’t.   He pressed further, not comprehending how it was even possible in this day and age.  I rocked back on my heels and considered the question.  Of course Mum’s kitchen was always well stocked with gadgetry, and my brother Bud and I were always allowed free rein there, so long as we cleaned up after ourselves.  She almost certainly had a food processor, I mused, so why didn’t I ever use it…and then the memory hit me.

It was one of those flashpoint moments in one’s memory.  It was Christmas, and all of Gran’s children and grandchildren had converged upon her house.  In the early hours of Christmas morning, Grandma was taken ill and quietly whisked off to hospital.   So engrossed in our new toys and treats, selfish little brutes that we were, we didn’t even notice until preparations for dinner began in earnest.  “Why isn’t Grandma making the turkey?” we asked sullenly, watching  with undisguised disapproval the clearly inferior cooking techniques being demonstrated by whichever adult was stationed at the counter.  They broke the news to us gently, but even so we weren’t terribly alarmed.  The hospital held no fear for us.  After all, Grandma had been there before; she’d stay for a while, but she would always get better and return home.  It never occurred to us that anything different might be in order.  Of course, I feel terrible about it to this very day, but Mum insists that the fact that the youngsters didn’t know that anything was amiss until very late in the day was a tribute to Grandma’s, and all of her co-conspirators’, determination that the children have as normal and happy a Christmas as possible.  I do recall that the adults disappeared inexplicably in small groups during the day, and those that remained to care for the band of semi-feral children that we were staggered through the day as if on autopilot.  Looking back on it with a renewed sense of understanding, the all-encompassing weariness they displayed that day could not have been easily explained away as a result of a late night or one too many eggnog.  We were lucky, however, in that she did return home eventually, but that was to be our last Christmas with her.

The presents from Gran that year were extra-special, each family receiving an all-singing, all-dancing food mixer/processer/blender, as if Grandma herself knew that she didn’t have a lot of time left.   To our childish eyes, it was a huge, alien sprawl which would have looked more at home in a space station.  It was amazing – there were so many irresistably shiny bits and whirlygigs and doodaws –  and far better than any of the dolls or Star Wars paraphenalia that Santa had brought us,  but, because it proved to be the last gift my grandmother would give my parents, it quickly took on the patina of a shrine.  My brother Bud and I, although we longed to see the great mechanical beast roar to life, were forbidden on pain of long, leisurely death to lay a finger upon it.  We argued that Grandma would have wanted it to see use, but unsurprisingly, we were overruled.  In truth, we were roundly ignored –  there were no nods to domestic democracy in this decision.

To be fair to Mum and Dad, though, Bud had already earned a reputation for taking things apart and reducing them to unrecognisable piles of cogs, wheels and springs.  He was like MacGyver’s evil twin – he could reduce anything mechanical to its most basic form using only a frayed shoelace, the splintered half of a wooden popsticle stick, and a wad of well-chewed bubblegum.  It took a long time for Mum not to shudder involuntarily any time she stumbled upon a mysterious and out of context mechanical artefact in an unusual location.  She’d freeze, her eyes wide and staring, and you knew that she was running over a mental catalogue of all household mechanical and electrical items and musing whether or not she’d seen them out in the open recently.

And that, in about the least succinct fashion possible, is why I grew up deprived of experience with a food processor.  If only I’d had access to one sooner, I would have saved myself the countless self-inflicted cuts, gouges and abrasions that I suffered at the blades of our kitchen knives over the years.  It’s true, it’s a legacy that’s followed me to present day.  Whilst unwrapping presents after our wedding, for example, I held a gorgeous Henckels knife aloft for everyone to admire.  My mother’s face contorted into a mask of panic and horror.  “Who gave you THAT?? she asked in disbelief as she gingerly snatched it out of my hand.  “Like giving a baby a loaded gun,” I heard her mutter as she made a note of the gift-giver.

Well, Mum, fear for my fingers no longer!  This little beauty slices and dices, it shreds and juices, it grates and shaves, said Sam I Am!  Never have I made coleslaw faster, and for the first time, there is no “secret ingredient” (read chunks of grated Nin-skin) added to the mixture.  It doesn’t have a huge footprint, but with a 1.7L capacity, it’s no pushover either.  It’s solidly built and, according to H.I., it runs very quietly.  In terms of vegetable preparation, it’s my own personal little fold in time.  I can’t believe that I’ve done without this miracle worker all my life.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  There are none so vocal as the converted.  I’m probably so late to the party that everyone’s already gone home, and I’m going to get roped into helping with the aftermath clean-up.

Resolution Result 1/52 – Drinking Chocolate by L’Artisan du Chocolat

A day like this calls – nay, begs, pleads, wheedles, and shouts until it’s hoarse – for a steaming mug of hot chocolate.  I’m not wrong, am I?  Who’s with me?

Well, the ground here might not be blanketed with snow any longer, (which is a mercy, really, considering the shocking state of the UK’s transport infrastructure when presented with the challenge of several inches of the white stuff)  but the chill of muddy, rain-soaked days requires chocolate therapy as well.  So, for my first New Thing of 2010, I cracked out a purchase I’d made just before Christmas.  Lured by an article in the paper extolling the virtues of fine chocolates (as if I needed any convincing), I followed directions to the website of L’artisan du Chocolat but only for a browse and nothing more.  I wasn’t looking for a commitment; I just wanted to admire the shapely truffles and ogle the rippled, well-toned bars.  A girl can look, can’t she??  Well, as it happens, no, she cannot – not without coming away with a basketful of assorted goodies.

Amongst my selections was a jar of drinking chocolate flakes in the limited, seasonal flavour of Mulled Spice Chocolate.  Many thanks to the good folk at LdC, my little parcel of goodies arrived swiftly, its contents thickly padded and sturdily packed.  The first thing I noticed was the label’s charming request, which was a direct and shameless appeal to one’s inner Alice.  “Drink Me,” the label implored, and what else could one do but comply?  The chocolate flakes themselves were packaged in an adorably squat, brown apothecary jar to reflect  the early, straight-laced origins of hot chocolate as medicinal draught.   Can you imagine?!  Hot choccy was medicine!  It had been prescribed!!  “This patient is in need of fluids, doctor!  Twenty CCs of chocolate suspension STAT!!”  Actually, let me reel that surprise back in – women have LONG understood the therapeutic properties of chocolate.  Well, ladies – and gentlemen, too! – have I discovered a fabulous addition for your medicine cabinets and first aid kits!

I snuck a peek inside, and they weren’t pulling anyone’s chain when they described it as flakes.  It looked and smelled like proper chocolate that had been intentionally whittled into shavings – personally, I fancy that it’s the shopfloor sweepings of some exotic, chocolate carving workshop, manned entirely by distant relatives of the Keeblers.  It was quite a revelation for a girl that’s found her way to the bottom of many a tin of  powdery Nesquik.  At £6.50, with an average of 4, maybe 5 servings per jar, however, it’s probably not something to treat each and every flare-up of cocoa deficiency or even to welcome the afterschool troupe home regularly.  Don’t give up on your old faithful Cadbury’s or NesQuik entirely!

The one thing I would stress about this very special drinking chocolate is that it must be prepared on the hob.  Do NOT be tempted to try a shortcut here.  Late last year, I completely disregarded the instructions attached to Charbonnel et Walker’s drinking chocolate, thinking I could shave off a little prep time using the microwave.  I did manage a bit of timesaving, it’s true, but I also managed to shave away most of the flavour.  Bleargh.  Have you ever tried to eat chocolate while completely immersed in a pool?  It tasted just like that; it was thin, watery, tasting vaguely of chocolate, and randomly, one would encounter suspect, chewy lumps.  There was just no pleasure in it.  If you prepare this chocolate using the method advocated on the jar, however, you will be rewarded handsomely.

As made, admittedly using rather more semi-skimmed milk than was originally asked for, the result was a creamy, decadent mug of spicy chocolate – it was a real treat.  Granted, it wouldn’t have sneezed at a dollop of whipped cream on top, but it certainly didn’t need it.  There was something quite magical about hovering protectively over the pot of warming milk, too.  It took me right back to my childhood, when hot chocolate was always carefully stirred by a watchful adult whilst we, the impatient nippers, cavorted at her heels, simulating the sugar rush we were anxiously anticipating.

Whilst the Mulled Spices edition is sadly no longer available, there are 4 regular varieties, Matcha White Chocolate, Mole Chili, Origin Bali, and Origin Costa Rica, all waiting to be enjoyed.  If you’re looking ahead for a sweet, quirky gift for the Hallmark Holiday of Love, there’s also a new limited flavour available online – Love Potion No.9.  Oh, and while you’re there, it’d be rude not to try their Salted Caramels No. 1.  Having succumbed to these on Christmas Day I could not, in good faith, include them in the 52, but I WILL highly recommend them for a veritable KERSPLOSION of flavours and textures.

A Tale of Tourtière

Happy New Year!  I’ve been seriously remiss in my month-long hiatus, but I plead for leniency on account of being ambushed by Christmas.  Honestly, I only just got the mincemeat bottled in time for the festivities, and I was still madly baking cookies well into the wee hours of Christmas Eve.   Grovelling aside, I do hope that everyone had a lovely, peaceful holiday, full of good cheer, scintillating company, and, above all, excellent food.  H.I. and I did, thank you very kindly, and, as we head into the New Year, I shall relate some of the new and delicious things we experienced during the break.  As a general rule, I don’t participate in the resolution game, but, for the dawning of a fresh, new decade, I have relented – to a certain extent.  As a nod to the great tradition of self-deception, my oath, delivered smirkingly, is to be more adventurous, culinarily speaking.  I shall sample at least one new thing a week –  be it a new recipe, product, ingredient, utensil, shop or restaurant.  So.  Fifty-two new things.  How difficult can that be?

For my first post of the year, I’m not starting with New Thang #1, but I’m harking back to Christmas.  You’ll see why, if you bear with me!  For me, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the tourtière, which is a savoury, French-Canadian meat pie, typically served at the Christmas Eve Réveillon after midnight mass.  Each family has its own version of this pie – some are filled simply with spiced meat, whilst others boast a mixture of meat and winter vegetables, some use puff pastry, others rolled – and each one will passionately defend the authenticity and general righteousness of its version.  I’m not here to dispute the tastiness of anyone’s Grand-maman’s recipe (although Mum’s vegetable-studded pies would rock your world), so no defensive, angry words for ol’ Nin, pretty please.  No, my mission was to bring the elixir of tourtière to the uninitiated.  During my years as a vegetarian, I remember feeling like such a martyr on Christmas Eve when they passed the tourtière around the table.  I tried not to show it, but the smell of the spices wafting from my Mum’s flaky pastry cases drove me to distraction and nearly broke my resolve.  I’m not naive – I’m sure it was all part of a carefully orchestrated covert operation to turn me back to the dark side.  

Well, as I knew we’d be having Christmas lunch with a vegetarian or two, I decided that my contribution to the feast would be a meat-free version of tourtière.   Most of them, if not all, hadn’t ever experienced the magnificence that is the tourtière, so I wanted to give them the opportunity to taste as close an approximation of it as I could muster.  Before I plunged headlong into the task, I browsed for vegetarian versions of the pie’s filling in my cookbooks and online, but I wasn’t terribly inspired by what I found.  There appeared to be an over-reliance on TVP (textured vegetable protein) as the main ingredient, and I just didn’t want to go that route.  This is by no means a denigration of TVP;  I completely understand why it would prove a popular choice for a veggie tourtière.  As a meat analogue, TVP is cheap, versatile, quick-cooking,  low in fat, and it provides a familiar, meaty texture.  Not only is it an excellent protein source, but it can used to introduce non-vegetarians to meatlessness in unthreatening shapes and forms or even to offer fledgling and transitional veggies the support of familiar dishes as they learn of new ways and ingredients to cook.  The people for whom I was making this tourtière, however, were rarefied creatures who no longer needed to be weaned from the texture or mouth-feel of meat.  Indeed, one of our guests, the glamourous Raoeme, has never consumed an ounce of animal flesh in her life, so I didn’t feel that I could, in good conscience, set a dish made to resemble the original as closely as possible before her.  No, it had to be made of lentils, and it had to be made of Puy lentils.

After much hovering, stirring, muttering and adjusting, I was satisfied with my vegetarian tourtière filling.  In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the brightest idea to prepare the poultry version of the tourtière filling at the same time, but at that moment, it appealed to me as good sense.  If made side by side, I reasoned, the two disparate mixtures could be sampled for comparison and contrast throughout their constructions.  I’d be able to adjust the seasonings of the veggie version to approximate that of the turkey one.  What it actually did, sadly, was alter my perception so radically that I had all but convinced myself that the vegetarian version was a DEAD RINGER for the meat-based one.  Pleased with myself, I baked up a handful of each sort and set them before Him Indoors.  He chewed in silence and avoided eye contact.  Heart sinking, I plunged a fork into a veg pie for a confirmation of the worst.  “They are edible,” he said tactfully, “but they are nothing at all like tourtière.”  Sighing, I had to agree.  In terms of what I was trying to achieve, namely giving my vegetarian friends an approximation of the flavours that I loved and associated with Christmas, it was a dismal failure.  Needless to say, I didn’t bring the vegetarian course to Christmas lunch; I spared the guests that much.   Upon further reflection, however, we both decided that the taste was reminiscent of a store-bought vegetarian haggis made by Hall’s, which I had tried my level best to replicate in the past but never seemed able to accomplish.  So, ha!  I shall declare this a backdoor success!  It makes a terrible tourtière but a rather nice vegetarian haggis substitute, just in time for Rab Burns’ Night on January 25th!

Depsite this relatively happy ending, I was left with far more “raw” filling than I knew what to do with.  I wouldn’t countenance throwing it away, but I also knew I couldn’t keep offering it apologetically up to H.I. if I wanted to remain happily married, so for lunch one day, I flattened a ball of filling into a patty, coated it in breadcrumbs and sautéed it until golden.  Served on a roll with spiced plum chutney, it tasted pleasant enough, but the texture was so loose and crumbly, it had the look of something that had been dragged sideways through a prickly hedge. My last salvage attempt involved the addition of some tomato paste and several more dashes of seasoning to the leftover lentil mix.  I reheated the entire mess, spooned it into a casserole dish, topped it off with mashed Maris Piper tatties and a crown of grated cheddar and baked it for 40 minutes at 180C.  Presto!  Veggieherder Pie!  It was unrecognisable as its former incarnation and it was delicious.  I set the plates in front of H.I. without so much as a grunt by way of explanation and tucked wordlessly in, fully expecting him to suss out the culprit.  To my surprise, he nodded appreciatively and declared whatever it was we were eating quite good.  So, as I said before, it’s not a unmitigated disaster but a work in progress  to which I shall definitely return.

Veggie Tourtière/Substitute Veggie Haggis/Veggie-herder Pie Base

Ingredients:

1 1/2 – 2 cups puy lentils, soaked overnight
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup raw millet
1 cup cooked brown rice
1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 cup very finely sliced mushrooms – as close to minced as one can get
1 tsp sage
1-1 1/2 tsp savory
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/8 tsp allspice
1/2-1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1 1/2 – 2 cups vegetable stock
1 tbsp  vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp yeast extract, such as miso or Marmite
1 large carrot, chopped/diced and cooked
1 large potato, peeled, diced and cooked (preferably a waxy variety)
(Optional!  I used 2 potatoes in mine: one floury potato, peeled, cooked and mashed, to further thicken up the texture of the lentil mixture, and one waxy potato, cooked and diced, to stud the lentil mixture.)

Enough of your favourite recipe for pastry for a double crusted pie OR about 6-8 individual pastry shells

* 2 T tomato paste (only used in the shepherd’s/vegherder pie)
* salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

1.  Soak the lentils overnight.  After their all-night bath, drain and rinse them off, cover them with fresh water in a medium saucepan and, adding the the bay leaf, bring them to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender.  (Mine didn’t take very long at all – 20 minutes tops – but they could take up to 45 minutes.  Always make with the checking!)  Drain and rinse them again, remove the bay leaf, and set aside.

2.  While the lentils are simmering, prepare the millet in a separate, small saucepan.  Combine1 cup of water with the grain in the pan and bring it a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the millet has absorbed the water, which should take about 20 minutes.  Set aside.

3.  In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepot, heat the vegetable oil.  Add the onions, celery and garlic and fry until the onions have softened but not started to brown.  Tip the mushroom mince in next, and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes.  Next for the pot are the herbs, spices, and seasonings:  sage, savory, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne, allspice, salt and pepper.  Stir well to combine, and cook the mixture for a few minutes until the spices are fragrant.

4.  Now add the drained lentils, cooked brown rice and millet to the onion and spice mixture.  Stir to combine all the components well.  Add enough of the stock to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom – I added the liquid in 1/2 cupsful at a time, as needed.  Along with one of the 1/2 cup stock additions, stir in the Worcestershire sauce and Marmite.

5.  If your carrot and potato are not already prepared, now is the time to do so.  Steam, boil or microwave your diced vegetables to your desired consistency, drain them of excess moisture, and stir them gently into the lentil mixture simmering on the hob.  (At this point of my own preparations, I decided to include a floury, mashed potato for a little extra thickness to the filling.  It didn’t affect the flavour significantly, it was just padding and probably entirely unnecessary!)

6.  Preheat your oven to 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4.  Roll out your pastry to fit your pie pan, and then pour the lentil filling in.  Cover with the second layer of pastry, and then pop it in the oven to bake until golden – about 30-35 minutes.  Serve with winter vegetables, preserves, and a thick slice of cheese.  (Some folk would have you smother it with gravy, but they would be WRONG.)

Tea-Soured Chickpea Curry

In search of a new and exciting hit of my narcotic of choice, the chickpea, I’ve recently rediscovered an unassuming little softcover cookbook that Him Indoors tucked into my stocking one Christmas, and what a little cracker it’s turning out to be.  More fool me for neglecting it for so long!  If you can get your hands on Sumana Ray’s Indian Vegetarian Cooking you won’t be disappointed.  Well, that said, you *could* be disappointed, and bitterly so, if you were simply looking to replicate the Bombay Potato that they do at your local curry-house; you won’t find very many of the recipes from this book on the menus of your locals, unless you’re very lucky indeed!  If, however, you’re looking for simple, straightforward and authentic dishes, food that you could easily imagine Asian families tucking into at home, then this tiny, perfect gem of a cookbook is for you.

I selected Ms. Ray’s recipe for “Chole” to try first.  It was, in a word, delicious.  Given the relatively high amount of chilli incorporated into the dish – and I’m never one to defang my chilli peppers  – it was a mild, beautifully spiced curry.  Although described as soured chickpeas, this dish, to my palate, wasn’t sour in the conventional sense of the word.  Granted, there was a mild, tangy flavour which I attributed to the amchoor powder, which is customarily used as a souring agent, but there wasn’t the mouth-puckering punch for which I had prepared myself .  Perhaps it’s a metaphorical sourness; the peas has been soured or ‘ruined’ by the rogue, polluting teabag.

This got me to imagining how this dish came about.  Was it a fortuitous mistake?  Did some young daydreamer, asked to put a batch of chickpeas to soak overnight, accidentally drop a teabag into the soaking pot?  The following morning, realising her mistake at the sight of the amber-hued peas but feeling loathe to explain to an irate chef/parent/spouse how they had been ruined, did she simply cross her fingers, mutter prayers and promises under her breath, and plunge ahead with preparations?   And after the meal, where her peas had been lavished with praise, did she smile serenely, like the cat that got the cream, when asked how she had made them so delicious?   What *was* her secret ingredient?

Do be warned!  This curry will perfume the entire house  given half a chance.  Him Indoors claimed he spent a very restless night after eating this curry, as he kept waking up convinced that he could still smell it simmering away on the hob.  It might all be speculation on my part, but perhaps his restlessness could be attributed to the method of preparation.  I mean, I’m sure that the derisive laughter from those haughty espressos would still be ringing in this curry’s ears if ever it tried to present itself as a viable option of caffeine delivery, but there’s got to be SOME residual caffeine contribution from the overnight tea infusion.  Chickpea and Tea Curry – it gives you wings!!  Nah, it’ll never catch on…

Tea-soured Chick Pea Curry with Couscous.

Tea-soured Chickpea Curry
(adapted from a recipe by Sumana Ray in Indian Vegetarian Cooking)

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups chickpeas, sorted and rinsed
4 cups water
1 teabag
2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup onions, diced fine
2 cups cooked potatoes, peeled and diced (use a waxy variety or they’ll disintegrate into mush)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and minced fine
2-3 fresh, green chillies, chopped (remove seeds if less fire is desired!)
2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tbsp amchoor powder
1/4 -1/2 tsp  cayenne (entirely dependent upon preference!)
1 tsp salt
1/2 – 3/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp garam masala

Procedure:

1.  Place the chickpeas, water and teabag into a bowl and leave them to soak overnight.

2.  Once they’re soaked, fish out the teabag and discard it.  Do not drain away the soaking liquid, however, as the chickpeas will be cooked in this liquor.  Tip the peas with their soaking water into a medium saucepan and then bring them to a boil.  Cover them and let them simmer until they’re soft and tender – anywhere between one to two hours, dependent on your chickpeas.  (Mine tend to be obstinate and tough, requiring more time in the hot seat.)  Watch the pot carefully so the peas don’t boil dry.  Add a little extra water if there’s any danger of this happening.  When they’re cooked to your liking, drain them and set them aside.

3.  In another saucepan, medium to large, heat up a couple tablespoons of the oil, and fry the cubed potato.  When it’s lightly browned, remove the potato with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Using the same saucepan, add the last remaining tablespoon of oil if necessary; the potatoes may have absorbed too much of the oil to make the next step, the frying of the onions, a bit difficult.  Heat the oil, be it residual or new, and then add the onions .  Fry them until they’re a golden brown, and then stir in the garlic, ginger, and chillies for a final 2 minutes of cooking.  (I might try to combine these stages in a future attempt.)

4.  Add the chickpeas, potatoes,coriander, amchoor, cayenne, salt, and water to the onion mixture, stirring to combine them well, and cook for another 15 minutes or so to combine the flavours.  Since the curry isn’t a “saucy” one, it will now be rather dry and prone to scorching, do watch it carefully, and add water in tiny increments where necessary.  Once heated through, remove from the heat and stir in the garam masala.  Serve as a side dish or with the grain of your choice as a main.

The Culinary Sumac

Great news!  Having offered myself up as a guinea pig in the name of the progression of science, here I stand as living proof that the spice sumac won’t actually kill you!  This is not, however, an endorsement for you to rush out and harvest the berries of your ornamental sumac bushes.  Please buy your sumac from reputable spice traders only! A teaspoon or two of sumac. When I ordered a sachet of the spice, I really had no idea what to expect, but, given my original preconceptions about sumac, I was probably more than half-hoping that it’d be throwing off clouds of malodourous smoke and glowing a shade of Mr. Yuk green.  Needless to say, my expectations have been thwarted yet again.  Sumac is actually a lovely, earthy burgundy colour with a light, chaff-like texture (no sneezing or light breezes in its presence, please!)  and an unusual flavour that is both salty and slightly sour.

I sought out the sumac for the express purpose of trying a couple of recipes from the Toronto Star, and, after testing the first, a simple, marinated chicken dish which was then broiled in the oven, I shall be making a point of keeping it stocked in the pantry.  The original recipe directed one to skewer the marinated meat and cook it over the outdoor grill, but I wanted to try my luck with the oven, not mentioning the fact that we’re right out of patio gas for the barbecue at the moment.  The finished product was moist, tender and delicately seasoned; the exotic sumac wasn’t an overpowering flavour at all.  Just so I am not accused of overegging the pudding with praise, the sumac chicken dish is quite possibly not robust enough to stand alone, but it does result in a pile of well prepared, tasty meat which can then be used as the base for a souvlaki type sandwich or wrap.  We stuffed ours in pita with tomato, cucumber and a thick dollop of tzatziki for a very lovely lunch.  I can’t wait for barbecue season – I reckon the grill might just elevate it to the sublime.

Sumac-marinated chicken breast chunks.

Sumac Marinated Chicken
Adapted from a recipe in the Toronto Star, Aug. 2009

Ingredient List

1 lb chicken breast, boned, skinless,  and cubed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 + 1/2 tsp sumac
Salt + freshly ground black pepper to taste

Procedure:

1.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine the chicken breast chunks with the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and 2 teaspoons of the sumac.  Add a few dashes of salt and pepper to the marinade mixture, cover, and place in the refrigerator for a 2 hour sojourn minimum.  The longer it has to ruminate about its fate, the tastier it will be.

2.  Once the chicken has had sufficient time to marinate, fire up the oven grill or broiler. Position a rack over a roasting tin or baking tray and then carefully place the chicken chunks on top.  Pop your rack-and-tin contraption in the middle of the oven and let the chicken broil.  Dependent upon the size of your chunks, give them 10 to 12 minutes or until cooked through to your liking.  Rotating the chunks half way through will ensure even browning and cooking.

3.  Once done, sprinkle the chicken with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of sumac and then serve it up in a pita or soft roll with cucumber slices, shredded lettuce, tomato and a good, garlicky tzatziki.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Bonfire Nosh

Okay, okay, technically Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night was the fifth of November which, a quick check of one’s watch will reveal was LAST night, but word on the street is that the majority of the bonfire parties are being held over until the weekend – even the big box shops in their ads to lure weekend customers are referring to it as “Bonfire Weekend” –  so it stands t’reason that there’s still time to plot some delicious ways to feed your revellers.  See what I did there?  T ‘ reason…treason…and plot, of which good old Guido Fawkes was guilty…No?  I’ll get me coat.

Him Indoors and I celebrated the roasting of the Fawkes effigy a bit earlier this week  at a gorgeous fireworks display and bonfire where we were stuffed with the usual suspects – burgers, jacket potatoes, roast chicken, and sausages – but the big winner of the evening, hands down, was the pumpkin soup served in thick paper cups.  I watched as people abandoned their plates in order to wrap their hands around the mugs of soup, their noses hovering gratefully in the warming steam.  This observation brought the point home beautifully.  Bonfire food should be simple, warming, and portable.  You, the discerning fireworks watcher, want to be mobile enough to both mingle with your mates and dodge noteworthy bonfire dangers such as rogue embers and excited, sugar-fuelled small children, and you demand the sort of food which frees you from the tyranny of the plate and cutlery.

Finger foods are the way to go here:  foodstuffs with their own wrappers or holders, like sausages in buns, hot dogs wrapped in bannock or damper dough, or hand and nose-warming mugs of soup.  A word of caution on the soup front, though.  It’s better to opt for pureed soup for this occasion – soup that can be sipped on without fear of a rogue chunk tumbling out and smacking a reveller on the cheek before performing an agonisingly slow death slide down the front of her top, all the while recording the tale of its journey in soup-hued script.

The bonfire finger food that I chose to put to trial was not another rendition of pumpkin soup, although, had I not run the risk of boring you and your tastebuds to tears, I would have done so gladly.   The pumpkin is just about the most versatile yet under-appreciated vegefruit in all of the land, and I could make oodles of diverse and wonderful things from its flesh.  But no, I restrained myself.  Last night marked my first exploration of the possibility of sweet potato as Chip.

I remember the first time I ever tasted sweet potato.  It had been mashed, buttered, sweetened to diabetes-inducement levels, and then crowned with a layer of marshmallows.  MARSHMALLOWS.  I adored it.  Couldn’t believe my five year-old luck, really.  There before my wondering eyes was something that looked like pudding and tasted like pudding but was actually rubbing shoulders with the savouries.  I kept sneaking spoonsful of the glorious concoction onto my plate, boldly disregarding the filthy looks my mother kept shooting me.   I’ve never been able to replicate that molten golden morass of sweet potato, sadly.  The few times that I did try were met with mild reproach and copious wincing from Him Indoors.  This time, however, my sweet spuds would not be spurned!  Proclaiming them delicious, he proceeded to plough through the newsprint packetful.  Even the stragglers left cold and unattended on the baking sheet were gobbled up when they were discovered.  Resounding success, I say.  Give them a try.

Newspaper leaf filled with sweet potato chips.

Sweet Potato Oven Chips

(I claim inspiration for these from various, random media – Saturday Kitchen and BBC Goodfood primarily.  Sweet potato is a relative newcomer to British shores; it’s not quite ubiquitous but it’s steadily gaining in popularity.)  The amounts listed in this recipe, fed two relatively hungry adults nicely, (appetites rounded out with other bonfire bonbons, of course) but if you’re anticipating more mouths to feed, roughly count on having one sweet potato per person and adjust the seasoning accordingly.

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into long chips or fries
1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 – 1 tsp pepper – black, chilli or aleppo, ’tis all up to personal preference and tolerance!
1/2 – 2 tsp salt

Procedure:

1.  Preheat oven to 220C/425 F/gas mark 7.  Place the chipped sweet potatoes in a bowl large enough to contain them comfortably and sprinkle them with the vegetable oil.  Toss the oil and chips together to distribute the oil evenly.

2.  In a smaller bowl, combine the spices and seasonings.  (Consider my seasoning as a mere guideline.  I reckon that these would taste just fine with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and I intend to try various different spice combinations in the future.  The only limit is your imagination!)

3.  Sprinkle the spice mixture atop the oiled sweet potatoes and toss to thoroughly coat them.

4.  In a roasting tin or a baking sheet, spread the sweet potatoes in a single layer.  Place them in the preheated oven and roast them for 30-50 minutes, dependent upon the slowness of your oven.  Watch them carefully, giving them a good shake every 10 minutes or so to ensure they brown evenly.  When they’re a lovely, golden brown and soft at the centre, they’re ready.  Best eaten hot, so wrap them in newsprint and send them out to watch the fireworks!

Witch’s Brew Soup, my Pretties!!

Happy Hallowe’en, Ladies!!  For best effect, one needs to utter that statement aloud and in the style and voice of the immortal Kurgan, the villain everyone just loves to hate in the film, Highlander.  (For those of you who haven’t ever had the pleasure of watching this film, be warned.  In your search to track this film down, you may well encounter imposters claiming to be sequels and associated spin-off television series, but they are nothing but foul abominations.  Remember, there can be only one.)

I love Hallowe’en.  It’s my hands-down, number one with a bullet, favourite holiday of the year and I’m always saddened when I encounter such deep, visceral antipathy toward it.    To me, the sweets and candy from trick-or-treating aren’t rewards for begging, but symbols of the community’s willingness to share the sweetness and bounty of the harvest.  Children these days already know the power of begging and demanding – just visit any toy or sweets aisle in the shops if proof were needed.  No, Hallowe’en is a magical time of year when (cliche alert!!) the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest.  It’s the one day of the year during which you’re allowed to adopt the guise of just about anything you can dream or imagine – or, for others amongst us, to reveal to the world that which you truly are!  Donning the garb of ghouls and goblins, we become the creatures that we fancy populate the lengthening shadows as the sun abandons us to our fate.  It’s not midsummer when the year hovers in the balance, really, it’s Hallowe’en.  The Year, knowing her fate in her heart, looks longingly back at the heady days of summer, and then, sighing wistfully, turns up the collar of her coat, puts her head down into the wind, and strides purposefully toward winter, drifts of fallen leaves dancing in her wake.

So for all those naysayers who profess a hatred for the “American” practice of Hallowe’en, let me offer an example and gentle reminder of the celtic roots of the Hallowe’en tradition, in the shape of the primitive, native Jack o’Lantern: a carved swede or turnip.

Jack o'Lantern carved from a swede.

I’m endebted to the lovely Monsters of Halloweenerific for the inspiration.  Long had I read of the practice of carving swedes into lanterns in antiquity, but I’d never thought of putting trowel to tuber until I happened upon H’errific’s wonderful blog and saw how effective the result was.  Difficult to do, well, yes it is, rather, and it’s not an activity recommended for the very young , the clumsy or the easily frustrated.  On the other hand, it’s certainly the lesser of the messy routes, and you get a pile of palatable tuber giblets as a byproduct – I pounded our swede guts into a lovely, creamy mash later that evening.  Use what you kill, I always say!   Don’t forget to take a tour of Halloweenerific’s grand site for tips, tales, giggles and inspirations.  (I’m so glad that there are others like me out there wandering the earth!)

Now, for my contribution to the roster of wicked food!  I toyed with the idea of making a sweet or a pudding, but I daresay there will enough of those on offer.  Besides, what would an evil witch really do, given an opportunity to wreak mayhem?  Strap her victims down and forcefeed them a cauldronful of pumpkin soup, that’s what!!  Inspired by the soup of the month from the New Covent Garden Food Co., I set about to create my own batch of Witch’s Brew, and I have to admit to being quite pleased with the results.  The soup was as vividly orange as the pumpkin from which it was minted, and the smokiness from the garlic, paprika and black eye peas was a lovely foil for the earthy sweetness of the pumpkinflesh.  Go on, I dare you to try it on your own little fledgling ghouls and witches!

The Witch's Lunch!

Witch’s Brew Soup
(an emulation and approximation of the New Covent Garden Food Company’s soup of the month)

Ingredients

2 tbsp oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp thyme
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 red pepper, diced
1-2 jalapeno peppers, chopped (optional)
1-2 potatoes, peeled and diced.  Floury potatoes work best.
3 cloves smoked garlic, chopped
1 culinary pumpkin, peeled and diced
1 tsp salt
2 tsp smoked paprika + extra for dusting
2 – 3 cups stock, chicken or vegetable (May vary with the dryness of your pumpkinflesh)
1/2 cup tinned tomatoes with juice
1/2  – 2 tsp sugar, to taste.  (Highly dependent upon the sweetness of your pumpkin!)
2-3 tbsp blood of freshly killed monster, but tomato ketchup will do in a pinch (optional)
1 tin (14 oz) eyes of newt, drained and rinsed, but black eye peas make a good substitution
1 cup white rice, cooked

Procedure:

1.  In a large cauldron, gently heat up the oil over a medium flame.  Add the thyme, onions, carrots and red and jalapeno peppers, stir to combine them, and then allow them to sweat for a few minutes.

2.  The potatoes, pumpkin and smoked garlic are next into the pot, along with the salt and smoked paprika.  Stir to mix everything thoroughly and then cook, partially covered, for about 5 minutes or until the softer vegetables have wilted.  Add the stock to the vegetables, and bring it to a boil.  Once at a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot again and allow to simmer until the pumpkin and potatoes are quite soft and willing to be pureed – between 20 to 25 minutes.  (As a time saving step, you could partially cook your pumpkin in the microwave before adding to the soup.)  Tip the tinned tomatoes in and let simmer for a few minutes.  Taste the stock to check for desired sweetness and/or saltiness.

3.  Ladle the soup into your blender or food processor and whizz it up to smooth consistency.  Return to the pot and gently heat.  At this stage, I decided to opt for a couple of tablespoons of tomato ketchup to satisfy the umami-monster in me, but if you are completely reviled by the ubiquitous condiment, the soup works just fine without it.  Stir in the ketchup to blend, and then add the black eye peas.  Stir to combine and gently heat.

4.  To serve, place a couple of tablespoons of the cooked rice in the individual serving bowls and then ladle steaming brew overtop.  Give each bowl a stir to combine, and then dust overtop with a bit more smoked paprika.  (I chose not to cook the rice in the broth as I find the starch changes the dynamic and consistency of the soup.  Personal preference!)

Swede and Palatability

Brrrr!  I’m not sure what it’s like where you are, but it’s getting awfully nippy here.  There’s no denying it now – the season of soups is well and truly upon us!  Dark mornings, chilly days, and frosty nights – is it any wonder we turn to warming, comforting foods at this time of year? And to inaugurate the occasion, I have discovered a cracking new soup to add to the autumnal repetoire:  a gorgeous, creamy swede (or rutabaga) chowder from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Soups book.  Now, before you turn your noses up in disgust, hear me out.  On paper, the swede has a lot going for it.  Right now they’re fresh and seasonal, they’re good sources of vitamin C and calcium, they’re cheap and plentiful, and they keep for ages in the larder.  One couldn’t put a foot wrong!  I sense that you remain unconvinced.  Okay, fine.  I realise that swede isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and it can be a bit of an acquired taste, but, in this soup, it manages to rise above and beyond its humble origins as famine food and childhood terror.  Give it a try; I think you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.  I certainly was, and I’m a card-carrying swede worshipper!  (I remember one family gathering when, as a punishment for being a smart-mouthed little madam, my uncle heaped my plate high with steamed rutabaga and, smirking, announced to all seated that I was not to be excused from the table until I had finished all of my swede – and possibly everyone else’s if I wasn’t careful…and then watched with undisguised horror as I gleefully polished off the lot.  It was a good lesson to learn.  Apparently, not only does no-one like swede, but no-one likes a smartpants or a show-off either!)

I felt a pang of conscience mid way through preparations.  Him Indoors, who is one of those super-taster types for whom certain foods, (particularly the brassicas such as brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, and *swede,*)  taste overwhelmingly bitter, might have been unable to eat any of the fruits of my labour, and I hadn’t laid on any back-up plans or food if he dug in his heels and refused to get past the first spoonful.  I tried not to telegraph my tension as I covertly watched him take his first tentative sips.  To my delight and relief, however, he raised his eyebrows in surprise, nodded appreciatively at the soup and proclaimed it very good.  Success!

The result was a beautiful,  pale gold soup, creamy in texture and flavour despite not having a scrap of dairy in it (unless, of course, you opt for the butter) and delicate of flavour in spite of the strong cast of characters present.  No one flavour dominated the other, and all blended together harmoniously.  The croutons were, I must stress, an essential component of the experience, so do try to include them when and where possible.  I also chose to follow Ms. Madison’s route by only partially blending my batch as I like my soups to be chunky, substantial and textured, but I imagine that, if this soup were pureed to smoothness, it might be the kindlier introductory option for dyed-in-wool swede-spurners.

It occured to me that this soup would make a perfect starter for either a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast, especially if you find yourself surrounded by an Anti-Brassica Brigade and you’re one of those souls who insists upon serving up all of the traditional foods in spite of overwhelming opposition.  Why do we continue to serve up foods we don’t like simply in the name of tradition?  Like a westernised version of the Yoruba naming ceremony, where the new baby is introduced to a selection of different tastes ranging from the bitter to the sweet, as a  symbolic representation of the trials and triumphs of life, do we still dish up the dreaded sprouts or the loathed swede in tacit acknowledgement of life’s occasional bitterness, just before we heave a sigh a relief and give thanks for life’s sweeter aspects in the shape of moist turkey and custardy pumpkin pie?  Whatever the reason, any dissenters might find it harder to simply consign this rendition of the swede to the scrapheap.

A bowl of swede and leek soup with croutons.

Swede (Rutabaga) and Leek Soup with Paprika Croutons
Adapted from a recipe in Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds of swede, peeled and diced (about one, whole medium sized head)
2  tbsp butter or margarine
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 medium leeks, cleaned and chopped, both white parts and green
1 -2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced into cubes
1 tsp salt
6 cups of stock, vegetable or chicken, or water
salt and pepper to taste
(Optional:  1-2 tbsp butter or margarine, melted, mixed with 1/4 tsp smoked paprika)

Croutons:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup bread cubes
1/2 tsp smoked paprika + extra for serving (regular, unsmoked paprika will not have the same impact!  Do not attempt this without the smoky variety!)
1/2 tsp salt or to taste

Procedure:

1.  In a large soup pot, melt the knob of butter.  Add the thyme, bay leaf and leeks, stir to combine them, and allow to cook for a few minutes.  Next into the pot are the swedes and potatoes along with the teaspoon of salt.  Stir to mix everything thoroughly and then cook, partially covered, for about 5 minutes or until the leeks have wilted.  Add the stock to the vegetables, and bring it to a boil.  Once at a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot again and allow to simmer until the swedes are just cooked – between 20 to 25 minutes.

2.  Remove the bay leaf from the soup pot, so it doesn’t get caught up in the liquidising step!  Transfer approximately  half of the vegetables (with some stock for ease of blending) into your blender and puree until smooth.  Stir the puree back into the soup, and adjust the seasoning to taste.  Keep warm while you make your croutons.  (If you choose to include the optional melted margarine and smoked paprika, add that into the soup now.  Ms. Madison offered the suggestion as an alternative for those not wanting croutons, but I added it as well as the croutons to good effect.)

3.  I never buy packaged croutons any longer.  If there’s a lonely bagel in the house or the heel of a loaf of bread hanging about, it’ll get transformed posthaste to either crumbs or croutons.  They’re a doddle to make, they take minutes to knock out, and they beat the stuffing out of store-bought croutons in a blind taste test.  In a small bowl, combine the cubes of bread with the olive oil and seasonings.  Fire up the broiler or oven grill and spread the now-seasoned cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Grill them for a couple of minutes, until they start turning fragrant and golden. Remove from the oven, give them a shake to expose paler, ungrilled surfaces and stick them back in the oven. Repeat until the cubes are uniformly golden and crisp.  Don’t leave them unattended in the oven, however, as they can scorch very easily.

4.  To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, place a handful of the warm croutons atop, and lightly dust the surface with some of the extra paprika.

A Wild Waring Appears!

No, the title is not a misspelled reference to a Waring of the Marcus variety.  I’d be hesitant to describe Marcus Wareing as wild for that matter, as I’ve only ever seen him as the cool, calm professional – he’s like the Chef Whisperer! – in any of his appearances on the telly – including yesterday’s spot on the Beeb’s Breakfast program where he was plugging his new cookbook, Nutmeg and Custard.  Hmm.  Perhaps a future addition to the cookery bookery?  We shall see!  (He did make mention of a recipe for Pesto Popcorn which made me sit up and listen.  If only I could convince Him Indoors that there was a place in the world for savoury popcorn, other than, of course, the rubbish tip…)

The Waring in question was an unlooked for surprise in the post, from the ever lovely H.I., and it is truly a worthy heir and successor to the blender throne.  The Kenwood is dead, all hail the Waring!  Long live – PLEASE – the Waring!  And I swear I only lamented my blenderless kitchen once or twice since the untimely death of the former, with nary a whinge, wheedle or nag in between.  Apparently, H.I toyed with the idea of getting the Blender of Great Awesomeness but rejected it in the end, on the basis of its rather stern and austere appearance.  This, I feel, showed great restraint on his part as, given the opportunity, I know he would remake our kitchen into the likeness of a laboratory, all clean lines and antiseptic surfaces.  Oh, the travails and hardships untold which this poor man must endure  living cheek-by-jowl with a Daughter of Disorder and Chaos…

If  asked to describe this blender in a single sentence, I’d say that it was straightforward and no nonsense.   I would then disregard the single sentence criterion and continue blithely on with superfluous others!  There are two speed settings, high and low, powered by a simple, lever switch.  The accompanying instruction book was more of a pamphlet, providing a refreshing change from the instruction bibles one often receives with the simplest of electronica these days.  Bemused, I counted the pages.  There were six, to be exact, written in large text,  which is a strategy that any student facing a a next day deadline for a 20 page essay will recognise – double spacing and large font can help stretch a meagre paper to its minimum page requirement!  Short and succinct it may have been, but it didn’t need to be anything else; everything you need to know about this blender and its care and upkeep can be found on those six pages.  The new blender definitely feels smaller than the old Kenwood, not just in terms of footprint but in volume, but, since I’m not producing food on an industrial scale, I won’t count it as a strike against it.  In terms of appearance, its retro styling really appeals to the anachronist in me.  This is a blender that would have looked completely at ease on my mother’s and grandmothers’ countertops.

Waring Pro blender in black.

I was a bit leery about cleaning the appliance, as the blender’s jug is one, discrete piece and I’d grown used to the removable base on my dearly departed Kenwood.  In fact, the completely detachable base had been the Kenny’s selling point when we bought it all those years ago.  Now that I’ve had a chance to use and clean the Waring, though, I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised.  The solid jug means there are fewer parts to go wrong or puzzle pieces for me to lose.  It also means that there will be no more leaks at the base from poorly threaded o-rings.  Of course, this also means that I have to be extremely diligent about cleaning it promptly.  No more enjoying the fruits of my labour before tidying the kitchen or I might find my shiny new blender permanently encrusted with glue-like residue from blendings past!

For its inaugural blending, I went with an old ‘un but a good ‘un:  the easiest applesauce in the WORLD.  (NB!  This isn’t a review of something new per se, it’s more of a revelation!  A gift for you, your oven and blender alike!)   A tip of the hat to Marion Kane and the Toronto Star for this one – I wheel it out every autumn at the peak of apple season.  You’ve got to try this.  It’s dead simple – you don’t even have to peel your fruit.  Core them, yes, but that part’s a doddle.  Simply cook them in their skins and whizz them right up.  Once blended into silky smoothness, you’ll never know that the peel had been left on AND you’ll get an applesauce with a little extra colour and fibre.   Your colon will thank you.  You can serve it warm or cold with or without a dollop of thick cream, you can use it in place of oil to create lower fat versions of baked goods, or you can smear it on hot, buttered toast for an approximation of the divine apple butter that my father used to make.  I promise you’ll never buy a jar of insipid applesauce from the grocer ever again.

A mugful of applesauce.

Easiest Applesauce in the WORLD
Adapted from a recipe by Marion Kane, Toronto Star, year unknown.

Ingredients

6-8 apples, unpeeled, cored and sliced (I used a mixture of Worcester Pearmains and Bramleys, but this method lends itself to just about any sort of apple type pokemon.)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp brown sugar (more to taste – I just like mine a bit tart)
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional!)

Procedure

1.  Preheat the oven to 180F/350C/gas mark 4.

2.  In an oven proof dish with a cover, combine the 4 ingredients ensuring that they’re well blended.  Cover the dish and bake for 50 to 60 minutes.  The aroma of the baking apples will be glorious.

3.  Once baked and bubbling, allow the apples to cool before whizzing them up into a silky, smooth puree in your fully functional blender.

Taking the Pisum sativum.

Ahhh, peas.   We share a long and troubled history, peas and I.   They’ve never been one of my favourites.  “Wait a minute, Nin,” you may well interrupt.  “You stated a very short time ago that you loved the lentil.  You adored the legume.  This is irreconcilable and inconsistent information!”  Well, good folk, all I can say is that, in the data sample for “Nin’s Love of Legumes,” the peas are the filthy outliers and statistical anomalies hellbent on stymying analysis.

Aesthetically speaking, I have nothing but appreciation for the humble green pea.  As a child, I always thought that their pods were like butterfly chrysalises, and I loved to watch them grow gravid and expectant over the course of the summer.  Even now, I only have to pop the seam of a peapod, revealing the beautiful, emerald treasure nestled inside like a misplaced strand of pearls, to be transported back to my grandmother’s porch, where I’d help Gran shell peas from her garden.

Peas in a pod.

On the other end of the memory spectrum, my mother delights in telling and retelling the story of my ingenious method of dealing with those tricksy, little peas as an infant.  Obviously I couldn’t eat them as they tasted foul and, being diaper-clad and unable to walk, I didn’t have any pockets to secret them away for later disposal down the lav, so I had to use what tools I had available to me.  My method consisted of grinding the peas into paste between my fingers and then concealing the proto-styling gel in the “depths” of my inch-long hair.  Think  of those plastic troll baby dolls with the wide, staring eyes, slightly maniacal facial expression, and the wild tuft of straw-like, rainbow-hued hair, and you’ve pretty much got the picture.  Unfortunately, Mum has the picture in an album somewhere, too.

So, why do I continue to torture myself by trying recipes that contain the evil, green bean?  Well, for a handful of reasons, really.  Him Indoors likes them well enough, so I wouldn’t dream of depriving him.  I also know that they’re quite good for a body – nutritionally speaking, they pack quite a wallop.  On paper, it’s obvious why I should persevere in eating them despite my natural aversion.  The fruits of Pisum sativum are just such lovely foodstuffs that it’d be rude not to keep trying to find some way to get them down my neck.  I’m sure it has nothing to do with the tale of the eldritch, green children thought to be creatures of faerie when discovered lost and wandering near the village of Woolpit many years ago.  It was said that, as well as being green of skin, these poor waifs spoke a language that none could understand, and they would only eat beans and peas straight from the pod.  So, the sobering realisation that my dislike of peas might preclude me from tracing my lineage back to the fairies did in no way influence my decision to keep eating them.  Nope, nor did the thought that, if I ate enough of the little blighters, the fairyfolk might be more inclined to look favourably upon me cross my mind.  What rubbish!  What fantastical nonsense!  Who thinks like that in this day and age?

Moving swiftly on, I tried this recipe for Broad bean, Pea, Courgette and Feta Salad as one of my final tributes to the summer.  (It has the added benefit of providing yet another way to deal with those late season stragglers from your courgette/zucchini patch as well!)  Both myself and H.I. thought it was a keeper.  It was just a handful of ingredients, simple to throw together, and very tasty in a sweet and salty and tangy sort of fashion.  I would suggest, however, that one ought to save this salad strictly for summertime consumption when the tender ingredients, the peas, beans, and courgettes, are fresh and toothsome.  I’ve nothing against frozen fruit and vegetables, but, once frozen, they do lose a good deal in the way of texture, which would alter this salad considerably.

A bowl of Feta, Broad Bean and Pea Salad.

Broad bean, pea, courgette and feta salad
Adapted from a recipe from Ocado.

Ingredients

1 cup podded broad beans
1 cup peas, preferably fresh
1 tin butter beans (14 oz), drained and rinsed
2 courgettes, sliced thinly
1 tsp thyme

For the dressing:

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (2 for sauteeing the courgettes, 4 for the dressing)
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1/2 – 3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled or cubed
Method

1.  Cook the broad beans and peas in boiling, unsalted water for 2 – 3 minutes or until tender. (I cooked them separately, but the recipe advised to boil them up together.  Personal preference!)  Drain and refresh under running cold water to stop them from cooking.  Don’t forget to pop the broad beans out of their tough, fibrous jackets after boiling.

2.  Put the peas and broad beans into a large bowl.  Tip the drained and rinsed butter beans in with them and gently toss together.

3. Sautee the courgettes in 2 tbsp of the oil until they’re slightly wilted, not browned, and then tip them into the bean mixture.  Sprinkle with the thyme.

3. Whisk the remaining olive oil, white wine vinegar, dijon mustard and brown sugar together.  Season to your liking with salt and pepper and gently toss into the bean salad, along with the feta cheese.  Allow it chill for at least one hour.

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