Tag Archives: mint

Mushroom and Lentil Cottage Pie

Mushroom and lentil cottage pie - half eaten!

We’ve had the Vegan round for tea again.

And it’s autumn. Time for comfort food. And mushrooms.

  • 500g mixed white and chestnut mushrooms
  • 20g dried porcini
  • one onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • a pinch of dried mint
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 250ml rioja
  • 1/2 tbsp plain flour
  • 400g tin of lentils
  • a small sprig of thyme
  • a bay leaf
  • some brandy
  • 1kg potatoes
  • 100ml almond milk
  • a knob of sunflower spread
  • 2 spring onions
  • fresh nutmeg
  • a few splashes of olive oil for frying

Soak the porcini in a pint of boiling water and leave to soak for at least an hour. Chop the spring onions finely and gently heat in the almond milk, then leave to infuse until needed.

Quarter the mushrooms and sauté briskly on a highish heat with a pinch of salt. You may need to do this is batches. When they’ve taken on some colour and are starting to squeak sprinkle with chopped rosemary, add a splash of brandy and tilt the pan to flambé. Let the mushrooms drain on kitchen paper. Next sauté the onions gently, adding the garlic and dried herbs  once the onions have softened. Add the tomato puree and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Return the mushrooms to the pan. Add the wine one glug at a time, allowing each to bubble away before adding the next. Sprinkle in the flour and combine well. Cook for a few minutes more then add the porcini soaking liquor. Chop the soaked porcini finely and tip them in. Add the bay leaf, ketchup, and the sprig of thyme tied up with string. Taste and season. Bring to a simmer and bubble gently for half an hour, until reduced and thickened. After 20 minutes add the lentils. If you have time allow this to cool – it’ll become firm and will be easier to top with your mash.

Boil the potatoes then mash, adding the strained, infused almond milk and sunflower spread. Season well with salt, pepper, and a good grating of nutmeg. Fish out the bay leaf and thyme sprig, and top the pie with the mash. This time I textured the top with the tines of a fork. Sometimes I’ll scallop it with the tip of a palette knife, like the one below. Finish in an oven at 190 degrees C for about half an hour, and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.

We ate this with Delia Smith’s caramelised fennel, and some peas, and vegan and carnivore diners alike requested seconds!

Cottage pie with scalloped top

PS – you could add some finely diced carrots and celery once you’ve softened the onions. I – mistakenly – thought our guest didn’t care for either. 

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Vegan Raita

cucumber

Old Friend: “I’m in town next weekend if you’re free.”

WFTTD: “Great, come to us and I’ll rustle up some supper.”

Old Friend: “OK thanks. By the way I’m vegan now. Bye!”

Er, WHAT…?!

Three decades ago as a student I entered into a shopping / cooking sharing arrangement with a vegan friend in my halls, and memories of my margarine and soy milk bechamel for a veggie lasagne haunt me still. I have not knowingly prepared a full on vegan repast since.

Still, the bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity, and all that.

And in this case opportunity took the form of a cauliflower curry – more on which later – and all the trimmings. Sharwood’s green label mango chutney [the best mango chutney money can buy IMHO] is mercifully free of any animal ingredients, and I found some poppadoms which were vegan, gluten free, GM free, in fact so free of anything it’s a wonder they existed at all. But cooling, creamy, cucumberful, yoghurty raita? Challenge Opportunity time!

Time, in fact, for tahini. Turns out this sesame seed paste is a vegan staple for producing creamy dressings and so forth when cream itself is considered beyond the pail. I’d say “who knew?”, but lots of you probably already do.

You will need

  • A cucumber
  • Half a red onion
  • The juice of half a lemon
  • A small handful of mint, and the same of dill
  • Tahini
  • Water

Finely chop the red onion and leave to sit in the lemon juice for half an hour or so. I spiralised my cucumber, because spiralising is the most zeitgeisty way of reducing a whole vegetable to smaller, more fork-friendly parts, and because I like playing with the spiralising thingy, but do feel free to just chop it into pieces of your desired size. Chop the herbs, add to the cucumber pieces, and tip in the onion and lemon juice. Mix well. Add the tahini a tablespoonful at a time, stirring to mix – I used about four tablespoons. The lemon juice will cause the tahini to thicken slightly, so add a splash of water here and there as you go until you achieve your preferred consistency. Season with salt to taste, and chill.

This worked so well that I’ll do it again, for vegans and omnivores alike. Until I meet a vegan who is sesame intolerant, when we’ll be looking at a whole new  set of opportunities.

With thanks to my good friend RJ for sharing his vegan know-how and advice.

Mint and Wild Garlic Sauce

Mint sauce with added wild garlic.

So this was a bit of a risk. The Shopkeeper is quite clear about his mint sauce requirements – finely chopped mint [plenty of], a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, vinegar. And some lamb to put it on. And that’s it.

That’s how it is, and how it was, and how it always shall be. [There’s a prize for anyone who can identify the film reference there.]

And then I thought, what about adding some chopped wild garlic to the mix? After all lamb and garlic have always been the best of friends. So the lamb committee was convened in an emergency session, eventually granting permission to proceed, whilst managing to maintain a decidedly dubious air.

But it worked! So give it a try if lamb’s your choice of roast this Easter.

PS – had some trouble getting a circular crop on the above photo as I made the pot too, and it’s not quite, er, circular!

Risotto of Peas, Mint and Paski Sir [with or without leftover lamb!]

Another risotto, but a traditionally made one this time – albeit with a less than traditional ingredient in the form of Paški Sir, of which more later. For a vegetarian version omit the lamb and use vegetable stock.

 Paski Sir, a Croatian ewe's milk cheese

Since my old friend Geoff first taught me to make a proper risotto in his tiny Battersea kitchen some twenty odd years ago I’ve always found it a really gratifying way to spend twenty odd minutes of my time. It does demand your 100% attention for a while but your efforts are repaid many-fold, and the constant, controlled stirring and the slow addition of stock have a meditative rhythm all of their own.

Paški Sir is a hard ewe’s milk cheese from Croatian island of Pag, and we think it’s quite a discovery. The cheese has the sweetness of sheep’s milk, hints of the herby meadows where the sheep graze, and gains further complexity by being rubbed with olive and ash before maturing. Last time I checked yellowwedge cheese was one of only two UK stockists but after its recent success at the World Cheese Awards [winning the Barber’s Trophy for Best New Cheese] I’m pretty sure that there will soon be plenty of others.

Use a good flavourful stock for this dish, perhaps reduce one you already have until further intensified. I had a bulb of roasted garlic to hand and added this to my stock for its sweetness and depth of flavour.

The leftover lamb is not essential, and if making a vegetarian version clearly you’ll want to leave it out, but I had some leftover shank from an earlier braise and the other ingredients – peas, garlic, mint for heaven’s sake – seemed to be crying out for it. And as I had hoped it worked well with the Paški Sir, but then ewe’s milk cheeses do have an almost incestuous affinity with lamb. If you don’t believe me trying following your next roast lamb dinner with a cheese board of Wigmore, Beenleigh Blue and Paški Sir [or Manchego if you can’t get hold of any]. If you are using it tear and / or chop the lamb into small slivers and nuggets. Be sure to do this and all the other prep before you start.

The shopkeeper has a deep seated aversion to re-heated lamb [I have not been able to cook proper shepherd’s pie at home for over 15 years!] and there was much grumbling and muttering about potential take-aways during the preparation, but in the end the entire bowlful disappeared without complaint. It may even have been enjoyed.

Easily feeds two, especially when one of them doesn’t want any in the first place

  • 175g risotto rice
  • 60g butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, or a couple of skinny ones, crushed
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1.5 tsps mint sauce
  • 200g frozen peas, defrosted
  • 750ml of good chicken or vegetable stock [see above]
  • 75ml vermouth or white wine
  • 120g leftover lamb [optional]
  • 120g Paški Sir, two thirds finely grated and one third coarsely grated or shaved into ribbons

Melt the butter and add the onions, some salt and about a teaspoonful of the mint, the rest of which will be added towards the end. Sauté over a low to medium heat for 10 minutes until softened, adding the garlic for the last two minutes. Meanwhile heat the stock in another pan and hold at a barely trembling simmer. Add the rice to the softened onions, stir well to coat with the buttery juices and give it minute or two more.

Turn up the heat under the risotto pan and add the vermouth. Stir constantly, around and in a figure of eight, exposing the hot base of the pan where the returning liquids will turn to steam and cook the rice. Once the liquid has all but disappeared add a ladleful of hot stock and repeat. Continue in this manner for around 15 minutes.

Test a grain or two of rice between your teeth, it should be almost cooked with a bit of crunch still at the core. If not continue as above, testing after each ladleful of stock has been absorbed. Now add the lamb, and a ladle or two more of stock. With the last addition of stock add the mint, parsley, peas, mint sauce and finely grated Paški Sir.

The risotto is ready when the rice is just al dente and the consistency is creamy and moist, usually after around twenty minutes. If necessary add a final dose of stock, turn off the heat and allow to rest, covered with a clean tea towel. Check the seasoning, you’ll want plenty of black pepper, top with the rest of the Paški Sir, and serve.

Peas and Mint

Salad of Banana Blossom

Banana Blossom Salad

If you plan to go shopping in the smaller local markets of Phnom Penh my two top tips are 1) do so with a local guide and 2) plan things such that you don’t go with a hangover. My one day Cambodian cooking course began with a nine o’clock tuk-tuk ride to Kandal Market and being accompanied by our teacher and chef Heng took care of number one. A thorough and comprehensive introduction to the bars of the Cambodian capital the previous evening however is why I am able, with some authority, to offer the second piece of advice.  Cambodian markets are lively, colourful, noisy places and there is no shortage of stimulation for all the senses. Most Cambodians will make daily visits as fridges are a rare luxury, but some of the sights and smells can prove something of a shock to an unsuspecting westerner who’s had one or two too many the night before. Fruit and vegetable stalls will be piled high with produce both familiar and not, with herbs like fresh caraway a real revelation, and shouldn’t overly challenge the constitution, unless of course you’re surrounded by a large quantity of ripe Durian on a hot sunny day.

Cambodian Market Stall - Vegetables

Venturing further into the narrow alleyways [and avoiding the motorbikes which people will ride down them] the atmosphere ripens amongst the stalls selling poultry, pork and fish – alive, dead, dried, or despatched to order – until you come across the highly prized ‘Cambodian cheese’, Prahok. Prahok is crushed, salted, fermented fish which is allowed to mature for up to three years. It is added to soups and sauces, or just eaten raw as a dip with vegetable crudités. It’s a rich, heady brew, and is your first real reason to avoid this trip whilst worse for wear.

Cambodian Market Stall

After the Prahok baskets of sulphurous charcoal aged eggs [similar to a Chinese century egg] will barely raise a nostril. My first visit though was rounded off by a visit to a frog stall. A steel tray held deep layers of frogs, all freshly skinned, beheaded and shining in the morning sun. It turns out that a recently skinned and decapitated frog doesn’t need any encouragement from Mr Volta to flex its muscles, and two of the beasts leapt out and onto the street and began hopping blindly about. A lady intent on her morning shop didn’t notice and stepped on one – the headless frog of course had precious little chance of seeing her coming. This is when you really wish you’d gone to bed early with a cup of tea the previous evening.

Cambodian Market Stall

Whatever else you stumble upon one thing you will find is banana blossoms in abundance. They resemble purplish brown elongated cabbages around 45cm in length. The tender creamy white inner layers are the edible parts, and as you strip away each layer to get to them you’ll find little proto-hands of bananas between each. The petals are rolled and thinly shredded, but discolour quickly so need to be immersed in water acidulated with lime juice as soon as they are cut. Whilst they’re slightly less abundant here they are by no means impossible to come by; my local Thai supermarket has them in stock ‘from time to time’ and recommends that if you see one you should buy it, but they also stock a tinned version which I had to buy but am yet to try. If you absolutely cannot track one down then use finely shredded hard white cabbage instead.

Flowers of the banana plant on a Cambodian market stall

You will need around half a large or one whole small petal layer per person.

Serves two

  • Banana Blossom
  • 2 tablespoons of roughly torn mixed herbs including mint, basil and coriander [Asian varieties if available]
  • A handful of torn spinach leaves
  • 1 large mild red chilli cut into thin strips
  • 1 tablespoon of roasted peanuts, slightly crushed
  • Juice of 1 lime added to a shallow bowl of cold water
  • 150g to 180g of poached chicken or any leftover poultry

For the dressing

  • 1 or 2 mild red chillies
  • 1 small birds eye chilli [optional]
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 3 cloves of garlic.
  • 1 shallot finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Cambodian fish sauce [or two thirds that amount of Thai Nam Pla]
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons water

The dressing can be made a few days beforehand and stored [covered] in the fridge. Chop the chilli finely and crush the garlic, then smash together a little with a mortar and pestle but do not reduce to a paste. Mix all the other ingredients and stir to dissolve the sugar, then add the chilli and garlic.

To make the salad roll the banana ‘petals’ into cylinders and slice finely across to produce strips about 1mm wide. Place these into the cold water with lime juice to prevent browning. Drain after five minutes. Tear the meat into thin strips with your fingers. Toss everything together in a bowl and add the dressing bit by bit until you are happy with the balance of flavours. It should be sprightly and fresh, lively with herbs and with a kick from the dressing.