Category Archives: Vegetarian

Fresh Goat Cheese Spread/Dip with Chives

I’ve always loved fresh goat cheese, but it has really become my daily fare since I met a lovely young woman selling her organic goat cheese at my French farmers market. The taste has nothing to do with any shop-bought version (organic or not), the cheese freshest possible (produced the same morning) and the price is so low, I let her fill up a big tupperware and enjoy it almost every single day during the goat milking season, i.e. all year round apart from most of the winter (they became all pregnant – I know there must be a proper word for that in English too… – hence the halt in cheese production until baby goats are born).

Even though I had frozen big amounts of this cheese (the texture changes a bit but they still beat whatever one can find in shops), I ran out of them quite a long time ago and was very impatient to start buying it again. Coming back home the very first thing I did was devouring a whole one with a spoon, but just after that I made this delicious spread that makes me feel springtime is already here and reminds me of my childhood.

Actually, it’s an almost identical copy of the simple fresh cow cheese and chives spread I used to eat often as a child and which is very popular in Poland. In countries where goat cheese is expensive, this goat version would be a luxury, but luckily I live close to France where fresh goat cheese is extremely popular and obviously not expensive. The only personal twist I’ve added to my mum’s recipe is garlic, but chives remain the crucial element that makes this spread irresistible.

I usually have this spread on my favourite breakfast bread (this Finnish super thin “diet” one), not only in the morning but also as an afternoon snack. You can also serve it at a party, as a dip with nachos or raw vegetables and it’s delicious on dark/wholemeal bread canapés (if you like pumpernickel, you will love the combination).

If you don’t find fresh goat cheese (or if it’s expensive where you live or if you simply don’t like it), you can use fresh cow or ewe cheese (often called cottage cheese, but make sure it’s all natural).

Here are some other spreads you might like:

Baba Ghanouj/M'tabal (Aubergine Dip)

Baba Ghanouj/M’tabal (Aubergine Dip)

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

Tzatziki with Fennel

Tzatziki with Fennel

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

Taramosalata (Fish Roe Dip)

Taramosalata (Fish Roe Dip)

TIPS: While you can perfectly replace goat cheese with cow cheese (the taste is different, of course), I do not advise replacing chives with thick spring onions. They are too aggressive, too “oniony” and at the same time are not as aromatic as chives (I did try once and regretted my experiment). If you have access to the Japanese ao negi (slightly thicker than chives and less pungent), it will be a perfect replacement and you can use more of if, since it’s more delicate.

If you have a source of good quality fresh goat cheese, but it’s far away, buy it in big amounts and freeze it in well wrapped portions. Strangely the texture changes only a bit and the taste is practically the same. It becomes maybe less moist, but I still find it delicious mixed with yogurt and used as a spread. (My experiments in freezing cheese are sometimes surprising: I have always thought hard cheese freezes well, but I recently saw gruyère’s texture become horribly crumbly and dry, while the famous French blue cheese roquefort stayed in perfect shape… though I must say I always vacuum pack my cheese before freezing it, apart from the fresh one which is too soft).

Obviously, if you don’t like garlic, skip it. As I said, fresh cheese and chives are the key to the delightful flavours.

Yogurt is used here only to loosen the texture, so its amount depends on the texture of the cheese.

Preparation: 10 minutes

Ingredients (makes approximately a 250 ml jar of spread):

300 g of fresh goat cheese

125 ml natural yogurt (cow or goat milk yogurt will be ok), or more/less; see the TIPS above

6 heaped tablespoons chopped chives (or more)

1 big clove garlic

salt (to taste)

Combine the ingredients and refrigerate or eat it straight away.

This spread will keep for several days in the fridge.

Kidney Bean Curry Stew

This recipe comes from Meera Sodha’s Made in India, a collection of highly inspiring and surprisingly feasible home Indian recipes. An occasional Ugandan touch (due to the author’s family history) means I’m not sure where exactly this curry – called Junjaro – comes from, but it does taste and smell like an Indian dish to me. And a particularly delicious one too, which came as a slight surprise since it calls for quite simple ingredients, readily available in standard western supermarkets (at least in Switzerland). Actually, it proved so delicious and versatile, I have served it at least in several different forms in the past three weeks (see the TIPs below), each of them proving highly palatable. The above “stewy”, i.e. more liquid, version is my favourite. I love serving it in a bowl topped with an egg, feta cheese (yes!), baked chicken, mushrooms…

As usually, I have slightly changed the recipe (making this dish more “soupy” than advised or adding chilli powder, more garlic…), so check Meera Sodha’s book for the original recipe.

TIPS: You can serve this curry as a side dish in an Indian meal (with meat dish and rice/flat bread ,for example), but I strongly advise it a bit more liquid (as above) served in a bowl, topped with warm…. feta cheese (yes, this spicy dish goes perfectly with the famous Greek cheese!), fried/poached egg, fried ground meat, grilled bacon, leftover grilled meat, mushrooms…. You can also add even more water or tomato juice and treat it as a thick stew.

If you want to keep a typical thick curry texture, simply add less water.

This curry keeps in the fridge for several days, but you can also freeze it.

I strongly advise using dried beans and soaking them overnight. It makes a huuuuge difference in both the texture and the flavours (for example freshly cooked beans tend to absorb more flavours than the canned ones).

Preparation: about 1 hour (if the beans are already cooked or if using canned)

Ingredients (serves four to six, depending if you treat it as the base of the main course or a side-dish):

200 g dried kidney beans (or 400 g canned, drained)

1 cinnamon stick

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

4 big shallots (or two small onions), chopped

3 cm finely chopped fresh ginger, finely chopped

4 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric

2-3 fresh green chillies (or more!), sliced

2 teaspoons garam masala

3 tablespoons tomato paste

(100 ml canned or freshly chopped tomatoes)

oil (I have used here coconut oil)

(chilli powder)

If using dry beans, soak them in water overnight.

Drain and cook until soft (depending on the beans it might take even several hours).

If you use canned beans, drain them and rinse.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a big pan.

On low heat stir-fry the whole cinnamon stick and the cumin seeds until aromatic. (Make sure you don’t burn them).

Add the chopped onion or shallots and stir-fry until golden and soft.

Add the garlic, the ginger and the fresh chilli. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the turmeric, the garam masala, chilli powder, if using, and the tomato paste. Stir-fry for 30 seconds.

Finally, add the beans, 1/2 later water, salt and canned or freshly chopped tomatoes, if using.

Give the curry a good stir, cover and let it simmer at low heat for about one hour (if you use canned beans, it might take less time because canned beans sometimes fall easily into pieces).

Check every 15 minutes adding more water if necessary.

Serve with fresh coriander leaves.

Filo Rolls with Buckwheat (Groats) and Mushrooms

If you like Japanese soba noodles and don’t mind a typical coarse texture of certain grains, you might be tempted to test this combination of buckwheat and mushrooms in crisp thin layers of Greek filo rolls. I can only hope you will love the results as much as I did. If you have never tasted buckwheat, forget all the health benefits you have heard about (I know it puts some people off…) and see it as I do: just another delicious fuss-free carb, versatile enough to go with Greek pastry or spicy Korean meals.

I know many people put it in the same bag as quinoa or other recent wonder food discoveries, but in countries where buckwheat groats/grains have been eaten for generations (Ukraine or Poland, for example) it’s simply an alternative to rice, potatoes, pasta or bread. The traditional method is to toast the grains before selling them and I advise against the non-toasted version (see the TIPS below). In Poland it’s eaten mainly with meat or mushrooms (or both) in sauce, but sometimes also as a filling in dumplings; I guess there are also some regional dishes I’m not aware of. I grew up eating buckwheat quite regularly topped with meat in sauce and I’m pretty sure my mum never insisted on it as being healthy (the way she did with some vegetables…). This attitude made me appreciate buckwheat the way it is: beautifully nutty scented, strong-flavoured carb that nowadays reminds me at the same time of Polish and Japanese cuisines (a curious and rare coincidence!).

It might be seen as a step too far by some of my dear visitors, but I see buckwheat most of all as a nice change from rice in many Asian dishes. After many experiments I realised it’s more versatile than I thought! I find it perfect with spicy Korean dishes, such as bibimbap or the Chicken Simmered in Gochujang Sauce. It’s also delicious when replacing… rice in fried rice! Because of its nutty strong flavours, it pairs perfectly with mushrooms, such as in this Japanese-inspired eringi and teriyaki version.

When experimenting with buckwheat never forget a sauce (either served on top, aside or mixed into the dish) because buckwheat is very dry. I have served these rolls with the spicy Gochujang and Sour Cream/Yogurt sauce and it was just perfect:

Gochujang and Sour Cream Sauce

This Greek Yogurt with Caramelised Onion would be fantastic too:

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

or this Bulgarian cousin of tzatziki:

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

I have posted two other buckwheat recipes, both very easy, so in case you want to explore other options…

Eringi and Buckwheat Groats

Fried Buckwheat Groats

TIPS: If you have never had buckwheat, make sure you buy a toasted version (the colour is medium to dark brown, while the non-toasted is light greenish), which is the traditional one and which has these unique wonderful nutty flavours. The non-toasted one is bland, softer and, just like many people who grew up with toasted buckwheat, I hated the non-toasted form when discovered accidentally in a health food aisle in Switzerland.

Cooking buckwheat is not difficult, but follow the below instructions because it quickly becomes mushy and inedible. The result should be dry and crunchy.

Do not omit fresh parsley! It suits perfectly the mushroom and buckwheat mixture.

Make sure you have another sheet or two of filo pastry just in case… The mushrooms might lose more or less water and you might want to put more or less filling in each roll.

If, on the other hand, you have leftover filling, you can add some vegetables, even some meat leftovers, and prepare it like stir-fried rice, adding some soy sauce, putting a poached or fried egg on top…

The soy sauce is not obligatory. You can add some more salt to taste or nothing.

Preparation: about 1h30

Ingredients (serves two if eaten with a salad as a main course):

6 – 7 sheets of filo pastry (make sure you have one or two more, just in case you have more filling to use up)

250 g (about 1/2 lb) button mushrooms 

200 ml (about 6.8 oz) uncooked toasted buckwheat groats + 1/2 teaspoon salt

6 big European shallots (or 2 medium onions)

6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or 3 tablespoons normal soy sauce (I use Japanese soy sauce, but if you use Chinese, choose the light coloured one)

a handful of chopped fresh parsley

ground pepper

thick creamy sauce (such as the above gochujang sauce)

oil for stir-frying and for brushing the rolls (you can use melted butter to brush the rolls)

Put the buckwheat groats into a cup.

Measure the double of the buckwheat’s volume in water.

Pour the water into a pan. Bring it to a boil, add the salt.

Throw the buckwheat into the pan and let it cook partially covered at medium heat for about ten minutes.

Lower the heat and let it simmer, fully covered, for about 5 more minutes.

The water should be completely absorbed by the grains. If it’s not absorbed yet, put the pan aside, leaving the cover on and it will get absorbed without cooking too.

As soon as it’s absorbed, don’t uncover the pan and put it aside keeping it warm, for example wrapped in a blanket, though in this dish you use the buckwheat cold, so simply don’t lift the cover and prepare the rest of the filling.

Chop the shallots and the mushrooms.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan and stir fry the shallots at medium heat.

Put the shallots into a big bowl.

Stir-fry the mushrooms in another tablespoon of oil until they start losing volume, season them with salt and add to the shallots.

Finally add the buckwheat groats, the soy sauce and the chopped parsley.

Season with freshly ground pepper and combine all the filling ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Spread one filo sheet on a big chopping board.

Place horizontally, about 2,5 cm/1 in. from the filo sheet’s shorter edge which is closest to you, a portion of the filling (5-6 heaped tablespoons per sheet).

Roll tightly but delicately, starting from the edge which is closest to you, folding the two lateral edges into the roll, so that the filling doesn’t leak during the baking process (I have folded here about 3 cm/about 1,2 inch on each side).

Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.

(You can also cut the filo sheets in two and make smaller rolls; this is what I did obtaining the tiny size of rolls you see above).

Brush the top of the rolls with some oil or melted butter, place on a baking tray or baking paper and bake in the oven until slightly golden (about 30 minutes in mine). Watch them often as they tend to burn quite quickly.

Since the filling is dry, make sure you don’t forget a sauce!

Indian Chilli Pickles

indian_pickledchillipI you didn’t expect to see a pickling post in January, believe me, I’m as surprised as you are, but sometimes cravings make one forget about the seasonality of fresh produce. After my French cuisine-inspired Christmas and New Year’s Eve I’ve been craving fiery, spicy, rich Indian food more than ever, hence probably this pickling idea. As a chilli addict and a serial pickler I have my pantry, fridge and kitchen filled with different spicy jars. I’ve been pickling for years, constantly searching for new ideas from all around the world…. so finally I thought it was time to turn to Indian cuisine I love more and more every year. My first experiment was so successful, I can only regret I haven’t tried making any Indian preserves before and I strongly recommend trying these not only to Indian food lovers but all my fellow chilli addicts.

I have combined two sources, one from the fantastic book by Meera Sodha’s (Fresh India) and another from the newly discovered Healthy Veg Recipes website (in English and Hindi), the latter recipe being much richer in spices and closer to what I had in mind thinking of Indian pickled chilli. If you know Patak’s, the famous British brand of Indian pickles, and if you love their products as much as I do (my favourite are chilli and mango pickles), you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover my very first homemamde Indian pickles had this distinctive Patak’s aroma I’m totally addicted to! Moreover, they seemed crunchier and less oily than the famous jars’ content. Needless to say, I feel it’s only the beginning of my long adventure with Indian pickling…

These chillies are perfect on sandwiches, in tortilla rolls, in scrambled eggs (!!!) and simply served with any dish, not necessarily Indian. My favourite light breakfast (I’m rarely hungry in them morning) is now a slice of crisp thin bread (Finncrisp is the best!) with a thick layer of goat cheese or quark/curd cheese and two or three slices of these pickles. I have no words to describe how fantastic it is!

TIPS: In theory fresh chilli is not now in season in this part of the world, but the one sold by my supermarket comes from Moroccan greenhouses, smells great and apparently is perfect for pickles even in the middle of winter.

I’ve checked on many online sources and I saw that Indian dried spices are available practically all around the world, so try not to skip any of the below ingredients (such as asafoetida, which cannot be substituted and it adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to these pickles and make them really special). Mustard oil is also very good here.

The below spice amounts can be changed to your taste, but be careful with fenugreek. It’s easy to overdose and thus make the whole jar of pickles bitter (I’ve had this awful experience once with a curry dish).  Asafoetida is quite strong, but it’s not as dangerous as fenugreek (in my opinion).

You will find all the spices and the mustard oil in Indian/Sri Lankan grocery shops. Mustard oil does make a huge difference in taste…

You can also use raw red chilli, but Indian sources suggest green raw chilli is the best for pickling. Obviously adapt the heat level to your taste and capacity to eat fiery food. In general, I’d recommend medium hot chillies (but this is a rather personal concept).

The chilli pieces must be submerged in the pickling liquid, so once you mix everything, you must put something heavy on top. A Japanese pickling jar with a weight will be perfect, but you can also use a bigger jar for pickling and a small clean jar filled with water as a weight. Afterwards you should put a lid on the jar or cover with plastic film, so that no unwanted bacteria gets inside.

Special equipment: disposable gloves

Preparation: 15 minutes + minimum 3 days

Ingredients:

250 g (about 1/2 lb) fresh green chillies without stalks

50 ml mustard oil

6 teaspoons salt

juice from 1 lime (or 1/2 lemon)

3 heaped teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons vinegar (I’ve used cider vinegar)

2 tablespoons white/yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1/3 teaspoon asafoetida powder

Grind all the spices in a spice grinder or in a cheap coffee grinder (I have one I bought only for spices, see TIPS above).

Put on disposable gloves. Slice the chillies or cut them into bite-sized pieces. (Remove the seeds and white parts if you want less heat).

Place the chilli pieces tightly in a glass jar or any other container (a Japanese pickling jar, such as this one is a fantastic gadget here).

Add the spices.

Heat the oil (but don’t boil it) and pour it over the chillies.

Add the lime juice, the vinegar, the salt and give it a good stir.

Put something heavy weight on top (if you have a Japanese pickling jar you have a special heavy “cover”), made of ceramic or glass (a small jar filled with water will be ok), so that the chillies are all submerged in the oily mixture.

Cover well with plastic wrap or a cover, so that no bacteria gets inside, and leave at room temperature for two-three days. Stir the content once a day with a clean fork or spoon.

The chillies will soften, their volume will be reduced and their colour will change to an olive hue; then they will be ready to eat.

Store the pickles tightly closed in the fridge and whenever you fish some pieces out, make sure you use a clean fork or spoon (i.e. not used on any other food product).

Indian Aubergine with Sesame, Tamarind and an Egg

indian_sesame_aubIn which part of the world do you look for inspiration when looking for new aubergine recipes? For me India is a definite number one (Japanese cuisine comes in second position), so whenever in search for new aubergine ideas, I usually start with this part of my culinary library, especially if I have a new cookery book to play with! The recipe I chose contains a generous amount of sesame seeds, not what I’d expect in an Indian dish. Moreover, the presence of tamarind announced a slightly tangy dish… The result is fantastic, but the sesame seeds transform the other – less surprising – ingredients to the point where, I must admit, I’d never guess the origins of this dish. As a lazy cook, I simply topped it with a poached egg and had it with bread, transforming it into a delicious, creamy full one-bowl meal. The dish was memorable because it was the first time – I think – I had an excuse to sprinkle an Indian dish with my beloved roasted sesame seeds!

The new book I’ve mentioned above is Fresh India, a second recipes collection by Meera Sodha. I love her Made in India, but I hesitated a lot before buying this one because it is vegetarian. I am an avowed pisci- and carnivore, so I was worried it might even be vegan… but when I saw eggs are also featured here (luckily there’s Amazon’s “look inside” option), I was relieved. The pages are of course filled with meatless dishes (but I already visualise those topped with an egg, enriched with sliced chicken breast or shrimp…) and, most of all there are some mushroom and egg-including recipes that don’t need any other proteins, even for me.

This aubergine dish comes from Anhdra Pradesh, apparently known for a combination of tangy and fiery flavours. As usually, apart from the addition of an egg, I have transformed the recipe, for example replacing half of the sesame seeds with white sesame paste (I was afraid my blender wouldn’t transform the sesame into a smooth paste and I was right : the result was creamy with some tiny bits of sesame seeds). In short, whether you are a vegetarian or just an Indian cuisine fan, I encourage you to buy the wonderful Fresh India and check the original recipe for this delicious aubergine dish.

TIPS: Don’t skin your tomatoes. It’s absolutely unnecessary and mixed skins add more flavours anyway.

If you find poaching difficult, you can fry the egg too.

If you don’t own a “magical” Indian blender and aren’t sure if yours will crush sesame seeds to fine powder, add half sesame seeds and half sesame seed paste or grind the seeds in a spice/coffee grinder. By the way, if you cook Indian from time to time, I strongly recommend buying a cheap coffee grinder you shouldn’t use for coffee (cheap ones have blades and not burrs and cuts coffee instead of properly grinding it). It’s perfect for freshly ground spices and the difference is huuuge!

The recipe suggests serving this dish with cracked wheat and yogurt. I haven’t tested either, but,  maybe because of the poached egg, the dish was great simply served with bread.

I suggest warming up your individual bowls in the oven (at the lowest temperature; don’t go above 50°C if they aren’t heatproof) before serving this dish. It might take some time before fried/poached eggs are ready and this way your aubergine dish will keep warm for longer.

Preparation: 1h – 1h30

Ingredients (serves 3 as a side dish or 2 as a main course  with a poached egg):

2 medium aubergines/eggplants, cut into 3 cm thick sticks

1 medium onion (I have used two big shallots)

fresh mint or coriander leaves (or chives/green onion)

1 tablespoon oil (I have used coconut fat)

(toasted white sesame seeds)

(yogurt)

Sauce:

2 medium tomatoes (or 1/3 small can of tomatoes)

2 heaped teaspoons white sesame seeds or 1 heaped teaspoon white sesame seeds + 1 heaped teaspoon white sesame paste (see the TIPS)

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons tamarind paste (or 2 tablespoons tamarind “juice” made from a block of tamarind and hot water)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

3 teaspoons medium hot chilli powder (I have used here Kashmiri chilli)

Place the sauce ingredients in a blender and mix well.

Heat the oil in a pan, add the sliced shallots and stir-fry until light brown.

Add the sauce and, when it’s warmed, the aubergine pieces and about 1/2 glass of water (they will absorb water, so the sauce must be more liquid).

Simmer, covered until the aubergine pieces are soft.

Add water if necessary.

Heat the water for poached eggs.

Divide the aubergine dish into individual bowls.

Poach 3 eggs, one by one, and place on top.

Sprinkle with chopped mint and, if you like, toasted sesame seeds.