Monday, May 23, 2011

Aiming to Please

Pasta and rice salads ARE more interesting than the usual 'greenstuff' , so today recipes are mainly these, and although they can be a 'side-dish' to mains, can also be eaten as a dish in their own right, and as a 'help yourself' (with other dishes) at a buffet.

The first recipe has both pasta AND vegetables, the idea being the dish looks like a plate of colourful spaghetti. For those who wish to cut out carbos, just preparing the vegetables in this way to to serve with 'spag bol meat sauce' might get 'veggie hater' youngsters tucking in ("if it looks like spaghetti then it must be spaghetti...").
Lemon dressed Vegetable Spaghetti: serves 4
10 oz (300g) spaghetti
8 oz (225g) celeriac
2 carrots
2 leeks
1 rib celery
1 each red and yellow bell pepper
pinch celery salt
1 tblsp lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tblsp lemon juice
4 tblsp low-fat natural yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
2 tblsp chopped fresh chives
Cook the spaghetti as per instructions on packet, then drain and keep warm.
Meanwhile, peel the celeriac and carrot and cut each into thin 'spaghetti-like' strips. Trim and rinse the leeks then cut these lengthways into similar thin strips, do the same with the celery. Trim and deseed the peppers, also cutting these into thin strips, then toss the lot with the celery salt and lemon juice, then into a sieve or colander over boiling water, cover and steam for 6 or so minutes or until just tender.
Mix together the dressing ingredients. When the pasta and veggies are ready, toss these together, tip onto a serving platter and pour over the dressing.

Next salad is based on grains - this time the couscous. The ;dry' couscous we buy from the supermarkets has usually been pre-cooked, and therefore only needs soaking for a short time. Check the packet to make sure.
One of the problems with couscous and bulgar wheat (both are very similar) is that they have little flavour (if any) of their own, so - depending on the dish - we can boost the flavours by soaking the grains in a good stock (such as chicken). However, this recipe may not need this as the other ingredients pack a fragrant punch.
To serve as a hot dish, add the prepared ingredients immediately to the hot couscous with a teaspoon of olive oil, then serve. To serve cold, follow the method below.
Coconut Couscous Salad: serves 4
12 oz (350g) couscous
6 oz (175g) no-soak apricots, thinly sliced
handful fresh chives, finely snipped
2 tblsp desiccated coconut
1 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste
1 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp orange juice
half tsp finely grated orange zest
1 tsp runny honey
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
2 tblsp finely chopped mint leaves
Measure the weighed couscous, then put into a bowl with the same measure of boiling water. Cover and leave to stand for 15 minutes. The grain should then have absorbed all the water. If not, pour into a sieve and press out surplus liquid. Fluff the couscous up with a fork, then leave to cool before stirring in the rest of the salad ingredients.
Meanwhile mix the dressing ingredients together, pour this over the bowl of couscous mix, and mix well until combined, then cover and leave in the fridge for at least an hour to allow flavours to develop before serving.

Next recipe uses rice. Also contains avocado that - although lovely - is not the cheapest of ingredients. But what the heck? With most salads we can chop and change many of the ingredients to suit what we have, although a little cookery experience helps us know what goes with what the best. Putting my little grey cells to work believe that chunks of banana would make a very good substitute for avocado. Where would you be without me?
One thing am not sure about. The (adapted) recipes give an amount of rice, then says 'cooked'. Does this mean dry rice to be cooked, or the cooked weight? Am assuming it is dry weight or there won't be enough to serve six otherwise. This is the problem with some recipes, they are not specific enough, or perhaps the authors think we should know enough to work things out for ourselves.
Summer Rice Salad: serves 6
1 avocado (or banana - see above)
juice of 1 small lemon
8 oz (225g) long-grain rice (pref brown rice), cooked
8 oz (225g) pineapple pieces (can be canned)
3 tblsp cashew nuts
5 - 6 spring onions, shredded
1 tblsp cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
half red bell pepper, deseeded and sliced
Dice the avocado (or banana) flesh, and pour over lemon juice to prevent it discolouring (save a tblsp of the juice), then mix with the cooked rice, pineapple, cashews and spring onions, then put into a serving bowl.
Blend together the reserved lemon juice, cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic and seasoning to taste, pour this over the rice salad, and sprinkle the top with the sliced red pepper.

Am tucking in here a recipe to make Scotch Eggs without using a meat covering, and although mashed potato and cheese works well enough, the recipe given is far more 'meaty' and has more flavour. Although no Worcestershire sauce is included in this , worth mentioning that as one of its ingredients is anchovies, not always suitable for those with vegetarian leanings (I tend to add W. sauce to all sorts of things).
Veggie coated Scotch Eggs: makes 3
4 oz (100g) mashed potato
1 small onion, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 oz (100g) Brazil (or other) nuts, ground down
1 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
1 tblsp tomato puree
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves finely chopped OR
...good pinch dried thyme
1 tsp Marmite
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 hard-boiled eggs
1 egg, beaten
4 oz (100g) fine dry breadcrumbs
oil for frying
Mix together the first nine ingredients (that's down as far as the eggs). If necessary add a little water or egg to help it bind together.
Coat the hardboiled eggs with this mixture, as evenly as possible, then dip each into the beaten egg, and then the crumbs (do this twice if you want a good crust), then fry in hot oil (pref deep fry or keep turning if shallow fryig) until golden brown.

Back to salads. Another rice one coming up. This is intended to be served hot, but will also eat well cold. A useful recipe in that it will freeze for up to three months.
Spiced Rice Salad: serves 6 -8 as a 'side'
1 large onion (pref red) finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tblsp olive oil
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tsp ground cumin (or cumin seeds)
good pinch chilli flakes or chilli powder
12 0z (300g) long-grain rice, pref Basmati
one and a bit pints (650ml) hot vegetable stock
1 x 4oog can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
zest of 1 lime (or lemon)
salt and pepper
2 tblsp chopped fresh coriander leaves (or mint)
Put the onion in a saucepan with the oil and butter and cook over low heat until tender, then stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute. Raise the heat to medium and add the cumin and chilli and continue stir-frying for 2 minutes before stirring in the rice. When all have been mixed well together, pour in the hot stock, bring to the boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to stand for five minutes BUT WITHOUT LIFTING THE LID. Test the rice and if it needs more cooking (Basmati cooks faster than ordinary long-grain), return to the heat for a few minutes, the stir in the drained beans, the citrus zest and seasoning to taste (and if not freezing - also the coriander) allow to heat through then serve. Can be eaten hot, warm or cold.
If wishing to freeze, omit coriander, cool completely and pack in plastic containers. Seal and freeze for up to three months. Defrost well, then stir in the coriander and serve cold.

Another useful grain is 'quinoa' (pronounced 'keen-wah'). Possibly one of the most nutritious grains we can eat, so worth keeping some in the larder. This dish also has avocado as an ingredient, but this time do NOT think that banana would make a good substitute. Another grey cell has just lit up and sweetcorn kernels are floating before my eyes as an alternative to the expensive 'alligator pear'.
Whenever possible always like to remove the white skins from the podded then cooked broad beans as this can be tough. Young beans don't need this - it is optional but worth it.
Quinoa and Broad Bean Salad with Avocado: serves 6
7 oz (200g) quinoa
1 lb (500g) broad beans (fresh or frozen)
1 large or 2 small lemons
2 small ripe avocados (see above)
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 oz (175g) radishes, sliced
handful watercress leaves
1 tblsp ground cumin
3 fl oz (75ml) olive oil
good pinch dried chilli flakes (or dash of Tabasco)
salt and pepper to taste
Put the quinoa in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 9 minutes, then drain well and rinse under cold running water. Set aside to dry off.
Bring another pan of water to the boil and add the broad beans, then as soon as the water returns to the boil, remove from heat and drain and rinse under cold water to prevent them cooking further. Set these aside to dry off, then remove the white skins.
Remove the peel and membranes from the lemons and - using a sharp knife - cut between the membranes to release the segments. Let these drop into a large bowl squeezing over the now empty membrane to extract the juice.
Remoe the avocados from their skins and slice or dice the flesh. Add to the bowl of lemon segments and spoon over the lemon juice. Add the quinoa, broad beans, garlic, radishes, watercress, cumin, oil and chilli, plus seasoning to taste. Toss gently (to avoid breaking the avocado. Serve as a dish in its own right, or with grilled (or barbecued) meats.

Final recipe today is for an Italian pasta salad and intended to be served hot, although as long as not allowed to get completely cold (otherwise the butter then 'sets' again and makes the - then cold - feel unpleasant in the mouth). If wishing to eat any pasta cold, never use butter, only olive oil and - in this instance - flavoured with the herbs.
'Primavera' is the Italian for 'springtime', and so the veggies used in this dish are seasonal to that time of year (remembering that the weather is warmer in Italy and we may have to wait a while before we can trot into the garden to harvest them - however, all are available in supermarkets most of the year round). As ever, we can use different vegetables according to what we have (fresh or frozen). Traditionally the veggies used are all very young (almost babies) to be cooked and served without being chopped, grated or harmed in any way (other than being trimmed and washed). Chantenay carrots are a good variety to use as they can be really tiny, and don't take much cooking to become tender. When growing our own courgettes we should pick these when no larger than a little finger, otherwise chop the carrots and courgettes into chunks.
If you can afford it, include the asparagus. If not, use another green vegetable such as string beans (same shape). As ever - when it comes to using up what we have, the pasta could be any kind.
Pasta Primavera: serves 4
3 oz (75g) butter, softened
1 good tsp each finely chopped parsley, mint and chives
7 0z (200g) carrots (see above)
7 oz (200g) courgettes
14 oz (400g) tagliatelle (aka thin noodles/spaghetti)
8 oz (225g) small asparagus spears (see above)
9 oz (250g) peas (fresh or frozen, loose or mange tout)
3 tblsp olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
Mix together the butter and herbs, then set aside. If the carrots are small, leave as - is. If large, cut into chunks. Same with courgettes .
Being by cooking the pasta as per packet instructions, meanwhile cooking the carrots in boiling water, then when JUST becoming tender, add the courgettes and asparagus and cook for a further two minutes before adding the peas, then cook for about 3 more minutes, by which time all the veggies should be tender - but still with a bit of a bite.
Drain the pasta and vegetables, making sure as much excess liquid is removed (pasta shapes often retain a lot of liquid in their curvy bits). Put the pasta back into its hot pan with the oil, half the butter, the lemon juice and zest and toss together.
In the other pan put the vegetables with the remaining butter and seasoning to taste.
Pile the pasta on to a warmed serving dish and top with the vegetables.