Yasai itameru (stir fried tofu with mixed vegetables, rice noodles and a coconut & ginger broth)

Yasai itameru is a fresh and flavoursome soupy noodle dish with a kick. It’s bursting with the wonderful flavours of garlic, sweet coconut, zingy ginger, salty soy sauce and a wealth of interesting vegetables. And the tofu soaks up all of these delights as well as you’d expect.

This recipe is taken from the Wagamama cookbook; which is, without a doubt, my favourite ‘fast food restaurant’ in London – if it can be classed as that. I mean, the food comes out fast. And it’s always brilliant. Well, apart from that one time I was given chicken gyoza instead of vegetable gyoza. But they did make up for that, so I forgave them. If you’re not familiar; go there! They have them all over the UK! Find your nearest one here. And try the salmon teriyaki – so tasty.

I absolutely love Japanese food. I’d even go as far to say it’s my favourite cuisine. I was lucky enough to visit Japan in 2010 while a good friend of mine was out there teaching. We ate out every night for two weeks; it was amazing. We gorged ourselves on sushi, curries, noodles, ramen, okonomiyaki, salads and more. There was so much to try and all of it so tasty. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back. But luckily, there are a good few Japanese restaurants in London which won’t dent my bank balance so much.

I could go into more depth about my love of Japanese food, but instead I’ll move on to the meal in hand. I’ve adapted this recipe slightly, substituting some of the fresh spices for the dried stuff to save having to buy too many unusual ingredients.

It’s quite a multi-faceted meal to make as you’ve got 2-3 pans on the go at once, but it’s not too tricky. And the results are worth it.

Yasai itameru

Ingredients

For the stir fry:

  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp crushed chillies
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 generous handfuls beansprouts
  • 200g tofu, chopped into 3-4cm cubes (the recipe suggests firm tofu, but I used Cauldron – if you opt for this, make sure you drain out the water by putting it in a bowl and popping something heavy like a frying pan on top of it for 15 minutes or so)
  • 1 small red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 small sweet potato, peeled and thinly sliced lengthways
  • 5 spring onions, trimmed and cut lengthways
  • 150g rice noodles (I used vermicelli which I’d recommend)
  • 2 pak choi, with the bottoms cut off and halved lengthways
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar

For the coconut and ginger broth:

  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 250ml hot water
  • 100ml coconut milk
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp galangal paste
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 0.5 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 0.5 tsp salt

Preparation time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Serves 2 generous portions

Method

1. Make a start on the broth first. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a low heat for a few minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and galangal, being careful of the hot oil. Mix well and cook on a low heat for six minutes, until you can smell the mixture of aromas.

2. Add the hot water and bring to the boil, adding the salt and sugar.

3. Simmer for 20 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by half.

4. While the broth is simmering, half-fill a medium-sized saucepan with water and bring it to the boil.

5. And while the water is heating up, heat a wok over a medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the sunflower oil and swirl it around so it covers the surface of the wok. Add the crushed chillies and garlic and fry for 10 seconds, stirring.

6. Next, add the tofu and coat it in the garlic and chillies for another 10 seconds, then add the pak choi, red onion, spring onions, sweet potato and beansprouts and stir fry for 5-10 minutes, until the pak choi has started to reduce in size.

7. When the water in the saucepan is boiling, add the noodles and cook for two to three minutes. Drain and rinse them under cold running water, and set them aside.

8. Add the salt, sugar and soy sauce to the wok and stir fry for five minutes, or until all of the ingredients are cooked – making sure the sweet potato has softened, but still has a bit of bite.

9. Check on the broth. If it has reduced, add the coconut milk and stir well. Cook on a low heat for a couple of minutes. Add the noodles and stir into the broth, and heat through for five minutes.

10. Serve the noodles in shallow bowls topped with the stir fry. Add a lime wedge and some fresh coriander sprigs as a garnish if you fancy.

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Butternut squash boats stuffed with cous cous and feta

The sweet, soft roasted butternut squash and red pepper are juxtaposed by the sharp taste of the crumbly feta.  Combined with the filling and flavoursome cous cous, this dish makes for a healthy and hearty vegetarian dinner. 

This meal idea is based on a BBC Good Food recipe, substituting quinoa for cous cous. It’s not the speediest of dishes to prepare, as the butternut squash needs roasting for some time before being stuffed with the other ingredients, so it’d be best to make this on the weekend, or when you’re not strapped for time.

Stuffed butternut squash with grilled asparagus

Ingredients

  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 100g feta, cut into cubes
  • 1 100g packet of instant cous cous (I used Ainsley Harriott’s Sundried Tomato & Garlic flavour)
  • 8 asparagus spears, or another green vegetable of your choice.
  • 1 small carrot, grated
  • 1 red pepper, chopped into small squares
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Low fat cooking spray (some more olive oil will do if you don’t have any of this)

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Serves 2

Method

1. Turn the oven on to gas mark 6.

2. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthways, scoop out the seeds and score the flesh diagonally, both ways. Sprinkle the sage over both halves, pop them on a baking tray and drizzle over some olive oil. Place in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the flesh has softened.

3. Meanwhile, get the filling ready. Prepare the cous cous as per the packet’s instructions (usually pour into a bowl and pour boiling water over so it covers the grains, leaving some extra liquid to be soaked up. Stir well and leave for five minutes). When the grains have absorbed the water, fluff them up with a fork, and pour over the majority of the lemon juice, holding a little back, and drizzle over a little bit of olive oil. Mix the liquids in, so the cous cous remains fluffy and doesn’t dry out.

4. After 30 minutes, take the baking tray out of the oven and carefully place the chopped pepper at the side of the tray. Sprinkle half the rosemary over the pepper and pop back in the oven for 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, put the grill on to a medium to high heat. Chop off the bottom ends of the asparagus spears and place on a baking tray. Spray five or six times with the cooking spray, season and place under the grill for 10 minutes, or until nicely brown, turning them every now and again with some tongs or a fork.

6. When the squash and peppers are cooked, take them out of the oven. Tip the peppers into a bowl with the cous cous, spring onions, feta, carrot, and the remaining rosemary and lemon juice. Stir and season well.

7. Press the cous cous filling onto the squash with a metal spoon, and pile it as high as you can! I found that I had some filling leftover, and you could always serve this on the side so it doesn’t go to waste.

8. When you’re ready, put the squash back in the oven for 10 minutes, to allow the cous cous and the feta to begin to golden.

9. Take the asparagus out of the oven and serve neatly on the side of a large plate.

10. Take the squash out of the oven and place it carefully (so the cous cous doesn’t spill out all over the place) on the plate.

Courgette and cream tagliatelle

This simple rich and creamy pasta dish is super speedy to prepare, taking less than half an hour, and includes healthy green vegetables in the shapes of courgette and rocket.

On browsing the aisles at my local Lidl at the weekend, a pack of fresh egg tagliatelle shone out at me at a bargainous price of less than a pound and I couldn’t resist. And I had some double cream and parmesan left in the fridge from a dinner party at the weekend so decided to whip up this really simple and quick mid-week meal.

Understandably, after the indulgent Christmas break, lots of people are trying to be healthy in January, so for a lighter version, you could always substitute the cream for low fat creme fraiche. But you need the cheese. Don’t sacrifice the cheese.

Courgette and cream tagliatelle

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 tbsps double cream
  • 1 medium courgette, thinly sliced, longways
  • 250g fresh egg tagliatelle
  • Approximately 25g vegetarian parmesan or similar hard cheese (Sainsbury’s sell a decent veggie Italian hard cheese in their basics range)
  • 2 handfuls fresh rocket
  • Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Serves 2

Method

1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat and add the onion. Fry for five minutes until the slices begin to soften and then add the crushed garlic. Stir well for a couple of minutes, being careful that the garlic doesn’t brown.

2. Meanwhile, half-fill a medium sized saucepan with water and bring to the boil.

3. Add the courgette to the frying pan and fry for five minutes, stirring in well with the onion and garlic so it soaks up the flavours.

3. When the water is boiling, lower the tagliatelle into the saucepan and turn the heat down to simmer for three minutes.

4. Turn the heat down on the frying pan and add the double cream. Stir in well so it coats the courgette slices. Add half the cheese, a generous helping of black pepper and some salt.

5. Give the pasta a quick taste – it should have a little bit of bite – and drain, holding back a tablespoon or so of the water from the pan.

6. Tip the pasta and remaining water into the frying pan and stir thoroughly, seasoning further if you think it needs it.

7. Serve the tagliatelle in the middle of large plates with a handful of rocket on top, and decorate the outside of the plate with the remaining cheese.

As simple as that.

Matar paneer (curry with cheese and peas)

It’s a new year so let’s celebrate by eating paneer. Paneer is a firm, milky Indian cheese. It’s a really satisfying ingredient to use in vegetarian curries because of its robust texture and the way it squeaks when you chew it – similarly to the Cypriot halloumi. It’s an absolute treat.

I first tried saag paneer (curry with spinach and cheese) at a curry house, Akash, in Leicester at university back in 2006. They put on an incredibly bargainous student meal deal for £6 which included poppadums, onion bhajis, a curry, rice and naan, and a bowl of ice cream. It was ludicrous! But the food was surprisingly good, and I was amazed by this new discovery of cheese… in a curry. It added a new dimension to going for a curry as a vegetarian.

Traditional curry houses usually list paneer curries as side dishes to accompany meat, but they very much stand in their own right as the main event and staff don’t usually bat an eyelid if you ask for it as a main. More contemporary restaurants, like Tayabbs in Whitechapel, and Dishoom, who have a few restaurants across London, offer innovative and exciting paneer main dishes that are well worth a try.

I could talk more about my love of paneer, but instead, let’s focus on the matar paneer I made on New Year’s Day 2015. This recipe is taken from Rick Stein’s cookbook, Coast to Coast, inspired by his travels across the world. The curries in this book are a taster of his more recent, exclusively curry-based cookbook, India. I watched the TV series that accompanies this book as Stein travelled around India in search of the perfect curry. I could sit and listen to him all day: his passion for food and flavours is so inspiring. I’d recommend this book for meat eaters and veggies alike as it’s got such a diverse and unusual selection of curries.

As it was New Year’s Day and I’ve been ill, I’ve adapted Rick’s recipe slightly by substituting a couple of the fresh ingredients for supplies I had in the store cupboard.

This dish is really easy to make and only takes 30-40 minutes. The combination of pungent spices work wonderfully together and will be sure to get the tummies of your diners rumbling. And the vibrancy of the green peas, the red tomatoes and the golden paneer pieces make it very visually tempting.

Matar paneer

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 250g pack of paneer
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 0.5 tsp crushed chillies
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 0.5 tsp turmeric
  • 0.5 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 125g chopped tomatoes
  • 200g frozen peas
  • 0.75 tsp salt
  • A sprinkle of ground black pepper

Serves 3
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

Method

1. Chop the paneer into equally sized cubes, around 2-4cm, so they cook evenly.

2. Heat half of the sunflower oil in a large, shallow frying pan on a medium heat. Add the paneer and fry gently for 5-10 minutes, turning frequently, until lightly golden on all sides. Take them off the heat and place on kitchen roll on a plate.

3. On a low to medium heat, pour the remaining oil into the pan and add the onion and spices. Stir in well and fry gently for 5 minutes, or until the onion has softened.

4. Add the tomatoes, peas, salt and two tablespoons of water and simmer for five minutes.

5. Stir in the paneer and the black pepper, and cook gently for a further five minutes.

6. Season to taste and serve with basmati rice and mini poppadums (the ones from Marks and Spencer are tasty and only cost £1).

May your 2015 be as colourful and satisfying as this dish was to prepare and eat.