Tag Archives: pimp your veg

Pimp Your Veg part 2: spices are your friend! 

 If you have ever read any of my blog then you know that I love spices; these beautifully coloured aromatic powders have the power to not only nourish and heal our bodies, but to completely change any meal. 

Just a teaspoon of the right spice can take a dish from bland to grand! 

When it comes to embracing vegetables and learning to add more of them to your meals, I think spices are your secret weapon. You can bring all the flavours you love to your plate via your vegetables and make them sing.

Likewise you can use dried herbs, but for me, it’s all about spices, that’s where I would begin…and again, I know that lots of you use spices regularly and know far more than me about them, so please pass this onto to anyone you think might find it useful 🙂

Please keep in mind, this is a starting point for anyone looking for ways to pimp their vegetables. And of course, spices can boost any dish, for now, it’s just all about the veg! 

So, where to start? If you stand in front of a selection of spices in any shop it can be overwhelming so this is my advice…

You don’t need to have a huge library of spices immediately; my vast collection has grown over a number of years, but to begin with, I only bought those I needed for particular recipes; as I am not talking about anything so prescriptive, I would start with spice mixes. You don’t need to make your own like I do, (not to begin with anyway, you might fancy trying that later?) for starters I’d look at what is available in your local shops. All I would say is, for me, shop bought spice mixes usually have too much salt, but that’s just me and my tastes, try some and see what you think. 

If you think of the flavours that you like, go with them:

If you like Indian flavours, buy spice mixes with names that you recognise – tandoori, korma, madras, rogan josh, tikka, garam masala (masala means mix). Think of dishes you’ve enjoyed and choose based on those flavours.

If you like Mexican or South American food, try taco/fajita mixes, or creole or cajun, or just smoked paprika. For me, a creole mix is really user friendly, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like it. 

If you like Middle Eastern flavours, try baharat, ras el hanout, za’atar or harissa. Or try some lovely citrusy sumac. As a note…many Middle Eastern flavours include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and/or cloves, what we might consider Christmassy spices in the UK. If you try baharat or ras el hanout you’ll find these flavours, and they can be quite strong so don’t be heavy handed with these spice mixes until you get to know them .

If you like spicy food, try some chilli powder. 

I would also pick up some cumin powder, it’s a lovely starting point, and some paprika, as it’s so useful.

Be drawn by flavours and names you recognise. 

Where to buy spices? 

You will find lots of spices mixes in supermarkets, but I would also suggest visiting an Asian or Middle Eastern supermarket if you have one nearby, their spices are good quality and they have a fast turnaround, or look online at www.spicekitchenuk.com – they have perfect sized little sachets for an ideal introduction to spices (definitely try their Mexican blend!) and their fresh spices are lovely. 

As a basic starting point for using spices, ignore the directions and recipes on the packets for now and go back to my post about roasting vegetables; once you’ve sprayed the vegetables with oil prior to roasting, sprinkle over a tablespoon of your spice mix and stir it through the vegetables then roast as before. 

Alternatively, in large bowl, add a tablespoon or two (depending on your quantity of vegetables) of olive or rapeseed oil, stir in your spices, then add the prepared vegetables and toss them in the oil and spice mixture. Then roast as before.  

I will come onto other ideas for marinating and seasoning vegetables, but for now, why not throw some spices over your vegetables this weekend and see what you think? Try it with vegetables you’ve never really liked and see how they become something wonderful – for example, try roasting brussel sprouts (outer leaves removed and each one cut in half) in one of the Indian spice mixes, they’re so good! Make sure you roast them until the edges get crispy 😉 

These pics from my kitchen might also give you some ideas…

Above are carrots roasted with cumin and Aleppo chilli flakes. If you’re not a chilli fan, just try carrots with cumin. 

Above are aubergine slices about to be roasted with chermoula spice mix over them. Alternatively try these with ras el hanout or Harissa spice. 

Above…I roasted courgettes and aubergines with a selection of spices…try any one of the Indian spice mixes and see what you think..

Above is kohlrabi, carrot, sweet potatoes and shallots roasted in my own Moroccan spice mix. Try it with cumin, paprika and a sprinkle of salt. Replace the kohlrabi with parsnip or swede (rutabaga) and see just how different they can taste.  Above is mushrooms, red onion, leeks and kale roasted with olive oil, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Try a good sprinkle of sumac as something different (for sumac I’d sprinkle over a couple of tablespoonfuls). I threw this together the other day with our dinner..mushrooms, red peppers, red onions and garlic cloves with paprika. Nice with a sprinkle of chilli powder? 

This butternut squash above it roasted with za’atar spice. Butternut squash and sweet potato are great with a Mexican spice mix, especially a creole or Cajun mix. If in doubt, just try a sprinkle of paprika or smoked paprika as a first step and see what you think. 

Basically, be brave! A little makes a lot of difference and you can build it up as you get more confident. If in doubt, just ask 😉 

I’m sharing my spiced vegetable ideas with everyone at Fiesta Friday this week – I hope they like them! Check out what everyone is cooking this weekend with co hosts Judi and Quinn.

Have fun! 

Coming next in the series: getting crunchy! 

Pimp Your Veg part 1 : roasting vegetables 

Thank you all so much for your positive responses to my new series, it’s so lovely to know that you are all with me 🙂

So, here we go…part 1: roasting vegetables

If you recall from my introduction post, the inspiration behind this series is a friend of mine who is on a weight loss journey and who needs some ideas for making vegetables interesting. For me, vegetables are THE most interesting food, but for some people, it’s a challenge to include more of these wonderful plant foods in their meals, so I’m hoping to provide him, and maybe you, with new ideas..

Starting with the wonderful world of roasted vegetables.   

For me, this is my favourite way to enjoy vegetables. If all you ever do is steam or boil vegetables, I fear that you may not find them sufficiently interesting for long, especially if you don’t have much love for vegetables in the first place. 

Roasting them not only celebrates their flavour but also adds some colour, crunch or caramelisation, sometimes all three. How wonderful 🙂 

This is not about having your lovely vegetables swimming in oil, actually, I think that too much oil spoils the produce. That’s why I use spray olive oil. And I mean a 100% olive oil in a spray bottle, not one of these ‘1 cal per spray’ offerings that are anything but 100% oil. And I don’t use a spray because I’m limiting my intake of oil, good fats are so important in your diet, I pile on the olive oil, coconut oil, rapeseed oil at will, but for roasting vegetables I think that a spray works best. A light mist of oil is all the vegetables need, like this cauliflower..

  

So, here’s my method…let’s start with the cauliflower, this is honestly the best way to eat cauliflower..

Heat your oven to 200C (mine is a fan assisted oven – try between 200C and 220C in a standard convection oven – experiment until you find your perfect temperature) 

Take your cauliflower and remove the outer green leaves

Chop the cauliflower (all or half of it, however much you want to cook) into florets and then cut some in half or quarters as necessary, aiming to get even sized pieces 

Spread in a single layer across a baking pan 

Spray with olive oil so that each floret has a couple of sprays on it

In the oven and roast for 45-50 minutes (depending on the size of your pieces) until you see nice browned crunchy edges

NOTE: After 20 minutes take the pan out and move the cauliflower around and spray with another light mist of oil,  then put back into the oven and leave it to roast 

And that’s it – really simple, just chuck it in and leave it basically! And it’s so good!!

  
And this works with all sorts of vegetables. All that might differ is the cooking time, you need to keep an eye on your pan to gauge the time required…this broccoli didn’t need as long…and the tops were so wonderfully crunchy..The spring onion below needed a lot less time, more like about 15 minutes, and again, so tasty! 

With the sweet potato and courgette you need longer, and hang it out as long as you can, vegetables really benefit from that extra 5-10 minutes to get a really nice finish. I don’t always bother to peel my sweet potato, I like the skins, so consider just giving your sweet potato a wash then chop it into even sizes to roast..

As you will see below, you really can roast everything. And yes, those are radishes in the photo below and they are brussel sprouts in the top photo..if you think you don’t like sprouts, try roasting them! Just remove any grubby outer leaves, cut them in half, spray with oil and roast, the crunchy edges it creates are so good. The radishes and sprouts probably only need 25-35 minutes roasting. 

People are often concerned with how much oil you need to cook aubergines, but with roasting, just the spray is enough..and look at the browned edges, so good! It’s all, so good!! I keep saying it because it’s true! 

   Something I typically roast is a mixture of peppers, red onion/shallots, garlic and often mushrooms too, these are favourites with my husband..and roasting shallots and red onion really brings out their natural sweetness. If you leave them long enough, the onions start to caramelise, which is just so good!!!! (And really scrape all of the baked on bits from the pan, they’re the best bits!!!) 

Peppers and onions have a high water content and are therefore less dense than some of the other vegetables above, consequently they only need 25-30 minutes in the oven. 

So..to roast your vegetables, follow the guidelines above but assess the time required based on the texture of your vegetables – practice makes perfect. 

I often roast several trays of vegetables at a time, we always have a choice of several on the table. Try all of your favourites but also something new; butternut squash is wonderful roasted, again, I leave the skin on; cauliflower is a household favourite; try swede and pumpkin; and carrots work beautifully…you’ll see more roasted vegetables as this series goes on.

And if you’ve got leftovers, they are great cold the next day, or whizzed into dips…but more about that later…;)

Coming up in the next post: the wonderful world of spices – adding flavour to your vegetables. 

I hope you like my roasting ideas, please do ask me if you have any questions, or add your ideas in the comments..

Introducing my new series: Pimp Your Veg

Welcome to my new series..a collection of posts celebrating my favourite food: 

The wonderful world of vegetables, great ways to cook and enjoy this earth given produce 🙂 

 I know that lots of you already do great things with vegetables, so these posts may not necessarily be aimed at you, although I hope that they may still bring you some new ideas and tips; what this series of posts might do is bring people to your mind that you know need some inspiration for including more vegetables in their lives, or would like new ideas for cooking vegetables, and in which case, please do pass the posts and ideas on. I have put together this series, coming up over the next few weeks, to produce food for thought where vegetables are concerned, and this is where the idea came from…

This series has been prompted by a friend of mine…he is on a weight loss journey and has already lost 4 stone (25 kg/56 lb), but still, he will admit himself, has a long way to go. He’s already achieved so much and I’m so proud of him, but I know that he is now stuck; he has been following a ‘diet plan’ which has brought him this far, but the food is not inspiring enough to keep him interested. And it is not teaching him about leading a healthy lifestyle in the future, it’s just showing him how to lose weight now, so I’m hoping that I might be able to inspire him to view how he eats differently and make good choices for his health in the long term. 

Starting with: making vegetables interesting..

If, like my friend, your experience of vegetables has only been what you’ve had with your childhood meals, ie, boiled peas, carrots, broccoli or cauliflower, and over cooked sprouts at Christmas, vegetables probably seem like a pretty dull, uninspiring concept. I’m here to tell you, there’s so much more to vegetables!!! And there’s so many more ways to eat them just just boiling or steaming. 

So, my aim, is to inspire anyone who’s interested, to fall in love with vegetables, to make them a star on your plate, not just the added extra because you think you should eat more veg! 

I plan to share methods for cooking vegetables, celebrate their flavours and add more, provide crunch or various other ways to celebrate these beauties…I hope you will join me and enjoy the posts.  

Please do also share your tips and recipes in the comments as the posts come out – I intend to share recipes of mine and lots of your too 🙂 

As a starting point, I would ask you to consider where you buy your vegetables. If you only ever buy vegetables from a supermarket, you are not experiencing vegetables at their best, and you’re probably paying more for them than I do. Vegetables in supermarkets may all be uniform in size and polished and shiny, but for me, they lack flavour and diversity, and completely miss any benefits of seasonality. 

 If you can visit any local markets, or get a veg box delivered, you will find ‘real’ vegetables, in gloriously uneven shapes, as nature intended, and sometimes even with some mud thrown in! Buying and eating vegetables based on the seasons in which they are grown in your country of residence will also ensure that you get the best flavour. Vegetables that are force grown to be available all year round or refrigerated for months on end, are not fresh, fabulous, local produce. 

If you have a market near you, or regular farmers markets, please do visit and check out their produce. Not only will you benefit, but you will also be supporting local farmers.

Like I said, all food for thought, so, for now, welcome to my new series, I hope you like the idea. And please do get involved 🙂 

Part 1 : coming up soon…get roasting!

I’m bringing my new series introduction to this week’s Fiesta Friday party and hope that lots of the party goers will join me and share their ideas as my series unfolds. Join this week’s co hosts Kaila and Jenny and check out everyone’s great dishes 🙂