Burnt courgette veggie chilli and all the fixings

Meat Free Monday. An initiative started up to encourage eating a vegetarian meal altogether as a family just one day per week, to improve your health as well as the health of the environment. Also there’s One Part Plant, started up by Jessica Murnane, with the idea to eat one plant based meal per day. Some use it as a chance for a healthy meal full of vegetables, others to reduce the impact of meat production on the environment. By vegetarian I’m talking vegetables, grains, legumes, a bit of dairy or eggs perhaps (I do love me a bit of cheese), but definitely not Quorn fish fingers and chips. Please can a vegetarian explain to me why you would want to eat something which resembles the taste and texture of a fish finger when you choose not to eat the real thing? I just don’t get it.

Now for many, a vegetarian meal completely devoid of meat, fish and sometimes eggs and dairy too if it’s vegan, well that’s not a meal. I’m from the North of England. The home of meat and two veg, bread and dripping, Lancashire hotpot and the legendary Pie Barm (google Wigan Kebab). If it contains, meat, potatoes and pastry, it’s probably Northern and the food that we were brought up on. It’s cold up here, we need the stodge to keep the warmth in our bones.

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The struggle here has to be the Dads. Happy with steak and chips every night I’m sure, the meal that always fits the bill, but not necessarily a happy one on the purse strings. A veggie meal for Meat Free Monday which isn’t too funky, not too many greens and no weird unpronounceable components like quinoa or edamame or tzatziki, that’s what we’re after. I always opt for a veggie chilli full of different beans, lentils and veggies for that texture and a lack of meat means we need to up the flavour for some oomph! Of course whenever the pan is set down at the table for dinner my dad has to ask ‘does this contain any meat’, well no it doesn’t. Nevertheless we all really enjoy it, and as soon as he has dug in the lack of beef isn’t mentioned again.

Chilli Con Carne is one of those meals I remember fondly from my childhood. Something which is quick and easy for busy families and makes everyone happy. One made from minced beef and tomatoes (basically Spag Bol minus the herbs with added spices and chilli) and a tin of kidney beans thrown in the mix. Probably the only meal we used to eat that contained beans or legumes (the chickpea was alien to me) and the beans I then picked out and left sucked of their chilli juices on the side of the plate. Oh how things have changed. Spooned on top of white rice and a side of garlic bread it was a regular on the meal rotation.

Perhaps traditional in the UK, but not so much a traditional recipe. Hailing from Mexico the Chilli Con Carne is a far cry away from what we are used to. Chunks of beef, like cheek, brisket or shin slowly simmered in a deeply rich sauce, no minced beef here, and technically kidney beans shouldn’t be seen either. A melange of spices, paprika and different chillies all balanced to give layers of smoky-sweet flavour which is finished off with some dark chocolate (it makes all the difference). Cooked up in one pot, cowboy style, that’s how a chilli should be.

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Well and truly burnt

For those Meat Free Mondays we want a veggie chilli which isn’t just a substitute or a side, but it’s even better than the real thing. So good that the vegetarians have to fight to get their fill before the carnivores tuck in. That’s when you know it’s good. Vegetarian food is no more difficult than cooking meat it just requires extra spices and flavouring tricks to pack in that flavour. Different pulses, grains and vegetables are used to provide varying texture and interest so every mouthful is different.

I like to serve this veggie chilli over a jacket or baked sweet potato, but brown or white rice, quinoa, cauliflower rice, in a wrap or just in a deep bowl with tortillas to scoop up the juices. All will suffice here. The toppings are a necessity. Whether you go basic with some guacamole or all out with sour cream, coriander, lime to squeeze, feta or grated cheddar cheese, tortilla chips, pickled jalapenos, chilli sauce (Cholula Hot Sauce always is a winner), spiced up salsa and some sauerkraut. This is the pot that will suit all, just make sure to fill the table so everyone can DIY.

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This recipe I found in the January edition of Good Food magazine, from Izy Hossack (of Top with Cinnamon). It was a recipe for a burnt aubergine veggie chilli, and, not like me at all, we didn’t have any aubergines in and I couldn’t be bothered to walk down to the shops in the rain to get some. So courgettes had to do. If you’re familiar with making Baba Ghanoush, the courgettes need to be charred under a grill or directly on your gas ring until blackened and starting to collapse. The skins are then peeled away to leave a silky smooth interior with some smokiness that is to be folded through the chilli. If you’d prefer, here is the original recipe using the aubergines, but at this time of year I’m sure you avid gardeners are growing courgettes out of your ears. So for a respite from courgette chutney and fritters, add this into your courgette cooking repertoire.

Below are also the recipes for the sweetcorn and tomato salsa and guacamole with which I served the chilli. Super simple and quick and only require a few extra ingredients. But it’s the extras that make this dish shine!!

Burnt courgette veggie chilli

Ingredients

  • 2 courgettes
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 1 stick celery, finely diced
  • 30g red lentils, rinsed until the water runs clear
  • 1 tin kidney beans
  • 1 tin black beans
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce/tamari
  • 1 heaped tsp chipotle paste
  • 1 tin plum tomatoes
  • 20g dark chocolate (70% plus, the darker the better)
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (or more/less to taste)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 heaped tsp vegetable stock powder (I use Bouillon)
  • 400ml water

Directions

  1. Turn your grill up to high and place the courgettes under for around 30 mins to 45 mins, turning occasionally until well blackened and charred all over. If you have a gas hob place the courgettes directly on the ring and char until completely blackened. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan then add the onion, carrots and celery and cook gently for around 20 minutes until softened. Stir often to make sure they don’t burn.
  3. Go back to the courgettes and peel away the burnt skin to reveal the soft inner flesh. Throw away all the burnt bits, making sure to scrape every little bit of the insides away and set aside.
  4. Once the carrots, celery and onions have softened add the red lentils and the two tins of beans along with the water in the cans. Add in the courgette flesh, soy sauce, tinned tomatoes, chipotle paste, all the herbs and spices, chocolate, vegetable stock and 400 ml of water. Stir everything together, bring to the boil, then turn down to a very low simmer.
  5. Put the lid on ajar, and leave to cook for 1 1/2 hrs, stirring very often, as it thickens it will stick to the bottom. If it starts to look a bit thick add a bit more water.
  6. After the time, take off the lid and check the consistency, if it seems a little thin leave to reduce for another 15 minutes or so longer. You want a thick sauce.
  7. Check the seasoning, adding more salt or chilli if you think necessary, then squeeze in the juice of half a lime, sprinkle with some coriander and take to the table to serve.

Sweetcorn and tomato salsa

Ingredients

  • 1 tin sweetcorn
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • Handful of coriander leaves and stalks
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 green chilli, deseeded

Directions

  1. Drain the sweetcorn and put into a bowl.
  2. Finely dice the tomatoes, slice the coriander leaves and stalks finely along with the deseeded chilli and add all to the sweetcorn.
  3. Squeeze in the juice of some lime, a big pinch of salt and pepper then taste for seasoning. Add more chilli, lime or salt if you like and serve spooned on top of the veggie chilli.

Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 lime

Directions

  1. Slice the avocados in half and scoop out the flesh into a bowl.
  2. Add the juice of the lime and a large pinch of salt and mash well with a fork. Leave chunkier if you like or mash until smooth and creamy if that’s what you prefer. Taste for seasoning.

 

Let me know what you think if you cook this recipe. It doesn’t have to be on a Monday either, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, any day it will be good. And the leftovers even better. If you’re making this for a solo dinner or two people, make the full amount. Eat leftovers for dinner or lunch later in the week or freeze for a rainy day.

Snuggly warming hugs

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Sweet potato falafel and not your average tzatziki

So it’s Friday night. Every week for me, that means catching the train from Euston back to Manchester. Ma HOME TOWNNNN. I really do hate the trip though. Just thinking of staring at the departures board, waiting for the platform to flash onto the screen, it makes my tummy knot. Is it really necessary to sprint to the train, even when you have an allocated seat? I don’t believe so.

I could rant on and on about the trains. Ridiculously expensive, always overboked, the last off peak train of the afternoon at 3pm (who even finishes work early enough to be able to catch that), and trying to eat my dinner with someone elses bum in my face. No its not that fun at all.

Anyway, talking of dinner. That’s the one thing that gets me through the journey. Why hello Leon. A London based chain of fast food restaurants. But most definitely not your typical fast food joint, no greasy burgers and soggy chips here. Created by Henry Dimbleby, wanting to provide the hungry london hoards with healthy and nutritious food, but quickly. Not a big ask at all.

Expect warming tagines, meatballs, curries, or a fish finger wrap, a superfood salad, even oven baked waffle fries, Leon provides something for everyone at an affordable price. Sick of Pret and Itsu? Then head on over to Leon for a change, you won’t be disappointed. They cater for all diets: vegetarian, pescetarian, meat eater, even some for vegans. If you like what you see and eat grab one of their cookbooks to recreate the recipes in your own kitchen.

And onto the reason we’re all here. Sweet potato falafel. I’m not usually one to eat the same thing over and over. I always like to try something new, that way I can exerience as much as possible. However that has backfired on me many times. Anyone ever get super hangry, can’t make up your mind about two things and ALWAYS choose the wrong one? Done it! All too often.

The stress from catching the train for me is enough, I like to know that I will at least enjoy my food. So from now on, I’m sticking to what I know is good. Sweet potato falafel salad. It casues a lot of confusion as its not techcincally on the menu but hey, I do try to be special and awkward.

Spinach, broccoli, tomatoes and quinoa topped with, baked not fried, sweet potato falafel, roast peppers and aioli. NEW DISCOVERY: ask for the chilli sauce and slather that on aswell, you will never turn back.

I am a huge falafel fan. If its on a menu it will most definitely end up in my belly. After trying it at The Good Life Eatery, Leon and also at the Mae Deli I’ve been on a mission to recreate some just as good, if not better. And there have been many attemtpts. Nothing has been a failure, but ya know, just not right. Either, too dry so it needs to be somethered in sauce (tahini FYI, it heals all things bad in the world), or too dense, or not enough flavour. Give me the issue, i’ve had it, eaten it, but not been completely satisfied.

So on this lovley sunny bank holiday Monday, instead of enjoying the sunshine I of course spent it in the kitchen. When you bake falafel, of course its not going to be the same crispyness that you achieve from deep frying but we don’t want those oxidised fats anyway. The sweet potato keeps them soft, so no dry and crumbly disappointments. Packed with spices and herbs and some sundried tomatoes to give that deep umami flavour that turns anything from meh, to MEGA!


Sundried tomato sweet potato falafel

Eat hot from the oven, or leave to cool slightly. I prefer them this way, or even cold from the fridge, we all know how I love to eat cold leftovers. Top a salad and some grains with a few of the falafel, wrap up in some nori, lettuce, perhaps socca or nibble as is for a snack when those 4pm munchies arrive. Full of protein from the beans and carbohydrates from the sweet poatatoes they’re a well balanced little ball of goodness. need i say more?

Ingredients

  • 2 small sweet potatoes baked until soft in the oven or microwave
  • Big handful coriander
  • Big handful parsley
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 8 sundried tomatoes
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cumin
  • 1 heaped tsp groundcoriander 
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 lemon zested 
  • 1 tin white beans (I used Cannellini but chickpeas or butter beans will work equally well)
  • 2 tbsp gram/chickpea flour (maybe 3 tbsp if your mixture is too sticky)

Method

  1. Peel the cooked sweet potato and put the flesh into a food processor with the two peeled cloves of garlic and blend to a smooth purée
  2. Add all the other ingredients except the beans and gram flour, with a big pinch of salt and blend again until fairly smooth and well combined
  3. Add your beans and pulse until mixed in but still a little chunky for some nice texture.
  4. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the gram flour
  5. Cover and put in the fridge for 30 mins to 1 hour to firm up slightly
  6. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees or 180 degrees fan and line a baking tray with baking paper
  7. Wet your hands slightly then roll the mixture into 1 inch balls, it will be sticky but this is what ensures a soft and squidgy falafel
  8. Place on the baking tray until you run out of mixture, I got around 16 falafels
  9. Brush each falafel with a little oil, and then put in the oven
  10. Bake for 18-20 mins until they feel slightly firm, still with a little squidge and then leave to cool
  11. Serve as you like, maybe with a dip like tahini, hummus or guacamole

Speaking of dips, how about a bonus recipe. Anyone else ADORE tzatziki? I don’t know what it is about the creamy Greek yogurt combined with grated cucumber and finely chopped mint, not forgetting the lemon spritz…it just hits the spot rather nicely.

I do love me a good yogurt. Not those ones aiming at kids with more sugar than a can of coke, I mean a full fat organic natural yogurt with probiotics, give the tummy some lovin’. I know sometimes I overdo the yogurt and the cheese, it’s easily done, but i now need to think of other ideas. The other day I was really craving some tzatziki, but wanted the creaminess without the dairy. So in steps Mr Avocado. No it’s not traditional, but you’re adding another portion to your 5 a day, and I mean come on, avocado, is anyone really going to be complaining.

Avocado tzatziki

Super fresh and herby, but with that cooling creaminess we all love from avocado, perfect for dunking your falafel into. Or dunking anything into for that matter. Pass me over a spoon, I’m hungry!

Serves up to 4 as a dip or spread, or up to two if eating alone for a snack.

Ingredients

  • 1 avocado, soft enough to mash
  • Small handful dill
  • Small handful mint
  • 1/4 cucumber
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • 1/2 lemon

Method

  1. Grate the cucumber on a coarse box grater onto a plate and add a big pinch of salt. Leave for a couple of minutes
  2. Meanwhile,scoop the avocado out of its skin, put the flesh in a bowl and mash it until really smooth.
  3. Squeeze the juice of the lemon into the avocado and mix it in
  4. Finely chop the dill and the mint, put into the avocado and again mix in well
  5. Go back to the cucumber and squeeze over a sink so all the excess water is squeezed out
  6. Then add the cucumber to the avocado mix, add a good pinch of salt and pepper and taste for seasoning

Serve with smugness

And Enjoy

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