Broad bean byessar & fresh thyme za’atar (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Broad bean byessar served with fresh thyme za’atar on flat breads, with carrots and black olives. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

This is a great time of year for fresh fruit and vegetables. The first of the home-grown beans, broad beans, have arrived in the shops these past couple of weeks, and I have made one of my favourite dips with my first batch. If you like hummus (houmous), you’ll love byessar. Usually made with dried broad beans (fava beans), I prefer to make my version with fresh when the beans are in season, or frozen, at other times of the year.

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Fresh broad beans. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To accompany the dip, I have made up a batch of za’atar (zaatar or zahtar), a blend of thyme, sesame seeds and sumac powder. This is a traditional blend from the Middle East and it is used as a seasoning for lots of meat dishes; it is sprinkled over salads and vegetable dishes, and used as a topping for breads. Simply make it into a paste with olive oil, spread it on flat breads or pittas and pop under the grill to toast. As I have lots of fresh thyme in the garden, I’m using fresh leaves, but dried thyme is more traditional. Using dried also means that you can keep it for longer as a dry mix,  in a sealed container as you would any other spice blend.

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Za’atar ingredients. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

If you can’t find sumac powder, something tangy and zesty like lemon rind would bring a bit of zing to the mix.

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

Byessar:

  • Salt
  • 500g fresh broad beans, shelled (or 175g shelled beans)
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 tsp ground cumin or hot curry powder
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Fresh thyme flowers to garnish

Za’atar

  • 1 tbsp. lightly toasted sesame seeds
  • ½ tsp sumac powder
  • ½ fresh thyme leaves or dried thyme
  • 1-2 tbsp. olive oil

Free-from flat breads, carrot sticks and olives to serve

1. To make byessar, bring a small saucepan of lightly salted water to the boil, and cook the beans with the thyme, garlic and cumin or curry powder for 4-5 minutes, until tender. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid, and cool for 10 minutes. Discard the thyme.

2. Put the beans and garlic in a food processor or blender. Add 75ml of the cooking liquid and the oil. Blitz until smooth. Taste and season with salt. Transfer to a serving bowl and leave to cool, then chill until ready to serve. Accompany with bread and carrots to dip; garnish with fresh thyme flowers or leaves, if liked

 

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Making byessar. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To make za’atar, mix the dry ingredients together. When ready to serve, mix with sufficient olive oil to make a paste. Lightly toast flat breads, cut into strips, then spread lightly with the za’atar paste. Toast under a hot grill for a few seconds to warm through. Serve as an accompaniment to dips and salads.

Za'tar_seasoned_flat_breads_with_broad_bean_dip
Delicious summery lunch. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Strawberry, pomegranate and sumac salad (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

 

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Sweet and savoury combination of fruit, grain and herbs. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ve been enjoying home-grown strawberries for a couple of weeks now. They have grown quite small this year, but they are still sweet and tasty. As usual, I never have more than a handful to use at any one time (jam-making is out of the question) and I usually end up eating them on their own. However, following a recent trip to London’s Edgware Road,  where I was able to stock up on a few of my favourite, more exotic, ingredients, I felt inspired to try something different.

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My micro-harvest of home-grown strawberries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Pomegranate molasses make an ideal accompaniment to fresh strawberries. I love the thick texture and semi-sweet flavour. It reminds me of sherbet sweets as it has a light acidic fizz on the tongue. It makes a good ingredient for a salad dressing as it adds fruitiness as well as subtle sweetness and tempers any vinegar you may add. Its thick texture means you can cut down on the amount of oil you use without noticing.

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Dressing ingredients for my strawberry and pomegranate salad. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Choose a fruit vinegar or white balsamic to add extra sweetness, and use a mild tasting olive oil or other vegetable oil to help bring out the fruit flavours without dominating the dressing.

One of my other purchases was sumac powder. An astringent, fruity powder made from dried berries. It has a high tannin content and reminds me of rosehips. It is the perfect seasoning for sweet berries. Just sprinkle a little on before serving as you would black pepper. A final note on seasoning, I didn’t add any salt to my salad as I didn’t think it needed any. Everyone’s taste is different, so add a pinch to the dressing or mix some into the quinoa if you prefer a more savoury note.

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Strawberry salad sprinkled with sumac powder. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 2 as a main course; 4 as a side

Ingredients

  • 250g cooked, cold quinoa
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Small bunch fresh parsley and coriander, roughly chopped
  • A generous handful of pomegranate seeds

Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
  • 2 tbsp. fruit vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. light olive oil

To serve:

  • 150g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
  • Sumac powder or freshly ground black pepper, to season
  1. Mix the quinoa, onion, herbs and pomegranate seeds together, then whisk all the dressing ingredients together and toss half into the salad, and pile into a serving dish.

    4_steps_to_salad_making
    Preparing the salad. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. Halve or quarter larger strawberries, leave smaller ones whole, and sprinkle on top of the salad. Season with a little sumac and serve at room temperature for maximum flavour.

    Fully_ripe_home-grown_strawberry
    Perfect little strawberry. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Soba noodles with fresh asparagus (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Soba noodles with asparagus. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

It is the height of the home-grown British asparagus season right now, and I’m eating as much as I can while these fresh, green, juicy stems are available to buy. I rarely do anything fancy with asparagus,  just enjoy it on its own, steamed, griddled, or baked in the oven, and seasoned simply with a little salt and pepper. Delicious.

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In season. British asparagus. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

This is a very simple, yet very tasty, combination that makes a lovely light lunch or quick supper dish. If you want to make it in advance, it’s just as good eaten cold as a salad, or boxed up for a picnic or packed lunch.

Bottles_pf_sesame_oil_mirin_andTeriyaki marinade_with_a_bunch_of_soba_noodles
Three favourite seasonings for soba noodles. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To serve 2: prepare 200g fresh asparagus spears by trimming away about 3cm of the stem – this is usually a bit woody and tough to eat. Then cut the rest of the stems into short lengths. Brush a non-stick frying pan with a little sunflower oil and heat until hot. Stir fry the asparagus for 3-4 minutes until just tender. Turn off the heat and add a good glug of gluten-free teriyaki marinade. Immediately cover with a lid and leave to stand. Leave to one side while you cook the noodles, or leave to cool completely for serving as a salad.

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Trimming fresh asparagus, and stir-frying. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of unsalted water to the boil and add 100g soba (buckwheat) noodles. Cook for about 5 minutes until tender, then drain well and place in a heatproof bowl, or rinse in cold running water, and leave to drain and cool completely.

When ready to serve, toss the asparagus and pan juices into the noodles along with 4 tbsp. freshly chopped chives,  2 teasp sesame oil and 1 tbsp. mirin. Pile into serving bowls and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy 🙂

Soba_noodles_with_asparagus_Image_by_Kathryn_Hawkins

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet potato, spinach and coconut stew (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

Sweet_potato_spinach_and_coconut_stew
Sweet potato, spinach and coconut stew. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

A deliciously fragrant and comforting recipe for you this week. An old favourite of mine which works just as well with potatoes if you’re not a fan of the sweet variety. It makes a good side dish, but I usually serve it as a main course, spooned over rice.

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Preparing sweet potatoes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The stew is very easy to make. You can change the proportions of the individual spices to suit your taste. The overall flavour is reminiscent of a green Thai curry without the lemongrass or lime leaves. I’m not a huge chilli fan, I like a hint of heat rather than a major blast, so you may want to increase the chilli-factor for more of a spicy kick. If you have fresh green chillies, grind them up in the spice paste as an alternative to using the dried flakes.

If you have any leftover, the stew makes a good soup the next day. Just blend it up in a food processor with stock or more coconut milk. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

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Spice paste ingredients. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 teasp each of coriander and mustard seeds
  • 1 small red onion or shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3cm piece root ginger
  • Dried chilli flakes, to taste
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 400ml canned coconut milk
  • 650g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3cm thick chunky pieces
  • 225g prepared spinach
  • 1 teasp salt
  • A small bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  1. Remove the green casing from the cardamom pods and put the seeds in a pestle and mortar along with the coriander and mustard seeds. Lightly crush them, then toast them in a small frying pan, over a medium heat, for 2-3 minutes until fragrant and lightly toasted but not brown. Leave to cool.
  2. Peel and roughly chop the onion, garlic and ginger and place in a food processor or blender. Add 1 tbsp. oil and the toasted spices and chilli flakes to taste. Blend for a few seconds to make a paste.

    Toasting_spice_seeds_in_a_small_frying_pan_and_blending_ingredients_to_make_a_spice_paste
    Toasting spices and making a spice paste. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Heat the remaining oil in a large, deep-sided frying pan or wok and gently fry the paste for about 5 minutes until softened but not browned. Pour over the coconut milk, bring to the boil, and stir in the sweet potato pieces. Bring back to the boil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about an hour until tender.
  4. Add the spinach in batches, stirring well to make sure it gets completely coated in the coconut liquor. Add the salt, cover and continue to cook gently for a further 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until then spinach is wilted and the sauce is thick.
    3_steps_to_cooking_sweet_potato_and_spinach_stew
    The 3 stages of stew. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

     

  5. To serve, sprinkle the stew with a generous amount of chopped, fresh coriander, and extra chilli if liked. Serve immediately,  spooned over rice.

    Serving_bowl_of_sweet_potato_coconut_and_spinach_stew
    Sweet potato stew, ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Windfall apple jelly (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

 

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Collecting windfall cooking apples. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Last weekend, I finally got round to gathering the last of the windfall apples from underneath and around the old apple tree in the garden. There were quite a few; some badly bruised, others almost entirely unscathed. I had picked a good harvest from the tree a couple of weeks previously and have these apples safely stored away in an old fridge for later use. In my kitchen, windfalls are destined for the cooking pot and for making preserves.

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Lord Derby apples, just before picking earlier in October. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I find it very satisfying making chutneys, jams and jellies, although jelly making does take a bit of planning and time, and can not be rushed. However, the finished result is very rewarding and worth the wait. This apple variety (Lord Derby) isn’t particularly flavoursome (it is reminiscent of a very large Granny Smith apple), but it is a great cooking apple as it holds its shape and some texture when baked or stewed. It’s not the juiciest for jam making, but as I had so many to use up this year, I decided to get all the jelly making stuff out of the cupboard and get preserving.

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Jelly making kit. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I always keep a good supply of glass jars on stand-by throughout the year, ready for filling as different fruit and veg comes into season. I give them a good rinse with hot soapy water and then sterilise them along with the lids – I gave up boiling jars to sterilise them, I now use a sterilizing fluid followed by a thorough rinse. I haven’t had any problems with any preserves spoiling since I switched to this less time-consuming method.

The jelly strainer is a piece of kit I’ve had for a few years. The whole contraption stands over a bowl or jug to catch the juice. If you don’t have a purpose-made jelly bag, line a large nylon sieve or strainer with some muslin and suspend over a deep bowl. Make sure you thoroughly clean all the equipment that comes into contact with the fruit or vegetable juice to maximise the keeping qualities for your preserves.

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Homemade herb apple jelly. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ve written a couple of savoury variations on a basic apple jelly recipe I made with my windfalls during the week. Both jellies are delicious with cheeses, barbecue food or roast meats and cold cuts. If you want a plain, sweet apple jelly (the best choice if you have a really tasty apple variety), just follow the recipe for the herb jelly below, and leave out the herbs.

Herb apple jelly

Makes: 1kg

Ingredients

  • 1.5kg prepared cooking apples, roughly chopped  – this is the overall weight once they have been thoroughly washed and all the bad bits taken out
  • Approx. 825g granulated sugar
  • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary and sage
  1. Put the chopped apples (unpeeled, pips and stalks attached!) in a large saucepan. Pour over 1l cold water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, mashing occasionally, until tender.
  2. Carefully ladle into a suspended jelly bag and leave to drip into a clean bowl or jug, in a cool place, lightly covered, overnight. Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag, just let it drip through naturally. Jelly making is an excellent test of the patience!
  3. The next day, remove the juice bowl, and cover and chill it. Scoop the pulp back into a large saucepan and add a further 500ml water. Bring to the boil, then strain again as above, for a few hours – there won’t be so much juice the second time around, so 5-6 hours should be long enough.
  4. Measure both juice yield together and calculate the amount of sugar required as 450g per 600ml juice. My yield was 1.1l which needs 825g sugar, but if you have a juicy apple variety you will capture more juice.

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    Herb apple jelly preparation in pictures. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. Rinse and pat dry a large sprig of rosemary and sage. Pour the juice into a preserving pan or large saucepan, add the herbs, and heat until steaming. Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved, then raise the heat and boil rapidly until the temperature reaches 105°C on a sugar thermometer – this will take several minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the jars by adding a small sprig of washed rosemary and a sage leaf in each. Remove the jelly from the heat and let the bubbles subside. Skim away any surface residue from the top and discard the cooked herbs. This jelly begins to set quite quickly so ladle it into the jars and seal them while the jelly is piping hot. Leave to cool, then label and store in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months. The jelly is ready for eating right away if you can’t wait! Once opened, store in the fridge for up to a month.

    Small_tin_of_hot_smoked_paprika_spice_with_2_jars_of_homemade_apple_and_hot_red_pepper_jelly
    Apple and hot red pepper jelly flavoured with hot smoked paprika. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Apple and hot red pepper jelly

Makes: 900g

Ingredients

  • 1.25g prepared, chopped cooking apples (see above)
  • 500g prepared weight chopped red peppers (capsicum) (approx. 4 medium peppers), seeds and stalks removed
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 60ml cider or white wine vinegar
  • Approx. 675g granulated sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp hot smoked paprika
  1. Put the chopped apples, peppers and garlic in a large saucepan and pour over 1l cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, mashing occasionally, until tender.
  2. Carefully ladle into a suspended jelly bag and let the mixture drip into a bowl or jug underneath. Leave in a cool place, covered lightly, overnight.
  3. The next day, put the pulp to on side and measure the collected juice. You will need 450g sugar per 600ml juice. Pour the juice into a preserving pan or large saucepan and add the vinegar and bay leaves. Heat until steaming hot and then stir in the sugar until dissolved.
    Preparation_steps_for_making_apple_and_hot_red_pepper_jelly
    Making apple and hot red pepper jelly. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

     

  4. Bring the juice to the boil and boil rapidly until the temperature reaches 105°C on a sugar thermometer. While the juice is boiling, pick out 50g of the cooked pepper and garlic, rinse, pat dry and chop finely – discard the rest of the pulp. Divide the chopped vegetables between your prepared jam jars.
  5. Once the jelly has reached the correct temperature, turn off the heat, discard the bay leaves and stir in the salt and smoked paprika. Divide between the jars – for even distribution of the vegetable pieces, wait for about 10 minutes before sealing the jars, then give them a quick stir with a teaspoon to suspend the vegetable pieces throughout the jelly before putting the lids on tightly. Cool, label and store as above. Best left for a month to mature before eating.

I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy heat in my food, so, although I call this “hot”, it’s pretty mild. However, if you can stand the heat, this is a good recipe to add as much chopped red chilli to suit your taste. Just cook the prepared chilli with the apples and peppers at the beginning of the recipe – leave the chilli seeds in as well if you like!

 

 

Victoria plums, baked with fresh bay and red wine (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Freshly baked home-grown Victoria plums in red wine, scented with fresh bay.               Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My first harvest of plums in the year marks the end of summer in my mind. There is, of course, something to celebrate in having such lovely fruit to pick, and yet, I feel a bit sad that autumn is approaching. I managed to get a head-start on the wasps this year, picking about 1kg of unblemished fruit. There are plums a plenty yet to ripen,  so I need to work on my timing over the next few days and harvest them before the wee sugar-seeking beasties move in.

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Ripe and ready to pick, home-grown Victoria plums. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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My first plum harvest of the year. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

My plum cookery isn’t very adventurous or fancy. I usually make jam or a plum sauce. Sometimes I make a compote. Baking them in wine is another very simple way I enjoy the rich, distinctive flavour of this particular fruit. Fresh bay-scented orchard fruit is something I tasted for the first time in Cyprus. The familiar glossy-leaved herb has become a flavour I use a lot in my kitchen, both in sweet and savoury cooking, and now that I have a bay tree in the garden, I use the herb all the more. Fresh bay gives a refreshing, herbal taste to fruit. You can use dry leaves, but as the flavour is much more intense than the fresh, you may want to experiment by reducing the quantity of leaves by at least half. If you don’t have any wine, or prefer not to use it, cranberry juice makes a good alternative in this recipe. If you don’t have plums, the recipe works equally well with apricots, peaches or nectarines. The baked fruit also freezes well too.

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 750g fresh Victoria plums
  • 60g Demerara sugar
  • 4 fresh bay leaves
  • 300ml fruity red wine or unsweetened cranberry juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Wash and pat dry the plums. Cut in half and remove the stones. Arrange the halves neatly, cut side up, preferably in a single layer, in a baking dish or tin.
  2. Sprinkle with sugar and push in the bay leaves, then pour over the wine or juice. Bake for 30-40 minutes, basting every 10 minutes, until tender.

    Baked_plum_preparation
    Baked plums with bay and red wine preparation. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Discard the bay leaves. Carefully strain off the cooking juices into a saucepan . Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 5 minutes until reduced and syrupy. Pour over the fruit and leave to cool. Cover and chill for 2 hours before serving. Best served at room temperature for maximum flavour. Delicious accompanied with coconut yogurt or rice pudding.
    Baked_plums_glazed_with_bay_and_red_wine_syrup
    Glazed plums cooling in the tin. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    Serving_of_bay_scented_plums_with_coconut_yogurt
    Baked plums served with coconut yogurt. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Cucumber conundrums and recipe ideas

 

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Freshly picked cucumbers. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I think it’s safe to say that growing cucumbers is one of my fortes. Every year I raise a bumper crop from seed, without really trying very hard. As with any watery vegetable (or fruit) that doesn’t freeze well, you have to get creative in order to make the most from your harvest when it’s fresh. Over the years, I have accumulated a few recipe ideas which I am happy to share with you and anyone else in a similar “glut” situation.

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Home-grown grow-bag cucumbers in my unheated greenhouse. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Originally, the cucumber was a wild plant with origins in India. Now it is cultivated and grown the world over, and  few salads are complete without it. If left to their own devices, cucumbers will grow to enormous proportions. Just a couple of weeks ago, I discovered one hiding at the back of a plant, behind a very large leaf; it looked more like a marrow than a cucumber, and I have no idea how the plant was supporting it! In general, the bigger they grow, the less flavour they have. As with all watery produce, cucumbers are best cut and used immediately. For slightly longer storage, wipe them dry and then wrap individually and tightly in cling-film, and this way they will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days without losing texture.

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Cucumber preparation. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To eat raw, all you need to do is rinse, dry, and then trim away either end, and that’s it, you’re ready to slice, dice or grate. Peeling is unnecessary unless the skin is tough – some varieties have rough, knobbly skins (ridged varieties) which can get tough on larger fruit – you can just whip off the skin with a vegtable peeler. If the seeds are a problem, cut the cucumber in half and scoop out the centre using a teaspoon before slicing.

For cooking, the skin can become bitter. You can temper it by blanching the cucumber in boiling water for a few seconds, or simply peel the cucumber before cooking.  Prepared chunks of cucumber will cook in lightly salted water for 2-3 minutes, or steam in 5 minutes, depending on thickness. Strips or ribbons of cucumber (pared using a vegetable peeler), make a delicious and healthy bed or wrapping when steaming fish.

Because cucumber has such a delicate, mild flavour, it can easily be overpowered by strong flavours. Some of the soft-leaved fresh herbs go very well with the crisp texture and fresh flavour of cucumber. As well as the herbs below, dill and fennel also make tasty choices. The herb salad burnet (below) does have a mild cucumber flavour and is the ideal herb for flavour enhancement.

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Cucumber-loving herbs: tarragon, salad burnet, chives flowers and stems, parsley, and mint. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Cucumber recipe suggestions

  • Peel and chop cucumber, then blitz in a blender with chopped green melon or kiwi fruit, yogurt, mint and a little unsweetened apple juice. Pour over ice and enjoy as a cooling smoothie.
  • Add a few slices of cucumber to a glass of iced water or a spritzer for a refreshing taste. A few slices also make a good addition to a gin and tonic!
  • Finely dice peeled cucumber and simmer gently in a little stock and white wine. Stir in cream and chopped tarragon to finish. Makes a great sauce to serve with fish, chicken or over roasted vegetables or pasta.
  • Bake peeled cucumber in thick slices in a baking dish, drizzled with olive oil (or dotted with butter). Season lightly and add some fresh dill or fennel. Cover with foil and bake at 190°C (170°C fan oven, gas mark 5) for 25-30 minutes.
  • Add slices or small chunks to a prawn stir fry for the last minute of cooking.
  • Grate fresh cucumber and mix with a little grated root ginger. Sprinkle with rice vinegar, a little sugar and light soy sauce. A tasty, instant relish to accompany sushi.
  • Replace grated courgette in a cake, bread or muffin recipe with grated cucumber, just reduce the quantity by a quarter as cucumber is much more watery. I have  a cucumber-enriched cake recipe to share in a later post – Lemon-soaked cucumber cake (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan option).
  • For a tangy salad to accompany smoked or barbecued food, try this recipe for gremolata-style cucumber salad: mix 150g finely chopped cucumber with a little crushed garlic. Stir in 40g chopped pickled cucumber or gherkins, 25g pickled capers, 40g chopped, pitted green olives along with 2 tbsp. each freshly chopped parsley and chives. Mix in a little white balsamic vinegar and serve. Delicious as a sandwich filler too!
    Cucumber_gremolata_salad
    Cucumber gremolata salad served sprinkled with chive flowers and leaves of salad burnet. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    To make your own cucumber pickle, see my post from last year In a bit of a pickle

Savoury courgette and corn cakes (gluten-free with dairy-free and vegan alternatives)

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Courgette and corn cakes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My supply of courgettes is coming to an end now. For several weeks, I’ve had a plentiful supply of produce from the four plants in grow-bags, in my greenhouse. Not only do home-grown courgettes taste delicious, I love the large, bright yellow, star-shaped flowers that the plants produce; they are a very cheery sight even on the dullest of days.

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Homegrown courgette flower and yellow, globe-shaped fruit Images: Kathryn Hawkins

These muffins are full of golden coloured ingredients and are based on a classic American cornbread recipe. Easy to make, delicious served warm, and perfect for freezing – they will only keep fresh for a couple of days, so freezing is the best option for longer storing.  The chives add a mild oniony flavour, and you could try adding a pinch of chilli flakes or some hot smoked paprika for a bit of a kick. They make a good accompaniment to a bowl of soup or stew, or just as a tasty snack on their own.

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The main ingredients. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes: 10

Ingredients

  • 115g gluten-free plain flour (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 2 level teasp gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 150g polenta or fine cornmeal
  • 1 medium egg, beaten, or 50g soft tofu, mashed
  • 225ml dairy-free milk (I used soya)
  • 50g butter or vegan margarine, melted
  • 100g cooked sweetcorn kernels
  • 150g grated courgette (yellow or green)
  • 4 tbsp. freshly chopped chives
  • 50g grated Parmesan cheese or vegan alternative, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Line a 10-cup muffin tin with paper cases. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the polenta or cornmeal. Make a well in the centre.
  2. Put the egg or tofu in the centre and pour in the milk and melted butter or margarine. Gradually mix the ingredients together until well blended, then stir in the remaining ingredients.
  3. Divide between the cases, smooth the tops and bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Best served warm.
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    Freshly baked courgette and corn cakes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    Single_serving_of_freshly_baked_sunshine_muffin
    Ready to serve, sprinkled with fresh chive flowers. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

New season courgettes + recipe for courgette and thyme fritters (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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My first vegetable harvest of 2017: home-grown courgettes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The mild spring weather and fine, early summer days has brought on my greenhouse vegetables a treat this year. It looks like I’m in for another bumper crop of courgettes. I thought I’d try to grow a new variety, and decided on this round, globe courgette called Tricolour. I only raised 4 plants from seed, so it is completely by chance that I’ve ended up with 2 yellow and 2 dark green vegetable plants. The third colour is pale green, and, I guess, is to be saved for next year.

Providing you give them plenty of water, I think growing courgette plants offers little challenge to the gardener, and for a modicum of effort, you are usually rewarded with plenty of produce. I have mine growing in grow-bags; the roots don’t stretch very deep so it is an ideal way to grow them if space is limited.

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My grow-bag courgettes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Here’s an easy recipe for a courgette starter or vegetable accompaniment. Chives or rosemary work well in the batter instead of thyme, if you prefer. If you’re not dairy-free, add a couple of tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan cheese to the batter for extra flavour. The batter goes with any vegetable that’s suitable for deep-frying such as rings of onion, baby leeks, spring onions, sliced mushrooms, strips of pepper and carrot, sliced aubergine, etc.

Courgette and thyme fritters – serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 400g courgettes
  • 65g self-raising gluten-free flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 40g cornflour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teasp freshly chopped thyme leaves + extra for serving
  • 90ml soda water
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying
  1. Wash and pat dry the courgettes. Trim away the ends and cut into thin slices, approx. ½ cm thick. Arrange in layers in a wide, shallow dish, sprinkling lightly with 25g of the flour as you go. Make sure both sides of each slice have a light coating of flour.
  2. For the batter, mix the rest of the flour with the cornflour in  bowl and season. Stir in the chopped thyme leaves. Using a small whisk, gradually blend in the soda water. Heat the oil for deep-frying to 180°C.
  3. Carefully pour the batter over the courgette slices, lifting them up so that the batter seeps right through to the bottom of the dish – the slices don’t have to be completely covered in batter (this is a very light, crispy batter that cooks better when used sparingly) but make sure there is a little on each slice. Tongs are useful for lifting individual slices.
  4. Cook the slices in the hot oil, in  4 batches, for 4-5 minutes, turning occasionally, until crisp and lightly golden. Drain well and keep warm whilst cooking the remaining slices. Serve as soon after cooking as possible, sprinkled with more fresh thyme and some crushed sea salt flakes.
    Freshly_cooked_courgette_fritters_in_a_thyme_flavoured_batter
    Courgette and thyme fritters. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    For more recipes using courgettes see my previous posts Home-grown courgettes with chive butter (gluten-free) and Yellow courgette and lemon cake (gluten-free, dairy-free)

 

Asparagus and sesame sushi rice bars (gluten-free, dairy-free; vegan)

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Asparagus is my favourite vegetable. It has been highly prized since Roman times, and it is peak asparagus season at the moment. I had my first taste of the new season’s crop a couple of weeks ago when I was on holiday in Sussex, and I have consumed quite a lot more since then!

The season here in the UK is brief: just  6 short weeks in late spring. In my mind, asparagus is one of the vegetables that tastes noticeably different when locally grown and freshly picked. The flavour is sweeter, fresher and nuttier than the varieties that are flown in all year round. I think it is well worth the wait each year and I am taking every opportunity to savour and enjoy it whilst these magnificent steams are available.

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New season British asparagus. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Keeping asparagus fresh. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

As with any vegetable, buy and eat asparagus as soon as possible after picking to enjoy the freshest flavour and juiciest texture. But if you do end up with more than you can eat, trim away the woody ends as you would with fresh flowers and pop the stems in a vase or jug of cold water. Either store in a cool place or put in the fridge. This way, the stems will stay fresh for at least 48 hours. You can freeze it, but I really don’t like the softer texture of frozen asparagus once it is cooked – I think it over-cooks too easily – however it makes the perfect base for soup-making or blending with mayonnaise or very ripe avocado for a dip, so it is worth freezing a few stems for this purpose alone.

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Preparing fresh asparagus for cooking and keeping. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I like my asparagus best when it has been griddled or roasted. Thin spears cook very quickly in a hot, lightly oiled frying pan or on a griddle pan brushed with oil. Larger stems are good for roasting –  brush with oil and spread out on a lined baking tray, and bake in a moderately hot oven for 10-15 minutes. If you prefer to use water, try to cook the stems so that the tips stay out of the water. You can buy tall upright asparagus steamers if you’re a big asparagus fan – these enable you to stand the stems upright in bunches – only the stalks are in the water whilst the tops cook in the steam. Otherwise, steaming, covered, over a saucepan of water is the next best way – keep the cooking water to add to your recipe as stock if you’re making a soup or risotto.

Here’s my recipe for sushi rice bars topped with asparagus tips – a delicious light snack for a spring lunch. If you need to trim away lots of stalk to make this recipe, keep the leftovers, and either use them to make stock or soup, or slice them into thin rounds and add to a stir fry.

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Homemade asparagus and sesame sushi bars. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes: 12

  • 150g sushi rice
  • 25g piece root ginger
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 3 tbsp freshly chopped chives
  • 4 tsp mirin, sweet sherry or white balsamic vinegar (Agredolce)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 12 fine asparagus spears
  • Fresh chives and flowers to garnish

1. Double line a shallow 18cm square cake tin with cling film so that the film overhangs the sides. Rinse the rice in cold running water. Put in a small saucepan and pour over 200ml cold water. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes undisturbed. Turn off the heat and leave to stand with the lid on for 20 minutes. It is worth checking the manufacturer’s cooking instructions for the particular rice you are using as timings and water quantities may vary between brands.

2. Meanwhile, peel the ginger and garlic and chop finely. Heat the vegetable oil in a small frying pan and gently fry for 2-3 minutes until softened but not browned. Leave aside.

3. When the rice is ready, scrape it into a heat-proof bowl and fork through to break up the grains. Add the ginger and garlic along with the seeds, chives, wine, sherry or vinegar and salt. Mix well.

4. Pile into the prepared tin, press down with the back of a spoon and leave to cool completely, then fold over the cling film and chill for 2 hours until firm.

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Making seasoned sushi rice. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

5. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Trim the asparagus to approx. 8cm lengths and place in a steaming compartment over the water. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes until just tender – insert the tip of a sharp knife into the end of the stalk is a good way to check it is perfectly tender. Cool under cold running water, then drain, place on damp kitchen paper and chill until required.

6. To serve, remove the rice cake from the tin and remove the cling film. Place on a board, cut into 12 bars and arrange asparagus on top of each bar. If liked, wrap a length of chive stem around each piece and arrange on a serving platter. Sprinkle with chive flowers, and serve with wasabi paste if liked.

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New season fresh, British asparagus spears. Image: Kathryn Hawkins