Cucumber and quinoa tabbouleh (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

Platter_of_home-made_quinoa_tabbouleh_with_cucumber_and_herbs
Gluten-free tabbouleh. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ve had a great crop of home-grown cucumbers this year, and have been enjoying them since July. I’ve been growing 2 varieties in the greenhouse, a small green one called Mini Munch, and a pale yellow, more rounded variety, called Crystal Apple. The Mini Munch have almost finished now, but there are still a few more Crystal Apple come.

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Mini Munch and Crystal Apple cucumbers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

So to celebrate my cucumber-filled summer, this week’s recipe is my very simple, gluten-free version of the classic Middle Eastern salad, tabbouleh, and for good measure, to go with it, my favourite accompaniment, a super-speedy hummus recipe. You can add any combination of soft-leaved herbs to flavour your grains. The herb patch was looking a bit shabby at the weekend and I needed to pick off a few stalks of mint and chives to help rejuvenate the plants again. I also added some of the delicate zig-zag-edged herb salad burnet which has it’s own mild cucumber flavour, but parsley and coriander make good substitutes if you prefer.

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Salad Burnet close-up. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

There are no set rules to this recipe. It is very simple. I cheat and use a ready-cooked pack of red and white quinoa grains. Very convenient and a perfect quantity for a couple of hearty portions. If you like, add tomato for extra colour and moisture to the salad, and spring onions will add a tasty, oniony bite. I hope you enjoy the fresh flavours.

Mini_Munch_cucumbers_mint_leaves, fresh_chives_and_sprigs_of_salad_burnet_on_a_marble_chopping_board
Home-grown cucumber, mint chives and salad burnet. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients

Tabbouleh

  • 250g cucumber, washed
  • 250g cooked quinoa
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 20g chives, chopped
  • 7g mint leaves, chopped
  • A handful of salad burnet leaves (parsley or coriander)
  • Lemon wedges and extra virgin olive oil to taste
  • Male cucumber flowers to garnish

Hummus (serves 3-4)

  • 400g can chickpeas
  • 40g tahini
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Paprika to dust
  1. For the tabbouleh, cut the cucumber into small pieces. Put the quinoa in a bowl and mix in the cucumber, herbs and salt. Cover and chill for an hour to allow the flavours to mingle. Stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

    Cooked_quinoa_alongside_the_other_ingredients_for_tabbouleh_salad
    Making gluten-free tabbouleh. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. For the hummus, open the can of chickpeas and drain the canning liquid into a jug. Pop the chickpeas in a blender or food processor along with the other ingredients and 3 tbsp. of the reserved liquid. Blitz for a few seconds until smooth. I like my hummus to have the consistency of thick porridge, but if you prefer something softer, just add a bit more canning liquid. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Don’t forget to keep the rest of the canning liquid for using as an egg white substitute – it freezes very well.
    Blending_the_ingredients_to_make_hummus
    Making hummus. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    Serve the tabbouleh decorated with cucumber flowers; dress with a squeeze of fresh lemon and extra virgin olive oil to taste, and accompany with toasted seeds, home-made hummus (dusted with paprika if liked)  and warm, gluten-free, toasted pitta breads. Perfect 🙂

    Overhead_view_of_home-made_cucumber_and_quinoa_salad
    A fresh and healthy salad. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    Cucumber_and_quinoa_tabbouleh_served_on_warm_gluten-free_pitta_bread_with_hummus
    Ready to eat, quinoa tabbouleh with toasted seeds, home-made hummus and a squeeze of lemon. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Moorish red orange and carrot salad (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

Sicilian_red_orange_and_carrot_salad
A seasonal salad to banish the winter blues. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

This is a great time of the year for oranges. Last weekend, I bought a bag of Seville oranges and made some marmalade, something I haven’t done for many years. It took me much longer than I remembered, but the effort was worthwhile as I have 12 large jars to see me through the year. The other citrus fruit that caught my eye this week comes from Sicily. Beautiful, blushing red oranges (or “Blood oranges” as I remember them being called). They look as lovely on the outside as they do on the inside.

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Sicilian red oranges. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It may not seem the right time of year to be serving up a salad, but my recipe this week is a good choice for eating now, it oozes health and vitality, is robust in flavour with a crunchy texture, and makes a great accompaniment to pulse, rice or grain dishes or can be served on its own as a simple light lunch with bread and a dollop of hummus. The flavours and colours of this salad are the perfect tonic to pick you up if, like me, you are suffering from the winter blues.

Moorish_red-orange_and_carrot_salad_with_toasted_seeds
Robust flavours and crunchy textures. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The salad is dressed with a simple combination of olive oil and freshly squeezed orange juice flavoured with the warming, earthy spices toasted cumin seeds and dried chilli. I also fried some sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds for 4-5 minutes in a little olive oil with some sea salt, to add bite and nuttiness as a sprinkle on top. I hope you enjoy the recipe, and if you can’t find red oranges, any orange or even pink grapefruit would work.

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Salad dressing and toasted, salted seeds. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 2 to 4 (lunch or accompaniment)

Ingredients

  • 250g carrots (for extra colour I used a heritage variety which were purple, orange and yellow)
  • 3 red oranges
  • Red orange juice (you should have sufficient leftover from peeling the 3 oranges)
  • Approx. 25ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 – 2 tsp caster sugar or maple syrup (or honey if you eat it), optional
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • ½ tsp toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • ½ tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 100g pitted black olives
  • Fried, salted sunflower and pumpkin seeds to sprinkle
  1. Peel and grate the carrots. Place in a bowl and put to one side. Slice the top and bottom off each orange, then using a small sharp knife, slice off the skin, taking away as much of the white pith as you can – see images below. Slice each orange into thin rounds and remove any pips.
    Purple_orange_and_yellow_carrots
    Heritage carrots. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    Step_by_step_to_prepaing_red_oranges_for_salad
    Preparing red oranges. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. Drain the orange slices, reserving the juice – any pieces of orange skin that have orange flesh attached can also be squeezed to obtain precious drops of juice.
  3. Measure the juice and mix with the same amount of olive oil, then stir in the salt, spices and sugar, if using. Toss the dressing into the grated carrots.
  4. Carefully fold in the orange slices (you may prefer to cut the orange into smaller pieces) along with the olives. Cover and chill until ready to serve, but allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes for the flavours to develop.
    Moorish_red_orange_and_carrot_salad_ready_to_eat
    Ready to eat. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    I’ve been enjoying freshly squeezed red orange juice for breakfast this week as well. Such a pretty colour, and a super-zingy start to the day.

    Juicing_Sicilian_red_oranges
    Freshly squeezed red orange juice. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    I have another Sicilian inspired recipe lined up for next week, so until then, I hope you have a good few days 🙂

Ribbon vegetable soba noodles with peanut dressing (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

Runner_bean_and_peanut_soba_noodles_with_peanut_dressing
Runner bean and peanut soba noodles. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Over the past week or so, I’ve picked more runner beans from my 3 plants than I can possibly eat. The beans do keep well for a few days in a container of water in the fridge, but even so, this year, I have resorted to freezing some down. Not ideal as they do lose some texture, but it’s a good way of eking them out a while longer.

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My late summer harvest of runner beans. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I like my runner beans cut thinly in fine ribbons. I inherited a tiny, wee gadget from my grandmother which is perfect for this. If the beans are very fresh, you can whip them through the fine, grill-like slicing plate in next to no time, and sliced this way, they take just a few minutes to cook.

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Grannie’s Zipp runner bean slicer. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

For freezing, it helps preserve texture if you cut the runner beans into chunkier pieces, and that’s what I did with the majority of these beans. I blanched the prepared beans in rolling, boiling water for about 1 ½ minutes, then drained them and cooled them completely in cold running water. Before bagging your prepared vegetables, shake off the excess water, pat dry with kitchen paper and then pack into freezer bags. Make sure the bag is free of as much air as possible. I do this by screwing the bag closed, and then sucking out the excess air via a straw inserted into the top. It’s very effective. Seal the bag tightly with a wire bag tie or clip, and don’t forget to label – remember how time flies! Blanched vegetables should keep perfectly fresh in the freezer for at least 6 months. If you don’t do the blanching, use them up in a couple of months.

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Blanched and ready for the freezer. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

This week’s recipe is a tasty vegetable noodle dish that can be eaten hot but I usually enjoy the dish served cold as a light lunch. Try and cut all the vegetables thinly and evenly so that they cook to the same texture. If you don’t have a bean slicer, cut the beans into short lengths and then slice thinly lengthways. For the dressing, if peanuts aren’t to your taste, use cashews or almonds and the associated nut butters instead.

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Vegetable noodles served cold with peanut dressing. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 225g runner beans
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 medium leek
  • 200g soba noodles (or use your favourite variety and cook accordingly)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
  • 40g roasted peanuts, crushed

For the dressing:

  • 50g smooth peanut butter
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 25ml gluten-free soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. white rice vinegar
  • 15g light soft brown sugar
  1. Trim the beans. Peel the sides of the beans using a vegetable peeler and slice into thin shreds. Peel and trim the carrot; slice into thin ribbons using a vegetable peeler. Trim the leek. Slice down the centre and run under cold running water to flush out any trapped soil. Shake well to remove excess water, then cut in half, and slice into ribbon-like strips. Arrange all the vegetables in a steamer, colander or large sieve.

    Preparing_runner_beans_and_carrots_into_ribbons_for_steaming
    Preparing the ribbon vegetables. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil (unsalted if you’re using soba noodles). Put the vegetables on top, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Add the noodles to the boiling water, bring back to the boil, put the vegetables back on top, and cook everything for a further 5 minutes, until the noodles are tender and the vegetables are just cooked through. Drain the noodles well, and return to the saucepan. Toss in the sesame oil and then the vegetables. Mix well and either leave to cool if serving as a salad, or cover to keep warm.

  3. For the dressing, put all the ingredients in a small screw-top jar. Seal and shake well to mix into a thick, dressing.

    Glass_jar_for_making_peanut_dressing
    Making peanut dressing. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. To serve, pile the hot or cold vegetable noodles on to a serving platter and sprinkle with sesame seeds and peanuts. Serve with the peanut dressing.

    Forkful_of_ribbon_vegetables_and_soba_noodles_served_as_a_salad
    Ready to eat, ribbon vegetable and soba noodle salad. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Runner bean fattoush (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Runner bean fattoush. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

A variation on a Middle Eastern classic salad for you this week. Fattoush is served all over the Middle East in various forms, but always with toasted bread added to it. It makes a light and refreshing sharing platter as a starter or lunch, and also serves as a versatile accompaniment to barbecued and grilled food. Most usually Fattoush consists of crisp lettuce, cucumber, tomato, pepper, onion and herbs, with chunks of bread tossed into them. It is usually dressed simply with olive oil and lemon juice.

Runner_bean_fattoush-style_salad
My take on a Middle Eastern classic salad. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The good mix of sunshine and, latterly, rain this summer has produced a flourish of runner beans. Only 3 plants survived the initial “trauma” of being planted outside this year, and they were very skinny and frail for several weeks. But then suddenly they took off, and now just look at them, I have my very own giant beanstalks.

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Come rain, come shine, I have plenty of beans on the vine. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

My fattoush recipe combines the salad ingredients I have growing in the garden at the moment – cucumber, tomatoes and runner beans. For the herb, I used salad burnet which has a refreshing cucumber taste; coriander, mint and parsley are most usually added.

Fresh_runner_beans_Home-grown_cucumber_and_picked_salad_burnet
Freshly picked runner beans, cucumber and salad burnet. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Instead of onion, I used fresh chives, and for extra crunch, I chopped up some whole almonds and sprinkled them on top. After toasting the bread, I seasoned it with salt, pepper and tangy sumac powder for extra zing.

Toasted_gluten_free_pitta_breads_with_olive_oil_and_sumac_powder
Toasted gluten-free pittas with olive oil and sumac. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Ingredients

Serves: 4

  • 175g runner beans
  • 1 Romaine or Little Gem lettuce
  • 150g cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small cucumber
  • A small bunch fresh chives (or use 3 chopped spring onions, or finely chop half a small red onion)
  • A few sprigs salad burnet (or coriander, parsley and/or mint)
  • 2 large gluten-free pitta breads
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Sumac powder
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 50g whole almonds, roughly chopped
  • Fresh lemon
  1. Trim the beans – I like to peel the sides with a vegetable peeler, and then nip of the tops. Cut into chunks. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and cook the beans for 3-4 minutes until lightly cooked. Drain well and rinse in cold running water to cool. Drain well.

    TRimming_and_chopping_home-grown_runner_beans
    Preparing fresh runner beans. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. Tear or shred the lettuce and place in a large serving bowl. Halve the tomatoes, and thickly slice the cucumber. Toss into the lettuce along with the cooked beans. Snip the chives into pieces with scissors and strip the leaves from the salad burnet or other fresh herbs. Mix into the salad.
  3. Toast the pitta breads. Brush with oil and sprinkle with sumac and season to taste. Tear into chunky pieces and toss into the salad. Sprinkle with almonds. Serve the salad with olive oil and wedges of lemon to squeeze over.

    Runner_bean_fattoush_salad_close-up
    Close-up on fattoush. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

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

Platter_of_Moroccan_inspired_dips_and_salads
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.

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Delicious summery lunch. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Courgette and white bean salad (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Courgette and white bean salad with fried pine nuts, basil, gluten-free flat bread and extra virgin olive oil. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Amazingly, the heat is still on full blast here in the UK. The sky has been gloriously blue, day after day, and the sun is shining down strongly. No rain in the forecast; the water butt has been dry for days!

Plenty of time to enjoy the garden at a more leisurely pace. The thought of preparing and eating hot food is not so appealing at the moment, so salads are featuring heavily on my menu. I picked my first courgettes this week – all the extra watering by hand has been worth it – and made an exception by doing a little bit of cooking. I made them into a tasty cold dish with some canned beans and a rich tomato sauce.

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The first of this year’s home-grown courgettes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

You can adapt the recipe to use other vegetables and pulses – aubergine and chickpeas make a good combination too, especially seasoned with some cumin and fresh coriander. The salad makes a good sauce for pasta when served freshly made, and I have also served it as a filling for a warmed pastry case.

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Platter of salad and accompaniments. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 150ml dry white wine
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp. tomato purée
  • 2 teasp caster sugar
  • 1 teasp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 250g cooked cannellini beans
  • 500g courgettes, trimmed and chopped into 2cm dice
  • Fresh basil, fried pine nuts, gluten-free flat bread and extra virgin olive oil to serve
  1. Heat the oil in a large covered frying pan and gently fry the onion, garlic and herbs, with the lid on, over a low heat, for 15 minutes, to soften without browning.

    Chopping_board_with_fresh_onion_garlic_bay_and_rosemary
    Prepared onion and garlic with fresh bay and rosemary, ready for the pot. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. Pour in the wine and stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the rosemary and bay leaves.

    Freshly_chopped_courgette_on_a_chopping_board
    Courgette cut into 2cm dice. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Stir in the beans and courgette, making sure they are well covered in the sauce. Bring to the boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer gently for 7-8 minutes until the courgette is just tender. Leave to cool completely.

    3_steps_to_making_courgette_and_white_bean_salad
    Making the sauce and cooking the salad. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. Transfer to a bowl and chill until ready to serve. Best served at room temperature for more flavour. Delicious spooned over warm flat breads, sprinkled with fresh basil, fried pine nuts and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Bon Appétit 🙂

    Small_plate_with_a_portion_of_flat_bread_and_courgette_and_white_bean_salad
    The perfect lunch for a sunny day. 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

 

Home-grown tomatoes – recipe for fresh tomato sauce, a salsa, plus other serving suggestions (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Freshly picked tomatoes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

With the fine, warm spring weather we had this year, my tomato plants have done very well. The fruit started to ripen earlier than usual, and I have been picking a steady supply tomatoes since the end of July. By this time of the year, I’m usually left with a greenhouse filled with hard, green fruit, wondering how on earth they are all going to ripen as the days shorten and the weather turns.

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Ripe and ready to pick. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Of all the fruit and vegetables you can grow yourself, the tomato has to be in my top 5 as having the most marked difference in flavour compared to most commercially grown varieties, and it is one that I never tire of; I would happily consume a plateful every day if given the opportunity.

To preserve the flavour, avoid putting tomatoes in the fridge as this seems to destroy a lot of the taste – the unique fragrance also seems to disappear. I try to pick only what I need for eating or cooking that day, but if there are a lot that are ripe, I store them in a cool place in the kitchen and use within a couple of days.

Last month I made a batch of my favourite tomato preserve: Smoky Tomato Jam (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan) and semi-dried a batch which I have preserved in olive oil – Preserving the Summer (Semi-cuit tomatoes – gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan) If preserving isn’t your thing, and you have too many ripe tomatoes to eat, you can freeze them whole in bags for use in sauces and soups later on. Making a batch of tomato sauce is a good way to use them up too, and it also freezes well. Homemade tomato sauce makes a deliciously intense flavoured base for soups and pasta dishes, or as a tasty pouring sauce for meat, fish and vegetables.

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Homemade tomato sauce. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To make about 450ml fresh tomato sauce: simply wash and pat dry 1 kg tomatoes; cut in half and place in a large lidded frying pan or saucepan. Try and keep them in a single layer if possible, for even cooking. Season lightly with salt and pepper and add a bunch of fresh herbs – I use rosemary, thyme, oregano and a bay leaf. Place over a low heat until beginning to steam, then cover with a lid and continue to cook very gently for about 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the tomatoes, until soft and collapsed. Cool for 10 minutes, then discard the herbs and push the tomatoes through a nylon sieve to make a pulpy juice.

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Preparing tomato sauce. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Pour into a clean saucepan, add 25g butter or vegan margarine, 1 tbsp. good quality olive oil, and 1 tsp caster sugar. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. Heat gently until the butter or margarine melts, then raise the heat and simmer steadily for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened, but still thin enough to pour. Use as per recipe or allow to cool completely, then cover and store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Freeze in sealable containers for up to 6 months. Note: you can add garlic to the tomatoes before cooking – peeled, whole cloves work fine and will cook into a pulp with the tomatoes. I prefer to keep the sauce plain and add my garlic when I use the sauce in a recipe.

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Homemade tomato sauce, ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Here are a few other ideas for serving up fresh tomatoes:

  • Dress a plate of sliced fresh tomatoes by simply seasoning with a light dusting of white sugar, a little salt, freshly ground pepper and a few toasted and crushed cumin seeds.
  • For a quick “chutney”, gently fry 2 finely sliced red onions with a crushed clove of garlic in olive oil. Add a pinch or 2 of chilli flakes and cook until very soft. Add 225g chopped fresh tomatoes, 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 2 tbsp. caster sugar. Season and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until thick. Leave to cool, then store in the fridge for up to a week. Lovely with barbecued meat, vegetables and as an accompaniment to cheeses.
  • Roughly chop a few ripe tomatoes. Blitz in a blender; push through a nylon sieve into a jug. Season with Tabasco sauce and/or Worcestershire sauce. Put ice in a tumbler, add a slug of vodka and pour over the seasoned juice.
  • Bake halves of tomato, side by side in a shallow dish, in a moderate oven with a topping of fresh breadcrumbs, capers, slivers of garlic and a drizzle of olive oil, until tender. Serve scattered with lots of freshly chopped parsley.
  • Small pieces of sweet tomato make and interesting addition to a citrusy fruit salad. Pour over a plain sugar syrup and scatter with chopped, fresh mint to serve.
  • For a delicious salsa to go with Indian food: combine chopped tomatoes, cucumber, and fresh mango with a little finely chopped red onion. Sprinkle with black onion seeds and toss in a little white balsamic vinegar. Serve at room temperature for the best flavour.
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Tomato and mango salsa 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!
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    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

Homegrown strawberries – tips and recipe ideas

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Homegrown Scottish strawberries Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It feels like summer is here now that my strawberries are ripening. The aroma of sweet berries fills the air every time I open the greenhouse door. I have been growing strawberries in my unheated greenhouse for several years. The soil is free draining and the plants have plenty of room to spread.  Apart from an occasional feed, and plenty of water, I leave them alone to get on with the business of berry production.

Strawberries are best eaten fresh. They don’t freeze well as a fruit by themselves, but you can purée them and then serve as a sauce. The fresh purée makes excellent ice cream and sorbet too. I sometimes pop a few in with a fruit compote with other berries, but on the whole, I don’t cook them other than to make jam.

One of the best ways I’ve found to preserve them, is to dry slices in a dehydrator; this way you can enjoy them once the season is over. The perfume of drying strawberries is divine. If you have a dehydrator, slice the berries and brush them with a little lemon juice to help preserve the colour. 500g prepared strawberries, spread over 3 tiers in a dehydrator, will take between 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours at 70°C/158F. This amount yields about 65g. Sealed completely in an air-tight jar, and stored in a dark, dry cupboard, they will keep for several months. The dried slices add a splash of colour and a fragrant, fruity flavour to any bowl of cereal – especially good with Coconut granola (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan) – and they make a pretty, natural cake decoration too.

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Drying fresh strawberry slices. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Granola with home-dried strawberry slices. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

All round the garden borders, the wild strawberries are also beginning to turn colour. Whilst they are much more time-consuming to pick, they have a more perfumed flavour and make a lovely addition to a fruit salad. Leave them to ripen fully for the sweetest flavour, and eat them as soon after picking as possible – they really don’t keep well. I have a battle with the birds every year to get to them before they do! The plants are prolific spreaders, but give good ground cover and make a pretty display when in flower.

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Alpine strawberries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Strawberry serving suggestions

  • Fresh strawberries go well with smoked salmon, Parma or Serrano ham, and peppery leaves like rocket or watercress. They are also delicious with slices of ripe avocado.
  • Spread almond nut butter over warm toasted bread and top with lightly mashed strawberries and a little sugar for an indulgent toast topper.
  • Add finely chopped tarragon, lavender syrup, rosewater or passion fruit juice to a bowl of strawberries to enhance the floral flavour of the fresh berries.
  • For very sweet strawberries, halve and sprinkle with fruit or balsamic vinegar and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with goat’s cheese as a starter with salad ingredients.

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    Strawberry and goat’s cheese salad with sweet berry vinegar. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  • If you have sufficient wild strawberries, fold them into whipped cream with a little dessert wine and strawberry jam for a topping or filling for meringues.
  • For a special fruit salad, mix halved strawberries with chopped mint and sugar, then toss in some lime juice, dry white wine or crème de cassis.
  • Mash strawberries with vanilla sugar and fold into soft cheese to spread over pancakes.
  • Pop a handful of wild strawberries into white balsamic vinegar to make a sweetly scented berry dressing for fruit or leaf salads later on in the year.

 

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Last year’s wild strawberry vinegar. Image: Kathryn Hawkins