Sunday, 9 February 2014

Thai noodle salad

Man, I needed this weekend. Without getting into too many personal details, this week has been a tough one.

We all get weeks like that. And we all make it out the other side of them with some perspective on what's important and what needs to change to make it better.

So this weekend was spent with some much-needed "me-time" and a chat with my favourite girls. I don't often go in for "girly" things but sometimes, painting your nails, getting your hair done, and eating cake with friends is just what's needed to fix the blues.

This salad is also a great pick me up. With all this horrible weather (still!) it's nice to have something fresh and colourful to brighten up your days. And so simple. I could eat this every day for lunch and not get bored.

I really love Thai food and had eaten something similar to this a while ago at Nam restaurant in Soho (which has recently shut down, boo) so wanted to give it a go myself. It's great for a gluten-free diet as it uses rice noodles, which are normally quite easy to find, and fairly cheap.

It could maybe be jazzed up with some tofu, or even prawns or chicken for you non-veggies. Once you've got all the ingredients for the sauce in your larder you're ready to knock up any kind of Asian-y sauce!

As with my recipe for Crunchy winter slaw, it would be handy to use a julienne peeler for this (It's my birthday soon, hint hint!)

Thai noodle salad
(Serves 2)

150g rice noodles
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1/2 cucumber, julienned
1 spring onion, julienned
large handful of beansprouts
1 tbs coriander, roughly chopped
handful of unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped

for the dressing:
2 tbs tamari/gluten free soy sauce
1 tbs Mirin/rice wine vinegar
2 tsp honey
1 tsp sesame oil
juice of 1 lime
pinch of chilli flakes (optional)

Cook the noodles according to instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water.

To make the sauce, combine the ingredients and mix well. Leave to sit for a few minutes.

Mix the noodles with the carrot, cucumber, spring onion and beansprouts in a large serving bowl. Add the dressing and toss well. Garnish with the coriander and peanuts.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Vegan lentil shepherd's pie

I'm going to meet my cultural stereotype as a Brit and start this post by talking about the weather. Well, stereotypes exist for a reason! But really, the weather has been horrible for the last few weeks. Like, really really horrible. All that cold and wind and rain has been pretty depressing and made me wish that humans hibernated.

I don't know about you, but when the weather's like this, all I want to eat is warming, stodgy comfort food, and lots of it. Pasta and potatoes are a key food group during these winter days; and all those carbs are necessary for you to build up that layer of padding to keep you warm. That's what I'm telling myself anyway.

For me, shepherd's pie is the ultimate comfort food. The hot, savoury filling, and a layer of creamy mash (with those amazing bits that go crunchy round the edge) - it is perfect for warming you up on a cold evening.

I've had a go at making a veggie shepherd's pie with Quorn before, but the challenge was to make a vegan version that was just as tasty. This recipe uses all those lovely winter root veggies (we've been getting a lot of carrots in the veg bag!), and the lentils make it more substantial. The vegan mash topping is surprisingly good; you can achieve the same texture and creaminess with vegan alternatives. Of course, if you're not feeling the vegan vibe you could use the classic combo of butter and milk.

This makes a decent amount to keep you going for a few days, and it freezes well.

Vegan lentil shepherd's pie
(Serves 4 hungry people/6 people with a more normal appetite)

1 large parsnip, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 leek, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 mushrooms, roughly chopped
250ml stock
1 400g tin of tomatoes
50ml red wine
1 bay leaf
1 tsp Marmite
soy sauce
1 410g tin of green lentils, drained (or equivalent amount of dried lentils, cooked)
2 large potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
25g soy spread (or other vegan substitute)
50ml unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp mustard (optional)


Preheat the oven to 200C.

In a large pan, heat a glug of olive oil and fry the parsnip, carrot, leek and garlic until starting to soften. Add the mushrooms and fry for a further 4 minutes.

Add the stock, tomatoes, red wine, bay leaf, Marmite, a splash of soy sauce and a pinch of sugar and simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the lentils and simmer for a further 10 minutes until the carrots and parsnips are cooked, but not completely soft. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes for about 20 minutes until soft. Add the spread and milk and mash well. Season with salt and pepper and mix through the mustard.

Place the lentil mixture in a large oven proof dish, top with the mashed potatoes and bake for 20 minutes until the top is golden.

Serve with green veg and -gasp- tomato ketchup (please don't tell me it's just me that likes this?!).