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A-Z of Vegetables: White beans

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Friday, 24 Nov 2023, 14:06

For the penultimate blog in this series, let’s visit the chicken of the vegan world! No, I’m not talking about tofu. That’s eggs. I’m talking: white beans!

If you’re vegan, sooner or later you will be forced to encounter beans. Down a blind alleyway you’ll be cornered by a thuggish cannellini, rangy and thick-skinned, insisting you get your protein from more diverse sources than the great mono-crops of rice, corn, soya and almond. You might be met by the intimidating, necromantic eyes of black-eyed beans, chanting incantations and disappearing into pasta sauces as if they were never there (although you know they’re there because their eyes were left behind!) The friendliest bean of the lot is the butter bean, which has the flavour of butter and the smoothest texture of any legume that isn’t a chickpea cooked to death. I make beans sound quite frightening, but they’re actually by far the most versatile protein source for a vegan, because they have the starchy blandness you would expect from a potato, but with the added benefits of having nutritional benefits.

So far, I’ve only mentioned white beans. This is no accident, because although kidney beans are the highest in protein and borlotti beans the most beautiful, white beans are the best option for feeding bean-sceptics. You may not believe me, but they are out there, people who think beans make you fart and don’t do anything else for you. And as farting is unacceptable in polite society, they don’t eat beans. We must overturn this stereotype: farting is just farting and it should be accommodated in polite society to avoid trapped wind on a population-wide level. Also, beans don’t make you fart. I’ve checked.

Most people only eat beans if they’re baked beans as part of breakfast – and herein lies the persuasive power of the white bean, because baked beans are white. I believe they’re haricots, which is really just the French word for ‘bean’. If you wash off the (sickly-sweet, regurgitation-worthy) baked-bean sauce, you will discover that they are white.

The thing with white beans is that they soak up flavour. One recipe from Diana Henry is essentially white beans poached in bay-inflected extra virgin olive oil and that’s a side dish! (To pork poached in olive oil. It was something of a theme for this menu.) Therefore, if you’re making a bean broth like the one I’m recommending below, you need to make sure you choose really nice stock and really nice herbs. Like all soups, it’s not so much a recipe as a template, so you can change the ingredients to suit the contents of your fridge. Celeriac, chilli, ginger, coriander, tomato, potato, lemongrass, parsley, turnip, radish, sweetcorn, mange tout – all can go in. You just need the courage – you need to bite the bean.

Bean broth – to serve 2 because I have a very small casserole

  1. So this is how I like to make it. In a 2l casserole or saucepan with a lid, heat up 2-3 tbsp olive oil (the grassier the better) then add 1 peeled and sliced onion and sauté for 5 minutes.
  2. Whilst this is frying, dice 1 broccoli or celery stalk, slice the hardy leaves of 1 cauliflower, and chop 2 carrots and 1/4 - 1/2 swede. Add these to the pot as you go, giving a firm stir to make sure nothing catches. There’s no reason it should, but it could, and that’s the point.
  3. Peel and chop 2 big garlic cloves. Don’t cut them too small because then you won’t have small morsels of deliciousness floating in your soup – and that would be a tragedy. Add these to the pan along with 5 peppercorns, 1-2 tbsp dried herbs of your choice and enough vegetable stock to cover. I measure out boiling water with a measuring cup and then add the relevant amount of stock powder. I am not Melissa Hemsley. Bring to the boil, then put the lid on and simmer for up to 10 minutes.
  4. Add 80g wholegrain couscous and the drained and rinsed contents of 400g tin of beans (butter for preference), replace the lid and simmer for up to 5 minutes. You don’t need to worry if they don’t get submerged, because couscous steams too.
  5. Turn off the heat and chuck in 1-2 balls of frozen spinach, then put the lid back on so they defrost. Serve with a range of toppings on the side – balsamic glaze, pesto, gremolata, toasted flaked almonds, croutons, chilli oil, nutritional yeast flakes, fresh herbs – but I must warn you against adding something acidic like mustard, because swallowing acidic liquid is uncomfortably reminiscent of hangovers. I don’t remove the whole peppercorns, preferring to chew on them, but if you can be arsed to fish them out, they’re not hard to spot.

Notes: Obviously, vary the vegetables to suit what you have, and chop them up so everything cooks at the same speed. Vary the herbs as well and add spices if you so desire: you could use coriander seeds and mint, paprika and nutmeg, lemon zest and tarragon, dill and turmeric, wine and juniper. A world of flavours is open to you. Adding dried fruits with the stock will mean they plump up deliciously.

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A-Z of Vegetables: Tomatoes

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Saturday, 11 Nov 2023, 11:22

You may have noticed that tomatoes have cropped up in a few other recipes in this blog. You may have also noticed that almost the entirety of exported Italian cuisine has something to do with tomatoes. Well, in all fairness to tomatoes, they’re quite versatile, like the black pepper of the vegetable world. They can take on salty and bitter flavours in eye-wincing quantities whilst providing sweet, sour and umami tastes themselves. On top of that, you can get them all year round (tins are brilliant), grow them easily in Britain and they’re usually a jolly red colour which is always seasonally appropriate. You could equally hang them off your earlobes or a Christmas tree. Happy times!

What’s also incredible is the fact that nobody actually hates them. A person could be the most anxious eater on the planet and find tomatoes’ uncontrollable juiciness terrifying – all that uncontainedness! – but they probably like ketchup. Or baked beans. Or sun-dried tomatoes. Tomatoes have been so thoroughly deployed in recipes that we probably all eat them at some point or another, whether we like the fresh ones or not. 

The difficulty with the tomato is their tendency to a peculiar taste. Rather like melons, tomatoes can develop a watery metallic flavour not unlike lipstick – a bit like jasmine but less appealing. Others can taste like the sky in midsummer, or the promise of a flower meadow, or tomato. The sheer unpredictability of tomatoes mean that it is always worth knowing how to cook them in case they have contrived to be slightly inedible. Often a substandard or melon-like tomato can be improved by a dousing of balsamic vinegar with pinches of fine salt and dried basil, or wrapping the tomato in a fresh basil leaf like a birthday present, but otherwise you will have to roast them, fry them or make sorbet. (Weird idea, I know, but apparently tomatoes and strawberries are essentially interchangeable. Eat strawberries with mozzarella and you’ll see what I mean.)

Another brilliant thing about tomatoes is how tasty they are when they go a bit manky. Hear me out. It’s not that you simply eat a manky tomato – and heaven forfend you eat a gone-off tomato – but tomatoes which have begun to get a bit withered and old respond to cooking so well it’s almost worth buying a trugful and then waiting for them to sag like a parable for the futility of fighting time. (Almost. I still want some bouncing-ball fresh ones for my pesto panini.)

How to rescue manky tomatoes whilst still being the star of the show, serves 2

  1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC fan. Drain and chop 1 block of firm tofu, weighing approximately 250-300g, then put into a big mixing bowl along with 2-4 peeled garlic cloves. In a small jam jar with a lid, pour 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 heaped tsp wholegrain mustard, 1 tsp dried rosemary and a grind of black pepper, then put the lid on, shake it and pour this over the tofu.
  2. Peel and cut 2 onions into eighths and add to the tofu. Wash and halve or quarter 200g baby potatoes (up to you) and add those to the tofu. Wash what remains of your tomatoes and add these too. Toss everything in the big mixing bowl together so everything is coated in the salad dressing.
  3. Empty the contents of the mixing bowl onto as many roasting or baking trays as required for everything to fit in a single layer (it should be one, unless you are cooking vast quantities of tomatoes, in which case why not just boil them down to a concentrated pasta sauce with sautéed onions and celery?) Roast the lot for 30-35 minutes, by which point everything, even the tofu, will be crispy and delicious. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
  4. Serve with your usual suite of condiments – and a salad dressing to evoke the flavours of the tofu-soaking earlier. 

Notes: The reason I sprinkle with salt at the end and not the beginning is I find that salting potatoes before you roast them draws out their moisture and makes them damp and crispless. Which is a terrible shame, if still completely edible.

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A-Z of Vegetables: Onions

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I’m pulling out yet another tray of roast onions. The belch of steam from the oven temporarily fogs up my glasses and I question why Specsavers has not brought out their windscreen-wiper range. Anyway, the triangular prisms on the tray are bubbling away in the scant balsamic syrup beneath them; their outermost layers have become rumpled and chewy, like old bootstrap leather (vegan options are available). Their central layers have scorched and torched, like crisp ashen crowns upon their heads. The layers in between the chew and snap are succulent and yielding, slippery soft as silken bedsheets. How could one person tolerate such radically different textural experiences in one bite of vegetable? You can’t. You just press your knife at the base of the onion wedge and the layers flip apart for you to savour every last distinct mouthful.

I never used to have such a helpless dependency upon onions. Once upon a time I could go through dinner without an allium passing my lips. Now, as Nigella Lawson memorably said in How to Eat, I feel I cannot cook a thing without them. In fact, this is almost true, because pretty much every dinner recipe in my recipe jotter (which, humiliatingly, I bought when I was an unusually twee twelve-year-old yet continue to own) involves an onion. Is it their earthiness, their sulphurousness, their sweetness that I’m responding to? Is it their papery skins which feel so satisfyingly like scab-pulling when you peel them? Is it how useful they are for playing bowls? Or is it simply because at heart, I feel I ought to have been French and have internalised a British stereotype to compensate? Who could say? Zut alors (whatever that means).

Back to my roasted onions. What I’ve done is peeled and quartered or eighth-ed them depending on size (it’s absolutely vital to remove the papery skins on the outside, otherwise you will have paper cuts on the inside of your mouth), then tossed them in olive oil, chopped rosemary and balsamic vinegar and roasted at 180ºC fan for half an hour. You can also roast them for even longer and then mush them a bit and spread them onto crunchy bread – if you do this in privacy nobody will stare whilst your eyes roll like Catherine wheels in your head. I think onions get a bad rap as a vegetable, but I think that’s unfair when you consider how sweet and delicious they are. Think how many recipes begin with frying an onion. Gravy. Risotto. Soup. Stew. Pasta sauce. Omelette. Bhaji. Flammkuchen. I for one wouldn’t mind kissing somebody with onion breath – provided the person has had a shot of balsamic first, obvs.

Delightful side dish of onions – or something you can easily incorporate into other dishes

  1. See recipe above. What? I've a right to be cheeky sometimes!

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A-Z of Vegetables: Insalata

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Saturday, 11 Nov 2023, 11:22

Ok, I know I cheated. Insalata is not a vegetable. It’s just Italian for ‘salad’. But why don’t you try to think of a vegetable beginning with ‘I’?

I’m always stumped by articles written by ‘chefs’ who give recipes to suggest what to do with leftover vegetables that you don’t know what to do with. That half-pepper, that cabbage core, a quarter of an onion, a bag of lettuce. They give all sorts of interesting and clever solutions but never the most obvious one. Because when I hear someone say, ‘What do I do with these leftover vegetables?’, I think, ‘EAT THEM?’ Let’s face it, cooking vegetables isn’t hard (unless you’re preparing artichokes from scratch, you masochist). Even the most foreboding carrot steams into a decent-tasting side-dish. That’s the history of the vegetable: the side dish. Their flavours are specific enough to be eaten on their own. Steam that broccoli. Slice that cucumber. Fry that aubergine. Just make a sodding salad.

I promise you, there is not a vegetable under the sun which cannot be made appetising by the loving deployment of salad dressing. I mentioned when I was talking about B for Brussels sprout that the way to make boiled sprouts seem edible is to dunk them in salad dressing like a chip in ketchup and I stand by that. Heck, if sprouts can be made tasty, anything can. Shell out on special vinegars just for salad dressings and it won’t be a profligate expense, it will stop you wasting vegetables which are otherwise not going to get eaten. Sulphite-free balsamic and organic unfiltered cider are the luxury supermarket vinegars. In fact, I just cut my losses and buy posh vinegars to use in everything. I haven’t been able to afford shoes for years but at least my food is nice. 

What’s also great is the versatile bitterness of salad leaves. With the exceptions of iceberg, chicory and watercress – all of which are truly rank-tasting, especially watercress with its scum-scraped-from-the-bottom-of-the-pond vibe – salad leaves are a perfect foil to anything you happen to be eating. As a side, as a starter, as a palate-cleanser before you top up on your joie de vivre with apple crumble, they always work in the context of the meal you’re eating. My brother makes his Sunday roast with a well-dressed salad made of salad leaves and finely-sliced whatever vegetables from the fridge, and it clashes but it’s popular. (See? Just eat the vegetables with salad dressing.)

Obviously I had to include a salad recipe. I could hardly give the sort of all-rounder recipe that the above article champions, because it would read like this: ‘Prepare all vegetables in your fridge, cook if necessary, then stick in a bowl, dress, eat and feel nourished.’ So I’ve gone with this new invention of my mother’s, who, in her endless quest to convince my father that vegetables are lovely, discovered the versatility of frozen green beans.

My father’s side salad – he doesn’t make it, or even like it much, but I associate him with it anyway because it’s warm

  1. Heat up 1 tbsp olive oil in a sauté pan or frying pan and chuck 1 peeled, chopped onion or 1 washed, chopped leek into it, and fry it for 10 minutes so it stops being so raw. Remember leeks often have lots of mud in their layers.
  2. Whilst that’s happening, wash and shred 2 heads of lettuce – or whichever is your favourite/incumbent unloved salad vegetable – and put it in (or on) a big dish from which everybody can help themselves. I should have mentioned: this serves up to 5 salad eaters as a side dish. If there are leftovers, just stick them in the fridge and eat them tomorrow topped with a fried egg or something.
  3. Once the onion is softening and glassy, chuck into the pan 125g frozen green beans (and the same of frozen peas, if you want) and 1 tbsp capers in brine, drained as well as 1 tbsp of the caper-brine and the juice of half a lemon. Fry this all together for an additional 5-10 minutes until the beans are cooked and beginning to scorch. If they’re scorching but not cooking, just pour a little water into the pan to create a braising effect. Yes, cookery is genuinely this basic.
  4. When everything is cooked, ideally give it a bit of time to cool down. If this isn’t an option, simply tip this elegant but juicy mixture onto the lettuce and sprinkle over some toasted garlic granules, or serve with a garlicky salad dressing (which you have made yourself!) Doesn’t dinner look posh? Why don’t people have warm salads more often?
  5. Did you remember to also provide salad dressing? Serve the dressing separately because people like different amounts. Some people dribble salad dressing; some people drink it; some people will want gravy. You never know.

Notes: Do not fry garlic granules. Ever. They burn instantly. And you know frying pans. They burn when the food does. Don’t go there. Garnish garlic granules.

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A-Z of Vegetables: Garlic

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Tuesday, 21 Nov 2023, 17:53

Considering that the vegetable’s strongest flavour characteristic is that of thrice-worn 100%-lambswool socks, it’s ironic that dishes which foreground garlic are invariably as bland as socks for Christmas. The most obvious instances being garlic bread and ajo blanco, i.e. garlic and almond soup. Bread is the most staple of staple carbohydrates and almonds are the bread of the nut world, so really garlic is a bit player. At its most glamorous, garlic is part of a flavour trio with the more dominant (and irritating) chilli and ginger. What I’m saying is that garlic is the Richard Hammond of the spice world. But I always liked Total Wipeout more than The Grand Tour

I imagine Mr and Mrs Allium looking over at their culinary progeny and assessing them for their future potential. It’s hard bringing culinary vegetables into the world and they could only afford to send so many to college. Chive clearly wasn’t going anyway, swaying in the breeze and trying to pass himself off as grass in order not to be cooked. Leek was busy rolling around in the mud to the point of getting it in all their orifices – clearly a little bit dim, that one. The twins, Red Onion and White Onion, were continually trying to outdo each other in the sharpness stakes, throwing acid retorts and making each other cry. Shallot had rolled underneath the kitchen cabinets and was nowhere to be found. This left Garlic: small and unassuming in her starchy white dress with the multitudinous layers which wouldn't invariably fall apart under pressure. So they packed up her suitcase and sent her off to the most prestigious university for food in the world: French cuisine. The rest is history.

Garlic’s biggest problem is, in contrast with chilli and ginger, its dryness. Whereas chilli inflames your mouth and ginger licks it with heat, garlic irradiates moisture from your mouth unless pulverised into submission and in unfortunate cases, will leave you with that sulphurous sock tang in your mouth for fourteen hours, even if you brush your teeth. I once made a cannellini mash for dipping crudités and bread soldiers, but accidentally used so much garlic that it was completely inedible, no matter how much yoghurt I added.

How to rescue a garlicky mash gone wrong. When life gives you garlic, make falafels

  1. Mash a 400g tin of cannellini or butter beans, drained and rinsed in a bowl with 5 large cloves of minced garlic, 1 tbsp dried or chopped fresh parsley or rosemary, 3 tbsp olive oil and a splash of your favourite vinegar, to make a pulpy mash. Taste it and conclude that it is TOO GARLICKY TO BE EDIBLE.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Stir 4 tbsp flour (any kind) and 3 tbsp chopped chives and/or spring onions (optional) into the mash until it becomes a sort of dough. You may need more flour, or even to add a splash of water.
  3. Wet your own hands with water, then roll walnut-sized balls of the mash and place them on the baking tray. Brush or drizzle each ball with a little olive oil and bake them for 20-30 minutes until crisp on the outside.
  4. Serve with lashings of yoghurt or, better, tzatziki-style dipping, made by mixing together 150ml vegan yoghurt, 1 tsp dried mint, 6cm cucumber, chopped and, if you haven’t learnt your lesson already, 1 minced garlic clove

Notes: If your too-garlicky mash is potato, then use it to top a tomato-based, protein-filled sauce like chilli con carne, ragù or (what the Brits call) bolognese in an oven dish, dot with vegan butter and roast at 200ºC for 30 minutes until piping hot throughout. I think cottage pie of this style is disgusting, but I hate mashed potato too, so that’s really on you.

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A-Z of Vegetables: Edamame beans

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Saturday, 11 Nov 2023, 11:23

Who knew that tofu was a protein? My sister didn’t. ‘What do you mean, you didn’t realise it was a protein?’ I demanded. ‘I’ve been feeding it to you whenever I’ve cooked!’

She shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I just thought it was… white stuff.’

I’m horrified that she thinks I have been serving her organic polystyrene all this time.

Most people take against tofu on the grounds that it is rubbery or tasteless. Silken tofu is even more peculiar, having the mouthfeel of wet chalk and the flavour of nothing. Poor tofu. Nobody understands that once upon a time you were a glamorous vegetable. Sorry, did I say glamorous? Pardon my exaggeration. See, soya is a bean.

Sold as ‘edamame beans’ in the UK (rather than the unappealing moniker used elsewhere in the world, ‘soybean’), the beans look rather like beach-body-ready broad beans. They contain all, or almost all, essential amino acids, according to Antonio Carluccio, Jamie Oliver, Dr Rupy Aujla and others. Both their shape and high protein content make them the mesomorphic athletes of the bean world. They make skinnier (cannellini), broader (broad beans, duh), runtier (black-eyed) and spherical (peas) beans feel inadequate in comparison. Why can’t they all play along? You may notice that edamame beans never put an appearance in tins of mixed bean salads: this is because they’re too busy lounging in the freezer aisle, self-admiringly revelling in their firm bite and unobtrusive skins. It’s really no wonder that the inventor of tofu boiled them to death until their proteins flopped out of them, if just to make them less smug in their nutritional content.

Whilst tofu is more readily available than edamame beans, as well as being higher in protein for its weight, an edamame bean is still a delightful thing to eat in its own right. Whereas tofu at best has a flavour which we could describe as ‘bland’ – chicken breast without meatiness, salt without saltiness – edamame beans have a plasticine-like grassy taste with an undertow of vegetal mineraliness, which is offset quite nicely, in this popular salad of my mother’s, by peppery radishes, sweet peas and a zingy dressing.

Edamame salad dressed hot to trot with crunch, colour and contrast. Serves 4 lunchboxes. Eat with pasta or bulgur wheat to make more of a meal of it.

  1. Boil 300g frozen edamame beans and 300g frozen garden peas (petits pois are too small for this) for 4-5 minutes until they are cooked. Drain and let sit in the pot for a bit to air-dry.
  2. Wash and finely slice 4 medium spring onions (or 1 if it’s a chunky round-bottomed one). Wash and slice 100g radishes however way you like. Make a salad dressing with 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, 1/2 tsp chilli flakes, 1/2 tsp ground pepper and 1 minced clove of garlic
  3. Stir all the ingredients together in a big bowl, season and serve as a glamorous side dish to a Sunday roast. You could also zest the lemon from the dressing and add the zest too.

Notes: Not everybody tolerates chilli. Fortunately this, as with all recipes which use chilli as a spice, can be made just as easily without chilli and have no discernible flavour difference. After all, chilli has a nasty habit of killing your tastebuds anyway.

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A-Z of Vegetables: Mint

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Tuesday, 21 Nov 2023, 17:55

In the classic cocktail party game of ‘What Would You Have Strapped to Your Face for the Rest of Your Life if You Had to?’, I would have to choose mint. Don’t get me wrong, mint faced stiff competition from wild garlic flowers, violets, my specs and Joan from Mad Men, but mint – specifically peppermint – won out. Of all herbs and salad leaves, I think it’s absolutely fair to say that mint is far and away the most fragrant; the sort of vegetable you can smell coming before you see it. 

It also has the rare distinction of being able to beat intense onion and garlic flavours into submission – who has ever eaten tzatziki and gone, ‘Oof, that’s garlicky but whatever happened to the mint?’ This is a form of culinary domination that you wouldn’t expect from such a wrinkled, floppy-leaved plant. Why wouldn’t I want it strapped to my face for the rest of my life if I had to?

Moreover, it’s worth bearing in mind that there is no one mint, in the same way that there is no one potato. There is a multiplicity of mints out there, including but not limited to peppermint, spearmint, garden mint, curly mint, apple mint, liquorice mint, toothpaste and the Royal Mint (which I prefer to imagine is some sort of extra-delicious, extra-sturdy golden herb with enough menthol aroma to stun a cow at twenty paces). And for me, too much mint is too little mint. When I have something mint flavoured, I want the mint to steamroll all other flavours like a maniacal attention-grabber. I want it to be the top note, mid note and back note of the flavour profile. I want it so minty that it makes my eyes hurt. I know somebody who made a vinaigrette to pour over especially good mackerel, and she wept with how sharply delicious it was. I want mint choc chip to make me cry. If mint were a film, it’s Brief Encounter.

Now. Obviously mint isn’t for everyone (just like Brief Encounter). For many, mint sauce justifiably terrifies. (Why is it both musky and fresh at the same time? Why does it taste like blackcurrants?) Mint in milk chocolate was described by Niki Segnit in The Flavour Thesaurus as less appetising than what she finds in her dishwasher filter (amen, sister). Bendicks bittermints are the most morbidly foreboding hockey pucks I’ve ever eaten. I get it. And if you’re not ready to make mint your mantra (with melon, oh please try it with melon) then why not try the potato recipe below?

(This is not entirely a coup de recipe. I was originally planning to write M for Maris Piper Potato, but got sidetracked when I walked into a farmers market display and ended up with a bunch of mint strapped to my face. Anyway, enjoy your spuds. I’ll have mine with mint sauce.)

Sunday spuds which are just like crisps. Serves 6 but scale down if you don’t have three baking trays! Disclaimer: these are not crisps. These are no titbit. Share not with undeserving palates who don’t know what’s good.

  1. Preheat oven to 200ºC fan for optimal crispiness. If you don’t have a fan oven, then move house. Line three baking trays with silicone baking mats, or foil then greaseproof paper.
  2. Get out a big mixing bowl. Thoroughly wash 750g floury potatoes – trust me, you want the skins on for this. Using the slicer on a box grater, or a mandolin, or a sharp knife and strong grip, finely slice the spuds into 3mm-thick pieces. As you go, dump all the spud slices into your big mixing bowl and dry your eyes periodically. You haven’t even started slicing the onions yet but you’ve never done so much chopping in your life, it’s natural to cry.
  3. Remember how I mentioned onions? Peel 3 onions and quarter them through the base, then cut each quarter in half so they’re in eighths. Add these to the mixing bowl along with 1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary and 2-3 tbsp olive oil. Give everything a good oil-slicking mix and then lay out the slices across the trays, in one layer, and bake for 30 minutes, by which point the potatoes will be cooked and excitingly semi-burned.
  4. Leave to cool on the trays for a bit before scraping off the trays so the maximum amount of steam can escape. Alternatively, and if you have the table space for it, serve the potatoes on the trays as they are and encourage everybody to go in with cake forks. The logic of cake forks is their diminutive size stops people’s forks crashing into each other. Obviously use ordinary forks as Plan B. Plan C is croupier sticks.

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A-Z of Vegetables: Dill

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Saturday, 11 Nov 2023, 11:30

What’s that? You want a herb which smells like disinfectant and looks like a feather duster? Yes please.

Dill is such a ludicrous herb. Unlike the rest of the culinary soft herbs (basil, parsley, mint, tarragon etc.) it doesn’t even have any leaves! It opts instead for fronds which, if planted in a herbaceous border, make it look like something Alice would find in Wonderland, with a label saying ‘Eat me, I’m a turnip’. It's one of the most improbable vegetables I've ever seen, and if you try to chop it, it goes everywhere. Imagine the culinary equivalent of a dog shredding a down-filled pillow, and you're not far off.

Dill tastes so clean that it’s like taking your mouth to the car wash – garlic in reverse (and both garlic and dill go nicely in tzatziki). But don’t let this stop you. Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily recommend eating it on its own (which I do anyway, because yum), its nasal-cleansing properties make it incredibly useful in a range of dishes – either for giving the sprightliness you would except from, say, lemon juice, or for scaring small children. I am massively keen on putting cucumber in every sandwich because its ability to blandly cut through fatty/salty/tart flavours, and dill does something similarly without making your bread wet. And as we all know from picnics, nothing is sadder than a wettened sandwich.

On flexitarian days, few sandwiches are more satisfying than ones made with dill, cucumber, vermilion Scottish smoked salmon and the sort of German rye bread which looks like it’s used for building houses instead of sandwiches. Whilst this black bread is historically ‘peasant bread’, this sandwich tastes luxurious and, in the grand scheme of animal products, cheap. Unless you have an allergy to salicylates, fish or gluten, you have no excuse not to try it.

Nevertheless, in keeping with the veganism of this blog, I shall share a risotto recipe with you. I credit the combination of tomato and dill as a flavour bomb to Rukmini Iyer and The Green Roasting Tin cookbook, but I have edited the recipe to reflect my own preferences – not least because I don’t like the chewiness of pearl barley. If I wanted to sit at the table chewing until my fillings fall out, I’d eat the placemat. Eating pearl barley is satisfying in its way (like all exercise), but if I’m eating a huge bowl of grains, I really want them to be more yielding.

Tomato and dill risotto, which tastes nicer than it sounds. To serve 2

  1. Set the oven to 160ºC fan and make sure you have some laundry hung up to dry near the oven. You have two options: use a pan and a foil-topped roasting tin, or make life easier and use a lidded casserole throughout. I prefer the casserole option.
  2. Boil 750ml water in the kettle. Heat up 1 tbsp olive oil in the casserole (or pan) and sauté 2 sliced onions with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes until softening and glassier. Easy peasy. Next, add 2 minced or sliced garlic cloves and 150g risotto rice to the pan and stir until the rice grains are all slicked. This is so easy! Sprinkle over a bit of your favourite vinegar and stir that in.
  3. Turn off the heat and, if using sauté pan instead of casserole, empty the sauté pan into the roasting tin. Add the following to the casserole/roasting tin: 200g tomatoes (no need to chop and small ones are ideal), the 750ml boiling water, 11/2 stock cubes or 3 tsp stock powder and 1 tsp dried mixed herbs. Dot the top of it all with 1 tsp vegan butter or margarine, then cover with the lid/foil and bung in the oven for 40 minutes. Make sure the washing is drying near the oven!
  4. Take out the risotto, add 100g frozen sweetcorn, put the lid back on and roast for another 10 minutes.
  5. Wash and chop about 15g fresh dill. Add this to the risotto along with some lemon juice if desired and serve.

Notes: If you have leftover supermarket dill, wash and chop it then freeze it in ice cubes. Add frozen dill to this recipe as you would the sweetcorn.

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