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The best films I have ever seen

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Wednesday, 27 Mar 2024, 16:21

Two people seated at a large table in a garden room, reading newspapers

Citizen Kane

You can watch almost any film ever made since 1941 and there will be an echo of Citizen Kane in it. Focus and it’s there, as resonant and specific as the dying gasp of ‘Rosebud’ which punctuates the entire film. Have you ever seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? The Godfather? Aftersun? Then there will be something in Citizen Kane you recognise.

The juggernaut-like legacy the film has left behind has rather obscured the poignancy of the story: a very broken man whose entire existence is an attempt to recapture senses of security, joy and love. It is an unemotional argument for the necessity of unconditional parental love and how misunderstandings can ruin a person’s life. In fact, it’s a testament to the film’s quality that it is neither tragic nor melodramatic, especially when you consider Orson Welles watched Stagecoach as research.

Citizen Kane is so intricately constructed that I reckon it invented academic film study. What is so unnerving on first watch is the sheer specificity of embellishments, of snowglobes, jigsaws and breakfasts surrounded by pot-plants. This is because everything you see on screen, the order in which you see it and the way it is presented to you, can be identified as purposeful with an attached meaning which adds to the appreciation of the story. This is the influence the film has over every other: that filmmaking is not only an art, but one of such intricate and spiralling possibilities that if a woman dressed in white is just a woman dressed in white then, quite frankly, watching is a waste of time.


Image address [Free to share and use]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Citizen-Kane-Welles-Warrick-Breakfast.jpg

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The best films I have ever seen

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Tuesday, 12 Mar 2024, 09:27

Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant, both angsty and on the telephone in His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday

People always say to me of Shakespeare: ‘He’s a classic, but of course things seem unfunny/misogynistic/antisemitic/trite/boring as hell, because you have to appreciate him in the context of his time.’ Yeah, well, for me, that’s not good enough. A piece of art ceases to be a classic when it ceases to speak to its audience – by which I do mean me. A classic must entertain beyond its time. I believe Shakespeare is rubbish because his contemporaries are so much better: Aphra Behn, Ben Jonson and Thomas Kyd wrote plays with more accessible language, better constructed plots and HAMLET ISN’T IN ANY OF THEM.

But I digress. The point is that a classic should remain so for as long as it entertains, enraptures or engages the audience. Whilst some comedies from the Golden Age fail to raise a chuckle (My Man Godfrey, I’m looking at you), His Girl Friday is so whip-smart, fresh and feisty that you’re almost afraid to laugh lest you miss another brilliant zinger. It’s the comedy Shakespeare wished he had written. The idea to have the characters speaking across each other throughout the film is such an audacious move that even today, it’s almost never done, even in Aaron Sorkin.

To give away even an overview of the plot seems a crying shame, but basically Rosalind Russell is a journalist who divorced Cary Grant, her ex-editor who now wants her to cover one last story. What’s so fresh, even now, is that Russell’s professional talent is explicitly rated by all other characters (except Paul Bellamy’s stock doofus) above her beauty and fabulous dress sense. Considering that this is a woman in 1940 – Simone de Beauvoir hadn’t even written The Second Sex yet! – makes it even more exciting politically. This is only one way in which this still topical film resonates: there is also a fascinating exploration into the morality of owning firearms. I showed this film to friends who typically hate screwball comedies whose socks were knocked off by this film. Seriously: watch.

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The best films I have ever seen

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Cyrano (2021)

There’s a terrible trend in the visual and musical arts at the moment: the idea that beauty is an overrated, outdated concept. Better for an artwork to shock or disturb. Things don’t have to be beautiful to be art, they say: things don’t have to be beautiful to have an impact.

I condemn this idea. The achievement of beauty through art is not only a showcase of skill; it makes art worthwhile in the first place. What is the point in creating something which looks like a manifesto – or worse, a reactionary piece to somebody else’s – if nobody wants to look at it because you have made it ugly? Ugliness is not a mode of expression; it’s a statement of artistic quality.

The exception to this trend is in film. I put it down to the existence of Cinematography film awards, which force filmmakers to consider the aesthetic qualities of the production. And I have seen no film more beautiful than Cyrano

Given its plot is so dependent upon aesthetic appreciation, it is no wonder that beauty is threaded into every piece of production on the film – the effect is utterly heart-stopping. Beauty is coded into every frame, the presentation of the actors, the songs they sing and the words they say. The handling of the theme of love is breathtakingly beautiful in itself and the ‘Every Letter’ scene is so palpably moving that I don’t watch it so much as feel it, feel it in every inch of my body. I find it hard to write about a film which had such an unstoppable effect on me, but it has seared me to the core in a way that no other film has.

Cyrano is a drastically under-appreciated film, and works as an irrefutable argument in favour of the importance of beauty.



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The best films I have ever seen

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Tuesday, 12 Mar 2024, 09:29

Wallpaper flare free download poster, depicting Wall-E and EVE from the film 'dancing' in space

Wall-E

Children’s films have a commitment to truth which ‘adult’ films typically refuse to have. Upon passing puberty, the true mark of artistic quality is ambiguity, as if the inability to accurately sum up stuff indicates maturity. Citizen Kane is characterised by an avoidance of easy answers; The Godfather can be read to both demonise and exult the Mafia. Children’s films bypass such intellectual cop-outs by telling concrete stories with specific moralities. The best example of this is Pixar’s Wall-E

Wall-E, were it not for human characters, practically counts as a silent movie, and its titular protagonist reminds us of the Little Tramp. In fact, the film refers to classic cinema throughout, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Hello, Dolly! and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Wall-E is literally a rubbish robot left on Earth after humanity evacuated in 2105 who, when searching through the detritus of human civilisation, learns senses of curiosity, beauty and emotion. When a scout robot named EVE comes to Earth searching for evidence of plant life, Wall-E appears to fall in love with her and her mission becomes his.

Not only does the film constitute a manifesto on the benefits of unadulterated love, but carries a heavy (but by no means heavy-going) moral message on the intellectual and emotional cost of sacrificing our planet to consumerism, wastefulness and human-driven climate change. The film is heartbreaking without being desolate and uncompromisingly comical. On that note, it is always a good idea after watching the main feature to see the associated animated short, Burn-E, which just proves that everyone’s a protagonist in their stories!

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Top 10 Jim Steinman songs: The Top 1

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1. I’d Do Anything for Love (Meat Loaf, 1993)

You don’t get more Jim Steinman than this! Twelve minutes of sheer, relentless bombast, ever-increasing stakes in the wild promises made by the male singer (can he return from hell? Yup) made even more over-the-top by the challenges levelled by his lover (can he build an emerald city out of grains of sand? Yup). Frankly, there’s an excellent reason why this topped the charts all over the world. This is ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ grown up, maturer, and with a sense of the limits love must go to beyond the black-and-white morality of youth (can he screw around? Nope). The song is also one of immense beauty, complete with screaming angels and revving motorbikes – as ever, the clash between the divine and the dirty, euphoria and apocalypse which makes Jim Steinman such a unique songwriter.


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Top 10 Jim Steinman songs of all time: medal positions!

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Friday, 23 Feb 2024, 15:42

2. Paradise by the Dashboard Light (Meat Loaf, 1977)

This song is almost a musical in its own right, falling into four separate narrative ‘scenes’ which build to a crescendic climax which the characters never quite get in their night together. The exuberantly pouncy music and ebullient couplets in the first section evokes youthful naïvety, before moving into the bizarrest way of portraying a love tryst: racing commentary. However, it's when Ellen Foley's character (apparently recorded in one take) becomes standoffish in the third section when the song turns farcically hilarious and a joy to behold. The fourth section is a cumulation of what's gone before and if you haven't started dancing and screaming along by that point then I can't help you.

Most Steinamnesque line: 'Glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife'

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Top 10 Jim Steinman songs of all time: medal positions!

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Wednesday, 21 Feb 2024, 11:54

3. Dead Ringer for Love (Meat Loaf and Cher, 1981)

A key characteristic of Jim Steinman’s music is complete clarity of voice: the lyrics should be un-confusable. Hence why this duet is so impressive, because it is fast; Meat Loaf and Cher don’t deliver so much as spit out the lyrics with a lusty speed which lesser singers would trip over. At the same time, the song works like a sitcom in miniature: Meat Loaf of the awful chat-up line (‘Throw the dog a bone’) and Cher of the diamond-sharp put-down (‘You’ve got the kind of mind that does less than think’). Think West Side Story if it was written by anarchists and you’re not far off.

Most Steinmanesque line: the title line has got to be one of the most daring allusions in rock history.

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Top 10 Jim Steinman songs of all time

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4. What Part of My Body Hurts the Most? (Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton, 2017)

People don’t come to Jim Steinman expecting a lovely song. Written especially for his jukebox musical, ‘What Part of My Body Hurts the Most?’ is as lovely as rock gets. Sung by an old married couple following a separation, they invoke phantom limbs and exorcisms in a sad lament of their mutual loneliness. See? Lovely. Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton are the voices on the original soundtrack, and quite frankly it’s devastating that Steinman never wrote an album for them, because they have the bombast to carry it off.

Most Steinmanesque line: 'You're a ghost and I've been cursed – But if you were exorcised, it would only make it worse!'

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Top 10 Jim Steinman songs of all time

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5. Holding out for a Hero (Bonnie Tyler, 1986)

This is Jim Steinman at his most libidinously hysterical. It’s essentially five solid minutes of Bonnie Tyler screaming into a wind tunnel. The epic style of Steinman’s music means that a certain enormity of voice is mandatory. This is why Air Supply and Barry Manilow should not have been allowed to sing his music. Fortunately, Bonnie Tyler has such an impressive set of pipes that the unreasonably high criteria she has for a lover in this song seems not only justified, but non-negotiable. You would expect no less than a superman to woo a woman with fire in her blood!


Most Steinmanesque line: The one about there being fire in her blood, see above.

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Top 10 Jim Steinman songs of all time

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Wednesday, 14 Feb 2024, 09:36

6. Rebel without a Clue (Bonnie Tyler, 1986)

Have you ever heard a guitar sing? Bonnie Tyler’s duets with disposable men (Total Eclipse, Loving You’s a Dirty Job) don’t stand up to the plaintive wail of the guitar in the bridge of this masterpiece. I cannot imagine why this song isn’t more well-known – it’s humorous, the imagery comes thick and fast with some of the most exuberant rhyme schemes anywhere else in rock. It’s awfully grown-up for a song about (ahem) romantic ineptitude…

Most Steinmanesque line: ‘Dirty Harry to Madonna!’ 


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Top 10 Jim Steinman songs of all time

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7. Bat Out of Hell (Meat Loaf, 1977)

This is one hell of a prologue (pun intended). As an exemplar of Jim Steinman’s extraordinarily evocative imagery, this opening number (for his career!) is unparalleled. It sounds like the shooting script for a dystopian blockbuster, whilst also moving through unpredictable musical phases. It has all the elements of a good story: protagonist, love interest, obstacles, goals, three-part structure; and to top it all, it's the highest-selling debut in pop history. Not bad for a song about motorbikes.

Most Steinmanesque line: ‘He was starting to foam in the heat.’ I mean, what does that even mean?


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Top 10 Jim Steinman songs of all time

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8. Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire (Meat Loaf, 1993)

Unusually devoid of laments, dystopias or irony, Steinman finally wrote an unambiguously happy song for Bat out of Hell II (not counting the random ‘walking wounded’). It opens with a cheery woohoo from each of the instruments, building into a surrealist city in which yet another libertine attempts seduction via a series of extravagant metaphors backed by yet another angelic choir. It’s great fun! (Do note that the full-length song is actually the half-length song sung twice.)

Most Steinmanesque line: ‘You can feel the pulse of the pavement racing like a runaway horse.’


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Top 10 Jim Steinman songs of all time

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9. Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler, 1983)

Sometimes considered Steinman’s masterpiece, this inescapably weird song is accompanied by an even weirder music video. But don't worry – the look isn't the point, we're here for Tyler’s raspy voice and Rory Dodd’s scrotally-scrunching falsetto, each reflecting the wild torment in the lyrics. The song literally explodes off the record player with sudden harmonic shifts and continual escalation, as frightening and dazzling as staring into the sun. What a coincidence!

Most Steinmanesque line: 'We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks.'

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Top 10 Jim Steinman songs of all time

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10. It’s All Coming Back to Me Now (Céline Dion, 1996)

If anything, this may be the hardest song in Celine Dion’s catalogue, requiring as it does the quiet bits to be sung loudly and the loud bits to be sung REALLY LOUDLY. There’s no easing in, making ‘My Heart Will Go On’ seem like a warm-up. Despite Dion's almost antibacterial elegance, the music video is nevertheless classic Steinman, complete with motorbikes, gothic manors and ostentatiously symbolic lightning. But don’t listen to the extended version: 6 minutes is this song’s natural length.

Most Steinmanesque line: 'There were nights when the wind was so cold, that my body froze in bed if I just listened to it right outside the window.'

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Top 10 Jim Steinman songs of all time

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Everybody has that one album, one songwriter, one voice which seems to ricochet around their heart. A musical arrow which lands so directly into the bullseye of your soul you wonder if it was written directly for you. As surprising as it is to anybody who knows me – the shambolic, fluffy-spirited musical theatre fan – the rock innovator Jim Steinman writes the music to my soul. Something about the extremes of emotion, the dizzying heights of humour, the random angelic/satanic choirs, all captures me spellbound. 

Hopefully it isn't just me. 

Whilst I'm not a music critic, and I'm not studying music with the OU, I believe (hope) that my lived experience is enough to make a semi-authoritative list of the best Jim Steinman songs he ever wrote. I also intend to give a flavour of Jim Steinman music as a genre unto itself, in the hope that he does not remain a niche obsession.

Things are looking up for his influence. Olivia Rodrigo's recent hit single Vampire seems to at least reference the gothic twinges, searing agony and wild excesses of Jim Steinman. More like this, please!

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A-Z of Vegetables: Yeast

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Saturday, 2 Dec 2023, 09:50

It’s time to go out with a bang! In spite of my best efforts, I could not provide you with a vegetable which began with X or Z – although I did consider calling it zalzify instead of salsify. I decided I couldn’t get away with it. Thank you to everyone (well, anyone) who read this blog. It has been fun for me to write and hopefully will lead to more exciting things, like, I dunno, the A-Z of fruit. I’ve already got U for ugli fruit, but I haven’t a clue what that is.

Anyway, our last vegetable is yeast, which we eat more of than we realise. It’s in bread, it’s in Marmite, it’s in shop-bought tortellini and pesto, it’s in beer (is that right? I’m teetotal). It’s also vital to the vegan diet, what with veganism generally not having enough vitamin B12 in it. However, this is not because vitamin B12 is found only in meat and dairy – it’s because vitamin B12 is found in the sort of microorganisms which exist in higher concentration in animal products. The solution? Eat the microorganisms. This is how we get ‘nutritional yeast flakes’ – a name for a mushroom which has been harvested off molasses and turned into a cheesy sprinkle. Why they decided to call them nutritional yeast flakes is beyond me. I don’t see anything wrong with marketing something as ‘cheesy sprinkle mushroom’.

Nutritional yeast’s unnerving similarity in flavour to Parmesan makes it extremely useful in making vegan versions of cheese – which is the thing most commonly pined for by new vegans. Macaroni cheese, béchamel and onion soup can all be livened up with nutritional yeast. I use it to make the best (easiest) cheat’s pizza ever: oatcake, tomato paste, nutritional yeast. Done.

I hope that despite nutritional yeast’s visual similarity to wizened cornflakes, it becomes much more popular with people and more widely available. The carbon footprint of hard cheese is gigantic, and hopefully nutritional yeast can be an effective substitute. The below recipe was written when I was craving something with the same sort of meaty munch quality as, well, meat, but I decided to rely on the umami found in plant products. Paprika, mushroom, miso and yeast are the best suppliers of umami in my kitchen, and when I combine them all it makes for a hearty and comforting meal. And my heart will be comforted by all the good fibre and low saturated fat in my dinner.


‘I don’t miss meat at all’ baked orzo, serves 2

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC fan. In a small roasting tray (I use one that’s about 30cm x 23cm), stir 125g orzo pasta, 2-4 chopped garlic cloves, 1 tsp dried or freshly chopped rosemary and 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika.
  2. Drain and rinse a 400g tin mixed beans. You can also use tinned bean salad, but don’t drain it, keep the sauce! Pour the beans (with sauce if present) on top of the orzo. I do this around the edges to stop the orzo floating up.
  3. Chop 1 big onion or 2 small ones any way you like, then sprinkle this on top of the beans and orzo. Drizzle the lot with 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp wine vinegar, then pour in 250ml boiling mushroom stock (made with stock cube).
  4. Put the tray in the oven for 25 minutes, by which time the orzo should be cooked in a chewy, frangible way. Stir in 3 level tbsp miso paste and 2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes. Dish up and serve.

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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: Swede

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Cue many depressing jokes about turnips and Swedish people. Sigh. Maybe I should have leant into my Scottishness and just called them ‘neeps’ in the N article, instead of making a big song and dance about seaweed. Never mind. 

Swedes taste somewhere between cabbage and radish, except sweeter than both, especially when roasted (although cut them into batons and steam them and they will be as yellow as rods from a nuclear reactor). Their honeyish flavour can be enhanced with carrots and star anise in a soup which will be so sweet you’ll be wondering why you’re putting croutons in pudding. But roasted, swede goes crisp on the outside and buttery in the inside, rather like a good pumpkin. 

(Side note: there’s no such thing as a good pumpkin. They’re specifically bred to taste disgusting so children don’t chew on them when lit for halloween. They’re also nigh-on impossible to cut open unless you have good knives because you’re a Tudor executioner. Buy squash instead.) But back to swedes.

The most interesting thing about swedes – hey, cut me some slack, I’m writing about root vegetables here! – is how they are, in essence, just an enormous radish. In fact, what you can do is lightly steam radishes, white turnip slices and swede slices and do a taste comparison of the three: you’ll find that they’re basically all the same thing, in much the same way that a Miniature Pinscher, Golden Retriever and German Shepherd are basically all the same thing.

Speaking of swede’s cousins, I’m just going to use them as examples to make a political point – specifically, in relation to how supermarkets have led the developed and developing worlds into a distasteful mindset of being able to eat whatever they want, whenever they want. In early 2023, some supermarkets were suffering shortages of salad vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers, which in the winter are not grown in the UK (unless in an enormous hothouse like Thanet Earth). Senior politician Therese Coffey was mocked for suggesting that the UK populace eat turnips instead. But British turnips are not as easy to find in supermarkets, compared to their summer-grown and imported cousins, radishes. The commodification of food in this way has led to the point where turnips, when suggested to be eaten, are laughed at. Lest we forget, we are living through a climate crisis which is altering the very ground in which we farm food. I’m not suggesting that radishes aren’t delicious, but we need to recognise that just because turnips are always available, they’re not a beautiful colour, their flavour is delicate, it doesn’t mean that turnips aren’t worth eating. In winter, we shouldn’t be eating fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and radishes simply because they’re not meant to be grown in winter. We would diminish our carbon footprints if we all agreed to abide by the seasons when we choose our vegetables: radishes in summer, turnips in winter. This doesn’t mean that winter food need be boring: Maris Pipers, onions, carrots, cabbages, squashes, celery, sprouts and swede are all delicious when cooked well and some can be eaten raw. Frozen and canned foods are available. My point is that just because a vegetable is unglamourous, or unfashionable, or isn’t eaten elsewhere in the world – who cares? Globalism has made the super-rich super-richer and caused global devastation on our environment. One thing we can do to mitigate this is to take up or investigate veganism. The next is to eat the food grown on our shores. And we can start by roasting swede with plums.


Jammy swede, which is an ideal side for 4 portions of a bland protein like tofu

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC fan. Yes, this is the temperature I use for virtually everything. It also happens to be a preset temperature on my oven.
  2. Chop 1 swede, which will be the size of a small football, into ping-pong-ball-sized chunks and put in a small roasting tray. Halve and stone 6 plums and add those too. 
  3. Pour over 1-2 tbsp olive oil, toss to coat in the oil, and roast for 1 hour until the swede slices all the way through and the plums have reduced down to an almost-sauce which is gooey, caramelised and fruity in the same (but less expensive) way of balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses. Have you seen how expensive that last one is? Bloody hell.

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A-Z of Vegetables: Red cabbage

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Tuesday, 21 Nov 2023, 17:41

It’s very hard not to believe in magic when there’s such a thing as red cabbage in the world. As a child, it was always fun ruminating on why it was called ‘red cabbage’ – had they not invented purple at the time – but that’s before you get onto the astounding behaviour of the cabbage in regard to its own colour. The vegetable appears to have taken the semantic quibble of its name very personally: just watch when you cook it plainly, or even just bruise it: what is that colour? No foods are truly, naturally that colour, even blueberries are grey-violet. But no, red cabbage is, in fact… blue cabbage.

It’s something to do with its chemistry. Basically, red cabbage is what’s known as a ‘universal indicator’, meaning that it changes colour depending on the acidity (or alkalinity) of its environment – like litmus paper. Hence, if you’ve been busy braising red cabbage and you don’t want to put off your dinner guests with what looks like mutilated Smurfs, then simply add some vinegar or something else acidic and it will automatically become purple again. Add some more, and it turns pink. That’s because Acidity is Pink and Alkalinity is Blue (which was the title of my imaginary PhD).

The most common way of eating red cabbage is probably at Christmas, as part of the traffic-light vegetable medley of braised cabbage, roast carrots and growling sprouts. However, you can eat red cabbage like any other cabbage too: boiled like white cabbage, stir-fried like Savoy cabbage, raw like Sweetheart cabbage. In fact it is in its raw form that I most implore you to try it. You have to use red cabbage for coleslaw. You must, you must, you must. Who doesn’t want purple coleslaw? I do. Add beetroot too and your toilet visits will be as pink as the rose-tinted spectacles you’re wearing to cope with me mentioning toilets in a food article.

I have a big space in my heart for red cabbage. Actually, my heart probably is a red cabbage. In flavour terms, I think of cabbage as coming into your cottage from a long but refreshing country walk in the rain. I once read a recipe for game chips which said that it’s hard to say how many the recipe feeds because people generally eat as much as you put in front of them. I’m like that but with red cabbage.


Roast red cabbage burgers which you could pretend are actually burgers if you’re in the mood to insult somebody’s intelligence. To serve 3.

  1. Preheat the oven to 190ºC fan and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. This is because I do not believe in scraping burnt sticky bits off sheets of metal but if you are of a different persuasion, feel free to do what you want. I’m not washing up.
  2. Wash your 1 red cabbage and if any of the leaves are revolting, remove them. If they’re blue, that’s fine. Red cabbage is actually blue. Which only sounds insane if you think about it.
  3. Turn the cabbage upside down and cut the cabbage into slices using the core as a guide: you want to cut the core into 4 pieces, and the rest of the cabbage therefore into 4 slices.
  4. Put the slices of cabbage on the baking tray and sprinkle a pinch of salt onto each cabbage slice, paying particular attention to the core – this will help them soften. Using 4 tbsp quince jelly (optional but ambrosial), spread quince jelly across each cabbage. 
  5. Into a small jar with a lid, pour 1 tbsp oil, 1 tsp balsamic, cider or red wine vinegar and 2 tsp mustard, then put the lid on and shake it up, then pour the contents over the cabbage slices. Roast the cabbage slices for 30 minutes. Whilst you’re at it, maybe you should roast some tofu and other bits and pieces for dinner. Toss the chopped tofu in cornflour and ground pepper, drizzle with oil and roast it too.
  6. The best thing to do is get out a slice of bread so when the cabbage is cooked, it can get slipped onto the bread with all its divinely purple cooking juices.
  7. Look, the cores of the slices will still be tough. Edible, but tough. You don’t have to eat them! You can cut them out and chuck them in the soup or sauce you’re making tomorrow! You could blitz them into a smoothie! You could fry them into soffritto! But if it’s all the same to you, I’m going to eat mine anyway.

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A-Z of Vegetables: Quince

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Friday, 10 Nov 2023, 10:30

One Saturday, I got home from the rather middle-class activity of buying fresh croissants from the local market for a late breakfast, and returned instead with a brown bag of ominous, hairy orbs.

‘What on earth are they?’ My flatmate demanded.

‘Quinces,’ I grinned.

‘Why are they hairy?’

‘I’m not sure. And get out from behind that sideboard. It’s just a fruit.’

Ah, I have given myself away now. You thought a quince might be a vegetable, didn’t you? You were expecting some sort of cousin of the cucumber, the one with the deformations which the family keep away in the west wing of the castle whilst they play croquet with the neighbours – because quinces seem very Victorian, and look like the fruit of a Gothic novel. They behave like the fruit of a Gothic novel too: when cooked and therefore loved, they are coral-pink, glassy fruits with the texture of fresh, salted butter; when uncooked and therefore completely inedible, they are jaundiced yellow with a tight knot of poisonous pips in the centre, covered in a patchy brown fuzz and so fucking hard that you will bruise your chopping board trying to core them. 

Quinces need to be shown love to be beautiful. Love is pain. The love of quince is a pain in the arse.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy and eat quince. You absolutely should buy and eat quince. Quarter and core them and roast them for an hour, as you would a potato. Quarter and core them and grate them into an apple crumble or tarte tatin. Jelly them, jam them, make mincemeat out of them (Nigel Slater has a recipe), whatever you do, just buy the blasted things. Yes they’re a faff, but things that delicious must be indulged. Quinces are described in The Flavour Thesaurus as having a flavour like a cross between apple, pear, honey, rose and exotic fruit, except – in my opinion – far better than that actually sounds. It doesn’t taste in any way like Marie Antoinette’s bathwater, but instead like the sort of thing the Greek gods would eat on Mount Olympus after a good day of free love, smiting and turning people into flowers. 

Their scent is very powerful too – leave a bowlful in the fridge for two hours and every time you open the door you’ll be blasted with a resiny wine fragrance which completely blunts the edge off your hunger. So very useful for dieters to have in the house.

I must confess, I don’t even buy quinces regularly (and my paring knife has taken out a restraining order against the fruit), but I try to keep the agriculture of them going by buying quince jelly whenever possible, from brands such as Tiptree or Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference. Sometimes it’s called quince paste or membrillo, which is the same but thick. Heap it onto a crumpet and let your shoulders sink with its heavenly delights.

Oh, and by the way – don’t peel them. Just don’t. The hairy fuzz washes off really easily and all the flavour is in their skin. I learnt this the hard way when I made quince crumble with peeled quinces that had all the flavour of a wine gum from 1997. Don’t repeat my mistakes. Good luck and god speed quinces in your direction.


Quince crumble – mmmm for 2 but if it’s just you, save one half for breakfast tomorrow

  1. If you know a foodie friend or an axe-wielding maniac, invite them and their strongest knife around for an evening of fun chopping. Or roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. Don’t drink a protein shake beforehand, you’ll spoil your appetite. Anyway, wash the fuzz from 2 fist-sized quinces, then quarter them, remove their cores and slip them into a pot which contains 750ml boiling water and 100g sugar. Simmer for 40 minutes, then drain but reserve the liquid. Leave to cool enough to dice into a smallish crumble dish. Grate half of the pieces to have a more apple crumble-like texture. Keep the skin on the quince – it’s not texturally noticeable in the eating.
  2. The reason I suggest you boil them for so long at the beginning is because it’s a hell of a lot easier than dicing them raw.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200ºC fan. Make crumble with your usual method. For a pudding basin of 1.2 l, I use 75g plain flour, 25g wholemeal flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder and 50g cold, cubed vegan butter or margarine (fat content minimum 70%). Rub the fat into the flours until the texture of breadcrumbs or lumpy sand, then using a fork, stir in 40g granulated sugar (big-grained sugars make better crumble). Put the crumble in the fridge until ready to use.
  4. When the oven is up to temperature, stir 1 tbsp quince jelly into the quince in the pudding dish, plus 4 tbsp quince-boiling liquid. We are going Owl-and-Pussycat levels of quince here. Gently pour over the crumble and spread it out flat, then sprinkle 1 tbsp porridge oats over the top, like my Grandma always does. Whack the crumble in the oven for 30-45 minutes until the crumble topping is crisp to the touch.
  5. Let it cool down for 20 minutes or so once out of the oven, and use this time to make some decent vegan custard. I use Bird’s custard powder, following the packet instructions but halving the quantities and adding 1 tsp vanilla extract at the end. The only stipulation when making vegan custard is you cannot use oat milk. It does not work. At least not for me. I hope oat milks haven’t collectively taken out a vendetta against me. And for quince crumble, avoid strong-tasting plant milks like coconut or hazelnut. You want the kindly mellowness of soya or almond milk instead. Invite the axe-wielding maniac back to meditatively stir the custard, because it will calm them down enough to realise that there’s more to life than wielding axes. 

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A-Z of Vegetables: Violets

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Friday, 27 Oct 2023, 15:24

Roses are red, but violets are better. The classic in the world of British chocolate making is to have pink-dyed rose fondants sharing the box with purple-dyed violet fondants, but in my experience there are always too few violet ones... because they’re not all violet ones. 

Rose is far too common a flavour to genuinely feel exciting: they’re the wtf flavour of so many hand-creams and perfumes, and their gaudy can-can petals make them popular in gardens all over the place. No wonder violets shrink when confronted with so much ubiquity. If Forrest Gump was British, the box of chocolates metaphor would mean the path well-travelled (rose) versus the individualistic, hedonistically fulfilling and unexpected option (violet).

Another fascinating thing about violet flavour is that the particular scent of the flower – that is to say, what it smells like in the wild – has chemicals in it which numb the receptors in your nose. This gives violet its magical, fleeting quality, the sort of miracle you forget the majesty of, thus keeping it secret and special. Unfortunately, this forgettability seems to be driving violets out of existence, culinarily speaking. Crystallised violets, for instance, used to be a common and popular garnish for sweet things like chocolate cake or poires belle Hélène, and now you will be hard-pressed to locate it in a shop which isn’t either online or Fortnum & Mason. And since I don’t have the sort of budget which covers frequent forays into a wedding-cake-masquerading-as-a-Mayfair-department-store, I have to make do with alternatives. Namely: online shopping. Ugh (says the blogger).

In a high-stakes game of most important flavours, violet would easily be at the top. I associate it with happy holidays: the crystallised violets which my baking-fan sister got in a box of fancy cake decorations, which included crystallised roses, coloured sugars and dragées; the violet shortbread which I picked up on my very first visit to Fortnum & Mason, in its own embossed purple tube; the aforementioned violet fondants which was my introduction to expensive chocolate, when my father bought Prestat one Christmas as a special treat (and then taught us all a valuable lesson in sharing); lastly, and perhaps most importantly for me, glace à la violette, which I ate in Brittany and remains for me the very nicest ice cream flavour.

It seems, like so many other foodstuffs, that we have to rely on the French for the continued availability of violet flavour. In order to continue the use of violet in my sweets, I buy concentrated violet flavour or the more accessible violet Monin syrup, which I use in the recipe below. You can also use the Monin syrup to make no-churn glace à la violette: just whip 300ml double cream, 50g icing sugar, 2 tbsp lemon juice and 125ml violet syrup to firm-to-stiff peaks, then stick in a tub and freeze. It helps to whip the first three ingredients whilst pouring in the fourth in a steady stream.


Violet and chocolate shortbread

  1. This recipe is adaptable! Hallelujah! Preheat the oven to 160ºC fan and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  2. Cream together 100g vegan baking block and 50g white sugar. This means beating it until its light and fluffy – I must have read that phrase a million times when researching baking as a teen.
  3. Carefully incorporate EITHER 3 tbsp violet syrup OR 6 drops concentrated violet flavour. Obviously, concentrated violet flavour varies by brand, so you will have to taste-test this now, before you add other ingredients. Therefore, it needs to be stronger than you would want, but not so strong that you go ack before you add the flour. Don’t be tempted to add more syrup if you’re using syrup though, because otherwise your biscuits will have no structural integrity.
  4. Slowly and carefully incorporate 175g flour, until you have a shortbread dough. 
  5. Incidentally, if by some miracle you have actual violets you can cook with, add these now. Don’t use crystallised violets, they will go burned and horrible. 
  6. Chop up 50g chocolate and add this in, being unafraid to knead a bit. I won’t tell you not to use milk chocolate but I only ever use dark or white with violet: dark because it’s a classic combination, white because the violet might be shrinking and the diminished intensity of white chocolate coddles it back into excitement. In this scenario, white is my favourite.
  7. Just using your hands, make little balls of dough and press them down into the tray to make rounds. Aim to get them all the same size. Bake the biscuits for 15 minutes – they won’t colour much, but shortbread is meant to be pale. Leave to cool on the tray for at least 7 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool down.

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A-Z of Vegetables: Umbellifers

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Go on, admit it. I know you all thought I was going to flail when I got to this end of the alphabet. What could he possibly write about which is both entertaining without being exotic? Upside-down mushrooms. Pshaw. Well, I proved you wrong, didn’t I! Haha! Let’s talk about umbellifers.

Umbellifers are the collective name for plants of the parsley family, which includes coriander, celery, carrots and parsnips. So what does it mean to be an umbellifer, in flavour and eating terms? It means that there is a certain indigestibility in their raw form, with a crunch or stringiness which makes people look like masticating cattle – and just as spiritually alive as that suggests. It also means that the almost brutally up-front nature of some of the tastes is mellowed quite extensively by long cooking, in the same way that a gobby politician is humbled by a bad trip to a sunbed.

If I was called upon to describe a flavour similarity between umbellifers, then I would struggle. Parsnips and carrots, although looking like the same vegetable with different tanning salons, taste surprisingly different when you think of parsnips’ astringent spiciness and carrots’ bovine woody sweetness. Celery looks like none of the other umbellifers – look at that pocked bulbous root and the inexplicable frondy bits, like decorating an elevator shaft with tinsel – and has a watery, watercressy flavour which makes it distinct from all the others. Coriander is parsley without inhibitions. The only time any of them seem to coincide is in stews – so in the recipe below I decided to buck the trend and force them all to be plate-mates, if just to find out if there was any correspondence in flavour between them all. What did I find? That there is a spectrum of flavour with coriander on the extreme of one end and carrot at the other. Following the horseshoe spectrum of politics, coriander and carrot coincide in flavour terms when you consider their orangey quality. Although I wouldn’t want to ascribe political affiliations with umbellifers – which it seems I have done here regardless – it is fun to speculate. I can’t help feeling that parsley would have no particular affiliation, mainly because it can’t bring itself to taste more exclusive.


Umbellifer salad, with poppy and caraway, for winter days

  1. I know I said this is a salad for cold days, of course I do. I noticed. Which is why this salad goes in the oven. Not least because, no matter what Dr Rupy says, raw parsnip is horrible. So: turn the oven to 200ºC.
  2. For each eater, get out 1 carrot, 1 parsnip and 1 stick of celery. Bear with me: celery is not just something you eat on slimming days or put in stock for a reason which now escapes you, it is one of your five a day and is one of those vegetables which tastes clean. By the way, if the carrots are enormous, downscale.
  3. Chop the carrots and parsnips and celery into equal-sized chunks. Pieces about the size of a little finger work well – although to be fair, I have huge hands.
  4. Tumble the chopped vegetables into a roasting tray – high sides make life easier here – and drizzle over 1 tbsp melted vegan butter and 1 tsp honey. Is honey vegan? Drizzle over 1 tsp maple syrup. Season with the merest hint of salt (helps things soften) and roast for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your fingers (see step 3). They should be soft with some bite.
  5. Meanwhile, in the pot in which you melted butter in step 4, melt another tbsp vegan butter and toss in, per eater, 2 tsp poppy seeds, 1 tsp caraway seeds and 1 tsp coriander seeds. If you don’t think caraway and coriander will taste good together in this scenario, omit as necessary. They’re my three favourite seeds. ‘Fry’ the seeds for about 1 minute until they begin to pop, then pour them into a cup and put to one side.
  6. Once the veggies are roasted, toss everything together, finishing with a spritz of lemon or lime juice and copious chopped parsley. Season to taste and serve with chickpeas and rice if you want to go all-out winter comforts.
Notes: when I say one tablespoon of melted butter, I mean measure a tablespoon first and then melt it. In a microwave is easiest – although obviously put the butter in a bowl in the microwave.

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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: Peppers

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

Not all peppers are born equal. There is this general assumption that peppers, underneath the colour of their skin, are all basically the same. Nope. That’s humans you’re thinking of. The various colours of peppers greatly affect not only their flavour, but (as far as I’m concerned) how and with what you should cook them. 

For starters, chilli peppers (which we can cheerily take to cover everything from jalapeños to Scotch bonnets) should not be cooked. This is another of this instances where I share my heretical beliefs about some of the most worshipped vegetables on the planet: I think chilli is horrible. If the brutality with which it attacks lips, mouths and digestive systems wasn’t enough, their actual flavour – aside from the heat sensation and sweetness – is surprisingly insipid. This could be due to the fact that chilli quickly bludgeons your taste buds to early death before you’ve chewed it twice, but it comes to the same thing: flavourlessness. Avoid. Use black pepper instead.

Bell peppers in the UK are generally sold simply as ‘peppers’, and unlike their tightly-packed chilli cousins, release their seeds like an exploding lily anther whenever you try to cut them open. They also beg the most terrifying question in all vegetation: if they’re not flesh throughout, if they’re hollow, what gas was inside the pepper before I cut it open? Was it a vacuum? Did it contain argon? Is it like releasing a capsicum fart? What is inside those things?

Outside, bell peppers can be anywhere between Amsterdam red and Slytherin green, with all the in-between levels of fun which that suggests. Green peppers are almost prohibitively bitter, and don’t take kindly to crude treatment – or rather, crudité treatment (PUN!) That doesn’t mean they’re useless, however, because they can give overly sweet tomato sauces or curries a rehabilitative maturity. Just don’t invite them on a picnic.

Yellow peppers are the wateriest and least interesting – in fact, despite the green’s bitterness, I would say yellow are the least appetising, because they are neither particularly bitter nor particularly sweet. I suppose this makes them useful in smoothies and soups because they add 1 of your 5-a-day without upsetting the flavour balance, but all the same…

Red peppers are the fruitiest and most tomato-like in flavour, and can be used in all applications. Orange peppers, on the other hand, need TLC. Orange is my favourite colour so it’s unpredictable that orange is my favourite pepper, but as far as I’m concerned, cooking orange peppers diminishes the almost perfumey piquancy of them; orange peppers have a floral, exotic-fruit tang to them, so I like to eat them raw whenever possible. They’re also so beautiful: why would you ever want to scupper that day-brightening sunburst by braising? And why would you want to do so when you can make a rainbow-coloured couscous salad?

Rainbow couscous salad – Hurrah!

  1. Cook 80g wholegrain couscous according to your packet instructions. This usually involves soaking in twice the volume of boiling water for 5-10 minutes. As ever, non-wholegrain couscous is a waste of time and money.
  2. Now the fun bit! Dice, into equal-sized pieces, 1 orange pepper, a handful (about 7) purple radishes (usually labelled as ‘speciality’), 10cm cucumber and a handful (about 8) cherry tomatoes. For those keeping count, that’s four of the seven rainbow colours.
  3. Once the couscous is cooked, add the diced vegetables plus about 6 heaped tbsp cooked sweetcorn – canned is fine. Dress the couscous with extra virgin olive oil and a dash of posh vinegar or citrus juice of choice – start with a tbsp each and then taste to see if you want more. Avocado oil and lime juice would be good.
  4. As you can see, my rainbow couscous only caters to five colours: red tomatoes, orange pepper, yellow corn, green cucumber and indigo radishes (they get bluer upon sitting in the couscous). If your prerogative is colour over taste, then I suggest: for the blue, steamed and shredded red cabbage (which is blue), blueberries or sage; for the violet, beetroot or red kidney beans. Blue and violet vegetables will not be spot-on here, but whimsy finds a way.

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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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