Curried Parsnip Soup

Finally, for this week, one of my favourite soups at this time of year, a spicy, warming bowl of Curried Parsnip Soup. A 70’s dinner party starter classic for those who were foody, in the know and well-read enough to own Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, such as my mother. It seemed very modern at the time but it has stood the test of time and I have tweaked it just a little, removing the dated additions of cream and flour but to bring it bounding into the 21st century, I have added coconut milk and fresh coriander, probably scarcely available in those days.

Finally, I know it is more trendy to make up your own Marsalas now a days, but quite frankly when I am pushed for time, which is most of the time, I opt for a readymade blend. The trick is to buy little, often and if need be discard old spices which no longer pack a punch. Go for a good one. I used Dalesford Organic Powder which was packed with flavour, but pretty hot, so mind how you go.

curried parsnip soup 2

Curried Parsnip Soup
Serves 4
A good glug of olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
450g parsnips, peeled and cubed
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 tin coconut milk
1 bunch fresh coriander, washed and chopped, stalks too
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large saucepan over medium heat add the olive oil and fry the onion in butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the parsnips, a good pinch of salt and some pepper and continue cooking for about another 20 minutes, stirring often to avoid catching. Add a little more oil if necessary. You want to cook the parsnip as long as possible to release their natural sugars and begin to caramelise. When you can break up the parsnips with a wooden spoon, add the garlic and curry powder and fry for a couple of minutes to release the flavours. Cover with plenty of water and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for about 10 minutes. Finally remove from the heat. add the whole bunch of coriander and puree with a liquidiser or hand blender. Stir in the coconut milk and heat through. Do not boil.Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Smoky Aubergine Dip

Following on the Moroccan theme, one of my favourite dips is the delicious, smoky Moutabal or Baba Ganoush. There are many theories as to what is the difference between these seeming identical dishes, but I didn’t have time to read them, so I am going to call it Smoky Aubergine Dip.
It is best made on the barbecue. I have a gas one which is brilliant, as I use it all year round as a outdoor kitchen. Anything that is smoky or greasy just gets cooked outside, all year round. I’ve been known to grill vegetables in the rain. If you do not have a barbecue a griddle is good, or under the grill or even straight in the flame of the hob. What is important is to burn the outside of the aubergine, to get that smoky taste, but not too much so that there is no aubergine left under the skin.  Apart from that, it is super easy and really worth the effort.

Moutabal on plate

Smoky Aubergine Dip
2 large aubergines
1 small clove of garlic
1-2 tablespoons Tahini
Sea salt
Cook the Aubergines either under a hot grill, directly over the flame of a gas hob or on a barbecue. It is very important that the aubergines are thoroughly blackened all over as this is where the imperative, fantastic smoky taste of this dish comes from. They must also be soft to the touch all over but do not overcook to the extent that all there is left is skin and no flesh. When it is well cooked through and the skin is blackened, leave to cool until you are able to handle them. If using a gas barbecue, turn it off and leave the aubergines to cool with the lid closed, in the smoke. Remove the stalk and peal of the skin. If they are perfectly cooked this is very easy. Leave to drain in a colander for about half an hour. Add to a food processor with the Tahini and garlic, and blend to a smooth and light puree. Add salt and lemon juice to taste. Serve in a bowl with little olive oil on top and a sprinkle of sumac or smoked paprika. Serve with warm flat breads.

Burnt aubergines

Harissa Roast Vegetables with Coriander and Preserved Lemon Cous Cous & Tahini

This week I opted for a medium veg box less roots, and I have to say, I haven’t been quite so excited about my vegetable selection for a while. Sometimes I struggle for inspiration, for what to conjure up with yet more vegetables, but this week I could have used up my box three times over. The sight of parsnips and Brussel sprouts fills me with joy and is one of the few things I really look forwards to about winter – shorter days, central heating, layers of clothes, colds, mud and rain – no thank you but seasonal winter vegetables, being earthed up after a whole summer in the ground – now that’s a treat.

I started by putting nearly the whole box in one dish. A Moroccan inspired Harissa Roast Vegetables with Coriander and Preserved Lemon Cous Cous. I put in the red onions, the parsnips, the aubergine, the cauliflower and the courgettes. Then I threw in half a butternut squash I had left after making last week’s muffin. Had I had carrots, sweet potato or peppers in my box, they would have gone in too. You could serve this with Cauliflower Cous Cous, my obsession of the last few weeks but this week I was yearning for the real thing.

When it comes to Harissa, they vary in heat, so be careful. My favourite is Rose Harissa which is packed with flavour, without being overtly hot, so you can use generously.

Roast Veg in Tray

Harissa Roast Vegetables with Coriander and Preserved Lemon Cous Cous & Tahini
Serves 4
½ butternut squash, squash into bite-size pieces (you can leave skin on the squash, it’s up to you).
3 parsnips, peeled and cut into large bite-sized chunks
3 courgettes, thickly sliced 1 ½ cms
½ cauliflower broken in to large florets, each cut in half
4 garlic cloves, leave skin on
2 red onions, peeled and cut into wedges through the root
1 aubergine, cut into large bite-sized chunks
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp Ras el Hanuot
2 tbsp harissa paste
6 tbsp. Olive oil
2 tbsp. Tahini
1 lemon
200g couscous
Bunch of fresh coriander
4 small preserved lemons, seeds removed and finely chopped
Sea salt

Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Mix the harissa with 5 tablespoons of the olive oil, the Ras el Hanout and the cumin seeds. Add a teaspoon of salt. Use this to coat the vegetables before roasting. It is important that they have enough room, spread out on baking trays. Some veg, such as courgettes and aubergines benefit from having a tray to themselves if you want to make sure they brown. Root vegetables such as parsnips and squash which cook in similar times can share a tray. They cauliflower, onions and garlic cloves go together on another. Roast for 15 minutes before checking and moving around the veg to ensure even cooking. Check again after another 15 minutes and remove or give longer. They should all be golden brown and tender.

Meanwhile, make the Tahini dressing by very simply adding the juice of half a lemon to the Tahini with a large pinch of salt. Stir in enough water to make a smooth, creamy consistency. Check seasoning and add more salt or lemon juice to taste.

Meanwhile put couscous into a large bowl and put the kettle on. Mix the final tablespoon of olive oil in with the cous cous and a large pinch of salt. Massage the oil into the cous cous and then cover with boiling water. Set aside for 10 mins. Fluff up with a fork.

Meanwhile, chop your coriander and preserved lemons and add to the cous cous when ready. When the roast veg are ready, toss together, check seasoning and pile onto of the cous cous. Drizzle with the Tahini sauce.

Cous cous

Butternut Squash and Pecan Muffins

And finally for this week, I am always looking for new puddings, cakes and desserts which help use up vegetable too. Firstly, it is a great way of ensuring that you get more veg into your and your kids diets but also it is really good at using up stray vegetables at the end of the week. I had a butternut squash hanging around and so I set to work thinking up something new. The only trouble with finding new recipes for cakes, is they have to work. It is not like a recipe for soup or curry; add a bit of this, chuck in a bit of that. Baking is a science and unless you have all your ingredients weighed out exactly, it just does not work.

Butternut Squash for microwave

I googled Butternut Squash Muffins and started wading through possible suggestions. Jamie Oliver’s received very bad press, a couple of American recipes did better. You have to be so careful with cakes with vegetables in them, as so often the recipe is completely precise until it lists “1 butternut squash” with no indication of even their size, let alone weight. I finally narrowed it down to the best sounding recipe with the most stars – “Perfect Butternut Squash Muffins.” It was a complete disaster. The batter was like glue, they were inedible and I had to completely start again. It was a bit distressing as it had made the hugest amount of mix which I hadn’t realised, as the measurements where all in cups. 3 cups of flour doesn’t sound much, but it is a whole lb in weight. The whole lot had to go in the bin.

I was determined to get it right next time. Just to be safe, I halved the recipe, made a lot changes and finally I am happy to share them with you. I have to say, they really are very good – lots of flavour, light and crumbly and a nice added crunch from the nuts. I just ate 3!

Butternut Squash and Pecan Muffins 2

Butternut Squash and Pecan Muffins
The microwaving the squash is a strange one, but it does work. Muffins do not like to be overworked so go easy. Finally, you need to allow them to cool well before eating so that the baking soda can do it’s work.
Makes 11- 12 Muffins
1 small butternut squash or ½ a larger one (1 cup cooked)
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Cut a 1/2-inch hole into the larger part of the squash and cook squash in a microwave for 6 minutes on high. Turn the squash over and cook for another 6 minutes until squash can be easily pierced with a fork. (If you would rather use the oven, cut the quash in half and roast in the oven at about 180⁰C for about 40 minutes, until soft.) Set aside to cool. If you haven’t turned on your oven then pre-heat it now, or turn it down to 170⁰C. Halve squash lengthwise, if you microwaved it and scoop out seeds. Measure 1 cup squash into a mixer or food processor. Add the eggs, vegetable oil, brown sugar and maple syrup into the squash. Whisk well. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and cloves and add to the squash mixture until you have a smooth batter. Do not over mix, pulse the food processor if necessary. Stir in the chopped walnuts. Pour the batter into muffin cups to about 2/3 full. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the centre

of a muffin comes out clean, about 15 – 20 minutes. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Butternut Squash, Microwaved