Solidarity soup

At work, we have a tradition: if any of our colleagues have a baby then the rest of us cook them dinner for the first couple of weeks. Today, it’s my turn.

We also have loads of veg left in our veg box. Or, to be more specific, we have loads of carrots, loads of potatoes and a handful of mushrooms.

Soup it is. Although, obviously it’ll need to be a very thick soup – looking after a newborn baby is tiring work. So, here’s what I’ve done:

  1. Chop up a couple of onions. Fry them in a big pot.
  2. Wash and slice new potatoes. Once the onions are translucent, add them to the pot.
  3. Chop the carrots into chunks. Throw them in, frying all three together, and carefully stirring so it doesn’t stick.
  4. Once they’ve been frying a bit, pour in boiling water, and add a few stock cubes and a good few shakes/grates of nutmeg, some bay leaves and some oregano and basil.
  5. Chop up the mushrooms. Fry them in a separate pan. Add in whole cumin seeds, making sure they get properly fried too.
  6. Once the mushrooms are properly fried, throw them into the soup along with the cumin seeds. If the cumin seeds stick to the pan, wash them out with a little water.
  7. Pop some milk into the soup.
  8. Add some vinegar – I used cider vinegar, which goes well with potatoes, but if you don’t have any then other kinds will be fine.

Leave on the hob until the potatoes and carrots are really soft – almost (but not quite) dissolved.

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Courgette Cake

By Alyson Macdonald

Despite being fairly mainstream in North America, in this country, courgette cake is like an obscure indie band that nobody else has heard of yet – but that just makes it even more awesome. I made up a batch to take to the picket lines during the J30 strikes, which is when Alasdair persuaded me to give him the recipe for the blog.

This is one of my favourite cakes to make for other people because it always gets a good reaction. Some people are sceptical at first, but they usually end up asking for seconds. They’re amazed that something which sounds so utterly weird could taste so nice, and then they’re amazed again when they find out that it’s an entirely vegan recipe.

I’ve been a vegan for six years, and although I don’t like to push my views on other people, I’m quite enthusiastic about getting them to try the food I eat. It’s not because I’m sneakily trying to convert anyone; I just like to challenge the idea that vegan food is intrinsically awful, because a lot of it is good enough to be enjoyed on its own merits, even by people who are normally omnivores. If you’ve never tried baking a vegan cake before, this is a good place to start because it doesn’t need any expensive “specialist” ingredients. Vegetable oil takes the place of butter, and the eggs are replaced by a combination of mashed banana, which binds the mixture together, and bicarbonate of soda, which makes it rise. With an egg-less cake mixture, you can lick the bowl all you want without fear of food poisoning, and if it feels a little bit fizzy on your tongue, that’s just the chemical reaction which creates bubbles and gives it a nice, light texture. Mmm, science.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups grated, peeled, fresh courgette (this is approx. two small courgettes, or one enormous one)
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed well
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups self-raising flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. Bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ginger
  • 1 tsp. vanilla essence
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips, or about 50g of chocolate chopped into small bits.

Hint: some types of dark chocolate contain dairy products (usually butter oil), so remember to check the ingredients if this is going to matter to anyone you’re making the cake for. For clarification, cocoa butter comes from cocoa beans, and has nothing to do with cows.

Directions:

Mix the grated courgette, bananas, oil, and vanilla essence together until it coalesces into a mass of sticky goo.

Put all of the dry ingredients except for the chocolate (flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, and spices) into separate bowl and give them a good stir, then add the sticky goo. It might seem like there isn’t enough liquid at first, but give it a minute or two and the flour will start to draw the water out of the courgette, adding more moisture.

Add the chocolate chips and stir until they are well distributed through the mixture.

Pour the mixture into a large, shallow tin lined with greaseproof paper (don’t be tempted to use a loaf tin because if you do this, the outside will be burnt by the time it’s cooked all the way through) and bake at 180C for 45-60 minutes, until it passes the knife/cocktail stick test. Let the cake cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack. Be patient, and wait until it has mostly cooled before cutting it into slices.

This makes quite a lot of cake, but it’ll stay fresh for ages in an airtight container.

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Carrots in spicy tomato sauce

By Manishta Sunnia

This is a very simple and tasty dish to make. I usually have it with couscous or rice.
Ingredients:

  • Carrots
  • Tinned tomatoes
  • Garlic (finely chopped)
  • Ginger (finely chopped)
  • Chilli (flakes or fresh ones more for flavour. Powdered chilli do not tend to be flavoursome)
  • Fresh coriander (optional, also mint)

Method:

  1. Chop carrots in length or rounded. (I tend to cut my rounded at an angle for texture)
  2. Sautee carrots in oil for about 5 minutes then add garlic and ginger
  3. Add tinned tomatoes, season with salt and sprinkle chilli. (The aim here is to have flavour rather than heat, but do add chilli according to your taste)
  4. Simmer slowly for 15-20mins until the tomato sauce has thickened. If the sauce thickens too quickly, dilute with water and make sure carrots are cooked al dente.
  5. Chop coriander or mint roughly and add on top or mix through sauce.
  6. Serve warm and enjoy.

(Other options: squirt some lemon juice to make sauce tangy or shave some lemon zest for a additional but subtle flavour. )

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A delicious omelette

…if I do say so myself.

Ingredients:

  • eggs
  • milk
  • peppers
  • paprika
  • garlic
  • chilli
  • cheese
  • (optional) chorizo

Method:  

  1. finely chop the peppers and fry in a large, heavy frying pan with a good glug of olive oil.
  2. chop the garlic and chilli—removing the seeds, we don’t want to overpower the other flavours with too much heat—and add to the peppers. make sure the heat isn’t too high, you don’t want to burn the garlic.
  3. (if you’re adding meat, chop the chorizo into small cubes and add to the pan at this point)
  4. crack the eggs into a bowl and beat well with a (small) dash of milk and a (good) dash of paprika.
  5. when the peppers are soft pour over the egg mixture. the oil should just come over the edge of the egg at the side of the pan, so nothing sticks.
  6. once the egg starts to solidify on the top surface grate over the cheese. i went for some more parmesan today, but use whatever you like best, and let us know what works well.
  7. carefully fold over the omelette into a semi-circle and check the colouring on each side. you want a light to medium brown hue, don’t leave it too long and let it burn. folding it in half should let the heat pass through to the centre and ensure it’s all cooked.
  8. serve, perhaps with a slice of toast.

Omelette, cooking.

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Spaghetti Carbonara

So a carbonara isn’t exactly the most exciting dish for my return to this blog, after failing to post anything for several months it seems—sorry—but after a long day at work, attending anti-cuts meetings and shouting abuse at the news you don’t always want anything complicated, just something quick, easy and full of fat, so here you go.

Ingredients:

  • eggs
  • single cream
  • parmigiano-reggiano or similar hard cheese
  • pancetta, bacon lardons or streaky bacon
  • garlic
  • spaghetti, or whatever pasta you prefer

Method:

  1. place the pasta in a large pan of boiling, quite strongly salted water, most of the salt will stay in the water, so you need to add quite a lot to affect the taste of the pasta.
  2. add a little olive oil to heavy frying pan and fry the bacon. a larger pan works better so any liquid can boil off easily, you want to fry the bacon not stew it.
  3. after a minute or two add the garlic, finely chopped.
  4. once teh bacon fat starts to crisp remove from the heat and set aside.
  5. next, mix the cheese, grated—it can be roughly done, as the heat from the pasta will melt it  anyway—with the egg and cream and beat until well mixed.
  6. while the pasta is still a little al dente remove from the heat and drain. add the bacon and garlic and the wet mix and stir. you shouldn’t need any more heat at this point, there should be enough in the pasta to cook the egg.
  7. pour out into a bowl and serve with a fine grating of cheese, a side salad and a glass of white wine.

Spaghetti Carbonara

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Banana Curry

by Manishta Sunnia

I was born and raised on an island in the Indian Ocean. Mauritius is relatively well-known and an ex-British colony. The country was not populated until western traders and sailors visited it and migrant cultures began to settle in due to slavery, indentured labourers and trade. The country has an interesting history and a diversity of cultures and religions. Mauritius was also the only home of the famous and extinct bird Dodo.

Food and culture on the island are heavily influenced by both immigrant cultural traditions and western ones. Food cultural influences range strongly from India, Africa and Arab countries. There is also a strong Chinese presence. The base of many dishes made in Mauritius constitutes of onions, garlic and tomatoes. This dish, however, does not carry that norm.

When I usually offer to make a ‘banana curry’ to many British comrades, I am often treated to puzzled and apprehensive looks. On the island, we often use green bananas as you would treat potatoes in the UK. (Other staple foods are cassava and sweet potato.) In Mauritius, the food culture does not revolve around mashed or roasted potatoes, so that green bananas would not be treated in that format. However, banana chips and crisps are absolutely delicious!

The Mauritian banana curry is a dry and savoury dish.

This is recipe constitutes of cheap ingredients. However, you may find the process slightly complicated.

Ingredients:

  • Grated green bananas
  • Curry leaves
  • Turmeric
  • Diced onions
  • Finely chopped or grated garlic
  • Mustard seeds
  • Oil

Notes:

The green bananas need to be peeled and grated. To peel the banana, I strongly recommend the use of gloves. Get rid of the top and bottom end, slide the knife through and remove the tough thick green skin to throw away. Place the bananas in water until needed for grating.

Method:

  1. Grate the bananas
  2. Sautee the diced onions and garlic for 2 mins, then add mustard seeds and curry leaves (2-3 leaves according to taste and amount of curry).
  3. Leave to sautee until the mustard seeds stopped to pop then add in turmeric then the grated bananas
  4. Season with salt (pepper – optional)
  5. Cook for 15 mins and until the bananas are soft and top with fresh coriander leaves
  6. Serve warm with chappati, parata or rice. And enjoy.
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peanut butter, honey and banana sandwiches

This recipe is basically all in the title. But let me tell you about them. After I left school, I got a job as a ‘chugger’. You know, a ‘charity mugger’. I loved it. I could use my cheeky 18 year old smile and my ever enthusiastic tigger-bounce to get people to give £5 – £10 a month to Amnesty, or to Concern Worldwide. It gave me an excuse to talk about what was happening in countries all over the world.

One of my favorite stories was about Concern’s work in Eritrea. Eritrea is a high mountainous country which had a long war for independence from Ethiopia. Many of the peoples there primarily survive on honey. They have kept the same hives often for hundreds of years, and their whole lives are based around maintaining them. When they move, they place the queen bee in a special leather pouch to take her with them. Or so the story goes.

During the war, Ethiopian troops used to burn down these hives, removing from these people their main source of food and income. Concern worked closely with these communities, and so knew that what they wanted wasn’t conventional disaster aid. They wanted help getting new queen bees, so they could re-found their hives.

In the job, we traveled round the country, staying in a different place every week, and often with a different team leader. One week, I had a wonderful huge Welsh hippy as my boss. Unlike most other teams – dominated by late night booze and hung over mornings, his was cared for  he was avuncular. He’d cook us a proper dinner at night, make sure we got proper sleep, and, in the morning, he’d wake us up at 7:30 with coffee, and with peanut butter, honey and banana sandwiches. These were the most astonishing start to the day I had ever come across. It was mid winter, and we were spending our days in the street and the wind and the hale. The energy kept us powering on. I got twice as many people as normal to sign up that week.

Later that year, I discovered why. I took the money I had saved as a chugger, I packed a light backpack, and I flew off to the United States, where I walked the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, up the ridge line of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. The hiking there is sometimes quite tough, and I had to get to Mount Katahdinn in Main in time for my flight home for my freshers’ week. I could only buy food every 5 days or so, and would have to carry everything I bought on my back up and down mountains. I was also pretty poor. And so I used to wander down mini-marts in the Southern States carefully calculating in my head which things gave the most calories/dollar/kg. The answer (among those things which won’t go off), was usually the same: peanut butter. And with its added boost of protein, it became a staple of my diet for those four and a half months.

And so, I’ve recently taken up eating peanut butter, honey, and banana sandwiches once more. And I recommend that you do too.

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