When did it get so cold?! This soup is deliciously hearty; warming and fragrant, you can beat the winter blues! Without bacon, it is vegan and vegetarian friendly.
1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced into 4 lengthways
1 large clove of garlic, or two medium cloves, left whole
Vegetable stock cube
Salt and pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp sage
Bacon, if desired
Heat the oven to 160 degrees.
Scatter the butternut squash chunks onto a baking tray. Pour over a generous amount of olive oil, then sprinkle over the cayenne pepper and paprika.
Peel the garlic, and crush under the flat side of a large knife. Nestle the squashed, whole clove in the middle of the baking tray. Season, then place the tray in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until soft and browned. Turn the squash to let the other side soften and caramelise.
Remove the tray from the oven, and transfer the squash into a blender.
Roast the red pepper in the same tray until soft, and add to the blender along with the cooking oil from the tray.
Crumble the stock cube over the pepper and squash, and add enough boiling water to cover the vegetables. Blend until smooth, then transfer to a pan. Add more boiling water if the soup is too thick. Add the sage, and warm over a low heat.
In a frying pan, crisp bacon, then slice into strips. Taste the soup, and adjust the seasoning if needed.
Serve the soup topped with crisp bacon, alongside crusty bread.
Fajitas are a wonderfully easy dish, made seemingly even easier with starter kits. The pre-prepared packets of tortillas, salsa and seasoning that “just need chicken!”, give the impression that making your own fajitas from scratch would be too difficult and too time consuming, and that simply isn’t true. Of course, making your own tortillas would take a little time (although I made them at school and they’re actually incredibly simple to produce…in fact, I may post the recipe for them on here at some point in the future) but the composition of spices to flavour the chicken, or vegetables, is made from store-cupboard ingredients in about 5 minutes. Plus, if you have these spices to hand in your cupboards, you are actually saving yourself money by making use ingredients you already own – a large pack of tortillas from a supermarket will set you back no more than a £1.50, whereas a full kit is more than double that.
This spice mix recipe gives a really intense smoked flavour; a rustic, earthy feel to the flavour that will emphasise with each mouthful “this.is.homemade.”.
For the spice mix:
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes (or less if you’re not into spicy food!)
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon of sugar
¼ teaspoon of salt
½ crushed vegetable or chicken stock cube
1 clove of finely sliced garlic
For the fajitas:
Bell pepper, sliced
Red onion, sliced
Baby sweetcorn, sliced lengthways
Chicken breast, sliced (optional)
Grated cheddar, to top, to taste
Gather all the ingredients for the spice mix, and combine in a small bowl with a teaspoon. Ensure all the spices are well mixed – the overall colour should be reddy-orange, with flecks of white and green from the sugar and oregano respectively.
Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Wrap the flour tortillas in silver foil, and place in the oven for 10 minutes until warmed through. Remove after 10 minutes, and keep warm.
In a large frying pan, heat olive oil. If using the chicken, fry this first.
Then, add the vegetables to the frying pan: the sliced onion first, followed by the baby sweetcorn and pepper. Add the mushrooms last, and fry until everything is tender and slightly browned.
Sprinkle the spice mix over the contents of the frying pan, and stir well to coat everything in the spices. Fry for 5 minutes more to ensure the flavours permeate all the components.
On a clear surface, place a flour tortilla fresh from the oven. Place a layer of salad in a vertical line down the middle of the tortilla, with a gap of 2cm from the salad to the edge of the tortilla at one end.
Remove the pan from the heat; add some vegetables to the tortilla, resting them on top of the salad. Top with grated cheese, if using.
Fold the bottom edge of the tortilla up the gap of 2cm onto the filling. Then take one side of the tortilla, and pull it over to the middle tightly, covering the bottom fold.
Take the other side of the tortilla, and roll this tightly over to the middle also. Place the tortilla join-down on a plate, to prevent it unrolling whilst preparing the rest!
Repeat this process for all the warmed flour tortillas, until the filling runs out. Serve with a scoop of rice, and enjoy!
I would really encourage everyone, where possible, to get hold of the new River Cottage book, ‘Veg Everyday’. Even look up a few recipes online! As the introduction rightly points out, the aim of the book is not to convert ‘carnivores’, but to persuade everybody into indulging in a little less meat for food sustainability. The reasons put across are sound and well explained, making even the most fierce meat eater (such as my boyfriend, who lives on a farm) recognise the need to perhaps reduce their weekly intake of animal. The book aspires to refocus the mind – deterring the popular assumption that a meal is not a meal without meat. Instead of providing recipes that have an evident replacement for meat, for example a vegetarian lasagne substituing mince with Quorn, River Cottage presents an array of simple, colourful and great tasting recipes that are undeniably delicious. The brilliance of the book’s intentions is its ability to show that dishes that taste good and are healthy are not missing anything, because they are tasty and healthy; the criteria for enjoying food, regardless of whether they have meat or not.
This way of thinking is excellently demonstrated by the chili recipe – though not using a clear and definite substitute for the meat, the flavours, colours and textures of the dish show that you don’t need to, and will probably forget to, yearn for meat when something tastes as good as this! The flavour of the dish does not fall flat without mince. River Cottage manages to create a wholesome taste, by building layer upon layer of flavour, using a variety of spices, and a combination of both fresh and dried. This creates an overall impression of warmth from the chilis, fragrance from the garlic and cumin, with elements of richness from both the tomatoes and wine, dispelling the common myth that vegan food is tasteless. Allowing these flavours to simmer over a low heat gives them time to infuse together, resulting in a flavoursome sauce that combines each element of taste instead of enjoying each component in singularity. Try it for yourself, along with a big helping of guacamole – its sustainably cheap and healthy nature is a benefit you’ll take for granted as its taste takes centre stage!
From Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage ‘Veg Everyday!’
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 onions, sliced
2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of hot cayenne pepper, or to taste if you like spicy foods
¼ teaspoon of allspice (use sparingly!)
2 large courgettes OR 6 baby courgettes, diced
1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
400g tin of pinto or borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
100ml red wine
A generous handful of parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
Pour the oil into a large frying pan and warm over a medium heat. Once hot, reduce the heat, and add the onions. Allow them to sweat down, stirring occasionally until they are soft. Add the sliced chillies, ground cumin, garlic, cayenne pepper and the allspice. Stir to coat the onions in the spices.
Add the courgettes and peppers, and stir to combine. Add the tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, the beans, red wine and parsley. Pour 200ml of cold water into the sauce, and season. Simmer the chili gently for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring from time to time to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan!
When the sauce has thickened and the courgettes and peppers are tender, taste and season again if necessary. Using roughly 75g of rice per person, rinse the grains under cold water in a sieve. Bring twice the amount of water to rice (2:1) to the boil in a large pan. Add the rinsed rice, place a lid on the pan, and boil for 13 minutes over a medium heat.
Serve the chili with the rice, and optionally sour cream or guacamole if you want something to counter the spice!