This meal takes its inspiration from my as of late favourite “revision-baguette” – roasted vegetables with pesto mayonnaise. Not content with eating this combination for lunch, I have created a dinner version to satisfy my cravings for all things Mediterranean!
I began to develop the recipe firstly by substituting the bread. Beans, grains and pastas are common to Mediterranean cuisine, but I was most drawn to rice as a carbohydrate component because it is one that isn’t often used. Rice, for me, is usually left as a traditional accompaniment to meals such as curry or chili con carne, and thus I felt that it would be a welcome change to my reliance upon pasta!
In choosing to add meat to this dish, I was torn between chicken or lamb. I felt that lamb with fresh herbs would complement the vegetables and pesto excellently, and would make it a fuller meal. Although this dish is packed with vegetables, alone it would be more welcome as part of a summer salad than a main meal. Looking into Mediterranean meats, I found that there was an emphasis on poultry and fish. Choosing between the two, I opted for chicken breast because of their ready availability and value for money. However, in making this again I would be more likely to choose fish; Mediterranean cuisine stemming from an amalgamation of the cultures of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea, it is easy to see why fish is staple. The ready availability of fresh fish makes seafood an important part of their diet, and thus it would perhaps be more authentic to stick to the traditions of the Mediterranean. In cooking the fish, seasoning before grilling, frying or placing in foil in the oven until tender would be preferable – leaving the primary focus on the vegetables and the flavoursome rice. However, this is not to say that fish outweighs chicken in suitability – the chicken is seasoned and sauteed, leaving tender strips of poultry which complement but do not overpower the taste of the rice; it simply provides another element to the dish.
The diet of the Mediterranean is well known for its health benefits – the combination of fresh vegetables, fresh herbs and lean meats is acclaimed as both nutritional and beneficial to the individual. The vegetables in this dish are typically Mediterranean, and the amount of them makes this an incredibly healthy meal! However, the addition of aubergine could be made to the courgettes, peppers and tomatoes; the assortment of fresh colours and flavours when sauteed would only welcome aubergine, another traditionally Mediterranean component. Although in most vegetable tray bakes fresh herbs, such as oregano or thyme are used, I felt that pesto would be more appropriate for this dish because of the rice. The flavour of the basil permeates the rice and complements the vegetables, whilst providing a sauce to prevent dryness. Whilst fresh herbs would give excellent flavour, in mixing the rice and vegetables there would be no sauce – a problem solved by pesto! However, this means this recipe could also be used for sauteed Mediterranean vegetables, as well as the rice…two birds, one stone.
1 chicken breast per person, cut into thick strips
Roughly 1 handful of rice per person
Handful of cherry tomatoes
½ courgette, cut into thick chunks and then quartered
½ red bell pepper, cut into squares
1 tablespoon of pesto
Boil salted water in a pan, and add the rice. Boil until tender.
Whilst the rice is boiling, heat a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Place the chicken strips and peppers in the pan, and fry until beginning to brown.
Season the chicken with pepper, and ensure turning with regularity to ensure even browning.
As the chicken is browning on both sides, add the courgettes. Turn the heat down to low, and allow the vegetables to wilt. Add the cherry tomatoes and allow to soften. Stir consistently to ensure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan as it wilts.
When the rice is tender, drain and return to the pan. Add the pesto, and stir thoroughly to coat the rice in the sauce.
Transfer the courgettes, peppers and cherry tomatoes to the rice and stir. Place the rice over a low heat, until warmed through.
Arrange the chicken on the plate, and add the rice when it is warmed through. Season, and serve. Enjoy!
Yesterday it poured with rain, and today it is brilliantly sunny. The weather really influences the food I desire – when it is cold and miserable outside, I want something in the evening to make me feel like being cooped up inside isn’t so bad after all. So yesterday, this Black Bean Chili was a fine example of the type of warming hearty dish you’d long for when you’re in need of comfort, because it’s just not that nice outside.
I’ve wanted to try to make a Black Bean Chili for ages. Although it’s not particularly any different to a normal chili con carne in terms of flavour, I wanted to see the textural differences between beans and the usual mince component. After the success (and personal enjoyment) of the spaghetti bolognese using lentils and beans last term, I thought this would be similarly tasty! The black beans are soft to bite, which means as a comfort meal, it has an element of indulgence, as essentially it doesn’t require much strength to chew! Moreover, the beans soak up the flavours of the spices – the chili powder and the smoky paprika make an excellent combination, that is flavoursome throughout the dish in comparison to a usual chili, where the flavours only usually reside in the sauce.
The thing that sets this aside from a meat chili con carne for me, however, is the addition of cocoa powder and the topping with lime juice. Hearing about both of these accompaniments to chili con carne, I couldn’t wait to try them out. Whilst I was initially sceptical about using chocolate in a spicy dish, I was brought round to the idea by seeing the popularity of items such as chili chocolate – if chili/chocolate is a combination that can be enjoyed where chocolate is the main staple, chili/chocolate must surely work where there is a hint of chocolate amongst a wealth of warming spice. In actual fact, the use of cocoa powder gives a depth and a richness that I haven’t really tasted elsewhere! It doesn’t taste at all sweet, but the sauce takes on a new consistency, appearing more like velvet; something I am sure must come from the chocolate. The lime squeezed on the chili before serving gives a refreshing zesty tang to the beginning of the dish. As it is not stirred throughout, its citrus tones are not lost in the dish; it stays as an accompaniment that is authentic, as limes are used frequently in Mexican dishes, such as guacamole. Together, they give an excellent spin on the usual chili con carne that I was previously unaware of, but from now on, will be using with regularity. So for those, like me, experiencing strange day-on-day-off weather, combat the rainy blues with a helping of this comforting chili.
1 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Button mushrooms, halved
Half an orange pepper, chopped
Half a yellow pepper, chopped
400g tin of black beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
Small tin of kidney beans
400g tinned tomatoes
1 tbsp of tomato puree
4 tsps chili powder
2 tsps smoked paprika
1 tsp cocoa powder
Juice of a lime to taste, squeezed before serving
Place a saucepan over a medium heat, and add a drizzle of oil. Fry the chopped onion until it begins to soften, and then add the crushed garlic cloves. When the garlic becomes fragrant in the pan, add the peppers and mushrooms and fry until the peppers begin to soften.
Sprinkle in the chili powder and the paprika, and stir to coat all the ingredients in the spices. Allow to fry for a few moments further, before adding the drained and rinsed beans and the tomatoes.
Stir in the tomato paste, and the tin of kidney beans. Bring to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Add the cocoa powder, and stir well.
Place a lid on the saucepan, and heat through for thirty minutes until the sauce has thickened and reduced.
Accompany with rice, and a fresh salad for garnish. Before serving, squeeze the lime juice over the dish, to add zesty freshness! If desired, top with grated cheese.
Last week I experienced the perils of both “buy one get one free” and the advice of persuasive members of the public. Even though there was an attractive offer on packs of peppers, I only wanted one – the last week of term, there seemed little point in filling the car with an abundance of leftover peppers when that valuable space would be much needed to house a clothes airer, for example. However, as I was selecting my single pepper a friendly, yet persuasive member of the public, engaged me in light conversation and managed to convince me that it would be better to make use of the offer and as a result I came home with 6 peppers. I don’t know how much of a regular situation this is for most people, but nevertheless this recipe is a great way to use up a large amount of vegetables!
This roasted vegetable cous cous with mozzarella salad makes a good, light supper – the flavours are well balanced and not overpowering; the different textures of each component make it really enjoyable. The flavours of the dish come mainly from the vegetables you choose to use – I added a small amount of smoked paprika to my ingredients to give it a bit of spice, but there is no reason why other herbs and spices could be used. For example, a sprinkling of oregano or basil would give an Italian hint to the dish; parsley would add freshness.
I think making this dish in the summer would be fantastic – instead of roasting the vegetables, BBQ-ing them, before adding to the cous cous, would give a smoky flavour that you could not get in any other way! BBQ’d vegetables with cous cous and a salad would be brilliant on a warm summer’s day, enjoyed outside with sunglasses and a glass of homemade lemonade. But perhaps as it is only March, I am getting ahead of myself…
Peppers, quartered and then trimmed into ‘squares’. 1 per person, in different colours if possible for good presentation!
Mushrooms – most varieties are fine, but bare in mind that the smaller (eg. button) the mushroom, the more easily they have the potential to char!
Salad tomatoes, quartered
Salad – rocket goes well with this, but any green is just as suitable
Mozzarella, sliced, then torn into rough strips
Butter, for the cous cous
Cut the top off the pepper, then quarter. Take each quarter and lay it skin-side-down, and trim it into a ‘square’ shape (this is really only for presentation!). Quarter the salad tomatoes, and cut the mushrooms into quarters or halves depending on their size. Any other vegetable you wish to use in the dish is fine – remember some vegetables will take longer to roast than others, and this should be taken into account otherwise you will have difficulty serving them all the same time!
Heat the oven to 180 degrees, and lightly oil a baking tray. Add the peppers to the tray, and roast in the oven for 10 minutes until they begin to soften. Remove the tray, add the tomatoes, season, and return to the oven for 10 minutes more. Remove the tray once more, add the paprika or other spice/herb you are using, and place in the oven for a final 5 minutes. It is important to keep checking on the vegetables – some ovens are more powerful than others, and whilst a slightly charred effect is good, overly burnt isn’t!
Boil the kettle and prepare the cous cous according to the packet instructions. Leave to absorb the water, then add some butter and ‘fluff’ the grains.
In the serving bowl, place the salad and add the mozzarella. Dress lightly with oil and lemon juice, before seasoning with salt and pepper. It may be an idea to make the dressing in another bowl, to ensure the combination of oil to lemon juice isn’t too sharp – this way the salad won’t be ruined!
Add the cous cous alongside the salad in the bowl
Take the vegetables out of the oven, and place them in the remaining space in the serving bowl; season with more spices/herbs if you wish.