Spicy Cucumber Salad

We recently celebrated Mother’s Day in England and for my mother I cooked a Chinese inspired meal with lots of different dishes. Some I’ve cooked before, like Stir Fried Beef with Ginger. Alongside the meat and fish dishes, I made a fresh and crunchy salad, inspired by one in my Gok Wan Cooks book. Sadly, there were very few leftovers the next day, and none at all of the salad!

Chinese Feast 003

Ingredients to serve 4-6

  • 1 cucumber, partly peeled
  • ½ fresh chilli, finely sliced
  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • A few handfuls of bean sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • A pinch of salt

Slice off the ends of the cucumber then slice it in half lengthways. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and then cut the cucumber into chunks about .5cm wide.

Mix the cucumber with the chilli, beansprouts and spring onions. Mix the rest of the ingredients together to make the dressing and pour over the salad a couple of minutes before serving.

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Couscous – Two Ways

Now that the heat seems to have arrived (and looks to stay), we make the shift to summer food. Fast cooking, not so much time spent in the kitchen, and a lot of cooking on the barbecue…as long as we can find a shady spot for it.

Couscous ticks a lot of the boxes as it´s so quick and easy to prepare, and provides a blank canvas to work with. I´m sure many of you have your favourite ways of preparing it, and I´d love to hear what they are. Here are a couple of ways I´ve served it recently. Both versions serve 4 as a side dish and were made with 1 cup of cous cous prepared according to the packet instructions and served chilled.

Couscous with Mushrooms and Courgettes

  • 1 medium onion, 1 cup mushrooms and 1 medium  courgette all finely chopped and sautéed until soft.
  • Mix with the cous cous, season and dress with olive oil, lemon juice and some finely chopped parsley.

Couscous with “Gazpacho”

  • Inspired by our summer favourite, I mixed the cous cous with finely chopped red onion, tomato, cucumber, green pepper and mint and dressed it (after seasoning) with olive oil, white wine vinegar and some finely chopped mint.

Two simple dishes to inspire and feed you.

Tasty Tabbouleh

Fresh and delicious

When you are lucky enough, as we are, to have a vegetable garden full of tasty summer tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, you are always looking for new ways to serve them. Arriving home from our holiday, we found the veggie garden over run with peppers plus we had a few cucumbers and the first of our new batch of tomatoes turning red.  A neighbour had also left four huge and sweet onions in a bag hanging on our door.  What a great homecoming!

I love tabbouleh, but had forgotten about making it until another kind neighbour bought me round a bag of bulghur wheat.  I have very kind neighbours! It reminded me of how much I enjoy it and what a great use of my summer vegetables it would be.

It´s very easy and quick to prepare and can be made a little in advance of eating so that all the seasoning is absorbed and flavours your salad.

As I was finely chopping a mixture of tomato, cucumber, onion and garlic I realised how similar the base ingredients are to an Andalucían gazpacho, both the blended and the chunky versions.  I also added chopped green and red peppers. I´m not sure how traditional they are but we still have so many, it seemed silly not to.

The wheat had been cooked according to the instructions on the pack, all very simple and straightforward, and when it had cooled a little I added my chopped vegetables, chopped mint and parsley, salt, olive oil and plenty of lemon juice.

And that was it. I left it to chill a little then bought it back to room temperature before eating.  How simple and delicious was that?!

Gorgeous Green Gazpacho

Green. Gorgeous. Good.

Who says Gazpacho has to be red?  Well, if you promise not to tell the Andalucían gazpacho Police…I say it doesn´t!

In the vegetable garden at the moment, our cup overfloweth. Some things just can´t be canned or frozen – like cucumbers.  And those little green thin skinned Spanish peppers are best eaten fresh in salad, stuffed or fried.

I wanted to find a new way of using up some of my “greenery” and came up with this version of gazpacho.  It´s a stunning colour, tastes rather like juiced vegetables and I´m sure must be amazingly good for you and packed with vitamins.  Probably an excellent pick me up for the morning after the night before too.  We just drank it chilled as a pre lunch appetizer.

Here´s what I used, but if you do decide to give it a go I´m thinking celery, avocado and lime juice might also be great additions.

Two thin green peppers, one small cucumber (peeled), a small clove of garlic, a small bunch of parsley, 4 large leaves of raw chard (or spinach).

In a blender mix the vegetables with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, white wine vinegar and salt (to taste) and a litre of ice cold water.

Blend until smooth, add a few ice cubes and chill until needed.  Looking as gorgeous as it does, it just has to be good for you!

The Vegetable Patch – 9 Weeks On

This evening´s harvest

I can´t believe that I´ve been picking veggies and not bragging about it!

Today we finally picked our first red tomatoes…hurrah!  We were late planting, but now that they´ve kicked in, there will be no stopping us for quite a few months now.  Am planning salads, sauces, sun dried tomatoes and goodness knows what else.  My plum tomatoes (or roma) are getting huge, but still frustratingly refuse to turn red.

Please do the decent thing and turn red soon!

We planted 18 runner bean plants this year (as opposed to the totally ridiculous 60 last year) and have been picking them almost daily for about 3 weeks now.  We´ve still got a way to go with them, but thanks to my nifty runner bean slicer, we´re enjoying beans and freezing them too for later.

The aubergines are ripening and I´ve started to pick them quite small.  Later I´ll leave them to get a little larger, but I couldn´t hold back.

Our long thin green peppers which are great for gazpacho are now being picked every couple of days.  They´re also wonderful deep fried (stuffed or not) in olive oil and just sprinkled with salt.  Our bell peppers are growing well, but need some more time to get bigger and then red.

The dwarf beans we planted a couple of weeks ago are all in flower, so it won´t be long now until they´re producing little bobby beans for us.  I´m quite excited as I´ve planted two varieties, one green and one yellow.  I´m sure they´ll taste pretty much the same but they´ll look extra pretty!

Our little bobby beans...

Our Spanish radishes, which are long as opposed to round, are doing great.  We pick a couple each day and they have a good bite to them.  We´ll probably plant a few more as they come up from seed so quickly.

And our little Spanish cucumbers are doing well.  We grew them from seeds from a cucumber we saved last year.  The cucumber had come from plants that our neighbour Diego gave us from seeds of his own – so these are several generations old.  It´s good to have a little bit of history in the garden!

Our chard flourishes, I keep giving bunches of it away, but will do something this week with it for us.  And our celery is slowly but surely getting bigger.

Very Happy Chard

We have other things going on in the vegetable patch, and I´ll take some pics as the become ready.  I do have to mention our little vines.  Big Man is very rightly proud of our muscat grapes which are now trained over the kitchen window.  They look amazing, we had to remove some as we had so many bunches but they would never have all ripened.   Am looking forward to grapes in September and drying some for Christmas too.

Gorgeous Grapes

I love summer…but I´m off to water the garden soon as it´s very hot here during the day and the plants are thirsty.  ¡Hasta luego!

Gazpacho as we know and love it

In Andalucia we don´t eat tomatoes...we drink them!

So, now we come to the Gazpacho most people are familiar with – the iced tomato and vegetable soup famed the world over (well, almost!).

It is served both as a soup here and as a drink.  In most homes it comes in a glass.  In fact there is a wonderful advert for my favourite Spanish beer, Cruzcampo, which celebrates all things Andalúz.  One line in the voice over says something along the lines of “In Andalucía we don´t eat tomatoes, we drink them!” (If you have time to watch it, it´s worth it, even if you don´t understand Spanish, just to see a few snippets of summer life in Andalucía).

Every housewife will give you a slightly different recipe, adding her own little tweaks (more of this, less of that). Some use stale bread, some don´t. I tend not to unless I want to serve it a little thicker as a soup which can then be garnished with little chopped cubes of the same vegetables that go into it.

So, without further ado, here´s how I make mine.

Peeled Tomatoes, Green Pepper, Red Pepper, Onion (optional) Peeled Cucumber, Salt, Water, Olive Oil, White Wine Vinegar.

It´s difficult to give quantities. If my tomatoes are lovely and red, I use less red pepper. Sometimes I don´t use onion.  But the green pepper and the cucumber do give it that distinctive fresh taste, so try not to leave them out.

A few simple ingredients

Today I used 4 large plum tomatoes, one thin green pepper, a small amount of red pepper and a small chunk of onion and half a small peeled Spanish cucumber.

Put all the vegetables into a jug or the food processor.

Put into your jug or blender

Start with one level teaspoon of salt, 3 tablespoons of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and about half a litre of water.

Add water, vingegar, oil and salt

Now it´s time to start blending.  Add more seasoning, vinegar and water as you go along if you want to.  Today I added another tablespoon of vinegar (you remember they like it “alegre” or lively here right?!) and about another 250ml of water to thin it a little.

...and blend!

Then chill until you need it.  If you have put onion in it´s fine on the day you made it but I find it starts to “ferment” a little if you have any left over.  Also, while standing in the fridge it may start to separate a little with the water at the bottom and the vegetables on top – just give it a stir before serving and it will be fine.

Big Man gets arty with the vegetables

Now, go and put on a straw hat, a paso doble on the cd and lie back in a shady spot and sip on your ice cold Gazpacho.  Or ga-pacho, as they tend to say here! These Andaluces and their habit of dropping the “s” sound….most confusing!

The Vegetable Garden – One Month On

I realised tonight that a month had flown past since we planted our vegetable “plugs” this year.  We´re catching up as we´ve has plenty of rain followed by sunshine and a few misty evenings, which the plants seem to love!

Our herbs are doing well, apart from my parsley and cilantro (coriander) which are still looking a bit sad.

I´ve let the sage flower as I think it looks so pretty.  I sometimes deep fry the large leaves in very hot olive oil for a few seconds and sprinkle with coarse sea salt as a little nibble with almonds and olive…and wine, of course!

Sage flowers

The mint is going crazy…these were the stragglers which I had to pull up later.

Rampaging Mint

I´ve also let the chives go to seed as the flowers are also lovely in salads.

Delicious chives...great for potato salad

The basil is almost ready for the first batch of pesto.

Fragrant Basil

We´ve got plum tomatoes.

A Future Sun Dried Tomato

We´ve got a “wild” tomato which has sprung up from a leftover seed from a squashed tomato from last year.  It has such a desire to live, we´ve let it do its own thing!

Born to be wild....!

We have some (very) bitter salad leaves and the delicious chard.  The celery tucked in there is slow to get going, but we´ll let it take its time.

Green Leaves and Bitter Leaves

Tomatoes, beans and the little muscat vines.

View down to my kitchen window

We´ve got rocket seedlings (must plant some more though)

Aaah....less than a week old

The first of the runner beans should be ready to pick in a few days

Teeny, tiny beans

The onions are doing well too

Onions in neat rows!

We´ve got long thin green peppers and large bell peppers – but we can´t remember which are which.  We´ll soon find out!

Which one are you then?

Cucumber flowers

Grown from last year´s seeds

The aubergine flowers are so pretty – wish they´d hurry up as I love aubergines (eggplant!)

Hurry Up! Hurry Up!

Dwarf French beans (yellow and green) which we only planted a week ago

Not quite Jack & The Beanstalk, but working on it!

And finally, radish seedlings…not long now!

Peppery and Pretty!

As I said, we´re a little behind this year because of the very wet spring that we had, but we´re happy with progress so far and already dreaming of grilled vegetables, salads and bunches of grapes.  Happy growing to you all!

Gazpacho Andaluz – Like You Never Knew It

Soup or Salad? So confusing!

Ok, so I say the word Gazpacho, and what do you think of? A bowl of a chilled tomato based soup, with chopped pepper, cucumber and possibly more tomato floating on top?  I´m right, aren´t I?!  Ok, so enough with the questions.  You´d be right of course.  But you´d also be wrong.  Well, not wrong exactly, just probably not aware of the different versions of Gazpacho that exist in Andalucía.  Gazpacho is Andaluz (i.e. from the Andalucían region of Spain) rather than Spanish.  Just as Paella is Valencian and not Spanish.

It´s all getting complicated, so maybe I should start at the beginning.  Andalucía has always traditionally been more reliant on agriculture (farming, olives, goats and pigs) than industry.  Based on hard labour through grafting on the land, or the “campo”.  So what did those hungry labourers do at midday, apart from take a well deserved rest in the shade of an olive tree, that is? Well, they took their lunch, or the makings of it, with them.  Life was, and still is, fairly tough for a lot of people.  Poverty reigned and many of the traditional dishes came about through necessity.  Ask any older person here what the key ingredients of a gazpacho are and they´ll tell you “water, vinegar and salt”.  And it´s true, they go into all the versions.  The reason for this was to make you thirsty.  And therefore drink more water, and thus feel full up.  Your belly was full of liquid and stopped you craving more food.

So, we have our country men with a twist of salt, a bottle of vinegar and a knife.  Water came courtesy of a nearby stream, and the vegetables that went into their gazpacho were those that could be found in the countryside around them.  Sometimes tomatoes, peppers, onions.   Other times wild leaves, oranges or a melon. 

The gazpacho you see above looks, and actually tastes, like a very finely chopped salad in a bowl of iced water.  I won´t lie to you, that´s pretty much what it is!  When I first came here, I admit that I didn´t really “get” it.  Now that time has passed and I´ve endured quite a few very hot summers, it all makes sense.  A chilled bowl of iced salad/soup, with a little tickle of salt and vinegar, the tang of fresh mint and the crunch of all my favourite summer vegetables goes down a treat when you can´t face doing anything more energetic than swatting a fly away and adjusting your sombrero.

Our village prizes this version of Gazpacho so much that it has a three day Fiesta Del Gazpacho dedicated to it every first weekend in August!  All good fun, although we tend to slake our thirst afterwards with a cold beer or a few glasses of wine.  And then, when we´ve cooled down, we all take to the dance floor and Paso Doble until dawn.  Happy days.

If you want to try it, you´ll need (roughly, as the quantities are really down to you) for four bowls:

  • Half a lettuce heart finely shredded and chopped (this is what you will do with all the vegetables)
  • Half a green pepper
  • A medium tomato, peeled
  • Half a sweet onion
  • About a third of a normal cucumber, peeled or one small Spanish cucumber
  • About 15 large mint leaves
  • A handful of broad beans if you have them (optional)
  • White wine vinegar
  • Salt
  • Iced Water
  • Some Ice cubes

Mix all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and pour over water so that the vegetables are just covered.  Gradually start to add salt and vinegar to taste (they tend to use a lot of both here, but go steady until you get a flavour you like).  The locals say it should taste “alegre” which is happy or lively! Add a few ice cubes and leave for at least half an hour so that the mint really infuses the water, then ladle into bowls, lower yourself onto a comfy chair in the shade of an olive tree, tilt your sombrero over your eyes and enjoy.

Go one, give it a go, you might like it!  And it´s a wonderful way of getting your “five a day”…