Roasted Root Veg with Yoghurt and Parsley

Veg from top

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of yoghurt. Lidl sells thick Greek yoghurt by the 1kg bucket (literally – the pot has a handle), and I’ve been known to devour one in an embarrassingly short amount of time.

Parsley

Veg peelings

Part of yoghurt’s appeal for me is in its versatility – it is equally at home in both sweet and savoury dishes. If I’m going for sweet, my yoghurt toppings often extend to honey (or if I’m feeling extravagant, date syrup) and some sort of nut, usually flaked almonds. Recently, I’ve started experimenting with using yoghurt in more savoury dishes as a topping or sauce, often combined with herbs.

Yoghurt sauce

Veg

This recipe is a shameless knock-off of a meal my friend Heather cooked for me. The earthy root veg, roasted with honey, cumin and fiery harissa, is topped with a thick sauce of natural yoghurt, tahini and parsley. I use flat leaf parsley here, as I have no patience with the curly stuff. The herby yoghurt elevates this dish beyond humble roast veg, giving it a freshness that compliments the spice really well. It’s so good that you’ll be buying yoghurt by the bucketful in no time….

Veg and sauce

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Souk Kitchen

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When I go into a restaurant wielding a camera the size of a small dog, it can get some weird looks. I always feel the need to announce to the staff that I’m a food blogger, primarily so they don’t think I’m just some weirdo who has to obsessively photograph every meal I eat (although, this is also true). This announcement usually leads to a suspicious glance at the aforementioned camera, and some sort of half-joke along the lines of ‘please write something good’. I assure the staff that I recommend, rather than review, restaurants, so if I don’t have a good experience, I won’t write about it. Simple as. Needless to say, from the moment we sat down at Souk Kitchen, I knew it was going to make the cut.

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Middle Eastern food seems to be all the rage at the moment, with its wonderful combination of being relatively healthy yet full of exotic flavours. In Bristol, which likes to think of itself as nothing if not on trend, you can’t walk a hundred yards without bumping in to a falafel-stuffed pitta. However, Souk Kitchen was going long before hummus was as ubiquitous as it is now, and the restaurant has long been on my list of places to try. But the original Souk Kitchen is down in Bedminster, and therefore more than a five minute walk from my house, meaning that I’ve yet to venture there. However, the team has recently opened a second restaurant north of the river, so Paris and I went along to check it out.

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As I’ve got my finger so firmly on the pulse of Bristol’s food trends, I have recently acquired two new Middle Eastern ingredients: za’tar and sumac. Za’tar is a blend consisting primarily of dried thyme and sesame seeds, and sumac a lemony-tasting powder made from ground berries. I give them an occasional self-satisfied glance when I spot them lurking at the back of the cupboard, but don’t actually use them. Part of my reason for wanting to try Souk Kitchen was to give me some direction in this area. Luckily both ingredients, as I smugly pointed out to Paris, featured on the menu. The offerings consist of mezze type dishes to share (or not), as well as some more substantial options. We opted for an eclectic array of mezze dishes, from Syrian lentils with yoghurt and crispy onions, to falafel, the obligatory hummus and a rather incredible grilled halloumi topped with mango chutney. This was all mopped up with the most amazing freshly-made flatbread, sprinkled with, you guessed it, za’tar. All in all, Souk Kitchen was a thoroughly pleasant experience, not to mention being bang on trend.

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For the Paris perspective, click here.

 

Bulgur Wheat, Preserved Lemon and Red Cabbage Salad

Salad

Paris and I spend most of the week engaged in an intense back and forth about what we’re going to blog about at the weekend. We send each other links to blogs that might have a particularly well-arranged salad, or suggest a novel way of using chickpeas. We bandy around ideas of ingredient and flavour combinations, some of which we instantly dismiss as being too bizarre. In this case, we had gone through so many possible ideas for dishes involving preserved lemons, that by the weekend we had completely forgotten what we decided on. So this was a more spontaneous creation, centred around the notion that there had been a lot of talk throughout the week about red cabbage.

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The ingredients in this salad were chosen primarily for their visual appeal, based on how well they would compliment the bright yellow of the preserved lemons. I know, right. Hipster food bloggers. Not to mention the poncey addition of pomegranate seeds. To be frank, I don’t actually enjoy eating pomegranate seeds that much – I find that hard bit in the middle somewhat irritating. But they look so beautiful, that for the sake of the photographs I conceded. We decided to pair the lemons with red cabbage (yellow + purple = good), then added vibrant green parsley leaves and red pomegranate seeds. When our eyes began to hurt, we chucked in some bulgur wheat to calm everything down a bit.

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Bulgur wheat is my new favourite grain. It has the easy pour-a- kettle-of-water-over-it cooking method shared by cous-cous (and pot noodles, although I’ll pretend I don’t know that, as it wouldn’t do much for my food blogger image). It retains a pleasant bite and has a slight nutty taste. It balances out the sharp acidity of the lemons rather well. Preserved lemons are usually the preserve (pun entirely intended) of hearty Moroccan lamb tagines and baked fish dishes. Here we’ve given them a new lease of life as the centerpiece of this simple salad.

Salad 2

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Green Bean Salad with Tumeric-Roasted Walnuts and Ginger

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This is an embarrassingly unoriginal Ottolenghi knock off. I even shamelessly copied the style of the photographs. The recipe is an amalgamation of two different offerings from Yotam’s latest cookbook, ‘Plenty More’. Apart from the dressing, which we cobbled together from random ingredients lurking at the back of the kitchen cupboard, it’s pretty much a dead copy. Which is unusual, as I don’t find myself following recipes much these days. I get too frustrated with following exact measurements and prescriptive methods, and end up disregarding both and producing something that bares little resemblance to the intended dish. One of the hazards of being a food blogger, I guess.

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Ottolenghi provides an unstoppable font of inspiration for me. He combines ingredients in ways that I had never even considered (leeks, goats cheese and sultanas, for example) opening up a whole range of new tastes. Also, the methods and techniques of cooking he uses are so varied and interesting that they have me running straight into the kitchen to start experimenting. There’s usually one element of each of his recipes that elevates them to another level – such the addition of a particular spice, usually an unpronounceable Middle Eastern variety that can only be ordered online. I have invested in several Ottolenghi ‘essentials’, such as pomegranate molasses, sumac and za’tar, but don’t ask me what any of them actually are. All I know is that they often provide an elusive final taste to make Middle Eastern specialities taste much more authentic.

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The tumeric roasted walnuts in this recipe are an example of the above – a simple ingredient transformed by the addition of a few spices and a different way of cooking. I’ve always considered turmeric a bit of a non-spice, its chief use being the vibrant yellow colour that it imparts. However, roasting walnuts in the spice brings out their sweetness, adding a remarkable depth of flavour. I have since learnt that turmeric is commonly used in sweet dishes, and some folk swear by drinking turmeric tea first thing in the morning. This somewhat fusion recipe combines these walnuts with fresh green veg, sesame seeds and a punchy, vinegary dressing. Hopefully Yotam would approve.

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Read Paris’ equally gushing Ottolenghi-related post here.  Continue reading

Vegessential: Beetroot Falafel

falafel arrangement

One of the many good things about this collaboration is working with someone who knows the perils of trying to fit a food blog around a full time job. I’ve been doing lots of food photography for my new job (more on that in a later post), meaning that I’m finding it difficult to summon the energy to also do it in my spare time. Paris and I decided to fit in our next Vegessential session one evening after work. We were both knackered, and were seriously contemplating not bothering, but we ploughed on. It was then that we realised that there being two of us makes the whole process much easier.

beetroot

One of the many up-sides of doing a post together is you’ve got someone to help you make all the decisions. It made me realise the sheer amount of decisions involved – about ingredients, quantities, cooking methods, camera angles and styling. It’s great to have someone to offer their opinion on the exact placement of a piece of torn pitta, or an errant pomegranate seed. In fact, we spent the majority of the time precisely arranging the pomegranate seeds to look artfully scattered.

falafel

Armed with our trusty beetroot once again, we set about making beetroot falafel. I’ve never had this before, but Paris has, and assured me that it’s delicious. It was. Basically, you just whack everything in a food processor and whizz briefly until it comes together, then roll into balls and fry. We seriously contemplated leaving them raw, as we had to restrain ourselves from eating all of the mix before it was fried. But in the end went for a shallow fry in sunflower oil, until the outside edges began to crisp up. The real winning ingredient was the dates, giving the falafel a sweetness that complemented the beetroot really well. Have a look at Paris’ post on Avocado Please here.

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Butternut Squash Spread with Date Syrup

butternut squash dip

I’ve recently had two of my housemates from university come to visit. Food is one of the things that cements our friendship, having run a student food blog together (www.chocolatebudget.wordpress.com, if you’re interested). We had something of a dip extravaganza, making several different ones including baba ganoush, guacamole and this butternut squash one. All accompanied by pitta bread, olives and a great deal of reminiscing.

butternut

This spread is something of a revelation. It’s from one of my favourite cookbooks – ‘Jerusalem’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. If you haven’t heard of Ottolenghi then please get to know him. Amy first introduced his recipes to me while we were at uni, and I promptly bought a copy of ‘Ottolenghi: The Cookbook’ for myself and several others. His first cookbook details the salads, pastries and other amazing things sold at his London based delis, incorporating his influences from all over the world. Whereas Jerusalem does what you’d expect: focuses on Middle Eastern food. I’d recommend getting both.

date syrup

One of the things that pops up a lot in Ottolenghi’s recipes is date syrup. Although it’s usually quite expensive, I’ve found a cheap source of it in my local Middle Eastern food shop. Other delights that they stock include massive tubs of tahini, pomegranate molasses, fig jam and dried sour cherries. The date syrup is not essential for this dish, but makes it a sublime experience, rather than merely an intensely pleasurable one.

with spoon

There is a lengthy description about how this dip should be served, something about spreading it onto a plate, making swirls in it with your knife and drizzling over the date syrup. The suggested amount is 2 teaspoons, bearing in mind that the dip is already very sweet just from the squash, but I found it difficult to be so restrained and drenched the whole lot in something approaching 2 tablespoons.

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