Herb-flecked and fragrant: Quinoa and Chickpea Salad with Macerated Onions

I have a confession to make: As I write this I’m almost one week into a low-carbohydrate diet (but still on my smugly non-puritanical terms: If I fancy a bag of crisps or a slice of cake, I just won’t eat any bread, rice, potatoes or pasta that day. It’s all about balance and moderation – you didn’t think I’d become Calgary Avansino [she’ll sue me one day] did you??), so I’m looking for speedy suppers that are big on flavour, but don’t rely on the crutches of pasta or bread as the base. Even when in virtuous mode, I do not go in for rigid blandness or mimsy portions.

This colourful and herb-flecked quinoa and chickpea salad was born out of a store cupboard and fridge rummage as I found myself falling into the trap of buying new things for supper every day. Now I know what you’re thinking, it sounds hessian-weave and militant Wellness vegan time, but I assure you, if I didn’t like the taste of this, I wouldn’t make it, let alone publish the recipe. (I can’t stop channelling Queen Nigella can I? I’m too far gone.)

Indeed I have looked towards St Nigella for part of this – one of her frequent recipe components; the zingy macerated onions. It might sound inconvenient to steep finely-sliced red onions in vinegar (or lime juice which works just as well) for half an hour, but the acid takes out that acrid burn you get with raw onion, making them tangy and sweet, so you can eat this in the company of others without them recoiling in horror. Even with this step, this is still gratifyingly easy cooking and quick to make. Plus cold, it makes a great packed lunch for work.

This is packed with colour and zing; the vinegar or lime juice that the onions steep in, forms the dressing (no oil so I’m keeping company with the food fascism brigade here), there’s 2 chillies thrown in; some mouth-puckeringly, alligator-skin-hued capers, and the herbs, roughly chopped provide pungency – I want them more like a salad leaf instead of a garnish; whilst the grated carrot and chopped cucumber provide sweet, cool, familiarity.

You’ll notice I’ve flitted Stateside and back with the measurements, but I think it’s much easier to cook grains like quinoa (which like rice cooked by the absorption method, it’s 1 part grain to 2 parts liquid) if you go by volume. I generally don’t weigh ingredients for salads, rather going by eye, so feel free to add more or less of each of the components to your taste.

Serves 3-4 depending on appetite

Quinoa and Chickpea Salad with Macerated Onions

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Half red onion, finely sliced into half moons

About 60ml red wine vinegar or fresh lime juice (60ml = about 2-3 limes)

1 cup quinoa

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

400g can chickpeas, drained

Generous handful rocket leaves

A handful each of coriander, mint (de-stemmed), and parsley, roughly chopped or even left as whole leaves if you want

1-2 chillies, finely chopped

Approx 1 tbsp capers

1 medium carrot, grated

1/3 cucumber, cut into triangles

 

  1. In a bowl, place the sliced red onion and douse with vinegar or lime juice. Cover with cling film and leave to steep for 30 minutes.
  2. In a saucepan, bring the stock to the boil and add the quinoa grains. Bring back to the boil before lowering the heat and clamping on a lid. Cook for about 15 minutes until swollen and all the stock absorbed.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the chilli, roughly chopped herbs, rocket, cucumber pieces and grated carrot. Toss to mix.
  4. When the quinoa is cooked through, upend into the green garden of vegetables and stir with two forks to prevent the quinoa from clumping. The heat may wilt the rocket a little – if you want to, you can cook and cool the quinoa in advance.
  5. When the onions have had their steeping time, empty the pale puce strands, along with their steeping liquid into the salad and stir again to mix.
  6. Finally add the chickpeas and capers and give one final quick toss to ensure everything’s combined, decant onto a plate  (I also topped mine with a few of those bacon flavoured crispy bits) or into tubs for meal prep and dive in.

    NOTE: If you’re spreading this out for meal prep, store in a bowl covered with cling in the refrigerator and eat within 2 days, or in individual plastic airtight tubs.

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Creamy Lemon Spaghetti

There’s no greater quick and cheap meal than pasta (unless you’re one of these puritans who thinks carbs are basically edible anthrax), and my lemon spaghetti was born in the middle of a miserable working week and the idea of cooking just made me want to shriek (in a totes masc4masc way). It also shows just how much Nigella Lawson is embossed on my brain as it turns out this is very similar if not identical to her lemon linguine from her very first series of Bites/How To Eat, but I had a bit of cream left from another recipe and it was a case of let’s use that up whilst also rummaging around to see what would make a decent fast meal for one.

You don;t have to cook the sauce, just toss it through the drained, cooked pasta until warmed through in the residual heat of the pan. What I also love about this recipe is that it’s another slap in the face to the clean eating brigade. Carbs, fat and lots of them. It sounds rich but the lemon cuts that, making it both creamy and light at the same time. If you do have parmesan cheese in the fridge, then swap the cheddar for that. I just didn’t have any parmesan in the day I made this. You can also use tagliatelle or linguine if you have those knocking about…long pasta is much better suited for this type of sauce, but at a pinch you can use short cut pasta like penne or fusili if that’s all you have in the house…

Finally…sorry the photo is appalling. I almost forgot to snap it until I’d sat down to eat and consequently this is the result.

Serves 1 but can be doubled for 2.

Creamy Lemon Spaghetti

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125g spaghetti

1 egg yolk

zest and juice 1 lemon (this is to taste)

1-2 tbsp Grated cheddar

3-4 tbsp double cream (approx)

1 tbsp butter (approx)

 

  1. Set a pan of water on to boil and once it is boiling, salt generously – as Anna Del Conte once said, the water you cook pasta in must be as ‘salty as the Mediterranean’ – and slip in the strands of spaghetti.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together (a fork is fine for this) the egg yolk, cheddar cheese, cream, lemon zest and juice, along with some black pepper, until you have a pale primrose-hued emulsion.
  3. When the spaghetti is ready but still with a little bite, drain, reserving a small amount of the starchy cooking water, and place back into the hot pan.
  4. Pour over the creamy sauce and stir until warmed through and all the spaghetti is coated, with a little of the reserved pasta water to help the sauce amalgamate with the pasta. You want it well-dressed but not drowning in sauce.
  5. Pour into a bowl, find a comfy spot, stick on Netflix and dive in.

Mellow Yellow: Risotto alla Milanese

Risotto is classic comfort food in my eyes. It contains all the necessary items that bring solace and protection from life: carbs (yes the C word) and fat. Like a savoury rice pudding without the divisive tarpaulin of skin, this classic staple of Italian cooking is one of those foods you can feel hugging you from within.

It comes in many different forms, but surely there is no finer take on this most sinful of rice dishes than the Milanese version: Lit up with the deep gold bleeding from strands of that most magical of spices, saffron, risotto alla milanese is resplendent in its simplicity. Like many classic dishes, it is steeped in the mythology that there is this one great authentic recipe that all cooks must obey, but this simply isn’t the case….as Nigella Lawson once quipped, cooking is alive, like language…so I don’t proclaim this to be an authentic take on the perfect accompaniment to osso bucco veal, but merely my version of it.

I have no time for snobbery in the kitchen and I used whatever was to hand, including rosé wine (it was dregs of some trashy Gallo White Grenache left in the fridge and needed using up) and stock from a cube (because the most pretentious foodies of course deem any stock not home made as disreputable and not the thing), as well as grated cheddar instead of parmesan. Not that I’m going out of my way to be rebellious here; I just used what was in the fridge and on the shelf. By all means use parmesan and white wine as well as homemade chicken stock if you have them.  If you’re opening a bottle of wine especially for this, obviously drink the rest with the meal! Vermouth would also be good here if you can’t justify buying a bottle of wine just for this.

I will be bossy about one thing – you MUST use saffron otherwise this isn’t Milanese risotto! It’s better value to buy saffron online than the little jars from the supermarket, and you get more for your money. It keeps for ages so do invest. No turmeric please. The flavour is quite different and would be invasive here.

You could even use cheap long grain rice if you wanted if that’s all you have/budget is tight, but you won’t get the same creamy texture – risotto rice is short grain and can absorb more liquid, but I used to make risotto using long grain from my old student cookbook years ago and it does work  in a similar fashion – ris = rice after all, so I can vouch for that as a commendable alternative. Just don’t serve it to a discerning Italian.

This recipe serves one happily, but can easily be doubled for two.

Risotto alla Milanese per uno

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60g butter (go by eye if that’s easier)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 stick celery, finely chopped

150g short-grain/risotto rice – I used arborio but if you can find Vialone Nano rice, please use that.

125ml (small glass) rosé or white wine

500ml chicken or vegetable stock – I recommend Knorr chicken cubes as it helps with the yellow colour

Grated parmesan (or cheddar if you haven’t got any parmesan) to serve

Generous pinch saffron threads

  1. Mix saffron into the stock and pour into a small saucepan set over a medium heat. It is important to keep the stock hot.
  2.  Over a medium heat, melt half the butter along with the olive oil and tumble in the finely chopped vegetables. Cook for about 5 minutes, sprinkling with salt to stop colouring, until soft.
  3. Tip in the flat pearls of rice and stir until they are shiny and slick with onion-celery oil – this is known as tostatura in Italian.
  4. Pour over wine and stir, allowing the rice grains to absorb it.
  5. Once the wine is absorbed, ladle in the stock one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and not adding the next ladleful until the previous has been fully absorbed by the rice. Keep going until all the stock is used up and the rice is al dente…it should have some bite but be creamy and tender; this should take around 20 minutes.

  6. Don’t leave the stove during this. It’s hard to be precise as different bags of the same rice can differ in their thirst, so you may not need all the stock, or you may need to add extra water from the kettle.
  7. Once the rice is ready (do taste and check the texture) get ready to make the mantecatura; the all important finishing touch. Dot the risotto with the remaining butter, along with the grated cheese (Use roughly 2 tbsp but it’s to taste), and, should you have some on standby, a little cream (no more than 1 tbsp otherwise you risk muting the brilliant summery yellow of the risotto) and stir until melted in and creamy – the Venetians call this all’onda which means ‘with a wave to it’. You don’t want a rock-solid mass.
  8. Serve immediately.

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