Ginger Beer-Battered Stuffed Tofu with Asian Mushy Peas

Ginger Beer-Battered Stuffed Tofu with Asian Mushy Peas

This recipe is the whole reason I bought Maria Elia’s The Modern Vegetarian book. To be honest though, I’ve been a bit too scared to cook it. I think that’s mainly due to me having no confidence in my ability to produce something that remotely resembles the photos of any dish I want to make. I always feel that I’m going to cock it up somehow and produce something that’s inedible. I’m my own worst enemy in that regard. It just so happened that one weekend I said to my wife that I’d cook her anything she wanted, but it had to be from this book. She chose this recipe, mainly because she knew I wanted to make it.

I thought there might be a few issues trying to put this dish together and I wasn’t wrong. The recipe calls for cutting a slit into the tofu and stuffing some of the filling into it. Now to me, any recipe that has a filling, obviously has the right amount of filling, i.e. there shouldn’t be any left over. So in this case, exactly a quarter of the filling should be stuffed into the slit in each of the four bits of tofu. Now, if you use the Cauldron Foods tofu like I do, there is no way you’re going to get anywhere near that much filling into a block of it, as it’s just too fragile. So either I’m using the wrong type of tofu, or the recipe produces way too much filling.

If you find yourself making this recipe and you’re using the Cauldron Foods tofu, don’t despair, there’s an easy solution. Instead of cutting a slit in the tofu, cut a trench. So rather than just the one cut in the middle of the block, make parallel cuts on the thirds and then scoop out the middle with the handle of a teaspoon, remembering to leave enough tofu at the edges and bottom. Then you should have enough space to stuff about a quarter of the filling into the tofu without any risk of it bursting open.

The only other thing I’d say about tofu, is that it’s pretty flavourless stuff, even when stuffed with a flavorful filling and encased in tasty batter. It’s especially tasteless, if it hasn’t been completely drained of all moisture, which I’ve never quite been able to do; at least not without damaging the tofu. I think that dusting it in some sort of spice mix, inside and out, might go some way to alleviating the watery flavourless lump that you encounter between the two really tasty bits.

Finally, this isn’t the biggest dish in the world, even with the mushy peas, it’s crying out for a side of chips, wedges, or something similar. I have an inkling to pair it with the Rosemary and Butternut Squash Polenta Chips, or a variation thereof. Either way, I’m definitely going to make it again, although I might try and make my own tofu first…

Rosemary and Butternut Squash Polenta Chips

Rosemary and Butternut Squash Polenta Chips

I’ve had Maria Elia’s The Modern Vegetarian for a while, but for one reason or another, I’ve not got round to cooking many of the recipes. I was home alone one Saturday night, so decided to whip up a batch of the Rosemary and Butternut Squash Polenta Chips with a pot of homemade mayonnaise.

Every time I’ve used express, fast cook type polenta, I’ve been disappointed and this time was no exception. It just tastes watery and had that slightly grainy but flabby and almost rubbery texture about it. To be honest, I’m not sure I’m cooking it properly, but I’ve cooked it to the instructions a number of times now, for a number of different recipes, so either that’s the way it’s supposed to be, or I’m just shite at cooking it. I think I’ll try cooking it for longer than the stated five minutes next time and see if that makes a difference.

The recipe calls for chopping the squash into small dice and adding them to the pan, before adding the polenta, i.e. the squash dice and polenta cook together. But small is relative, how small is small…? I diced mine up to what I thought was relatively small, but I think if I was doing it again, I’d either grate the squash, or roast it and mash it up first. The reason I’d do this, is that mostly, each mouthful was just rubbery, slightly grainy polenta, without much flavour. then you’d get some rosemary and squash and it totally transformed the experience.

Also, it looks to me like the chips in the photo that accompanies the recipe, have a slight orange hue. Indicating to me, that the squash is better distributed in those chips than in mine. I could be totally wrong though, but next time, I think I’ll try grating the squash into the polenta and seeing what difference that makes. I’ll also make them slightly smaller, as they were just a little on the big side, which I don’t think helped matters.

Finally a quick word about the mayonnaise. I made mine using bog standard rapeseed oil, not the fancy cold pressed stuff. Don’t. Just don’t. The resulting mayonnaise was horrible, you could just tell from the taste that it was made with cheap oil. I ended up ditching the mayonnaise in favour of some of my homemade Haw ketchup, a much, much nicer match.

Chocolate Truffles

I bought Maria Elia’s The Modern Vegetarian last year and if I’m being honest, I’ve not used it enough, not nearly enough. I’ve made a few things out of it though, including a couple of the batches of the chocolate truffles, using differing flavour combinations. The first one I tried, was the rosemary and sea salt combination, which I made as a Christmas present for my wife. They didn’t go down well…

I thought they are OK, which is just as well, as I ended up having to eat the lot! To be fair, they were quite strong, with the rosemary imparting quite a powerful taste. I’m not overly surprised that they polarised opinion in the house because of that. To make amends, I made my wife another batch of truffles, this time, using the pomegranate and mint flavour combination, mainly as I had some mint stalks left over and we have a bottle of pomegranate molasses in the house. These went down a lot better, although they still didn’t get finished.

This time it was the flavour of the pomegranate molasses that didn’t go down as well as it should have. It’s got quite a sharp sweet sour tang thing going on, and maybe I put it a bit too much in, I liked them though, even if they were a bit on the soft side. I think the next batch will use the cardamom and orange flavour combination, hopefully it’ll be third time lucky…

Entertaining

Aubergine with Buttermilk Sauce

We had friends round for dinner last Saturday evening, which meant I got to do some cooking. It was just a shame that I was recovering from a bout of tonsillitis, so I’d not really been up for looking through recipe books, or even thinking about cooking for the previous week and a half. But since I needed to put something on the table, I had to break out the recipe books and try and put together a menu.

I originally thought about finally attempting some stuff out of the Terre à Terre cookbook, but realised that I wasn’t quite well enough for that level of forward planning. Which basically left it as a straight flight between Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Denis Cotter’s For The Love of Food. Since I didn’t want it to be too formal, or too demanding, I decided to go with some recipes from Plenty, not that I’m trying to say that Denis Cotter is to formal or demanding, he’s not. The starter was new, but the three things I’d picked for the main course were all recipes I’d cooked before, I was trying to make it a relatively easy and stress free day and go for more of a Mediterranean table covered in food affair.

I wasn’t sure about what to do for pudding though, but as I’d been flicking through Maria Elia’s The Modern Vegetarian a lot recently, I decided to go with her Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake. I’d wanted to make it a couple of weekends previously, but something came up and I didn’t get the chance, so this was the perfect opportunity.

The notes below are mostly to jog my memory if I ever come to cook them again for entertaining people. If you find them useful then great!

Starter: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Aubergine with Buttermilk Sauce
I followed the recipe to the letter, with the oven at 200°C, but after the stated 40 minute cooking time, the aubergine wasn’t really done enough. I wouldn’t say it was still raw, but it certainly wasn’t as soft as I was expecting. I’ll have to bare this in mind if I do it again and either leave them in for longer, or use a slightly higher temperature. The only other things I can comment on are that unless you absolutely drown the aubergines in the buttermilk sauce, you’ll have loads left over. Similarly with the pomegranate, you probably only need the seeds from half of one, unless you really want a massive pile on top.

Also just realised that I didn’t sprinkle any za’atar on top of the buttermilk sauce, not sure where my head was at that evening…

The recipe for this one is on the Guardian’s website.

Main: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Itamar’s Bulghar Pilaf
Nothing to be said about this one, it’s dead easy to prepare and tastes amazing. Really this is a just a note to myself to make sure that I have all the required ingredients before starting to prepare a dish, especially tomato purée. Then you don’t have to txt your guests and ask them to pop into the supermarket on their way over to pick you some up…
Main: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Leek Fritters
The recipe calls for chopping the leeks into 2cm thick slices and fry with the shallots for fifteen minutes. Two things, either stir the leeks more frequently so they don’t catch and cook for a bit longer so they are soft all the way through, or chop them slightly thinner so they don’t take quite as long to cook. I found that not all the leeks were soft all the way through when prepared according to the recipe. Also, don’t whisk the egg white before it’s required, otherwise it goes a bit manky if left to sit for a bit and re-whisking it doesn’t get it back to how it was.

Finally, you really need to leave them to cook for quite awhile on each side, if you try and flip them to early, they’ll just fall to bits and be rubbish. The base should be quite a dark brown before you attempt to flip them, then you know that the fritter is solid and will survive being turned over.

This recipe is also available on the Guardian’s website.

Main: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Smoky Frittata
This recipe calls for scamorza affumicata, which is a smoked mozzarella. I know you can buy it from the cheese shop in Cambridge, but they have to order it in and it might take a week, so you really need to plan in advance. I’m sure that the oak smoked cheddar that I use instead gives a totally different taste and has different melting characteristics. One of these days I really need to get my finger out and order the real thing. Also, when adding the smoked paprika, make sure you are whisking in a big enough bowl, as it has a tendency to clump together.

Yupo, yet another recipe that’s on the Guardian’s website.

Pudding: Maria Elia – Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake
The recipe just calls for a 20cm springform cake tin, just make sure the one you use is deep, as this is one big cake! I prepared a tin and the I just knew it wasn’t deep enough once all the ingredients had been mixed together. The picture in the book is top down, so gives no indication of depth, but the one I made was 5cm deep at the edges and 7cm deep in the middle. Also remember to put the cinnamon stick into the syrup when you’re making it, I’m sure that would have made it even more delicious.

The recipe says to cook for around an hour, until a skewer comes out clean, I ended up cooking mine for an hour and a quarter and the skewer wasn’t coming out clean from certain parts of the cake. In the end I just figured that it had had enough and took it out, I didn’t want to do my usual thing of over cooking everything.

Turns out this recipe is on the Daily Mail website.

Pudding: Maria Elia – Ginger Sorbet
Always leave a sorbet mix to cool completely, before putting it into an ice cream maker. Otherwise it’s just going to waste the ice block and instead of turning to sorbet, it’ll just cool down. I still can’t fathom why I poured hot sorbet mix into the ice cream maker, it defies all logic.

It also took longer than three hours to set, it was more of a granita than a sorbet after about five hours. Even the next day, it was still more of a granita than a sorbet, might just have been my idiocy though.

The recipe for this one is on some Australian website – LifeStyle FOOD.

Overall I was quite pleased with how things turned out. The bulghar pilaf was lovely and the leek fritters and their green sauce went wonderfully well with it. I think the smoky frittata would have been better on its own with the pilaf though, it just wasn’t on a par with the leek fritters and the flavours of those two, while they both went with the pilaf, don’t really work together for me. Maybe the pilaf and fritters with a side of some crushed beans, feta and za’atar with some flat breads would have been better, I might have to try that next time.

The Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake was absolutely delicious, even the kids were noshing their way through it the next day. I can see myself baking that one again and again. I’ll have to have another crack at the ginger sorbet too, but I’ll let it cool down before going in the ice cream maker next time.