Vegetable Pakoras

One of my favourite Indian foods are pakoras. I love this crispy, spicy, snack. It’s perfect as part of a meal, but equally good as a savoury treat. Eaten all over the Indian subcontinent they are a great way of using up bits of different vegetables, working well with cauliflower, courgettes, onions, potatoes, spinach, chard, aubergine…the list goes on. An added bonus for our family is that they’re inherently gluten free, due to their use of gram flour.

Simple in method, they do however need a few different herbs and spices to achieve the perfect pakora. For some, this would require a trip to the supermarket, or local ethnic shop (or both) to stock up on the necessary ingredients. I love having a range of spices in my cupboard, but sometimes the convenience of a spice mix is a godsend.  When I was recently contacted by Hari Ghotra about her Pakora curry kit, I thought I’d check it out.

The kit comes with all the spices and gram flour combined, and instuctions to make both vegetable and paneer pakora. There’s also a link to a video showing the process involved, but the recipe on the card is clear and easy to follow.  As mentioned before, pakora are very versatile, so I chose to use up a glut of courgettes, as well as some potatoes and onions. I love growing courgettes at the allotment, but if you look away for a moment, they seem  to grow in seconds, so another way to use them up is always handy. The one thing with using courgettes is that they have a lot of liquid in them, so after grating them they need to be squeezed of excess water, before combining them with the rest of the mix. Once your mixture is combined, it needs to be used pretty quickly, dropping spoonfuls into hot oil and frying until golden brown.

For a recipe which includes the spices needed to recreate the mix, see Hari Ghotra’s website, where you’ll also find a rnage of different curry kits and recipes to try. As a handy store cupboard emergency pack, these are pretty good. They certainly make it easy to turn a glut into a tasty, spicy treat.

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Celeriac and Blue Cheese Soup with Celeriac Crisps

The celeriac at the allotment is far from ready; having been sown a few weeks ago, it is only just emerging from the seed compost. Nonetheless its a day for a soup today, and I bought a celeriac the other day; reduced to a matter of a few pence due to a rather unnecessary best before date. Celeriac teams brilliantly with blue cheese, and as if planned, I have a bit of Danish Blue cheese in the back of the fridge. I like to make use of all we have in the fridge and take great pleasure from managing to combine leftover bits into something delicious. The celeriac and blue cheese combine to produce a really smooth soup, but to complete the dish it needs something with contrasting texture. For a long while I’ve been interested in the idea of making vegetable crisps, so I experimented with celeriac crisps as a crispy garnish for the soup. It works well, continuing the flavour, but adding a different texture to the dish.

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You will need (enough for 4)
A small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
750 g celeriac
1.5L stock (I had some chicken stock which I’d made from a roast, but vegetable stock would be good too)
50g blue cheese
Oil for frying

Slowly sweat the onion and garlic until softened and translucent. Meanwhile, peel the celeriac. Use a peeler to peel enough ‘crisps’ from the celeriac, before cutting the remaining root into dice. Put the peeled ‘crisps’ to one side and add the diced celeriac to the onions and garlic. Cook for a few minutes (you don’t want too much colour on the vegetables), then add the stock and simmer for 20 minutes or so, or until celeriac is tender. When the celeriac is soft, pour the contents of the saucepan into the food processor or liquidiser and blitz til smooth. Add the blue cheese and whizz a little more, before reheating.

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To make the crisp garnish, heat oil to a depth of 2cm and when the oil is at a hot enough temperature add the saved celeriac peelings. Cook for a few minutes until the celeriac starts to turn a little golden, before removing and placing on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. To serve, pour into bowls and place the crisps in the middle of the soup, a twist of black pepper wouldn’t go a miss.

Cime di Rapa

My wife and I really like Purple Sprouting Broccoli and grow it at the allotment. However, we can’t grow it all year round and refuse to pay for the imported crops out of season. Earlier in the year I discovered an alternative – Cime di Rapa. This is basically a variety of broccoli (despite the name referring to turnips) and although not known in this country is widely grown and eaten in Italy. One of the key advantages if this brassica is its speed of growth – different varieties range from 30-90 days from seed to harvest. The fantastic Franchi Seeds sell a number of varieties (I grew Cime di Rapa Quarantina, a 40 days variety).

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I sowed the seeds with 10cm gaps between each station (sowing a few seeds at each stop). Once sowed Cime di Rapa does pretty well left to its own devices. I’ve thinned some of the rows to get larger plants; but as the leaves alone can be eaten as greens, this is not necessarily needed. When the plants are at a reasonable size the flower heads can be picked and used as you would Purple Sprouting Broccoli. In Italy, it’s often eaten a part of a pasta dish, Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa is one of Puglia’s signature dishes.

I’ve used the Cime di Rapa as an accompaniment to Pork Chops stuffed with sage and bacon. The greens were treated very simply; steamed, then tossed in garlic infused olive oil and finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice. The slightly bitter flavours contrasting brilliantly with the sweet pork meat. The wilted greens also make a great bruschetta topping.

Writing this post has reminded me – I’m off to the plot in a moment to sow some more Cime di Rapa.