Achocha

An ancient Peruvian crop.

Achocha (Cyclanthera pedata), also known as “kaywa” or “stuffing cucumber” has been cultivated in mountainous areas of South and Central America since ancient times. In 2014 I found a large-fruited variety called Bolivian Giant for sale at The Real Seed Catalogue . It is quite easy to grow – very vigorous once it gets going and the seeds are easy to save. I’m still just discovering the possibilities for eating it.

The fruits start to ripen in August/September, when the soft “prickles” form and they feel hollow when you squeeze them. Harvest them before the frost kills them off.

The simplest way to use them is to pick the young fruits before the seeds start to develop and eat them raw as a snack or in a salad. The most popular way of preparing them seems to be to stuff them, like sweet pepper. A visitor from Columbia gave me the trick: take the seeds out and blanch flesh for a couple of minutes in boiling water so it relaxes and is easy to stuff. Once they are blanched the fruits can be frozen for later use.

Any stuffing used for chille rellenos would work. So would one for Greek stuffed peppers.

Joe Foster

Curried Parsnip Soup

A delicious and warming winter soup.

Curried parsnip soup is just what we need for the cold-dark months – nourishing, comforting, and just a little bit spicey. I’ve made it for years, following recipes from several books, mainly Jane Grigson’s classic Vegetable Book, and The Goodness of Potatoes and Root Vegetables by John Midgley. Here is my version.

  • 1 Kg parsnip, cleaned and cut into large lumps
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • a clove or two of garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 litre stock
  • 150 ml cream
  • 2 tbs butter, heaped
  • 1 tbs flour
  • 1 or 2 tbs garam masala
  • ground chili to taste

Boil the parsnip until it softens a bit, then drain and let it cool. Now you should be able to lift the skin off easily with a sharp knife. Cut into smaller lumps and combine with the onion, garlic and butter in a heavy bottomed pan. Fry gently, with the lid on for about ten minutes, then add the flour and spices. Fry for another couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, then slowly add the stock and leave it to cook. When the parsnip is really tender, purée it, warm it up again and add the cream. Serve garnished with parsley, chives, or coriander.

Joe Foster

Pumpkin au Gratin

A simple but comforting bake of pumpkin, potatoes and cheese.

This works with many kinds of pumpkin and winter squash, including Butternut and Golden Hubbard – my current favourite. The inspiration came from Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book We have been making it for many years, adapting it to our own taste.

Serves four.

  • About 1 Kg pumpkin flesh
  • 400g or so of potato, peeled and chopped
  • A good lump of butter, or a mix of butter and olive oil
  • Two eggs
  • About 150g of grated Gruyère plus some Parmesan.

Boil the potatoes and pumpkin flesh* until they are soft and drain them well. Add the butter/oil, the eggs and most of the grated cheese and mash them all together. Tip the mixture into an oven dish, scatter the rest of the cheese over the top with some dots of butter, to help it brown. Bake in a medium hot oven until the top is brown and golden.

*Butternut squash has very thin skin which comes off easily with a peeler, but some pumpkins have quite tough skin. You can cut these into large chunks, take out the seeds and stringy bits and bake the chunks until they are soft. Then the flesh can be scooped out easily and added to the cooked potatoes for mashing.

From Joe Foster

Spinach with Garlic & Ginger

An Indian recipe for spinach, this works with cabbage or kale, too.

I learned this wonderful way of cooking spinach so long ago I almost forgot where it came from. I think it was a Sikh friend who showed it to me, but it doesn’t just go with Indian cooking – and it works with other greens besides spinach. I like it with cabbage, and even kale sometimes. This should be enough for two people who really like their greens.

  • 200 g or 300 g spinach
  • knob of ghee or else cooking oil and a knob of butter
  • about 2cm of fresh ginger root, grated
  • clove of garlic, pressed or chopped fine.

Wash the spinach well and drain. Heat the ghee (or oil and butter) with the garlic and ginger in a pan until it starts to sizzle. Then throw in the spinach, still wet, and cover the pan. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is soft and smells delicious. With other greens you may need to add just a bit of water to stop it burning.

Joe Foster

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

JAs are delicious roasted, and as soup.

Jerusalem Artichokes are related to sunflowers so will grow tall and eventually have small yellow flowers.  The sprouts are brittle so take care not to break the growing tip when planting them. Its best to harvest them all in the autumn or over winter, and then replant each year – otherwise they get very congested. 


They are delicious roasted, and I like them as soup. Here is a simple recipe:

  • Peel the artichokes using a vegetable peeler or a teaspoon,  this is not absolutely necessary but makes a better coloured soup.
  • Fry gently with a couple of cloves of garlic in some oil or butter. Don’t let it burn. 
  • After a few minutes,  add enough water to cover and cook with a lid on for about 20 minutes until the artichokes are soft. 
  • Add a handful of parsley and liquidise to a smooth texture. I usually add milk to this,  I’m going to try oat milk next time.  

JAs contain inulin, a starch which encourages healthy gut bacteria but they can make you pretty windy, you have been warned!! 

From Rosie Hall

Mexican Refried Beans

Frijoles refritos are easy to make, and Borlotti beans work really well.

Refried beans (frijoles refritos) go with lots of Mexican or Tex/Mex dishes, like quesadillas, huevos rancheros, burritos, or as a dip for tortilla chips. They turn out to be easy to make, and the Borlotti beans that many of us grow work especially well.

One cup of dried beans makes two or three cups of frijoles refritos, depending on how soft you want it.

  • one cup of dried beans
  • about 60ml (quarter cup) of oil or lard
  • one onion, finely chopped
  • two or three cloves of finely minced garlic
  • salt

Soak and cook the beans as usual. Drain them, but save the cooking water separately.

In a heavy frying pan, sauté the onions in the oil until they start to brown. Add the garlic, and sauté a bit longer.

Add a big spoonful of the beans, and mash them in well with the onions. Fry them for a while, then add some more beans and mash them in with the rest. Continue until all the beans are fried. This process causes a reaction between the starches and proteins in the beans (a Maillard reaction, if you want to know) which brings out the special flavour.

Now add a bit of the cooking water at a time, mashing it in as you  go, until you get the right consistency.  Make it a bit sloppier, actually, because they set firmer once they cool.  I like to make the dip version quite soft.

Salt the mixture to taste. Beans stand quite a bit of salt sometimes. Keep tasting as you go.

Joe Foster

Okonomiyaki

A Japanese favourite Okonomiyaki is a cabbage ‘pancake’.

A Japanese favourite Okonomiyaki is a cabbage ‘pancake’.  It’s really delicious and easy to make.  This recipe is an Anglo-Japanese version.  Whilst it’s not totally authentic, because it uses easily accessible ingredients, it’s still close to the original, and just as tasty.

Continue reading “Okonomiyaki”

Dried Beans

It is not so hard to cook dried beans on your stove top.

Here is the method of cooking dried beans which I have refined over many years.  It is easy, and it gets rid of the indigestible substances that give beans such a bad reputation. You don’t need any special equipment like pressure cookers – it works well in a covered pan on your stove top.  In fact, I prefer doing it this way because I can monitor when they are done more easily.

Enough for 2 or 3 people, and combines well with one tin of tomatoes:

  • One cup of dried beans
  • Water
  • Salt

Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water.  Ok, you do have to think ahead a little. If you have to leave them a second day, just drain them and give them fresh water until you are ready to cook. Remember, they will swell to more than twice their original volume. When you are ready to cook, drain the beans. Bring a pan of water to the boil, and tip in the beans. Get them boiling again, and boil for a further two or three minutes. Drain again and discard the water. This gets rid of most of indigestible stuff without losing the flavour. 

Now cover the beans in new water and simmer with a lid on the pan until they are done.  Keep an eye on them so they don’t dry out and burn. And how do you know when they are done? Lift a few beans out on a wooden spoon and blow on them. If the skins start to split and peel back they are about ready. Let a couple cool down and taste them. Repeat until you are satisfied. If the skins split in the pan they are a bit over done, but it is not a disaster. Near the end of the cooking, adjust the salt to taste. Salting them at the beginning is supposed to slow down the cooking, but I don’t know if this is really true. As a guide, our beautiful white Aztec beans (a kind of runner bean, really) take about 20 minutes.  Borlottis take 30 or 40, and red kidney beans a bit longer. Beans that have been stored for a long time take longer to cook.

Now drain them, and carry on with whatever recipe you are using.

Joe Foster

 

Apple Biscuit

An old French recipe. Don’t be fooled by the name; it’s actually a cake.

Living in England we are so lucky to be able to enjoy a regular harvest of apples in a vast array of different varieties.  The abundant apple trees at the allotment first deliver a delicate beauty in spring, when festooned with fragrant blossom.  Then in the autumn months we can happily enjoy a bountiful harvest of sweet, juicy apples.

Bees love apple blossom
The bees love apple blossom photo credit: Nederland in foto’s On flight via photopin (license)

Although I have tried to select my apple varieties to ensure they store well it’s inevitable that I will have to freeze some to use in the coming months.  At home we have a production line going to core, peel and slice the apples, soak them in lemon water and freeze them, thereby keeping them fresh and delicious.

One of the reasons we do this religiously is because I have discovered an amazing apple cake recipe which, once the freezer is full of apples, we can enjoy until supplies run out.

Hollin lane allotments apple harvest
A glut of apples is a great excuse to bake photo credit: grassrootsgroundswell Apples via photopin (license)

This is an old French recipe for apple biscuit, don’t be fooled by the name, it’s actually a cake.   Biscuit was originally a dough cooked twice, (bis for twice, cuit for cooked).  The biscuit was very hard so it would keep for months, a staple food for sailors.  The original ‘biscuit’ then developed into meaning ‘a light cake’, a staple for baking.  Today it means a soft as well as a dry cake.  This apple biscuit is soft and light and showcases the apples to perfection.

The recipe is from a very old cookbook I have called The Heritage of French Cooking by The Scotto Sisters and Annie Hubert Bare (Limited Editions Booktitles).

4 large apples, I use dessert apples.

A knob of butter

2 tablespoons of brandy (calvados is great but any brandy will do)

6 1/2 oz / 200g plain flour

3 tablespoons of cornflour

6oz/ 185g caster sugar

pinch of salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla essence

2 tsps baking powder

3fl oz / 90mls orange juice

5fl oz / 155mls groundnut oil

2 eggs

45g of flaked almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 350f / 180C/ gas 4.  Grease a 20cms cake mound.

2. Peel, core and chop the apples into thin slices.  Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the apples.  (I add mine straight from the freezer if using pre-frozen apples).  Fry for 2 mins on each side or until the liquid has evaporated and the apples are golden but dry looking.  If using brandy pour the brandy over the apples and flambé.  Shake the pan till the flambé dies down.  Put the apples onto a plate to cool down.

2. In a bowl combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, cinnamon, vanilla essence, baking powder, orange juice, oil and eggs.  Mix to a smooth batter.

3. Pour one third of the batter into the cake mould. Arrange half the apples on top to completely cover the batter.  Cover the apples with half of the remaining batter.  Arrange the remaining apples* on top and finally cover with the left over batter.

4. Sprinkle the flaked almonds on top of the cake and bake in the oven for 55mins.  Once cooked let the cake cool for 5mins then unmold and serve warm, or at room temperature, on its own or with fresh cream.

*for an alternative version I substitute the top layer of apples for a layer of blackberries which is equally as delicious.  If using frozen blackberries these should be de-frosted before use and the excess liquid drained off to prevent the cake becoming too wet.

Sue Stones

 

Swedish Crispbread

Jayne brought some to our work parties. Delicious!

(Jayne brought some of her Swedish crispbread to one of our work parties, and it was delicious. I’ve converted her deciliter units to cups. Joe)

Here is the recipe for the Swedish crispbread.  Our corn flour isn’t as good as the Swedish Risenta corn flour (majs mjol) but polenta flour may work.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups cornflour
  • 2 cups seeds – for instance : 
    • 0.5 cup linseed
    • 0.5 cup sunflower seeds
    • 0.5 cup pumpkin seeds
    • 0.5 cup sesame seeds
  • 1.5 cups boiling water
  • 3/8 cup sunflower or rape seed oil
  • 1/2 teasp salt.
  • flake salt for topping

Method: 

Mix flour and seeds, add boiling water and oil and mix thoroughly. 

Take half of the mixture and place on sheet of baking paper the size of oven shelf.  Place another sheet of baking paper on top and press or roll mixture until flat.  Take top piece of baking paper off and place in oven. 
Bake at 150 degrees C for 45 minutes.

Try to do all the mixture in one go as it doesn’t sit very well.

Jayne Harnett