Chickpea fajitas

As a meat-eater, one of my favourite Saturday night dishes were fajitas. My mum would lay platters of tortillas, chicken, and fillings on the table, and leave us to make an almighty mess. In trying to re-capture these nostalgic dinners of my youth, I had a little look round for chicken alternatives, and found my solution in BBC GoodFood’s chickpea variety.

For me, the fajita was never really about the meat: it was about finding that ideal balance of coolness and heat. Tempering the salsa with soured cream and guacamole is a fine art, and enhanced by the addition of fresh coriander. I challenge any carnivore to give these a try, and ascertain just how far the chicken really does make the fajita.

 

_20160419_205107

 

To serve two:

  • 400g can chickpeas
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • smoked paprika (or normal)
  • two tomatoes
  • a small red onion
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • an avocado
  • two limes
  • a small pot of soured cream
  • 2 tsp harissa
  • 4 corn tortillas
  • coriander

Start by preheating the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, or heating the griddle pan. Drain and rinse the chickpeas, pat dry with kitchen paper, and drizzle them in olive oil. Add a dash of paprika and salt, stir well to coat, and roast for twenty to twenty-five minutes. Halfway through, take the tray out and give it a shake to turn the chickpeas over.

Get cracking with the other fajita fillings. Finely slice the red onion and put in a bowl with the diced tomatoes; add the red wine vinegar, mix, and leave to one side to marinate.

For the guacamole, peel and de-stone the avocado and place into another bowl. Squeeze in the juice of half a lime with plenty of salt and pepper, and mash with a fork to your preferred consistency. As I prefer my guac with a kick, I added a little chopped red chilli.

Add the harissa to the yoghurt and stir together. Put the tortillas in the oven to get a little crispy, or griddle them briefly – be careful not to toast them, as they’ll be difficult to eat. Arrange everything on the table, wait for nobody, and dig in.

 

Simple chickpea & couscous salad

I suspect that I may offend anybody looking for a proper recipe to cook a proper meal with this post. If you’re that person, look away now: this salad is so very easy that a child could throw it together. Yet I am going to post it, because sometimes a recipe doesn’t have to list more ingredients than you can count off your fingers, and because I think it could help out a fellow hungry, tired, travel / deadline-weary reader.

I arrived home from home (the conventional university paradox) fairly late on Sunday night. When I booked my train, I’d pre-planned how I would approach the dilemma of having no food in the house, and probably no energy to want to cook anything anyway. In my suitcase I stowed a can of chickpeas from my first home, along with some cherry tomatoes, to form two essential parts of this salad.

As I tucked into this, in front of Netflix, with my suitcase abandoned behind me, I was surprised by the success of texture and flavour. Balsamic vinegar pairs brilliantly with couscous, chickpeas, and tomatoes on individual levels: all together, they taste fantastic. Minimalism, it seems, is a definite culinary technique; proving that there is method in the madness of student cooking. (I’m talking about those weird and wonderful combinations we concoct, and the meals we masterchef out of half a tin of chopped tomatoes and whatever’s lurking in the fridge.)

All you’ll need is:

  • dried couscous
  • a few handfuls of plum or cherry tomatoes
  • half a can of chickpeas, or other beans (c’mon, not baked)
  • balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

In this trial of culinary skills, pop the kettle on and pour enough couscous as you’re hungry to eat into a mug. Once the water’s boiled, just cover with water, and rest a tea towel on top to prevent heat escaping. It’ll take five minutes or so to absorb the liquid – add a little more water if the couscous is still firm to the touch.

Meanwhile, open the can of chickpeas, drain, rinse, and put half into a bowl. Slice the cherry or plum tomatoes in half and add in.

Fluff up the couscous with a fork, and add to the bowl. Drizzle in olive oil and plenty of balsamic vinegar, season, and mix well. Finish with a last flourish of vinegar and seasoning, sit down, and eat hungrily.

This would make an excellent lunch, post-gym snack, or light / late-night dinner. Still hungry, I had a slice of toast afterwards – travelling does tire one out. I would previously have encouraged adding other vegetables, salad leaves, feta cheese – but this salad is fantastic as it is.

 

Mushroom and spinach scramble

Today’s lunch was too good to not share. Mushrooms and spinach are two of my favourite vegetables: although bland in their uncooked states, they’re blank canvases to all sorts of tastes, and so perfect for a veggie fry-up. Using spring onion, chilli, and lemon to add some strong flavour, I whipped up a scrumptious lunch in next to no time.

Quite simply, this is all you’ll need:

  • four closed-cup mushrooms
  • a few big handfuls of spinach
  • two spring onions
  • butter, or olive oil
  • chilli flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • half a lemon
  • optional wodge of cheese to melt in.

 

To begin this versatile breakfast, lunch, or dinner, heat a frying pan, and slice up the mushrooms. Melt a knob of butter or heat a splash of oil (I much prefer cooking mushrooms in butter – the taste is so much better), before throwing in the mushrooms. Roughly chop the white ends of the spring onions, and add them to the pan when the mushrooms have started to gain a little colour.

Adding more fat if need be, begin wilting the spinach in the pan. Season generously with salt, pepper, and chilli flakes, crumbling in the cheese if you want it (which, really, you should). Once everything’s significantly reduced (after about five minutes), squeeze in a burst of lemon juice and incorporate well.

Serve over good-quality toasted bread, perhaps with a dollop of your favourite chutney. Bon appétit.

(There’s no picture here, which I make no apology for. I couldn’t wait.)

 

Shortbread, and baking without eggs

I’ve recently decided eggs are off my agenda. Why? Because I can no longer deny the fact that the way in which they’re produced is cruel. That caged hens live a terrible existence is a fact that nobody can deny – but cruelty is inherent even in the production of free-range and organic eggs: as they’ve no functional use, almost all male chicks are killed immediately.

I hope I don’t come across as sanctimonious, in any way: I don’t judge anyone for eating eggs. It’s just that on a personal level, I feel uncomfortable morally with supporting such a violent way of producing food. If I could see first-hand how the hen was raised, and how her and her offspring are treated, then perhaps I’d buy eggs.

To be honest, I’ve never much enjoyed eating them, anyway – just as with meat, I only felt I should cook them for their nutritional benefits. (I have finally committed to going veggie – I’ll discuss that in another post.) But at uni, the eggs I bought generally ended up as someone else’s breakfast, almost at their use-by date; and although a tomato omelette tastes good, it’s something I can happily live without.

The hardest part of avoiding eggs, however, is baking: the world and literature of cakes revolve around that essential binding egg. As far as I’m aware, there’s only so far you can go with chemical replacements, bananas, or coconut oil, but I’d like nothing better than to be proven wrong. I love cake, and it’s proving hard to resist when it’s offered to me by relatives. Being placed in a moral dilemma by my grandad’s cake will continue to be difficult, but I hope that it will get easier.

Hallelujah, though, for shortbread: a biscuit which doesn’t call for a beaten egg. To start off my exploration of an egg-free-baked-good life, I turned to Paul Hollywood’s buttery shortbread recipe, with promising results. These biscuits have a lovely texture, far better than the average supermarket shortbread finger; the cornflour, although making the dough quite crumbly to handle, adds a new dimension of texture and thickness. I chopped some extra dark chocolate and threw it in for good measure.

 

WP_20160328_003

 

To make around sixteen circular biscuits, you’ll need:

  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 110g cornflour
  • pinch of salt

Start by lining two baking trays with paper. Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl and cream until light and fluffy, using an electric whisk.

Sift in the flour and cornflour with the salt, and mix together. If you fancy some chocolate, raisins, vanilla, or Paul Hollywood’s suggestion of lavender, now’s the time to add it. Lightly flour your kitchen surface, and knead the dough. Then, cut two pieces of baking paper, place the dough in between, and roll out to a thickness of 1cm.

Cut the biscuits into whatever shapes you want: triangles, circles, squares, bunnies, bananas… Place the shapes onto a flat surface in the fridge, and chill for at least half an hour. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.

Bake the biscuits for around twenty minutes, or until golden. Dust with sugar, and make sure you leave them plenty of time to cool before eating with a cup of tea.