Lettuce be happy: post-degree salads & alfresco dining

If there’s one thing I’ll learn from completing my undergraduate degree, it’s to not stock up on so many grains when your landlady’s contract only lasts for 11 months. It’s also to not get cosy in a beautiful kitchen that’s only on loan to you – (we lucked out, and got the most gorgeous house for the Exetah’ student going rate). I’ll never own a kitchen this nice again. Especially with an English literature BA. And now I’m lumped with shit loads of pearl barely, couscous, polenta, and debt.

There’s something really ominous about finishing your degree. The majority of us are currently in limbo until our graduation ceremony: too qualified to work in Tesco’s and too inexperienced to work for Penguin publishing house. It seems that reading all that Barthes and Foucault amounted to nothing. Temporarily. Thankfully, I’m motivated by learning and the thrill of it, and not by money – so I’m due to move to Glasgow this September to study an MLitt (Scottish alternative to MA) in English literature: Modernities. I’m so bloody excited. But I still need to get rid of all these grains.

I can’t come to terms with the fact that I’ll be leaving behind some of the greatest friends I’ve made at university. Consequently, I’ve been inviting friends round for dinner frequently and we’ve been enjoying the meals in the garden. These two salad dishes are sociable, economical and they make your heart happy. Both vegan and served at whatever temperature you fancy. Here’s to good health and to promising futures.

Jaunty post-degree pearl barley salad (serves 4; vegan) (my favourite)

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Thanks Maddy, for use of your Polaroid

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe aubergine, cut into 1.5cm thick disks
  • 1 sweet potato, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 200g pearl barley
  • 2 tbsp good olive oil
  • Half a bag of lettuce of your choice
  • 100g drained olives
  • Generous handful of dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • Generous handful of dried apricots, roughly chopped
  • 1 pomegranate
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Work lunches 

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°c. Coat the aubergine disks and sweet potato cubes in olive oil, salt, garlic and all the spices. On baking parchment, spread the veg out and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
  2. While the veg is gently roasting, wash the pearl barley in cold water. Cook on a medium heat on the hob with 200ml water. Once the water is boiled, simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Zest the lemon and combine with the tahini, 1 tbsp olive oil and lemon juice. Prepare the olives and dried fruits by roughly chopping.
  4. Leave the aubergine and sweet potato to cool, and drain the pearl barely if needed. Combine all prepared ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and layer onto a tray of lettuce and sprinkle on the pomegranate seeds to finish.

Lentil tabbouleh (serves 4; vegan) (great with pimms)

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What I like about this one is that it requires minimal cooking and so is great to prepare in advance to a BBQ, or just for packed lunches. Is it socially acceptable to bring pimms to work too? Please ignore the Tesco delivery boxes I used for my haphazard student BBQ. I do think they look quite edgy though.

Ingredients:

  • 2 sweet potatoes, diced into 1.5cm cubes
  • 1 tin of pre-cooked green lentils, drained
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 ripe tomatoes
  • 2 big bunches of coriander and mint, chopped
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 170ºC. Parboil the sweet potato cubes, drain and coat in all the spices. Sprinkle on the garlic, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.
  2. While this is in the oven, prepare dice the red onion and tomato. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the fresh ingredients and add the sweet potato once cooked!

 

Berlin reflections

pretzels, bagels, bratwurst, currywurst…and erm, more currywurst

To make my flight €100 cheaper, I stopped off in Berlin for a few days before heading back to London. I found that Berlin had few concrete, fundamental dishes and ingredients that sets it aside from the rest of Europe. The capital certainly has the rest of Germany’s predilection for meat, particularly sausages. But, I was disappointed I couldn’t try the dish most ranted and raved about – that is bratwurst sausage with curry toppings, or ‘currywurst’ – because of dietary requirements. There’s even a museum dedicated to the phenomenon that is ‘currywurst’.

I fell in love with the city; it lives to reflect and learn from its controversial past, with the effect that it now exists as a liberal and lively hub. In the process, it has accumulated a vast array of multicultural cuisines. I ate in authentic Turkish, Italian and Asian restaurants (and many modern vegan eateries that are dispersed throughout the city).

The German bakeries are the city’s redemption. Think pretzels galore. Here’s a ‘streuseltaler’ – a fine yeast dough pastry with a refined butter crumble. It’s essentially an excuse to eat cake for breakfast.

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In East Side Berlin, there was a substantial selection of vegan eateries, to match the cool and hip ambience of this side of the city. Just past the East Side gallery, I came across a building hosting Veganz (a supermarket), Goodies (a vegan café dedicated to great coffee), The Bowl (a clean eating restaurant for the best, beautiful bowls of goodness), and a vegan shoe shop.

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The Bowl boasts a 100% plant-based kitchen, producing gluten and sugar free bowls for a little over €10. I tried went for the ‘California’ bowl from the menu; this was lemon quinoa, deep fried sweet potato sticks, sesame tamari leaf spinach, raw apple carrot salad, avocado slices, tomato coriander salsa and teriyaki hibiscus sauce. (But I also pinched a spoonful of the ‘Buddha’ bowl too from my travel buddy). The ingredients are simple, but the sauces and dressings bring the ingredients to life.

This restaurant refreshed me from a 3 hour urban art walking tour of the East Side gallery and beyond. And it has given me inspiration for new healthy, filling and vegan recipes.

 

 

Carob and fig ice cream

Carob and fig ice cream serves 4; vegetarian 

making use of the carob powder and syrup I brought home from Cyprus, I thought I’d try combining some awesome Cypriot flavours into this indulgent dessert. These ingredients are easily found in all well-stocked Turkish food shops. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 large free range eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 200ml double cream
  • 2 figs, peel removed
  • 1 heaped tsp carob powder
  • 1 tsp carob syrup

Method:

  1. figggg.jpegWhisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until stiff peaks are formed.
  2. Slowly whisk in the caster sugar, continuing until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.
  3. Whisk the cream in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed – be sure to not whisk too much otherwise it’ll curdle.
  4. Fold in the cream, egg yolks, the inside flesh of 2 figs, carob powder and syrup into the mixture until well combined.
  5. Pour into a plastic container and freeze for at least 2 hours. Serve with more fresh fig, and carob syrup, according to taste.

 

Chewing over Cyprus

rose, pistachio, almonds, vine leaves, tahini, baklava, halva, olive oil, carob, figs

Embarrassingly, I had to increase my baggage allowance to bring Cypriot delicacies home for recipe testing. I was looking forward to the trip for the stuffed vine leaves, but I underestimated how a 4 hour plane journey would reveal a whole new world of cuisine.

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The goodies I managed to accumulate from the trip and fly back home included carob syrup, carob powder, tahini, black and green olive paste, Cypriot delight and traditional coffee.

Staying with my Cypriot friend and her welcoming family, I luckily experienced the cuisine the traditional way, through bustling family meals. I arrived on the Greek nameday for Maria, 15th August, and we celebrated with a kolokasi (a vegetable only grown in Cyprus) stew and fresh pitta smothered in tahini, hummus and olive paste.

Something amazing about Cyprus: I was able to sample the fresh produce by picking it off the trees.

Another amazing thing I found out: olive paste is the paste of Gods. This black olive paste was enveloped in a thick fresh pastry evenly smothered in sesame seeds. We bought a huge package of bite-sized pastries from a bakery in Limassol, in preparation for a day trip crossing the border into the North of Cyprus, the Turkish side.

Further fillings found in the pick ‘n’ mix pastry bag:

  • Creamy almond paste
  • Spinach
  • Halloumi
  • Feta and roasted pepper

Crossing the border was a surreal experience in the sense of the very sudden, dramatic change of culture and living circumstances; a change that occurred in a matter of minutes, once our passports were checked and the day car insurance purchased in order to pass the barrier. The food changed too. Food became territorial. Stemming from the tension from the country’s divide in 1974, when Turkey invaded the North. Cypriot delight became Turkish delight, Cypriot coffee became Turkish coffee…

The most momentous meal I had was made by Natasa’s grandma, which was stuffed vine leaves and courgette flowers. I’ll be experimenting with flavours and fillings in an upcoming recipe for stuffed vine leaves.