'Looking out on the morning rain, I used to feel so uninspired...' as Carol King once so eloquently remarked almost 50 years ago; sums up exactly how I feel at this time of year, particularly in the kitchen.
The month of March may roar in like a lion but, more often than not, it goes out like a (paschal) lamb and we are all casseroled out. I have used up my not inconsiderable repertoire of stews and braises, and as the days lengthen and the light increases I yearn for, and by default my family get to eat, lighter and less rib-sticking fare.
I was having a salmon beigel/bagel (you say tom-ay-to, I say tom-ah-to) and a catch-up last Friday with my friend Karen and we were deciding who would be coming to our second night Seder. We were remeniscing about the Passover Skips that used to appear all over the borough, along with a written communication from the council as to where they would be located so that everyone could jettison their chametz.
Today, with everyone's finances being squeezed, the cost of living rising and the 'B' word just over the horizon; the thought of throwing away perfectly good food is an anathema to most of us.
We discussed the possibility of donating our chametz to food banks or local charities, but realised they would only take sealed and unused packets. This does not suit most people's bulging cupboards of half used packs of bulghur wheat and weird pasta shapes.
The average UK household wastes about £500 worth of perfectly edible food per year and this avoidable food waste generates in total 19m tonnes of greenhouse gases over its lifetime. If this were prevented the pollution level would drop significantly; it would be equivalent to taking one in four cars off the road - food for thought! Mindful of the tonnes of food waste and coupled with the desire for frugality I have been trying to find recipes that use up all the odds and ends of the packets and bags of beans, pulses and other chametz I have left over. The problem is that most of my left over dried goods are bought for specific recipes that then languish in their dessicated and unloved state in the back of the cupboard until they are past their best before date and are then thrown away. This 'zero waste' policy will give me a sense of accomplishment, make me feel like I am helping the planet and hopefullly save some pennies too.
Over the next few weeks I will publish a mixed bag of ideas drawing on different cuisines for example Asian dishes or Middle Eastern food. This means that if you only have a little of each item you could make two smaller dishes using up what you have. I don't have many egg noodles left, so I might make a chicken stir fry with noodles and serve it with some crispy chilli beef and a side of rice; I think you get the idea. If you have any special pre-Pesach recipes that help with this age-old dilemma, please do not hesitate to contact me and we would be happy to share them. B'tayavon!
WARM CHICKEN AND BEAN SALAD
This salad is great for a light lunch dish. It's best warm, but if you want to serve it as part of a Shabbat lunch table take it out of the fridge well before you want to eat it, as it needs to come to room temperature and keep the dressing separate until you are ready to eat
400g butter beans, or a mixture of any that you have, soaked and cooked until tender and drained.
500g (2 - 3) Skinless chicken breasts
leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
250g fine green beans
1 red onion peeled, halved and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons grain mustard
1 tablespoon clear honey
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
You will need to start this recipe the day before unless you are using canned beans. Rinse and pick over your beans and then soak them for 24 hours. Drain them and then cook them in a large pan of boiling water until tender. This will take about an hour, but may be longer depending on how old the beans are. Do not be tempted to add salt as this will toughen the bean skins and make them chewy. Alternatively you can bring the dried beans to a fierce boil for about 10 minutes, turn off the light and then allow them to soak for one hour. Rinse and drain the beans and then cook until tender.
Cut the chicken breasts into chunks and place in a large bowl, strip the leaves from the rosemary, finely chop and scatter over the chicken and half of the olive oil. Give everything a good mix and then sauté in a large non stick frying pan until tender and golden brown. This will take about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and mix through for the last couple of minutes so that it doesn't burn and go bitter.
Cook the green beans in a large pan of boiling water for about 2-3 minutes and then tip in the pre-cooked dried beans or the drained cans of beans and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the green beans are tender. Drain the beans well and mix them with the sliced onions and chicken. Whisk the mustard, vinegar and honey together, add to the salad and toss before serving.
LAMB & APRICOT BIRYANI
This is a delicious way to use up half a bag of basmati rice and an even better way of making a pack of lamb goulash stretch to feed four comfortably. The best part about this particular recipe is that it is all cooked in one dish which cuts down on the washing up!
350-450g Lamb goulash
1 tablespoon sunflower or vegetable oil
1 onion halved and thinly sliced
200-250g Basmati rice
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2-3 tablespoons KAVANNAH biryani paste
150g cubed sweet potato
150g cubed butternut squash
500ml hot chicken stock
75g dried apricots chopped (or a mix of raisins and apricots.)
1 bag baby spinach
2 tablespoons toasted flaked almonds - optional
A small handful of coriander leaves roughly chopped
Pre-heat your oven to 200c (gas mark 6). Heat the oil in a large flame-proof casserole; I use a large 30 cm shallow cast iron pan with a lid (Le Creuset are £235 and last a lifetime; Sainsbury's is £45 and does the job just as well). Sauté the lamb with the onion for 5-8 minutes until browned. Pour in the rice and the turmeric and give it all good stir and then add the curry paste, the cubed squash and sweet potatom apricots and the hot stock.
Cover with the lid and cook in the oven for about 45 minutes until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is tender. Lift the lid and tip in the spinach and then replace the lid for approximately two minutes to wilt it.
Fork through the rice to fluff it up and stir in the spinach and then scatter over the coriander and the almonds if using.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!
If you've got a cup of short grain, risotto, arborio, carnaroli, bomba de paella or pudding rice begging to be used up you could do worse than whip up a batch of cool creamy, non-dairy, gluten friendly parev coconut rice pudding. This is a perfect pudding that can be made on Friday and kept in the fridge until Saturday lunch-time; that is, of course, you can resist eating it for breakfast topped with some blueberries, raisins or some cubed mango! You will need to use the tinned full fat coconut milk for this recipe; don't be tempted to use the kind you would pour over cereal or in coffee as it doesn't have the same richness or flavour.
COCONUT RICE PUDDING
Ingredients: 1 tin coconut milk - approximately 400 ml
1 cup short grain rice ( to come to about 250-275 ml in a measuring jug)
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
250 ml unsweetened almond milk
pinch of salt
1 cup raisins (optional)
Rinse the rice in a sieve and set it over a bowl to drain for about 5 minutes. Pour the coconut milk into a medium sized saucepan and bring it to a boil and then add the rice.
Let it boil for about 5 minutes and then turn down to a simmer, stir briefly and cover with a lid.
Allow it to simmer for about 20 minutes and then stir in the maple syrup, vanilla extract, almond milk and cinnamon & raisins if using.
Let it cook over a very low light for about 10 minutes stiring gently but frequently to stop it sticking and burning.
If the rice has absorbed too much of the liquid and you prefer a creamier texture you can add another half cup of almond milk.
Let it cool for at least 10 minutes before spooning into serving glasses or bowls and then chill. Top with a swirl of maple syrup and a sprinkle of cinnamon/
A fun way to serve this pudding is to provide various toppings in little bowls, such as blueberries, chopped strawberries, chopped tropical fruit, dried fruits, honey or maple syrup and a cinnamon shaker and let family and guests choose their own accompaniments.