Pea and Mint Soup with Parmesan Crisps

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My favourite springtime recipe has to be pea and mint soup.  It is so fresh and flavoursome that I ate an unacceptably impolite amount of it at my friend’s house once.  You can make parmesan crisps to dip in to the soup for an extra impressive, yet surprisingly simple, dish.

My other seasonal springtime favourites are: charred lettuce and spring onions with goats cheese; potato, onion and fennel tortilla; asparagus with tomato salsa and crumbled cheese; and watercress pesto (all recipes are on this blog and can be made in 30 mins or less!)

Allow about 25 minutes to make the soup and crisps.  You will need a food processor or hand blender and baking/greaseproof paper.
Pea and Mint Soup with Parmesan Crisps (serves 4 as a starter or light main)

1 tbsp oil
Large knob of butter
1 medium potato, diced small
700g frozen peas
2 vegetable stock cubes (ideally OXO as they crumble well)
Large handful mint, roughly chopped
65g parmesan, very finely grated (or use double this if you want two crisps per bowl of soup)

Heat the oil and butter in a pan and when bubbling add the diced potato. Fry for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until golden and cooked through. Add the peas then add water so they are only just covered. Simmer for a few minutes, until the peas are tender, then crumble in the stock cubes and stir well. Add the mint then then use a food processor or hand blender to whizz everything together until smooth. If the soup is too thick then gradually add water until you are happy with the consistency.

To make the parmesan crisps, heat the oven at 220 degrees/gas mark 7. Line a baking tray with baking/greaseproof paper and on to this divide the grated parmesan into 4 long strips, in a thin layer. Bake for around 5-7 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden. Leave to cool a little, for about 5 minutes, then while still a little warm carefully peel the crisps off the baking paper. Cool until firm.

Serve the soup in bowls with a parmesan crisp on the side to dip in!

Chicken (or Veggie) Chow Mein

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This delicious Chicken (or Veggie) Chow Mein recipe comes courtesy of Judy and Andy Mus, a couple who run excellent ‘Saturday Cooking Club’ family cooking classes in Walthamstow, East London. Judy says this is the most popular dish at their cooking club, with many people commenting that it tastes better than a take away!  Even many fussy eaters have enjoyed it.   I have added fresh coriander to the recipe, as I can’t get enough of it and it is nice to sprinkle on some fresh herbs.

You can use chicken, prawns, tofu or quorn chunks along with the veg.  Allow about 25 minutes to prepare and cook it all.   The kids could help with all aspects of the dish – here is a guide to cooking with kids, in particular a video about knife skills: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/guide-cookery-skills-age.  I had never let my kids cut with a sharp knife until I attended the cooking club!  It was a little scary, but my 6 year old did really well and still has all his fingers.
If you are local to Walthamstow then check out E17 Pop Up Kitchens on Facebook for info about upcoming cooking sessions. It costs £15 per family, is fun and relaxed, and there is no minimum age.

Chicken (or Veggie) Chow Mein (serves approx 4)

3 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
Small thumb ginger, peeled and grated or chopped very small
1 clove garlic, crushed or chopped very small
Any oil, for cooking
2 chicken breasts, cut in to small chunks OR chopped smoked tofu OR quorn chicken chunks OR prawns
1 pepper, cut in to thin strips
5 spring onions, chopped
200g beansprouts

200g noodles (any is fine – I used medium egg noodles)

Optional – roughly chopped coriander

Mix the ketchup, oyster sauce, soy sauce, ginger and garlic together and set aside.

Heat some oil in a frying pan on a medium heat and add the chicken (or tofu, quorn chunks or prawns), stirring regularly for about 10 minutes, until it is white and cooked through.

Meanwhile cook the noodles as per the pack instructions and set aside.  To the chicken add the pepper and stir fry for another 2 minutes. Pour in the sauce and stir well until bubbling. Add the noodles, beansprouts and spring onions and mix well for another 2 minutes.  Eat, sprinkled with coriander if you wish.

One-Pot Chunky Fish Chowder (30 mins)

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This chunky fish chowder is a tasty, one-pot dinner full of goodness from the fish and vegetables.  I’ve reduced the fat content by adding just a splash of milk, but you could keep it traditional and use more milk, or cream, instead!  The whole dish is ready in 30 minutes, and is great on it’s own or with some bread.

Chunky Fish Chowder (serves 4 )

1 tbsp oil

1 leek, finely sliced

4 medium potatoes, chopped small (I don’t bother peeling them)

Splash of water

1 vegetable (or fish) stock cube

330g can of sweetcorn, drained

320g fish pie mix, chopped  in to chunks (or any combination of fish such as salmon, trout, cod, coley, pollock – include some smoked fish in the mix to add lovely flavour)

Juice of 1/4 of a lemon

1 tbsp milk

Handful of chives, chopped

Fry the leek and potatoes in the oil for around 5 minutes, until the leek is soft.  Just about cover the mixture in water and simmer for another 8-10 minutes, stirring occassionally, until the potato is tender.  Drain the liquid off using a sieve.  Put the leek and potato back in the pan and crumble in the stock cube, add the sweetcorn, fish chunks, lemon juice and the milk.  Gently fry/simmer everything for around 6 minutes, stirring regularly, until the fish is cooked through.  Add salt and pepper if you think it needs extra seasoning.  Add the chives and mix well, reserving a little for topping the whole dish if you fancy.  Eat!

My Easy Veggie Ramen

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I LOVE RAMEN.  A big slurpy bowl of goodness which is particularly enjoyable when it is cold outside.  You can eat lots, safe in the knowledge it’s pretty good for you.  Feel free to experiment with what veg you use, or add cooked prawns, meat or tofu to the vegetables for extra substance.  In fact, this is a great soup for using up leftovers so almost anything goes.  Also you could cheat a bit and get a pack of instant miso soup and use that as the water/stock base.

Allow 15-20 minutes to prepare the ramen, and remember the garlic, ginger and chilli amounts are only a guide – you may wish to use less or more, according to taste.

My Veggie Ramen (serves 2)

2 eggs

2 tbsp oil (any is fine)

3 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed

Small thumb of ginger, chopped very small, or minced

1 red chilli, chopped very small

4 mushrooms, sliced

4 large cabbage leaves, sliced thin

1/2 red pepper, sliced thin

4 spring onions, chopped small

1 litre hot water (or 1.5 litres if you want the soup more watery)

1 vegetable stock cube

2 tbsp soy sauce

200g noodles (any is fine – I use fine noodles which cook in 3 mins)

4 radishes, sliced thin

1 avocado, sliced in to small chunks

Small handful of coriander, roughly chopped

Chilli garlic sauce (or whatever sauce you fancy)

Boil the eggs in water for around 6 minutes, then drain, put them in cold water and set aside.

Fry the garlic, ginger and chilli for 1 minute in the oil in a saucepan.  Add the mushrooms, cabbage, red pepper, spring onions and fry for another few minutes, until softened.  Add the water, crumble the vegetable stock cube in, add the soy sauce and noodles and simmer for a few more minutes until the noodles are cooked.  Ladle in to bowls then top each bowl with the radishes, 1 egg chopped in half (hopefully it will be a little soft in the middle!), avocado slices, coriander and chilli garlic sauce.  Slurp then go back for more!

Potato, Onion and Fennel Tortilla

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This potato, onion and fennel tortilla is my favourite recipe from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals cookbook.  The slightly caramelised potatoes and red onions are delicious encased in the egg, and the fennel seeds are a really interesting addition.  As you can see my tortilla turned out flatter and more like an omelette, but it doesn’t matter either way!

We ate our omelette/tortilla with baked trout and peas and sweetcorn, but it would also be nice with a salad and/or sausages.  My kids enjoy eating it with their hands (hence it also makes a great cold snack the next day)!  Allow about 30 minutes to make.

Fennel seeds are one of my *exciting ingredients* and also work well in fish pies and Mediterranean tomato based sauces.  They are cheap and last for months in the cupboard!

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Potato, Onion and Fennel Tortilla (serves 4-6 with a side)

200g potatoes, chopped very small in to approx 1cm chunks (I don’t bother peeling – I like the nutty texture)

1 red (or white) onion, chopped small

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp dried mixed herbs or handful of fresh rosemary/parsley, chopped

5 eggs, lightly beaten, with a little salt and pepper

Fry the potatoes in a frying pan in oil on a medium heat until they start to soften and get a little golden (about 8-10 mins), then add the onion, fennel seeds and herbs.  Mix well and keep stirring for another 6 mins or so, until the onion is soft.  Add the garlic and stir, then pour the eggs in.  Briefly stir and swirl the eggs in the pan until the pan is covered and the other ingredients are nicely spread out.

Once the egg starts to set around the edges, you have two choices.  You can either finish the tortilla off by cooking the top for a few minutes under the grill until set (my preferred option) or you can leave it on the hob to gently cook through.

Once cooked, carefully cut the tortilla in to wedges and eat alongside whatever you fancy.

Chickpea, herb and halloumi salad

This chickpea, herb and halloumi salad is an old favourite of mine from the excellent Cranks Vegetarian Cookbook.  It manages to be both refreshing and filling at the same time.  The flavours of the lemon and herbs really compliment the rocket, chickpeas, roast tomatoes and olives, and the fried halloumi on top is a salty treat.  It’s lovely whatever the season and only takes 20 minutes to make (or 10 minutes if you don’t roast the tomatoes) – whoop!

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Chickpea, herb and halloumi salad (serves 2-4 depending on appetite)

2 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 tbsp lemon juice

100g pitted black olives, cut in half

Small handful chopped parsley

Small handful chopped coriander

Oil (ideally olive oil but any is fine)

1 clove garlic, crushed

200g halloumi cheese, sliced fairly thick

100g rocket (spinach would also work)

12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

If you want to roast the tomatoes (to make them extra sweet), put them in a baking tray with a drizzle of oil and roast on gas mark 6/200 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until soft and slightly charred, stirring them a couple of times to prevent sticking.  Alternatively you can just use them raw.

In a bowl mix the chickpeas with the lemon juice, olives, parsley and coriander, a good dash of oil and the garlic.  Season with a little salt and pepper.

Dry fry or griddle the halloumi on both sides in a fairly hot frying pan until golden – this should only take 1-2 minutes each side.

Once the cherry tomatoes are cooked, place some rocket on each plate.  Add the chickpea mixture, the tomatoes and finally top with 2 or 3 slices of the halloumi and a drizzle of oil.  Eat and enjoy!

Wild West Rice (ready in 45 mins)

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Wild West Rice is based on Jamie Oliver’s version of a Native American recipe.  It’s a unique, sweet and nutty dish full of interesting flavours and textures.   Rice is mixed with dried cranberries, onion, chopped almonds, cinnamon, garlic, dill and lemon juice and eaten with lovely thick wedges of roast butternut squash.  We had the dish with baked trout but it would be nice with chicken or a salad too.  My kids rejected the butternut squash but liked the rice!  I had a feeling that would happen, but it was worth a try… They were intrigued by the name of the dish, which sparked off a discussion about cowboys.

I used a packet of pre-cooked microwave rice to speed things up, and stir-fried it with the other ingredients instead of microwaving it.  Pre-cooked rice is absolutely brilliant for making cooking times quicker and can be kept in the cupboard for a good while until needed!

Wild West Rice (serves 4)

2 tbsp any oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed/chopped

1 red/white onion, chopped small

1 packet microwave rice (I used brown rice)

Shake cinnamon (I probably used about 1/4 tsp but use what you like – avoid lots though as it will overpower the dish!)

Large handful dried cranberries

Small handful roughly chopped dill

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper

1 butternut squash, skin on and deseeded, cut in to thick finger sized chunks

Heat the oven to gas mark 5/190 degrees.  Put the butternut squash chunks in to a baking tray, drizzle with 1 tbsp oil, season with salt and pepper and mix well.  Roast, shaking the tray every 10 mins and turning the chunks if necessary, for around  30-40 minutes, until soft and golden brown on the outside (time will depend on your oven).

Meanwhile, put 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan/saucepan on a medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion and fry for a few minutes until soft.  Add the rice and cinnamon, cranberries, dill and lemon juice and fry for a few more mins until all mixed and cooked through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Put the rice on a plate with the butternut squash chunks.  Eat with fish, chicken or a salad.