Grilled Capsicum and Barley Salad

It’s a cruel trick that the universe likes to play; one week, I’m bored and feel I have nothing to do in my life, the next, I’m run off my feet working, studying, mumming, wifeing and existing. I never seem to hit a happy medium. Of course, on those busy weeks, meal planning becomes all the more important (once you work out where to squeeze it in, that is), otherwise it’s the perfect storm for falling back into some reaaaaalllllly bad habits that are best left back in 2017.

As such, Sunday afternoons are for meal prep. I long ago worked out that the best antidote for a case of The Mondays is a killer work lunch, and this salad, adapted just a little from my current cuisine-crush Ottolenghi, is just that. If you’re after something to look forward to, take your pick from the nuttiness of the barley, the sweetness of the onions and capsicum, the tartness of the lemony dressing, the saltiness of the feta, the sharpness of the olives… the list goes on. Every mouthful is just a little bit different, and while it’s 6.30 on a Sunday night, and I won’t be eating it for another 18 hours (and 2 meals!) from now, I’m already looking forward to it.

At 355 calories a serve, this is slightly higher than my usual lunches (but much less than Ottolenghi’s, as he uses 5(!) tablespoons of oil) , however it’s so wholesome and real, that it won’t leave you reaching for the cookie jar at 3pm. It’s very much worth the extra 50-80 calories to me. It’s just disappointing that I didn’t double the recipe – it only yields 2 serves, and I fear my husband will steal my Tuesday lunch!

Ingredients

100g raw pearl barley

2 cups vegetable stock

200g capsicum (I like to use yellow and orange baby capsicum), sliced into strips about 2cm thick.

3tbs black olive slices, drained (or 10 black olives, sliced)

1 onion, thinly sliced

Spray oil

Dressing

1tbs olive oil

1tbs honey

1tbs lemon juice

1tsp oregano

1/2 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp paprika

1 small clove garlic, minced

Salt and pepper

20g feta, to serve

Method

  1. Add stock and barley to a medium sized saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes, until the water has been absorbed and the barley is tender but still has some bite.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the grill/broiler on high. Line the rack of the grill/broiler with aluminium foil, spray lightly with oil, and spread capsicum in a single layer over the top. Grill for about 15 minutes, until softened and charred to your liking (a little smokiness is wonderful, here).
  3. While the capsicum are grilling, spray a small frypan with oil, and cook onions over a low heat until soft – it should take about the same time as the peppers.
  4. When everything is done, combine in a bowl. Stir in the olives.
  5. To make the dressing, combine remaining ingredients (except for the feta) in a jug. Slowly pour over the barley, and mix well to combine.
  6. Top with feta and season with lots of black pepper.

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Spiced Cauliflower Soup

Like so many others – if social media is anything to go by – I’m somewhat struggling to eat well during this time of social isolation and lack of routine. This week was particularly hard for a multitude of reasons, but while those reasons are understandable (a crash of emotions, a huge change to my routine, or what passes for one these days, into one that is significantly more stressful, and one which I find even more challenging than it’s predecessor… my husband’s birthday… finally being allowed out to see people… the list goes on), they’re irrelevant. The fact of the matter is, I feel so much better both mentally and physically when I eat well and exercise. The dog helps me with the latter, but I have to take responsibility for the former. Of course, that’s not about restricting food, it’s just about upping the plants and being mindful of what I’m eating and how it’s affecting me. This week I’ve felt slumpy and grumpy, and at least some of that feeling like crap is related to the fact that I’ve been eating like crap. There’s a chicken/egg element to it, too, but it’s a cycle that isn’t too hard to break once you identify it.

Which brings me to this soup. Not an atonement (because I didn’t do anything wrong – food isn’t a moral compass), not a punishment (food is a blessing, NEVER a punishment!!), just a step back into what makes my tastebuds, mind and body feel good: simple, delicious, nutritious food. A kickstart out of the doldrums and back into mindfulness to all aspects of my life. Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, it is a bowlful of flavour and comfort that tastes divine, fills you up, makes your house smell like heaven, and brings some sensory interest to a very strange yet boring world. All for 10 minutes of easy prep, 20 minutes of simmering away, and a handful of really simple, nourishing ingredients that you probably have stashed already (you can definitely use frozen cauliflower for this). At 211 calories a bowl, it’s also a very low calorie option, perfect if (again, like me) you’re leaning on bread for a little emotional support right now. I can attest that an English Muffin with just a smear of cottage cheese is a perfect companion to this soup.

Serves 4, rather generously

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds

1 medium onion, peeled and diced

2 baby chat potatoes (about 200g), washed and diced

2 teaspoons minced ginger

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (more to taste)

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 small cauliflower

400g tinned tomatoes

3 cups vegetable stock

Salt and pepper, to taste (I ditched the salt and went to town with the pepper)

Yoghurt (coconut if you’re keeping it vegan) to serve

Method

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add cumin and fenugreek seeds, and wait a few seconds for them to pop.
  2. Immediately add onion and potato, and stir to coat with seeds. Stir in garlic and ginger and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Reduce heat to low and add cauliflower and spices. Cook, stirring, for a further 5 minutes, ensuring the vegetables are evenly coated.
  4. Stir in stock and tomatoes, season, and bring to the boil. Reduce back to low, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until everything is very tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  5. Use a stick blender to blitz to desired consistency. I like to blend about half way to smooth – I like some texture, so ensure that tiny bits of florets and at least a few small cubes of potato are left intact.
  6. Ladle into bowls and season. Top with yoghurt, if using, and serve.

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Spicy Cauliflower and Potato (Aloo Gobi)

In the interminable search for vegetarian lunches, I have found yet ANOTHER spicy roasted cauliflower dish. Who’d ever have thought that I’d be tripping over myself to roast cauliflowers constantly? Sometimes, I don’t even recognise myself. But as with most veggies, roasting cauliflower to sweet perfection is the most wonderful way to avoid the soggy blandness that comes from steaming (or gods forbid, boiling!) them. I wish I’d learned this earlier, I was choking cauli down until I was 30. Now I can’t get enough of it!

I’m really hesitant to call this Aloo Gobi: the spirit is there, but I don’t think we’re talking authenticity here. However, what we ARE talking is a delightfully fragrant bowlful of vegetable goodness that keeps you satisfied both physically and emotionally, and makes your little corner of the world smell like heaven. AND IT’S VEGAN, so we can all feel a little smug on this coolish Meatless Monday. Or not. The vegan-ness isn’t really a selling point for me, and I didn’t even bother mentioning it to the husband. At any rate, it’s healthy and delicious. And low calorie – 250 calories per serve, and chock full of nutrition. Winner winner vegan dinner!

Serves 4 (smallish, but not ridiculously so, serves)

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
600g baby chat potatoes, diced
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2tbs olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed under the heel of a knife
2 teaspoons minced chilli
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup water

Parsley, to serve.

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200C. Spray two baking trays with oil.
  2. Arrange cauliflower and potatoes on trays, spray with oil and sprinkle with cumin seeds. Season.
  3. Roast vegetables, turning halfway through, for about 30 minutes until until cauliflower is tender and browned in spots (just a little char isn’t a bad thing) and potatoes are just cooked.
  4. Meanwhile, cook onion, garlic, chilli, and ginger in olive oil over low heat in a medium sized pan for 8 minutes or until it begins to turn golden and soft. Stir frequently.
  5. Add ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and cook, stirring constantly for a minute or so. Stir in water, scraping any caramelised bits from the pan. Allow to thicken slightly
  6. Stir in roasted vegetables, turning to coat in the spice mixture.
  7. Serve, sprinkled with parsley.

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