This meal – crispy tofu, steamed or blanched broccoli, and plain brown rice – is one that brings me right back to my childhood, and in many ways I think it epitomises hippie vegetarian food for a lot of people (although vegetarianism is no longer the preserve of hippies). There’s the tofu, the brown rice, the lightly cooked cruciferous vegetables. This is healthy, wholesome food, plain (but not tasteless) and uncomplicated – I imagine this simplicity is actually what appealed to me as a child. But for all its simple lack of pretension, it has much to please an adult palate.
Firstly, the meal offers a contrast of taste: nutty rice, milky tofu and sweet green broccoli. There’s also a satisfying interplay of textures between the grains, slightly firm but silkily yielding vegetables, and the crunchy tofu coating which gives way to the jiggly beancurd beneath. For me this is a standby recipe: I don’t make it every week, by any means, but it’s always there in the back of my mind if I have a pack of tofu sitting in the fridge.
I don’t have very much time to write blog posts, and when I do, I tend to write about my Great British Bake-Off challenge. I love to bake; the challenge is, on the whole, fun; it’s what I do. But there is another reality, and that is, simply, that I am on a diet.
It is not a particularly fun thing to admit to (though it is much more unpleasant to do!). The reasons are primarily aesthetic – I want to feel happy about myself rather than out of control and ashamed, I want to fit into my nice clothes – but I have also been concerned about the way my body carries fat as I enter my late twenties: it’s undeniable that more of my excess weight is being carried around the waist and stomach, and belly fat is the clearest indicator of type 2 diabetes risk. I know people with diabetes and seeing their difficulties managing this very serious disease has made me want to mitigate my risks.
I have been dieting in the most old-fashioned way, simply calorie counting (using Myfitnesspal to keep track). I find it tedious and was very hungry and unhappy in the first week. But as with many things, it’s about adjustment. I can eat more low-sugar muesli than I could eat a muffin for a lower calorie count, so I eat the former. I can eat almost as many leafy vegetables as I want, until I’m full, for a low calorie count. The adjustments are both in the types of food eaten – endive salad instead of potatoes, fruit and veg instead of heavy carbs – and also, simply, in eating less. I’ve cut down my portions, reduced the sweeteners in my tea, and stopped nibbling on biscuits and cake. While it’s still a process, I am gradually learning to balance my calorie load throughout the day. Last week I attended a friend’s birthday party and ate a huge, delicious slice of the Hummgbird Bakery’s divinely moist red velvet cake, slathered in rich, voluptuous cream cheese frosting – and managed to stay within my calorie limit. Best of all, my slice of cake wasn’t associated with the feelings of guilt and greed that consuming sweets previously had for me – I shouldn’t, but I want it, I’ll get fatter, who cares I’m fat anyway, I might as well eat two slices. I felt in control of the process of eating and enjoyment.
My friend Tina came to dinner some time ago and I wanted to whip something up that combined cold-weather appropriate deliciousness, chorizo, and jewel-like colours.
This chorizo, cannellini bean and kale stew was firstly inspired by Nigella Lawson’s butter bean mash, which is why I used the garlic and rosemary to start off the stew, with no onion to muddy up the flavour (I do love onion, but it wasn’t right here).
I bought the cannellini beans from Waitrose and they were ridiculously tiny and adorable, even after soaking. A note on soaking beans: the back of the packet of cannelini beans suggested using 75g dried for 125g cooked beans, and for this particular bean this suggestion seemed about right. I wanted the equivalent of two tins worth so soaked about 230g dried beans, give or take. Dried bean to tinned bean equivalencies are very much a work in progress and one day I shall probably produce a chart. I find chickpeas to be the most unpredictable.
As for the tomatoes, I used one of those leetle half-tins of plum tomatoes but there’s no reason not to use half a normal tin, maybe freezing the rest if you have no immediate use for it. Even with the tomato paste I didn’t want this to be a dominantly tomato-tasting stew, hence using half a tin.
What I liked about the chorizo was that some is minced and stirred through the stew, and some is sliced for use as a garnish. Drizzling the stew with a touch of the chorizo cooking oil is pretty and delicious, though as ever don’t go overboard.
Little white bean, chorizo and kale stew
230g cannellini beans, soaked overnight
2 – 3 TBS olive oil
1 – 2 sprigs rosemary, de-stalked, spiky leaves bruised
2 – 3 cloves garlic, sliced
230g (half a normal tin) plum tomatoes
1 TBS tomato paste
200g chorizo, half sliced into rounds, half chopped into bits (what I did was slice this half into coins and then quarter them)
about 100g curly kale. If you have any large tough stems you might want to cut the leaves in half through the stem
1) Drain the beans, put in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to the boil over a medium-high heat. Once boiling, cook at a rolling boil for ten minutes (apparently essential for all beans, to destroy their evil toxins), then turn down to a steady simmer and cook till tender, 40 mins – 2 hours. (Yes. This can be summed as ‘cook till tender your way’, should you have one. But the devil is in the detail). (I start checking after half an hour to see how tender they are – they’re unlikely to be done after 30 minutes but it helps gauge how long you’ll need to cook them for). NB: this step can be done in advance
2) In a separate pan, heat the oil over a medium heat and add the rosemary and garlic. Stir 30 second – 1 minute, until they start getting fragrant.
3) Add the cooked, drained beans, tomatoes and tomato paste and stir together. Cover, turn heat to low and let lightly simmer for 10 – 15 minutes or more (as convenient) to let the flavours meld a bit
4) Meanwhile, heat up a frying pan and dry-fry the minced chorizo until cooked through. Drain on kitchen paper and stir through the stew.
5) Add the curly kale and cook for a further 5 – 10 minutes (or slightly more depending on how tough your kale is) until the kale is cooked and tender (test a stalk!)
6) Meanwhile dry-fry the chorizo rounds until cooked through.
7) Decant stew into bowls and garnish with chorizo. And then some more and then some more because yuuuuuuum.
This would serve about four, and it tastes good reheated.