Mole poblano (for spinach & potato enchiladas)

If you’ve ever found yourself staring into your store cupboard, wondering precisely why you have three separate mostly-used packets of cashew nuts, or a whole unopened bag of sesame seeds you don’t remember buying, or just why you have four types of lentil, then you’ll find my Sunday morning quite familiar.

“I should really” I thought “just use some of these bloody things to make some space”. Enter: mole poblano. A dry-goods tidy in sauce form. Well, if your dry goods include various nuts, seeds, and berries of unremembered provenance, and some fancy chiles. This ain’t helping with the lentils. Seriously, when do I ever use the big, non-puy green ones? What was I thinking?

Mole poblano is a Mexican classic, for years better known in the US than the UK. It’s fruity/sweet/smoky, thickened with nuts, and can take you most of a day to make. This is a veggie version, adapted both from Rick Bayless, and to what I had to hand. The nuts are different, and I’ve de-clawed the spice. It also takes less time.

That turned out to be good, because after tweeting about the annoyance of Bayless’ quarts/cups/imperial measure bobbins original, I needed that time back to block (or at least roll my eyes at) a parade of mansplaining neckbeards with no ear for tone.

Anyway, the recipe.

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Rocket pesto bean burgers

My (fantastic) local pub does a pretty good vegan bean burger. It’s a rich thing, hefty on the cumin and sweet potato, and they serve it with a little avocado.  A good time. I have, however, taken to polluting its vegan essence by ordering it with a slab of cheese on top. This is, if anything, an even better time. But you have to pick your cheeses.

Sharp cheddar on a bean burger, maybe even Red Leicester or a Wensleydale? Yup, for sure. Mozzarella? Not so much.

It ought to work, but the thick, gentle creaminess of the mozzarella just fights the cumin and the spicy/sweet of the dark beans and sweet potato. Hmm. What to do? Could I hack together a bean burger that would be a bit lighter and fit nicely with some melty-gooey cheese?

Rocket pesto bean burgers

The short answer is “kind of”, and the long answer is this week’s experimental recipe.

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Cauliflower cheese potted paté

This isn’t quite Christmas leftovers, but the dish does have a similar backstory. It began as the cauliflower and cabbage terrine recipe in Stéphane Reynaud’s book Terrine, becoming a variant when I uncharacteristically decided to ditch the cabbage, and (somewhat more on-brand) threw cheese at it.

The full recipe is at the end. I didn’t get a picture, so you’ll have to trust me that it turns out rather well – creamy and fresh with leeks and spring onion to contrast. We served it as a Christmas starter with a light mustard sauce, and folks seemed to go for it.

But what to do with the half pint or so of surplus tasty goo?

Cauliflower cheese potted paté

A potted paté, and one I’ll certainly be doing again now it’s had a few tweaks.

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Karaage cauliflower (with plenty of garlic)

This is a new favourite. It doesn’t take too long, and it’s crispy, kinda rich, and implausibly moreish for what was once thought of as a deeply dull vegetable.

Cauliflower karaageFor years, the British have cooked cauliflower like it was the one vegetable they’d singled out as an example to the others. All flavour and structure boiled away, it was presented like a warning, lest anything else should get ideas above its station – say, providing vitamins, or tasting of something beyond anemically coloured water.

Lately, we’ve at least realised it doesn’t have to be that way. You can have fun with cauliflower, and one of the fun things you can do is to fry it crispy with just so much garlic.

Karaage is familiar to many as “Japanese fried chicken”, but it absolutely doesn’t have to be poultry, or even meat. I think the crux of it is a simple marinade before frying, and a light flour coating rather than dunking in batter. It’s a great appetiser or bar snack, and the idea to do it with cauliflower is shamelessly pinched from one of Cambridge’s street food vendors, the excellent Guerilla Kitchen.

Eat it there if you catch it on their rotation, but if not, well, you have to try this one.

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Tofu ginger banh mi

Of Cambridge’s many and interesting food vans, perhaps my favourite is Jalan Jalan. They do a few bits of Vietnamese street food, but for my money the star is the tofu and ginger banh mi.

It is just the best sandwich, and I had to make it at home.

Tofu banh mi

Banh mi – the gentrified current evolution of colonial food mingling – probably began life as light baguettes filled with fresh vegetables, over pâté and cold cuts. Being just super street food friendly, it’s got a bit more elaborate by now. There’s even a cookbook.

This means I don’t feel too bad about mine likely not being very authentic. It’s crunchy/sweet/fresh with crispy fried tofu and some zingy ginger. What more could you want in a sandwich.

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Pad Thai inspired pork burgers

Here’s one for the tail end of barbecue season. In fact, here’s one I was not quite brave enough to take to a barbecue yesterday (cancelled of course, because Grim Rainy Island).

It’s a bit of an experiment, and it drifted into my head after putting some leftover peanuts into a rather gentler pork burger mix for a different barbecue a few weeks back. It worked, but it made me think: aren’t we tottering close to a Pad Thai vibe here?

Why the heck not. In for a penny.

Pad Thai pork burger

In, also, for an eye-watering quantity of fish sauce. Damn, that stuff’s pungent. Like, borderline is-this-recipe-worth-it pungent. Oh, it cooks out – it’s great. But there’s ten minutes coming up where you will not enjoy being in your kitchen.

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Osteria Waggon and Horses, Milton (almost Cambridge)

Osteria Waggon and Horses* is in Milton. As the city grows out to meet it, that’s almost, a bit, if you squint, close enough to say that Cambridge finally has somewhere worth going for Italian food.

Crikey, that’s been a long time coming.

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Inside, it’s bright and airy with a little lounge area, and just a few bits of pub poking through. Yes, it says, this is a restaurant, but by all means have a drink – it’s not fussy. That’s the mood. Osteria was friendly, sociable, and delicious.

The menu’s simple, a few things to each course, the way I like it, and front-loaded with a range of little aperitivi to share. You could easily linger over plenty of those and a bottle or two of crisp white on a nice summer evening, before moving on to some pasta. That’s more or less what we did.

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Kung pao chicken of the woods

This is about two things I’d not really tried before – a book and a fungus.

The fungus is chicken of the woods (or Laetiporus, or “sulphur shelf”). It’s a beautiful furled beast of a mushroom. It clings to the sides of trees, and delights a colleague of mine, Mark, who enjoys a spot of foraging. Very kindly, he brought me a stout lobe of the stuff, all earthy smell and vibrant colour. Thanks Mark!

“Butter, onion, garlic, white wine – don’t muck about!” he said. I never listen…

The book is Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice – one of the tour de force cookbooks of 2012. The kind that everyone buys, raves about, but then actually cooks stuff from. Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem was probably the biggest one of those for me, but for some reason I never got around to picking up Dunlop’s blockbuster. Since my partner moved in, I’ve been meaning to cook more stuff from his copy, so this seemed like a good time.

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In Every Grain of Rice, Fuchsia Dunlop gives two recipes for Gong Bao, the Chengdu precursor of that British takeout staple kung pao chicken. There’s a chicken and a mushroom version, and chickeny mushroom is what I had to hand. What follows is basically a simplified crash together of the two.

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Sticks n Sushi, Cambridge

Sushi elevates the useful cliché of little things counting for a lot to raison d’être. Perfect little touches are the whole deal. Sticks n Sushi served us pretty damn good sushi, but they delighted us up front with the best edamame beans I’ve eaten. Lightly seasoned, and grilled to bring out the savoury, these were just everything you want from a sushi appetizer, and they set the tone for a meal of quality produce with considered touches.

Table for 2 sushi platter - sticks n sushi

Sticks n Sushi has been open for a little over a month, but scheduling shenanigans mean I’ve only just managed to get there. While they’re new in Cambridge, they’ve been going for twenty-two years, have twelve branches in Copenhagen, and another four in London. The deal is a slight sushi modernization, yakitori on the side, without recourse to overbearing fusion.

It works.

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Aromatic parsnip rosti

Parsnips don’t exactly scream summer, but they do have a fun sweetness I thought would play nicely with curry leaf. And  I really fancied something with curry leaves. They’re great – bitter and fresh and so aromatic.

This is a simple thing I threw together for dinner. I’ve only cooked it once, so it comes as seen. But I think it pretty much works.

Parsnip curry leaf rosti

I’d have made up a coriander dressing, but as it was a bank holiday Sunday with credibly sunny weather it seemed like all the coriander in Cambridge was already in someone’s BBQ marinade. Sod it – I’ve been volunteering at the beer festival all week, I need the vegetables.

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