Monthly Archives: April 2012

Cauliflower Crumble


1 cauliflower, broken into florets
2 tbs oil
4 tbs flour
350 ml millk
325g sweetcorn (tinned or frozen)
2 tbs chopped parsley (optional)
125g mature Cheddar cheese, grated (or any other decent-tasting cheese)


50g flour
25g butter
25g rolled oats
25g chopped almonds


Heat oven to 190°C
Cook the cauliflower in boiling water for 5 minues, Drain, reserving cooking water.
Heat oil in same pan, stir in flour. Remove from heat, add milk, stir until blended. Add 150 ml cooking liquid, bring to boil, cook gently for 3 minutes, until thickened.
Stir in sweetcorn, parsley and half the cheese. Season to taste ( a little nutmeg is rather nice as well).Gently fold in cauliflower and turn into a 1.5 litre dish.

For topping, place flour in bowl, rub in butter until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add oats, almonds and cheese. Sprinkle over vegetable mixture and bake in oven for 30 minutes.


Leftover cauliflower cooking water is a great base for making stock or very delicately flavoured soup. I usually freeze it in pints.

Cashews are a good substitute for almonds though I’ve used pretty much whatever I had handy at various times.

If I’m using a broad, shallow dish, I usually double the topping quantities (though not the cheese). I like a decent layer of topping.

Does reheat quite well in a microwave if needed.

Saag bhaji – the Folkestone way

Original recipe from Mridula Baljekar’s The Complete Indian Cookbook which replicates the taste of UK Indian restaurant cooking like no other cookbook I’ve encountered. However, I suspect she would probably not recognise my version of her dish.


6 tbsps cooking oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
8-10 fenugreek seeds (optional but I always include them)
1 tbsp curry leaves (optional, at least in my version they are)
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2-4 dried chillies, coarsely chopped (or several pinches of chilli flakes, and then another one for luck)
450g fresh leaf spinach, or 225 frozen leaf spinach, finely chopped
1 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
1 large potato peeled and diced
1 large onion, finely sliced
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp garam masala
¼-½tsp chilli powder
2-3 ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped (or half  of 400g tin chopped toms)
1 tsp salt or to taste<


Heat 2 tbsps oil and fry mustard seeds until they pop.
Add cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds and curry leaves (if used) and immediately follow with the garlic and red chillies. Allow garlic to turn slightly brown.
Add the spinach, stir and mix thoroughly. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Melt the ghee or butter over medium heat and brown the diced potatoes. Remove from heat and keep aside.
Heat the remaining oil over medium heat and fry onions until well browned (about 10 minutes). Avoid burning onions as burnt onions are bitter.
Adjust heat to minimum, add turmeric, cumin, garam masala, chilli powder, stir and fry for 2-3 minutes.
Add the spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, and salt, cover and simmer for 10 minutes until the potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

The above is the original recipe but it is pretty flexible and I have frequently abused it mightily, as comments in the ingredients list will already indicate.

In fact, I most often make it with a 225g pack of baby spinach leaves as that is generally what’s available at the supermarket, and I rarely get around to chopping them up. I have done the full whack of spinach but I find the recipe then tastes a bit slimy, so I suppose I’m really making potato and spinach bhaji. Either way, use a big pan. 225g spinach is a lot. I have a large saute pan that works really well for this.

I am also a lazy cook and the plongeur gets a bit fractious if I use too many pans so I have taken to cooking the onions first and then slinging in the diced potatoes with them. Seems to work. Also, if I'm using real tomatoes, I've stopped skinning them first. Life is short and I am hungry. Tastes good too if you added some chopped coriander at the end.

Leftovers are amazingly good with poached or scrambled eggs too.<

Also, protip for this recipe: chop the garlic before you start cooking, not when you suddenly realise you need it now and the mustard seeds are threatening to incinerate themselves.

I tend to be a bit generous with the chilli pepper flakes at the beginning so I have accidentally produced some quite incendiary versions of this. This I will say: if you do the 225g fresh spinach version and are generous with the pepper flakes, this dish will wake the dead and it is a stonkingly good flush-out for blocked nasal cavities when you have a cold.

Chocolate Beetroot Muffins

This recipe is one of my party pieces. It’s quick, easy and tastes ridiculously delicious.


200g self-raising flour
75g cocoa powder
225 caster sugar
2 eggs
200 ml vegetable oil
250 blended cooked beetroot


Preheat the oven to 190°C

Sift together flour and cocoa powder, add sugar, and mix together well.

In a second bowl, whisk the eggs and oil together, add the pureed beetroot and mix well.

Add to dry ingredients, mix together lightly, then spoon the mixture into 12 muffin cases and bake for 20-25 minutes until brown and risen. Leave in tray until cool.


The original recipe calls for the addition of 75g raisins to the dry ingredients. I like raisins, Paul Kincaid likes raisins, but after the first time I made this recipe we agreed that raisins have no place in chocolate beetroot muffins and I now leave them out.

Cooked beetroot is available in most supermarkets. Make sure to buy the vacuum-packed version that hasn’t been dressed with vinegar. However, this is also a good way of using up the wizened beetroots lurking at the bottom of the veg box that you otherwise don’t really know what to do with. Just simmer in water until soft, then top, tail, skin and puree.

However unlikely this recipe sounds, it works well. Beetroot is sweet but with a faint edge of earthiness that enhances the chocolate flavour. Even my mother, the arch-conservative cake baker, who makes a truly magnificent chocolate victoria sponge, was impressed when she tasted these muffins. My father was too busy having second helpings.

‘Magic’ Pizza Dough

When I’m not gardening, or writing about gardening, I cook. Various people have been on at me to give them recipes so it seems simplest to put them here on Fragrant Zodiack. First up is the pizza dough recipe my friends all want.

‘Magic’ Pizza Dough

This is a recipe for pizza dough that seems to work for everyone who tries it. Certainly, I’ve used it for years and it’s never failed me. Also, it freezes incredibly well. The name comes from my friend RJ Barker, who thinks it’s the best recipe he’s ever used. Recipe originally comes from The Sunday Times Cook’s Companion. Serves 6. This recipe makes two rectangular pizzas the size of a standard 30 x 23cm (12 x 9in) baking sheet.

250 ml (8fl oz) milk
1 tsp dried yeast or 1 tsp easy-blend dried yeast
Scant ¼ tsp sugar (if required)

450g (1lb) strong plain white flour (i.e. bread flour)
1 tsp salt
1 large egg
6 tbs olive oil

Heat the milk to boiling point, then set it aside until lukewarm.

Using granular yeast

Use about 4 tbs of the milk to activate the yeast. Add sugar. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Mix the remaining warm milk with the egg and oil and stir lightly together. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the yeast and egg mixtures all at once. Mix to a dough.

Using easy blend yeast.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, yeast and salt. Mix the egg with the oil and milk and stir lightly together. Add the egg mixture to the flour all at once and mix to a dough.

Turn out the dough, which will be very sticky, onto a well-floured surface and knead for about five minutes or until it is springy and elastic. Form the dough into a ball, put it in a bowl, cover and leave to rise until it has doubled in volume.

[The recipe says this will take 1-2 hours; either I live in a very cold place or it seems to take 3-4 hours, even on warm days. Be patient.]

As there are only two of us here I don’t make baking-sheet pizza but instead divide the dough into six balls, four of which I then freeze individually. I roll the remaining balls out thinly, to dinner-plate size, do the pizza stuff and then cook on baking sheets in a very hot oven (240°C/475°F) for about 20 minutes.

This dough survives the freezing process very well; I take it out in the morning to defrost and by evening it is ready to roll and cover with topping.