Meatless Mexican munchables.

Are you sure this is vegetarian?

If there’s one thing that my little brother loves to eat, it’s meat.  There are few things that he would prefer to have on his plate and to have a meal without it is not something he relishes.  Therefore, my invitations have usually contained a reference to an exciting meat dish that we can share while we catch up on what’s been going on in our lives and have a laugh.  It was with some trepidation, then, that I arranged to cook a meal for him that did not contain the magic ingredient.  My anxiety was heightened because I had only decided at the last minute to cook a vegetarian meal and I wasn’t sure how he would react.

My wife is a vegetarian and  loves Mexican food.  I’ve managed to cook up some Mexican style stuff on a regular basis using veggie ingredients and even I don’t miss the meat because there’s always lots going on flavour-wise.  I make sure that I’ve got lots of fresh coriander, red chillies and tomato salsa to keep things interesting.  If we’re having fajitas, I use Quorn chicken pieces.  If we are in the mood for chilli, I use Quorn mince or something similar from other supermarkets.  At first, I found it disappointing and slightly strange, but I’ve stopped thinking of Quorn as a replacement for meat and just use it like an ingredient.  The taste is good.  It’s the texture that doesn’t always work in certain dishes.  I’m very confident when cooking with Quorn now because I’ve used trial and error to learn how to use it best.  Mexican food is perfect for it because the cooking methods stay the same as with meat and the results are very good indeed.

For my bro, I served up two dishes hoping to hit the mark with at least one of them.  Chilli beef tacos made with Quorn mince and chicken quesadillas made with Quorn chicken style pieces.  He loved the quesadillas, so that’s the recipe I’ve included below.  I’m slightly embarrassed because as you’ll see, it’s hardly a recipe at all.  However, it is a very quick meal to prepare and they’re surprisingly filling.  Quesadillas are also about as versatile as it gets so they’re great for using up ingredients or just experimenting.  My carnivorous sibling certainly ate his fill!

Veggie quesadillas (made with Quorn pieces)

300g Quorn chicken style pieces

6 flour tortillas

1 red chilli (sliced)

handful of fresh coriander (chopped)

1 bunch spring onions (sliced)

1 red pepper (sliced)

1 tspoon smoked paprika

1 tspoon dried oregano

300g Cheddar cheese (grated)

vegetable oil

salt & pepper

Heat a little oil in a wok or frying pan until almost smoking and then add the Quorn pieces, paprika and oregano.  Toss until the pieces are coated and season with salt and pepper.  Heat a large frying pan and place a tortilla in it without any oil.  Sprinkle large amounts of grated cheese onto the tortilla and top with the remaining ingredients.  Add more cheese on top and press another tortilla onto this to make something resembling a pizza-sandwich.  When the cheese has melted and the bottom is golden, turn the quesadilla over and continue to heat it gently.

These are great with the usual suspects: guacamole, sour cream and salsa.  Cut them into quarters and serve immediately.

Summer is definitely here!

Don’t risk it, brisket.

I’m not sure if it’s the value for money or the wonderful results that are currently making brisket my go-to cut of beef.  There’s something about brisket that screams, “Weekend treat!” and I guess it’s the amount of cooking time involved.

I first used brisket in a Tuscan recipe from Jill Norman.  The beef was slowly braised for three hours in a combination of red wine, carrots, celery and tomatoes to achieve a rustic and altogether delicious dish.  Despite the success of that first attempt, I wasn’t too excited about the recipe itself because of how predictable it was.  “Next time,” I thought, “I’ll do something very different.”

The wind began to drive against the windows and the sunny morning disappeared behind a gloomy veil of the North Wests’ finest rain.  It was time to bring the beef up to room temperature.  My father-in-law is a massive fan of beef with ginger and spring onions and he makes a bee-line for the local Chinese as soon as he arrives from France.  It’s the combination of tender beef and serious amounts of ginger that really make it for him.  I thought that perhaps brisket would lend itself to these Asian flavours if it was cooked for long enough and given strong ingredients.

Brisket with ginger and spring onions

1-1.5kg rolled beef brisket

12 spring onions (chopped)

2 medium white onions quartered

3 stalks lemon grass (finely chopped)

Copious amounts of fresh root ginger (finely chopped)

2 large cloves garlic (1 chopped, 1 crushed)

1 glass white wine

1 red chilli

butter

olive oil

pepper

salt

How much ginger? That much.

I started by rolling the brisket in a mixture of sea salt flakes and cracked black pepper.  Once coated, I threw a knob of butter into a 20cm casserole with a little oil and browned the meat on all sides on a high heat.  I removed the meat and prepared the vegetables.  I got half way through grating the ginger and decided to chop the rest.  The rain had stopped and I needed to walk the dog.  I added all of the vegetables including the chilli which I left whole.  These cooked gently on a low heat until soft, but not brown.  I added a little hot water if the mix got too dry.

Butter, oil and a satisfying sizzle.

A good stir and it was time to return the meat to the casserole.  At this point, I added the wine and then topped it up with water until the meat was almost covered, but not quite.  A hard boil for 2 minutes got things going before I turned the heat down to the lowest setting and put the lid on.  It’s important that the meat fits snugly into whatever you cook it in and that the lid is on firmly.  You don’t want the liquid to reduce and leave you with tough meat sitting in a salty puddle.

Lots of flavour.

That was it!  Done.  I just had to find something to do for three hours.  I turned the meat over occasionally and I basted it when I got restless, but it really does take care of itself.  Today I used a cut weighing 846g so it only needed two hours of cooking to be really tender.  I rested it for twenty minutes before carving into thick slices.

The beef has a rest next to the spring greens.

Seasonal food is always a treat and this was no exception.  I’d already used plenty of spring onions and to serve the beef I boiled some Jersey Royals and quickly fried some spring greens in a little butter.  Since the sauce was so punchy, I didn’t need any other strong flavours on the plate.  A nice glass of the same white that went into the beef sauce and you’re laughing!  I can’t wait to make this for my father-in-law.  C’est magnifique!

Beef brisket with ginger & spring onions served with Jersey Royals and spring greens.