My Weekday Spaghetti Bolognese

IMG_3206This is what I cook on those days when I just want to have a nice, healthy dinner on the table in under thirty minutes.

I am not claiming authenticity here (even just the fact that I use soy mince would make that a bogus claim). This is just a robust, flavourful tomato, mushroom and mince sauce, served with spaghetti or any other pasta, that hits the spot and is easy to make.IMG_3210

Now I know that a traditional, meaty bolognese sauce is simmered for hours but I don’t like to stew vegetarian mince too long because it doesn’t improve the texture, which makes this a schoolnight rather than a weekend dish.

If you don’t want to use soy mince, simply use more mushrooms.

Feeds 2/3 peopleIMG_3202

– olive oil
– 250 g mushrooms, sliced not too thinly
– 2 bay leaves
– ½ tsp chilli flakes (or to taste)
– 1 large onion, chopped finely
– 1 tsp dried oregano
– 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped/grated
– 1 tbsp tomato puree
– 175 g packet soy/Quorn mince
– 125 ml/½ cup red wine
– 400 ml tin chopped tomatoes
– 250 ml/1 cup vegetable or mushroom stock
– salt and pepper to taste
– 200 g (wholewheat) pastaIMG_3203

– Boil water for pasta and cook according to packet instructions.
– Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms in olive oil until they are almost cooked but still have some bite left. Set aside.
– Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a wide, lidded pan on a medium heat and when hot, add bay leaves, chilli flakes and onion. Fry until translucent.
– Add the garlic and oregano, fry for about 30 seconds, then add tomato puree, fry for a few minutes.
– Stir in the mince, then pour in the wine. Keep stirring and let the wine absorb/evaporate. This won’t take long.
– Add the tomatoes and about half the stock (keep the rest handy).
– Stir in the cooked mushrooms, bring to the boil.
– Clamp on the lid, turn down the heat and let simmer for 10/15 minutes.
– Check if it needs a bit more stock, season to your liking, and serve with the pasta.


My Mum’s Russian Salad, Vegetarian-Style


IMG_3233I don’t have to explain to you how smells and flavours can take you right back to your childhood, and that is exactly what this dish does for me. My mum used to make this Russian salad, or koude schotel, as we call it, on warm summer days and on campsites in, invariably, France. Preparing and eating this dish alway brings back those summers.IMG_3224

I think for most western vegetarians, giving up meat also means giving up a few family classics. Yes, you can substitute a lot of things but grilled spare ribs are grilled spare ribs and, so I assumed, Russian beef salad is Russian beef salad. Turns out I was wrong. This salad, which is originally made with corned beef, evokes the same memories without meat. And the Eastender, who was never a fan of my family’s beloved koude schotel, loves this vegetarian version.IMG_3232

Like I said, this is mainly a summer dish for me but you can make it any time you are looking for an easy, tasty and cheap meal, with plenty left over to put in your sanwiches the next day.

– 700 g potatoes, peeled and halved or quartered, depending on size. I use red-skinned potatoes.IMG_3227
– 1 large onion, chopped neither finely nor roughly (Did you just roll your eyes at me?!)
– 1 apple, peeled and chopped into smallish bits. I prefer Granny Smith.
– 150 g gherkins, chopped into smallish bits
– 1 400 g can Macedonische groente. This is the Dutch name, I saw Green Giant sell something called ‘vegetable blend’. Mixed tinned veg is what you’re after.
– about 250 ml/1 cup salad cream, or to your liking. Enough for a light coating.
– 1 scant tsp of sweet paprika

hard-boiled eggs
pearl onions
tinned/bottled asparagus (optional)

– Boil the potatoes until just cooked, about 15 minutes, depending on size. You’ll want to dice them, so don’t overcook.
– Let cool, then dice.
– Mix all the ingredients, except the eggs, pearl onions and asparagus together in a big bowl.
– Chill in the fridge until stone cold.
– Serve with the eggs, etc, as I’ve suggested, or whatever you like.

Flash-Fried Portobello Mushrooms, Marinated Two Ways

IMG_3190I don’t really struggle to find nice vegetarian meals to cook anymore, except on the odd Sunday. Sunday night means roast potatoes and veg in this Dutch/English hybrid household. Brilliant, I love potatoes and I love vegetables, but what to have with a meal that was designed to include meat? A decent shop-bought or homemade vegetarian burger, sausage, etc? Sure, but every week? Maybe not, and that’s were these super-fast and easy-to-make flash-fried portobello strips come in. And don’t just cook them to jazz up a meat and two veg meal, they are also great in a pitta or wrap, or simply as a side dish.

IMG_3182I’m giving you two marinades for the portobellos here, but obviously the sky is the limit. Any dried spice mixture laced with enough (garlic) oil would work, and freshly-chopped herbs are a nice touch. A few things to remember: One, don’t slice your portobello mushrooms too thin, you want them slightly chunky. Two, you need a hot pan for this; a seasoned cast-iron pan is ideal but a non-stick skillet, lightly brushed with oil is also fine; just remember that the oil is in the marinade, so soaked up by the mushrooms, and the pan is basically a grill. Three, don’t marinate too long, especially if the marinade contains salt, like these two do. Thirty minutes at room temperature will do the trick. IMG_3170

I’ve marinated the fungi two ways here: Indian-style and Middle-Eastern-themed. I can’t claim authenticity but both are pretty tasty, if I may say so myself.

Indian-Style Flash-Fried PortobellosIMG_3164

2 largish portobello mushrooms, sliced chunkily

For the marinade
15 g fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 bird’s eye chilli (seeded or unseeded, your choice), chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt or 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp garlic oil

– Mix all the marinade ingredients in a bowl.
– Add portobello strips and cover well with the marinade.
– Cover with cling film and let sit for about 30 minutes.
– Heat pan over a medium heat till very hot (for type of pan to use, see above) and fry the portobellos, stirring continuously until slightly charred.

Middle-Eastern-Style Flash-Fried Portobellos

2 largish portobello mushrooms, sliced chunkilyIMG_3192

For the marinade
1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
splash of sesame oil
splash of Sriracha sauce
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 sweet paprika

– Mix all the marinade ingredients in a bowl.
– Add portobello strips and cover well with the marinade.
– Cover with cling film and let sit for about 30 minutes.
– Heat pan over a medium heat till very hot (for type of pan to use, see above), drain off marinade and fry the portobellos, stirring continuously until slightly charred.