Roasted artichokes

Artichokes in salad
Artichokes in salad

We sourced a few good looking artichokes at Natoora and I couldn’t resist turning them into a lightweight dinner! This style of dinner is very common around my home area as it won’t have you digesting heavy stuff for hours, and so you can sleep well.

Preparation

  1. First chop their stems, and also a few of the outside leaves (as they’re hard, have spiky bits and that’s not nice). Then cut them in halves:

    Artichoke sliced in half
    Artichoke sliced in half
  2. Put them all on a pan, add some oil and salt, and set them to a high heat
  3. Wait until they got some colour in one side. Then turn them around and brown them on that side too. If they’re cooking too fast and you fear they’ll burn, reduce the heat!
  4. Add some water – about a centimeter tall, cover, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and let the artichokes soften in the water
    Artichokes roasting in the pan
  5. Once the water has evaporated, check the artichokes are soft (I just “lightly” punch them with a fork). If not, you can either add a bit more water and repeat the process, or keep them on a very low heat for longer.
  6. Done! Ready to eat!

In this case I served them with some escarole salad, tomatoes and cucumber, and just a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It is way more filling that you’d imagine, because the artichokes are so full of flavour, and the other vegetables were really high quality so it was a really sensational dish 🙂

Other ways to serve them:

  • with toasted bread and olive oil. I would prefer wholemeal baguette style bread, but any good bread could work.
  • with an omelette (possibly a simple egg one)
  • with pan fried chicken breasts

Rambling time

Escaroles seem quite uncommon in the UK, but I grew up eating them during winter months, and I miss them, so I was very excited that Puntarelle & co had them in stock. The taste is quite different from your every day lettuce: peppery, spicy, a bit sour. I figured liking them is certainly an acquired taste because my very English partner didn’t like them at all! 😆

In the same vein, finding good artichokes in London’s markets is quite the challenge. Forget supermarkets—I’ve never, ever, been able to find artichokes which were not weeeeell past their best times.

But it’s hard to tell from the outside because to know for sure you’d need to slice open the artichoke and see if it is still a bud, all green and undeveloped, and it has not started to turn into the bloom before the flower (which is what artichokes are, after all).

One way to test this is to gently squeeze the artichokes and see how they respond. They should be flexible; if they’re stiff it’s too late. But sometimes it’s hard to say…

Another way of testing is to use your nose: fresh artichokes have a very ‘green’ and characteristic smell. But this doesn’t work with supermarkets because the produce has been in a fridge for so long it just doesn’t smell of anything anymore. And shops tend to be cold as well, which doesn’t help with releasing aromas. So you could only use this in fresh markets.

When the flower develops, the “core” of the artichoke turns into stems and it’s absolutely vile to eat because it’s like eating spiky hairs that make a ball at the end of your throat. Urghhh. It’s also incredibly difficult to slice, as it hardens. I’ve lost count of the amount of artichokes I’ve had to throw away after I tried to salvage some of their contents 😱

It is a complex problem that feeds itself:

  1. They are still a ‘weird’ vegetable and the demand is pretty low, so the food chain doesn’t prioritise getting good quality artichokes fast to the UK. And then they spend way too long in the shelves
  2. When people buy them and find a disgusting vile old artichoke they never buy them again, and so the demand keeps being low
  3. Back to step one 😭

Still, I keep trying to find decent ones, because they can be so delicious!

Amusingly enough in Spain you can not only easily find artichokes, but even the stalks of the plant, called pencas, which are eaten in stews and salads. Nothing goes to waste!

Halloumi pitta sandwiches

You can’t see it, but there’s halloumi in this [too] ambitious sandwich.
These sandwiches are impossible to eat without making a mess, but they’re really delicious. The first time my partner made them, I requested we had them again the next day! 😋

We normally make them as rolls, using tortilla wraps, but today I was feeling innovative and went for pitta breads.

Ingredients

  • Halloumi cheese
  • Cucumber
  • Tomatoes
  • Lettuce (romaine)
  • Mint leaves
  • Pitta bread or tortilla wraps or similar
  • Olive oil
  • Optional: olives for extra juiciness

Preparation

Slice the halloumi and fry it in a pan until it takes some colour. Initially it might be quite watery, the colour will start showing up once the water evaporates. Then leave aside.

In parallel, have a veggie washing and slicing party. It should eventually look like this, ready to be assembled in your bread or tortilla:

Captain Obvious says: If you’re using pitta breads, you’ll have to slice them open before you put the ingredients in ✌🏻

Place the flattest ingredients first: cucumber, halloumi. Then the rest.

Add a little olive oil, and they’re ready to be eaten!

This is such a great combination of amazing flavours. Also, I will use this opportunity to say that halloumi cheese is one of the best things in Earth 🌟🌍🌟 … possibly one of humankind’s greatest achievements too!

Chickpea salad

I was feeling really lazy today so I decided to use a can of chickpeas instead of cooking lentils to prepare tomorrow’s lunch box. I feel that chickpeas go really well with cumin seeds.

Preparation time

I’d say 15 minutes. This is super easy to toss together as the ingredients don’t need much preparation; it’s just a matter of washing and slicing.

Ingredients

  • Chickpeas (obviously); you can make about 2 salads with one 400 g tin
  • Salad leaves – any type you like, although I prefer a crunchy sweet romaine for this
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Sweet red pepper (raw)
  • Olives
  • Feta cheese
  • Cumin seeds ~about half a teaspoon
  • Pine nuts
  • The best olive oil you can find
  • Salt
  • Pepper

of course, feel free to add or remove whatever you like or dislike… this is a salad, not a cake! For example, remove the feta cheese if you want to make this vegan.

Preparation

  1. Wash and shake the water off the ingredients
  2. Slice lettuce in manageable sizes but don’t go too thin or it becomes too bland
  3. Slice the tomatoes in half (if they’re cherry), or a bite sized portion if they’re bigger
  4. Slice cucumber, red pepper…
  5. Add olives and feta to taste
  6. If you have mortar and pestle, you could smash the cumin seeds a bit as that opens up the flavour, otherwise I often don’t even bother and just add them as they are. Be careful to not to add too many or you’ll end up annoyed by their “crunchiness”
  7. Sprinkle with pine nuts if that’s your thing
  8. Generously add olive oil
  9. And add salt and pepper to taste
  10. Mix everything nicely!

Note: If you’re preparing this for the next day, don’t add the oil yet, or it will make everything mushy. Wait until when you’re actually going to eat the salad to then add the olive oil.

Other options

This also goes nicely with some sliced parsley, if you have it handy.

Also, if your partner is on a business trip (like mine) and you really want some kick in your taste buds, you could [sort of finely] slice a garlic clove and mix it with the salad at the time you add the olive oil. You might need to add a touch more salt to make the garlic really stand out.

It really makes the whole experience quite… intense. I really like the combination of cumin seeds, olive oil and chickpeas with the garlic.

I only do this when I’m home alone, and I’d never bring a garlic salad to the office out of respect for my coworkers. Who knows, someone might be a vampire and my post-salad breath would knock them out! 😂

Who wants to ingest garlic pills to boost your immunity when you can just eat a garlic clove? 🔥😜🔥