B’s lettuce, mint and pea soup

When I first started growing things, I never had much luck with lettuces – they either got totally slugandsnailed or I ended up with too many and got sick of the sight of them. My friend B made me this soup several years ago, and together with a Chinese recipe for braised lettuce with oyster sauce, I am no longer put off by the thought of a glut – ‘though I’m still struggling with the slugs.
This is the essence of summer in a bowl, for those days when we have a hot spell and even if you water twice a day, all the lettuces threaten to bolt and turn bitter overnight or, as has just happened down at the community garden, a heavy summer storm has beaten them up really badly. It’s not unlike petit pois à la française as a puréed soup, but the mint gives it an extra zing.
You could of course, use your own homegrown peas – I usually only grow mangetout, so I use frozen peas, which also need less cooking.

Ingredients – to make 1 ½ – 2 litres
The proportions can be pretty flexible, but if you’re using an iceburg lettuce, it’s probably a good idea to be more generous with the peas and mint, ‘cos they can be a bit bitter.
If you are using homegrown peas, then after you’ve shucked them, boil the pods in the water for about 10 minutes for more flavour in your stock. Strain and use.

1 onion, or 3 – 4 spring onions, finely chopped.
2 generous handfuls of frozen peas/petit pois – or homegrown, as young as possible.
Lettuce, finely shredded – (2 little gem, or ½ an iceberg, or 1 cos or equivalent amount)
2 teaspoons sunflower oil
1.5 litres water
Pinch of salt or to taste
2 or 3 sprigs of fresh mint tips

Over a low heat, sweat the onion with the salt and oil, until softened. Add the lettuce and wilt for a minute or two, add water, bring to the boil and add the peas. Cook until tender, but still bright green. Turn off the heat, add mint leaves, and whiz or put through a mouli. Taste for seasoning and serve.


Pasta Mont’ e Mare

Or ‘Malfadine with Oyster Mushrooms and Samphire’ 😉
Usually, pasta mare e monti – sea and mountains, contains prawns and wild mushrooms, or sometimes artichokes or asparagus, depending on the season and the region of Italy it comes from – this recipe uses oyster mushrooms and samphire, (which is also known as sea asparagus) mainly because I like the wordplay, hence why I’ve switched the words around. I used Malfadine pasta (which is like tagliatelle with frilly edges) because it reminds me of ribbons of seaweed on the beach.
This recipe uses the same pasta bianca sauce method as Pasta Primavera.

Ingredients serves 2
250g Malfadine or pasta of choice.
50g oyster mushrooms
50g samphire, washed, picked over and any tough bits near the base discarded. You could use a seaweed like hijiki, if you don’t live somewhere that has samphire.
2 cloves of fresh garlic, finely minced
1-2 tablespoon olive oil or a knob of butter
10g plain flour added to
200ml cold water (this is about a scant level tablespoon of flour in a hi-ball glass of water)
Optional – 2 tablespoons soaking water from rehydrating wild mushrooms (I was soaking some Chinese black mushrooms for the next day so this is what I used), or 1 teaspoon mushroom bouillon powder – Totole, a Chinese American brand is the best I’ve found and widely available – or a small pinch from the corner of a porcini mushroom stock cube, Star brand from Italy is widely available in the UK – they are very concentrated and salty so I do mean just a pinch.

Cook the pasta in a large pan of salted boiling water as per the instructions on the packet until al dente. Meanwhile, tear the oyster mushrooms into strips down the length of the gills, and sauté in a little oil with a pinch of salt. Lift out of the pan and reserve. Make a paste with the flour and a little water until smooth, then add the remaining water and mix well. Heat the rest of the oil in the same pan and add the garlic, cook until fragrant (30 seconds), then add the flour and water and the mushroom stock, stirring continually for 4-5 minutes until the sauce slightly clears and thickens, (it should be an ivory colour and it will begin to bubble up and rise in the pan), check that the ‘raw flour’ taste has completely disappeared.
30 seconds before you drain the pasta, add the samphire to the cooking water to heat through. Strain, and fold in the oyster mushrooms and the sauce.
Oyster mushrooms have a certain peppery-ness and the samphire is naturally salty as it thrives by the coast, so you will probably need little, if any extra seasoning. You could also substitute a mixture of fresh and dried wild mushrooms.
50g of both oyster mushrooms and samphire equates to a large handful.
Please remember this was for a slightly posh birthday dinner – still only cost about 60-70p each.
So this is what we had for our main course – pudding was elderflower sorbet.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread can be white – called ‘Scofa’, the kind you get in Greggs, or brown – called ‘Wheaten Bread’ in Northern Ireland. I always make the brown version but the method and amounts are the same for both. Traditionally, it’s made with buttermilk, but any vegan milk works fine – it’s the reaction of the bicarb of soda with the cream of tartar (tartaric acid) that does all the work and makes it rise. Really quick and easy to make – no kneading.

For every 500g strong bread flour
1 handful of wheatbran – optional, but nice – usually to be found near the breakfast cereals in the supermarket.
1 level teaspoon of salt
2 level teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
2 level teaspoons cream of tartar
About 300ml (1/2 pint) milk/buttermilk/plant based milk

Pre heat your oven to 200 celsius/gas mark 6. In a bowl, mix all the dry ingredients and combine thoroughly – it’s worth adding the soda and the cream of tartar through a sieve or a tea strainer, so you don’t get yellow blobs through your bread – also be careful not to be over generous with these two, ‘cos there’s a fine line before it tastes too soda-ry.
You can bake this on a baking tray or in a loaf tin – whichever you use, dust with flour or wheatbran (for a loaf tin, dampen the sides, then dust) – you need to do this first, because it needs to go straight in the oven, once you’ve mixed in the liquid.
Add most of the liquid and mix – you want a mixture that looks wet and sticky, but not splurging all over the place – the consistency of a rich fruit cake mix/chunky wet concrete/cold porridge. Add the rest of the liquid until you get there – if it looks too sloppy, add a bit more flour. Transfer to tin or tray – if you’re making it on a tray, score the top with a large cross.
Pop in the oven, on the middle shelf and bake for 40 minutes, until it’s well risen and golden brown. As with all bread, you can test whether it’s done by tapping the bottom of it for a hollow sound. Leave to cool on a rack. When it’s fresh, the brown version is almost impossible to cut finely, but gets easier after a day or so.

Red Onion Jam – twisted No.4

Sometimes I just griddle a few fat slices of onion for a fry up, but there was a glass of red wine left in the bottle, so this seemed like the sensible, grown up thing to do with it.


2 small onions – white or red (red will give you a deeper coloured jam, but white will do fine)

1 glass of red table wine – nothing too oaky

2 tablespoons sugar


Cut the onions into fine rings. Place in a non reactive pan – (enamel), with the wine.  Simmer until onions soften and begin to collapse. Add sugar and continue to cook until syrupy. Stores well in the fridge.

Also great with bangers and mash or as a cheap alternative to mostarda or membrillo with cheese.

Mr Benz’s Blindingly Good Beans – Twisted No.2

I think I might have mentioned before that I don’t particularly like British baked beans; (apart from my soup), but these Jamaican style beans I will eat voluntarily.


For every can of the cheapest beans going – should be about 23p each

1 small onion

1-2 tomatoes

1-2 cloves of garlic

Thyme, pref fresh, but dried if you live long distance far

Scotch bonnet chilli, a few slices – you could use other chillies, but scotch bonnet has an amazing extra special flavour.

1 teaspoon oil

Salt+ coarse ground pepper optional


Fry onion over medium heat in oil. When onion begins to soften, add garlic and chilli, chopped –then after a minute or so, add the tomatoes and thyme. When fragrant and tomatoes softened but not too soft!..add the can of beans and cook out for 4-5 minutes. Done

bubble+squeak twisted No.1

Bubble and Squeak is basically left over potato aka bubble and (traditionally) cabbage aka squeak. Yesterday’s leftover leeks also work, but if you have neither, (or even if you do) onion is also good – for me quasi essential. Yesterday’s left over mashed potato (a commodity as rare as hen’s teeth in my house, at the best of times) will not be good if you used cream or milk, ‘cos it just gets too sloppy – kudos to the olive oil mash brigade…yours will do fine 😉

Local sometimes naff caffs may recycle peas and/or carrots, to the displeasure of many punters.


Left over potatoes, squashed or mashed – depending on how chunky you want it, but some must be mashed.

1 chopped onion

Left over cabbage or leek or even kale.

1 tablespoon or less of oil.

Salt and optional pepper

Rosemary – optional for you, but essential for me –  v. useful if you have no additional veg.


In a medium to high heat pan, start frying the onion in a teaspoon of oil, and as it begins to soften, add the potato, veg/rosemary if you have any and a pinch of salt. Leave to fry to golden brown and gently crisp up on the bottom. Turn and mash up, leave to go golden brown on the bottom again, repeat this a few times, until the whole thing is flaked/flecked with browned pieces. Add another teaspoon of oil and fry one side (flip) and then the other till crisped up but NOT burnt brown-ness.

the Great British Fry Up gets seriously twisted

The Great British Fry Up is probably not as famous around the world as our roast beef or mint sauce, but it’s something most people in the UK have very strong opinions about – what should go on the plate, beans/no beans, tomato sauce/brown sauce. It has been immortalised in literature, from stories of the landed gentry (think P.G. Woodhouse) to those from the most working class of homes (more Road to Wigan Pier). While some folk slink down to their fav caf for a restorative plateful after a heavy night’s drinking, it’s almost always better if made at home. In the house I grew up in, it was our breakfast every Saturday morning, and probably the only meal I remember being unfailingly good.
It is such an institution that there are vegan sausage and vegan bacon (coloured yellow and lurid pink) products available…I don’t quite ‘get’ the latter of these, but some ppl love it.
So, (and I’m trusting you, dear reader, to correct me or point out any omissions) it consists of fried or grilled bacon (or substitute), sausage (ditto), fried eggs (ditto) and any or all of the following: bubble and squeak, baked beans, mushrooms, tomato, onions, fried bread and possibly black pudding, with bread and butter on the side. A mountain of food washed down with oceans of tea.
Clearly designed for people involved in manual labour, at its best and worst, it’s a veritable heart attack on a plate – or could be. The only vaguely sensible thing about is at least it’s breakfast, not dinner.
Anyway, I’ve been working really hard in the garden yesterday and today, and it was cold this morning and I haven’t had one for ages, and I was a tad hungover, so…….
Unfortunately, as you can see from the list above, quite a lot of these things cost an arm and a leg, so my twisted versions are pepped up with herbs and spices – traditionalists and possibly the nostalgically homesick will probably see this as heresy. (I should at this point also confess to liking Earl Gray tea with mine, instead of a strong cup of builders.)
You may of course choose to add meat or meat substitute products, but I was pleasantly stuffed, and it cost about £1.10. It is hopefully slightly more healthy than your average fryup.

Bubble and Squeak
Mr Benz’s Blindingly Good Baked Beans
Fennel Roast Tomatoes
Red Onion Jam
Garlic Button Mushrooms – no, I’m not going to tell you how to fry a mushroom.
Sage and Onion patties – made from a 15p packet of stuffing mix – follow the instructions, using slightly less water, and fry in properly hot oil.

Plus 2 bonus recipes 😉
Irish Soda Bread
Crispy Bacon Craving Cure