Friday 17 March 2017

Chilli chicken with cavolo nero

Spotting cavolo nero in our local ASDA made me stop and squeak with delight, much to the bemusement of my hubbie and my son who had not tried it before.  Let me explain: cavolo nero is a brassica, so is related to cabbages, Brussels sprouts, curly kale, etc...  but is so much nicer! It originates from Tuscany in Italy, hence it is sometimes known as Italian kale, and has high levels of iron and vitamins A-C so is good for you as well.

The dark green of cavolo nero contrasts well with the paler greens of  celery, scallions, and flat-leaf parsley
Unlike many other members of the brassica family it isn't odiferous (smelly) when cooked - in other words you do not get the horrible school-dinner / wet-knicker pong of cooked cabbage hanging around for days after you've cooked it. And that has to be a good thing!

In addition cavolo nero has a great dark green - sometimes almost black - colour when raw and goes a fabulous bright green when cooked, unlike so many other greens that fade on cooking, plus it has a super wrinkly crinkly texture that it keeps, as long as you do not overcook it!

So there I was clutching my £1 bag of cavolo nero to my bosom and planning how to use it. The bag supplied enough for use in four different meal recipes, so proved great value too, and the first idea I came up with was the recipe I'm showing below:

Chilli chicken with cavolo nero (serves 4)

Chilli chicken with cavolo nero

  • 300g chilli chicken breast strips - you can leave them as strips or cut strips into smaller pieces if preferred.
Note: We used a ready marinaded pack from Booth's but you can use any other chicken breast, cut into strips and marinaded in a chilli sauce for a few hours if you prefer, or aren't near anywhere that sells it ready done. It probably works out much cheaper and tastes just as good! 
  • 1 large leek, finely sliced
  • ½ a long sweet mild red pepper (Anaheim / Long Red Macaroni type pepper)
  • handful of cavolo nero leaves, cut into pieces (Tip: use kitchen scissors rather than a knife, it's easier!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • handful of mushrooms sliced  (chestnut ones are best for flavour but white ones work too) 
  • 1 small red chilli (bird's eye or similar heat level) deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs (any generic mixed herbs will be fine)
  • 1 green OXO
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • ½ pint boiling water
  • olive oil for cooking


Dissolve veg stock cube in boiling water and add herbs, leave to stand and infuse whilst you do the next step.

Stir fry the chicken and the garlic in hot olive oil in large frying pan or wok until outside of all chicken turns white (it won't be cooked through but that doesn't matter yet). Add a little of the stock if it looks like sticking, the marinade will wash off the chicken but that doesn't matter as it helps make the sauce.  Remove from heat and set aside once sealed. 
(Note: As we made this recipe using two woks we left the chicken in the first wok and used the second wok for the next step, but you can transfer the sealed chicken / garlic mix to a big bowl if you have only one pan to cook with.)

Chilli chicken, garlic and stock, set aside to rest the chicken whilst cooking the vegetables
Into the frying pan / wok add a little more olive oil and heat up, then add leeks, red pepper, chilli and celery, and stir fry for around 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for a further 2 minutes, adding as much of the stock as is needed to prevent sticking. 

Leeks, red pepper, chilli, celery, mushrooms stir fried
Transfer all to the same dish / pan as the previously cooked chicken / garlic mix, add remainder of stock and mix, then leave to stand.

Chicken and vegetables and stock added,  set aside
In the frying pan / wok add a little more olive oil and stir fry the cavolo nero for 1 minute.  Set aside. 

Cavolo nero being stir fried
Add the chicken / veg / stock back on to the heat for 3-4 minutes to ensure chicken is cooked through, then add the cavolo nero into the mix and stir. 

Everything is now in the pan and being heated through thoroughly before serving 

That look pretty hot - just look at the steam rising!
Serve with egg noodles, rice noodles, or rice, as preferred (we did it with egg noodles.)

Three hearty portions ready for eating!  Yum!!!
This made enough for four people (but as there is only three of us there was enough in the pan for someone later!)

Saturday 11 March 2017

NOLA: Creole ginger sweetcorn and sweet potato (V)

I've spotted a whole raft of interesting looking recipes using sweet potatoes recently, but have never tried them. My son said they are good, so finding some big ones in ALDI this week we added them to our trolley, along with a small root of ginger and decided to experiment!  This isn't a traditional Creole recipe but as it includes Cajun seasoning and tomatoes, plus that Holy Trinity again, we figured it would give an idea of the flavour by calling it Creole ginger sweetcorn and sweet potato!

We made it last night and left it in the casserole dish overnight to stand, then tonight transferred it into a large pan for reheating on the stove. Served with garlic and coriander pita strips it was seriously yummy! 

Here is the recipe if you want to try:

Creole ginger sweetcorn and sweet potato

olive oil  for cooking
3 cloves smoked garlic finely chopped (unsmoked will work just as well if you prefer)
1cm knob of root ginger (approx 1cm diameter) peeled and finely chopped
1/2 large white onion, peeled and finely chopped
4-5 scallions (spring onions), peeled and finely chopped
1 large sweet potato peeled and diced into 1cm cubes
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin sweetcorn
2 tbsp Cajun seasoning
1/2 vegetable stock (water +1 veg stock cube + 1 green OXO)
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 green pepper, deseeded and cut into small pieces
2 sticks celery with leafy tops, chopped into small pieces
fresh coriander or flat parsley (optional)

Put some olive oil in large pan or wok (enough to cover the base), add garlic and ginger, onion and scallion, fry for 2-3 minutes until onion softens. Add Cajun seasoning and thyme and a little boiling water to prevent sticking.  Add sweet potato mixing all together and add stock. Leave on low heat for around 8 minutes until sweet potato is hot. Into an oven proof casserole put the chopped tomatoes, sweetcorn, green pepper, celery. Remove wok from heat and add sweet potato mix to casserole, mix all well together.  Put casserole into oven on Gas mark 6 for around an hour. Remove from heat and leave to stand for several hours in casserole, or overnight if possible. Transfer mix to large pan and heat through over a medium heat on the stove, until it is piping hot throughout. Just before serving ass a handful of chopped fresh coriander or flat parsley.  Really good served with rice or cornbread. 

Serves 4


Learning about NOLA cooking: Cajun chicken gumbo

Recipe from, April 2012

My son had enthused about Cajun cooking previously, but I have never had Cajun or Creole food before this month. When in our favourite herb and spice store Grape Tree in Kendal we found a tub of Cajun seasoning we took it as a hint that we should give it a try. And wow are we glad we did! By the way Grape Tree also sells online for anyone not living within easy reach of one of their shops.
I had always assumed that Cajun and Creole meant the same thing: food from the New Orleans (Louisiana) area. Not so, apparently, as explained on the New Orleans Online website where they say,

"One of the simplest differences between the two cuisines is that Creole food typically uses tomatoes while traditional Cajun food does not."

It goes on to say, 

"Cajun food is robust, country-style food, found along the bayous of Louisiana, a combination of French and Southern cuisines" whilst "Creole food is “city food,” created in New Orleans with European, African and Native American roots."

Irrespective of the differences it all sounded wonderfully tasty, so we decided to have a try and went hunting for an easy to follow recipe. Our first dish was Sarah Cook's Cajun chicken gumbo found on the BBC Good Food website, which stated preparation time 20 minutes, cooking time 45 minutes, which seemed to be reasonable and pretty accurate, and the result was absolutely delicious!

As we didn't have ham we substituted chunks of cooking bacon (the sort you use for making quiche etc) and we added in extras that we like to the recipe, notably sliced button mushrooms which worked really well in the rich spicy Cajun sauce. The important things to include are the so-called "Holy Trinity" of onion, celery and bell pepper, along with the Cajun seasoning. We found that steeping the bay leaves in the stock worked really well to release the flavours, remember to remove the leaves from the stock before adding stock to the roux.

The other thing we learned was that the flavour improves by cooking longer, or even by standing overnight. The recipe said it could be made in around an hour, but other Cajun recipe sources say that gumbo should be cooked for at least three hours, so we are going to try it in the slow cooker next time we do Cajun chicken gumbo!