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Vegan jello, Mexican sweetcorn and other summer delights

If I had to pick my favourite season, I'd probably say autumn. There's something about walking through the air with that first nip of cold in it, kicking the fallen leaves as the nights draw in - it makes me a very happy bunny indeed.

But if you asked me what season I like for food, it would be summer all the way. It starts with asparagus, then stone fruit and berries come along, and it's wondrous. As summer progresses, exciting English fruit and veg start cropping up with abundance. And because they're English and in season, that means they're both local and cheap, and that makes them big winners for me.

Which brings me to chard. Lovely, lovely chard.  Like all leafy greens, it's awesome, but weirdly you just can't seem to buy it in supermarkets over here. So when it starts rearing its lovely leafy head in farmers' markets, I start stocking up.

Here's something chardy I made the other week, and completely forgot to post, which is a shame, as it's pretty nice.

After buying a big chardy bunch at the market, I took it home and pondered what to do with it. After much culinary chin stroking, I went for chard and white bean bruschetta in the end.

It's just chard fried off with garlic, with butter bean mash on top. I like butter beans, but I find they can be a bit bland. To try and pep them up a bit, I just put in as much as lemon and olive oil as the beans could take. (Butter bean fans, send me your tips on how to do more with them, they're one of the beans I don't use so often and that feels like a bit of a shame!)

Another vegetable that screams out 'summer!' to me is sweetcorn. Its season is sadly brief, so I have to get as many cobs down my neck as I can before autumn turns up to ruin all my fun.

At the moment, I've been craving Mexican-style corn: corn slathered in mayonnaise that's been mixed with chipotle, lime juice and garlic salt, with some nooch on top.

The next thing that I've been cooking of late is in no way summery, but it's pretty darn good nonetheless.

I'm not quite sure how I arrived at this recipe, but I'm loving it right now: it's doenjang-jigae. It's a great big hotpot flavoured with dashi and Korean fermented soy bean paste, doenjang. Apparently, the original dish has seafood in it, but no. Just no. Why do that to a perfectly nice recipe? If you want a bit of a taste of the sea, use a bit of kombu and everyone's a winner.

Here's the hotpot in action (I think I based it on this recipe.)

It might look underwhelming, but it's one of those gifted dishes that requires almost no human intervention, not many ingredients but still tastes great. And yep, that's more lentils and rice there. Still not got bored of that yet. Today's rice and lentil combo: green lentils and sushi rice. 

Next up, a fruit definitely not in season, but still in my kitchen. In my defence, every few days, my workplace puts out huge bowls of fruit for staff, and we all load up on our fruit. You end up walking away with loads of stuff you don't even like. I got a load of rock hard pears, and took one home for later. 

Only instead of waiting for it to ripen, I had a much better idea. Make jelly.

Yeah, you read that right, jelly. It's not something I make often, as noone seems to be able to agree how much agar agar powder you need for how much liquid. 

I've been thinking about veganising this saffron and pear jelly recipe (jello to you Stateside folks) by Yotam Ottolenghi for a while, and when serendipity gave me a large glass of wine and a hard pear in my fridge, I knew what I had to do.

I made up a one-half recipe using 250mls of wine and a whole pear. I forgot to add the saffron in, but it was still really, really good.

The texture wasn't exactly the same as gelatine-set jello - it was more creamy and less hard-set, but still amazing. And if you're wondering, I used one generous teaspoon of agar agar powder for the 250mls of wine and it worked pretty nicely. Result.

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  1. I will have to try your jelly combination - I think I only tried it once with agar and it was like rubber. I add smoked paprika to everything but it does seem to work with white beans well. I agree about summer food - we are at the tail end of winter when fresh fruit and veg gets quite depressing. Would love some juicy in season corn - I always mean to do it fancy but I love it plain so I often go the easy path - a mexican corn cob sounds great. And I am curious about the parcel in your korean dish - looks like a fried tofu bundle.

  2. I'm seeing corn pop on the blog everywhere, so I need to get to the market to buy some! I've never had it prepared the way you did, sounds interesting! Vegan jell-o has been seen around these parts, but I've not made it. Hmm... you've given me many ideas in this post!

  3. I'm not a huge fan of jello - too jello-y, ya know? But everything else looks delicious. I love raw corn grated into salads, and chard any which way but yrs looks so pretty with the mash on top.
    With you all the way on season vs. food season.

  4. I'm with you - autumn is my favourite season by far, but summer produce is completely delicious. I'm really loving the English berries as we don't get a berry season in Australia (other than strawberries, and I've discovered that even those don't compare to the UK type!). You have prompted me to seek out sweetcorn and try making vegan jelly...I never have but your result looks great.

  5. The best thing about summer is all the fruit, I don't care for the heat, the fruit makes up for it, sorta. The pear jello looks like a great, fun summer time treat. :-)

  6. Oooh, I haven't made jelly for so long! That flavour combo sounds lovely. Also, where do you get your agar powder? I only have the flakes and though they usually work fine, I gather agar powder is a little easier to work with.
    Chard and butter beans are both winners with me too. My local health food shop always seems to have chard so I'm happy, though I'm pretty sure the Waitrose down the road has it too...
    If you're looking for butter bean recipes:
    Give this recipe (http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/carrot-dill-white-bean-salad-recipe.html) from Heidi a go with butter beans in place of the small white beans she uses. I've made it a couple of times and really like it.
    I also make my Balsamic Butter Beans with Cherry Tomatoes & Basil fairly frequently.

  7. Forgot the link- here ya go! http://www.coconutandberries.com/2013/09/23/pesto-polenta-triangles-balsamic-beans-tomatoes-basil/

  8. Oh wow that chard, garlic and butter bean combo is like my absolute perfect food! And that jello is so interesting, thanks for the idea! I love it! And I think I would prefer a creamier texture rather than what normal jello is like. Too fake!

  9. Autumn is the best season to walk around and experience fresh air - not too hot, not too cold, just perfect temperature and it feels like a refreshing start. But yes, summer is the best when it comes to produces. I use chard to make green juices (they bring a nice color), saute them with garlic and serve them on grits or put them in stews/soups. Miam, the butter bean mash looks tasty Joey, love this! The host from Torino made us homemade apricot/plum jams once a week which was pretty nice of her - I’ve always wonder how she made her jams delicious. I’ve never made jellies, but had red bean jellies, an Asian delicacy.

  10. I would also like to know where you source the agar powder. I've only been able to find flakes despite scouring Manchester's healthfood shops and China Town. Maybe you could start dealing in it ;) Funnily enough I was thinking about a butter bean pate the other day that I used to make a lot. This is basically the recipe http://www.food.com/recipe/bean-pate-360201


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