Happy new year! This is an end-of-year update from our vegetable garden! Since my introduction to our vegetable garden, we’ve had quite a good summer and autumn of harvests. Of course, things are relatively dormant now but with the current mild winter we still have some chard going strong as well as a few carrots still in the ground. The cavolo nero still looks good and the rocket keeps putting up new leaves. The broad beans I’ve planted for overwintering are already almost 30cm tall!

Let’s see what’s been harvested! Chard. Lots of it and of the rainbow sort so that still tickles me.

I ran out in the rain to gather my first harvest of rainbow chard for brunch

Cherry tomatoes. A million.

I'm still in shock at how many cherry tomatoes can be produced from two plants.

Carrots. I planted way too many but they’re good to have around.

Pulled out these carrots this morning...

Cucamelons. I also planted way too many of these.

First harvest: 1 cucamelon. Second: 2. Today: 4. I see where this is going.

Near daily harvests.

This morning's harvest. The courgettes are winding down but everything else is going strong!

Even friends come over and help you harvest!

Hold a barbecue and your friends will do the harvesting for you!

Cavolo nero! Well, my plants are a little on the small side but they taste good.

Cavolo nero from the garden!

Then of course there was all the cooking with the vegetables. Most of it went into every day cooking and eating. There was a brief stint of bringing couscous-based salads to work.

Alright, let's see how long this packing lunch for work thing lasts. Probably until the veggies stop.

There were vegetables aplenty for having on the side with everything.

Steak and homegrown vegetables. This was our first proper green/runner bean harvest!

Most of the time the vegetables became the focus of our dinner. We made lots of truites (Catalan for tortillas) and soups.

Our garden has fed us and continues to feed us well. Swiss chard truita (omelette) with courgette soup.

Courgette carbonara.

The courgettes keep giving! They are monster plants now. Courgette carbonara tonight.

More vegetables, this time served with eggs.

Sautéed courgettes, fresh tomatoes, and sobrassada eggs for brunch! 🍳🍞🍅

This was one of our favourite meals which we called pasta de l’hort (garden pasta). This was hot pasta tossed with a chopped salad with many things from the garden: tomatoes, rocket, cucamelons, etc. Oh, and we’d toss in an avocado too and maybe some cheese.

Pasta de l'hort / garden pasta

Baby courgettes are good in instant noodles.

My favourite vegetables in our garden are those that pass the 'can I throw them into my instant noodles' test.

Some of those endless carrots were turned into a salad.

... And turned most of the carrots into this salad.

I’ve now learned to freeze some of the vegetables but lots were cooked as soon as we harvested them. Lots of things were cooked into various dishes here that we had with rice: runner beans with miso butter, egg and tomato, courgettes with Lao Gan Ma sauce, and purple bean omelette.

We used up the vegetables (and random stuff in the fridge) at dinnertime. Clockwise from top left: runner beans with miso butter, egg and tomato, courgettes with Lao Gan Ma sauce, purple bean omelette. All served with rice.

I’ve learned a few things along the way. When we returned from our summer holiday, we found our purple beans had fallen over – the supports we had used for them had got soaked in the rain and then the winds blew them over. The runner beans succumbed to the same a month later – lesson learned, never use these supports again! And then our tomatoes were struck down by blight – argh, what a terrible stupid disease! We had to pick lots for them to ripen indoors but some of the larger ones were turned into fried green tomatoes. They’ve all been eaten now except for a few Catalan hanging tomatoes that can keep all winter – I’ve been meaning to write about them in a separate post.

This is our tomato ripening station - and it's working!

Uh oh. Our green tomatoes are looking a touch blight-y. 😩

Our sunflowers were brilliant. We grew three and one flower head fell off after a fat bird or squirrel got to it. The other flowers survived though their seeds were attacked by pigeons, squirrels, parakeets, etc. We just managed to save most of the two remaining heads, enough to toast and snack on. They were fabulous!

Tonight's in-front-of-the-telly activity

Anyway, it’s time to start planning for next year. Things I’ll change? Perhaps not so many cucamelon plants. More green beans – I love them. Maybe I’ll try corn and maybe melons. The broad beans are already new.

One thing that’s been driving me stir-crazy all year are the stupid cats that come along and dig up my poor seedlings – it’s very difficult to raise any winter lettuces and cabbages if the young plants keep getting buried! Does anyone have any tips for detracting cats please? Should I just get garden hoops and cover everything with fleece/netting? Is there a cat repellent spray you can recommend?

Nuh uh, I don’t have a glut. We only have two courgette plants but together, they pump out enough courgettes to keep us feeling like we’re eating courgettes at every meal. Some days it’ll be a massive one the size of my forearm; other days I’ve got a handful of baby courgettes to use up. But a glut? Nah, surely that’s when you have more courgettes than you can use, right? Because we’re using up all our courgettes so far!

And anyway, they are succumbing to powdery mildew now and I’ll make a note that next year, I should stagger the plantings for a longer courgette season!

This recipe used up some courgettes and some of our chard as well; the latter is also pumping out leaves at a phenomenal rate! It’s a very versatile recipe – we ate it as it is or let it cool and mix with beaten eggs and turn it into a big omelette. Or even stir it through some pasta. It’s the garden in a pan!

Courgette and Rainbow Chard

Courgette and Chard Sauté
Serves 2

2 courgettes
A small bundle of chard
Olive oil
A handle of pine nuts
Shavings of pecorino Romano or some other hard cheese
Salt and freshly black pepper

Cut the courgettes and in a large sauté pan, cook them in a little olive oil over medium heat, stirring once in a while.

Meanwhile, clean your chard and separate stems from leaves. In a small pot of boiling water, blanch the stems and after a couple of minutes, add the leaves. Drain after a minute or two. Add the chard to the courgettes (which should be colouring by now) and stir.

Empty the small pot and put back over the heat. Add a little olive oil and toast the pine nuts, pulling them off the heat when they start to colour – the residual heat with continue to toast them.

Stir the courgettes and chard together and when all heated through, season. Stir through the pine nuts and plate, scattering the shaved cheese on top.

Sayur lodeh – think of it as a curry and you’ll be disappointed with its gentle flavours; think of it as a thick stew of vegetables in spiced coconut milk and you’ve then got the idea of this comforting Indonesian dish. It’s also been embraced by the Peranakans and Malaysians but strangely, I cannot recall my mother ever cooking it at home. I suspect that the inclusion of so much coconut milk was worrying to her! I love the stuff.

Sayur Lodeh

Do not be fooled – this is not a vegetarian dish. Belacan (fermented shrimp paste) and dried shrimps play a big part in the flavouring and it’s imperative that they’re not left out. If you’re having it as a main meal, shrimp or prawns can also be added. I also feel like this shouldn’t be a catch all for any vegetable you might have in your fridge – I’ve used vegetables that work well together; I’m not convinced by the use of peppers, for example. And like most stews, it’ll be good the first day but great on subsequent days. Serve it with plenty of white rice to soak up all that gravy.

Sayur Lodeh and Rice

Sayur Lodeh
serves 3-43 as a main meal with white rice or 6-8 as a side dish.

For the spice paste (rempah)
15-20 small shallots (purple) or 3-5 large ones (brown), peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 thick slice ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 thumb sized piece galangal, peeled and coarsely chopped
20 little dried shrimp
5-10 dried large red chillies
1 tbsp chilli paste
1 tsp belacan powder
2 tsps turmeric powder

3 tbsps oil
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
1/2 small cabbage, cut into chunks
2 Japanese aubergines, cut into chunks
1 large carrot, cut into batons
1 small onion, cut into slices
200g long beans or green beans or a mixture, cut into bite sized pieces
200g firm tofu, cubed/sliced
400ml coconut milk
salt and sugar to taste

First make your spice paste. Soak the dried shrimps and dried chillies in hot water for about 10-15 minutes. The chillies should be soft and the shrimps should have softened. Chop up the chillies (discarding the seeds) and then blend all the ingredients together, adding a bit of water if necessary. If you’re feeling nostalgic, pound them all together in a heavy duty mortar and pestle.

Heat a large pot/wok over medium-low heat and then add the oil to heat through. Add the spice paste and fry slowly until the oil separates again from the mixture. If there is quite a bit of water in the paste, this may not happen, in which case fry for at least 10 minutes.

Add the onion and carrot pieces and fry together for a few minutes. Add the aubergine, green beans, and cabbage and continue frying, stirring continuously. Pour in about 1-2 cups water and the coconut milk (this mixture should cover the vegetables – add more water if required). Toss in the lemongrass and bring the entire mixture to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are cooked through – you want them soft but not mushy. Add water to thin the sayur lodeh if desired – I like mine quite thick.

Finally, add the firm tofu and when that has cooked through, add salt and sugar to taste. Stir well and serve with white rice.

Roasting seems to be the cooking method of choice for vegetables lately in our flat. Yesterday, I cut a head of broccoli into little florets, tossed them with oil and roasted them at a high heat; after their edges went all brown and crispy, they were tossed into rice cooked with plenty of garlic and oyster sauce. Yum. Sure the roasting broccoli reeked of fart about halfway through cooking but I pressed on and the smell disappeared as the florets browned.

But this recipe I knocked together last week won’t stink out your flat. It will instead scent it with the sweetness from roasting onions and peppers and the spice from curry powder (a jar I was gifted that needed using up) and garam masala. All good, not like fart. And couscous is such an excellent lazy person’s carbohydrate; ever since I discovered that you can get away with just pouring over boiling water rather than steaming the grains, well, I was all over it (apparently this is because the couscous sold here has been pre-steamed). Again, this dish makes for a lovely light dinner and keeps extremely well for a packed lunch the next day too.

Curried Roast Vegetable Couscous

Oh yeah, and blah blah healthy blah blah packed lunch blah blah new year’s resolution.

Curried Roast Vegetable Couscous
serves 2.

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 courgette
1 aubergine
1 red onion
(or any other vegetables that are suitable for roasting)
2 tbsps olive oil

1 cup of dry couscous
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp hot curry powder (or chilli powder, to taste)
1 tsp garam masala
salt
a few sprigs of fresh coriander

Preheat your oven to 200C.

Deseed the peppers and cut into medium sized chunks. Cut the aubergine into medium sized cubes and the courgette into similar sized chunks too. Quarter the onion and then sliced thinly. Toss all the vegetables into a roasting pan and drizzle over the olive oil. Toss together and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes – or until the vegetables are all roasted to your liking.

In a large bowl, mix together the dry couscous, teaspoon of olive oil, curry powder, garam masala and a good shake of salt. Pour in one cup of boiling water (same volume as of dry couscous – but refer to your box of couscous if necessary), give it all a good stir, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes has elapsed, flake it with a fork until it’s all fluffy.

When the vegetables are roasted to your liking, toss them in with the couscous. Chop the fresh coriander and throw that in too. Mix well and serve.

One more week and then all the hysteria at work will come to a head and it’ll all be over. Stupid deadlines. In the meantime, yet another recipe that I’ve been storing for a rainy day. This one satisfies one of my new year’s resolutions: to eat more fish. I don’t take advantage of my local fishmonger enough and to correct this, that day, I stepped in and bought two individual portion-sized sea bass, cleaned and ready to cook.

Sea Bass

Only, of course, I had no idea what to do with them; I’m quite clueless and intimidated when it comes to fish. Growing up, my mother fried fish often but frying and the eventual stink were just not needed in our tiny flat. But I’ve recently realised that the oven is a great place for a fishy to sit before dinner. A look around the BBC Good Food website came up with this recipe of baked sea bass with roasted vegetables though I’ve simplified things a bit. The original had you whizz up half the vegetables with vinegar and nuts to make a romesco sauce but I just incorporated some of the ingredients straight into the roasting tin. It’s easier! And the roasting really improves the flavour of tasteless winter vegetables. Yes, I know we should all be shopping seasonally but sometimes you just need a tomato. And a red pepper.

Baked Sea Bass with Roasted Vegetables

Baked Sea Bass with Roasted Vegetables
adapted from a BBC Good Food magazine recipe.
serves 2.

2 sea bass, of individual portion size, cleaned and left whole
1/2 a lemon, thinly sliced
2 large red peppers
1 large red onion
5 small tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsps olive oil
a handful of toasted hazelnuts

Preheat your oven to 220C.

Clean and trim the red peppers and cut into large chunks. Peel and trim the red onion and cut into thin wedges. Cut the tomatoes in half around their equators. Toss all these vegetables and the garlic cloves into a roasting tray and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper and 2 tbsps of olive oil. Place in the oven to roast for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the fish. Slash the skin of the fish about 3-4 times each side. Stuff the sliced lemon into their cleaned bellies too.

After the first 25 minutes, take the tray out of the oven and sprinkled over 1/2 the thyme onto the vegetables. Lay the fish on top of the roasting vegetables, sprinkle over the remainder of the thyme and then drizzle over the remaining olive oil. Put back in the oven and continue roasting for 20 minutes.

Roughly chop the roasted hazelnuts.

Take out the roasting tray, plate the fish, sprinkle the hazelnuts over the roasted vegetables, and then plate them too alongside the fish. Serve.