Fruit and nut granola

Jar of homemade fruit and nut granola
Homemade fruit and nut granola with yogurt and blueberries
I’ve always been a bit of an odd one when it comes to breakfast. Unlike my SO, who wakes up ravenous every morning (before you get concerned, he’s well-fed at dinner time!), it takes me at least an hour after waking up before I feel like eating anything substantial. I’m much more of a brunch person when it comes to the first meal of the day. I’m all for taking the time to leisurely cook pancakes or French toast on a weekend morning, but let’s be honest this is never going to happen during the week (and it’s probably better for our waistlines that it doesn’t). Something a bit speedier is in order during the week. I’ve also never had a regular go-to breakfast of choice – I remember once going through a cucumber on crackers phase as a kid. I never said I wasn’t a weird child…but then who was a normal child, right?!…

So on to breakfast solutions! Smoothies are a tasty and quick option, and I always have a bag or two of frozen fruit in the freezer. For a more substantial meal, and if I have an extra few minutes when getting ready, then I might make an egg-based breakfast (usually a poached or boiled egg with toast) or if I’ve been even better prepared the night before then overnight oats are very convenient come morning. But for an in-between breakfast, both quick and filling, granola is one of my favourite options right now. As with all my recipes, adjust this granola to your own tastes. Slivers of dried coconut would be a lovely addition, and use any dried fruit you like: raisins, sultanas, cranberries, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, chopped apricots or figs or pineapple, mango, apple, banana chips…

A little note on agave nectar: I’d had a bottle in the cupboard for a couple of years. I think I bought it when it was going through its health superfood phase, but never quite knew what to do with it. In fact, agave nectar is no better for you than other sugar products like honey (it’s actually quite high in fructose), but it works well in this recipe as it’s light and not as sticky as honey. A bit of both seems to do the trick in terms of both texture and flavour. On the other hand, agave nectar is plant-based so perfect for vegans – if that’s your concern then just replace the honey with extra agave nectar.
Ingredients for homemade fruit and nut granola
Ingredients (makes one large jar or tub of granola)
1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
100ml agave nectar
50ml honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
400g porridge oats
100g flaked almonds
150g dried fruit of your choice

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas Mark 3. Measure out the liquids (oil, agave nectar, honey and vanilla extract) and mix.
Honey, agave nectar and vanilla extract
2. Place the oats in a large bowl and pour over the wet mixture, mixing well to coat the oats.
Plain oats for homemade fruit and nut granola

Adding the liquids to the oats for homemade fruit and nut granola
3. Stir through the flaked almonds.
Adding the flaked almonds to the granola mixture
Mixing the flaked almonds through the granola mixture
4. Spread the oats out onto two large baking trays – don’t pile them any thicker than about half an inch so they cook evenly in the oven.
Spreading the granola mixture on a tray for baking
5. Bake for 15 minutes until just starting to turn golden brown (keep an eye on the trays while they’re in the oven as they can catch and burn quickly). Leave to cool for 10 minutes on the trays.
Baked homemade fruit and nut granola
6. Tip the granola back into your large bowl, breaking it into small chunks.
Breaking up the baked nut granola
7. Stir through the dried fruit.
Adding dried fruit to the granola
Mixing dried fruit through the granola
8. Pack the granola into a large jar or tupperware tub.
Jar of homemade fruit and nut granola
The granola will keep for weeks in an airtight container. Serve with your choice of fruit, yogurt or milk for a filling breakfast – some accompaniment ideas here (stewed apples and plums) and here (stewed rhubarb).
Homemade fruit and nut granola with yogurt, raspberries and stewed rhubarb
Happy breakfasting!

Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh salad
Is it salad season yet? Let’s just say it is and hurry in summer time, yes? Good. In that case we might as well kick off with one of my favourite ever salads: tabbouleh. Tabbouleh (or tabouli) is a vegetarian salad made from bulgur wheat, mixed with fresh herbs and vegetables and seasoned with plenty of lemon juice and olive oil. It originates from Lebanon and is traditionally served as part of a mezze alongside dishes like hummus, fattoush and baba ganoush. If you’re not familiar with bulgur wheat, but like grains like couscous or quinoa, then jump on board the bandwagon right now (except bulgur wheat is SO much better than quinoa!). Bulgur wheat is really easy to cook with as it just requires soaking in boiling water for about 15 to 20 minutes and you’ll be left with fairly substantial, chunky grains to flavour as you like.

This particular recipe for tabbouleh is one that my mum has made for years and years, and originally came from a Mollie Katzen cookbook. Mollie Katzen is an American chef and cookbook writer, and is well known for her beautifully illustrated (by her) vegetarian cookbooks like The Enchanted Broccoli Forest (best name for a vegetarian cookbook ever right?). This tabbouleh recipe is from The Moosewood Cookbook and has just been slightly adjusted by both my mum and then me over the years. Feel free to adjust the recipe again to your taste – whether you like it to be sharper with extra lemon juice, herbier with the addition of more fresh herbs or saltier with some sliced olives mixed through.
Ingredients for tabbouleh salad
Ingredients (makes 6-8 generous portions)
250g (1 heaped cup) bulgur wheat
360ml (1½ cups) boiling water
1½ tsp salt
1½-2 lemons, juiced
2 garlic cloves, crushed or very finely chopped
4 spring onions
Small bunch parsley
2-3 tomatoes
½ medium cucumber
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional extra ideas: feta cheese, chickpeas, olives, avocado, fresh mint

Method
1. Place the bulgur wheat in a large bowl with the salt and pour over the boiling water. Give it a quick mix and then cover the bowl with a large plate. Leave the bulgur wheat for 15-20 minutes until it has soaked up all the water.
Soaking the bulgar wheat
2. Add the lemon juice, garlic and a few generous glugs of olive oil and mix well. Chill in the fridge for a few hours.
Soaked bulgar wheat with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil
3. Finely chop the spring onions and parsley, and chop the tomatoes and cucumber into small chunks (I recommend removing the watery middle of the cucumber – you can do this very easily by halving the cucumber length-ways and using a teaspoon to scrape out the middle).
Chopped vegetables for tabbouleh salad
4. Add all the vegetables to the chilled bulgur wheat and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Adding vegetables to the bulgar wheat
Mixing the vegetables through the bulgar wheat
This is a great side salad to serve alongside a spread of cheese and bread, or grilled meat, fish or vegetables.
Tabbouleh salad
It also makes a super packed lunch, which you can bulk up with some extras like avocado, feta cheese, chickpeas or even some roasted vegetables. The tabbouleh will keep very well in the fridge for 4 or 5 days.
Tabbouleh salad served with ripe avocado for lunch

Stuffed courgettes

Stuffed courgettes with tomatoes, basil and parmesan
Courgette season is still very much underway, as was evidenced by the gigantic courgette that my dad brought home from his allotment this week. With a glut of regular-sized courgettes already in the house, he offered this vegetable goliath to me, and of course I gladly accepted. Such a magnificent beast needed a fitting recipe, and keeping it (essentially) whole seemed like a nice way to cook it.

This recipe was inspired by a dish that lovely friends of ours made at a dinner party a couple of years ago. I didn’t have the exact recipe to hand, so this is a loose interpretation of the original incarnation, but I remembered the inside of the courgette being stuffed back into the filling, I remembered tomatoes being invited to the party, and I remembered two types of cheeses going in there. Let’s be honest, I mainly remembered the two types of cheese. Then garlic had to be added, as it is to basically all of our food in this household, and then a few herbs which work well with both courgettes and tomatoes made an appearance too. Although it may have deviated from the initial recipe we ate a few years ago, I’m very pleased with the results: a vibrant, vegetarian* dish packed with summery tastes.
*Excuse the parmesan! Use a substitute if you’re very strictly veggie.
Ingredients for vegetarian stuffed courgettes
Ingredients (serves 2 as a main course, or 4-6 as a starter)
1 very large courgette
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
Small handful basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 mozzarella balls
Small handful grated parmesan
Salt and pepper
Good quality olive oil

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6.
2. Halve the courgette lengthways, so that both halves can sit steadily cut-side up. Use a spoon to scoop out the soft flesh, leaving at least 1-2cm of skin around the outside, but don’t throw away the insides – roughly chop the flesh and place in a large bowl.
Scooping the flesh out the courgette and leaving aside for stuffing later
3. Use a pastry brush to spread a thin layer of oil on both the outside and the inside of the cut out courgette. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper and place on a large baking tray.
Oiling and seasoning the courgette skins ready for stuffing
4. Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and chop into small pieces. Add to the courgette flesh, along with the oregano, thyme and chopped garlic and basil. Mix well.
Ingredients for the courgette  stuffing
Stuffing for the courgettes
5. Chop the mozzarella into small cubes and stir through the stuffing, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
Chopped mozzarella for courgette stuffing
Courgette stuffing with mozzarella added
6. Pack the stuffing inside the courgette skins – don’t be afraid to pile this high, as it will melt and sink in the oven.
Stuffing the courgette skins
Stuffing the courgette skins
7. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and drizzle with a little extra olive oil.
Topping the stuffed courgettes with parmesan
8. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the skins are tender and the stuffing is golden brown. Cooking times will depend on the size of your courgettes – if your vegetables aren’t quite as giant as this one was then reduce the cooking time by at least 10 minutes (baby courgettes will need as little as 8-10 minutes in the oven).
Stuffed courgettes
We had these as a vegetarian main course, served with some paprika-spiced sweet potato wedges, but this is a great dish to have as a starter. Find some mini courgettes at the shop and serve up one per person for a cute and tasty start to a late-summer meal.
Stuffed courgette served with sweet potato wedges
What’s your favourite way to cook courgettes? Grilled, stuffed, sautéed…?