Give spring vegetables a bit of a whizz

Smooth dips and sauces made with fresh ingredients are the grown-up version of baby food, says Mark Hix
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Who said purées are just for babies? We palm them off with inferior canned and bottled stuff (although sales of organic baby food have gone rocketing up) when we should be whizzing vegetables up into pure tasting purées for them. But they're great for grown ups, too, and just because you can't get your teeth into them, it doesn't mean you have to be dentally challenged or a weaning infant to enjoy a delicious freshly made vegetable dip, with or without the pre-dinner drinks.

We don't think twice about mashing potatoes and root vegetables and whizzing up an avocado for a quick-fix guacamole with tortilla chips. The Irish are experts at combining cabbage, scallions and greens with mashed potato for a sort of one-stop veg and potato accompaniment in the form of colcannon and champ. So why not whip up all sorts of other vegetables into smooth accompaniments. Almost anything can be puréed, mashed and blended to give it a new guise.

All you need to tune in to the sweet sound of a purée is a blender or good food processor.

Broad bean hummous

Serves 4-6 or 8 as a mezze

This is a lovely fresh version of the classic chickpea hummous. It's a great dish to make in spring or summer when there are lots of broad beans around, or you could cheat and use frozen at any time of year and no one will know the difference.

There's no need to take the skins off the beans, but some decent flat bread to serve with the dip does make all the difference. To make it more than just a dip, I suggest you make a broad bean relish to go with it. You could also eat both these broad bean dishes with, say, barbecued lamb chops or fillets.

for the broad bean relish

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
30g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/2tsp ground cumin
75ml extra virgin olive oil
200g shelled weight of fresh or frozen broad beans
1tsp tomato purée
2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
100ml water
Half a lemon, pips removed
Salt and pepper
1tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
1tbsp fresh coriander leaves, chopped

Gently cook the onions, garlic, chilli, ginger and cumin slowly in the olive oil without colouring until soft. Add the broad beans, tomato purée, chopped tomatoes, water and the half-lemon (in one piece). Season with salt and pepper and simmer gently with a lid on for 15-20 minutes. Check it from time to time and add a little more water if it seems too dry.

When cooked, the relish will have a nice red oily appearance. Remove the half-lemon. Add the mint and coriander to the relish and remove the pan from the heat. Serve it at room temperature with your broad bean hummous.

for the hummous

600g shelled weight of fresh or frozen broad beans
6-7 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
100ml water
Juice of 2 small lemons
100-120ml extra virgin olive oil
2tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Extra virgin olive oil for serving
Sprigs of coriander

Put the broad beans into a pan with the garlic cloves and about 100ml of water, cover, season the pan and cook the beans slowly for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove them from the heat and leave to cool a little.

A good-quality jug liquidiser produces the best hummous, otherwise use a food processor. Spoon half of the broad beans into the blender or processor with half the cooking liquid and process on a high speed, stopping the machine occasionally to stir the mix and scrape the sides of the jug. When the beans are fairly well blended leave the machine running and pour in half of the lemon juice, then slowly add half the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of tahini. Again you will need to stop the machine every so often to scrape the sides of the jug. The hummous should be a thick pouring consistency when it's still warm from the machine. Transfer the hummous into a bowl, season to taste and add a little more lemon juice if necessary.

Repeat with the other half of the broad beans, lemon juice, oil and tahini. Leave in a covered bowl at room temperature until required.

To serve, spoon it about 2 cm deep on to a plate with a couple of spoonfuls of the broad bean relish, a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some freshly picked coriander. Try to find some good Lebanese flat bread, which is like large pitta bread, or use pitta, to eat with it.

Carrot purée with yoghurt (Havuç ezmezi)

Serves 4-6 as a mezze

I must admit I've lifted this from Classic Turkish Cookery by Ghillie Basan. It's a perfect mezze dish made with little more than carrots and yoghurt, costs next to nothing and looks wonderfully colourful. I love the simplicity of Turkish food, which is why living near the Turkish shops of Stoke Newington in north London suits me just fine.

4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1tsp caraway seeds
1tbsp olive oil
2tbsp lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

for the sauce

4tbsp thick yoghurt
1tbsp lemon juice
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tbsp fresh mint and dill chopped

Steam or boil the carrots in salted water until soft then drain. In a small bowl make the sauce by mixing the yoghurt, lemon juice, garlic, mint and dill. Purée the carrots, caraway, olive oil and lemon juice in a blender or food processor to a smooth or coarse consistency, and season.

Spoon the carrot mixture on to a serving dish and form a well in the centre. Spoon the yoghurt mixture in the middle and serve with warm Turkish bread or flat bread.

Lambs sweetbreads with spring vegetable purée

Serves 4

For the offal lovers out there - I hope you exist - this dish is right up your street. If you're not a sweetbread fan you can easily cheat and use a prime cut of lamb like best end or rump. Although people who've never tried them find it hard to believe, sweetbreads don't taste at all strong, and they go really well with tender spring vegetables and this vibrantly green vegetable purée. Chicken breast or fish fillets would also be a good match, and real vegetarians could use grilled halloumi. You can add asparagus to the seasonally green purée or vegetable medley if you have any to spare.

500-600g plump lamb sweetbreads, cleaned and rinsed under cold water for 10 minutes
2tbsp vegetable or olive oil
150g broad beans (after podding), cooked and skinned if large
120g peas cooked
8-12 baby leeks cooked
A couple of good knobs of butter

for the purée

1 medium leek, roughly chopped and washed
2-3 spears of sprouting broccoli or a head of broccoli, roughly chopped
A spoonful or 2 of the broad beans and peas
A good knob of butter

Put the lambs sweetbreads in a pan, cover with cold water with a couple of teaspoons of salt, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and leave to cool. Once they are cool, trim any fat and put to one side.

Meanwhile bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the leek and broccoli for the purée until soft. Drain and blend with a few of the broad beans and peas to a coarse purée in a food processor. Transfer to a pan, add the butter and season to taste.

Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan, season the sweetbreads and pan fry them for 4-5 minutes, turning them every so often until they are nicely coloured, add a knob of butter and put to one side. Meanwhile re-heat the peas, broad beans and leeks gently in butter and season.

To serve, heat the purée and spoon on to warmed plates then arrange the sweetbreads on top and scatter the vegetables over.

Jersey Royals would be lovely with this.

Grilled pork chop with white bean purée

Serves 4

I've almost given up on buying pork chops from supermarkets as they rarely taste of much at all, let alone pork. Now a good pedigree piece of pork from a rare breed like Gloucester Old Spot or Middle White is a different story.

Farmers' markets or mail order meat from people such as Pipers Farm (01392 881380/ www.pipersfarm.com) and Northfield Farm (01664 474271/ www.northfieldfarm.com) offer decent pork, as does the occasional serious butcher who will label up the breed so you know exactly what you're buying and eating. The Ginger Pig, Borough Market, London SE1 and 8-10 Moxon Street, London W1 (020-7935 7788) sells some of the best pork around. I used wild boar cutlets from another Borough Market (and Manchester Farmers' Market) stalwart, Peter Gott, which taste great. I've also added some agrette, or monk's beard, to the beans for a bit of texture and seasonal colour, but chopped chives and parsley will do the trick.

4 good quality pork chops or cutlets, weighing about 200-250g each
2tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
200-250g good quality canned, or jar of white beans like flageolet or haricot beans, drained and washed
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
A couple good knob of butter
1tbsp chopped parsley

Pre-heat a ribbed griddle, heavy frying pan or barbecue. Season the chops and brush with oil. Cook them for 6-7 minutes on each side depending on the thickness, keeping them moist in the middle. You can remove the rind and cook it separately to crisp it up.

Meanwhile gently infuse the garlic in the butter in a pan on the stove and add half the beans and a couple of tablespoons of water. Season them and then whizz them in a blender or food processor to a purée, coarse or smooth depending on how you like it. Return to the pan and keep warm.

Warm the rest of the beans in butter and olive oil, season and add the parsley. Spoon the hot bean purée on to warmed plates, place a chop on top and scatter or spoon the whole beans over.

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