Black bean and sweet potato quesadillas

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I recently fancied something Mexican inspired for dinner but we were a little bored of the usual options of tacos, fajitas and burritos; as lovely as they all are sometimes you need a bit of a change and this is where this recipe comes in. Quesadillas are toasted tortilla stacks that can be filled with a whole host of ingredients but this is a vegetarian quesadilla recipe. Black beans are often overlooked but are really quite versatile and I find are perfect for a quick recipe like this. The sweet potato is used to balance the earthiness of the beans and the mix of spices whilst adding a lift to the overall flavours. I served this as a dinner but I think it would also be great as a hearty brunch.

In order to be able to use the bean chilli in a quesadilla it needs to be thick and a bit drier than you may usually make it if you were serving it with rice. So trust me and don’t be tempted to add too much stock otherwise it will ooze out of the quesadilla and make a right mess!

Ingredients- serves 2-3
For the bean chilli
1 large sweet potato- peeled
2 tbsp each of ground cumin and ground coriander
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 red onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves- grated or finely sliced
1 tbsp tomato puree
250g drained black beans
200ml hot vegetable stock
Dried chilli such as ancho or cascabel- optional
Fresh coriander- chopped
Salt and pepper
8 soft tacos
Cheddar cheese- grated

For the salsa
2 ripe avocados- peeled, stone removed and cubed
1 red onion- finely sliced or chopped
Baby plum tomatoes- finely sliced or chopped
Fresh coriander- chopped
Lime

1. Start by making the chilli. Peel and cut the sweet potato into small pieces; toss with half of each spice and a good glug of olive oil. Roast in a pre- heated oven at 180c/ 160 fan for around 10-15 minutes until tender. Remove from the oven and set aside.

2. Choose a saucepan and add another splash of oil. Gently fry off the onion until softening before adding the garlic and cooking for a further few minutes. Add the remaining spices and cook for another minute. Squeeze in the tomato puree and, again, cook for another minute.

3. Add the drained black beans and sweet potato to the pan and stir well to coat the with the spice mixture. Pour in the majority of the hot stock as well as the dried chilli (if using) and fresh coriander; bring to a simmer. Cover the pan with a lid and cook on the hob for around 15-20 minutes. Pour in the remaining stock if needed and continue to simmer until the chilli reduces down and thickens.

4. As the chilli is finishing off you can make the avocado salsa. Simply prepare the ingredients as per the instructions above and combine in a bowl. Add a squeeze of lime juice and season to taste. You can add a little chilli and some more of the fresh coriander if you like. Cover with clingfilm and keep in the fridge until needed.

5. When you are ready to assemble the tacos, heat a non- stick frying pan over a medium heat. Place a couple of the small tacos into it ready to dry fry. Divide the chilli and spoon some into the centre of the taco; use the spoon to spread it out a little but not all the way to the edges. Sprinkle over some of the grated cheese before placing another of the tacos on top. Use a spatula and gently press down. Dry fry until the bottom is golden; carefully slip it using the spatula and do the same for the other side. Continue until all the tacos and chilli is used. Serve immediately with the avocado salsa.

Black bean and sweet potato quesadillas- a perfect brunch or dinner to please a crowd!

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Smoky Mexican red bean soup with crispy chorizo

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There is no better way to warm yourself up on a chilly day than a big bowl of soup. This uses a spice combination that lends itself to a smoky, gently spiced finish that will satisfy everyone. Of course you can ramp up the heat by adding extra cayenne pepper or chilli if you want a full on kick! I have used a mix of cascabel and chipotle morita chillies which add heat as well as smokiness and nuttiness. You could also add a roasted red pepper for an added dimension. If you want to keep the soup vegetarian then simply omit the chorizo and serve with a drizzle of sour cream and a hunk of crusty bread on the side or a few tortilla chips to dunk or crush up on top like croutons. Some freshly chopped coriander also goes well here.

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Ingredients- serves 6
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves- chopped
2 red or white onions- chopped
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp coriander
1 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1-2 cascabel chillies- skin pricked
1-2 chipotle or chipotle morita chillies- skin pricked
400ml tinned chopped tomatoes
2 tins of kidney beans-drained and rinsed
900ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to season
Chorizo

1. Take a heavy based large saucepan and heat the oil over a medium heat. Soften the garlic and onion in the pan before adding all the spices. Cook for a couple of minutes before squeezing in the tomato puree and adding the oregano which also need to be cooked out for a couple of minutes.

2. Pop in the tomatoes, beans and stock. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer for 20- 25 minutes. I add the whole chilli at this stage to infuse. If you want a bit more heat you can chop the chilli into the soup. When ready, take the soup off the heat, season and allow to cool slightly. The soup now needs blending either in a large blender or using a hand blender if you prefer. Blitz and then taste again to check the seasoning. As the soup is finishing off, take chorizo and cut into small pieces. Dry fry in a frying pan until crisp. Serve the soup in warmed bowls and sprinkle the crispy chorizo on top.

Smoky and spicy bean soup- a perfect warmer with a taste of Mexico!

Venison sausage, cavolo nero and bean casserole

This time each year I usually come across a vegetable that then becomes a borderline food obsession and this year it’s cavolo nero’s turn. Cavolo nero, also known as black cabbage or Italian kale, is perfect for pepping up soups, stews and pastas. I have kept this recipe as simple as possible so each constituent ingredient can be tasted and savoured. I used venison sausages for this recipe as the rich flavour goes well with the irony flavour of the cavolo nero and the creamy cannellini beans. A lot of casseroles and stews use red wine in the base but I have gone for a dark ale to create depth in place of wine so give it a try!

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Ingredients- serves 3
Vegetable oil
6 good quality venison sausages
1 large red onion- chopped
2 garlic cloves- finely sliced or crushed
1 tbsp tomato puree
250ml dark ale or porter
400g tinned cannellini beans
400ml hot beef stock
400ml passata
Handful of fresh thyme
1 head of cavolo nero- washed and chopped

1. Start by preheating the oven to 180c/ 160 fan. Take a large casserole pan and add a glug of oil; heat to medium and brown off the sausages. Turn them as you go to ensure they are uniformly golden; remove from the pan when they are ready, cut into thirds or quarters and set aside.

2. Using the same pan, fry the onion and garlic together for a few minutes until they soften but don’t colour. I add salt at this point to help draw the moisture from the onions. If you have found that the sausages have given quite a bit of fat then do drain some of this away before adding the onions. Next up goes the tomato puree which should be stirred through the onion and garlic to give a coating; cook for a minute or two before adding the ale. Reduce the volume of the ale by half.

3. Add the beans to the pan and combine well with the onion, garlic and ale mix before adding the stock and passata. Drop in the thyme and add the sausage and cavolo nero; bring to a gentle boil before popping in the oven for 60-75 minutes. Don’t be alarmed if the cavolo nero looks like a lot- it will cook down as the casserole is in the oven. Serve with a creamy mound of mashed potato or hunks of bread and enjoy.

Venison sausage, cavolo nero and bean casserole- a satisfying dinner for those dark, chilly nights!

Butter bean, butternut squash and chorizo crumble

Think of a crumble and most people would conjure images of a piping hot fruity creation but, oh no, not this one! This butter bean, butternut squash and chorizo crumble gives a range of textures and flavours that you will cook again and again.

I have given this a Spanish twist to enhance the flavours from the chorizo which marries beautifully with the gentle sweetness of the squash and the creamy beans. You could also add chicken if you wanted an even heartier dish or leave out the chorizo and add in some other vegetables to make it vegetarian. Supermarkets are becoming quite handy in helping out with shortcuts too so if, like me, you can’t stand having to cut a solid butternut squash you can buy ready peeled squash which is great to have when time is short.

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Ingredients- serves 4
For the filling
1 large white onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves- crushed or finely chopped
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp cayenne
1 red chilli- deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
100g chorizo- chopped
Small butternut squash- cut into small cubes
1 large red pepper- chopped (or alternatively you can use the ready roasted jarred
peppers)
Tin of butter beans- drained and rinsed
Jar of passata- approx 400ml
200ml vegetable stock

For the crumble topping
100g plain flour
50g unsalted butter- softened
Seasoning
Manchego cheese- as much or as little as you like

1. To get started add a splash of oil to a large pan and gently sweat the onions and garlic. You are looking for gorgeously softened onions which are beginning to get a little colour. Pop in the spices, chilli (if using) and chorizo and cook out for a further couple of minutes so they release their flavour and the chorizo begins to colour. The chorizo enhance the smoked paprika even more!

2. I then add the cubes of butternut squash and red pepper. Stir well so they get a spicy coating and cook for a few minutes. Pop in the butter beans and, again, stir through. Next goes the passata and stock, season and bring the pan to a simmer, cover and leave for 15 minutes before then removing the lid and simmering for a further 15 minutes. If you have left your chunks of squash a little larger then 20 minutes followed by another 20 minutes may be needed but give it a check as you go.

3. Whilst that is cooking away and then sauce is starting to reduce you can make the crumble topping. I have kept this as simple as possible but you could substitute it with a breadcrumb topping if you prefer. Simply take the softened butter and add to a bowl with the flour and rub between your fingers; this will form a crumb. Season and add some grated manchego cheese if you like.

4. When the passata and stock has reduced down spoon the mixture into either one large ovenproof baking dish or individual ones if you prefer. If you are a cheese fan then you could always add small chunks of any leftover manchego cheese to the mixture so this will melt as it bakes. Sprinkle over the crumble topping and bake at 200c/ 180fan for around 20- 30 minutes until the topping is golden. Serve with crusty bread or a simple side salad.

Butter bean, squash and chorizo crumble- a vibrant dish to brighten up any day!

P.S. If, like me, you made too much the leftovers as just as delicous! I added spinach and cooked it so it wilted and served it with pan fried white fish for a variation.

Butter bean, cod and chorizo stew

If you think a stew needs to be meat based then think on! Cod loin is robust and meaty in its own right and will convert even the biggest carnivore!

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Ingredients- serves 2- 3
1 tin of butter beans- drained and rinsed
1 tbsp olive oil
200g chorizo- sliced
1 onion- chopped
2 garlic cloves- crushed
1 red chilli- deseeded and finely chopped
2 jarred roasted red peppers- sliced
1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
250ml chicken stock
Capful of red wine vinegar
Fresh thyme sprigs
Handful of shredded baby spinach
2 large cod loins

1. Take a large pan and heat the oil over a medium heat. Add in the chorizo and fry until golden and fragrant. Remove from the pan and set aside. Next up goes in the onion, garlic and chilli for a couple of minutes until softening. I then add the paprika and red pepper and cook for a further minute making sure it’s well mixed in.

2. The butter beans need to in next and stir gently so they get coated with the onion. Add the tomatoes, stock, chorizo, vinegar and thyme and bring to the boil. Lower to a simmer, cover and cook until the sauce is thick and reduced. Just a few minutes before the stew is ready pop thespinach through the stew and add the cod loins into the pan to steam. You can leave the fish whole or cut it into chunks of you prefer. Cod loin is best for this as it will stay whole.

3. Dig the thyme sprigs out of the pan and check the seasoning. Chorizo is quite salty so you may find you don’t need to do too much. Serve in deep bowls with hunks of warm bread on the side.

Autumnal sausage and bean stew

There’s a distinctive chill in the air so this recipe is a perfect autumnal warmer. I have used a good quality beef sausage as a bit of a change but you could easily swap it for pork sausages if you prefer. I have used beef sausages from Chiphall Farm who use Woodland Jersey herd meat so check them out http://www.chiphallfarmshop.co.uk to support excellent Hampshire producers.

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Ingredients- serves 4
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion finely sliced
2 garlic cloves crushed
3 celery sticks finely sliced
1 tbsp tomato puree
100ml red wine
300ml beef stock (vegetable stock if using pork sausages)
400ml tinned tomatoes
400g tinned butter beans and 400g tinned cannellini beans drained and rinsed
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Pinch of caster sugar
Salt and pepper to season

1. Preheat the oven to 190c/ 170 fan and leave to warm up whilst you get started with the rest. Heat the oil in a heavy based casserole pan over a medium heat and brown the sausages until they are golden all over; this should take about 10 minutes to get a good colour on them. When they are ready, set them aside to keep warm.

2. I then add the onion to gently fry off in the residual sausage fat as this adds an extra layer of flavour. If you find that a lot of fat has come out of the sausages you can drain some of this off if you lilke. A higher quality sausage usually produces less fat so that’s worth remembering. When the onions are nearly ready, add the garlic and celery and cook for 1- 2 minutes.

3. Squeeze in a tablespoon of tomato puree and cook this off well for another couple of minutes. Add in the red wine and simmer this to reduce it by half to cook off the booze. If using pork sausages you may also like to try using white wine for a lighter flavour to balance the pork.

4. Add the stock, tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, pinch of caster sugar and season well. Bring it back up to a gentle simmer for a few minutes before adding the beans and sausages to the pan. Cover the pan and cook in the oven for an hour. The stew will have thickened and a rich, comforting meal will be your reward. Serve in warmed bowls with some bread on the side to soak up the juice.

Autumnal sausage and bean stew- a perfect meal for the changing season!