Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian

Saag Aloo

Spinach arrived late into my life. I think I was in my early twenties before I tasted fresh spinach. Instantly, I knew what all the fuss was about and it has been a firm favouritespinach ever since – cooked or raw. Up until then, the only spinach I knew came in a tin or a frozen block – neither of which I found particularly palatable.

Saag Aloo is made regularly in this home. This is not my recipe, however, so thanks is due to another. I only which I knew who! It is yet another list of ingredients scribbled on a scrap of paper wedged in a cookery book. To whoever came up with it, we thank-you as we have enjoyed eating this many, many, many times!

This can be served as a side dish or as a main dish with naan bread or rice.

2 medium onions, chopped
3 tbsp, sunflower oil
½ tsp, coriander seeds
½ tsp, cumin seeds
¼ tsp, cayenne pepper
½ tsp, ground coriander
2lb, spinach, washed and roughly shredded
1lb potatoes, peeled and cute into bite size cubes
½ tsp, salt
2 tsp,  ground fenugreek
Tin, chopped tomatoes

1. Parboil the potatoes
2. Heat the oil and gently fry the onions for about 8 minutes until soft
3. Add the cumin seeds and coriander seeds and cook for 1-2 minutes
4. Add the potatoes, cayenne pepper, coriander power, salt, fenugreek and tomatoes
5. Cook over a low heat for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are cooked
6. Add the spinach, cover and allow stand for 5 minutes until the spinach has wilted


Nollaig na mBan, Spinach and Cream Cheese Lasagne, Vegetarian

Celebrating Nollaig na mBan, 2015

Being a proud Kerry woman, my mother insisted on celebrating Nollaig na mBan. I never questioned it. I took it for granted that all homes in Ireland were the same. I have since discovered the day is only celebrated by pockets throughout Ireland rather than widespread. I read up about this and while many suggest it’s fading out, I can tell you that’s utter nonsense; if anything, it’s on the rise! Where it is celebrated, it is done so with great gusto!

So what is it? Translated into English, Nollaig na mBan means ‘Women’s Christmas’. I couldn’t find out where the tradition comes from but it was generally assumed that, after all the energy and work put into the family Christmas, this was the day the lady of the house had free. Not only that, men took over household duties and child minding while the ladies celebrated with their gal pals and/or other female family members.

Nollaig na mBan was, and is, strictly observed in our home. While the male members of the family didn’t take over the housework, it was the one day in the year my mother did not cook (or more accurately, point blank refused to cook!). For Dad, this was the day my mother went ‘On Strike’! In the days before widespread availability of take-outs and convenience food, my father took us out for dinner. It was that or starve! Not only were we all thankful for the treat but delighted he didn’t cook any of his ‘culinary delights.’ Any day without boiled grey mutton and watery vegetables was a great day!

In more modern times, Nollaig na mBan is celebrated in a number of ways – by dinning out in restaurants with pals or going to the pub. There is something quite cheerful, and yet bizarre, going into a bar which is full of women with the only males found behind the bar working! Alternatively, friends gather at home for a meal or drinks.

The Teen and I always celebrate the day. This year was quiet for us – I simply cooked a nice meal at home. It took a little time but was well worth it as the end result was wolfed down.

And ladies, if you don’t already celebrate Nollaig na mBan – it really is time to start!

Spinach and Cream Cheese Lasagne
(Serves 4)

Tomato sauce
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon, dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon sugar
Tin chopped tomatoes
Olive oil for frying

9-12 Lasagne sheets (no-cook)

Spinach filling
400g baby spinach, washed and chopped roughly
¼ lb mushrooms, chopped finely
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
Freshly grated nutmeg – about ½ teaspoon
½ cup finely grated Parmesan
1 Mozzarella cheese ball – slice one half thinly and cut the other half into small pieces
3 generous tablespoons, cream cheese
Olive oil for frying
Salt and Pepper

Pre-heat oven at 170C

Tomato sauce
1. In a saucepan, heat the oil and fry the onion until soft (about 5 minutes)
2. Add in the garlic and fry for another 1-2 minutes
3. Add in the herbs, tomatoes and sugar
4. Season with salt and pepper
5. Put in blender and whisk until smooth but still textured

Spinach filling
1. In a saucepan, heat the oil and fry the onion until soft (about 5 minutes)
2. Add in the garlic and fry for another 1-2 minutes
3. Add in the mushrooms and cook until soft
4. Add in the spinach and wilt in the heat
5. Add 2-3 teaspoons of Parmesan, the nutmeg and the cream cheese and stir until combined
6. Season with salt and pepper

Putting the lasagne together
1. Place a few tablespoons of tomato sauce at the bottom of the pan
2. Cover with sheets of lasagne and then spread a third of the spinach filling over the pasta before dotting with small pieces of mozzarella
3. Repeat until finished
4. Cover with sheets of lasagne, pour over the tomato sauce, sprinkle with parmesan and add the sliced mozzarella
5. Cover loosely with foil – sealed at the edges but loose on top to avoid contact with the topping
6. Cook for 35 minutes
7. Remove the foil and cook for a further 5-10 minutes
8. Allow stand for 5 minutes
9. Serve with a dressed green salad

Fish, Prawn and Spinach Risotto

Cooking ‘ethnic’!



Possibly one of the only true benefits of waves of emigration which afflict this country is the fact that taste buds change. Demands for ‘foreign’ food increases and with that ingredients for more ethnic-styled cooking become increasingly available.

When I was little, Chinese restaurants (not take-aways) were off the scale when it came to being exotic! There were take-aways but these were the strongholds of Italians. The main places available for dinner, rather than High Tea, were restaurants in hotels.

Indian restaurants tried and seemed to fail in the 1970s. And it is hardly surprising. In the shops was easi cook rice and a strange concoction in a tin called ‘Curry Powder’ – it smelt like curry but it sure as heck didn’t taste like it. Often added to a roux with some chopped apple, raisins and chunks of cooked chicken, this was sent out as ‘Curry’. Another alternative was Vesta dried dishes which were surprisingly tastier than other homemade efforts because at least, they contained a little kick.

 Again my memories might seem fanciful but picture this. Mustard came in two varieties – English and French and both were made by Colmans (and we had only recently graduated from mustard powder which had to be mixed). Salad cream was the norm and mayonaise was the stuff of American movies. White pepper was the only variety available so when my father bought his first black pepper mill, we discovered his sister unscrewing it and looking aghast as all these tiny black balls rolled out all over her Christmas dinner.

Ethnic cooking is now a regular activity for many. As a home cook, however, I am aware that having the ingredients does not a replica dish make. I can make a version, a very tasty version, but I would never suggest it is completely acceptable to someone from that region. The taste of the ingredients may differ. The age of the ingredients may differ if they are imported. And the way I season or add spice is generally adapted to our palates. The dish is near the original but not exact. For me, cooking ethnic does not mean cooking authentic cuisine – but I do try!

With this precursor, I can now say the Teen loves Italian food since she was a tot. I always remember her first taste of lasagne – she ate it pensively, then sidled up beside my dinner and declared ‘MORE!’ She enjoyed slices of Italian salami and Parma ham when other tots were gobbling up Monster Munch.

While studying in Florence last Summer, she regaled me with tales of what she could buy at the market – fresh pastas, ragu sauces made from Boar, beautiful cheese sauces, salads, etc. and for a fraction of what is paid here. I was entralled but now nervous that my Italian-styled offerings no longer made the grade for her. I shouldn’t have worried as she still loves my risotto (phew!). It remains a firm favourite in our ‘Comfort Food’ menu.


Prawn and Spinach Risotto
(serves 4)

14 ounces frozen Tiger Prawns (thoroughly defrosted as per instructions on pack)
10 ounces Arborio rice
2 ounces butter
Dash of olive oil
A good pinch of saffron strands
Hot water
Medium sized onion, chopped finely
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
1 glass of white wine
1 litre of fish stock
Bag of baby spinach, washed with stems removed and leaves shredded
Salt and pepper
Lemon juice (optional)

1. Put the strands of saffron into a little hot water to infuse
2. Heat stock in a pot
3. In another saucepan, melt the butter and add the olive oil to stop the butter burning
4. Add the finely minced onion and cook until soft in the melted butter
5. Add the finely minced garlic and cook
6. Add the rice and coat it completely with the onion and garlic mix
7. Cook for a minute or two
8. Add the glass of wine and stir in until evaporated
9. Add in the saffon water and stir until it is completely combined
10. Add a ladle of stock and cook until evaporated
11. Keep adding ladles of stock and cooking until evaporated and all the stock is used
12. When complete, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper
13. Add the prawns and cook gently until just cooked
14. Add in the spinach
15. Take off the heat and leave covered for about 5 minutes
16. Add a dash lemon juice, if desired