Sweetcorn and courgette fritters

Sweet corn and courgettes are right in season at the moment, and it’s a bumper crop. I love sweetcorn. Ripened during the long sunny (hopefully!) summer days, fresh corn is so sweet and succulent it’s a joy to eat. Sometime it can be hard to buy unprepared cobs in the supermarket, so I like to get my sweetcorn elsewhere – farmers markets or shops, greengrocer or veg box schemes are all good sources of cobs still covered in their husks. That way you get to unwrap them, revealing the vibrant yellow kernels voluptuously packed in tight, clinging to the side of the cob, ready and waiting to be eaten.

Courgettes are prolific this time of the year, especially if you manage to beat the slugs and snails to grown them yourself, or if you get a veg box delivered. Although they tend to be available most of the year, I prefer them at this time as they tend to be less watery and more flavoursome. Not that I used to like them – whether it’s my tastebuds that have changed, or it’s the courgettes, but I used to find them bitter and quite unpleasant. That all changed when I went on honeymoon to Egypt (a few years ago now!). The hotel’s restaurant always had a buffet style service, and courgettes were served in a huge vat, just lightly cooked with nothing added. It wasn’t just the cooking that was light – the courgette skins were a really pale green, almost white, as if they had been bleached by the searing dessert sun. And maybe the sun also altered the flavour, as these had all the courgette taste, but none of the bitterness. Suddenly I was a courgette fan.

Which is a good thing, as they are packed full of super nutritious goodies like vitamin C and potassium as well as fibre, and of course lots of water. They are really useful veg to have around as they can be used in a whole range of dishes, either as a base ingredient or the main star.

But no matter how much I love both sweetcorn and courgettes, when there’s a lot of them about at the same time, it can be a challenge to find new ideas to use them. So to help out, I’m going to do a few extra posts over the next few days with some ideas for you to try.

The first are these gorgeous sweetcorn and courgette fritters. Now fritters are not usually on the menu at home as traditionally they contain milk, eggs and are fried in loads of butter or oil. But after a little playing around, this recipe still deserves the title of fritter even though it’s dairy free, gluten free, plant based and baked so oil free too. The good news is that they taste amazing, and are gulped down in a flash at home – phew! Great for a light lunch served with a zingy dip or served up with different vegetables or salads to make a more substantial main meal.

To make these fritters beautifully caramelised without frying, I use a silicon baking mat instead of an oiled baking tin or pan frying. Whole healthy fats are really good for us, but refined oils are not as their altered molecular structure can be harmful to our bodies, and cooking oil at high temperatures affects that structure even more. The silicon baking sheets cook everything really well and still gives a gorgeously browned outside, plus nothing sticks – very clever! It’s an essential item in my kitchen cupboard now and would highly recommend them.

So if you fancy ‘frittering’ away a little time, give these a go and see what you think. There are loads of flavour combinations you could use – let me know if you try something new.

Baked sweetcorn and courgette fritters (makes 12)

1 large cob of corn, cooked
1 medium courgette, grated
3-4 spring onions
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons chickpea (gram/besan) flour
1 tablespoon polenta
1 teaspoon baking powder (gluten free if needed)
90mls dairy free milk
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Place a silicon baking mat onto a large cookie tray. Place the grated courgette into a sieve and press out some of the fluid (not too much as it will contribute towards the total fluid content). Place the squeezed courgette, sweetcorn, spring onion, garlic and chilli into a bowl, mix well and put to one side. In another bowl, mix the gram flour, polenta, seasoning, baking powder and ground flaxseed together. Pour in the dairy free milk and whisk together to form a batter. Leave for a few minutes to allow the flaxseed to swell and absorb some of the liquid.

Tip the veggie mix into the batter and mix well until everything is combined and holding together well on a spoon (i.e. not too runny). If your mix is a bit thick, add some more dairy free milk, if it’s too runny, add a little more chickpea flour. Let the mix sit for a minute or two.

Dollop a heaped spoonful of mix onto the prepared baking tray and spread out a little with the back of the spoon. Repeat until the mix is used up. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or so until the top has set. Flip the fritter over and cook for another 10 minutes until the base is browned. Serve with freshly made chunky cucumber guacamole (link here soon).

Onion bhajis – a super food?

I remember my first visit to an Indian restaurant so well. It was my then boyfriend’s sixteenth birthday and my parents had given me the money to take him out for a meal. I felt so sophisticated! Our food at home was very traditional British, so a curry house seemed exotic and slightly overwhelming. Fortunately my boyfriend was more experienced than me in Indian cuisine, and advised me on my menu choices – onion bhaji to start followed by a chicken korma.

It seems strange to say, but I found the korma a bit spicy! But I loved the crispy, crunchy texture of the bhaji, with it’s softer doughy centre, and it’s been a favourite ever since, although quality really does vary and those times when you end up with a soggy, greasy lump on your plate are most disappointing.

Onion bhajis are a definite British curry house favourite. Consumed as more of a teatime snack in India, they are part of the wider pakora family. Found less frequently in the UK, I discovered pakoras when we first moved to India. They are basically anything covered in a chickpea batter and deep fried. We used to order veg pakoras and try to work out which vegetable was underneath the opaque golden batter.

As delicious as pakora and bhajis are, there is a problem with them – the amount of oil that is absorbed into the batter as they are deep fried. Of course, it’s the frying that makes the batter so crispy, but cooking in refined oil not only increases the fat content but the molecular make up of the fats change when used at such a high heat. This is not good for What is good for our bodies, however, are the onions. Universally used in every cuisine around the world, onions are packed full of flavonoids and anti-oxidants that are beneficial to health, as well as a moderate amount of vitamins, minerals and fibre. The key phytonutrient is quercitin. Research shows that quercitin has a number of amazing roles in the body, and has been used in herbal medicine since ancient times. It acts as an anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral role, helping to support the immune system and protect against infectious diseases. Quercitin also helps prevent cancer developing, can help thin the blood and prevent blood clots and increase good HDL cholesterol whilst preventing bad LDL cholesterol from becoming toxic and attacking arteries. Pretty amazing stuff from one small bulb!

Interestingly, studies show that quercitin is much less effective when extracted and used in supplement form. Interaction with other phytonutrients make an onion a much more effective source, so consuming them in your diet is best. Of course, raw is best but onions are packed full of sulphur-containing compounds that can make them difficult to eat uncooked, so eating them anyway you can is all good.

So, how to make an onion bhaji tasty, crispy and healthy? The trick is to use the water in the onions to combine with the flour and stick everything together. This way, you don’t need a batter as such, and you don’t need to add any refined oil at all, just bake at a high temperature and the sugars in the onions will naturally caramelise and crisp up. They taste just as good, you can make them as spicy as you like and you know your body will love you for it. They’re dairy free, gluten free and fat free – but totally delicious!

Super food onion bhaji
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 heaped tablespoons of chickpea/gram flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
pinch turmeric
fresh chopped coriander
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together well, then put to one side for 5 minutes or so (up to 20). The salt will draw out the water in the onions and help bind everything together. When you’re ready, pick up a small amount in your hand and squeeze it together – you’ll be able to see if it will stick. You may need to add a little more chickpea flour. Use a spoonful at a time, and squeeze together to form a blob, then place on a slightly greased baking tray. Place in the oven at 200°c and bake for 15 – 20 minutes until golden. You may like to turn them half way through. Serve hot with slices of lemon and chutney of your choice. Enjoy!