Courgette compendium

One of the outcomes of lockdown for us is we have had time to create new raised beds to start growing our own veggies. This is actually the third time we’ve done this (we kept moving!) and these ones are by far the best. For a start, we have much more space (oh boy do we have space!) rather than squeezing them into a small corner of a small garden as before. That’s not to say that growing veggies in a small space is not worth it. It definitely is. We also spent more time researching and learning how to grow in tandem with nature. Less impact, more output.

This end bed isn’t finished yet – a good place to deposit grass cuttings.

Not that I can really take much credit for our lovely new beds! My hubby spent more time and energy researching and building them. After much debate he chose to use a technique called hugelkultur. A centuries old technique from Germany and Easter Europe, it uses garden debris as the source of nutrients needed for new plants to grow. It’s basically a big compost heap!

We wanted to build up a structure to our beds, so we used wood to create an outline and dug down a little into the soil, taking off the grass layer and a little more. This gave a large area that needed filling – fortunately we have a lot of garden debris to use! A few logs on the base were covered with more tree cuttings, then grass cuttings, stuff from the compost bins, more grass, some sand, then the top grass layer we cut out, the soil dug out and finally finished with some bought organic compost (as we wanted to use them now). We buried so much! Covered up, the debris will break down, releasing nutrients into the soil providing nourishment for our fresh produce. Well that was the plan – we were not too sure how well it would work year one…..

Beans and squash going rampant!

I am pleased to say, so far so good! The squash in particular are going crazy and the beans are prolific. And the courgettes that were planted rather late are just beginning to flourish. So much so, I see a glut coming in a few weeks time!

Courgettes are funny vegetables. I love them now, but used to hate them as a kid. Their high water content can make them tricky to cook. In soups and stews they have the potential to make them too watery, fritters and veggie cakes too wet and steamed they can go from firm to a horrid mush in the blink of an eye. But on a good day, with the right treatment, they are a delight.

Nutrition wise, courgettes are excellent sources of vitamin C, potassium and phytonutrients like betacarotene, zeaxanthin and lutein. You’ll also find a reasonable does of B vitamins, manganese and vitamin K (which is in the news at the moment relating to the Covid 19 virus). Vitamin C and phytonutrients play an antioxidant role in the body, quashing damaging free radicals. Betacarotene, zeaxanthin and lutein all support eye health which is good to know if you are at risk of macular degeneration or other age-related eye conditions. Potassium is important for good blood pressure control and is a key player in cell health. It’s easily lost once food is processed, so eating courgettes raw or lightly cooked can really support your health. If you’re interested in how to manage your blood pressure or health issues with food, we discuss this in much more detail in my online course.

If you are heading into a glut of courgettes – lucky you! There’s so much you can make with them. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make summer soups. This courgette and cumin soup is particularly tasty
  • Add them to pasta sauces, veggie chillis, stir fries, fajitas or risotto. This red rice risotto works well with courgettes.
  • Stuff them! One of the recipes on my Eat Well Live Well course is a gorgeous aduki bean stuffed courgette boat (another good reason to take the course 😉 )
  • It’s getting a bit retro now, but use them to make courgetti. Here’s a BBC Food article about what to do.
  • If you squeeze out excess water, courgettes make tasty fritters and veggie cakes.
  • sweet courgette loaf

    Make cake! Oh yes, courgettes provide moisture and nutrients to cake – it’s a great way to get courgette haters on board! Try this easy courgette loaf cake.

I’ll be experimenting with more recipes over the next few months by the looks of it, so no doubt you’ll see more ideas on the blog soon as we work our way through them. What are your favourite courgette recipes? I’d love to know.

As for our veg garden, it has a lot of room for development. I can see many more beds being built over the next couple of years as we learn more about growing our own food in a way that supports and sustains our local ecosystem. We’re not aiming for self-sufficiency, but being plant-based we certainly hope to grow more than we buy. Let’s see what happens!

Courgette and cumin soup

Are you still struggling with a glut of courgettes? Then you will be so grateful for having an abundant harvest when you try this soup.

You may feel that courgette soup is a bit weird, maybe a little thin and watery or flavourless. Fear not – this super easy soup tastes absolutely amazing and is so simple to make that your glut will disappear in a flash as you bulk make and freeze in portions for later on in the year, a tasty reminder of warmer days on a chilly winters evening! It’s thick and creamy but still dairy free.

Cumin is a very popular spice in our house, being a key ingredient in many Mexican, Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. Slightly peppery and distinctly aromatic, cumin adds a wonderfully deep and seductive flavour to dishes and works amazingly in this soup. Whilst there are some nutritional goodies tucked inside, cumin’s great coup is it’s positive effect on the digestion.

Cumin has been used traditionally in Ayruvedic medicine in India for centuries as a digestive aid and expeller of gas, quite handy if you eat a mainly plant based diet! Special phytonutrients not only help stimulate gut motility, so moving things along inside the intestines, but can also stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes in the pancreas to aid digestion and the assimilation of nutrients. I visited an Ayurvedic day spa whilst living in Bangalore (my synchronised Ayurvedic massage was quite an experience – definitely not relaxing!) and was presented with lukewarm water seasoned with cumin seeds before lunch as a digestive aid. It was rather enjoyable once I’d got used to. In fact, the aroma of toasted cumin seeds always brings back fond, if funny, memories of that day.

So why not give this a go and spice up your courgette glut with this tasty aromatic soup – your gut will love you for it!

Courgette and cumin soup

Courgette and cumin soup 
1 large onion chopped,
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large potato, diced
1 large stick celery, chopped
3-4 large courgettes, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
sprinkle of celery salt
750mls vegetable stock
salt and pepper
To finish – soya yoghurt, toasted cumin, parsley
Heat a dash of oil in a large pan and sauté the onion and cumin seeds for 5 minutes or so until the onion has softened and the seeds are lightly toasted. Add the potato and celery and cook for another few minutes, then stir in the courgettes and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly so the vegetables don’t stick.
Pour in enough stock to cover the vegetable, don’t just use it all in one go as the courgettes release a lot of water and may make the soup too thin. Add the celery salt and simmer for 15-20 minutes until all the vegetable are soft and the aroma smells rich and gorgeous. Season with salt and pepper to taste and leave to cool slightly.
Blend the soup until smooth, add more of the stock if it’s too thick, then reheat gently. Toast some more cumin seeds to garnish if you wish and serve with the toppings or a good glug of extra virgin olive oil. Enjoy.

Courgette loaf – sweet not savoury

I read an article recently in which a ‘celebrity baker’ scoffed at those who include fruit and vegetables as a key ingredient in their cake. Well, I have to disagree, even though I’m not a professional baker! Some of my favourite bakes include a good helping of veg – sweet potato chocolate brownies, carrot cake and my new favourite, courgette loaf. They may have a different consistency to your traditional baked cake (watching Great British Bake Off, I’m in awe of their delicate crumb!), but I like a sweet treat that’s gooey, substantial and full of goodness, so veg in cake is just fine by me.

So as part of my mini-series on what to do with the mass of courgette around at the moment, here’s a great little cake to try for afternoon tea. Well, it’s more of a loaf, similar to banana bread than a Victoria Sponge, but nevertheless it’s still cake in my book! It is dense, but in a sticky, satisfactory way, reminiscent of bread pudding but a million times lighter!

The benefit of using veg or fruit in baking is added moisture; the potential problem with courgette is that they are 95% water, which could make your cake a soggy, heavy disaster. To prevent this, just squeeze some excess water out of the courgettes once they’re grated. You could do this through a clean tea towel, but it’s a bit messy and you can end up spending ages picking up bits of courgette from odd places (or maybe that’s just me….?). An easy way is to pack it into a measuring cup or small pot and press it down so the water rises to the top and then drain that off, holding your hand over the top. Don’t take off too much though, otherwise your cake will suffer.

This cake really is super healthy – it’s dairy free, can be gluten free, plant based, contains minimal refined sugar and is packed full of lovely nutrients and fibre. On top of that, it is also refined oil free, the apple sauce replacing the oil in this instance. Not that fat is bad, far from it, but refined oils such as sunflower or vegetable oils take their toll on our cellular health and so should be minimised as much as possible. To add a little fat into the mix, pop in some chopped walnuts or pecans – the flavour, texture and nutritional value will be happy if you do!

The downside of cutting out refined products in this cake is shelf life – oil and sugar act as preservatives, so best keep this loaf in the fridge and use it up within 3 days. Mind you, once you taste it, that won’t be a problem! Enjoy.

Yummy courgette loaf cake
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons water
240g wholemeal/spelt/gluten free flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 medium courgette, grated (small)
100g coconut sugar (or other minimally refined brown sugar)
160g apple sauce
10mls lemon juice
50g raisins and/or chopped walnuts
Place the ground flaxseed and water into a bowl and mix well. Put to one side to thicken – this is your flaxseed ‘egg’.
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc. Grease a 2lb loaf tin and line with baking paper.
Place the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into another bowl and mix well together. Add the sugar, lemon juice and apple sauce to the flaxseed mixture and stir well, then add the courgette and stir again. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and quickly combine together – don’t over mix. Stir in the raisins and nuts (if using) and pour into the prepared loaf tin. Tap the tin on the worktop to level and stop the raising agent working too quickly, then pop in the oven.

Bake for 25 mins then check – the loaf should be slightly risen and lightly browned on top. Stick a skewer or cocktail stick into the cake – if it comes out coated with mixture, pop back into the oven for another few minutes until done. Remove from the oven, leave to cool for 10 minutes or so, then tip out onto a cooling rack, carefully peel off the baking paper and let it cool completely.

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).