How to Make Gravy

As the weather cools, I’ve started thinking about more autumnal dishes like casseroles, soups, and pot roasts. And what goes better with a roast than a steaming boat of gravy?

Just like stock, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago (link), gravy is easy to make from a powder. But, just like stock, it’s surprisingly easy to make your own too!

Like stock, gravy is essentially flavourful water. However, gravy tends to be thicker and richer than stock.

To thicken your gravy, you can use flour – either wheat flour (in a roux), or cornflour. I wrote about both these techniques in my post on How to Make a White Sauce (link), but for convenience I’ve copied it below.

The classic technique to thicken gravy is called a roux. A roux starts by frying a spoonful of wheat flour in a little butter or oil. You have to be careful at this stage that the flour is cooked, or the resulting sauce will taste floury. You also have to be careful to avoid lumps – one way to do this is to add the flour to chopped onions, rather than directly into the pan. After a few minutes of frying, you can add some stock. To avoid lumps (again), you need to add it very slowly at first, and keep stirring!

It can be quite easy to get a roux wrong, so the thickening method I prefer is cornflour. Simply mix together one spoonful of cornflour with one spoonful of cold water. Then, add the cornflour mix to your sauce. The great thing about this method is that it can be done last-minute, there’s no floury aftertaste, it’s a lot easier to avoid lumps, and it’s even gluten-free!

To make your gravy rich and flavourful, start with some stock. This can be from a stock cube, or just the water you used to boil the vegetables. In fact, using ingredients like vegetable water is a great way to make sure your gravy really suits the meal you’re serving. You can also add any meat juices that are released during cooking, or even leftover oil from roasting vegetables!

Of course, you can also use herbs and spices to add flavour to a gravy. Rosemary, sage, parsley, and thyme are great classics to start with, but you could also try making a mint gravy to go with lamb, or basil for a slight Mediterranean twist.

You can even use other sauces in your gravy – if you’re serving turkey why not melt a little cranberry jelly into the gravy? Or you could add a spoon of honey and a dash of mustard to go with pork or chicken.

Gravy is a great part of a meal to experiment with, especially since it’s often made using ingredients that might otherwise simply be thrown away. Why not give it a go next time you make a roast?

How to Make Vegetable Soup

As the weather cools down, I’m looking forward to cooking some more warming dishes. And what’s better on a cold day than a hot bowl of soup?

There are so many different kinds of soup, that I thought it would be good to start with the general technique. If you’d like some more specific recipes, let me know!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a large saucepan
  • a measuring jug
  • a kettle

and the ingredients:

  • A little oil
  • onions
  • herbs and spices
  • vegetables
  • stock (link) or stock cube

 

Start by placing your saucepan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and chop your onion. (For soup that cooks quickly, dice your onion (like this), but if you’ve got a bit more time slices (link) or even chunks of onion (link) are fine.)

Add your onion to the pan, along with any dried herbs or spices you want to use. I like to use garlic and ginger in most dishes, and the other spices I use depend on what vegetables I’m using. For example tomato and basil is a classic combination, as is carrot and coriander.

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mix of diced onion, herbs and spices

Gently fry your onions until they’re slightly golden and see-through. Then add your stock. You need about as much stock as you want soup – I recommend about 250ml or half a pint per person. Put the lid on, and bring it to a gentle boil.

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mix of diced onion, herbs and spices, and stock

Chop your vegetables and add them to the soup. So that everything cooks evenly, start with the vegetables that take longest (like carrots), and end with the vegetables that need the least cooking (like green vegetables). If you’re not sure how long something takes to cook, check out the Techniques tab here on How to Chop a Carrot.

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mix of diced vegetables and stock

Once all the vegetables are soft all the way through, your soup is cooked. But if you want to make it thicker or stronger, you can leave it cooking for a bit longer. Before serving, make sure to taste your soup and add any salt or fresh herbs you want to add.

Photograph of a white bowl full of soup

A hearty bowl of vegetable soup is great with melted cheese and a slice of toast, or why not spice it up and serve with egg and noodles?

Soup is such a versatile dish; it’s great for using up leftovers. (Even those half-used jars of sauce lurking in your fridge.) You can even blend everything together after cooking to make a really thick, smooth soup.

If you make soup with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

 

 

How to Make Stock

It’s back to basics this week with a common ingredient for adding flavour to dishes – stock. You probably already know how to make stock from a stock cube, but did you know it’s surprisingly easy to make from scratch?

Stock is, quite simply, water with added flavour. Whenever you boil ingredients in water, some of the flavours (and nutrients) mix with the water. In fact, when you boil vegetables you’re pretty much making vegetable stock at the same time!

Most stocks, however, have more flavour than vegetable water. You can make stock more concentrated, in other words stronger, either by putting in more ingredients or by boiling off more water.

Let’s start with what kind of ingredients you can use for stock. As I said above, you can boil vegetables in water to make a vegetable stock. You can use any combination, but a classic is onion, carrot, and celery (known as a mirepoix).

You can make fish, chicken, or meat stocks by using the parts you might otherwise just throw away – the skin and bones. In fact, making stock is a great way to get the most out of your food.

Now for the method.

Start by chopping your vegetables. The smaller you chop them, the faster the flavour will mix with the water. However, if you’ve got plenty of time for your stock to cook, chunks of vegetables (about an inch on each side) are fine. Bones and skin usually don’t need chopping.

Cover your ingredients with water, and a lid, in a large saucepan or slow cooker. At this stage, it’s better to have too much water than too little. Too little water and your stock can burn, but you can always boil off excess water later.

Boil your ingredients for at least half an hour. As long as there’s enough water left, there isn’t really an upper time limit for making stock. It will just keep getting stronger the longer you boil it for.

Drain your ingredients. Remember to save the water – that’s now your stock! If you don’t think your stock has enough flavour yet, you can put it back in the saucepan and boil it very gently without a lid. (The fancy name for this step is reducing down.)

You can use your stock as soon as it’s cooked, but if you won’t be using it for a while, pop it in the freezer to keep it fresh.

And that’s it! Why not try it the next time you have some ingredients going spare? And come back later this month to find out how to turn stock into soup, or gravy!

How to Make Coleslaw

This is the last of my trio of summer side salads. Coleslaw is a simple mix of carrot, onion, and cabbage in a creamy sauce, but they complement each other perfectly!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a mixing bowl
  • a spoon or two

and the ingredients:

  • carrot
  • cabbage
  • onion/spring onion
  • mayonnaise
  • salad cream (or vinegar)

Start by slicing your onion as thinly as you can. (You can find my cutting tutorial here.) If you find white onions too sharp, red onions are milder, and spring onions are milder still.

Thinly slice your cabbage (tutorial here), and grate your carrot (grating tips here). Put your sliced onion and cabbage, and grated carrot into a large mixing bowl.

Photograph of thinly sliced cabbage and white onion, and grated carrot in a stainless steel mixing bowl

(Save the carrot for last because, once cut, it can oxidise and turn brown. It’s still perfectly edible, but it doesn’t look as good. The sauce, which is the next step, will prevent air getting to the carrot and so prevent oxidisation. )

The sauce for coleslaw is very similar to that for potato salad (you can find my potato salad recipe here). Simply mix equal parts mayonnaise and salad cream. Alternatively, use mayonnaise and a little vinegar for a tangy sauce.

Photograph of thinly sliced cabbage and white onion, grated carrot, two large dollops of mayonnaise and a splash of vinegar in a stainless steel mixing bowl

Mix everything together really thoroughly – using a fork will help break up the onion and cabbage. And it’s ready to serve!

Photograph of coleslaw in a white ceramic dish

Coleslaw is a really refreshing dish, and even though it’s a classic it’s fun to play with too! Try using different types of cabbage, or even brussels sprouts! Or you could add beetroot to complement the carrot, or some finely chopped nuts to make the sauce even creamier. And of course, you can add herbs and spices to make it even more flavoursome!

If you make coleslaw with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Chop a Spring Onion

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Spring onions (also called green onions) have a much milder flavour than mature onions. They’re less likely to make your eyes water, and they’re perfect for salads and sandwiches.

To prepare spring onions, start by chopping ½cm or so off the root end. Also, remove the dried out ends of the leaves.

Hand drawing of a spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

If you have a whole leaf that’s dried out (like the top one in the picture above),  simply peel it off the onion.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion

Now depending on what you want to use your spring onion for, you may want to cut strips or slices.

 

Strips of spring onion are my first choice for sandwiches, and they’re good for stir-fries too.

Start by chopping your spring onion into sections, the same length you want your strips to be.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Then simply halve each section twice lengthwise. Because of the layers inside the onion, you’ll get lovely thin strips.

Hand drawing of two chunks of spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

Slices of spring onion are great for mixing in with salads, and I like them in soups too. Simply cut off slices about ½ cm thick. I recommend working from both ends into the middle, to help the onion stay together while you cut it.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

There are so many cold dishes that benefit from a little spring onion, including mixed salads that I wrote about here. They’re also great in potato salad and coleslaw! For hot dishes like stir fry (recipe here), I’d recommend no more than 5 minutes on the heat.

One last thing about spring onions – they don’t tend to keep as well as mature onions, so make sure to use them up!

How to Make Pasta Salad

Pasta salad has long been a favourite summer side dish of mine. It’s full of rich tomato flavour, but it’s light enough to eat even on the hottest days!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • 2 saucepans

and the ingredients (for four portions):

  • A little oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • mixed herbs
  • basil
  • pasta

Start by placing your larger saucepan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onion)

Add your onion to the pan, along with a generous sprinkle of mixed herbs and basil. (A little dried garlic also helps add to the flavour.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing diced onion and dried herbs

Gently fry the onion until it becomes translucent, and a slightly golden colour. (A little splash of vinegar can help speed up this stage.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing diced onion and dried herbs. The onions are now slightly golden and translucent

Add your tinned tomatoes. (Remember to wash out the tin with a little water so as not to waste any.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mixed of diced onion and tomatoesHeat your sauce to a gentle simmer (a constant, quiet bubble), and let it bubble away while you cook your pasta. (If you’re not sure how to tell when your pasta’s cooked, check out last week’s post here.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing cooked macaroni pasta

Taste your sauce. The great thing about this sauce is that you can cook it really quickly and keep the flavours of the individual ingredients, or cook it long and slow so it all blends together. (Just make sure to put a lid on it, and make sure it doesn’t dry out.) I usually cook it for about 20 minutes, then add a little tomato puree (or ketchup) for richness.

Once you’re satisfied with your sauce, mix together the sauce and pasta. You could also add some chopped olives or pickles, if you want.

Photograph of a saucepan containing macaroni pasta in a sauce of tomatoes and onions

And it’s ready to serve! Perfect for picnics and barbecues!

Photograph of a white bowl containing pasta salad, with a single olive on top

This is quite a simple recipe, so it’s a great one to experiment with! Why not try adding paprika or chilli along with the herbs, or adding some bell peppers in with the chopped tomatoes?

If you make pasta salad with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Make Quinoa Salad

This was one of my first inventions that I was really proud of! It’s a great summer dish, and a really satisfying salad.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a saucepan
  • a large mixing bowl
  • a kettle
  • a measuring jug

and the ingredients (for 4 people):

  • 200-250ml quinoa
  • 1 stock cube
  • garlic
  • coriander / cilantro
  • 2 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • frozen peas, such as petits pois
  • 16 cherry tomatoes
  • cucumber

Start by washing the quinoa and leave it to drain. (I wrote in more detail about quinoa here, so if there’s anything that’s unclear please check it out!)

Place your saucepan on a gentle heat, and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions). Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), then your diced onion, garlic, and coriander.

Photograph of a saucepan containing diced onion, coriander and garlic powderBoil a kettle and mix together the stock, according to the instructions. Add the quinoa, then the stock, to the saucepan. (Remember: use three times as much liquid as quinoa.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing onion, stock, quinoa, and seasoning

Dice the carrots (you can find more detailed instructions here), then add them to the saucepan.

Photograph of a saucepan containing onion, carrot, and quinoa

Put a lid on the saucepan, and let it boil gently for 20 minutes.

While the saucepan is boiling, dice your tomato and cucumber. (You can find more detailed instructions here: tomato, cucumber.) Put the frozen peas, and the tomato, in a large mixing bowl, but keep the cucumber separate for now.

Photograph of a large mixing bowl with diced tomatoes and peas in

Once the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid, it should be cooked.

30 Quinoa salad (18)

Add the cooked ingredients to the mixing bowl. This will thaw out the peas, and cool the quinoa mix at the same time. Finally, add the cucumber.

Photograph of a large mixing bowl containing quinoa, peas, diced carrot, tomato, and cucumber

I like this salad best when it’s just made and still slightly warm, but if you’re not going to eat it straight away remember to chill it in the fridge.

I originally designed this recipe as an accompaniment to falafel, but garlic and coriander are such versatile flavours that it goes with nearly anything! You could add some beans, have it with a burger, or even diced ham!

Photograph of a white bowl filled with quinoa salad, topped with diced ham

If you make quinoa salad with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!