Category Archives: Main Course

Vietnamese Tofu Pho

Vietnamese Tofu Pho

My social life has taken a bit of a hit recently. Being insistent on getting home for 8/8.30pm to watch every episode of Masterchef as and when it’s broadcast can have that effect. I’m not ashamed to say it: I am addicted to this show. There’s tension, there’s drama, there’s more sexy-looking food than you can shake a ginger tuile at, and above all there’s hilarious slow motion walks designed to show the contestants ‘mean business’ at the start of every episode. Watching this show has elevated me from my assumed status as a passionate foodie into an amateur critic, despairing when a contestant refuses to take John’s advice and TIDY UP THEIR DAMN PRESENTATION.

My annoyance at the contestant’s shortcomings eventually led to me realising my own, because the fact is that I am not good at creating a good looking plate of food. I deal in big portions, generally slapped hastily onto a bowl or plate as quickly as possible due to my irrational fear of food going cold after it’s been off the heat for more than ten seconds. As a general rule I’m all about the taste, but it’s a simple truth that we judge based on initial appearances, and food is no exception. John was of course right, and I needed to tidy up my own damn presentation.

So this week I’ve been working on creating dishes that look as good as they taste, and my Vietnamese Tofu Pho (I hope you’ll agree) is one of my biggest success stories so far. A few years ago I spent two weeks in Vietnam, travelling from Hanoi down to Ho Chi Minh city, and I fell in love with the country. Whenever anyone so much as casually mentions they’re thinking of going there I immediately cut in with ‘it’s the best place I’ve ever visited, go, go now, go today, I’ll book your flight for you’. When asked what’s so great about it, I start off talking about the beautiful scenery, the culture, the mix of vibrant cities and stunning coastlines, and then I eventually move onto what will always be the biggest seller for me: the food. Vietnamese cuisine is of course already incredibly popular over here, and you can get some really authentic, tasty dishes at many restaurants. But they will never compare to a steaming bowl of pho, bought for the equivalent of £1 and enjoyed sitting on the world’s smallest stool inside a street cafe.

Pho is a big bowl of noodle soup loveliness, generally made with beef or chicken, it is wonderfully clean, refreshing, and packed with aromatic flavour. As it’s a fairly simple dish, the meat tends to be the star of the show, meaning a veggie version could potentially be rather difficult. When I first made this dish I was expecting some of the flavour to be lost with the absence of meat, but found that the tofu fried with rich soy sauce is a tasty substitution that also adds an interesting new texture to the dish. Tofu can be a scary ingredient to cook with if you never have before, as it needs a bit of prior treatment before it hits the pan. I’ve detailed in the recipe below how I cook and prepare tofu, and you can find more advice on cooking with it here.

Another big difference in cooking a vegetarian pho is the stock. Generally it would be a meaty stock, but of course that doesn’t work for this dish. For my stock I cheated slightly and used a Pho stock cube (pictured below), I found these in a specialist food shop, but they’re also common in Chinese supermarkets. If you can’t find them though simply use a good quality veg stock cube and simmer with a cinnamon stick, a couple of cardamon pods, cloves, and star anise – remembering to drain the stock through a thin sieve before serving.

Vietnamese Tofu Pho

Serves Two

Preparation Time: 30 minutes  Cooking Time: 10 minutes


For the noodle soup:

1 Pho stock cube + 500ml boiled water

1 Pack firm tofu

Splash of sesame oil

2 Tsps dark soy sauce

300g Wide rice noodles


2 Handfuls beansprouts

4 Spring onions

10 Coriander leaves

5 Sprigs Asian basil

1 Birdseye chili

1 Lime

Splash of light soy sauce (optional)


  1. First prepare your tofu. To do this open the packet and drain the excess liquid, then cut into five slices width-ways, about 2cm thick. Wrap each piece of tofu in a couple of sheets of kitchen roll, place the tofu pieces next to each other and put two heavy books on top. Leave for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare your garnishes. Finely chop the coriander and Asian basil. Slice the spring onion and chili into thin disks, and cut the lime into four slices. I then placed all my garnishes in their separate sections onto a plate, to make it easier when serving.
  3. When the tofu is about five minutes from being ready, put your noodles onto boil.
  4. Cut the tofu into square chunks, as big or small as you like depending on your preference.
  5. Put your stock onto simmer.
  6. Heat the sesame oil in a wide frying pan or wok, when it is hot drop the tofu pieces into the pan. When they are fried on all sides, add the dark soy sauce to the pan. Cook in the soy sauce until the tofu takes on a rich brown colour.
  7. To serve, drain the noodles and place in the middle of a wide bowl. Place a handful of bean sprouts carefully on top and ladle in the stock. Carefully spoon the tofu pieces on top of the beansprouts in the middle of the dish, scatter over the garnishes as you like, and place two lime wedges on the side of both bowls.

Sweet and Spicy Tarka Dhal – Vegetarian Curry

Sweet and Spicy Tarka Dhal

Of all my least favourite questions, ‘So, when are you planning on… (insert big life decision here)?’,  is only just surpassed by; ‘What’s your favourite kind of food?’ This is a question I cannot rightfully answer. How is it possible to choose just one cuisine when there is literally an entire world of rich and exciting possibilities? On saying this, I have once or twice played the ‘if you had to choose…’ game, and come to the conclusion that if I really, really HAD to, I would choose to eat curry for the rest of my life.

I just cannot get enough of it. It’s everything I love about food: bursting with flavour, hot and spicy, varied. It’s also been my go-to cuisine of choice on many occasions, as above all else; it’s a cuisine that’s brilliant for vegetarians as well as meat eaters. They take vegetarian cooking seriously in India, which means there’s a wealth of choice when it comes to making a vegetarian curry – it’s not all about paneer and peas.

A lot of vegetarian curry dishes are designed as sides or starters, which I’ve found can mean they become a bit tiresome as a main. This isn’t necessarily the case for all dishes – this paneer and spinach recipe is as interesting as any meat curry I’ve ever had – and I’ve found a great way to vary the ones that are designed as small plates, is to serve them with different sides . The first time I cooked tarka dhaal I found it incredibly tasty, but given the smooth consistency the experience of eating it became a bit boring about halfway through. To counteract this I tried serving it with a half-portion of brown rice and some spiced sweet potato wedges – the result was a dish of varying textures, and a beautiful mix of sweet and spicy. Delicious.

This is another dish that’s great to cook when you’re running low on fresh ingredients. Red lentils are the perfect staple for the store cupboard. You can buy them cheaply in big bags and they add texture and substance to a number of dishes, namely soup, stews, and curries. They’re also quick and easy to cook, and a great source of fibre, protein, and iron. There’s a number of different spices involved with this recipe: garam masala, turmeric, cumin, coriander; all of which cost about £1 (depending on which supermarket you go to), and keep in the cupboard indefinitely. If you do a lot of Indian cooking, or even just cook curry once a month, I think they’re well worth buying in as staple components of the cuisine.

Sweet and Spicy Tarka Dhal

Serves Two

Preparation time: 10 mins        Cooking time: approx. 30 mins


For the tarka dhal: 

300g red lentils

1 tsp turmeric and garam masala

1/2 tsp dried coriander and cumin seeds

Handful of cherry tomatoes

1 small red onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 or 2 chillies, chopped

Thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated

1 tsp butter

To serve:

1 large sweet potato

1 tsp chili powder

Brown rice

Fresh coriander


1. Warm the oven to around 200 degrees and prepare the sweet potato wedges – I like to make them skin-on and chunky – place the wedges on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and chili powder, and rub in so that each wedge is coated.

TOP TIP: placing the wedges skin down on the tray makes them a lot easier to remove when cooked.


2. When the wedges are in the oven, place the lentils in a deep pan and pour over boiling water to about a finger’s width above. Bring the lentils to the boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the top with a large spoon, and stir in the turmeric and butter.

3. Turn down the heat and leave the lentils gently cooking away. Start cooking the brown rice (takes approximately 20 to 25 minutes).

4. In a separate pan fry the cumin seeds in a drop of oil, when they’re sizzling to satisfaction throw the onion, garlic, chilli, and ginger into the pan.

5. When the onion has softened add in the chopped tomatoes, garam masala, and coriander, cook until the tomatoes have softened and stir the mixture into the lentils.

6. Serve up the sweet potato wedges and brown rice, top the rice with the lentil curry, and sprinkle over some fresh coriander.

‘Meaty’ Vegetarian Chilli Recipe

Vegetarian Chili

Hello and welcome to my new food blog! My name is Jess – or ‘The Hungry Northener’ – as no one has called me, ever. I am however, a Northener living in London, and am generally in a permanent state of hunger. Except of course when I’m eating lots of delicious food – whether that’s prepared by me, bought from one of London’s many amazing street food markets, or served at a restaurant. The point is, I LOVE food; all of it, all the time. I also love writing, so to write about food seemed a natural life choice.

I’m also an accidental part-time vegetarian, due to recently moving in with my full-time vegetarian boyfriend, who no matter how much my mum badgers, simply will not just give in and eat a bit of steak. My food journey over the past several months has been finding and developing recipes that work for both of us; that are veggie but don’t leave me feeling like something was lacking. My ‘Meaty’ Vegetarian Chili is a prime example – and it also happens to be one of my all-time favourite meals.

I come from a big family and grew up on dishes like chili con carne, spag bol, and chicken curry – anything that you can easily make large quantities of in a big pan. Catering to four kids’ fussy requirements is no mean feat, and chili con carne was the dish that had it all: meaty enough for my protein-mad brother, spicy enough for me (did I mention I have a penchant for food, like, off-the-chart level spicy?), and yet not too spicy for my two korma-loving sisters. Since moving out of my family home I have continued to love chili just as much. It’s a great meal for when you’re nearing the end of available fresh food, but don’t quite want to buy any more, as most of the ingredients are from the cupboard. It’s an easy dish to throw together at the end of a long day, and most crucially; it’s undoubtedly delicious.

When I first ate vegetarian chili it was of the ‘five bean’ variety – substituting mince for an extra tin of mixed beans. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but as someone used to getting a meat fix from my meals, I found it slightly samey. After substituting those extra beans for quorn mince, I fell in love with the dish once more, and as an incidental bonus – quorn is a less fatty source of protein than regular mince.

Everyone has their own way of cooking this delicious dish made for sharing, and the best thing about it is that you can add stuff in as you go along, depending on what strikes your fancy. Traditionally I’d eaten mine with white or brown rice, but recently discovered it works well with cous cous or bulgar wheat, as the grains don’t dilute the flavour as much as rice. I’d generally cook the dish with a beef stock cube, as it gives that depth of meaty flavour that you miss without the meat, but if you want to steer clear of any meat products a good splash of Lea and Perrins will do the trick.

‘Meaty’ Vegetarian Chili Recipe

Serves four


2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 red and 1 green pepper, cut into small chunks

1 chili – if you like it spicy

1 small pack of quorn mince

1 can of kidney beans (or mixed beans)

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato puree

1 tsp each cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper

1  beef stock cube or 1 tbsp Lea and Perrins

A good glug of red wine (optional)

To serve

Small pot of low-fat natural yoghurt

1 tsp dry chives

Cous cous, bulgar wheat, or rice

Lime wedge (optional)


1. Heat some olive oil in a large deep pan and fry the onion until slightly softened, then add in the garlic, chili, and peppers.

2. When all the veg has softened, add in the quorn mince, cooked until it is mostly defrosted (it will cook completely during the simmering process) and then add the kidney beans, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, red wine, and Lea and Perrins if using.

3. Add all the spices – and crumble in the beef stock cube if using – do a taste check and add in more if it needs it, season with salt and pepper, and leave to simmer for 15 to 20 mins.

4. While your chili is gently cooking away, pour the natural yoghurt into a small bowl, add a teaspoon of dried chives, and mix well.

5. Prepare the cous cous, bulgar wheat, or rice according to the packet instructions, and serve with a generous dollop of the yoghurt and chive garnish, and a quarter slice of lime each.

If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers,  the chili makes a great lunch to take to work and eat with toasted pitta bread.