“Don’t like beans” with olive oil, garlic and lemon

Lexie is a good eater so it’s always funny when she doesn’t like something… “Don’t like beans mummy.” I find this one quite hard to understand because she loves lentils and chickpeas! Luckily she sometimes forgets what beans are so as long as I call them something else (‘baby chickpeas’) she’ll give them a go. Especially if she has flowers painted on her face!


My favourite quick staple meal is beans with lots of olive oil, crushed garlic, lemon and salt. The original recipe is from Gwyneth Paltrow’s first cookbook (not the macrobiotic one!) using giant butterbeans but I’ve made it many many times with chickpeas and cannellini beans. Lexie really likes it too despite it’s garlickyness (I leave out the salt for her). It’s very easy to adapt the recipe and make a warm version more suited to winter – see variations below. I love this recipe hot or cold – the hot version is delicious soothing comfort food, the cold version just lemony garlicky heaven. Both ways take less than 5 mins to prepare, are incredibly cheap and leave you feeling nourished as beans are so good for you.

Beans with olive oil, garlic and lemon

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: None (unless using dried beans instead of canned beans – see note below)
Budget: Under £5 (beans 60p, lemon 30p, spring onions 80p)

  • Giant butterbeans or cannellini beans or chickpeas – Brindisa Spanish foods sell delicious jars of chickpeas and giant butterbeans that you can get from their shop or Ocado OR cheaper at M&S. Normal tins are fine but avoid Sainsbury’s tinned beans – they’re horrid! (1 tin is two small portions or one big portion)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove of crushed garlic
  • 1 or 2 sliced spring onions
  • Lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chopped herbs like basil or parsley – optional
  • Watercress salad (any salad is nice – see variations below)

Open, drain and rinse the beans. Crush the garlic and add to the beans with a generous drizzle of olive oil. If using basil or parsley add them now with the spring onion. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice, season to taste and serve with watercress/salad.

  • The Gwynnie recipe adds griddled prawns which I’ve tried and is nice. She also marinates the beans for at least an hour in the fridge which I don’t think is necessary.
  • When using chickpeas I usually add courgette carpaccio – thin shavings or grated courgette – with the same dressing. This is especially nice with yellow courgettes.
  • With cannellini beans I think good quality tinned tuna is a lovely addition.


To do a warm version get a pan and gently heat the garlic in olive oil (don’t let it brown). Add the drained and rinsed beans, season then squeeze some lemon juice on the beans and add a little water or light chicken stock. If you have homemade chicken stock definitely use a little as it transports this simple dish into something heavenly. If you have any herbs like thyme, a bay leaf add them (but not rosemary – too pungent) as they will give lots of flavour. Smash the beans into the oil using a fork or wooden spoon. The idea is not to make a puree, rather to have some mushed beans and lots of whole ones. If you want to make it more soupy add more stock. Add chopped parsley or basil (try to use herbs if doing this version). Serve with some nice fresh bread, olive oil to drizzle and a little grated parmesan if you want.

  • If I’m doing this with cannellini beans I add spinach to the recipe above which only takes a minute on the heat to soften. Serve with grated parmesan. Lewis loves this version which says a lot given it’s beans and spinach! (See pic)
  • If I’m doing this with chickpeas I usually fry a bit of bacon with the garlic and definitely use a bit of chicken stock. A little chorizo added at the end is nice too. The spinach version above is nice with chickpeas too.


(NOTE: If using dried beans, before trying the recipes above, make sure you soak them overnight, drain and rinse them in the morning – dried beans are toxic if you don’t do this!! Then put them in a pan and cook for a good 40 minutes or so using fresh water (not the water they soaked in). If making the warm version the water from the cooked beans is wonderful to use as the stock. The River Cafe recipe for smashed beans recommends cooking the beans with a garlic clove and some sage leaves for 45 minutes then draining, removing the sage but not the garlic, before adding the olive oil and smashing the beans.) Here is a pic of Lexie happily shelling borlotti beans with Lewis in France this past summer.


Roast vegetables cous cous with goats cheese and pine nuts

This is one of my main staples. It’s not the most exciting recipe but it’s clean, tasty, nutritious and cheap. Lexie loves it and I would recommend this for kids with a warning: for toddlers and babies cous cous is messy and can go everywhere! I’ve definitely had cous cous dry spells where I can’t face cleaning up after her.


It’s nice having this with the warm vegetables straight from the oven but it’s good cold too with a little balsamic vinegar. I usually roast a big tray once a week as the veg lasts well in the fridge. It takes around 5 mins to make this meal if you are using pre-roasted veg either cold or warmed slightly in the oven. If I’m not eating with Lexie, I’ll often have a roast veg snack with some cheese or ham to accompany her at the table and keep me going until my dinner. This is also a good recipe to shop for with kids – Lexie loves being told to fetch the different vegetables and practise her colours (RED pepper, GREEN courgette etc).
DSC_0609picking matopepper

Roast vegetables cous cous with goats cheese and pine nuts

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 1 1/2 hours
Budget: £5-10 (veg £5, goats cheese £1.50, pine nuts £2.80, herbs £1.50)

  • Red, yellow and green pepper chopped into chunks
  • Courgette chopped into chunks
  • Slices of aubergine
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Sweet potato peeled and chopped into chunks
  • Red onion sliced
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves skin on
  • Herbs – rosemary, thyme and basil work well
  • Goats cheese
  • Pine nuts (leave these out for very small children)
  • Cous cous
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Balsamic vinegar – optional but recommended if having cold pre-roasted veg. It’s nice with warm veg too!

(You can roast any selection of veg you want – sometimes I add beetroot or fennel or miss things out if I don’t have them)


Preheat the oven to 200/gas mark 6. Put all the chopped vegetables except the tomatoes in a baking tray with the sturdier herbs like thyme/rosemary. Season and drizzle with oil then roast for about 20 mins. Then stir and check the veg – if it looks very dry add some more oil or a little water. You may also need to adjust the heat (if things are turning black it’s too high!!). After another 20 mins or so add the tomatoes and any less sturdy herbs like basil/parsley. Adding the tomatoes later means they retain their shape but still release some needed juices. Roast for another 20-40 mins until the veg looks all yummy.

Just before the veg is done toast some pine nuts. Put them in a frying pan with no oil and fry gently for a few minutes – be careful they burn easily. Once toasted set aside. Cook the cous cous as per the packet instructions and when it’s ready season, drizzle with olive oil and fluff it up with a fork. Serve the roast veg on top of the cous cous with crumbled goats cheese and scattered pine nuts.


Puy lentils with beetroot and goats cheese

I tend to make this when I’ve got leftover puy lentils to use up as it takes 5 minutes, it’s delicious and very nutritious – packed full of iron. Lentils are a great and very cheap way of getting protein into your kids without giving them fish or meat. If you cook the lentils from scratch it doesn’t take much longer to make and you get a warm salad which is nice in winter. It makes me laugh how much Lexie looooves this dish but hates mashed potato!?!



Puy lentils with beetroot and goats cheese

If lentils and beetroot pre-cooked (or vac pac beetroot)
Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 0 mins

If cooking lentils and beetroot
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20 – 45 mins (depending on beetroot)

  • Puy lentils
  • Goats cheese – or feta cheese
  • Beetroot – fresh or vac pac
  • Salad leaves – spinach, rocket, watercress is nice
  • Spring onion (optional) – sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

If cooking the lentils and beetroot, put lentils in a pan, cover with lots of water (be generous, lentils guzzle water up), bring to the boil and then simmer for 20-25 minutes until done. They should be tender but have a bit of bite. Drain and drizzle with olive oil. In another pan cover the beetroot (either whole or chopped in half) with water, bring to the boil then simmer until cooked through – generally 30-45 mins depending on size. Once done drain and leave to cool before removing skins and chopping into chunks. If you’ve never cooked fresh beetroot before be careful of it’s incredibly staining juices! Fresh beetroot is delicious, cheap and very easy to cook but it is stainy and faffy to peel. Vac pac beetroot is less of a faff (no boiling, peeling etc) but equally stainy and the texture is never as nice as fresh beetroot.

Once you have cooked lentils and beetroot assembling the salad is easy. Put leaves in a bowl, add the lentils, beetroot, crumbled goats cheese and spring onion if using (I leave it out for Lexie). Dress with oil and vinegar and season to taste!


Butternut squash and feta salad

This is one of my staple salads. It’s a kids meal from Jane Clarke’s Yummy Baby book but I often make it if I have more than 3 people to feed because it’s delicious, cheap and really easy to make so I don’t get neurotic (I’m not a great host). Ironically it’s not Lexie’s favourite – she’s not into squash or sweet potato – but everyone else loves it and always asks for the recipe.

choose squash

It’s nice with sausages but today I’m serving it with lamb chops for a lunch with my mum and her best friend. It’s lovely as a warm salad using the squash straight from the oven but equally delicious served cold so you can roast the squash in advance and keep in the fridge till you need it. I’ve never made it with toasted nuts/seeds or bacon but I think both would be a great addition.


Butternut squash and feta salad

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 45mins – 1 hour (to cook the squash, takes 5-10 minutes to put the salad together)

  • 1 butternut squash cut lengthways in half
  • Olive oil
  • Feta cheese (or goats cheese is nice too and what I used in the pics)
  • Spring onions
  • Lemon
  • Salad – spinach, rocket, watercress is nice (I used watercress in the pics
  • Salt and pepper (optional)
  • Toasted hazelnuts or pumpkin seeds (optional)
  • Chopped, fried streaky bacon (optional)

squash ingredients

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees or gas mark 6. Drizzle olive oil over the halves of squash.

oil squash

Put in the oven for 40mins – 1 hour depending on size. Do check the squash and adjust the temperature accordingly. Once it’s done either wait for it to cool, cover and keep in the fridge till you need it. Or remove the skin and seeds and chop the flesh into chunks.

roast squash

Slice the spring onions and cut the feta into chunks. Put the salad in a bowl and add the spring onions, feta and squash chunks. Dress with olive oil and fresh lemon juice to taste and season with salt and pepper if you want. Then if you are using them add the nuts/seeds/bacon to garnish (not used in the pics).

squash salad

Vietnamese chicken noodle salad

I got a bit obsessed with Vietnamese food in 2005 after discovering the Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Road. My dad worked in Vietnam so luckily we had Nicole Routhier’s ‘The Foods of Vietnam’ at home. There are loads of great recipes in this cook book and my favourite is this crunchy noodle salad (I wooed Lewis with this dish!!). It is seriously good!

viet book

Noodles are symbolic in Chinese culture for a long life and this morning at 3 am a new addition to the family arrived – a little red head baby girl! Lexie’s cousin and my niece. I can’t think of a better dish to make today so Lex and I celebrated by going to the market to get all the veg – I couldn’t resist buying the mini cucumbers!

lex buy

mini cues

I used roast chicken leftovers but this dish is equally nice without meat or perhaps with prawns. It is a cold salad and fantastic in summer but also clean and zingy enough to fit a January detox. It’s even better at this time of year served alongside a pho or Hugh Fearnley’s poached chicken with star anise (recipes to follow). A quick warning: it is faffy chopping up all the veg but it smells incredible – all that fresh mint and coriander. It’s also a very cheap dish once you’ve invested in the required condiments.

If I’m making these noodles for Lexie I do a separate dressing without chilli. And if we’re not eating together I put aside some of the shredded veg and herbs in a tupperware. Then when she’s having it, I’ll cook the noodles and make the chilli-free dressing from scratch before mixing it all together.

Vietnamese chicken noodle salad

Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 5-10 mins

  • 1 cucumber, julienned in a food processor or cut in thin slices
  • 2 carrots, julienned or grated
  • 2 handfuls of shredded white cabbage or chinese leaf cabbage
  • Lots of chopped coriander
  • Lots of chopped mint
  • Fresh lime halves
  • Chopped salted peanuts
  • Chicken slices
  • Rice noodles

For the dressing

  • 3 tablespoons of groundnut or sunflower oil
  • 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
  • 1 or 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of white sugar (to taste, I usually do 1 tbsp but recipe is 1 1/2)
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 1 knob of grated ginger
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice (to taste)
  • 1 chopped red chilli – leave this out if making for kids unless they ‘do spicy’ – Lexie’s words – she doesn’t ‘do spicy’.

ingred 2

Start by making the dressing as it’s nicer if it’s sat for a while. Get a bowl and add the oil, vinegar and fish sauce. Mix in the garlic, ginger and chilli then add the sugar and stir till it’s dissolved. A tip for chopping chilli is to either wear rubber gloves or use scissors. That way you don’t need to worry about getting any chilli on your little one. Then cover and set aside.

chilli dressing

To make the salad do all the chopping and shredding then it’s a simple assembly job. Mix the carrot, cucumber and cabbage. Add the chopped fresh herbs and chicken slices. I also use scissors to chop herbs, sometimes like my 97 year old granny-in-law does, with the herbs in a glass so you can chop them very finely with the scissors.


Cook your rice noodles as per the packet then, once done, you can either mix the noodles in with the veg or serve separately. Finish the dressing by mixing in the fresh lime then pour all over the salad. If you won’t eat all the salad in one sitting only dress what you are eating – it doesn’t keep well once dressed. Garnish with the chopped peanuts and some slices of lime and serve! Ideally with an ice cold beer or some jasmine tea.


PS: I love these chopsticks – Lewis and I bought them in Peru from an amazing Japanese restaurant. We were so grateful to all the Japanese immigrants in S America whose restaurants saved us from the ubiquitous meat, rice and beans or ham and cheese toasties.

done done

No time pasta with peas

See I told you we were the pasta family. This recipe is for when I’ve no time to cook (i.e. got home late with nothing ready to heat up in the fridge). It’s really easy and Lexie loves it.

pasta peas

Pasta with peas and parmesan

Prep time: 2 mins
Cooking time: 8 – 12 mins depending on pasta

  • Pasta
  • Frozen peas
  • Parmesan
  • Olive oil
  • Squeeze of lemon (optional)
  • Fresh basil or parsley (optional)

Cook your pasta as normal and 2 minutes before it’s done add the frozen peas. Drain, put back in pan and drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with lots of parmesan and chopped fresh basil or parsley if you have any. If I’m eating this with Lexie I add salt to mine!!

A nice variation is to add chopped courgettes to the pasta at the start of cooking. If you do this version add a bit more squeezed lemon at the end – courgettes looove lemon.