Ready Steady Cooks 5: Viral Antidote Jackfruit kebab with Paratha bread

Other brands are available!

This one is for Mags who has offered me a bit of a challenge!  Jackfruit, Japanese rice vinegar and dill mustard.  Hmmmm. Thanks Mags

First, what is Jackfruit?  Personally I can’t stand it but David had a great Jackfruit with hoisin in a bao-bun at Latitude a couple of years ago.  Jackfruit is a relative of fig and breadfruit. it grows in the tropics and is frequently used by vegans and vegetarians as a meat substitute because it has a very firm texture but will ‘pull’ apart in shreds so you can use it to casserole, for pulled ‘meat’ in a pitta or flatbread.

 

Here we go then.  First make your paratha.  These are so easy and so delicious, you won’t need the flatbread!  This paratha recipe is unashamedly lifted from Asma’s Indian Kitchen which was my favourite cookery book of 2019. I’ve cooked them hundreds of times since. Now I have to stop myself cooking them because they all get eaten.

Put 300g plain white flour in a bowl with half a teaspoon each of salt, baking powder and sugar.  Add 3tbsp melted ghee or oil. Slowly add 175ml water – feel your way here, depending on the flour you might not need all the water.  Mix it all together into what should be a fairly firm dough then knead for about 10 minutes on a floured work surface. If you are lazy like me, throw all the ingredients in the Kenwood and use the dough hook instead! Cover and leave to rest in a warm place. My ‘go-to’ place is in the airing cupboard in winter and on the kitchen windowsill in the summer.

After resting period of about an hour, divide the dough into 8 pieces. dust each piece with flour and roll into circles about 17cm across.   Melt some butter (go on, you know it makes sense!) then brush each circle with some butter.  Now roll it up tightly from top to bottom, and then curl it up in a tight spiral.  Do this with each one.  When they are all done, flatten each one with a rolling pin again, and roll each one into a flatbread shape.  Have a goodly amount of hot oil on the go in a wide pan. When it’s practically smoking, drop in the paratha two or three at a time depending on the size of your pan.  They will puff up a bit in bubbles, after just a minute flip over and cook the other side for no more than a minute.  Drain on kitchen towel and leave until you are ready to serve the curry.  What curry?  The one I’m about to tell you about.  The one with the jackfruit that’s in Mags’ cupboard. The jar with the dust on top because no one know what to do with it!

Jackfruit curry

Gather all your curry spices together first.  In a dry pan, roast the following:  two teaspoons cumin seed, one teaspoon brown or yellow mustard seed, as much chilli flakes as you wish, half a dozen green cardamom pods, a two inch stick of cinnamon, one teaspoon coriander seed, one teaspoon of tumeric, half a teaspoon of asofoetida.  Wait till they are popping  – about a minute or two – then pour into a mortar, wait till they cool a bit then grind them with a pestle, or grind in a coffee grinder (my ‘spice’ coffee grinder is a Freecycle cast off and about 15 years old).  Please don’t use curry pastes – most run-of-the-mill supermarket ones are heavy on tumeric and low on authentic flavour.

In a deep wide pan, add oil and chopped onion and cook till the onion is soft.  Then add the spices, making sure there is sufficient oil in the pan (the spices cook then start to thicken in the oil so you need enough oil there in the first place). Cook for about 2 minutes then add a tin of chopped tomatoes, salt to taste, a tablespoon of the rice wine vinegar and just a little sugar.  (Seriously, curries often have vinegar in them, I’m not making it up!)  Cook at a moderate heat for a good 10  minutes until the sauce is rich and thick. Now add a tin of drained jackfruit and cook for a further 15 minutes.  Toward the end, use two forks to pull the jackfruit into shreds. You should now have a pretty thick sauce and thick shreds of jackfruit.   Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Let it rest for 5 minutes while you cook the parathas.

Now, you’re wondering, where does the dill mustard come in?  Pour 100ml good thick plain yogurt into a bowl and add two big dollops of the dill mustard and mix it thoroughly.

Have some plates ready, a bowl of chopped coriander and an extra bowl of the dill mustard yogurt on the table – maybe spike with more chopped fresh dill and mint.  Take a paratha, spread it with a little mustard/yogurt then tear off a good sized chunk and scoop up some curried jackfruit, top with some more yogurt from the bowl and a sprinkle of chopped coriander.

Phew.  Shame I don’t like jackfruit. It sounds rather good!!

Ready Steady Cooks viral antidote 4: Wild garlic lasagne

This one’s for Tricia!  Wild garlic….. she’s obviously been walking in the woods again.

Generally, you can smell wild garlic before you see it, especially if the sun is out.  Before you pick any make sure you are not on private or protected land!!  And make sure that if you pick it, only pick the leaves – don’t pull it up roots and all.

The first time I came across wild garlic was when my parents in law lived in Tregoose in the depths of a valley in the depths of Cornwall.  Walking through the path in the woods on the other side of the small river that ran through their garden was always magical – the delicate tracery of new leaves silhouetted against a bright blue sky. And wafting from the ground was the pungent smell of crushed garlic.  Heavenly.

Here’s a couple of recipes for wild garlic. It will be in the woods somewhere near you right now!

Wild garlic pesto

Who doesn’t love pesto?  On pasta, dolloped into soup just before you serve it, spooned onto freshly cooked fish in a pan…..

Wash the leaves thoroughly in lots of running water. Dry them on a clean tea towel.

In a blender, Nutribullet or in a deep pestle, put three large cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of salt.  Crush with a mortar if using the pestle, otherwise flick the switch and chop.  Then add two large handfull of leaves, 150g pine nuts and about 75g parmegano regiano. Blend again. Add olive oil in a drizzle – probably about 200ml but it depends on the bulk of the dry materials you’ve blended. The idea is that the mixture should drop off a spoon. Taste it and see. It might need a bit more parmesan or salt but these things are down to personal taste.

As a variation – and I have three different types of pesto on the go at the moment – you could substitute walnuts and parlsey for the wild garlic and pine nuts; or basil and cashews or pumpkin seeds – ditto.

Wild garlic pesto lasagne

First off take 150g red lentils, put them in a saucepan with a dried red chilli and a bay leaf.  Add water to 1.5cm above the lentils. Bring to the boil and simmer until nearly all the water is absorbed, but not quite.

Pasta is easy and the easiest way is to make it in a food processor. Or you can do it by hand by blending 600g flour (00) – although I have made it with good quality plain flour. Add a teaspoon of salt. Make a well in the centre then add 6 beaten eggs, gradually drawing the flour into the centre.  when all the egg is absorbed, knead the dough until it is soft and springy.  If you are vegan use the recipe here using tofu instead of eggs. Or if you are lazy like me, put it all in the food processor until it forms a dough.  Put in a bowl, cover with a damp cloth and rest the dough for 30 minutes.

For the filling, fry a finely chopped onion and some celery with some garlic until soft. Throw in a glass of red wine and reduce. Then add two tins of chopped tomatoes, a small sprinkle of chilli flakes, half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, chopped thyme and rosemary to your taste and just a little sugar.  Simmer until it is thick and almost sticking to the pan. Now remove the bay and chilli from the lentils and add the lentils to the tomato sauce.  Mix and taste and adjust seasoning.

You do not need a pasta machine. Just a floured surface, a good rolling pin and some elbow grease.  Roll the dough, keep turning it one quarter turn at a time, roll, turn, roll, turn. A bit like doing front crawl!  It needs to be really thin (see picture).  Cut lasagne sheets to size.

Now choose your dish – just choose one deep enough to leave a gap at the top when it’s full.  Neat trick – put a thin layer of sauce in first, then layer up with pasta, sauce, pasta, sauce, pasta, a few dollops of pesto (see above) then sauce, finish with pasta.

You might want to make a bechamel for the top. Personally, mostly I can’t be bothered and find that 200g quark, or full fat yogurt works just as well, with 3 eggs beaten into it and a handful of parmesan and some black pepper and a little scrape of nutmeg.

Put into the oven at 200C for 30 minutes then check it. It will probably need another 10 to 15 minutes after that.  Take it out of the oven and let it rest. Don’t serve straight away. Leave it for 15 minutes – it really will not get cold – before you slice and serve.  Belissima!

One of my fondest food memories was eating in an Agritourismo in La Marche in Italy.  Layers and layers of paper think pasta with a smear of passata between them, a light grating of parmesan and a basil leaf or two.

Pear & Parsnip soup with gluten free soda bread

Lynn Tierney, this is for you!

We are in the middle of decorating having had three rooms plastered.  Why, then, is the whole house in tatters?  Time for something warm, hearty and vegan/gluten-free on this miserable October day.

Peel and chop one leek, one clove of garlic, four parsnips and a stick or two of celery.  Sweat the vegetables with a bay leaf or two and a sprig of rosemary in the bottom of a pan for 10 minutes using some good quality olive oil and half a cup of water.  Add that cup full of vegetable soup left over from yesterday, a tablespoon of Energita (yeast flakes) – or alternatively about 500ml of vegetable stock (I use Marigold).  Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about 15 minutes.  Then add that pear that’s been going a bit soft on the windowsill – peel, core and chop it into the soup, adding 250ml of Oatly or Almond milk. Cook for five more minutes.  Allow to cool, then whizz with the stick blender.  Taste, and add a bit of gremolata if it needs seasoning. It probably will.

Today, whilst himself drove off to Diss to buy a paint kettle (don’t ask) I made the soup and some gluten-free soda bread. With some fake Parmesan.

Sift 250g gluten free white flour and 250g gluten free wholemeal flour plus 1.5 teaspoons of salt and the same of bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Add a good handful of fake Parmesan.  Add 400ml Oatly or similar, into which you have squeezed the juice of half a lemon (it encourages the Bicarb to fizz, in case you are wondering).  Mix it all together till it just binds, then turn out onto the work surface that you’ve drifted (like Snow White) with coarse semolina.  Gently form into a round, slash the top, prick the quarters to let the fairies out then place onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof.  Sprinkle with more fake Parmesan.  Slide into a very hot oven (225) for 10 minutes then turn the temperature down to 200 and cook for a further 20.  Turn the break over for the last 5.  When you knock on the bottom it should sound hollow. A bit like me. If it doesnt, give it 5 more.

By the time David returned (with a paint kettle plus an inspection lamp – going to Screwfix for him is like me going to IKEA – lunch was ready.

Now he is painting and I am cutting back the Verbena and bringing the pots into the greenhouse.  Sounds idyllic doesn’t it! Anyone who knows me that idyllic is not me!!

Veggie burgers

Chick Pea Burger – picture from http://www.bbc.co.uk

Veggie burgers.  Are they really burgers?  Yes!

Last Sunday at Weddings at Belle Grove I had the best breakfast ever with The Fry Up Police.  I last encountered them at Christina and Mark’s wedding where they cooked breakfast for the hungover masses the morning after the wedding!

Anyway, we were talking burgers here. Especially non-meat burgers.  I said I’d share some recipes with The Fry Up Police guys so I thought I’d share them with you too.  Now don’t get me wrong. I love a big, juicy, meaty, slightly underdone burger. However I live with a vegetarian, so meaty burgers are definitely treats, eaten on the street (don’t tell my ma I was eating on the street!) or at a Festival.

 

Here’s a selection of vegan burgers for you to try.  I have made and eaten them all, but the photos are someone else’s.

The trick with making burgers is to finely balance the amount of moisture and the seasoning in the mix (too little, and they will fall apart and be bland, too much and you will have a stew instead of a burger!)  Only you can judge this, so go with what you are feeling in the bowl and with your instinct for the level of seasoning.  Does the mixture feel too dry and crumbly, will it form easily into a burger shape in your hands without falling apart, is it too sticky/tacky?  Taste a bit to check the seasoning and if anything over-season in the bowl as the flavours will mellow when cooking.  Here’s some top tips.

#toptip1 – Remember that the burgers will ‘firm up’ when you’ve made them, and it helps if you get it just about the right texture, form them into burgers and then put in the fridge to hasten the process of firming up before you cook them.
#toptip2 – When you are ready to cook them, dredge a generous amount of coarse semolina on the work surface and put the burgers onto the semolina, turning them over and round so that they are coated. This forms a lovely even and crispy outer shell which holds the burger together
#toptip3 – Seasoning.  Always be generous with your seasoning.  The reason why most non-meat burgers you’ve eaten up till now are disappointing, is simply because they are under-seasoned!
#toptip4 – Added bits.  Always have added bits – raw onion, avocado, sliced tomato (at room temperature), dill pickles, thick brown sauce, Dijon mustard or that lovely mayo mixed with Dijon mustard….. the list is endless.  But you must have bits!

The black bean burger

Black bean burger – pic from http://www.thehappyfoodie.com

Black bean burgers could not be simpler – mostly because they have in-built juice! But you don’t want all of it! Drain a tin of black beans into a bowl until all the juice has gone. Finely chop three spring onions and one large clove of garlic (grated), a teaspoon of cumin powder, half a teaspoon of smoked paprika and if you like, a chopped chilli (to your taste), a heavy dash of Tamari (like soy sauce), a good squirt of HP brown sauce or a tablespoon of tamarind paste, a cup of fine breadcrumbs or Matzo meal.

Combine all the ingredients by simply squishing them all together with your hands.  Leave some texture in there. There should be sufficient moisture to hold it all together when you form it into burger sized patties (how I hate that word – patties).

When making any bean burger, make sure you rest it before you cook it.  You have to make the starch in the beans do the work for you, which is why you squeeze them and break them down a bit.  Form the mixture into burgers and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours if you can (or half an hour in the freezer) before shallow frying in hot oil.

The bubble and squeak burger

The bubble-and-squeak burger pic from http://www.theawesomegreen.com.

Who can resist bubble and squeak?  Not me!  Memories of Monday -wash-days at home with the twin-tub burbling away.  Coming home from school at lunch time, steaming kitchen, old heavy frying pan on the stove and the smell of yesterday’s sprouts/greens/potatoes frying up in the pan, slightly blackened at the edges.

This burger is better with left overs than made fresh!  

Take equal quantities of cold roast, mashed or boiled potatoes, cold dark greens and/or sprouts, a handful of chopped spring onions, salt, black pepper, just a little chopped chilli, grated garlic and squidge together in a bowl with some seasoning.  If it is just a little bit dry (it probably won’t be) add a smidge of plant-based milk or plain yogurt.  Keep squidging – again its about releasing those starches that will hold it all together.  Check for salt and pepper and remember that all that starch will ‘eat’ the seasoning so if anything, over-season and it will taste milder after they are cooked.  into burger sized burgers and do the magic trick again.  Rest them in the fridge, then take out, dredge with coarse semolina and fry in hot oil.

Don’t forget the magic of your mum’s bubble and squeak.  Make sure you have some charred bits on the outside!

 

 

 

 

Pic from http://www.olivemagazine.com

The cauliflower steak burger

This one is in contention for my favourite burger of all time.  It is ludicrously simple.

Cut 2cm thick slices from a whole cauliflower.

Add salt and black pepper, a dollop of olive oil and a couple of tablespoons of harissa to a bowl.  Drop in the cauliflower and marinade for as long as you like.  Then put a shallow roasting pan, lined with baking paper, into a hot (200C) oven for 10 minutes.  Then sprinkle olive oil onto the paper and lay the cauliflower steaks on top. Roast in this hot oven for 25 minutes then turn the steaks over and roast for another 10. Now, you can either pile into a bun with salad, roasted juicy onions and pine-nuts, or allow to cool then freeze.

The chestnut and rice burger

Pic from http://www.frugalfeeding.com

Yup. Chestnut and rice.  It’s another of my favourites.

Take one packet of cooked vacuum-packed chestnuts and half a packet of ready cooked wholemeal rice and half a pack of tofu (well drained).  First, put your tofu onto a plate with three or four pieces of kitchen towel underneath and on top.  Press down with the heel of your hand to release as much liquid as you can and pour away the liquid. Finely chop a couple of spring onions, put all the ingredients into a bowl and  – yes, you got it! – squidge.  Break up the chestnuts, combine with the rice and the tofu.  Add a good squeeze of tomato puree, the grated zest of half a lemon, salt and pepper, some chopped fresh parsley or coriander and combine into burger shapes.  As usual, rest in the fridge, then dredge with semolina and cook in the pan or roast them in a hot oven until crispy.

 

You get the idea.  Burgers can be made of anything.  So get experimenting! And don’t forget the bits!

Gluten free steak pie – by request

The pieThis is by special request.

750g chuck steak.  I use steak from Yare Valley Oils Belted Galloways  or Beautiful Beef in Tharston Red Polls.  All herds are free-range, ethically raised and slaughtered locally.  I say that because some of my friends are very sensitive to animal welfare and not that excited about me eating meat.  I live with a vegetarian and so meat doesn’t figure that high on our menus.  However I am happy with my conscience knowing that I have incisors (therefore I am a meat eater) and I won’t buy cheap mass-produced meat, preferring to know its provenance.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, chuck steak.

750g chuck steak. Two medium sized onions. One large knobbly carrot. One stalk of celery. Two cloves of garlic.  A teaspoon of cumin seed. The remainder of a bottle of red wine (about 100ml), Gremolata   Beef stock (in my world, that’s Oxo), half a tin of chopped tomatoes, a little cornflour (this is made from maize, not wheat!), black pepper.

Cut your steak into medium sized pieces and put in a bowl.  Add a good tablespoon of gremolata and a good few churns of the pepper grinder, add the cumin. Drop in a couple of bay leaves. Add two tablespoons of cornflour and mix around to coat the meat.

Chop your celery into fine dice and your onions into slices and your large knobbly carrot into moderate sized pieces.  Put a big glug of oil into a pan (I use the le Crueset I’m going to use for the meat) and bring it to a moderate heat.  Add the vegetables and sweat them slowly and gently with the lid on until soft. Remove vegetables from the pan and scrape around the bottom of the pan a bit.  Add a little more oil. Get it hot then drop in about 30% of the pieces of meat and sear it till it gets brown.  Don’t overfill the pan otherwise it will just steam and it will go grey instead.  Remove meat from the pan and add to the vegetables.  Repeat until all the meat is browned. turn up the heat and add the red wine so that it bubbles and boils, boiling away the alcohol. Keep scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan as it boils. Then take off the heat and add the meat and vegetables, turning them round in the winey sludge at the bottom.  Put back on the heat and add the tomatoes and sufficient stock to cover the meat. Bring gently to the boil with the lid on, then turn the heat down and simmer for a good 2 hours. Or you can put it in the oven.  Then allow to cool.  Check the seasoning to see if you need more salt.   After it has cooled down, if you are making it ahead of the game, put in the fridge and take out the next day and allow to come to room temperature before you put into the pie.

For the pastry.  Use 250g gluten-free flour (plain white, or plain wholemeal) and 120g Flora or similar. Half a teaspoon of salt.  Rub the fat into the flour then add sufficient water to bring the dough together. Then leave the dough for half an hour.  Put your meat and its gravy into a dish and if you have one, add one of those pretty little pottery birds in the middle – the ones that let the steam out!

pie bird

Wet the edges of the dish. Roll out your pastry making it a good 2cm wider and longer than the dish.  Cut long strips off the pastry and lay along the dampened edges of the dish.  Then roll the pastry onto your pin and roll it over your dish, making a little hole for the birdie’s beak to poke through.  press the edges down, then glaze either with egg wash or with soya milk mixed with a little custard powder or turmeric.  Believe me, it works!

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190C for about an hour, turning down to 160 and maybe protecting the top with a bit of tin foil, after 40 minutes. Depends on your oven.

What can best a good pie, with mash and gravy?

New Year Reflections, gremolata and aquafaba!

I was talking with Bruce and Peter this afternoon – something along the lines of  ‘not everything that’s important can be counted, and not everything that is counted, counts’. I think it’s an Einstein quote.

New Year, for me, is always a time for reflection…. what have I done, what will I do this year?  On my list are the following:

– only do work that is of value

– spend more time with people who are kind

– walk daily!

– write more

– try hard to desist from attempting stupid things like standing on cupboards and falling off, being reckless with sharp kitchen knives

– spend more time on the beach

– increase wedding and funeral bookings

I have been thinking about this whilst meditatively (a-la Nigella) making gremolata this afternoon. 

I have also pondered on making small themed books for Will and Anna – family food, family recipes.  For years I have talked about publishing a cook book and it is all there in skeleton form.  But have I left it too late and maybe I should be more picky about where I put my energy? I am undecided. Answers on a postcard please.

Many people have said to me that they see me as someone with loads of energy. And it is true – mostly I have. But sometimes I don’t. Being perceived as someone with boundless energy is great however there are other parts of me to discover! Go on, give it a try! Invite me to do something with you that is something known to you but new to me.

I have a low boredom threshold and it drives my energy bank, of that I am certain. In using energy I create momentum, change, challenge and I like those qualities to be present and tangible in my life.

But in true Erickson terms, the stages of life are evident and although creative, I am also a realist. So I am rethinking that drive, recalibrating it; making it work for me in my mid 60s in ways that will still bring me joy, adventures, new experiences. For the past few years I know I have been drawing on my 40 year old energy bank.

Life remains an adventure. I want to have adventures. Having had a good go at leaving this mortal coil a few years ago, you could say I am living on borrowed time.  I prefer to think of it not as borrowed time but as a gift and the best gift of all.  So sticking around a bit longer, always being up for having fun, always cooking and getting a dozen people around the table will remain key driver for me.  Of that, too, I am certain.

So this weekend has been a time of deep reflection -reading my two new cookbooks – Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy and The Modern Kitchen by Anna Jones – pootlong  about collecting rosemary from various people (for which, thanks to Bruce and Peter, Anna and Karen) and thinking about friends who have struggled this year. You know who you are. You should know that you inspire me.

I have also been doing further experiments with aquafaba and made the best toad in the hole to date.  I said I would update the lovely Rachel and Dean – this is the next instalment and I think I’ve cracked it – use two tablespoons of chick pea water for every egg you would have used.  I used four tbsp chick pea water in lieu of two eggs.  Whisk  till light and fluffy.  Four tablespoons of plain flour with a little salt, whisk into 200ml milk (any kind), fold in the whipped aquafaba.  I used chestnut and tofu sausages (click here).  Cook toads  as normal.

And so, I wish you a peaceful, healthy and happy 2018.  You deserve it! We all deserve it!

 

 

Quick, light, easy pickles for last minute guests and as gifts

You can make all these in less than 45 minutes!

Davinder’s Lemon Pickle

Sandip brought these round one night – he is always so generous with his foodie gifts and they are always so delicious.  Later on his mum Davinder texted me the recipe for which I was very grateful – it couldn’t be easier.  Slice a lemon into eight pieces. Do this with 6 lemons. Put in a stainless steel bowl with a teaspoon of turmeric, as many chilli flakes as you dare, a couple of fresh chillies if you double dare.  Add six tablespoons of salt and half a small bottle of lemon juice. That’s it.  Pack everything into sterilised jars and add the juice and leave a week before eating. Keep in the fridge.

Cornersmith’s Fennel Pickle

This is from one of my favourite cookbooks – Cornersmith  – which is a co-operative in the suburbs of Sydney.  They take excess garden and allotment produce and make lovely things with it. Including this. I’ve adapted it slightly. One day I will go there. Slice two bulbs of fennel and one brown onion very thinly.  Put in a stainless steel bowl along with one tablespoon of fennel seed, one tablespoon of mustard seed, one tablespoon of nigella seed, one tablespoon of chilli flakes. one tablespoon of salt.  Mix.  Put 500ml organic apple cyder vinegar in a stainless steel saucepan along with 60ml agave syrup. Bring to the boil.  Pack your fennel tightly into sterilised jars and pour over the hot vinegar and seal.  Ready in a week, or sooner.  Will keep in the fridge for about a month but no longer. Great with cold meats and anything vegetarian, it doesn’t mind which.

Gremolata

You’ve read about this  before but it is my go-to condiment for fish, vegetarian, pasta, meat – the lot.  Go out in the garden and cut a very large handful of rosemary. Come indoors and turn on Radio 6Music. Remove all the leaves from the stems by stripping them off against the way they grow.  Use a nifty zester to remove the zest from three lemons.  Chop 4 large cloves of garlic.  Now get nifty with a knife or a mezzaluna and chop everything very fine – don’t use a blender or processor as it over-processes it and loses the freshness.  Put everything in a stainless steel bowl and add an equal quantity of seasalt or rocksalt.  Pour into a jar or jars.  Will keep for ages.  I suggest you don’t use this in cooking but rather use it as a last minute sprinkle just as the dish is finishing off in the oven – or on pasta once its drained.

#12Days Crunchy salad Day 6

p1000972After a fundraising curry night here, and staring at the carnage and leftovers in my kitchen this morning, I think we all need a crunchy salad today.  This one is actually for one of my oldest and dearest friends – Marion – who requested the recipe after I made this as a contribution to her wedding feast when she and Andrew a few weeks ago. To be fair it was a hastily constructed piece of work as I was juggling the five tier wedding cake at the time – and the picture of the cake is much more attractive than a bowl full of salad!

Anyway, this salad is either for your Christmas repertoire, or would serve as a saintly dish after all the festivities have died down and you just need something wholesome, non alcoholic and low fat!

Use any mixed green salad leaves as a base – lettuce, crunchy chicory, spinach leaves. As for proportions – well it depends on how many people you are feeding so you will have to judge this one. Chop a small butternut squash into 2cm dice, and drain two tins of chickpeas and put them all in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, black pepper, crushed garlic and smoked paprika. Mix them around a bit to distribute the seasoning then roast on a shallow baking tray for about 45 minutes until slightly charred at the edges.  Grate one large carrot. Cut a cucumber in half and scoop out the wet middle, then chop the whole cucumber into wedges.  Chop cherry tomatoes in half. and season separately with salt and black pepper.

Open one vacuum pack of freekah (green wheat) – about 100g.  Open one vacuum pack of mixed sunflower and pumpkin seeds (about 100g) – drizzle these with a little honey.

Now make the dressing.  As a base, use the following: two grated cloves of garlic, one teaspoon salt, one tablespoon agave syrup or honey, two teaspoons Dijon mustard. Place all these in a 450g jamjar. Add white wine vinegar or lemon juice and olive or rapeseed oil to the proportions 1:4 (acid to oil).  Shake vigorously.

If you are making this salad in advance, put a good amount of the dressing in the bottom of the bowl. Then add the tomatoes, the carrot, the cucumber, chopped spring onion tops, and chopped basil and flatleaf parsley.  Season.  Then add the green leaves on top.  Do not mix at this stage (this is a good tip – leave the wet ingredients at the bottom of the bowl steeping in the dressing, add the leaves but dont mix until you are ready to serve).  When you are ready to serve (and you can leave the bowl – covered – for many hours and so long as the green leaves are not touching the dressing it will stay fresh) mix the green leaves into the rest of the salad and put in your serving bowl, then add the roasted squash and chickpeas, seeds and freekah and mix it all around. And it is done.

The basic dressing you can enliven with a range of ingredients depending on your taste – you could add fresh basil, or dill, or yogurt with mint. You could add chopped capers or cornichon. However if you are making the dressing for the festive season, I suggest make a jamjar full of the basic dressing then enliven it with other ingredients as you wish.

Now.  Having hosted a lively Christmas curry event last night there is a scene of utter devastation to deal with in another part of the house. Bin bags at the ready!

#Addingflavour

There is no magic, no mystery, about adding flavour to your food.  It’s simply a matter of understanding how flavour wimg_3148orks; on the tongue, with the nose, in your mind, with your mood.  If I am not in the mood for cooking, then it never tastes right even though I want it to. But if I am on a roll, steaming along in the kitchen with the radio on and all the ingredients I need, then a little bit of magic comes into it.  That magic affects everyone else. Then the flavours are proclaimed to be fabulous.

I guess its a bit like running when you getimg_3149 in the groove (I don’t run) or swimming when the stroke and the breath come naturally (I do swim!)  It all just flows.

So there are certain things that to my mind add the magic. It’s the alchemy I talk about on the front page of this blog. And over the next few weeks I am going to add a few things I have learned then use the category #addingflavour so you can easily find them again .  So watch out for new posts and tweets. The first is gremolata.

Gremolata  is one of my favourite mixtures for adding flavour. I was introduced to it by Enzo, an Italian and maker of great pasta. He whispered conspiratorially, when I asked him what it was on his barbecued chicken that made it taste so wonderful,  “Its rosemary and lemon zest and garlic and salt cara mia. it improves everything it touches, a bit like wine”!

Chop rosemary and lemon zest (I use a mezzaluna) then chop garlic then add seasalt.  It is as simple as that. The proportions are always approximate and according to  your own taste. There is no real ‘recipe’.  In the picture at the top I have used a large handful of fresh rosemary leaves removed from the woody stalks, the rind of 2 lemons (using a zester, not a grater).

img_3151Then added six to eight fresh garlic cloves, chopped finely, and about 75g of seasalt.  Mix it all together and you have a fine mixture that can be stored in a jamjar by the stove, and will keep really fresh and fragrant for about 2 weeks. I have tried keeping it in the fridge but the jar gets condensation in it and it loses its crispness.

How do I use it?  Here’s a list, but you will find your own preferences I am sure.

  • sprinkle on chicken before or after you roast it
  • sprinkle on freshly grilled fish just before it is ready
  • add to fresh tomato dishes
  • add to a marinade for fish, meat, aubergines
  • sprinkle on roast potatoes 5 minutes before they are done
  • flavour squash or pumpkin or sweet potatoes when frying
  • chop tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions and season with gremolata before adding a mustardy vinaigrette
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