Sticky Jerk Salmon with a Crunchy Mango and Red Cabbage Salad

Spring has officially sprung here in England, the evenings are long and hot and our garden is in full flower. The weather is so variable here that we take every chance that we can to eat outside. That doesn’t always affect the choice of what we will have to eat, but sometimes the evening is so glorious that all that is required is something light and easy and, perhaps most importantly, quick to make.

I had a small stock of jerk paste that I had made a few weeks ago lurking in the freezer, and decided that if I didn’t use it now it would end up in the bin. I also had a very ripe mango that I picked up yesterday, for no other reason than that it was reduced for a quick sale. Thinking cap on, I searched through my flavour thesaurus, came up with an interesting combination of flavours that ought to work together and was rewarded with one of the most glorious salads I have ever eaten.

We are having a big family barbecue in a few weeks – when we can depend on the weather a little more – and so I have been thinking about what to make to feed a lot of hungry people who will expect something special. This salad just shot to the top of my list; it is wonderful with the salmon here, but would also be great with jerk chicken, or even just as a salad all by itself.


RECIPE – for 2 people

1 heaped tbsp jerk paste

1 tbsp clear honey, plus 1 tsp

2 salmon fillets

juice of a lime

1/2 red cabbage, core removed and thinly sliced

1 ripe mango, thinly sliced into strips

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

3 spring onions, finely sliced on an angle

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only


Mix the jerk paste with 1 tbsp of clear honey. Lightly season the salmon fillets, place on a foil-lined baking tray and spread the paste all over the top of them. Place under a hot grill for 8-10 minutes until just cooked through and the paste is starting to caramelise. Meanwhile make the salad.

Tip: I found that the paste on top of the fish hadn’t quite caramelised as much as I would have liked by the time the fish was done. I finished it off with a cook’s burner, not something I use very often in my kitchen but an extremely handy thing to have available at times like these.

Put the 1 tsp of honey, the lime juice and a little seasoning in a large salad bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the red cabbage, mango, pepper, spring onions and coriander, toss thoroughly with the dressing.

Serve the salmon in a bowl on top of a bed of the salad.

Jerk Paste

Perfect for barbecues or grilled chicken or fish, jerk paste is a classic caribbean seasoning rub that adds a huge amount of flavour to anything with which it is paired. If you like it hot, just add more chilli puree.


2 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp caster sugar

1/2 nutmeg, finely grated

a big knob of fresh ginger, 3 cm or so, not peeled, finely chopped

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 onion, finely chopped

2 banana shallots, finely chopped

6 hot chillies, finely chopped (seeds left in if you like it hotter)

1 tbsp chilli puree

juice of 1/2 lime

1 tbsp olive oil

a small handful of fresh thyme leaves

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Add all the ingredients to a food processor and blitz thoroughly. Nothing could be easier!

Sour Cherries with Cream and Amaretti

We very rarely have desserts, if we are going to eat more than one course then both of us much prefer a good savoury starter and main course . Sometimes, though, when the evening is hot, the birds are singing and we are eating out in the garden, a light supper and a simple dessert is exactly what is required.

Yesterday was just such a day, but having been shopping in the morning with no thought of making a dessert I was forced to look in the pantry and see what I could put together from the ingredients to hand. The result was a spectacular success – sharp cherries with a hit of kirsch set against pillowy cream with crushed amaretti biscuits and toasted flaked almonds to give texture and crunch. Both of us said we wouldn’t be able to eat all of it, we both set our desserts aside long before we had finished – and we both had sneaky extra spoonfuls over the next half-hour until everything had been polished off.

I might make desserts a little more often if this is the result…


RECIPE – for 2 people

1 450g jar of sour cherries in syrup

1 tbsp cornflour

2 tbsp kirsch

250ml double cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

100g amaretti biscuits, lightly crushed

a small handful of flaked almonds, lightly toasted


Drain the cherries, reserving the syrup. Pour the syrup into a saucepan, bring to the boil and cook, boiling, for 5 minutes or so. Remove a couple of tablespoons of the syrup from the pan and blend with the cornflour until it is a smooth paste. Stir the cherries into the pan and bring back to the boil.

Turn off the heat, pour the cornflour paste into the pan and stir until thoroughly mixed. Return to the heat and bring back to the boil, stirring all the time. Add the kirsch, bring back to the boil again and cook for 2 minutes so all the alcohol evaporates. Remove from the heat, set aside and allow it to cool completely.

Lightly toast the flaked almonds in a saucepan (not a non-stick pan) until just brown, then tip out onto a plate to cool.

Whip the cream and vanilla together until soft peaks, then put a layer of cherries and syrup at the bottom of two large wine glasses. Now add a layer of cream, then a layer of crushed amaretti biscuits, followed by further layers of cherries and cream. Top with a thin layer of amaretti biscuits and a sprinkle of toasted flaked almonds.

Crusted Baked Hake with Sherry Lentils

I really can’t praise this dish enough, it is one of those dishes where the individual elements are delicious, but when they are put together on one fork the results are sensational. The secret is the sherry vinegar syrup; it ties the different elements together and brightens the earthy flavour of the lentils.

Ah yes, the lentils. Long maligned as the preserve of hippies, health freaks and vegans, they are finally beginning to be recognised as nutritional powerhouses that – cooked correctly – are so delicious that even hardened carnivores will like them. It doesn’t hurt their case that there are many different types for many different purposes, and they are ridiculously inexpensive.

The ones I have used here are green lentils; I have experimented with this dish using different types of lentil and nothing else worked. You’ll find these on the shelves of the major supermarkets, along with the sherry vinegar, another previously exotic ingredient that is now mainstream.


RECIPE – for 2 people

2 slices of bread, breadcrumbed

50g plain flour, lightly seasoned

1 egg, beaten

2 hake fillets or loins

olive oil

a small bunch of chives, chopped

2 or 3 good handfuls of rocket

a quantity of salsa verde

For the sherry lentils:

100g caster sugar

100ml sherry vinegar

200g green lentils, rinsed

2 banana shallots, or 1 medium red onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed


Tear up the bread – I like to use sourdough for the extra flavour, but you can use whatever you have, white or wholemeal do the same job – and put it into a food processor; whiz it up until it is fully breadcrumbed. A few small lumps are okay, they add variety to the texture, just don’t go so far that you end up with dust. Often you will be told that you will need stale bread to make breadcrumbs, that’s not strictly true. I always use fresh because that’s all I ever have and it makes no difference that I can detect. It is a good way of using up stale bread though.

Season the fish with a little salt and pepper, then lay out 3 plates with the flour, egg and breadcrumbs in each of them. Coat the fish with flour by laying it in the flour first on one side then the other and dusting any bits that you missed; then coat with beaten egg the same way then coat with breadcrumbs.

Lay each piece of fish on a piece of parchment on a baking tray and chill until ready to cook.

Now make the sherry lentils: heat the vinegar and caster sugar over a medium heat and bring to a simmer for 2 minutes; the sugar should be fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Put the lentils in a large pan with the shallots and garlic, cover generously with cold water, bring to the boil then simmer for around 15 minutes, until the lentils are soft but retain a little bite.

IMPORTANT: Do NOT season the water when you cook the lentils, it will make the skins tough and they will be inedible.

Drain the lentils, shallots and garlic through a sieve, then empty out onto a large baking tray and spread them out to cool. Drizzle most of the sugar and vinegar syrup over the lentils, retaining a little for later. As the lentils cool they will absorb the flavours of the syrup.

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6. When hot, drizzle a little olive oil over the breadcrumbed fish, then bake for 12-15 minutes until the flesh is just translucent.

To serve: reheat the lentils  so they are warm (not piping hot), put a handful of rocket in each bowl and scatter the lentils all around and over the top. Place the fish on top, with a drizzle of the remaining sugar and vinegar syrup and some chopped chives, and a good helping of the salsa verde alongside.

Spaghetti with Asparagus, Anchovies, Basil and Pangrattato

Another super-fast, super-delicious meal. Make the pangrattato first then the rest of it can be cooked in the time it takes for your spaghetti to cook.

Pangrattato is used as a seasoning in some parts of Italy, as an alternative to Parmesan. It isn’t a cheese but seasoned, deep fried breadcrumbs.  It has a double role here; to add an extra layer of flavour but also to add texture and crunch to the silky, cream coated spaghetti. It is a useful trick to have in your repertoire when you need to add an extra dimension to a dish, though be aware that it rarely works with tomato-based sauces.

The anchovies are also used here as a seasoning, they dissolve into the oil when cooked and add a hit of warm umami. If you’re one of those who think they don’t like anchovies so are tempted to give this recipe a miss, try it, you will be surprised how completely they disappear yet how dramatically they affect the overall flavours.


RECIPE – for 2 people

1 slice of bread, breadcrumbed

75 ml olive oil

1 tsp dried thyme

125g asparagus, woody ends trimmed

1 garlic clove, finely sliced

5 salted anchovy fillets in oil

a small handful of basil leaves, torn

100 ml double cream

225 g spaghetti

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Make the pangrattato first: tear up the bread – I like to use sourdough for the extra flavour, but you can use whatever you have, white or wholemeal do the same job – and put it into a food processor; whiz it up until it is fully breadcrumbed. A few small lumps are okay, they add variety to the texture, just don’t go so far that you end up with dust. Often you will be told that you will need stale bread to make breadcrumbs, that’s not strictly true. I always use fresh because that’s all I ever have and it makes no difference that I can detect. It is a good way of using up stale bread though.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the thyme, don’t get the oil so hot that it is smoking, if you drop a breadcrumb into it and it sizzles then it is hot enough. When the oil is hot, tip the breadcrumbs into it and fry until they are golden brown and crunchy. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on a couple of changes of kitchen paper, season lightly with salt and pepper.

Strain the hot oil, carefully, through a muslin cloth or kitchen paper into a large frying pan. The oil will have been infused with thyme while cooking the breadcrumbs and this will add to the flavour of your sauce.

Bring a large pan of slightly salted water to the boil for your spaghetti and put the spaghetti in when it reaches a strong rolling boil; the brand that I use takes approximately ten minutes to reach al dente. Meanwhile, steam the asparagus for three or four minutes until the stems are just tender. Remove from the steamer and cut them into 1 cm slices at a slight angle.

Heat the oil in the frying pan, add the garlic and cook gently for a minute or so, then add the anchovy fillets and cook, stirring until they have dissolved into the oil. Add the asparagus, basil leaves and double cream, cook gently for 3 or 4 minutes while the spaghetti finishes. Your spaghetti should be just al dente as it will cook on in the final stage.

Retain a little of the spaghetti water, drain the spaghetti and add it to the asparagus sauce, tossing well and adding a little of the cooking water to loosen the sauce if necessary. Cook gently for a couple of minutes then scatter the pangrattato over the top. Check and carefully adjust the seasoning, bearing in mind that the pangrattato adds seasoning by itself, and serve with a simple green salad.

Naan Bread

For an amateur cook, there are some almost impossible holy grails to chase when it comes to making curries:

  • getting a curry to taste just like it does in the restaurant
  • making the perfect naan
  • making the perfect Bombay aloo

When I finally came up with the recipe and method for making a great naan I almost did backflips in the kitchen. Okay, maybe not, but I was very pleased indeed; I must have tried 20 different recipes before coming up with the final refinements.

This is probably as close to perfection as I’m likely to come in my kitchen, short of digging a great big pit in my garden and sinking a tandoor into it. Those who have tasted it say that it is every bit as good as the one that we have in our local Indian restaurant, and theirs is very good indeed.

This recipe makes 6 naan, around 9 inches in diameter. It is hard to cut this recipe down for smaller quantities while still retaining its balance, but once it has risen you can divide the dough and freeze what you don’t want to use. It comes back to life very well and will last up to a month with no ill effects in a freezer.


RECIPE – makes 6

3/4 tsp dried yeast

3 tsp caster sugar

130 ml tepid water

300g ’00’ flour

1 tsp salt

4 tbsp melted butter (or ghee)

4 tbsp natural yoghurt

To serve:

nigella seeds

chopped fresh coriander leaves


Mix the yeast and half the sugar in 4 tbsp of the water and set aside for 10 minutes.

Stir all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, make a well in the centre and add the liquids, including the yeast and sugar mixture you made earlier. Using a fork, bring the ingredients together into a sticky dough.

Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 7 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, using a teaspoon of vegetable oil; work the dough into a ball and place into the bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel or cling film, set aside for at least two hours.

Heat your oven to its hottest setting and put a large baking tray in the oven to heat up. Allow enough time for your oven to get as hot as it possibly can. At full blast on the hottest fan setting my oven will reach around 270C.

After two hours the dough will have risen to a silky, pillowy texture. Turn out from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface; using your fingers push all the air out from the dough, divide into six and roll each segment into a rough circle (or the more traditional teardrop shape of a naan). If using nigella seeds as a topping, scatter them lightly over the top and gently push them in. Brush the top of each naan with a little melted butter or ghee.

When ready to cook, take the hot baking tray out of the oven and close the oven door. Quickly but carefully lay one naan on the hot baking tray, then put it back into the hottest part of your oven.

Tip: So often I see people heat their oven then leave the door open while they do something else, they end up with a cooler oven and a hotter kitchen.

Especially when using the fan setting, the hottest part is not necessarily the top of the oven – using an oven thermometer you can quickly discover the temperature differences between the various areas of your oven. It’s good to know, especially when baking cakes, because there can be a 20 degree Celsius difference between the hottest and coolest areas of your oven, front to back as well as top to bottom.

Cook the naan for around 3 minutes until the remaining air pockets have bubbled up, it is golden brown and starting to go dark brown in places – as you can see in the picture above.

Brush with a little more melted butter or ghee, and scatter with chopped coriander leaves if you are using them. You can make a garlic naan by infusing your melted butter with a crushed garlic clove.

Mushroom Speltotto

Spelt is an ancient grain that has been cultivated in the middle east for around 9000 years, and has been a crop in Britain since 2000 BCE. It is a nutty, firm grain similar to the more familiar barley and in their ‘pearled’ state both are fantastic substitutes for rice. Used here instead of risotto rice, pearled spelt (or pearl barley, you can use either) go exceptionally well with the earthy flavour of mushrooms, making a warming, comforting, healthy yet very filling evening meal. Pearled barley and spelt are not quite whole grains because even though they have not been rolled, broken or ground down, they are still refined in that the pearling process polishes off the outer bran layer. This makes them easier and quicker to cook, and digest, without significantly affecting their nutritional profile.

The health benefits are many and varied, rather than rehash them here, this infographic from says it all:


We would normally have this speltotto in the autumn, but the spring weather in the UK recently took a turn for the wet and windy so this dish was the perfect antidote for the cold weather blues.

This recipe is easily adaptable for vegans with little impact on its flavour, simply omit the butter and Parmesan.

RECIPE – feeds 2

10g dried mixed mushroom (porcini, wild, shiitake, whatever you have available)

500ml vegetable stock

1 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

a sprig of thyme, leaves picked (or 1 tsp dried thyme)

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped or crushed

200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

150g pearled spelt (or pearl barley)

100ml vermouth

juice of half a lemon

15g unsalted butter

a small bunch of finely chopped parsley, leaves only

30g Parmesan, finely grated


Soak the dried mushrooms in 150ml of just-boiled water, set aside.

Heat the stock in a saucepan and leave at a gentle simmer.

Heat the oil in a large risotto or frying pan, add the onion and thyme and fry over a medium heat for 5 minutes until the onion is softened.

Remove the dried mushrooms from the hot water, drain and pat dry on kitchen paper, retaining the liquid in the bowl. Roughly chop the rehydrated mushrooms. Strain the mushroom liquid through muslin cloth to remove the grit, set the liquid aside as it has a lot of flavour which you will use in a moment.

Add the rehydrated mushrooms, sliced chestnut mushrooms and garlic to the onion and thyme, cook on for another five minutes or so, then add the pearled spelt and stir thoroughly for a minute or so until the spelt is coated with all the other ingredients. Now turn the heat up and add the vermouth, cook for a  minute while the alcohol burns off, now add the mushroom liquid. The pan should now be set at a heat where it will simmer gently, and the spelt will absorb the cooking liquid. Keep your eye on it, and keep stirring regularly; you don’t want it to catch on the bottom of the pan. When the liquid has almost all been absorbed start to add the simmering stock, a ladleful at a time, and continue to cook and stir. It will look like this:


Continue to add the stock as it gets absorbed by the spelt, never allow it to dry out. This will take around 20-25 minutes (40 minutes or so for pearl barley), and you will see the grains puff up as they absorb the liquid. If you need to add more liquid than is in your stock pot, just add some more hot water. When ready, the spelt grains should be cooked through and soft, but retaining a little ‘bite’.

To finish, add the butter and stir it through until melted, this will give the dish a nice shine. Stir through the lemon juice, then the parmesan – which acts as a seasoning as well as adding creaminess – and scatter the chopped parsley leaves across the top. Stir once, and serve alongside a simple green salad seasoned with a little lemon juice. It will look like this:


The flavours are intense, so adjust the seasoning carefully. You can also add a few handfuls of spinach before adding the butter; the flavours marry perfectly.


Kung Po Prawns

Stir-fried food is the ultimate fast food, taking literally less than 5 minutes from hot oil to finished dish. Obviously, that means that once you start cooking things move fast so you need to be well organised and have all your ingredients weighed-out, measured and chopped before you even think about turning on the gas. Though the ingredients list looks long there really isn’t much to it, and preparation should only take 15 minutes even if you take your time.

I made this a couple of nights ago; once we had used our fingers to clean every last drop of sauce from our bowls – and the wok, and the serving spoon – my wife said that she didn’t like Chinese food, but she loved this. What she really meant was that she loves Chinese food, real Chinese food, but she doesn’t like the food that you get from Chinese takeaways.

If Chinese takeaway food is your only experience of Chinese-style cooking then you are in for an extremely pleasant surprise, and this dish is an excellent way in to a delicious, filling and healthy cuisine. All the ingredients are readily available from UK supermarkets, so please don’t try and substitute say, black peppercorns for the Sichuan peppercorns, they are very different and it is the interplay of the various aromatic components of the sauce that make this such an amazing dish.

This is excellent served with Beijing rice, or your favourite noodles.


RECIPE – feeds 2

For the crispy prawns:

1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns, dry-fried and ground

a good pinch of sea salt

2 tbsp cornflour

12 large raw king prawns, tails on

6 tbsp groundnut oil

For the stir-fry:

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 medium red chilli, finely chopped (seeds left in if you like it hot)

1 red and 1 yellow pepper, chopped into 1.5 cm chunks

For the sauce:

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp hoisin sauce

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

For the garnish:

a bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped

a small handful of dry-roasted peanuts (optional)


In a large, NOT non-stick pan over a high heat, dry-roast the sichuan peppercorns until they are aromatic. Be careful not to scorch them, then turn them out on to a plate to cool.

Prepare all the other ingredients.

Once the Sichuan peppercorns are cool, use a small coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind them to a fine powder. In a large shallow dish combine with the cornflour and salt then roll the prawns in the mix until they are thoroughly coated, set aside for now.

Combine the sauce ingredients, set aside.

Heat a wok over a high heat, when hot add the 6 tbsp of groundnut oil and swirl it around the wok to coat all surfaces. Get it very hot then add the prawns, cook for about one minute, the prawns should be just turning pink. Remove from the heat and quickly, using a slotted spoon or ‘spider’  (a large open-mesh spoon, used a lot in oriental and wok cooking), remove the prawns from the wok and set aside on a plate.

Reheat the oil, add the chilli and garlic and stir fry for around 15 seconds, then add the chunks of red and yellow pepper. Stir-fry for 1 minute then add the sauce and bring to the boil, put the prawns back in the sauce and remove from the heat. Garnish in the wok, and serve.

I promise, you will fall in love with this dish.


Beijing Rice

There are many, many ways to make Beijing rice which is, at its heart, just egg fried rice. Feel free to use this as a template for your own experiments, give your imagination free reign and add any vegetables that you like.

Beijing rice is the perfect accompaniment to stir-fried dishes, but with the addition of a little separately-cooked pork, chicken, prawns or fish it stands up as a meal all by itself.


RECIPE – feeds 2 -4 

basmati rice, cooked and cooled

2 tbsp groundnut oil

2 large eggs, beaten

2 medium tomatoes, sliced

3 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

a twist of freshly ground white pepper

1 large spring onion, thinly sliced


Measure out a quantity of rice appropriate to the number of people eating. If cooking for more than 4 people then increase the amounts of the other ingredients as appropriate.

Cook your rice, tip into a sieve to drain and leave to cool completely.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.

I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

Prepare all your ingredients, heat the groundnut oil in a large pan over a medium heat and when hot add the beaten eggs. Scramble slightly then add the rice and stir thoroughly so the egg threads all the way through the rice. Add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly over the heat for 2 minutes then add the soy sauce, sesame oil and ground white pepper. Stir, take off the heat, add the spring onion, stir again and serve, garnished with a little chopped fresh coriander leaf if you like.