Prawns in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

Cumin and cinnamon add a delicious, subtle spiciness to this simple Middle Eastern recipe.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 generously 

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

4 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tbsp tomato puree

120ml fish stock

200g raw, peeled king prawns

juice of a lemon

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a bunch of fresh parsley, leaves only, chopped


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onions and fry for approximately 5 minutes until golden, then add the garlic and fry for a further minute. Add the tomatoes, then the cumin and cinnamon and stir for a minute on the heat.

Add the stock and tomato puree and stir well; bring to the boil then simmer for 15-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the liquid to reduce and intensify, and for the tomatoes to break down to a pulp; do not season the sauce yet.

When the sauce is thick and intense, season then bring back to high heat then add the lemon juice and prawns. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes until the prawns just turn pink then stir in most of the parsley

Serve with plain rice, garnished with the remainder of the parsley.

Kachumbali Salad

Salads don’t have to be bland and boring. This Tanzanian salad is traditionally served with grilled fish or meat, alongside rice. You’ll see red onion in there but don’t worry, it’s harshness is tempered by lemon juice, leaving it deliciously sweet and tangy.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 generously as a side dish

2 red onions, finely sliced

4 large tomatoes, finely sliced

2 green chillies, finely chopped

1/2 cucumber, peeled and finely sliced

1 carrot, peeled and finely sliced

juice of a lemon

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

it couldn’t be simpler… prepare all the ingredients and toss together in a large bowl with the lemon juice and seasoning. Ta daa!

Lemon Salmon with Cherry Tomato Cous Cous

When you’re dieting, the biggest issue is always feeling full enough that you don’t eat more than you should, and aren’t tempted to snack. The other problem is that if you are relying on pre-packaged ‘diet’ foods they can be bland (a problem which is often overcome by chemical additives – not good). This fantastic dish solves both issues: it is very filling, without being heavy on the stomach, and tastes divine. It’s quick too, what’s not to love?

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RECIPE – feeds 2 generously

2 salmon fillets

2 tsp fine sea salt

1/2 tsp paprika

zest and juice of a lemon

a large knob of fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 tbsp and 1 tsp garlic-infused oil (see method)

140g cous cous

210ml freshly boiled water

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

200g cherry tomatoes

a handful of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

First prepare your garlic infused oil: slice a clove of garlic into an egg cup, add 1 tbsp and 1 tsp of olive oil and leave for at least 30 minutes to infuse. Do this in the morning to save time later.

Now prepare the salmon: pat the fillets dry with kitchen paper, zest the lemon over a plate, add 1 tsp fine sea salt, 1/4 tsp paprika and stir in 1 tbsp of garlic-infused olive oil. Mix thoroughly then lay the fillets in the mix, turning over and using your fingers to coat the fillets thoroughly with the marinade. Cover and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

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Put the cous cous in a large pan that has a lid, add 1 tsp of fine sea salt, 1/4 tsp of paprika and the ginger. Mix thoroughly then add the water. Over a gentle flame, stirring continuously, cook for a minute. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, put the onion and lemon juice in a bowl, stir thoroughly and set aside.

Also, halve the cherry tomatoes and in a separate bowl toss in the remaining 1 tsp of garlic-infused oil. Set aside.

After ten minutes, put a large frying pan with a little oil or a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and get it hot but not smoking. While it is heating up, fluff up the cous cous with a fork, then add the onion and lemon juice, stir thoroughly, then add the tomatoes and oil, mix again, check and adjust the seasoning. Now add most of the chopped coriander and cover the pan again, put to one side while the fish cooks.

Place the salmon fillets in the hot pan, skin-side down if it has any, without scraping off the marinade. Cook for approximately 3 minutes on one side, then flip over and cook for a further minute or so on the other side. Do not try to move the fish around while it is cooking, it will stick until it is cooked. The exact time it will take to cook will depend on the thickness of your fillet.

Tip the cous cous on a serving platter and place the fillets on top, the crispy, seared side uppermost. Garnish with the remainder of the coriander and serve with a simple green salad, dressed with a little fresh lemon juice.

Roasted Squash, Red Onion, Spinach and Cheese Tart

Is there anything better for a summer picnic than a rich, flavourful tart with short, crumbly almost biscuit-like pastry? I don’t think so; it’s one of the main reasons I look forward to lazy summer Sundays – feet up in the garden, tart on the table, a glass of fine wine to hand, the sun shining and the dog at your feet, with nothing much to do except relax. On days like these all is right with the world.

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RECIPE – feeds 6 for lunch

a quantity of shortcrust wholemeal pastry

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small butternut squash, cut into 1cm cubes

2 small red onions, cut into 8 segments each with the root left on

300g spinach

100g strong cheddar, grated

3 large eggs

300ml double cream

parmesan cheese, finely grated


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Make the shortcrust wholemeal pastry, lightly flour the base of a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin and line the tin with the pastry. Use a little surplus pastry to gently push the pastry into the corners and flutes of the tin so there are no air pockets, trim round the edges of the tart tin to remove the surplus pastry (keep this in case you need to make any small repairs) prick all over the base with a fork and chill the pastry case for 30 minutes.

While the pastry is chilling, prepare the butternut squash and red onions, then roast them in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until cooked through and starting to caramelise.

Put the spinach into a large pan on a high heat. There is no need to add any water, just keep stirring the spinach until it wilts completely. Tip into a sieve, squeeze gently and leave any excess moisture to drain.

Now cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case for 20 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for a few minutes.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

While your cooked pastry case is resting, turn your oven down to 180C / 160C fan / gas 4 and continue to make your filling:

Lightly whisk the eggs and cream together, then season with salt and pepper, whisk again. Cut the roots off the roasted onions and remove any parts that have been scorched. Arrange the onions, butternut squash and spinach in the cooked pastry case and scatter the grated cheddar cheese over it. Pour over the eggs and cream mixture, and finely grate some parmesan over the top, this will give it a deliciously cheesy taste and aroma. Put the tart back into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and set.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, then remove from the tin and cut into slices.

This tart goes perfectly with a simple green salad dressed with a quick mustard vinaigrette:

3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sea salt

1 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard


Whisk it all together in the bottom of your salad bowl, drop the salad over it, and when you are ready to eat just toss everything together.

Here’s another quick tip: refresh your salad vegetables and leaves and make them extra crunchy by sitting them in iced water for 30 minutes, then pat them dry before dressing them.

Quick and Easy Fajitas

When thinking about something quick, easy, filling and nutritious to cook, normally my thoughts turn immediately to pasta. Luckily I keep a notebook of all the dishes that I have made over the years and it proved its worth last night as I flicked through it looking for inspiration. I hadn’t made this Fajita dish in a couple of years, and now I’m kicking myself for denying us the pleasure of its company for so long.

Just a handful of ingredients and a few spices, all of which I had to hand, makes for something very much more than the sum of its parts. I have used Quorn chicken pieces here, but it is as quick to make using real chicken, and if you are making it for a vegan, Quorn now do a vegan range – though the availability of their vegan products is still quite limited so you may need to search it out. As an easy vegan alternative try small chunks of aubergine, always a treat when lightly fried.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

For the seasoning:

1/2 tsp hot chilli powder

a pinch of fine sea salt

1 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground allspice

For the fajitas:

2 tsp ground nut oil

200g Quorn chicken pieces

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

1 green pepper, thinly sliced

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 medium white onion, halved and thinly sliced

fresh coriander

4 soft flour tortillas


METHOD

Combine the seasoning ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Prepare all the fajita ingredients.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok, when hot add all the fajita ingredients except the fresh coriander leaves and stir-fry for approximately five minutes until everything is soft and staring to colour.

Add the seasoning mix, stir thoroughly so everything is coated and continue to stir-fry for another few minutes until everything is thoroughly cooked. Take off the heat and add the fresh coriander, stir thoroughly and take to the table with the soft flour tortillas so people can make their own fajitas. The way to fold a fajita is to fill the middle of the tortilla, leaving a few inches free at the bottom, fold the bottom of the tortilla over the ingredients, then fold in from the sides to make a secure, leakproof container, like this:

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Add to your fajita with grated cheddar cheese, tomato salsa, guacamole, refried beans, let your imagination run riot!

Tomato Salsa

Delicious. That was my lovely wife’s verdict on this bright and zingy salsa. You might think that she has to say that, but we have a deal: if something isn’t right she has to tell me, that’s the only way I can get better. She won’t mince her words, so if she says it is delicious you can bet that it is.

This is a great accompaniment to Mexican and South American dishes – fajitas, tortillas, chilli – and is also good for barbecues and as a dip for tortilla chips.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 as a side

1 long red chilli, de-seeded and roughly chopped

1 long green chilli, de-seeded and roughly chopped

4 spring onions, trimmed and roughly chopped

4 ripe tomatoes, de-seeded and roughly chopped

red wine vinegar

1/2 cucumber, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 red pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 or 2 limes, and the zest of one

chopped fresh coriander leaves to garnish


METHOD

Prepare all the ingredients.

Put the chillies, spring onions and tomatoes in a food processor with some salt and pepper and blitz until finely chopped. Tip into a sieve and leave for a few minutes to let the excess moisture run out, then tip out into a large bowl, check the seasoning, then add a good glug of red wine vinegar. Stir thoroughly, then add the finely chopped cucumber and peppers, and the zest of one lime. Stir thoroughly then add the juice of one lime.

Now it is time to taste and adjust the flavours. As required, add more red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and lime juice until the flavours are nicely balanced. Add them each a little at a time, you can always add more if required but you can’t take it out again.

When it tastes just how you like it, set aside until you are ready to eat. It is best to leave it for at least 30 minutes so the flavours can fully develop. Just before serving, add the chopped coriander to garnish, and stir through.

Linguine with Smoked Salmon and Spicy Red Pepper Sauce

One of the great revelations of learning to cook has been that with a small handful of great ingredients you can make something that would cost you £10 a plate in a restaurant, and it will take only fifteen minutes of your time. Better to spend the money you save on a great bottle of wine.

The star of the show here is the smoked salmon; it adds just the right note of delicate smoke which, set against the heat of the chilli and the zingy freshness of the parsley and lemon zest, gets your taste buds doing a little dance in appreciation.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

225g linguine

25g unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium leek, halved and cut into 5mm slices

1 red pepper, de-seeded and cut into small chunks

150g smoked salmon, cut into 5mm slices

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

60ml dry vermouth

the finely grated zest of a lemon

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped


METHOD

Bring a large pan of salted water to a rolling boil, add the linguine and cook until just al dente. The brand I use takes 10 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter with the oil in a large frying pan. Add the leek and pepper and fry over a medium heat for 5 minutes until softened.

Add the salmon and chilli, cook for a further minute then add the vermouth (if you don’t have any you can use white wine), cook for a further minute to cook off the alcohol. Season, and set aside while the pasta finishes.

Drain the linguine, then tip into the frying pan, bring back over a medium heat and toss until well combined. Grate the lemon zest over the pasta then scatter the flat-leaf parsley. Toss again, then serve.

All this needs to accompany it is a big bowl of rocket. Quick, easy and so delicious.

Courgette and Sherry Soup

My mother-in-law makes a wicked courgette and sherry soup. Sadly, she has been ill this week so my lovely wife asked if I could make her something nice and light: “how about a courgette and sherry soup? She loves the one that she makes”.

Yeah okay, no pressure then. She’s a great cook and now you’re asking me to make something that she makes all the time, with no idea of her recipe.

On with the thinking cap, and I think I nailed it. The secret here is to keep it simple and let the ingredients sing. Boy do they sing. It’s the time of year when the courgettes we grow in the garden are just big enough to eat, so I grabbed a handful of them and let them speak for themselves. They were luscious. I was accused of adding cream to this soup, but no, all of the silky creaminess comes from the courgettes themselves. A delight.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

25g butter (or 1 tbsp olive oil, if making it for a vegan)

1 large onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

400g courgettes, chopped

1 tbsp dry sherry

500 ml water

1 vegetable stock cube (use a vegan-friendly one if necessary)

extra-virgin olive oil to garnish

small basil leaves to garnish

croutons to garnish (optional)


METHOD

Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onion and garlic, with the dried basil and oregano. Cover the pan and cook gently for 5 minutes until the onion is softened. Stir in the courgettes, cover the pan and cook gently for a further 10 minutes. Turn the heat up, add the sherry and cook for a minute or so to burn off the alcohol, then add the water and crumble the stock cube into the soup. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, season carefully.

Allow the soup to cool for a few minutes then pour into a blender and blend until smooth. You can also use a stick blender to do this.

To serve, garnish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a few small whole basil leaves, you can also garnish with a few croutons if you like.

Kedgeree

Curry for breakfast? It may be an acquired taste, but it’s a taste worth acquiring if the dish is interesting and – most importantly – delicious. In my house this is an evening dish, but in truth you could have it at any time of the day.

It is widely believed that kedgeree was brought to the United Kingdom by returning British colonials in Victorian times, who had enjoyed it in India and brought it back as a breakfast dish. There is some evidence that the dish was actually in existence much earlier, as early as 1790 in fact, but that is the nature of cooking – one dish inspires another, recipes evolve and hybridise with others, there is very little that is really new in the world of food. What is certainly true is that Anglo-Indian cuisine first became fashionable under Queen Victoria, a taste that has persisted, strengthened and deepened over the last 150 years.

There are many, many recipes for kedgeree – sometimes I feel as if I have cooked them all. The recipe below may be simple, but it is acclaimed by my family as the best of them all. Everything complements everything else, there are no flashy ingredients, nothing complex to do, just cook and eat.

It looks like there is too much fish in this dish, but kedgeree is a dish that is at its best with a lot of fish – cracking that secret was like discovering the kedgeree holy grail…

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RECIPE – feeds 4

approximately 600ml milk (any kind, for poaching)

2 bay leaves

the stalks from a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

1 tsp whole black peppercorns

400g haddock

500g undyed smoked haddock

25g unsalted butter

a large knob of fresh ginger

1 long red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 heaped tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

175g basmati rice

600ml cold water

a handful of sultanas

2 large eggs

freshly squeezed lemon juice

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped to garnish

lemon wedges to garnish


METHOD

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.

Put the fish in a large baking dish, skin side up (if it has any) in a single layer if possible. Add the bay leaves, parsley stalks and peppercorns, then add as much milk as necessary to just cover the fish. Cover the dish with baking foil, and ensure the edges of the foil are tucked in tight and sealed. Bake for 16-20 minutes until the fish is just done and starts to flake.

Meanwhile, boil a kettle, add the hot water to a pan and boil the eggs for 8 minutes (until just hard-boiled). Plunge them into cold water to cool, set aside for now. When you come to use them either half or quarter them, as you like.

While the eggs are boiling, melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat and add the ginger, chilli and garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes until aromatic, then add the onion and reduce the heat. Cook for a further 6-8 minutes on a medium heat until the onions are softened but not coloured, then add the cayenne pepper, turmeric and nutmeg, stir thoroughly while cooking for a minute, then add the rice and sultanas. Stir again, ensuring that everything is thoroughly coated in everything else, then add the water. Stir and bring to the boil, then simmer for approximately ten minutes until the rice is just al dente.

By this point the fish should be done. Remove from the poaching liquid with a slotted spoon and remove any of the peppercorns that are adhering to it. Remove the skin (if it is there) and flake the fish directly into the rice. Cook it on slightly, stir it in gently and if any more liquid is required then use the poaching liquid to loosen the rice. Check the seasoning and warm a serving platter.

Turn the fish and rice out onto the serving platter, topped with the eggs and roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves. Squeeze half a lemon over everything, and serve with lemon wedges.

Yellow Tarka Dahl

Dahl is perhaps the simplest yet most reliably gorgeous curried dish that you can make. Though lentils have a bad reputation: dismissed as the preserve of hippies and vegans, they are packed with protein, vitamins and trace elements and are low calorie as well. They also make for a very filling dish so they are ideal if you are on any kind of diet. Did I mention that they are delicious?

This dahl is made with chana dahl, which is very similar to the yellow split pea but cooks quite differently. Chana dahl will hold its shape well when cooked, while yellow split peas will go mushy when cooked. That said, for this recipe they are easily interchangeable so substitute one for another if you cannot find chana dahl on your supermarket shelf.

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RECIPE – feeds 3, with rice and a side salad 

250g chana dahl

1 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil if making it for a vegan)

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 onion, peeled and diced

3 whole green chillies

a large knob of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp hot chilli powder

2 tsp ground coriander

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped


METHOD

Rinse the lentils thoroughly in three changes of water; the water will turn milky and you will know when they have been sufficiently rinsed because by the third rinse the water will be much clearer.

Cover the lentils with clean water, allowing a good inch of water above the level of the lentils. Bring to the boil, and skim off any scum that forms on the surface. Simmer for around 45-60 minutes, topping up the water as necessary, until the lentils are tender. Drain and set aside.

CAUTION: Do not season the water, the lentils will never be tender if they are salted before they are fully cooked.

If you have a pressure cooker the chana dahl will cook perfectly in around 18 minutes, but consult the instructions for your particular device.

Using a sharp knife, cut four small slits in each whole chilli, this will allow the sauce to penetrate and will flavour the sauce as well as tenderising the chilli. It makes them great to eat whole as part of the dish.

Put the ground turmeric, garam masala, hot chilli powder and ground coriander in a small bowl, add a little water and mix to a paste. Set aside.

Heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a large pan, when hot add the cumin seeds and fry for 30 seconds or so until aromatic, then add the onions, ginger and chillies and fry for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are starting to go brown. Add the spice paste and stir thoroughly so everything is coated.

Meanwhile, put the tinned tomatoes and crushed garlic in a blender and blitz to a puree, then add it to the onion mixture. Combine well, add a further 100ml of water and bring to the boil. Season and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the cooked lentils to the sauce, adding a little more water if necessary. At this point you can allow the dahl to sit for a few hours so the flavours can infuse.

When ready to eat, heat through thoroughly and garnish with the fresh coriander.

Serve with some plain steamed or boiled basmati rice. This goes perfectly with a side of onion salad.