Red Dragon Pie

Aduki beans. Where have you been all my life?

I’m a sucker for hearty, warming, winter one-pot wonders and this is one of the most wonderful of them all. I have been seeing aduki beans on supermarket shelves for a few years now, but because I already have row upon row of jars full of pulses and lentils I never added them to my must-have pantry staples. What a fool I was.

The tiny, reddish-brown bean with a cream coloured seam and sweet, nutty flavour is endlessly versatile.  They are used in Asian cooking for sweet and savoury dishes, including soups, desserts and as a dim sum filling. They are considered to be the king of beans in Japan and are prized for their health-giving properties: reputedly benefiting the liver and the kidneys. Me, I just love the taste and texture.

The Chinese call aduki beans ‘Red Dragon’, which is where this delicious vegetarian alternative to shepherd’s pie gets its name.  With a couple of simple swaps you can also make it vegan.


RECIPE – feeds 4 easily

500 ml dark vegetable stock

120g aduki beans, soaked overnight

55g brown rice, soaked overnight

2 carrots, finely diced

1 fat garlic clove, peeled and crushed

1/2 butternut squash, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp miso paste

For the topping:

750g sweet potatoes, mashed

1 tsp salt

50g unsalted butter

60g cheddar, grated

flat-leaf parsley to garnish

Alternative topping:

500 ml water

1 tsp salt

120g easy-cook polenta

30g butter

60g cheddar, grated

paprika to garnish

Make it vegan:

use olive oil or vegan Flora in the topping in place of the butter

use grate-able vegan cheese in place of the cheddar


Soak the beans and rice together overnight in cold water. The next day drain and then rinse well in running water. Place in a large pan and cover with the vegetable stock, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 50 minutes or until tender. If you have a pressure cooker the job is much quicker; follow the instructions for your own device, but mine takes around 12 minutes to cook the beans and rice.

While you are preparing the beans, coat the squash chunks in a little oil, season lightly and roast in a 200C/ gas 6 for around 30 minutes until soft and just starting to caramelise at the edges. This is another worthwhile step; roasting vegetables accentuates their sweetness and adds further dimensions to any dish in which they are used.

Keep the oven on, at 200C/ gas 6.

Meanwhile boil the sweet potatoes in lightly salted water until tender, then mash together with the salt and butter. Do not add any liquid; because this is a pie topping the mash should be fairly stiff.

When they are ready, transfer the beans and rice to a large pan, together with the stock they were cooked in, and add the roasted squash, carrots and garlic. Season, and ensure everything is just covered with liquid. Simmer for 15 minutes until the carrots are soft; the aduki beans should just be starting to break down, making the cooking liquid thick and creamy. Remove a little of the cooking liquid and mix it with the miso paste and olive oil, then stir it back into the pan, ensuring it is thoroughly mixed.

Transfer the aduki bean mixture to an ovenproof dish, then spread the sweet potato mash all over the top. Scatter the grated cheddar over the top and bake for 30 mins until the top is golden and crunchy. The cooking liquid will probably bubble up through the mash in places while it cooks, this is a very good thing!

Garnish with the parsley and serve alongside a simple green salad or steamed vegetables.

If you are making the polenta topping:

Don’t make the sweet potato mash (obviously!). Instead, after transferring the aduki bean mixture to an ovenproof dish, boil 500ml of water with 1 tsp of salt and when it is at a rolling boil, pour the polenta into the water in a slow and steady stream, whisking continuously. Return it to the boil and keep on whisking until the polenta is thick, smooth and cooked through. This will only take a few minutes.

Stir in the butter and most of the cheese (reserving a little to scatter over the top), then quickly pour the polenta over the top of the aduki bean mixture. Spread it out so it is even, then scatter with the reserved cheese and a good sprinkle of paprika.

Put it into the 200C oven, close the door then immediately reduce the oven setting to 140C/ gas 1. Leave the dish in the unopened, falling oven for 30-40 minutes until the topping is golden. Polenta always tastes better when served warm rather than piping hot.

Serve alongside a simple green salad or steamed vegetables.

Red Lentil Tikka Masala

Having provided you with a recipe for masala paste it would be remiss of me not to give you a quick and easy recipe that – I guarantee – once you have made it once you will return to again and again.


RECIPE – feeds 3 easily

2 tsp groundnut oil

1 red onion, finely diced

2 tbsp masala paste

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

1 tin chopped tomatoes

250ml passata, or vegetable stock

200g red lentils, rinsed

200g spinach leaves

to serve: natural yogurt, if desired


Heat the oil over a medium heat and gently saute the onion for five minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute before adding the masala paste. Cook on for a minute or two, stirring constantly, to release the aromas of the garlic and masala paste, then add the tomatoes and passata or stock.

Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and add the lentils. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes until the lentils are tender but still holding their shape. Remove from the heat and add the spinach leaves, stirring them well into the sauce so that they wilt.

If this is a little too hot for anyone, a little natural yogurt stirred in will temper the heat.

This is great served with chapatis or wholemeal rotis.

Masala Paste

If you look through this blog you will notice that I make quite a lot of spicy food, I can’t help myself, I love it. Some find working with spice quite scary, as if it is a dark art, or they look at the ingredients list for an authentic curry and move on because it is so long. Actually, if you follow a trusted recipe exactly then spice is extremely easy to cook with, and of course the more you cook with it the more you will understand it.

To cut out some of the preparation I always have a stock of pre-made pastes in the freezer. They freeze extremely well and the flavours intensify the longer you leave them. This is one of my favourites, a flavour-packed, vibrant paste that isn’t too hot. It is great used anywhere a recipe specifies a store-bought masala or balti paste.


RECIPE – Makes 8 tbsp

1 tsp cumin seeds, dry-fried and ground

1 tsp coriander seeds, dry-fried and ground

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp sweet smoked paprika

a big thumb of fresh ginger, finely chopped, or 2 tbsp minced ginger

1 tbsp groundnut oil

2 tbsp tomato puree

a handful of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks

sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper


First, dry-fry the cumin and coriander seeds in a heavy bottomed pan for a minute or so until they give off a delicious aroma, allow to cool then grind well using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder reserved just for grinding spices.

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth puree. The coriander won’t chop up finely enough to disappear but that’s no problem.

Porotos Granados

This is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s version of Chilean squash and bean stew and it is absolutely delicious. The subtle mingling of sweet smoked paprika and marjoram is a real education in combining flavours, while the soft, almost disintegrating squash is like a big warm cuddle on a winter’s night.

This works best when made with fresh corn on the cob or tinned sweet corn. For some reason frozen corn just doesn’t do the job.


RECIPE – Feeds 4

150g dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight (or one 400g tin)

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tsp sweet smoked paprika

1 tsp dried marjoram

1 litre vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

750g butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into bite-size chunks

200g French beans, cut into 2 or 3cm lengths

the kernels from 2 sweetcorn cobs, or two tins

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Soak the beans overnight in cold water. The next day drain and then rinse the beans well in running water. Place the beans in a large pan and cover with fresh cold water, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes or until tender. If you have a pressure cooker the job is much quicker; follow the instructions for your own device, but mine takes around 23 minutes to cook the beans.

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat and gently saute the onions for ten minutes until softened and just beginning to colour. Turn the heat right down, add the garlic, paprika and marjoram and cook very gently for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the rinsed beans, squash and bay leaf and stir well so everything is well coated, then add the stock and turn the heat up; bring to the boil then simmer for 15-20 minutes until the squash is tender.

At this point you can turn the heat off, cover it and allow the flavours to develop for a few hours – it tastes even better! However, you can move straight on…

…add the French beans and corn, simmer for 5 minutes, then season with salt and pepper.

The only thing required to complete this dish is a few slices of crusty wholemeal or sourdough bread.

Chaat Masala

The one ingredient that most Indian snacks, street foods, roasted and fried food and salads rely on for their instant zing and spicy sparkle is Chaat Masala. This spice mix is a blend of spicy, salty and tart flavours and is usually added to the food after cooking and right before serving. It is one of the secret weapons of your local Indian restaurant.

Usually a good sprinkling of a tablespoonful (or more, experiment with it) over the prepared dish and a good stir through to combine is all that is needed. Chaat Masala adds an unbelievable edge to the flavour. Some of the ingredients are a little esoteric, like the ground black salt, but are well worth tracking down online if you cannot find them in your nearest international food store.


RECIPE – makes a small jarful

3 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds, ground

1 teaspoon toasted coriander seed, ground

1⁄2 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds, ground

4 teaspoons amchoor powder (powdered dried mango)

3 teaspoons ground black salt (or ordinary salt if you really can’t get it)

1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 pinch asafoetida powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon Carom seeds

1⁄4 teaspoon ground dried mint

1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon paprika


First, dry-toast the cumin, coriander, fennel and carom seeds in a heavy bottomed pan for a minute or so until they give off a delicious aroma, allow to cool then grind well using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder reserved just for grinding spices.

Combine all ingredients, and store in an airtight container in a cool dark place.

Simple as that!

Home-made Baked Beans

I got a very strange look the other day: “What are you making?” was the question; “Baked beans” was the answer. There was no tin in sight, just a pressure cooker doing its thing with some dried haricot beans while the delicious aroma of a tomato sauce was filling the air.

“You’re actually making them, aren’t you, from scratch?” Um, yes I was, but why?

I admit it, there is no real need to make baked beans, the tinned variety are delicious after all. The pointlessness of the whole process is underlined by the fact that this recipe tastes exactly like a certain market-leading tinned variety. So why make them?

Why not? I like a challenge, and it took a lot of tweaking to finalise this recipe. The whole point was just to have a little fun in the kitchen. They are delicious though, and the sauce freezes well so you can make a big batch of sauce, freeze it in portions and just add haricot beans to it when you come to use it.


RECIPE – Serves 6 

450g dried haricot beans, soaked overnight

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 small carrot, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

2 1/2 tbsp tomato ketchup

1 1/2 tsp cornflour

300ml just-boiled water

20g unsalted butter


Soak the beans overnight in cold water. The next day drain and then rinse the beans well in running water. Place the beans in a large pan and cover with fresh cold water, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. If you have a pressure cooker the job is much quicker; follow the instructions for your own device, but mine takes around 12 minutes to cook the beans.

To make the sauce, put the oil and garlic in a large, cold pan then heat gently until the garlic is aromatic. Add the carrot and celery, cover with a cartouche and soften for around 20 minutes.

*Tip: Sweating vegetables under a piece of parchment is known as using a cartouche. It is a way of cooking that simultaneously sweats and steams the vegetables, extracting maximum flavour in minimum time.

Cut a square of baking parchment that is slightly larger than the surface area of your pan, push it down so it sits on top of your sweating vegetables and then tuck the sides down so the vegetables are completely covered. Keep the heat low and after a few minutes check to see that nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan, then re-cover and continue to sweat them until they are as soft as you need them to be and the aroma is filling your kitchen.

Heat the oven to 200C/ Fan 180C/ gas 4.

Remove the parchment, add the tinned tomatoes and tomato ketchup, season well and simmer for ten minutes. Allow to cool slightly then use a blender to blitz to a smooth puree. Put the puree into an ovenproof dish or casserole.

Mix the cornflour with a little cold water to make a paste, add to the puree and stir thoroughly, then add 300ml just-boiled water and the cooked beans. Stir thoroughly, check and adjust the seasoning, put a lid on the casserole and place it in the oven for 20 minutes.

To serve: bring it to the table in the casserole, stir in the butter and enjoy.

Garlic Butter and Garlic Bread

It’s the little things that matter when you are cooking; whether it is the choice of oil, the freshness of the ingredients or the judicious selection of side dishes.

I guess everyone knows how to make garlic butter: take some butter and mash some garlic into it. Yes? Well okay, yes, but add a few little extra things and you will experience garlic butter that will make you cry with joy. Simon Hopkinson, restaurateur and writer, is responsible for this, and he has my eternal thanks.

Garlic bread is a must-have when I am serving meatballs, lasagne or spaghetti Bolognese. It is so easy to make you will never reach for the ready-made supermarket version again.


RECIPE – Sufficient to make a baguette into garlic bread 

125g unsalted butter

4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

a small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

2 tsp Pernod

a pinch of flaky sea salt

a twist of freshly ground black pepper

a pinch of cayenne pepper

3 drops of tabasco

1 long French baguette


Put all of the ingredients (except the baguette, of course) into a bowl and mash together until fully combined. Roll out a 30cm square piece of cling film and place the butter mix in the middle, then using the cling film to shield your hands, mould and roll out into a sausage. Wrap the cling film tightly around it and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

To make the garlic bread: heat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7. Cut the baguette 3/4 of the way through in slices 1cm thick; the baguette will still hold together but is easily torn apart when served.

Take the chilled sausage of butter and cut thin slices, place a slice of butter in between each slice that you made in the baguette.

Take a length of baking parchment, long enough to wrap the baguette. Scrunch it up and wet it under a tap. Shake it so there is no excess water, then place the baguette into it and wrap tightly so it is sealed. Doing this ensures that your baguette (which has already been baked) steams as it heats and remains moist. Place onto a large baking tray and bake for between 10 and 20 minutes until it is done to your liking – keep an eye on it!

Lemon Risotto with Seared Prawns

If you have made my chilli oil and you are wondering what to use it with, here is your answer. Fast-frying the prawns in a couple of tablespoons of chilli oil lend a spicy undertone and a rich colour, without overpowering; the oil that you cooked with makes an ideal drizzle to finish the dish as well.

The spiced, delicate flavour of the seared prawns marries perfectly with a simple creamy risotto and makes for a very elegant dish indeed. Seared scallops work equally well and make it even more special. You can use Arborio rice to make risotto, although many Italians consider Carnaroli and Vialone Nano far superior. Carnaroli is what I prefer to use.

If you can get them, use big, fat Amalfi lemons or something similar. If you are stuck with the small offerings from your local supermarket then use four of them, this risotto is all about the citrus.


RECIPE – serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

2 shallots peeled and finely chopped

400g Carnaroli or Arborio rice

300ml vermouth

1 litre (approx) hot vegetable stock

the grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons, or 4 small lemons

2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley

60g mascarpone

2 tbsp chilli oil

16 raw, peeled king prawns, deveined


First, heat the stock until it is hot but not boiling. Keep it on a very low heat throughout.

Heat the oil in a large frying or risotto pan over a medium heat, add the shallots and fry gently for a few minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the rice and stir constantly for a minute or so until completely coated and glistening with oil.

Add the wine and simmer for a minute until it has largely evaporated, then add two ladles of the stock, bring it to a simmer and stir until it is absorbed. Continue adding the stock, a little at a time and letting it be absorbed before adding more. The rice is cooked when it is soft but still has a slight ‘bite’ to it. This should take 15-20 minutes and you may not need to use all of the stock.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon zest, most of the lemon juice, the parsley and mascarpone and stir it through until the risotto is thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper and keep it warm while you cook the prawns…

Season the prawns with salt and pepper then heat the chilli oil on a high heat in a frying pan large enough to take all the prawns. Fry the prawns for a minute or two on each side, until they are just pink – there is nothing worse than an overcooked prawn. Nothing.

Pour the leftover lemon juice into the pan, swirl it all around with the prawns then serve the risotto in bowls, topped with four prawns each and finished with a drizzle of the oil and lemon juice that you cooked the prawns with.


Roasted Broccoli, Almond and Mint Soup

This may seem to be an odd combination of vegetables to turn into a soup, but trust me, the combination is absolutely magical.

Roasting any vegetable is a sure-fire way to enhance its flavour, by driving out moisture and intensifying the plant sugars that are left behind. You can use a lot of mint here, the minty flavour disappears when it is cooked, transforming itself into the perfect partner for the intense flavour of the roasted broccoli and garlic.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this soup is just how filling it is. It is super-skinny because it uses very little oil, and there is no potato here to thicken it and add bulk; the almonds do that job, but even though there are so few of them this is a big, hearty soup. It’s perfect for winter evenings, but it’s also delicious cold so would make a lovely summer supper as well.


RECIPE – serves 4

1 kg broccoli (approx 3 heads)

100g blanched almonds (75g soaked overnight)

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled and left whole

1 tbsp olive oil

1.5 litres vegetable stock (approximately)

a large handful of mint leaves

the zest and juice of a lemon


Pre-heat the oven to 200C/ Fan 180C/ gas 4.

Cut the broccoli into bite-size florets, and chop the stems into approximate 1cm cubes. Pour the oil into a large plastic bag, then add the broccoli, unsoaked almonds and the garlic and work the bag until everything is coated in the oil. It may seem like a ridiculously small amount of oil but as long as everything has a little oil on it this is all you need.

Turn the contents of the bag onto a large roasting tray and spread it out into a single layer, roast for approximately 20 minutes until the broccoli is tender and some florets are still a little green.

Reserve the most attractive florets and roasted almonds and set aside for use as a garnish. Tip the remainder of the broccoli and almonds into a large pan, then squeeze the roasted garlic out of the skins and into the pan as well. Add the pre-soaked almonds and the majority of the mint leaves, keep a few of the most attractive for garnishing. Add sufficient stock to just cover the broccoli and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for ten minutes.

Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly, before transferring in batches to a blender and blitzing until it is completely smooth. Put back into a large pan and season, you may need to add a little water to loosen the blitzed soup at this stage.

Just before serving, add the finely grated zest of a lemon and all of its juice, stir thoroughly.

Serve in bowls garnished with the reserved florets, roasted almonds and mint leaves, alongside farmhouse or sourdough bread.

Seared Salmon with Cumin-Crusted Vegetables

Delicious, satisfying, low calorie, stuffed full of vitamins and minerals, easy to prepare… what’s not to love about this winter warmer?


RECIPE – serves 4

4 salmon fillets – approx. 200g each

1.2 kg baking potatoes (Roosters, Maris Piper etc)

2 tsp black mustard seeds

2 tsp cumin seeds

4 tbsp rapeseed oil

2 heaped tsp garam masala

1 heaped tsp turmeric

2 medium red onions, peeled and cut into thin wedges

1 red, 1 yellow and 1 green pepper, deseeded and cut into bite-size chunks

2 medium courgettes, sliced into 1cm rounds


Pre-heat the oven to 200C/ Fan 180C/ gas 4. Chop the potatoes the same size as you would for regular roast potatoes, put into cold salted water and bring to the boil, then boil for 3 minutes, just enough to parboil them.

While the potatoes are boiling, mix the garam masala and turmeric with the oil to form a paste. Heat a large, seasoned frying pan and dry-fry the mustard and cumin seeds for 30 seconds or so, until they are aromatic. Add the spice paste and the onion wedges and fry together for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently.

Drain the potatoes in a colander, giving it a good shake to rough up the edges. Tip the potatoes into the frying pan with the spices and onions and toss together until everything is thoroughly coated in the spices. Tip the contents of the frying pan onto a large baking tray, scraping from the pan any spice that remains. Spread the vegetables out into a single layer, season with black pepper and roast for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, add the peppers and courgettes to the tray and toss together thoroughly so once again everything is thoroughly coated in spice. Spread out into a single layer and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are crisp and everything else is soft and starting to brown.

Meanwhile, place the salmon fillets between pieces of kitchen paper to absorb any excess liquid and set aside. Season with a little salt a few minutes before cooking.

Heat a large frying pan with a little oil, or a dry, ridged griddle pan on a high heat and get it hot but not smoking.  Place the salmon fillets in the hot pan, skin-side down if it has any, and cook for approximately 3 minutes on one side, then flip over and cook for a further minute or so on the other side, giving it a sprinkle of finely grated lemon zest and a good squeeze of lemon juice. 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.

Serve the fish alongside the roasted vegetables, with a simple rocket or green salad alongside it.

This also works fabulously well using seared tuna steaks rather than salmon.