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.

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!

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.

Seared Tuna Stir-Fry

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. There really isn’t much that goes into this dish, but even so it is absolutely packed with flavour. Preparation should only take 10 minutes even if you take your time.

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 a quick and easy way in to a delicious, filling and healthy cuisine. The sauce is what really makes this dish sing, the interplay of the various aromatic components is just divine. Hoisin sauce is the only ingredient that you might struggle to find, though it is now readily available from larger UK supermarkets.

I have specified Ramen noodles here, just because they go extremely well with stir-fries, but feel free to use whatever you have, or perhaps serve it with Beijing rice. The Ramen noodles I use have a cooking time of 4 minutes, at which point either serve them immediately or plunge them into cold water to stop them cooking. If you want to ensure you don’t have too many things going at once it is a good idea to cook them in advance. They can be heated again when you are ready to use them by plunging them into a pan of boiling water for a few seconds. Always make sure you know how long your noodles take to prepare by reading the instructions on your particular packet.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

2 tuna steaks

dark soy sauce

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 servings of Ramen noodles (approximately 160g dry)

For the sauce:

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp hoisin sauce

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

For the stir-fry:

1 tbsp groundnut oil

a large knob of fresh ginger, cut into thin matchsticks

2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

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

2 red peppers, chopped into 1.5 cm chunks

3 fat spring onions, finely sliced at an angle

For the garnish:

a bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped


METHOD

Fill the bottom of a dish large enough to hold your tuna steaks with dark soy sauce to a depth of 2 millimetres. Crush two garlic cloves into it, stir thoroughly then place the tuna steaks in the soy sauce, turning until it is completely coated. Cover with cling film and chill in a fridge for 30 minutes.

Prepare all the other ingredients.

Combine the sauce ingredients, stir thoroughly and set aside.

Heat a wok over a high heat, and a ridged griddle pan also over a high heat.

Get a large pan of unsalted water to a strong rolling boil, add the noodles and cook for 4 minutes. Set a timer – everything moves fast from here…

When the griddle pan is very hot, scrape any pieces of garlic and excess soy sauce from the tuna steaks and lay them in the pan. Cook for approximately 1 minute per centimetre thickness on one side, and half that on the other – to make that clear, a 2 cm thick tuna steak would be cooked for 2 minutes on one side, then flipped over and cooked for a further 1 minute. Do not move the tuna while it is cooking, it is likely to stick until it is properly cooked, and you want well-defined char lines where the ridges are. Cooking it this way should ensure the outside is well-sealed and the very middle is still quite rare, the tuna steak will cook on even when it is on your plate though.

At the same time as the tuna is cooking, when the wok is smoking hot add the groundnut oil and swirl it around the wok to coat all surfaces. Add the ginger, cook for a few seconds then add the chilli and garlic and stir fry for around 15 seconds, then add the chunks of red pepper. Stir-fry for 1 minute then add the spring onions and the sauce and bring to the boil, by this time your noodles should be ready so tip them in to the wok and toss everything together. Garnish in the wok with chopped fresh coriander leaves, and serve the tuna steaks on a bed of the noodles and stir-fried vegetables.

Carrot and Ginger Salad

This simple, quick to make and very attractive salad is the perfect accompaniment to Indian curries.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 

5 or 6 large carrots

1 fresh red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced

a 2cm knob of fresh ginger, trimmed but not peeled, finely chopped

a handful of flaked almonds

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

lime juice


METHOD

Peel and trim the carrots. If you are lucky enough to have a food processor with a grater attachment then you’re in luck, otherwise you will have to grate the carrots by hand. Put them into a salad bowl.

In a small, NOT non-stick pan lightly toast the flaked almonds until they are lightly and evenly browned. Keep your eye on them as they can burn quickly, when you judge that they are ready tip them out of the pan onto a plate to cool – the pan will be hot and they will cook on if left in it. Remove any toasted almonds that are burned as they are bitter.

Add the almonds to the carrots, together with the chilli, ginger and coriander. Toss thoroughly to mix, and when you are ready to eat sprinkle lime juice over the salad and toss again. Check the taste and add more lime if necessary, a little at a time.

Serve as a side salad alongside anything spicy, but this goes particularly well with many Indian dishes.

Thai Green Prawn Curry with Indian Baby Aubergine

We have lately become addicted to Thai green curry, the creamy, spicy sauce is very vibrant and when mixed with plain steamed or boiled rice makes the most deliciously moreish meal. We could quite happily just knock up a batch of the sauce, pair it with a bowl of rice and tuck in.

With such a promising beginning you can only make it even better by adding more flavours and textures. Flicking through another of my favourite books, ‘Rosa’s Thai Cafe’ by Saiphin Moore, I spotted a green chicken curry that uses pea and Thai aubergines. Interesting.

I have only slightly tweaked Saiphin’s recipe, so credit where it is due. Raw, tail-on king prawns are a match made in heaven for green curry, as is chicken, so use whatever you fancy. I swapped the pea and Thai aubergines for Indian (baby) aubergines, purely because they were the only ‘exotic’ variety available when I popped into my nearest international supermarket. They were perfect, and based on that experience I would recommend that you use whatever aubergines you can find, even the regular large Black Magic variety that are ubiquitous in UK supermarkets. Do try and use the smaller, more interesting looking varieties if you can though, just because they look more interesting. After all, the first bite is always with the eye.

You can have this on the table within 15 minutes from heating the oil, that’s quicker than a takeaway, with much more flavour.

Please, please, please make up your own Thai green curry paste. It is infinitely superior to anything you can buy ready-made in a jar. It freezes well so make up a large batch and put some aside for when you make this again, which you will…

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

1 tbsp vegetable oil

3 tbsp Thai green curry paste

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

1 tbsp of palm sugar or jaggery

2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

3 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried, shredded

300g raw, tail-on king prawns or 300g skinless chicken breast in bite-size pieces

100g Indian (baby) aubergines, cut in half

100g cooked bamboo shoots, cut into bite-size pieces

a handful of Thai or regular basil, leaves only, shredded

a couple of sprigs of basil to garnish

2 long red chillies, sliced thinly lengthwise to garnish


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan over a high heat and add the green curry paste. Stir-fry for ten seconds or so until it is fragrant, then reduce the heat to medium and add half the coconut milk. Cook for a couple of minutes until the curry paste splits and the oil becomes visible.

Now add the remaining coconut milk, palm sugar, fish sauce and lime leaves. Season carefully, bearing in mind that the fish sauce brings saltiness.

At this point you can remove the sauce from the heat and allow to sit and infuse for a few hours if you wish, this will deepen the flavours. Otherwise, add the aubergines and bamboo shoots and cook for 5-7 minutes until the aubergines are tender. If you are using chicken then add this with the aubergines.

If using the prawns, add them just before serving, along with the shredded basil leaves and cook very gently for a few minutes until the prawns are just pink.

Ladle into serving bowls, garnish with the thinly sliced red pepper and a sprig of basil each, and serve alongside bowls of steamed or boiled rice.

Hummus – Quick and Easy

A Lebanese classic, hummus is – in theory – quick and easy to make. Actually, it is quick and easy to make, so quite why I have had the misfortune to taste some of the most disgusting muck on the planet masquerading as hummus is beyond me. Admittedly, the disgusting stuff is found on supermarket shelves, alongside some quite superb hummus. Once you have made your own though there can be no going back: you know exactly what you are going to get, you know exactly what goes in to it, and you can tweak the proportions of the ingredients to get it exactly how you like it.

This version is not authentic Lebanese hummus, but it is close, and started life as a recipe courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour and her wonderful book ‘Persiana’. Consider the ingredient quantities specified as a starting point, and if you don’t want to make quite so much just reduce the quantities of everything in proportion. You might be surprised at how much salt you need, just add it little by little until it is just as you like it.

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RECIPE – feeds a crowd

3 tins of chickpeas, reserve the liquid from 1 1/2 tins

6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

3 lemons, juice only

4 tbsp tahini

sea salt

paprika to garnish (optional)


METHOD

Put the chickpeas, garlic, tahini, half the olive oil, half the chickpea liquid and half the lemon juice in a food processor and pulse a few times to break the chickpeas down and roughly mix the ingredients.

Empty it in to a large mixing bowl, and using a fork to vigorously mix it together gradually add the olive oil and then some of the chickpea liquid and lemon juice until the consistency is loose but not sloppy, while the texture remains rough – unless you prefer it very smooth like shop-bought, in which case get mashing!

Now start tasting: gradually add the sea salt, a pinch at a time and tasting as you go. Likewise, add more lemon juice if you think it needs it. Your aim is to get a balance of smoky flavour from the garlic, that the salt will accentuate, while bringing out the sharpness of the lemon juice. If your hummus gets a little too loose then a little more tahini will thicken it again, as well as adding more depth of flavour. Adjust gradually and taste it after every addition and you will end up with the most delicious hummus you have ever had, and all in around ten minutes.

Spicy Thai Prawn and Lemon Grass Soup

Testament to the old law that simplicity is best, this fabulous broth takes minutes to make yet is packed with fresh, zingy Thai flavours. It is the perfect starter course for a Thai meal, or a light summer lunch – best enjoyed out in the garden with the sun shining.

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RECIPE – serves 2

1 pint of fish stock

2 fresh lemon grass stalks, cut into 3cm lengths and lightly crushed

1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

zest of 2 limes

3 red birds eye chillies, de-seeded and cut into long strips

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice

100g raw king prawns

2 spring onions, finely sliced at an angle

a few sprigs of coriander


METHOD

Bring the fish stock to a gentle simmer in a large pan, add the crushed lemon grass and fish sauce, cover and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to sit, covered, to infuse for as long as you can, a couple of hours will do the job.

Later, remove the lemon grass stalks with a slotted spoon (or pour through a sieve) and discard. Bring back to the boil then add the lime zest, chillies, black pepper and lime juice. Simmer gently for 3 minutes, then add the prawns and allow them to poach gently until they are just pink. This will only take a few minutes. Stir in the spring onions and coriander and serve immediately.

Thai Prawn Green Curry

The Thais are generally a slender people, I have to wonder how they do it. I just wanted to continue eating this incredible Thai prawn green curry until I burst. The silky sauce is so full of flavours, each of them entirely distinct from one another, and yet it takes so little time to make. I could have made another batch of this within about 20 minutes; believe me, I was very tempted.

To experience this at its best please make your own Thai green curry paste if you can. It doesn’t take long but the difference in the depth of flavour compared to a shop-bought jar of paste is indescribable.

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RECIPE – serves 4

1 fresh lemon grass stalk

1 1/2 tbsp sunflower oil

2 tbsp Thai green curry paste

4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded (or the finely grated zest of 2 limes)

2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

2 tsp caster sugar

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

500g raw king prawns, peeled but tails on

200g fine green beans, cut into 2cm lengths

a small handful of fresh Thai basil leaves, or ordinary basil leaves, shredded


METHOD

Peel off the tough outer layers of the lemon grass, trim the root end then slice the tender whitish centre finely.

Heat a wok or large frying pan until it is hot, then add the sunflower oil. Now add the green curry paste and stir fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves (or lime zest) fish sauce, caster sugar and coconut milk. Reduce the heat and simmer for around 5 minutes.

At this point, if you wish, you can turn off the heat and allow the sauce to sit so the flavours can develop for a few hours. If you have the time then it is well worth doing.

When you are ready to serve, add the prawns and fine green beans and cook gently for around 4 minutes, stirring occasionally until they are just pink on both sides. Take off the heat, add the basil leaves and stir thoroughly.

Serve alongside plain steamed or boiled rice. Beware: this is seriously addictive!

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.

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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


METHOD

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.