Stir-fried King Prawns with Chinese Spinach and Garlic

Browsing in my local supermarket the other day, I spotted a living salad tray that contained Chinese spinach. It’s not something I have ever encountered before, and in truth it’s not actually that different from the ‘regular’ spinach you find on supermarket shelves, though it does release a deliciously earthy liquor when it is wilted down. This makes it an ideal choice for a stir-fry, where all that flavour can be used to enhance the sauce.

If you can’t find Chinese spinach, use ordinary spinach, or substitute it for pak choi.


RECIPE serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a starter

2 tbsp groundnut oil

3 fat garlic cloves, finely sliced

4 birds-eye chillies, finely sliced

200g Chinese spinach (or pak choi) roughly chopped

16 large, raw king prawns, tails on

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

2 whole dried red chillies, crumbled

1 spring onion, finely chopped

2 tsp toasted sesame oil


Prepare all the ingredients before you begin to cook. Things happen quickly when you stir-fry so you need to be organised.

Put the oil in a cold wok with the garlic, and heat it up over a high heat – this will flavour the oil and protect the garlic from burning while it releases its flavour. When the garlic is golden, add the birds-eye chillies and spinach (or pak choi) and cook for about a minute, keeping things moving all the time.

Now add the prawns, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes, keeping it all moving, until the prawns are just cooked.

Remove from the heat and sprinkle over the dried chilli flakes, spring onion and sesame oil, toss together and serve immediately accompanied by steamed Basmati rice or your choice of noodles.

Five-Spice Butternut Soup

The winter soup season is upon us at last. I secretly yearn for cold winter evenings just so I have an excuse to make stuff like this.

This soup takes only slightly more effort to make than opening a tin of soup, and not too much longer either. It is well worth that little bit of effort in order to wrap yourself in the rich, velvety sweetness of spiced butternut squash.

It may only be a simple soup, but it is easily elevated to dinner party-worthy fare just by being clever with your garnishes. Rather than throwing the seeds from the squash away, just scrub them, toss them in a little oil and lightly toast them for a few minutes before scattering over the top, with a drizzle of pumpkin oil and a swirl of cream, and finished with the lightest dusting of five-spice powder.


RECIPE serves 4

1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into 1 cm cubes

4 fat garlic cloves, roughly chopped

3 tsp Chinese five-spice powder

1 tbsp caster sugar

500ml chicken or vegetable stock

100ml double cream

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To garnish:

toasted squash/pumpkin seeds

pumpkin oil

double cream

Chinese five-spice powder


It doesn’t get much easier than this: in a large pan, put the squash, garlic, five-spice powder and sugar in with the stock and a little seasoning. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the squash is soft.

Allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a blender (or use a stick blender) and blitz until smooth. Add the cream and blitz for a few seconds more. Transfer back to the pan, warm gently until it is just below boiling point, check the seasoning and serve with the garnish(es) of your choice.

Pan-Fried Salmon with Roasted Apricots and Couscous

Everybody I know who has ever tried dieting, has failed. Actually, that’s not strictly true; in general they have lost some weight, but then gone back to eating how they used to eat and put the weight back on again. The key to losing weight and keeping it off is, of course, to permanently change the way you eat.

The trouble is, it’s all a bit of a trial isn’t it? All that denial, no treats, and the food is so unappealing…

It doesn’t have to be that way. I’m probably preaching to the converted, but if you can cook, then rustling up delicious healthy meals is very easy. With a little practice and a stock of good recipes you can make food that you would be happy to pay for in a restaurant. This is one of those meals: it’s quick and easy, packed full of interesting and delicious flavours, it’s attractive and it is, of course, extremely healthy.

pan-fried salmon with roasted apricots and cous cous.jpg

RECIPE serves 4

250g couscous

310ml light vegetable stock

2 pinches of saffron

25g unsalted butter

8 apricots, halved and stoned (fresh or dried)

1 tbsp caster sugar

1/4 tsp ground cumin

4 spring onions, finely sliced

3 tbsp pistachios, roughly chopped (or flaked almonds)

4 250g salmon fillets, skin on

coriander leaves, roughly chopped, to garnish

lemon or lime wedges, to garnish


If you are using dried apricots, soak them overnight to rehydrate them, and keep the liquid that is left.

Dry the salmon fillets thoroughly on kitchen paper, set aside.

Put the couscous into a large bowl. If you have the soaking liquid from rehydrating dried apricots, add the stock to it to make it up to 310ml. add the saffron and a pinch of salt and, in a pan, bring it to the boil and turn the heat off. Add the butter, stir until it is melted, then pour the stock over the couscous, stir well, cover and set aside for ten minutes.

Place the apricots, cut-side up, on a grill tray and sprinkle with the sugar, cumin, salt and pepper. Grill under a high heat until they are bubbling and golden. Chop into smaller pieces, then fluff up the couscous with a fork. Stir the apricots and spring onions through the couscous, check the seasoning and scatter the pistachios over the top.

Season the salmon on both sides with a little salt, then fry in a little oil over a medium high heat for 3 minutes, skin-side down. Flip over and cook for a further minute, the flesh should still be bright pink and just cooked.

Serve alongside the couscous and lemon or lime wedges, garnished with coriander leaves. Apple and celery salad is a fantastic accompaniment to this dish, adding more flavour and texture.

Sea Bass with Mint, Tomatoes and Red Onions

I have a mini herb garden in my kitchen, pots of basil, coriander, lovage, mint and others, all lined up on the window sills. The mint is a problem: it grows like a weed and tends to smother the others, so every now and again I will search for a recipe that uses mint, just so I can prune it without feeling guilty.

This recipe comes from Skye Gyngell’s ‘My Favourite Ingredients’, one of those books that, no matter which random page you open it at, you want to eat what you see. This one, for example, tastes even better than it looks.

As usual, using the very freshest, perfectly ripe ingredients allows it to sing. If you don’t have sea bass, this would work equally well with the freshest mackerel, or meaty tuna steaks. I served it alongside fennel chips, the flavour of the fennel seeds echoing the crushed fennel in the sauce, but I think it would also be delicious with simple steamed rice.


RECIPE – Serves 2 

2 sea bass fillets, skin on

100ml extra virgin olive oil

3 sweet red onions, peeled and finely sliced

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp dried red chilli

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

a handful of flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped, leaves only

a small bunch mint, coarsely chopped, leaves only

4 ripe, sweet, juicy tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil, for frying


Set the sea bass fillets aside on a covered plate to allow them to come to room temperature.

Place a pan over a low heat, pour in the extra virgin olive oil and, when the oil is warm, add the onions. Cook very gently for about 30 minutes, to bring out the gentle sweetness of the onions. Meanwhile, toast the fennel seeds in a dry frying pan to release their flavour, then grind using a pestle and mortar.

Add the ground fennel seeds to the onions, crumble in the chilli and season with a little salt. Cook for a further 10 minutes, still over a very low heat. Add half the parsley and mint, stir well, then add the tomatoes and sherry vinegar. Turn up the heat a little and cook for 10 minutes. This sauce should taste very clean, so don’t cook the tomatoes for too long.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Season the fish well, especially on the skin side. This will draw out the moisture in the skin, allowing the skin to go crisp and crunchy when cooked and adding both flavour and texture to the finished dish.

Place a non-stick ovenproof frying pan over a high heat. Pour in a little olive oil and when hot, lay the fish skin side down in the pan. Cook for 2–3 minutes until the skin is golden brown. Immediately transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking without turning the fish. This should take no more than a further 2–3 minutes.

To serve, taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust if necessary, then add the rest of the parsley and mint. Spoon into warm shallow bowls and lay the fish fillets on top. Serve at once.

Prawn Risotto

I reintroduced myself to the simple, calming pleasure of stirring a risotto yesterday evening. Admittedly, spending 25 minutes or so watching over and stirring rice isn’t everybody’s idea of pleasure, but after a hectic day rushing around from pillar to post it made me stop, and allowed me to reset and relax. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the results were divine, but by the time it got to the table I was in exactly the right frame of mind to enjoy it.

There are a few essentials in making a great risotto: the rice you use is crucial, Carnaroli is best I think, though Arborio is fine. Also, the finer you chop your shallots and celery the better; I try and ensure that each piece is no larger than a grain of rice so they release all their flavour then disappear. The quality of your stock is also crucial: chicken stock gives the best flavour, fish stock comes a close second, or you can use a light vegetable stock. If you absolutely must use a stock cube then the results will also be great, but with something as simple as this you get out what you put in. It is essential that you keep your stock at a gentle simmer so that you never interrupt the cooking of the rice as you add it.

Serve alongside an apple and celery salad, the perfect accompaniment.


RECIPE – Serves 2 

2 tbsp olive oil

2 or 3 banana shallots, very finely chopped

2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 celery stick, trimmed and very finely chopped

200g carnaroli risotto rice

100ml dry vermouth

approx 800ml hot stock (chicken, fish or vegetable)

220g raw peeled king prawns

140g peas

1 spring onion, white and green parts, very finely sliced on the diagonal

finely grated zest of half a lemon

1 1/2 tsp finely chopped mint

a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil to finish


Get your stock bubbling at a very gentle simmer, and keep it at this temperature throughout the cooking.

Heat the oil in a wide, deep, heavy-bottomed risotto pan or saucepan over a low-medium heat. Gently fry the shallots, garlic and celery for around ten minutes until softened. Turn the heat up to medium, add the rice and stir thoroughly to ensure that every grain is coated. Cook on for a minute or so, then add the vermouth and turn the heat up. Bubble the vermouth for a couple of minutes until the alcohol has evaporated.

Turn the heat down to low-medium again, then add a ladleful of stock. Stir with a wooden spoon until the rice has absorbed the stock and is just at the point of sticking to the pan (don’t let it actually stick though!). Continue to add the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring very frequently while it is absorbed. Keeping it at a low temperature ensures that the rice takes up the stock and its flavour, rather than it evaporating off. This will take 20-25 minutes.

When the rice grains are plump and tender, yet still retaining a little ‘bite’, season generously and add the prawns and peas. Cook for 2 minutes, then cover and cook for a further 2 minutes until the prawns are only just cooked through.

Stir through the spring onion, most of the lemon zest and 1 tsp of the mint. Top with a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil, remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for a couple of minutes.

Check the seasoning, garnish with the remaining mint and lemon zest, and serve.

Salmon and Prawn Burgers with Chilli Mayo

Get them right and there are few things better than a well-made fish cake. The trouble is, every recipe that I have for fish cakes involves quite a lot of work, time and effort. I don’t mind that at all, the results are always worth it, but sometimes the craving arrives on a day that I am pushed for time. To my joy, I spotted this recipe in a BBC Good Food magazine, and it delivers on every front: it’s quick to make (on the table within 30 minutes), requires no skill at all, and it tastes absolutely divine.

It is infinitely flexible as well. This recipe calls for a simple salad as an accompaniment but you can add onions, gherkins, capers, chillies… anything you fancy. You can also substitute the chilli mayo for tartar sauce. At around 500 calories per burger (including the bun) it is also low-calorie and rich in omega-3 oil, so it’s guilt-free.


RECIPE – Serves 4 

180g peeled raw prawns, roughly chopped

4 skinless salmon fillets, chopped into small chunks

3 spring onions, roughly chopped

1 lemon, zested and juiced

small pack coriander, stalks and leaves

60g mayonnaise or Greek yogurt

4 tsp chilli sauce

2 Little Gem lettuces, shredded

1 cucumber, peeled into ribbons

1 tbsp olive oil

4 seeded burger buns, toasted, to serve


Briefly blitz half the salmon, the coriander stalks, spring onions and lemon zest in a food processor until it forms a coarse paste. Tip into a bowl, stir in the rest of the salmon and the prawns, season well and shape into four burgers. Chill for at least 10 mins.

Mix the mayo and chilli sauce together in a small bowl, season and add some lemon juice to taste. Mix the lettuce with the cucumber, dress with a little of the remaining lemon juice and 1 tsp olive oil, then set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan and fry the burgers for 3-4 mins each side or until they have a nice crust and the fish is cooked through. Alternatively, you can make it even lighter by placing the burgers on a piece of parchment on a baking sheet in a 180C oven (160 fan, gas 4) for approximately 15 minutes until just cooked through – the burger will cook on slightly so don’t worry that the centre is a little pink, as long as it is hot.

Serve with the salad on the side in toasted burger buns, with a good dollop of the chilli mayo.

Roasted Chick Pea Wraps

Quick, easy, filling, low-calorie (around 500 kcals per serving) and utterly, utterly delicious. All food should be able to be described this way.

This recipe originally appeared in BBC Good Food magazine, and has only been slightly changed. To make it vegan just omit the feta.


RECIPE – Serves 4 

2 x 400g tins of chick peas

2 tsp olive oil

2 heaped tsp ground cumin

2 tsp smoked paprika

2 avocados, stoned, peeled and chopped

the zest and juice of a lime

a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, chopped

8 soft corn tortillas

1 small iceberg lettuce, shredded

150g feta cheese, cubed

480g jar of roasted red peppers, chopped


Preheat the oven to 220C/ fan 200C/ gas 7.

Drain the chick peas and put into a large bowl with the olive oil, cumin and paprika. Toss well until the chick peas are fully coated, then spread in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking tray. Roast for between 15 and 25 minutes, until they have the ‘bite’, crunch and texture you like. Check frequently as they can dry out just a little too much, very quickly. Shake the tray occasionally to ensure they roast evenly. Remove from the oven and season lightly, to taste.

Meanwhile, toss the chopped avocados with the lime juice and zest, and the coriander leaves.

Warm the tortillas according to the pack instructions and set the table with dishes and bowls of roasted chickpeas, avocado, lettuce, feta and roasted red peppers. Pile in and smile!

Seared Tuna with Braised Little Gems and Peas, with Mustard New Potatoes

My cooking time remains seriously limited at the moment, so I am largely confined to old favourites and quick bites. This combo is a new favourite however, we are having it again this evening due to popular demand and thankfully it is very quick to make as well as being delicious.


RECIPE – Serves 4 

4 tuna steaks, approx 200g each

20g unsalted butter

2 banana shallots, finely sliced

6 little gem lettuce, halved

150ml light vegetable stock

400g petit pois

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

a small bunch of chives, chopped

1 tbsp creme fraiche

For the mustard new potatoes:

500g new potatoes, scrubbed

2 tbsp creme fraiche

1 tsp wholegrain mustard


Defrost the tuna steaks if necessary.

If necessary, cut the potatoes so they are all a similar size. Bring the potatoes to the boil in a large pan of salted water, then reduce to a simmer for approximately 20 minutes. Set aside to steam dry in a colander; when cool enough to handle, mix the creme fraiche and mustard with some salt and pepper in a large serving bowl, then toss the warm potatoes through the dressing, set aside.

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.

Gently saute the shallots in the butter over a medium-low heat for 5 minutes, until softened but not coloured. Place the lettuce in the pan, cut side down, and cook for a minute, then turn over and cook for a minute more.

Add the stock, cover and simmer gently for around 10 minutes until the lettuce is tender. In the last couple of minutes of cooking, add the petit pois.

Season, add the chopped herbs and creme fraiche and stir thoroughly, set aside while you cook the tuna.

Heat a ridged griddle pan over a high heat. 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.

Serve the tuna on warmed plates and let everyone help themselves to the braised lettuce and mustard potatoes.

Roasted Red Pepper Chana Masala

I seem to have had no time at all to enjoy cooking for the past few weeks, it has been a steady diet of ‘what can I make quickly?’ without the pleasure of actually enjoying the process. Yesterday was no less busy but, starved of inspiration and looking for something satisfying for a 5:2 diet day, I stumbled across this forgotten gem in one of my notebooks.

Please forgive me, but it was stunning. It had all the freshness and vibrancy of the best restaurant dishes, and I put that entirely down to fresh ingredients and the use of appropriate garnishes. I made up a fresh batch of Masala paste for this, and I also used a generous amount of chaat masala sprinkled over the top at the end. Links to my recipes for both are in the ingredients list, please try them, they turn a great dish into a magnificent one, and all for around 400 calories per serving (using rice as an accompaniment adds more)


RECIPE – Serves 3 

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

3 fat garlic cloves, finely sliced

3 tbsp masala paste

2 tsp nigella seeds

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 400g tin of chick peas

2 roasted red peppers (good quality from a jar is fine), in bite-size pieces

200g piquante peppers (from a jar)

a small bunch of coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves picked

the zest and juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp chaat masala


Place the oil and garlic in a large, cold pan and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes until the garlic has been gently fried to a light golden brown.

Add the masala paste and nigella seeds and cook out for a minute or two until deeply aromatic, then add the tomatoes, chick peas (including the water from the tin, it acts as a great thickener) and both kinds of peppers. Simmer for twenty minutes until the nigella seeds are soft. Add the chopped coriander stalks.

If you have the time, leave this to sit for a few hours while the flavours get to know each other. Otherwise, just before serving, finely grate the zest of half an lemon over the top, then drizzle the juice over the top. Evenly scatter the chaat masala over everything, then dress with the coriander leaves.

DO NOT STIR! Bring it to the table and lift up each spoonful from underneath to serve, by doing so you will preserve the intensity and integrity of each flavour. It makes a real difference.

Serve alongside plain boiled or steamed Basmati rice, an onion salad and a carrot and ginger salad.

Parmesan, Leek and Thyme Tart

There are some foods I go back to again and again: a rich, creamy lasagne for comfort; a creamy Thai curry for its unctuousness; bangers ‘n’ mash for its echoes of childhood and, in spring, a soft, rich tart with a crumbly, almost biscuity pastry because, well, there are few things more enjoyable than lunch in the garden on a sunny spring day.


RECIPE – Serves 6, generously, for lunch 

a quantity of shortcrust wholemeal pastry

75g unsalted butter

6 small leeks, finely sliced

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

the picked leaves of 5 thyme sprigs

50ml vermouth

300ml double cream

1 whole egg

3 egg yolks

50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated, and a little more to grate over the top


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.

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 the pastry is baking, prepare the filling: melt the butter in a very large pan then add the leeks, salt and thyme leaves. Stir thoroughly, turn the heat right down, cover the pan and sweat the leeks for 20 minutes until very soft. By the end of this time, your pastry should be out of the oven.

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

Add the vermouth to the leek mixture, turn the heat up and bubble the liquid for 5 minutes or so, uncovered, until the liquid has nearly all evaporated.

Lightly whisk the egg, egg yolks and cream together, then season with salt and pepper, add the grated Parmesan then whisk again. Add to the leek mixture, stir thoroughly then pour the mixture into the tart case and shake gently to level it off.

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 35-40 minutes until golden and set.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, for twenty minutes then carefully remove from the tin and cut into slices. This is delicious warm, or at room temperature.

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.