Chana Masala

Indian restaurant food has the undeserved reputation of being unhealthy. I struggle to understand how this has come about, when you examine the ingredients used in freshly-made Indian food and compare it to the ingredients list of any ready-meal or processed foodstuff it is immediately plain which option is the healthier.

Admittedly, I have had (poor) Indian meals in the past that have been swimming in ghee, but that’s bad cooking, not bad cuisine.

Chana Masala is one of my favourite healthy foods; the chick peas are stuffed full of fibre, protein, trace minerals and vitamins, while the spices are a smorgasbord of antioxidants. It’s very filling, so you don’t have to eat much to feel satisfied, and because it is a ‘dry’ dish if you ever see any oil then you know it has been poorly prepared.

I worked my way through a great many recipes for this, tweaking and testing along the way, until I finally came up with this perfect copy of the unbeatable chana masala that my local Indian restaurant serves up.

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RECIPE – serves 4

250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

2 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil if making vegan)

2 large onions, halved and finely sliced

4 garlic cloves, finely sliced

a large thumb of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks

1 long green chilli, finely chopped (remove the seeds if you don’t want the extra heat)

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp turmeric

1 1/2 tsp garam masala

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

a pinch of sea salt

250ml cold water

1 lemon, zest and juice

2 tsp golden caster sugar

a big handful of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

The evening before, soak the dried chick peas in plenty of water (they will absorb a lot) with 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp fine sea salt and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, stir well and set aside.

The next day, rinse the chick peas well, there should be no salt left on them. Put into plenty of water with the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks and bring to the boil, then simmer for 60-90 minutes until they are soft and tender, skimming off any scum if necessary. You may need to add more water as it evaporates. If you have a pressure cooker it will save you a lot of time, cook as per the instructions for your device (mine takes around 25 minutes).

Drain and set aside, removing the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, use two tins; you won’t need the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, bay leaf or cinnamon sticks.

Heat the ghee (or oil) in a large pan, when hot cook the onion over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until softened but not coloured, then turn the heat up and cook for another couple of minutes until they are lightly browned. Make a paste out of the ground coriander, ground cumin, paprika, turmeric, garam masala and cayenne pepper by putting them into a small bowl and adding a little water. Set aside for now.

Add the garlic, ginger, chilli and cumin seeds, turn the heat off for a moment and stir thoroughly in the hot pan for a couple of minutes. Turn the heat back on and add the spice paste. Cook on for a minute, stirring so everything is thoroughly coated, then add the tinned tomatoes and a pinch of sea salt. Stir thoroughly again, add the water, bring to the boil then add the drained chickpeas. Simmer gently for as long as it takes to reduce the sauce to a thick and sticky consistency.

At this point you can leave the chana masala to sit for a few hours until you are ready to eat. Giving it time will intensify and soften the flavours.

When ready to eat, warm the chana masala gently and add the sugar. Just before serving stir through the lemon zest and juice, top with a little garam masala and fresh coriander. Garnish with onion salad and a birds-eye chilli lightly fried in a little ghee.

This is great served alongside Basmati rice, naan bread and carrot and ginger salad or carrot salad with cardamom, ginger and lemon.

Oven-Baked Fish with Tomato and Parsley

The aroma that filled my kitchen last night was indescribable – I am yearning for the day that some clever boffin invents a way to transmit smells across the internet. Until then, you’ll have to take my word for it, unless you decide to make this for yourself, and I strongly recommend that you do – delicious food doesn’t come much easier than throwing some flavourful ingredients into a casserole and sticking it in the oven.

This Greek-inspired recipe comes from ‘Falling Cloudberries’ by Tessa Kiros, a book my wife initially bought just because it was a beautiful book. The picture below comes from that book, and when I first laid eyes on it I knew we were having it for dinner that night. I have made it several times since, and every time I do my wife says she could happily eat this every night for the rest of her life. Praise indeed.

Tessa Kiros claims that this tastes great straight from the fridge; I have to wonder how she ever has any leftovers to put in the fridge!

This needs nothing more than some crusty farmhouse or sourdough bread to wipe every trace of sauce from the casserole, your bowl and your cutlery.

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RECIPE – serves 4 

1 kg firm white fish fillets (cod, hake, haddock or similar)

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, stalks and leaves chopped separately

4 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

the juice of 2 large lemons

2 celery stalks, with some leaves, finely chopped

1 tsp golden caster sugar

3 tbsp olive oil

farmhouse or sourdough bread to serve


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ Fan 180C/ gas 4. Place your fish fillets between pieces of kitchen paper to absorb any excess liquid and set aside.

In a casserole, mix together the tinned tomatoes, chopped parsley stalks, garlic, lemon juice, celery and sugar with the olive oil. Season, then cover with the lid, or some foil, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes or so, then remove the lid, stir and place back in the oven uncovered.

Lightly season the fish fillets and cut into chunks around 2 inches thick.

When the sauce has been uncovered in the oven for ten minutes, place the fish pieces into the sauce with the parsley leaves and ensure that each piece of fish is covered by the sauce. Put back in the oven for ten minutes or so, until the fish is just cooked and flakes easily. By now the sauce will be rich, thick and unctuous.

Take to the table with a big spoon, some bowls and plenty of bread, and bask in the appreciation that will surely follow.

Yellow Split Pea Soup

It’s raining outside, the day is cold and grey and miserable. It is days like these that yellow split pea soup was invented for – one mouthful and you might just find yourself wishing that every day was cold and grey and miserable, just so you had an excuse to make this more often.

This is yet another deceptively simple soup, made great by a beautiful homemade stock, and transformed by the addition of a little mace.

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RECIPE – serves 4 to 6 people

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely diced

1 celery stick, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

a couple of blades of mace, ground to make 1/2 tsp powder

500g yellow split peas

approx. 1.5 litre vegetable stock

1 tsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla) or Marmite

To serve: 

a small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped


METHOD 

In a large pan, heat the oil and gently fry the onion, carrot, celery and the bay leaves for around 10 minutes until just softened, then add the garlic and mace. Mix well and cook gently for a minute or two, stirring frequently and taking care not to burn the garlic and mace.

Add the yellow split peas, give it a good stir then add the vegetable stock and the fish sauce. Bring to the boil then simmer, covered, for an hour or so until the yellow split peas are soft and the soup has turned thick and sludgy. Keep an eye on the liquid, you may need to add a little more as it cooks. Season when the split peas are fully cooked.

Ideally, at this point leave your soup to sit for a few hours so that the flavours can develop, the longer you can leave it the better it will be. This really works, but if you eat it straight away it will still be delicious.

To serve, scatter with the coriander and eat it warm, rather than boiling hot.

To make it suitable for a vegan, simply omit the fish sauce; it can be replaced with 2 teaspoons of Marmite which has a similar umami nature.

Brazilian Squash and Black Bean Soup

Another in an unending series of amazing winter soups, perfect for those long, dark, cold evenings. This one, again, manages to be so much more than the sum of its parts – put it down to great ingredients, being allowed to exhibit their greatness.

In my recipe notebook there is a little annotation beside this one, it simply says: ‘Wow!’

This is why I love winter, food like this.

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RECIPE – serves 4 to 6 people

1 butternut squash, chopped into 2cm chunks

2 tbsp olive oil + 1 tbsp to coat the squash when roasting

1 large onion, chopped

1 tbsp cumin seeds, dry-fried and ground

1 tbsp coriander seeds, dry-fried and ground

2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 red chillies, finely chopped (seeds left in if you like heat)

1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped into 1cm chunks

1 tbsp fresh thyme, leaves only

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 litre vegetable stock

1 tbsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla) or Marmite

150g dried black beans

100g frozen sweetcorn

1 tsp light muscovado sugar

2 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

the zest and juice of 1 lime

To serve: 

a small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped

50g per person bulghur wheat, toasted


METHOD 

The conventional wisdom is that you should soak the black beans in plenty of water, the evening before you use them. However, after much back-to-back testing it is plain that not soaking them makes them blacker, more beany and flavourful, at the cost of having to cook them for a little longer. How long? Around 90 minutes or so, until they are soft but retain bite and texture – the older your beans the longer they will take. To cook them, use a big pan and plenty of water, into which you have put an onion – halved but otherwise intact – an orange, again halved and gently squeezed, and then put both halves in the water, and a couple of whole, peeled garlic cloves. Bring to the boil then simmer until ready. If you have a pressure cooker then life is much simpler, follow the guidelines for your device but cook them for around 20-25 minutes. When cooked, remove the onion, orange and garlic and set the beans aside.

You don’t have to do all this, but for some reason using dried beans adds more flavour, and when cooked using aromatic ingredients the flavours are amped up even higher; tinned beans are fine though, no need to feel guilty.

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.

Put the cumin and coriander seeds in a small pan (not non-stick) and heat gently with no oil for a few minutes until they are aromatic and the cumin seeds are just starting to pop. Tip onto a metal plate to cool, then either crush in a mortar and pestle or grind to a powder using a coffee grinder reserved exclusively for spices.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the oil and gently fry the chopped onions for around 10 minutes until just softened, then add the cumin and coriander, garlic, chopped chillies, chopped red pepper, thyme and chilli flakes. Mix well and cook gently for a minute or two, stirring frequently and taking care not to burn the garlic or dry herbs and spices.

Add the squash, with sufficient stock to cover everything (it may not require the whole litre) and add the fish sauce. Bring to the boil then add the black beans, sweetcorn and sugar, then simmer for 15 minutes.

Ideally, at this point leave your soup to sit for a few hours so that the flavours can develop, the longer you can leave it the better it will be. This really works, but if you eat it straight away it will still be delicious.

Five minutes before serving, roughly chop the tomatoes (as a guide, chop into around 12 pieces) and add to the simmering soup then, just before serving, finely grate the zest of the lime into it and squeeze in the lime juice, stir thoroughly and check and adjust the seasoning. Scatter with the coriander and top each bowl with a few spoonfuls of toasted bulghur wheat.

To make it suitable for a vegan, simply omit the fish sauce; it can be replaced with 4 teaspoons of Marmite which has a similar umami nature.

Butternut Rostis

Browsing through Sabrina Ghayour’s excellent ‘Sirocco’ recently, I found myself bookmarking page after page of delicious-looking recipes that I wanted to make. The reality is that only a very small fraction ever will get made – if I made everything I wanted to I would have to live to 160 and I’d be as fat as a hippo!

I have made a few of Sabrina Ghayour’s recipes now though, and every one has been an absolute delight. She makes this as a light lunch, with a poached egg on top, and I reckon that would be a fabulous meal, but such is the versatility of these patties that they also go very well with a salmon fillet, seared in a very hot pan and served alongside a simple salad – great for autumn and spring alike.

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RECIPE – feeds 4

1 small butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and coarsely grated
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 tsp sea salt flakes
1 heaped tbsp plain flour
1 heaped tsp turmeric
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
1 heaped tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 bunch spring onions, thinly sliced
½ small packet (about 15g) dill, leaves and fronds finely chopped
1 large egg
vegetable oil, for frying
freshly ground black pepper


METHOD 

Put the grated butternut squash and chopped onion in a mixing bowl and add the salt. Mix well, using your hands. The salt will draw out excess moisture from the squash and onion, resulting in crisp rösti. Leave to stand for approximately 30 minutes then, using a sieve or clean cloth, squeeze to extract as much moisture as you can from the mixture – you will be amazed how much liquid comes out – and return it to the mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/fan 140°C/gas 3.  Line a baking tray with baking parchment and heat a large frying pan over a medium heat.

Add the flour, spices, spring onions and dill (reserving 1 tsp dill for sprinkling) to the squash and onion mixture and mix well with your hands. Once the spices and dill are evenly incorporated, crack in 1 egg and mix again, adding a generous seasoning of black pepper. Shape the mixture into 12 patties, each approximately 10cm wide and 1cm thick.

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Heat a good amount of oil in the hot frying pan and fry the patties in batches for 6–8 minutes on one side or until nice and crisp, then flip over and fry on the other side for 5–6 minutes or until deep golden brown. Keep the cooked patties warm in the oven on the prepared baking tray while you fry subsequent batches.

Place 3 rösti on each serving plate with a little sprinkling of fresh dill and freshly ground black pepper, then serve immediately alongside your main ingredient of choice.

Za’atar and Goats’ Cheese Puffs

I have a wide array of canapes, light bites, side dishes and snacks in my notebook, they’re always handy to have because you never know when somebody will ask you to make something for a party, drop in out of the blue for a cuppa or just for those times when you think a meal requires something else to complete it.

These puff pastry rolls are absolutely delicious and though they do require just a little forethought in that you need to have some defrosted puff pastry to hand, they are quick to put together and quick to cook.

They come courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour, whose books ‘Persiana’ and ‘Sirocco’ come chock-full of delicious Middle-Eastern flavours. I have not modified this recipe at all, it is perfect just as it is. I am not a fan of ready-rolled puff pastry but it does make it even easier – if you prefer to use half a block of frozen puff, as I do, then you won’t need quite so much cheese and za’atar. The quantities are not crucial anyway, just follow your instincts and use less or more as your tastes dictate.

Za’atar is a deeply aromatic Middle-Eastern herb and spice mix. These go well as an alternative to bread rolls when making a spicy soup, or pretty much anything made with butternut squash. They also make a brilliant snack and reheat well in a 180C/ 160C fan/ Gas 4 oven for 5 minutes.

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RECIPE – makes 15-20

250g puff pastry (half a block), or a sheet of ready-rolled (320g)

olive oil, for brushing

2 heaped tbsp za’atar

300g soft goats’ cheese

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD 

Preheat the oven to 220C / 200C fan/ Gas 7. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

If using block pastry, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle of around 30cm x 20cm. Brush the pastry lightly and evenly with a little olive oil, like so:

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You can see that my pastry is not quite straight, it doesn’t matter. Now sprinkle 1 tbsp of the za’atar evenly over the pastry:

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Crumble the goats’ cheese evenly across the pastry, leaving a 2.5cm border on the long edge of the pastry furthest away from you, like so:

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Season generously with salt and pepper and sprinkle the remaining za’atar over the cheese:

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It might look like rather a lot, but don’t worry. Now, starting with the long edge of the pastry that is closest to you, roll the pastry as tightly as you can without tearing or crushing it. You will end with something resembling a Swiss roll.

Cut the roll in half, then using a serrated knife cut each half into rounds approximately 1cm thick. Trim away the scruffy ends. Pat each whirl lightly to slightly flatten them so they stay together while they cook, and place them on the baking tray leaving sufficient space between them to allow them to rise:

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There is no need to glaze, just bake for approximately 15 minutes until well-risen and golden. Be prepared to immediately lose half of what you have baked – grasping fingers are a real danger when these come out of the oven!

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Herby Poached Egg and Smoked Salmon on Sourdough Toast

Whenever I read through a recipe book I look longingly at some of the delicious ideas for breakfasts, but I keep going past that section because I never have time to make an elaborate breakfast. Fool that I am, quite often all it takes is a little forward planning and a delicious and different breakfast can be on the table in ten minutes – the same time it takes to prepare my usual boiled eggs and toast.

I saw Jamie Oliver make this on his most recent TV series and it sounded, and looked, so delicious that I was determined to make it myself. I’m so glad I did, it required no forethought – besides having the ingredients to hand – and it really was on the table in ten minutes.  This would make a great light lunch as well.

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RECIPE – serves 2

extra virgin olive oil
a few fresh chives, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
2 large eggs
2 thick slices of sourdough, toasted
cream cheese
smoked salmon, roughly chopped
a large handful of spinach
Tabasco sauce
1 lemon


METHOD 

Lay two 40cm sheets of non-PVC clingfilm flat on a work surface and rub with a little oil. Place one at a time into a cup and push down to create a well to hold the egg.

Sprinkle the chopped chives and chilli in the centre of the sheet, then carefully crack the egg on top. Pull in the sides of the clingfilm and be sure to gently squeeze out any air around the egg. Twist, then tie a knot in the clingfilm to secure the egg snugly inside. Repeat with the other egg in the other sheet.

Your egg parcels should look like this:

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Poach the egg parcels in a pan of simmering water for 6 to 7 minutes for soft-poached, or until cooked to your liking.

Place a colander or steamer above the pan and wilt the spinach as the egg poaches.

Meanwhile, toast the bread and spread the cream cheese on it like butter. Scatter the smoked salmon over the cream cheese. Squeeze any excess liquid out of the spinach, then spoon over the toast.

Snip open the clingfilm parcel, unwrap the egg and place proudly on top. Dot with a little Tabasco and serve with a wedge of lemon for squeezing over, then season and tuck in.

Pasta, Cherry Tomatoes and Blue Cheese

We were supposed to go out for a meal last night, but a combination of fatigue and ennui determined that we would light the log burner and have a simple supper instead. Having nothing planned, I turned to the fridge and the pantry to find a handful of simple ingredients and cook this fast, simple and delicious treat.

We would have enjoyed our meal out, I’m sure, but I’m not so sure whether it would have been quite as lovely as what we ended up with.

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RECIPE – serves 2

300g cherry tomatoes, quartered

4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 fat garlic clove, thinly sliced

a good pinch of dried chilli flakes

a small handful of basil leaves, torn

220g pasta (whatever you have available)

200g soft, creamy blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Dolcelatte etc)

a little parmesan, finely grated


METHOD 

Combine the tomatoes, oil, garlic, basil and chilli flakes in a bowl, with a good pinch of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water at a rolling boil. Drain, return the pasta to the pan and add the tomato mix, toss well then crumble the cheese into it. Stir well, drizzle with a little more olive oil and a final twist of black pepper.

Serve in warmed bowls garnished with finely grated parmesan, alongside a simple green salad, dressed with a little freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Celeriac and Apple Soup

Simple as they seem, soups can be a real test of a cook’s palate and skill at combining flavours. This Tom Kerridge recipe is a great example, deceptively simple with only a handful of ingredients, the soup itself is the classic winter pairing of creamy celeriac and sharp cooking apples and is lovely by itself. Add some garnishes however and the resulting flavour combinations are eye-popping, every mouthful offers something different.

I have used pumpkin oil as a garnish here; it’s an unusual ingredient, and quite expensive – though it will go an awful long way. Use it like you would toasted sesame oil, as a seasoning and garnish, and it lifts anything it comes into contact with. A very worthwhile investment indeed.

This soup makes a delicious and filling supper meal, or a very elegant first course.

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RECIPE – serves 4

500g celeriac

1 litre vegetable stock

3 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 large Bramley apples, or other sharp cooking apples

the juice of a lemon, freshly squeezed

200ml double cream

1/2 nutmeg, finely grated

To garnish (use any or all):

salty, soft blue cheese (Roquefort, dolcelatte or similar), crumbled

toasted walnuts

celery leaves

a few drops of pumpkin oil

sourdough croutons


METHOD 

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.

Peel the celeriac and retain the peel, chop the flesh into 2cm cubes and tip onto a roasting tray, drizzle a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil over it. Using your hands, ensure that every surface of every piece of celeriac has a fine film of oil, then spread the pieces out evenly across the roasting tray. Do not crowd your tray, leave a little space between each piece of vegetable and in a single layer, otherwise some pieces will steam rather than roast. Roasting drives out some of the moisture in the vegetable, intensifying the flavour in a way that steaming does not. The oil coating protects the vegetable from the dry heat and delays caramelisation until the vegetable is soft. Roast for 30-40 minutes until soft and just starting to brown.

Meanwhile, put the celeriac peel into the stock and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and allow to infuse for at least 30 minutes.

Sweat the onion in 1 tbsp rapeseed oil with a little salt for around ten minutes until softened but not coloured – the salt will help as it encourages the moisture in the onions to be released.

Peel and dice the apples and toss them in a large bowl with the lemon juice. When the onion is soft, add the apples with the lemon juice and the roasted celeriac. Strain the infused stock into the pan and bring to the boil, simmer for ten minutes until the apple has started to break down. Add the cream, bring the temperature of the soup back up until it is just about to boil, then turn off the heat. Using a stick blender, or worktop blender, blitz the soup until it is smooth. Test and correct the seasoning, and grate in half a fresh nutmeg.

To serve, garnish with any or all of the garnishes listed.

Squash Fritters with Green Tomato Salsa

I still have a small mountain of green tomatoes in my kitchen. They stubbornly refuse to ripen, not surprising given that it is November, but they are still firm and healthy. Determined to make use of them, I found this Jamie Oliver recipe which sounded intriguing.

When I started to make the fritter batter I must confess that I wondered whether I’d made the right decision, things didn’t look very promising at all. However, I soldiered on, mainly because I didn’t have anything else to fall back on. I needn’t have worried, they turned out to be absolutely delicious, especially when paired with the punchy salsa.

I served them alongside pan-seared salmon fillets and a simple green salad, quite wonderful.

Jamie’s original recipe calls for leftover roasted squash, I cannot think of any circumstances when I would have any leftover squash. If you are like me then you will need to roast some squash before you begin: peel and chop your squash into 2cm cubes, season lightly and toss in a little olive oil, just enough to coat each cube, and roast in a 200C/ Gas 6 oven for around 40 minutes until the edges are starting to caramelise.

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RECIPE – serves 4

For the salsa:

2 medium green tomatoes
2 medium, ripe red tomatoes
2 fresh red chillies, de-seeded and finely sliced
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1 lemon, zest and juice
a small bunch of fresh basil
extra-virgin olive oil

For the fritters:

250 g roasted squash
250 g ricotta cheese
½ teaspoon ground allspice
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons wholewheat flour
½ teaspoon baking powder


METHOD 

Chop all the tomatoes, some roughly and some finely so you’ve got a range of shapes and textures, scrape them into a bowl with the chillies and spring onions, grate the lemon zest over the top, squeeze in half the lemon juice and stir thoroughly.

Pick and roughly tear the basil leaves, then add to the tomatoes along with a good pinch of sea salt, some black pepper and a drizzle of oil. Mix well, check and adjust the seasoning then set aside.

Roughly mash the squash in a large bowl then add the ricotta, allspice and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Crack in the eggs and whisk to combine, then fold through the flour and baking powder.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick frying pan or skillet over a medium heat, add 4 to 6 large spoonfuls of batter and fry for 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden and crisp on the bottom. Flip the fritters over and fry for a further 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden and cooked through.

Keep in a warm oven while you prepare the rest of the fritters and cook your salmon, or whatever you decide to accompany them.