Kachumbali Salad

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

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RECIPE – feeds 4 generously as a side dish

2 red onions, finely sliced

4 large tomatoes, finely sliced

2 green chillies, finely chopped

1/2 cucumber, peeled and finely sliced

1 carrot, peeled and finely sliced

juice of a lemon

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

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

Quick and Easy Fajitas

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

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

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RECIPE – feeds 2

For the seasoning:

1/2 tsp hot chilli powder

a pinch of fine sea salt

1 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground allspice

For the fajitas:

2 tsp ground nut oil

200g Quorn chicken pieces

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

1 green pepper, thinly sliced

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 medium white onion, halved and thinly sliced

fresh coriander

4 soft flour tortillas


METHOD

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

Prepare all the fajita ingredients.

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

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

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

Tomato Salsa

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

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

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RECIPE – feeds 4 as a side

1 long red chilli, de-seeded and roughly chopped

1 long green chilli, de-seeded and roughly chopped

4 spring onions, trimmed and roughly chopped

4 ripe tomatoes, de-seeded and roughly chopped

red wine vinegar

1/2 cucumber, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 red pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 or 2 limes, and the zest of one

chopped fresh coriander leaves to garnish


METHOD

Prepare all the ingredients.

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

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

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

Courgette and Sherry Soup

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

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

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

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RECIPE – feeds 2

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

1 large onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

400g courgettes, chopped

1 tbsp dry sherry

500 ml water

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

extra-virgin olive oil to garnish

small basil leaves to garnish

croutons to garnish (optional)


METHOD

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

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

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

Yellow Tarka Dahl

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

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

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RECIPE – feeds 3, with rice and a side salad 

250g chana dahl

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

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 onion, peeled and diced

3 whole green chillies

a large knob of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp hot chilli powder

2 tsp ground coriander

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


METHOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onion Salad

You might think that an onion salad is the last thing you want to eat. Though I love the harshness of raw onion, I don’t appreciate the fact that I can still taste it several hours afterward. It stops my wife from kissing me as well…

Fear not, this delicious onion salad is not at all harsh, the underlying sweetness of the onion is accentuated and the harshness completely obliterated just by marinating in lime juice for 30 minutes or so.

This is a great side dish to serve alongside any curry or spicy dish, and if you ever partake of the poppadom starter before having an Indian restaurant meal you will be very familiar with it.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 with a starter, 2 with a main meal

1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced

1 large ripe tomato, skinned, de-seeded and finely diced

4 inches of cucumber, peeled, de-seeded and finely diced

a generous splash of lime juice

a small pinch of salt

a small handful of fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

1 tsp of nigella seeds


METHOD

Slice the onion, not too finely as you want the good texture that a thicker slice will give you. Put into a bowl and ensure the onion is fully broken up. Splash generously with lime juice and using your hands ensure that every piece of onion is coated. Season with a small pinch of salt and set aside.

Boil a kettle, score a cross through the skin at the base of the tomato, put the tomato in a large mug or small bowl, pour the boiled water over it until it is fully submerged and leave it for 15 seconds. Empty the water, immediately refill it with cold water, empty it again, now insert the point of a sharp knife under the scored tomato skin and pull the skin away from the flesh; it should peel off cleanly in large sections.

Caution: Don’t leave the tomato in hot water for more than 15 seconds or it will begin to cook. This will mean that the skin will re-adhere to the tomato flesh and you will have a hard job getting it off.

Cut the tomato into quarters or eighths, cut away the seeds and discard them, then finely dice the tomato flesh. Place on top of the onion.

Peel the cucumber, cut it into quarters or eighths, then slice away the seeds from the middle (they will make your salad too soggy). Finely dice the cucumber flesh and place on top of the onion.

Chop the coriander, place on top of the cucumber and tomato and set aside to sit for at least 30 minutes.

When you are ready to eat, toss everything together thoroughly, scatter the nigella seeds on top and toss again, then serve.

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.

Sweet Potato Wedges with Paprika

These sweet potato wedges are lusciously soft, and when roasted with a sprinkling of paprika make an ideal accompaniment to fillets of fish, chicken or pork. They are ridiculously simple to make as well, and only take half an hour in a hot oven.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

300g sweet potatoes

2 tsp paprika

olive oil


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan /Gas 6.

Wash the sweet potatoes then, leaving the skin on, slice them into thin wedges. Place them in a shallow baking tray, drizzle them with olive oil – just enough to coat them – then sprinkle the paprika over them. Using your hands, rub the oil and paprika over the wedges ensuring that every surface is coated.

Spread out in a single layer and roast in the centre of the oven for around 30 minutes, until well browned and meltingly soft.

Be generous with the portion sizes, these are very moreish!

Cod, Fennel & Potato Traybake with a Tomato Salsa

Think of this as jazzed-up fish and chips and you will get a very good idea of the kind of flavours to expect. Roast potatoes in any way and they will be delicious, roast a fennel bulb and it will also be delicious, roast a piece of cod… you get the idea.

There’s a lot going on here, lots of flavours and lots of lovely scents. Tying it all together and adding the sharp tang of vinegar is the salsa. It turns what is already a delicious meal into… um, what is more delicious than delicious?

Just try it, you’ll soon find out; it’s so simple to make and though it takes a little time in the oven the preparation is minimal.

One other thing: my wife commented that the fennel and potatoes are so delicious on their own with the salsa that you don’t actually need the fish to complete the dish. This makes it an ideal tummy-filler for vegans and non-fish eating vegetarians, without cheating anybody of flavour.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

300g new potatoes, or floury potatoes like Roosters, cut into 5mm slices

2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced, retain the fronds

2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges

1 tbsp fennel seeds

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cod fillets or loins (or similar firm white fish)

another 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 banana shallot, finely sliced

another 2 medium tomatoes, de-seeded and diced

a handful of basil leaves, shredded, set aside a couple of small sprigs

a small handful of pitted black olives, quartered


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan /Gas 6. Slice the potatoes, use a mandolin if you have one, it will make the job much faster and more precise.

On a large baking tray, scatter the potatoes, fennel bulbs, wedges of tomatoes and fennel seeds. Season with a decent pinch of sea salt, then drizzle all over with olive oil and toss it all together, using your hands, ensuring that everything is coated and the fennel seeds are distributed evenly. Spread out into a single layer on the baking tray, otherwise the potatoes are more likely to steam than roast and they won’t be as good as they can be.

Roast for 25 minutes or until the potatoes are golden and just about cooked through.

Meanwhile, make the salsa: combine the shallot and vinegar in a bowl and set aside while you chop the tomatoes; then add the tomatoes, basil and olives. Combine well, season lightly and set aside for now.

Remove the tray from the oven, place the fish on top, season the fish lightly and scatter the crushed fennel seeds over them, drizzle with a little olive oil and return to the oven for 7-9 minutes until just cooked through.

Pour the salsa evenly over the hot fish and potatoes, scatter the fennel fronds and reserved sprigs of basil and serve. All this needs by way of accompaniment is a pile of rocket leaves.

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.