Ribollita

This soup has no right to be as good as it is, given that the ingredients are basically cabbage, beans and potato. That it is so good is down to the first cooking stage, the soffritto, which creates the heady flavour-base from which this traditional Italian peasant food sings.

It is a perfect winter soup: delicious, aromatic and filling. Served alongside toasted crusty bread it is a meal in itself, and it’s even better if made a day ahead. Though it may seem strange to use three different kinds of cabbage, the contrast between them is startling: the white cabbage is sweet, whereas the kale and cavolo nero are slightly bitter.

Served in a traditional Tuscan way, the soup is finished in the oven layered with bread. To serve it this way, slice some crusty farmhouse or sourdough bread as thick as your index finger, toast it lightly and rub each slice with a cut garlic clove. Using a casserole or similar ovenproof serving dish, ladle a layer of soup in the bottom of it, top with a few slices of bread followed by another layer of soup. Continue until both the soup and the bread is used up and cook in a 180C/ gas 4 oven for 20-30 minutes until the soup is piping hot and the bread has soaked up all the juices.

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RECIPE serves 6-8

For the soffritto:

6 tbsp olive oil

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 large celery stalk, finely chopped

4 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 tsp fine sea salt

a good grinding of black pepper

a large handful of flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stalks, finely chopped

the leaves from a sprig of rosemary, finely chopped

For the soup:

250g potatoes, any kind, chopped into 2cm dice

250g white cabbage, shredded

400g cavalo nero leaves (stalks removed)

100g curly kale (tough stalks removed)

2 tins of cannellini beans

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock, plus the water from the cannellini bean tins

To serve:

crusty farmhouse or sourdough bread, toasted and rubbed with garlic

6-8 spring onions, roughly chopped (optional)

a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil


METHOD

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, cook all the soffritto ingredients (except the garlic) over a medium heat for around 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened and aromatic, add the garlic for the final 2 or 3 minutes of cooking. Don’t be tempted to skimp on the oil, it seems a lot but it is crucial to the final flavour and texture, and only works out at a tablespoon per serving.

Add the potatoes and shredded white cabbage and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently, until the cabbage starts to wilt. Add the cavolo nero and kale to the dish and stir through.

Add the stock and water from the cannellini bean tins, bring to the boil then turn down to a steady simmer and cook for around 30 minutes until the vegetables are cooked through and the potato is just tender. Take one tin of the beans and set aside, the other tin should be mashed with a little of the cooking stock to form a thick paste.

When the soup is cooked, add the bean paste and the whole beans and cook for a further ten minutes to heat the beans through and thicken the soup. Correct the seasoning and either serve straight away alongside the bread, put it in the oven Tuscan-style (as above), or leave it to cool ready to eat the following day.

The chopped spring onions are a traditional Tuscan garnish, scattered over the top when serving, but you can omit them if you wish. Don’t omit the final swirl of extra-virgin olive oil over the top though, it adds a lush silkiness to the finished dish.

Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Chilli and Black Garlic

This used to be a lovely recipe, now it is incredible. The small difference, with a huge effect, between how I used to make it and how I make it now is down to just one ingredient: black garlic.

Black garlic is made by taking regular fresh garlic bulbs and heating them under controlled conditions for several weeks. This results in the breaking down of the enzymes which give garlic its characteristic flavour, mellowing and richening the flavour (and the colour) and imparting sweet and sour notes, resulting in something that tastes somewhere between the best aged balsamic and tamarind. It has a reputation in Asia of being a superfood, and the cloves can be eaten as a snack. They’re actually lovely eaten that way.

Here though, the substitution of regular garlic for black garlic results in a hugely complex flavour, full of umami and requiring real self-control if you’re going to avoid eating every last morsel of this dish.

The other trick to dish is to not skimp on the olive oil. It is central to making the sauce so unctuous as it combines with the tomato juices. It’s not one for dieters then, but as an occasional indulgence it’s a real treat.

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RECIPE serves 4 

1kg cherry tomatoes, halved around the equator (not pole-to-pole)

7 tbsp olive oil

5 black garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

350g shell pasta

the zest of a lemon

the juice of half a lemon

a handful of basil leaves

25g Parmesan, finely grated


METHOD

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

Put the tomatoes, cut side up, in a roasting tray in which they will all fit in a single layer. Add the black garlic, dried chilli flakes and fresh chilli, and season generously with the salt and pepper. Drizzle with the oil and toss everything together. Arrange the tomatoes, ensuring the chilli and black garlic is sitting in the oil to protect it from burning.

Roast the tomatoes for 20-25 minutes until they are just starting to collapse and caramelise.

Meanwhile, cook the shell pasta in rapidly-boiling water per the packet instructions, until al dente. Shell pasta is best because it provides pockets to catch the sauce, but this dish also works well with thick strips of pasta (pappardelle). Time the pasta to be ready at the end of the tomato cooking time.

Drain the pasta, but don’t shake the colander too vigorously, leave a little of the water because it helps to thicken up and richen the sauce.

Add the lemon zest and juice to the tomatoes, together with the basil leaves. Stir so it is evenly distributed, then tip the pasta into the tomatoes and using two spoons (or tongs if using pappardelle) toss the pasta through the tomatoes. Finish with a fine grating of Parmesan and a good grind of black pepper. Serve alongside a salad of rocket and lettuce, simply dressed with the juice of the other half a lemon.

To make it suitable for a vegan, omit the Parmesan, or use a Vegan substitute.

Sweet Potato and Broccoli Soup

We nearly always have soup available in our house; you never know when somebody might drop in, or when hunger pangs will bite. There are times though when I get caught out and I have to whip up something delicious in a hurry.

I was introduced to this unpromising-sounding but actually quite delicious soup by my sister-in-law. It’s one of Jamie Oliver’s, and the secret is no secret at all: use the freshest ingredients you can get your hands on. Oh, and harissa. Harissa is THE ingredient that lifts that soup from run-of-the-mill to exceptional. Make your own if you can, my recipe is here and it’s far better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.

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RECIPE serves 6, extremely generously

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, roughly chopped

2 fat garlic cloves, crushed

500g sweet potato, chopped into 2cm cubes

750ml (approx) chicken or vegetable stock

200g broccoli, stalk chopped and florets detached

2 tsp harissa


METHOD

In a large pan, gently fry the onion in the oil for ten minutes until lightly golden.

Add the garlic and cook for a further minute, then add the sweet potato and broccoli stalk. Stir thoroughly then add the stock, sufficient to cover everything. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes until everything is almost tender, then add the broccoli florets and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Using a stick blender (or a jug blender, but be careful of the hot liquid) blitz the soup until smooth, adding a little more water or stock to loosen it if necessary. Season to taste.

Stir the harissa through the soup just before serving, alongside crusty sourdough.

Christmas Brandy Mincemeat

I know Christmas is still ten weeks away, but you owe it to yourself to feast on the best food possible when it does come. The traditional British seasonal delights – Christmas cake (for my recipe see here, it’s time to make it!), Christmas pudding and, of course, mince pies – all benefit from being made well in advance to allow the flavours to deepen, mellow and meld together.

We make the best mince pies in our house – everybody says so, it must be true! The reason is that we make our own, and we use the best recipes, like this one from Nigel Slater. It’s rich, deeply flavoured and extremely moreish – we have to ration them!

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RECIPE makes about 1.5 kg, enough for LOTS of small mince pies

200g shredded vegetable suet

200g dark muscovado sugar

200g sultanas

200g currants

200g prunes, chopped

200g dried apricots, chopped

750g cooking apples, small dice

50g skinned almonds, chopped

the zest and juice of a large lemon

1 heaped tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves (freshly ground from whole)

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

100ml cooking brandy


METHOD

First, sterilise your jars and lids: heat the oven to 140C/ gas 1 and wash your jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinse and let them dry out in the warmed oven. When you take them out to use them, keep your grubby fingers away from the insides of the lids and jars or you will undo your good work.

In a large pan, add the suet, muscovado, sultanas, currants, prunes, apricots and apples. Place over a medium heat and slowly bring to a boil – doing it slowly allows the fat and sugar to melt and the fruits to give up their juices.

Add the almonds, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Cook at a gentle simmer for 15 minutes. Then, leave to cool for about ten minutes before adding the brandy and lemon juice. Stir thoroughly before decanting into your still-hot sterilised jars. Fill the jars to within 5mm of the top, place a wax disc on top and put the lid on. Allow it to cool completely; the warm air in the jar will contract as it cools and provide you with a sterile vacuum which allows the contents to last without spoiling.

This will keep for years in a cool, dark cupboard, but why would you?

Harissa Paste

Harissa is predominant in Tunisian cuisine, adding a sharp, hot, smoky hit to tagines, stews and soups, and can also be used as a condiment for grilled meat and fish – you can also use it to perk up a Bloody Mary!

There are endless variations on the recipe, the version I use has a good balance of spice, heat and flavour. Though there are excellent versions that you can buy in a supermarket, and I have probably used them all, once I made my own there was no looking back.

I make a good jar full, then portion it into an ice cube tray and freeze it so it’s always there to be used. It will also keep in a jar, in the fridge, for a good month or more.

Adjust the number of chillies according to your taste, de-seeding them if necessary. Bear in mind though that Harissa is supposed to be hot! This is best with home-made roasted peppers, because the smoky flavour is more pronounced. You can use jarred roasted peppers if you wish though, you could introduce more of a smoky flavour using a half-teaspoon of liquid smoke and some smoked sea salt, which is now widely available.

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RECIPE makes about 300ml

3 red peppers

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp caraway seeds

30ml olive oil

1 small red onion, roughly chopped

6 hot red chillies, seeds in, roughly chopped

3 fat garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1/2 tbsp tomato puree

the juice of a lemon

1/2 tsp sea salt


METHOD

First roast the red peppers, by placing under a very hot grill on some baking foil (otherwise it gets messy!) for around 25 minutes, turning as the skin blackens. Transfer to a bag, seal it and allow to cool. Peel the pepper and discard the seeds.

Meanwhile, place a dry pan on medium heat and gently toast the coriander, cumin and caraway seeds for a couple of minutes until aromatic. Transfer to a spice grinder (I use a coffee grinder reserved for spices) or a mortar and pestle, and grind to a powder.

While the peppers are roasting, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat and fry the onion and chillies for around ten minutes until dark and almost caramelised, adding the garlic for the final minute or two.

Transfer the peppers, onion mix and spices to a blender or food processor, with the tomato puree, lemon juice and salt, and process to a paste.

Store in a sterilised jar in the fridge, or portion into an ice cube tray and freeze.

To sterilise your jar: heat the oven to 140C/ gas 1 and wash your jar and lid in hot soapy water, rinse and let them dry out in the warmed oven. When you take them out to use them, keep your grubby fingers away from the insides of the lid and jar or you will undo your good work.

Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta

The first bite we had of this resulted in a collective “wow”. It comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s superb book “Jerusalem”, and though he has called it a risotto it doesn’t require the constant watching and stirring of an Italian risotto, instead it’s an all-in, one-pot dish that cooks like a stew. It’s delicious, simple and quick to make, there is no excuse for you not to try this one.

The revelation here is the addition of strips of lemon rind. They soften and mellow as they cook, and provide a sharp counterpoint to the richness of the barley. Likewise, the marinated feta adds another taste and texture that elevates this from the merely great to the truly wonderful. If you don’t like feta then try it this way, I’ll wager it will convert you.

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RECIPE serves 4

200g pearl barley

30g unsalted butter

90ml olive oil

2 small celery stalks, cut into 5mm dice

2 small shallots, cut into 5mm dice

4 garlic cloves, cut into 2mm dice

4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1 bay leaf

the rind of a whole lemon, cut into strips

1/4 tsp chilli flakes

400g tin chopped tomatoes

700ml vegetable stock

300ml passata

1 tbsp caraway seeds

300g feta, broken roughly into 2cm pieces

1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves


METHOD

Rinse the pearl barley well under cold water until the water is no longer cloudy, and leave to drain. You can substitute pearl barley for pearled spelt if you wish.

Melt the butter and two tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large frying pan, or risotto pan, and cook the celery, shallot and garlic on a gentle heat for around 5 minutes, until softened.

Add the barley, thyme , paprika, bay, lemon rind, chilli flakes, tomatoes, stock, passata and 1/2 tsp of fine sea salt. Stir to combine, bring to a boil then reduce to the gentlest simmer possible. Cook for around 45 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure it doesn’t catch on the pan. When the barley is ready it will be tender with a little ‘bite’ and most of the liquid will have been absorbed.

While the risotto is cooking, gently toast the caraway seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes until aromatic. Then, using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush them so that some whole seeds remain. Add them to the feta with the remaining olive oil, mix gently to combine thoroughly, and set aside.

When the risotto is ready, check the seasoning and divide it between four shallow bowls, topping each with the marinated feta (including the oil) and a sprinkling of fresh oregano leaves.

In this hot weather our thyme was in full flower so I picked some off and added small flower heads to each dish as well. They were also delicious and added even more flavour.

Vindaloo Sauce

As an unashamed curry addict, I have spent a lot of time over the years tweaking and refining the standard curry sauces and pastes. My benchmark for vindaloo is the amazing sauce used by the head chef in my local Indian restaurant; it is only in the last six months that I have managed to refine my own version into a reasonable approximation of his.

Contrary to what you may believe, a good vindaloo isn’t defined by its heat, it is defined by being spicy while allowing the base flavours to shine through. The essential flavour element in a vindaloo sauce is vinegar, not the brash smack-in-the-face of raw malt vinegar, rather the smooth sourness of properly cooked-out white wine vinegar. This sauce delivers in spades.

As with all spiced dishes, allowing this sauce time to develop just makes it better, so make it the night before you intend to use it, make a reasonable batch, freeze some for later and just add chicken, lamb, beef, prawns… whatever you feel like eating on the day.

Don’t be daunted by the length of the ingredients list, this is quick to make and most of the ingredients will be in any well-stocked pantry. Jaggery is hard cane sugar, widely available in larger supermarkets and international food stores.

I haven’t specified potatoes in the recipe, but the ‘aloo’ part of vindaloo implies that a vindaloo curry will have potatoes in it. Truth is, it’s entirely optional and might be a bit odd if, for example, you made a prawn vindaloo.

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RECIPE makes enough for 6-8 portions

For the paste:

1 heaped tsp ground cumin

1 heaped tsp ground turmeric

2 heaped tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp English mustard powder

1 heaped tsp ground coriander

1 tsp cayenne pepper

a big fat thumb of fresh ginger, grated

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp grated jaggery (or light brown muscovado sugar)

For the base:

150ml rapeseed or sunflower oil

8 fat garlic cloves, crushed

3 large red onions, chopped

For the body:

6 red chillies, seeds in, finely chopped

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato puree

1-4 tsp hot chilli powder, depending on your tolerance and taste

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Mix the paste ingredients together in a small bowl. If it is a little stiff and dry just add a little water. Set aside.

Prepare the base ingredients then, in a blender or food processor, process to a smooth consistency. In a large pan, cook the base over a gentle heat for ten minutes until aromatic but not coloured – the sauce will start out pink from the red onions, and should stay that way.

Add the paste that you made earlier, and cook it out for about five minutes before adding the red chillies, tomatoes, tomato puree and chilli powder. Bring to the gentlest simmer that you can – a plop every now and again – and leave it on the heat, uncovered, for an hour then check and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

If you find that it is not quite spicy enough for you, don’t add more chilli powder once you have cooked it, the rawness of the powder will spoil it. Instead, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil and add a tsp (or more) of dried chilli flakes to it. Let it spit for a minute or so then leave the oil to infuse for ten minutes, before stirring the oil and chilli into the sauce.

When adding meat to the sauce, it always pays to brown the meat separately first before adding it to the sauce.

Low-Calorie Chilli con Carne

I seem to spend a lot of time searching for my ‘definitive’ take on classic dishes. Trying different variations and tweaking them until they are exactly how we want them to be. This is my current definitive take on Chilli can Carne, suitable for vegetarians and if you can find vegan quorn mince or similar it can also be made for vegans.

The key ingredients here are chipotle chillies to add smokiness, and raw cacao powder, which adds a hint of bitterness. I also like to use some liquid smoke to amp up the umami, it’s not vital but since I have it in my pantry why not use it? Browsing Amazon recently I spied a catering size can of chipotle chillies in adobo sauce, three or four of those in place of dried is delicious. I just froze the rest of the can in convenient sized bags.

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RECIPE serves 4  

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 red pepper, cut to small dice

1 green pepper, cut to small dice

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

4 fat garlic cloves, crushed

500g Quorn mince (the vegan variety if you can get it)

1 heaped tsp dried oregano

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp ground cumin

4 dried chipotle chillies, rehydrated (keep the liquid)

1 tsp liquid smoke (optional)

200ml red wine

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 vegan vegetable stock cube (or 1 tsp bouillon powder)

1 400g tin of kidney beans, with the water

1 tbsp raw cacao powder (or cocoa)

a small bunch of coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves to garnish

the zest and juice of a lime, to garnish


METHOD

In a large pan over a moderate heat, soften the onion, peppers and celery for between 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic for the last few minutes.

Add the Quorn mince, stir well then add the oregano, bay, cumin, chipotle chillies (chopped) and liquid smoke. Stir well so everything is well-coated, then add the red wine, turn up the heat and cook it off for a few minutes until there is almost no moisture left. Keep stirring it so it doesn’t catch on the pan.

Add the tomatoes, kidney beans (with the water from the can, there’s flavour there), the chipotle water and the stock cube or bouillon. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, so the sauce is really thick.

Add the cacao powder and chopped coriander stalks right at the end, stir thoroughly so they are fully incorporated.

If you can make it a few hours before serving, so much the better. The flavours will deepen and mellow, and if you can make it the day before it will be even better.

To serve, garnish with the juice and finely grated zest of a lime and coriander leaves.

Serve with lime wedges if you like, alongside steamed rice (brown basmati is amazing), guacamole and a bright and zingy salsa for a real treat.

Chickpea Mushroom Burgers with Turmeric Aioli

The best thing about sharing recipes on a blog is that people share theirs with you as well. These delicious vegan burgers were devised by Ella Woodward but came recommended by my friend Bridget, who raved about them. She was right, they are absolutely gorgeous, as well as being quick and easy to make.

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RECIPE serves 4  

For the Burgers:

2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

4 fat spring onions, white and green parts separated and finely chopped

150g of mushrooms, finely chopped

1 large carrot, grated

1 heaped teaspoon of cumin

1 teaspoon of hot chilli powder

salt and pepper

2 400g tins of chickpeas

2 tablespoons of gram flour

a small bunch of coriander, finely chopped

olive oil

For the aioli:

100g of cashews (soaked for at least 4 hours)

1 lemon, juiced

1 small clove of garlic, chopped

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon of ground turmeric

4 tablespoons of water


METHOD

Gently fry the chopped garlic and the white half of the spring onions in olive oil over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until they are cooked through and just beginning to brown.

While those cook, finely chop the mushrooms then add them to the pan along with the cumin and chilli powder, with a pinch of salt and a grinding of black pepper and cook for another 3 minutes.

Grate the carrot, finely chop the green ends of the spring onions and add both into the pan, then cook for another 2 minutes.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and finely chop the coriander then add both to the pan along with the gram flour. Mash the mixture with a potato masher until all the chickpeas are crushed then scoop up handfuls of the mix and mould into eight patties. Place these in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

While these cool, drain the cashews and add all the aioli ingredients to a high speed blender and blend until totally smooth.

Heat a little olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and cook the burgers for about 4 minutes on each side, until they turn golden brown. Alternatively, heat your oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6, brush a little olive oil on each side of the patties and cook for 15 minutes, turning them over half way through.

Serve alongside the turmeric aioli, with a salad and pitta bread.

Saffron Rice with Barberries, Pistachio and Mixed Herbs

I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks, magazines, recipes ripped from newspapers and magazines, and downloaded from the internet. It can make choosing what to eat more of a problem, not less, so when I’m stuck for inspiration I have a few strategies: I might pick a book or magazine at random, and just cook anything and everything that sounds delicious. Or I might go into the larder and pick out an overlooked, forgotten-about ingredient and find recipes to use it with.

This last strategy came into play this week, when I found a pot of dried barberries lurking, doing nothing. It was a good move, I made two absolutely divine dishes with them, which went together perfectly: a yellow split pea and aubergine stew, which I found in an old Jamie magazine, and this, from Yotam Ottolenghi’s delightful book ‘Jerusalem’.

Barberries are tiny, sweet-and-sour Iranian berries that add a real hit of intensity to Middle Eastern dishes. You can get them online, and from Middle Eastern grocers. If you can’t find barberries, use currants soaked in a little lemon juice instead, or dried sour cherries also make a great substitute.

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RECIPE serves 6 (modify amounts to suit) 

40g unsalted butter

360g basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained

560ml boiling water

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

a pinch of saffron threads, soaked for 30 minutes in 3 tbsp boiling water

40g dried barberries, soaked for a few minutes in freshly boiled water with a pinch of sugar

30g dill, roughly chopped

20g chervil, roughly chopped

10g tarragon, roughly chopped

60g slivered or crushed unsalted raw pistachios, lightly toasted


METHOD

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the rice, making sure the grains are well coated. Add the boiling water, a teaspoon of salt and some white pepper. Mix well, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook on a very low heat for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to uncover the pan – you need to let the rice to steam properly.

Remove the pan from the heat – all the water will have been absorbed by the rice – and pour the saffron water over about a quarter of the surface, leaving most of the rice white. Cover with a tea towel, reseal tightly with the lid and set aside for five to 10 minutes.

We are not big fans of saffron, some people just aren’t. If this also applies to you then consider finely grating a couple of centimetres of fresh turmeric root (now very widely available from larger supermarket chains) and soaking in a couple of tablespoons of hot water. The flavour is heady and aromatic, it makes a perfect substitute wherever you are called upon to use saffron.

With a large spoon, transfer the white rice to a large bowl and fluff it up with a fork. Drain the barberries and stir them in, followed by the herbs and most of the pistachios, reserving a few to garnish. Fluff up the saffron rice in the pan, then fold gently into the white rice – don’t over mix: you don’t want the white grains to be stained by the yellow ones. Taste, adjust the seasoning and transfer to a shallow serving bowl. Scatter the remaining pistachios on top and serve warm or at room temperature.