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It was love at first sight. The vibrant butternut squash (the beetroot is my own addition) with dollops of pistachio pesto infused with fresh dill, coriander and parsley, crumbled feta and bejewelled pomegranate seeds. Simple and yet so very right. I did not even need to try it to know that I would love it and include it in my culinary repertoire from that day forth.

 

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It was served to me by the very likeable Sabrina Ghayour earlier this year at her hugely popular supper club that takes place in her west London residence. Twelve or so hungry diners feasted on a number of mouth watering Persian dishes that were lovingly prepared by Sabrina herself.  Her recipes and ingredients sing to me and I can honestly say that I actually want to cook and eat a large number of them. Dried lime, lamb and split pea stew or saffron chicken, fennel and barberry stew or bamia – bring it on.

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The recipes will really come into their own in the autumn and winter time as there is even a section dedicated  to ‘soups, stews and tanginess’, perfect to serve up and nourish the soul on cold, blistery autumnal days. That said, there are also sections on ‘salads and vegetables’,  ‘roasts and grills’, ‘mezze and sharing plates’, ‘breads and grains’ and finally ‘desserts and sweet treats’ so something for everyone no matter what hemisphere you are living in. The recipes are easy to follow and beautifully photographed. I also particularly love the cover which is not only eye catching with it’s title that rolls off the tongue, but it also has a very tactile cover.  As you pass your hand over it gives the impression that spices and rose petals have really been imbedded into it’s very cover.  Such a clever and original idea.

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This recipe you can eat as is, or accompany it with another in her book. I thought the ‘tray-baked rose lamb chops with chilli and herbs’ (above) would be a particularly delicious combination. If you want to learn more about Persian food and feel comfortable cooking it for yourself then I cannot recommend the book more highly. Sabrina’s chatty, informative and unpretentious style will connect with it’s readers and guide them through the very exciting world of food from Persia.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Beetroot with Pistachio Pesto, Feta and Pomegranate Seeds

adapted slightly from Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour

Serves 4 

1 butternut squash, halved and then chopped into about 6 large pieces (skin left on)

4 beetroot, gently cleaned (be careful not to damage the skin) kept whole and stems left intact

4 tbsp olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

150g feta cheese

100g pomegranate seeds

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for the pesto

100g shelled pistachio nuts

70g parmesan chopped into rough chunks

olive oil

1 handful of fresh coriander

1 handful of fresh dill

1 handful of fresh parsley

2 tbsp chilli oil

juice of 1 lemon

sea salt

1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees if using fan oven or 200 degrees if not/gas mark 6.  Place the chopped butternut squash and intact beetroot on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and cover the vegetables in olive oil, pepper and salt. Place in the oven for 50 minutes so the edges of the butternut squash begin to char.

2. Meanwhile to prepare the pesto, place the pistachio, parmesan chunks and a glug of olive oil into a food processor and mix together. If it remains quite thick in texture add some more olive oil to soften it.

3. Add all the herbs, chilli oil and lemon juice and blitz together with a sprinkling of sea salt. Taste to make sure the flavour is well balanced. Leave in the refrigerator until ready to use.

4. To serve, place the roasted butternut squash and beetroot (now cut in two) on a serving platter. Place dollops of the pesto on each vegetable portion, crumble the feta on each portion and around the  platter. Finish by scattering the pomegranate on top.

Voila you have the most pleasing of meals to dive into.

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I’ve been meaning to post this glorious recipe for ages. It is seriously good and takes no time to whip together. If the truth be told I’ve been eating it all summer, but each time I forget to photograph the food until it’s too late. Today I was ready with my camera to take a few snaps before gorging on this delicious lunch.

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It’s perfect if you want to impress friends as it’s probably a flavour combination they’ve not eaten before so it will take them by surprise…..in a good way.

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It would also work really well for BBQ gatherings or as a starter for a dinner with friends. The flavour combinations of freshly ground black pepper and strawberries is a surprising winner. The dish in itself is sweet, salty and full of umami – read my article here to learn more about umami.

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If you are not able to get hold of fresh spinach, rocket also works really well.

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I originally came across a similar recipe in fellow  food blogger Heidi Swanson’s book ‘Super Natural Everyday‘, which I adore to dip into from time to time.

 

Here is my version of the recipe. Let me know how you get on by leaving a comment below. I love to hear from my readers.

 

Strawberry, Black Pepper and Spinach Salad with a Red Onion Balsamic Dressing

Serves 4

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

90g fresh spinach or rocket

300g fresh strawberries, hulled and finely sliced

30g slivered almonds, toasted

15g parmesan, shaved in curls

1. In a small bowl add the balsamic vinegar, red onion/shallot, salt and pepper. Leave to stand for 10 minutes before adding the oil and whisking gently together. Leave to one side.

2. Place the slivered almonds into a large frying pan to toast. They brown really quickly so do not leave the pan. Use a spatula to move the almonds around the heat to help them bronze evenly. This will not take more than a couple of minutes.

3. In a large bowl add the spinach or rocket, strawberries and parmesan shavings. To make the curls I use a regular vegetable peeler.  Then add the dressing and gently toss so that the dressing is evenly distributed.

Serve immediately.

If you are preparing ahead of time do not add the dressing until your guests have arrived. The dressing can easily be made in advance.

Mango Lassi

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“The choicest fruit of Hindustan for garden pride the mango is sought. Ere ripe, other fruits to cut we ban, but mango serves, ripe or not.” says Amir Khusro in his Persian verse.

 

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This is so true. Mangoes are loved the world over, not least in India where the mango is used to make kulfi (Indian ice-cream), chutney – see my recipe here, or as a sweet mango lassi.

At Boro Amma’s (my husband’s granny) house in Kolkata a mango tree stands bearing sweet fruit outside the kitchen window.  The rustle of the leaves in the gently breeze and the sweet scent of the mangoes is always tempting us. When the fruit is tok (sour) we prepare mango chutney, which is heavenly. As the fruit softens we sip on mango lassi, which cools us in the heat of the day.

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This year mangoes imported from India, including the legendary Alphonso mangoes, where banned by the EU after authorities in Brussels found some mangoes infested with fruit flies, which they fear could damage European salad crops. So while it is possible to buy mangoes here in the shops in the UK, we were not able to feast on the lusciously sweet Alphonso, much to the everyone’s chagrin.

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Making mango lassi does not necessarily require fresh mangoes however. Tinned mangoes will also work equally well and for this recipe I used tinned. It’s so simple and sweetly delicious I urge you to try it one hot summers day.

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Mango Lassi

Makes 4 glasses

2 cans of mango slices in syrup (approximately 230g of mangoes per tin after syrup has been drained) or fresh mangoes

250g natural yoghurt

300g milk

3 tbsp maple syrup, to taste

6 ice cubes

1/4 tsp of ground cardamom

1. After straining the syrup from the mangoes add all the ingredients and blend together in a juicer/blender. If you prefer it thinner in consistency simply add a little extra milk or water.

Serve in glasses on warm summer days.

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Before I headed off to the Greek Island of Kefalonia – you know the one that Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was based and filmed, my Italian friend in London said I HAD to seek out a certain restaurant where he had tasted, and I quote, “the best Moussaka in my life”.


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I didn’t need to be told twice. With no restaurant name and only scant directions to go by (on the left hand side at the top of the road as you leave the famous Myrtos Beach….. if you are interested), we did manage to find the restaurant. It was called ‘Alexandros’ and yes the Moussaka was heavenly and without doubt the best we had sampled. So much so it has inspired me to recreate it back in Blighty.

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Here is a photo of the legendary Moussaka. Pipping hot in its own terracotta pot. It looks similar to an English Cottage or Shepherds pie, but don’t be fooled. This moussaka was filled with aubergine, slices of potato and delicately spiced lamb mince. Oooooh it was so good. Thanks Carlo for the tip!

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Other than eating we did a lot of swimming in glorious hidden beaches or  in the pool (see photos below). We were based in the north of the island in a wonderful villa in a little rural hamlet outside the charming town (although to be fair it is more of a village) of Fiscardo, which is a mecca for those who love yachting (aka my father who was with us). It’s quiet, calm and peaceful and my idea of the perfect relaxing holiday.

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A short drive up the coast is picturesque Assos with it’s sheltered harbour – another great spot for swimming and  for exploring it’s ruined Venetian castle on the hill facing the town.

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It’s pretty remote and most of the people living there are working the ‘tourist’ season, so much so that only around 40 people remain through the winter months. We were told that in the northern part of the island (which includes Assos) around 300 hundred people remain on the island. Flights onto the island stop at the end of October and do not resume again until spring. If you need to reach the island you have to get there the old fashioned way – by boat. We contemplated for some time what it must be like to live there in a place where everything shuts down for 6 months of the year. The inhabitants must feel so isolated from the worries of the outside world. It made me think of the film ‘The Wicker Man’.

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After swimming around this glorious bay I climbed up into the woods to take the photo above. I then stumbled across the sign below about 20 feet from where I was standing.  Needless to say I was back in the water quick smart!

 

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So I hope you will try my version of Moussaka. It’s delicately spiced with cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg, dried oregano and bay leaves, and similarly to Alexandros I have also added potato as well as aubergine. You can prepare most of the dish a day in advance, apart from the béchamel sauce and the potatoes, which are best prepared just before you start layering the ingredients.

 

So here the steps you need to take to make this deliciously Greek dish.

 

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Greek Moussaka

Serves 6

1 tbsp olive oil

1 white onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 bay leaves

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground nutmeg

400g lamb mince

390g chopped tomatoes (fresh or tinned)

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp oregano

50 ml red wine

370g potatoes (I used 1 very large potato), thinly sliced

2 aubergine, finely chopped width ways

olive oil for frying

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Bechamel Sauce

70g plain flour, sieved

70g butter

50g parmesan, freshly grated

pinch of salt

pinch of ground nutmeg

600 ml milk, warmed

2 eggs, whisked

1. Warm the olive oil in a large pan and then add the onion and gently cook for 5 minutes, before adding the garlic and cooking for a further minute.

2. Add all the spices and bay leaves and stir into the onion and garlic. Now add the lamb and use a wooden spoon to break up the mince. Stir well.

3. After 10 minutes the lamb should now all be brown, with no pink meat remaining. If there is any pink meat cook for a little longer.

4. Add the tomatoes, sugar, red wine vinegar, red wine and stir into the mince. Leave to simmer for a further 15-20 minutes, then leave to cool.

5. In a separate pan boil some water and place the sliced potatoes into the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes. You do not want the potato to be soft, instead take it out of the water just before it becomes soft. Strain and place in a bowl of cold iced water to prevent it cooking further. Place to one side.

6. In a large frying pan add a little olive oil and then place some of the sliced aubergine in the pan to bronze. It is best to do this in batches. You will find that the aubergines will probably need a little more oil during cooking as they do tend to soak it up fast. After 5 minutes turn and fry for a further 5 minutes so that both sides have begun to bronze. Remove from the pan and place on kitchen paper.

7. To make the béchamel sauce, heat the milk in a pan to warm – although do not boil it. Then place in a pouring jug.

8. In a separate pan add the butter and when it is melted add the flour and stir together. Gradually add the warm milk, stirring each time some more milk is added. Add a pinch of salt and ground nutmeg followed by half of the parmesan cheese. Simmer gently for a few minutes, by which time the sauce will be thick. Leave to cool.

9. Once it has cooled add the eggs and stir into the sauce.

10. To layer up the moussaka, first add some of the aubergine so that it coves the bottom of the dish. The dish I use is 12×9 inch. Then add half the mince followed by the potato, followed by the rest of the mince and another layer of aubergine. The final topping is the béchamel sauce, which completely covers all the other ingredients. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan on the top.

11. Place in a preheated oven at 180 degrees and cook for 35-40 minutes when the top begins to bronze.

Serve once it has begun to cool slightly as it will be very hot when it comes out of the oven.

Happy Holidays everyone.

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Oh boy it’s been getting pretty hot here in London town. We’re almost hitting 30 degrees and that is pretty darn for HOT for England. All this humid weather means that the fresh water lido’s, that I love to swim in, are heating up nicely to a refreshing 21 degrees. I’ve also been doing a bit of sea swimming, which has been lovely.

When it comes to food and cooking though the hot weather really makes us a little sluggish and well hot, so the last thing we want to be doing is spending hours in a kitchen labouring over a stove.

 

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This recipe takes around 10-15 minutes to make from beginning to end. The combination of flavours and textures make it a joy to eat, and something a little different. It is simple and has few ingredients and requires no salt as that is provided by the tamari.

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If you want to make even more of a meal out of it you could add grilled tofu or some salmon or trout fillets. I added a sprinkling of chilli flakes, but it also works really well in it’s simplest form.

 

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If you can’t get hold of durum wheat you could use farro or another whole grain.

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Kale, Coconut and Durum Wheat Salad with a Sesame Oil Dressing

Inspired and adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Kale Salad in Super Natural Every Day

Serves 4

125g kale, chopped (stems removed)

100g unsweetened large coconut flakes

175g pure durum wheat  or farro

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80ml  extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce

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chilli flakes, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade.

2. Chop the kale and place in a large bowl along with the coconut flakes

3. Mix the olive oil, sesame oil and tamari together in a small bowl.

4. Pour two-thirds of the oil mixture over the kale and coconut flakes and really mix in thoroughly so that all the leaves are completely coated in the oil.

5. Place in the oven for 10-12 or until the coconut flakes begin to bronze and the kale begins to darken slightly. Keep an eye on it as they can get burn easily and the kale crisp up too much.

6. Whilst the kale and coconut are in the oven place the durum wheat in a pan of cold water and gently simmer for around ten minutes, or according to instructions on the packet. Strain thoroughly.

7. Return all the ingredients to the bowl and mix again with the remainder of the oil mixture.

Serve immediately.

It works wonderfully well on it’s own or equally you could add some grilled salmon or trout or possibly some grilled tofu. Experiment and let me know what works for you.

Notes: I have also made this replacing the coconut flakes with powa flakes, sunflower seeds and 1 tsp of maple syrup to the dressing. Worked equally well. 

 

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Happy summer days.

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It’s always good to have some quick, easy and tasty recipes up your sleeve if you feeding a crowd. I know how it is difficult to decide what to pair up with what in as far as a starter, main and dessert is concerned. I always find it helpful in cookery books when they give suggestions. It’s surprising how many do not actually do this!

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Both these recipes turned up on my blog when I first started back in 2011 and I felt that the photos needed a little improving so decided to re post with new ones that I recently took. They are both definitely ‘go-to’ recipes for me. Hearty food with wonderful herbs, but light and fresh – perfect for summer days.

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They are so quick and easy to prepare that if you have friends coming over or you are doing your own catering on holiday, they take no time and will not cause you any stress. The dessert I accompanied these dishes with was Rose and Summer Berry Skinnifreddo, which I found on fellow food blogger Kellie’s blog – kelliesfoodtoglow.com. It was wonderfully fresh, colourful and healthy and  complements my starter and main beautifully. Her blog is really rather lovely so do take some time to look around it – I am sure you will be inspired.

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The above photo is of the chicken after marinading but before cooking

Spanish Baked Chicken

Sourced and inspired by Simply Recipes

serves 4-6

3.5 pounds/1.6kg  chicken thighs

100 ml red wine vinegar

100ml olive oil

1 handful fresh oregano

100g raisins/sultanas

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp salt

pepper

100g stoneless green olives

4 bay leaves

150 ml white wine

2 tbsp brown sugar

1. Cut the excess fat off the chicken thighs, pierce the skin with a fork and place in a large mixing bowl. Then add all the ingredients, except the white wine and brown sugar, to create the wonderful marinade. You don’t have to stick rigidly to the amounts for the olives and raisin/sultanas ingredients – if you love olives throw in a little more and same goes for the raisins/sultanas. Really mix all the marinade thoroughly over the chicken using your hands. Cover with foil and place in the fridge overnight or for as many hours as you can.

2. Transfer the chicken and the marinade to an oven proof dish. I often use a couple of dishes so that the chicken thighs are evenly spread out. Then pour the white wine and sprinkle the brown sugar over the chicken thighs.

3. Place in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees centigrade for 50 mins remembering to spoon the marinade over the chicken during cooking. This will ensure the chicken has a golden brown glow when it is cooked.

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Pea and Mint Soup with Crumbled Feta

Serves 4

4 spring onions, sliced

50g butter

700g frozen peas

1 pint/600ml milk

1 pint/600ml of vegetable stock

one handful of fresh mint (or two if you like it really minty)

black pepper

salt

75g feta

1. Melt the butter slowly in a pan, careful not to burn the butter. When melted add the sliced spring onions and stir into the butter for 5 minutes. Stir in the peas, vegetable stock and mint and leave to simmer for around 20 minutes (30 minutes if you are using fresh peas).

2. Puree the soup to the consistency that you require. Then add in the milk – if you like a thicker consistency then add less milk than the amount given above. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Immediately before serving sprinkle each portion with crumbled feta.

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Long, lazy summer days await. Relaxing long lunches with friends in the sun/shade. You don’t want to be spending hours in the kitchen preparing food, so I hope that this summer salad ticks all the boxes. It’s easy of assemble, tasty and not at all complicated.

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Mung beans are a fabulous little pulse that are really versatile. As well as salads they work really well cooked with Indian spices and in dals. They do require soaking so you have to be a little prepared. I tend to soak overnight and then boil them for around 40 minutes, the following day.

I like the variety of colour and texture in this salad. From the crunchiness of the carrot, to the smoothness of the avocado, to the sweetness of the dates. The dressing brings it all together, giving it a slightly Asian twist.

 

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Mung Bean, Date and Avocado Salad with a Soy Miso Dressing

Serves 4-6

500g mung beans

1 carrot, chopped into small cubes

1/2 a red onion, finely chopped

150g cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 avocado, chopped into cubes

10 dates, chopped

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Soy Miso Dressing

2 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp sweet miso – I use this one

1 lime – juice only

1. Place the mung beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Leave overnight or for at least 5 hours

2. After the mung beans have soaked, strain the water and then place them in a pan and boil them in water for 40 minutes, by which time they will have softened.

3. Finely chop all the ingredients to make the salad and toss gently together in a large mixing bow along with the cook and strained mung beans. Note: it is advisable not to prepare the avocado until you are almost ready to eat as they will begin to discolour.

4. Mix all the ingredients of the dressing together and pour over the salad. Mix with some salad tongs and serve immediately.

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