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There are some plates of food that when presented in front of you you are a little bit sceptical that the dish will actually taste good. This dish, being predominately grey and black with only a splattering of green and white from the spring onions and the delicate pink from the salmon, is a case in point. You are going to have to trust me on this one when I say that this meal is seriously delicious. It also ridiculously quick (I know I know I say that with most of the dishes I put up on my blog) – it takes the amount of time that you cook your salmon in the oven – 15 minutes.

 

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Black sesame seeds may require a bit of effort to hunt down – I found mine at my local Asian grocers, but other than that you should be able to get hold of the rest of the ingredients pretty easily. If you don’t have tamari, just use soy sauce – they are very similar.

 

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I ate mine with a hot cup of fresh lemon verbena tea, which I have become rather addicted to since I was sweetly given a bag full of the stuff last weekend. Have you tried it before? Does anyone grow it in their gardens? Is it easy to maintain? I’d love to know as lemon verbena has a wonderful aroma and taste.

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I hope you get to try this dish very soon. I adore buckwheat soba noodles – I tend to buy the Clearspring variety – they look like this. They’re wheat free noodles, low in fat and a great source of protein and fibre. Go on give this dish a go and leave me a comment below.

 

Black Sesame Paste Soba Noodles with Salmon and Spring Onions

Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s ‘Super Natural Everyday’ – Black Sesame Otsu

Serves 4

black sesame seed paste

1 tsp sunflower seeds

1 tsp pine nuts

60g black sesame seeds

1 1/2 tbsp demerara sugar

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 1/2 tbsp tamari/soy sauce

2 tbsp brown rice vinegar

pinch of cayenne pepper

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350g buckwheat soba noodles

4 salmon fillets – skin removed (optional)

3 spring onions, finely sliced

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

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1. Preheat your oven (I use a fan oven – if you are not increase the temperature by 10 degrees) to 180 degrees. Equally you can steam the salmon if you prefer. Using a cooking brush gently wipe each salmon fillet with sesame oil. Place in a non stick dish and cook for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a frying pan dry roast, on a low heat, the pine nuts and sunflower seeds for a couple of minutes so they begin to bronze. You will need to keep moving the pan to prevent burning. As the pine nuts begin to bronze add the black sesame seeds and move them around the pan for a minute. Transfer to a spice grinder (or pestle and mortar).

3. After whizzing the ingredients for 10-15 seconds so that they are properly blended, transfer the paste into a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients to make the black sesame paste. Place to one side.

4. Place the soba noodles in a pan of boiling water and cook according to instructions – should be around 5 minutes on a low heat. Before draining save 100ml of the noodle water and leave in a jug. Drain the soba noodles and run under cold water to prevent further cooking. Before adding the soba noodles to the black sesame paste, remove 1/4 of the paste and place in a separate cup. Add the soba noodles to the large mixing bowl with the remaining black sesame paste, the 100ml of noodle water, extra virgin olive oil and almost all of the spring onions and gently stir into the paste.

5. Serve a generous portion of noodles to each bowl or plate and place the salmon fillet on top along with a dollop of remaining black sesame paste which you have reserved and a scattering of spring onions.

It can be eaten at warm, room temperature or cold. You can replace the salmon with trout or even with tofu gently fried. It would in fact make an original and tasty lunch box alternative.

Decadent Dal Makhani

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This gloriously decadent dal originates from the Punjab region of North India where black urid beans, also known as black gram, are eaten in abundance. It happens to be my husband’s absolute favourite king of dals. Creamy and rich from the butter, ghee (or oil) and double cream (oh don’t let that put you off!) and yet zings of ginger, garlic and tomato accompanied with a delicious spicy masala.

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Whilst we are lucky to still have some warm days, soon the weather will be turning and this dal is definitely one to bookmark for when there is a chill in the air.

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In the Punjab this dal is eaten on special occasions, such as weddings and religious ceremonies. When all the pomp and glory happens you can guarantee that dal makhani will be offered to guests. Do try it and let me know how you get on.

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Hope you all have a lovely weekend.

 

Dal Makhani

Serves 4-6

500g black urid beans (also known as black gram)

20g fresh ginger, peeled and grated

3 garlic cloves, grated

2 green chillies, finely sliced

241g tin of red kidney beans (this was the amount once drained)

1 tsp salt

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tadka 

2 tbsp sunflower oil or ghee

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds

pinch of asafoetida/hing

2 garlic cloves, grated

120g tomato puree

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Just before serving

1 tbsp butter

40ml double cream

1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

1/2 tsp garam masala

salt to taste

120g tomato puree

1. Ideally soak the urid beans overnight submerged in a bowl of water. Equally if you plan on eating them in the evening you can soak them in the morning for around 6 hours.

2. Once the lentils have soaked (see above) drain them and then wash them with clean water and drain 3 times so as to get rid of any impurities.

3. Place them in a large deep pan and completely cover so that the water is just above the beans. You can always add more water during the cooking process if it all gets soaked up. Add the finely grated ginger and garlic as well as the green chilli and salt. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. The scum that comes to the top when cooking can be removed with a spoon and discarded.

4. After about 20 minutes the dal should have softened and much of the water reduced. Press a bean between your thumb and forefinger and it should easily be squashed. If it needs to soften a bit more leave it simmering for a further 5 minutes.

5. Strain the lentils and then place them back in the pan along with the drained tinned red kidney beans. Add 100ml of water and simmer for a couple of minutes.

6. In a separate small frying pan add the oil (or ghee if you are feeling a little bit naughty) and when it is hot gently add the cumin and fenugreek seeds. They will begin to pop after about 30 seconds so proceed to add the garlic, asafoetida and then after a minute add the tomato puree and stir in together. Simmer on a low heat for a further minute.

7. Place the contents of the frying pan into the large pan with the urid and red kidney beans and give a good stir. If it is too thick add a little more water. It is very much down to personal taste on how thick or soupy you wish your dal to be. Simmer together for 10 minutes.

8. A few minutes before serving add the butter, double cream, Kashmiri chilli powder and garam masala. Give a good stir and add more salt as required.

Oh so delicious. I hope you agree.

Do leave a comment below. I love to hear from my readers. 

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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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