Home cooked Chinese Food and Hot Pot Dining on Cold Blustery Days


January is a month for nesting. The weather tends to be so cold and blustery, with the odd rain or snow shower, that I like to hibernate, wear thick wooly jumpers and keep warm. It’s the perfect time to cook hearty food, bake and make those chutneys, marmalades and pickles (I made a batch of my carrot and daikon pickle) that you’ve been meaning to do. I did venture out earlier this week however to try my first hot pot at a restaurant that opened last year by the same name. They have over 150 restaurants in Asia but this is their first foray on British shores. It’s at the gate of China town, near Soho, so is very easy to find. Hot pots are in many respects the Chinese version of fondu, although with fondu of course there is no broth to eat with your meat or cheese. They are a great social way to dine with family and friends as a great big pot of steaming broth is the centrepiece of the whole table. I guess they would also be a great date idea, as it’s a fun way to eat and there would always be something to talk about! From a health perspective, broths are a perfect way to strengthen your immune system, which often tends to be quite low at this time of year.

We were welcomed by friendly staff who were on hand to talk us through the menu. Now the menu can be a little daunting at first glance folks, but do not be phased by this hurdle. First you need to decide on which broth you want to go for. You can chose one or  two, the latter coming in one giant bowl with a clever partition in the middle (see photo below). We obviously went for the two option. There are 8 choices and they all sounded delicious.

They ranged from the non-spicy to the kickass spicy. We decided to opt for two non-spicy ones – the vegan “longevity mushroom broth” – made up of a host of mushrooms and cordyceps flowers. It has a high content of antioxidants, minerals and vitamin D. Our other choice was the “herbal drunken chicken”. With a name like that how could we resist? It’s made from British free-range chicken that has been cooked in a broth for 4.5 hours with a range of herbs and tonics.

Next you need to choose what to put into the broth. There are a number of platter options, as well as individual plate options, which come in half plate or full plate sizes. We chose everything in half plate, which was more than enough for two people. We went for the sea bass fillets, the spicy marinaded pork, some king prawns, winter melon, Chinese cabbage, emerald spinach noodles and some fried tofu puffs. Whilst our order was being prepared we went over the self serving sauce station (now say that quickly 4 times ;o) where you can get as creative as you wish. The floors over in this section of the restaurant where rather instragramable don’t you think?

There were so many choices that we took a couple of little plates back to the table: soy sauce, chilli sauce, peanut sauce, garlic, spring onions, chillies, sesame seeds to name a few.

This was my favourite that I ‘created’ (see photo above). The waiting staff will turn on your hob on the table and then let the stock bubble away gently for a few minutes. You then start by adding your vegetables and some of your noodles and leaving them for a very short while before fishing them out and placing them in a small bowl to then dunk in your sauce and eat. Delicious. If you order the winter melon, don’t leave them in there for too long or they will begin to disintegrate, a mistake we made.  You can take a little broth as you go to slurp away, it really does warm you to your inner core. The longer the broth cooked, the more the flavours intensified. We then added the sea bass and prawns for a couple of minutes max before dunking in the pork  (which in fact didn’t taste spicy) for around 4-5 minutes cooking.

Both broths tasted really good and distinct from one another. I would happily choose both again. If I had to choose one over the other I think the herbal drunken chicken had the edge, but it really was a hard call. We ordered the right amount and couldn’t quite finish all of the broth. My dining companion lived in Hong Kong for many years and is in fact half Chinese and she was pleasantly surprised by how delicious both broths were. A real accolade if ever there was one.  The restaurant is over two floors (and sits up to 150 apparently), although only the downstairs tends to be open in the day time, largely owing the the footfall. The clientele ranged from families, couples, friends and Chinese business man, so I think it would appeal to anyone of any age. There is also a number of Thai food options as well as the hotpots, if someone in your party would rather eat Thai. I think my children would love it and perhaps it would make an ideal lunch spot after a morning at the British Museum.

Hot Pot Restaurant, 17 Wardour Street, London W1D 6PJ 

Tel: 020 7287 8881 (open facility from noon-12.30am)

http://www.hotpotrestaurants.co.uk / @hotpotlondon_

Thank you to Hot Pot Restaurant for my complimentary lunch. All opinions are my own and I would happily return again.

Back at home I have been working on my Chinese braised oxtails, which I cooked over Christmas for the whole family and wanted to improve upon. Now don’t get put off by the word “oxtails” folks. Ok, perhaps if you are vegan or vegetarian you can stop reading from now on, but for everyone else, they taste really good but there are a few tricks you need to know about when cooking them. The secret is to cook/braise them for a long time in a low oven – 5h30 mins at 150 degrees centigrade. You need to have it so that the meat is literally falling off the bone.


I served it with some brown rice, cavolo nero/pea/garlic medley and some roasted butternut squash, which I had coated with some freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns. It’s a complete crowd pleaser with all the family really enjoying it. I am sure it would work equally well in a slow cooker, but I don’t have one so cooked it in the oven in my trusted Le Creuset pot.

It literally cooks itself so you can get on with other things whilst it slowly cooks away. Easy cooking, albeit one that takes time.


Chinese Braised Oxtails

Serves 6

2 tbsp of oil

2.6 kilos oxtails, cleaned and dried

45g ginger, chopped into thin batons

12 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

10 cloves

5 star anise

4 bay leaves

240ml Shaohsing rice wine (you can pick this up in large supermarkets and small Asian grocers)

6 tbsp light soy sauce

4 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp jaggery or brown sugar

700ml water


  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees centigrade.
  2. On your hob, add oil to a large ovenproof pot and then add some of the oxtails and brown all sides before removing and placing on a plate whilst you do the next batch.
  3. In the same pan, keeping the heat low, add the ginger, garlic, cloves, bay leaves and star anise and move around the pan for about a minute before adding the soy sauce, Shaohsing, sugar and water. I do not add any salt as I feel that enough comes from the soy sauces.
  4. Add the oxtails to the pan and coat in the sauce. Add a little more water if necessary and transfer to the oven.
  5. Cook for 5hours 30 minutes, by which time the meat will be falling off the bone. Over the course of the five hours move the oxtails around a few times. If it is looking dry simply add a little more water.
  6. Once it has cooked. Allow to cool before removing the oxtails – keep all the juice – and then using your hands allow the meat to fall off the bones. When all the meat has been removed return it to the pan and then rewarm before cooking and serve with brown rice, roasted butternut squash with some ground Sichuan peppercorns and some greens. Warming food for this cold weather.
































Cambodia, VB6 and a review of “My Vegan Travels” by Jackie Kearney

Sunset in Kep, Cambodia

Happy New Year everyone. As you’ve probably gathered from my lack of posts I have been off the grid for a few weeks, which has been bliss – although I was still posting on instagram so do check out my feed if you are interested. My family decided to cheat winter for a few weeks and headed off to Cambodia to see the ancient ruins, visit the capital and then head south to laidback Kep – which was once where the Cambodian royals and wealthy would head to relax and enjoy themselves; before the Khmer Rouge destroyed much of the town.

Angkor Wat Temple complex

Back in London and it has all been a bit of a shock with the cold, blistery weather and getting dark so early in the day. I reluctantly packed away my flip flops and got out my winter boots. January is a funny old month. We all start with such good intentions.

Most friends seem to be attempting a “dry January” and “veganuary” has now been thrown into the mix. Read more about it here if the term is new to you.

Sacred prays in Angkor Wat complex

I can get my head around being more vegetarian, or at least a diet which has a heavy vegetable focus, but vegan……now that involves a lot of thought and planning. Whilst I was pondering veganuary, I read about a rather interesting “diet” or let’s just say “way of life” which, in my view, seemed more attainable and realistic. There is a lot of chat about it in the media at the moment. It is called the VB6 diet. Now don’t get me wrong I do not follow diets and have never been on one, but this VB6 caught my attention.

Lotus flower arrangement in Siem Reap

The diet was given life by New York Times’ lead food writer Mark Bittman and literally means “Vegan Before 6pm”. I am increasingly convinced we all need to eat more vegetables and fruit and less meat and fish. Like Mark however, I am not going to become vegan anytime soon, but a swing of the pendulum towards more of a plant based diet is definitely attractive on many levels. I would prefer to eat meat and fish less often but the quality of what I eat to be high and ultimately know exactly where the produce has come from. By eating it less frequently does allow us to buy better quality meat and fish when we do actually buy it.

Drying out fish on the shores of Tonle Sap – the 4th largest freshwater source of fish in the world

The VB6 diet came about when Mark was told by his doctor that he was overweight, his cholesterol and blood sugar were too high and that intervention by surgery was one possible option. He discussed these findings with another doctor who suggested that becoming vegan was another way that could help him. Knowing that becoming a true vegan was out of the question he decided to adapt and become vegan throughout the day but in the evening from 6pm he could eat what he wanted. It made a lot of sense as he could be sociable in the evening with friends and eat how he always has done. He is also really realistic that sometimes he may deviates from the plan and he readily admits he has milk in his coffee in the morning, but for the most part he continues to be vegan in the day time.

A shrine in Phnom Penh

So has it worked?

Absolutely. He has lost a good amount of weight – 36 pounds then gained a little to plateau to around losing 26 pounds. The diet seems sensible and also not really very restrictive in the grand scheme of things. He talks to the Huffington Post here about the diet. Have a read, it’s really interesting. I definitely plan to pick up a copy of his book and see what he has to say in more detail. You can order it here if you are interested.

Buddhist shrine in Angkor Wat

Which brings me to a rather lovely book that was recently sent to me, called “My Vegan Travels – Comfort Food Inspired by Adventure” by Jackie Kearney. I don’t own a vegan cookery book so was not too sure on what to expect. What I discovered is a hugely informative book with recipes that actually sound and look (if the five photos below are anything to go by) delicious.

Photography credit above: Clare Winfield, published by Ryland Peters & Small

At first glance there did seem to be quite a number of ingredients in each recipe but that has never phased me. If you are someone who likes 5 ingredients, then this book is probably not for you. For anyone who has a keen interest in cooking and a willingness to try something new then you will love it. The chapters are slit into “No Place Like Home”, “European Summers”, “Asian Comfort” and “Americana”. I obviously gravitated to the “Asian Comfort”.

I think that to become full-time vegan does involve a commitment to actually stock your pantry/cupboard/fridge very differently. Leafing though the pages I found a couple of Cambodian recipes. Again I never come across Cambodian recipes so both of them really appealed to me. I opted on one though which I think is a real January mood-pick-me-up. It’s called “Num Banh Chok” – a Cambodian yellow curry with rice noodles and I cannot tell you how AWESOME this recipe is. I gave it to my father-in-law who has been recovering from a bout of flue and he couldn’t stop saying how delicious it was. It is now firmly part of my culinary arsenal and I will be cooking it again and again hence forth. I LOVED it.

I thought that the recipe tied in so well with this post and me having just come back from beautiful Cambodia, as well as the VB6 article, which I had been mulling over.

Now a couple of things to note. I made one change –  I added fried tofu instead of banana flower. I do love banana flower but it is tricky to find, certainly if you live outside London or not near any Vietnamese grocers. I thought it wasn’t very realistic for others to find if I found it tricky. Secondly, the vegetable with holes in it is called “lotus root”. I admit lotus root is also not that easy to find. My usual Asian grocers did not have it so they sent me off to a Chinese grocers that did. So folks aim for Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese/Japanese grocers near you. It is not stocked in your local supermarket. You can buy it online at places like Amazon and Fresh Oriental – here. You can also buy it frozen, but fresh is best if you can locate it. Galangal is not as hard to find, but again you may need to head to your South East Asian grocer.

Once you have the ingredients the recipe is a piece of cake to make. Do try it and let me know. If this recipe is anything to go by I can’t wait to try making the other Cambodian recipe “Khmer croquettes” (photo below) very soon. Don’t they look temptingly moreish.

Photography credit above: Clare Winfield, published by Ryland Peters & Small

Cambodian Yellow Curry with Rice Noodles

adapted from “My Vegan Travels” by Jackie Kearney, published by Ryland, Peters & Small

Serves 4

(1/2= half)

To make the Spice Paste

2 6cm/2 inch thumbs of fresh turmeric (or 1 1/2 tsp powdered)

1/2 tsp paprika

4 garlic cloves

5cm/2 inch thumb of ginger

5cm/2 inch thumb of galangal

4-6 dried red chillies, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes

1 small red onion

2 lemongrass stalks, ends trimmed and outer layer removed

10 kaffir lime leaves


To make the curry

2 tbs coconut/vegetable oil

900ml/4 cups vegetable stock or water, plus extra if needed

2-3 tbs vegan fish sauce or light soy sauce

1 tbs agave syrup or brown sugar

200g/7oz lotus root, peeled and cut into thick slices (or use cauliflower florets(

1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

150g green or runner beans, trimmed

400ml/14 oz can of coconut milk

1-2 rock salt, to taste

100g/3 1/2oz Chinese leaf, roughly torn ( I used choi sum, but chard, beet leaves also works)

100g fried tofu cubes (I picked this up at Hoo Hing)


To serve

1 packet of thin rice thread noodles, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes

drizzle of chilli oil/chilli (optional)

50g/1/2 cup of roasted peanuts, roughly chopped (optional)


  1. First place your rice noodles in a bowl and cover with hot water and leave whilst you get on with making the dish.
  2. New place all the spice paste ingredients in a blender/food processor and blitz until smooth. Easy hey.
  3. In a large non stick pan/wok, heat the oil and fry the curry paste.
  4. Add the stock/water, vegan fish sauce/light soy sauce and agave nectar/brown sugar and bring to the boil then add the lotus root and squash and simmer for around 8 minutes.
  5. Then add the green/runner beans and simmer for another couple of minutes before adding the coconut milk and more stock if needed; it should be a soupy consistency.
  6. Salt to taste and bring back to the boil. Make sure the butternut squash is soft. The lotus root will not be as soft!
  7. Stir in the choi sum and then remove from the heat, allowing it to wilt completely.
  8. Drain the rice noodles from the water. They should be soft and ready to eat.
  9. Place in a bowl and ladle the curry broth on top. Sprinkle with peanuts and chilli oil if necessary.

More instalments from Cambodia next week.





















How to Make Sri Lankan/ Southern Indian Sambar

So how have you been getting on with making ‘hoppers/appam’ at home? Has anyone been brave enough to give them a whirl? I would love to hear how you got on. You do need a special pan mind you, but they are easy to source on the web – I think this is the one that I bought. Perfect christmas gift for anyone with a keen interest in cooking? If you do give them a go PLEASE can you post it up on Instagram and tag me @chilliandmint and #chilliandminthoppers. Thank you.

As promised todays post is all about the sambar. Sambar is very similar to a dal, the main difference is that it is more of a lentil based vegetable stew, whereas dals tend to be more of a lentil soup with maybe one of two vegetables incorporated within it. Sambar often has a tamarind broth as its base note, which can also be found in dal – for example toor dal – but not exclusively. It is eaten in both Southern Indian and Sri Lanka and once you have made the spice blend you can keep making it in a relatively short space of time. I hosted a Sri Lankan lunch recently where I basically fed my pals a typical Sri Lankan breakfast…but I gave it to them for lunch (they weren’t to know). Egg hoppers, sambar, pol sambol (similar to a dry coconut chutney) and an onion relish. I think it was a hit.

When you make sambar you can use any vegetable that needs using up. Unless you live near an Asian grocers you are unlikely to come across ‘drumstick’ which is fairly typical to see in a sambar. Don’t worry, just pop in marrow, courgette, pumpkin, squash, green beans – anything that needs using up will work a treat.

Sambar Powder

50g chana dal (split husked Bengal gram)

50g urid dal (split husked black gram)

30g coriander seeds

2 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 tsp black peppercorns

10 dry red chillies

12 fresh curry leaves

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp asafoetida/hing powder

1 tbsp desiccated coconut (or fresh of course!)

  1. Heat a dry frying pan over a low heat and dry roast both dals until they turn bronze slightly – a couple of minutes max. Place in a bowl to one side.
  2. Using the same pan add the coriander, cumin, fenugreek, black peppercorns and dried chillies and move them around the pan for 30 seconds. A wonderful aroma will be released.
  3. Add the fresh curry leaves, asafoetida, turmeric and desiccated coconut and mix it all around the pan for another 20 seconds and then place in the bowl with the dals.
  4. Let it all cool and then whizz it up in a spice grinder. I have this one and it works a treat.
  5. Store in an airtight container and use as and when you need it.



You can make it with a range of different lentils but I find that red lentils work really well as they take the least amount of time to cook.

200g red split lentils, washed under cold water for a couple of rinses

water to cover the lentils about an inch above (you can always add more if it dries out)

2 green chillies, sliced lengthways and seeds kept in

1/2 tsp turmeric powder


250ml tamarind water (use a walnut size piece of tamarind – see notes below)

2 tbsp oil (rapeseed/vegetable)

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

7 fresh curry leaves

2 dried chillies (split in two)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

80g of pumpkin/squash, cut into 1 cm pieces

80g carrots, cut into 1 cm pieces

80g aubergine/green/runner beans, cut into 1 cm pieces

1 large drum stick, washed and part of the outer green skin removed, chopped into 1 inch pieces, optional

250ml tamarind water (use a walnut size piece of tamarind – see notes below)

1 tbsp sambar powder

salt to taste

  1. In a deep pan add the lentils, chillies and turmeric powder and cover with water. Simmer gently, removing any scum that may form, for 10-15 minutes, by which time the lentils will have completely softened. Do not drain, instead leave to one side whilst you work through the following steps.
  2. Take a generous walnut size piece of tamarind and place in a bowl and add boiling water to cover it. Leave to rest for 20-30 minutes then strain. Using the back of a spoon push through any of the tamarind pulp. Discard the stones. Place the liquid in a measuring jug and leave to one side.
  3. In a large frying pan/skillet heat the oil and then add the mustard seeds and allow them to gently pop before adding the cumin seeds, curry leaves and dried chillies. Move around the pan for 10 seconds and then add the onion and garlic. Leave to soften, stirring occasionally for around 7 minutes.
  4. Add all the vegetable pieces (they should all be around the same size, other than the drumstick) and mix in with the spices and onions.
  5. Add the sambar powder, salt and tamarind water and bring to the boil.
  6. Lower the heat and place a lid on the pan and allow the vegetables to soften completely – this will take  around 12 minutes. Check that they have softened completely before adding the lentils.
  7. Add the lentils and stir in well to the spices and vegetables. Add more salt if necessary and allow to simmer further for another 5 minutes.

It makes a wonderful ‘soup/stew’ as the days get shorter and the weather colder. If you are living in a warmer climate then sambar is equally good for you all year around.

Have a good week folks.






Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup with Ginger and Chilli – The Brother Hubbard Cookbook


Last weekend I jetted over to Ireland to visit the Ballymaloe Food and Drink Literary Festival, which was a whirlwind of eating, talks, demonstrations, foraging forays (now just try to say that quickly!), and talking to A LOT of other kindred spirits who are all passionate about food in some capacity.

One talk I booked myself into was given by Garrett and James who set up ‘The Brother Hubbard’ cafe x2 in Dublin. I’ll be honest with you – I’d never heard of it or them, but I always like to hear how people start their journey into food, so thought it would be interesting to attend. I also rather liked the title of the book. It sounded intriguing.

Their one hour talk was utterly engaging and I loved the way that they embarked on some serious world travels – after the 3 month intensive course at Ballymaloe Cookery School –  in order to gain first hand food and cusine knowledge and experience, even spending time in Syria (prior to the troubles today). After a spell in Australia working in cafes to gain yet more experience they returned home to Dublin to open up their very own cafe, with a leaning on Levantine and Southern Mediterranean cuisine. It takes a brave person to give up their nice, ‘safe’ careers with pensions and all the perks to follow their passion.

It has clearly all paid off as 5 years later they have 2 cafes, one of which is about to expand threefold and 65 staff. I did not go into their talk thinking that I would necessarily buy their cookbook as I have so many, but after hearing their story and talking to them over the weekend, I thought I would be crazy not to purchase it as it is packed full of fabulous sounding recipes, using a myriad of herbs and spices. Clearly a no-brainer for me.

I also love the fact that the photos and pages are matt finish, that they have 4 yellow ribbon bookmarks – how cool is that. Publishers seriously think about doing this in other cookbooks as it is so handy to have more than one. It doesn’t have loads of photos, but the narrative is engaging that for once I don’t mind so much that there is not a photo with almost every recipe.

It’s been so hot this week – blissfully hot – that eating outside with a glass of rose has been a must. Before you ask why on earth am I showing you a soup recipe in the sweltering heat, let me just say that hot soup and drinks actually cools you down in the heat. In India I am always having a hot soup even in the heat. Give this recipe a whirl as it is a real keeper. You can also purchase the book online and at all good bookshops.

Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup with Ginger and Chilli

Recipe from ‘The Brother Hubbard Cookbook’

Serves 4 (as a substantial lunch)

1kg butternut squash, skin kept on, scoop out the seeds and dice

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

2 tbsp olive oil

250g onions (2-3), diced

250g celery, diced

6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped

30g fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 kg boiling water

1x400ml tin of coconut milk

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1-2 limes, juice only

fresh coriander to serve

toasted coconut flakes to serve

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Place the diced butternut squash in a large bowl. Add the oil and then sprinkle with cumin and coriander powder. Mix in well with your hands. Turn out onto a baking tray.
  2. Roast the butternut squash for 25 minutes. You want them to be soft but not very brown as it will discolour the soup.
  3. If serving with coconut flakes, use a frying pan to bronze them for a few minutes. You need to move them around constantly and do not add any oil. Place to one side.
  4. Meanwhile in a large pan add the olive oil and sweat the onions, celery and garlic. To do this simply cut a piece of baking paper and place directly over the vegetables. It does not need to be neat or perfect fitting. Place the lid on the pan. Every 5 minutes, stir the vegetables and then replace the baking paper. After 10 minutes, add the chilli and ginger and continue to sweat the vegetables for a further 5 minutes. Make sure that the ginger and chilli do not brown on the bottom.
  5. Now add the squash, which is now soft and add the boiling water, coconut milk, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat for 10 minutes.
  6. Using a hand blender blend all the ingredients until super smooth. Adjust the seasoning and add the lime juice.
  7. Before serving add the fresh coriander and toasted coconut flakes. If you fancy you could also add a slice of red chilli.



Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle and Sri Lankan Dal

Sri Lanka’s temperature can change dramatically depending where you are in the country. The cultural triangle is in the interior dry lands, also known as the northern plains (and traditionally known as Rajarata, or “The King’s Land”). Earthy scrub mingles with dense jungle and this is in turn is punctuated by  small mountainous boulders – such as Sigiriya (below) and Pidurangala.

We climbed the less touristy Pidurangala, which is a few feet shorter than Sigiriya and far less crowded, we probably saw no more than 15 people there and back. It offered us the same views, at a fraction of the cost apparently, and a good view of Sigiriya itself. It does not have the same ruins that Sigiriya has at the top,  although it does have it’s own temple and buddha, but if it is the view you are after then you have the same experience on either rock.  I will say however that the final part of the climb is precarious – a case of heaving yourself up onto a giant boulder – so makes it tricky for children or those not sure on their feet!

For three days we did some serious cultural touring in the heat, travelling a good distance on some days. The main sites that draw locals and tourists alike are the ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and to a lesser extent on Pidurangala and Daumbulla cave temple (below).

However for those keen on wildlife, Minneriya National Park is also within the cultural triangle and an absolute must. The park forms part of the elephant corridor, allowing elephants to migrate between the protected areas of Kaudulla National Park in the north and Wasgomuwa National Park in the south. Hiring a jeep we spent a few hours in the park viewing all the wildlife (over 200 elephants) as well as wild buffaloes, land monitors, a vast array of birds and even a crocodile. There were a number of other jeeps with other tourists, so it did feel a little bit like feeding time at the zoo, but that said I would recommend a few hours scoping out the place.

The largest site to see is Anuradhapura, which was founded in the 4th century BC and was one of Sri Lanka’s greatest centres of religious and political power. The ancient city is sprawling with numerous temples, massive dagobas – which are the Sinhalese name for the Buddhist stupa, a mound-like structure with relics, used by Buddhist monks to meditate (see below).

You can also see remains of ancient palaces, pools and auspicious trees.

Local pilgrims far out numbered tourists and with the heat blazing down my one piece of advice is take a pair of socks to slip on when you visit the temples and dagobas. You have to remove your shoes and the stone is scorching hot. I learned the hard way on the first day.

Outside all the temples there are flower and incense sellers selling stunning purple lotus flowers to passing pilgrims, which in turn buy them in order to offer them to buddha within the temples.

Stone elephants stand proudly guarding the boundaries to the temple complexes.

Polonnaruwa is not as sprawling as Anuradhapura and less busy, but offers the traveller as rich an experience. During the 12th century the kingdom went through a golden age where monasteries and  temples where built on a massive scale. The prosperity was not to last and by 1293 the city was abandoned and the jungle quickly consumed it. It wasn’t until the 20th century that excavation and restoration began and in 1982 it was a declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our driver kindly drove us from ruin to ruin, but if you are feeling up to it you can also hire bikes, which looked a fun, albeit hot, way to move around the city.

With all this touring we parked ourselves at the Water Gardens Sigiriya (a few hours away from these ancient kingdoms) which had a rather impressive view upon arrival.

It opened at the end of last year (2016) and offers incredibly spacious rooms (I think a villa would be more apt), with plunge pools in some. Although when you have the main pool like this –

then your plunge pool becomes pretty redundant. The hotel is beautiful and has been thoughtfully created in the natural habitat. Peacocks roam around the grounds – apparently eating up the snakes (Sri Lankan has more venomous snakes than any other country), although they have a cry similar to a young child, which is a little disarming to begin with but after a while you don’t even notice it. Golf buggies are on hand to  ferry guests from their rooms to the restaurant, bar or pool.

The restaurant had both Western and Sri Lankan fare, although I personally wish they had had more of the latter and less of the former. Eating Western lamb shanks in Sri Lanka just isn’t my thang! The Sri Lankan food was very good, but after three days I was craving more variety.   We were on half board and the menu for supper included starters, soups, then the main event – the Sri Lankan food, followed by dessert. The starters and soup were more Western in flavour and to be honest I would have preferred more continuity of Sri Lankan food throughout…….but maybe that’s just me.

This week I wanted to show you how to cook a delicious dal I was fed on numerous occasions in Sri Lanka. It is very different from my Bengali dal but equally as moreish.

Sri Lankan Dal

Serves 4-6 if served with other dishes

300g red split lentil dal

1 red onion, roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 pandan leaves *

10 fresh curry leaves **

1/2 large tomato, diced

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 heaped tsp Sri Lankan curry powder ***

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 fresh green chilli, sliced in two

400ml coconut milk

400ml water

1. Wash the red split lentils and then place all the ingredients on top along with the coconut milk and water.

2. Simmer gently for 15 -20 minutes. Check to taste the salt levels are correct and add a little more water as required.

In Sri Lanka two varieties of coconut milk were added and no water. First they added the less thick variety and then only at the end, on a low simmer, did they add the thicker coconut milk. 

*pandan leaves – you can pick these up from your local Asian or Sri Lankan grocers or equally you can order online here.

*** fresh curry leaves you can pick up easily at Asian grocers or online.

***There are two types of curry powder in Sri Lanka – roasted which is redder in colour and unroasted, which is browner in colour. You need to use the unroasted in this dal. I bought back both varieties from my trip but if you want to make your own simply unroasted then blend 2 tbsp coriander seeds with 1 tsp of cumin seeds and 1 tsp of fennel seeds. Very easy.

If you want to make the roasted curry powder: Warm a frying pan and then add 2 tbsp of coriander seeds, followed by 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 5 cloves, 5 cardamom pods (seeds only), 6 dried chillies, 3 stalks of fresh curry leaves, 1 tbsp cumin seeds and 1/2 tbsp fennel seeds. Move around the pan continuously for 5 minutes so that they do not burn and then place in a spice grinder.




Gobi Aloo Kasoori Methi – Cauliflower with Potato and Dried Fenugreek Leaves

Cauliflower, in my view, is massively underrated. In the past it was perhaps thought of as a little bland, but when you boil anything I guess it could be described as bland. Growing up we had cauliflower cheese – which don’t get me wrong, is delicious – but beyond that people really didn’t tend to do much with it.  That has all changed though in the last couple of years, with dishes such as cauliflower rice, cauliflower base for pizza, roasted cauliflower, burnt cauliflower – you name it, people are getting creative with this humble ingredient. In Indian cuisine  it is hugely versatile and used in all manner of dishes.

Throw a little spice into the mix and you have yourself a very tasty little number. I thought I would show you one of my favourite cauliflower recipes that works well either on its own or as part of a larger Indian feast. Dried methi, or fenugreek as it is also known, is fairly easy to come by these days. Certainly the large supermarkets stock it, but I like to get it from one of my local Asian grocers. You can order online  – herfrom Asian Dukan. Easy.

Methi has a wonderful aroma, that works so well with the cauliflower. Only scatter the dried leaves over the cauliflower at the very end of cooking and gently fold the leaves into the dish. I cook this dish with the trinity of Indian spices: turmeric, cumin and coriander, but my mother-in-law likes to keep it super simple and literally just add, oil, dried chilli, salt and dried methi. It is also delicious this way, but try my slightly more elaborate way first.

Gobi Aloo Kasoori Methi – Cauliflower with Potato and Dried Fenugreek Leaves

serves 4-6 along with another dish or two.

2 medium potatoes, cubed into 2-2.5cm

3-4 tbsp rapeseed/vegetable oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 small dried red chillies

1 cauliflower, outer leaves removed and cut into small florets

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp salt, to taste

sprinkling of water

2 tbsp of Kasoori Methi


  1. Peel the potatoes and then once diced place them in a pan of boiling water and boil for around 8 minutes or until softened but not mushy. Strain and place to one side.
  2. In a large wide pan (ideally with a lid), add 1 tablespoon of oil and when it is hot add the cumin seeds move around the pan for 10 seconds before adding the dried chillies.
  3. Add the boiled cubed potatoes and cover with the cumin seeds.
  4. Place the cauliflower florets into the pan and move around so that they are also beginning to coat themselves in the cumin seeds. You will need to add a little more oil at this stage to help the cauliflower cook and soften. Add the oil at stages instead of all at once.
  5. Add the turmeric, cumin and coriander powders along with the salt and fold into the cauliflower.
  6. Keep the cauliflower gently moving around the pan at intervals. Sprinkle a little water to help soften the cauliflower and place a lid on the pan.
  7. Every few minutes move the contents of the pan around.
  8. Continue to cook gently, on a low heat for a further 10-15 minutes so that the cauliflower has softened.
  9. Finally add the fenugreek leaves – kasoori methi and gently fold into the cauliflower. Take off the heat and serve.

An alternative and even simpler way to cook this dish is to replace cumin seeds with methi (fenugreek) seeds, do not add any spice and then the kasoori methi. Obviously the dish is not as yellow in colour but still tastes really delicious. You can also omit the potatoes if you wish. 

Hot Spiced Tomatoes with Spinach


Cooking at the end of the day when you are tired and exhausted can be a bit of a chore. I always have loads of tomatoes in my fridge – probably my favourite ingredient of all time – so am often coming up with inventive ways to use them – Indian style tomato chutney anyone?


This recipe uses them as the star ingredient and as I always like to eat greens, a handful of fresh spinach  complements the dish perfectly. If you have some fresh fish, place it in the oven for 10 minutes (you may need a little longer if you have a large fish/portion) then you can quickly whip this tomato side dish to accompany the fish. Easy and no fuss.


It’s also great to use alongside more on an Indian feast if you are feeding a crowd. It adds zing and heat in equal measure.

Hot Spiced Tomatoes with Spinach

Serves 4 (accompanied with another dish or two)

2 tbsp rapeseed/vegetable oil

1 tsp brown mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

450g large tomatoes (works out to be about 6), quartered

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (less if you like it less hot)

1 tbsp jaggery (or sugar if you don’t have jaggery see note below)

1 tsp salt

100ml water

1 handful of fresh spinach

  1. Gently heat the oil and when it is hot place the cumin and mustard seeds into the pan. They will sizzle immediately. Keep the heat low. After 10 seconds add the quartered tomatoes and move around the pan so that the spices cover them.
  2. Add the spices, salt and jaggery and then after 20 seconds add the water. Keep on a low heat and simmer for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the fresh spinach and take off the heat. The spinach will wilt from the heat of the tomatoes. Do not overcook the tomatoes as you want them to have soften but still to have held their shape as much as possible.

Serve with freshly cooked fish or chicken or as part of a large Indian feast.

Jaggery – also known as palm sugar – check out the health benefits of using jaggery instead of sugar here.

Tuscan White Bean Soup


Many years ago we arrived in Tuscany at the dead of night to our rented farmhouse, which was nestled on its own down a very long track. We were tired and hungry and when we stumbled in we found a note scribbled on a piece of paper alluding to some supper on the stove. Wandering over to the hob we found a white bean soup waiting for us. It was hearty and warming with garlic and tomato undertones. I suppose it wasn’t dissimilar to a grown-ups version of baked beans.


It was exactly the kind of comfort food we craved after a day of travelling. I never managed to get the exact recipe but have tried to replicate it as best I could ever since. I think this version works pretty well. I tend to always opt for white beans in a glass jar – this variety works for me and I pick it up at a local middle eastern grocers near me. Sometimes I add rosemary and other times not.


Bay leaves though are essential and add a lovely flavour to the soup. I also prefer to use fresh tomatoes, but if you are out, tinned will suffice. The trick is to put it on a low heat for 30-40 minutes if you can. You want the garlic to be completely soft and the liquid to have reduced a fair amount.


With all the excess that December will bring I thought this soup was a good one to throw into the mix.

Tuscan White Bean Soup 

serves 4-6

2 tbsp olive oil

9 whole garlic cloves, peeled

2 bay leaves

650g fresh tomatoes, diced

2x400g jar of white beans

1 tsp tomato puree (optional)

300ml vegetable stock

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic cloves. Move around the pan for 30 seconds before adding the bay leaves and then add the fresh tomatoes.
  2. Allow the tomatoes to soften for a few minutes before adding the white beans.
  3. Add the vegetable stock, salt and pepper and leave on a low flame with the lid on, stirring from time to time.
  4. Remove the lid half way through cooking to allow the liquid to thicken. You can add more liquid if you prefer it more soupy. I tend to like mine thickish but still of soup consistency.
  5. When the garlic’s are soft and the liquid has been absorbed a little, turn off the heat and allow to rest.

This is great eaten the following day as well when the flavours have relaxed into one another.

Baked Spiced Squash and Potato Samosa, Curry For Change Campaign and Wandsworth Radio


I love it when friends bring edible gifts, especially ones they have been handmade or grown. The other day I was given this gorgeous blue looking squash that my pal had grown in her vegetable patch in the Cotswolds. We are not too sure what it is exactly but our guess is pointing us towards pumpkin invincible (we liked the name anyway). It looked beautiful, so I let it sit around in the kitchen for over a week for us all to admire. Part of me wanted to spray it silver or gold and have it sitting by the fireplace over the christmas season, but then again I knew it would be delicious as a lot of care and love had gone into growing it, it would be a shame not to eat it such a gorgeous gift.


I broke into it yesterday – it definitely won top prize on ‘hardest squash to break into’. It’s flesh was bright orange with seeds slightly puffier than your regular pumpkins. I removed the skin from a quarter of it and then diced it up small. The rest I covered and placed in the fridge to use on another occasion.

A lovely idea would be to incorporate the squash into some gnocchi itself – you could use my recipe for gnocchi here or incorporate it with some store bought gnocchi here.

My plan was to use the filling for some spiced baked squash and potato samosas. I was going on to Wandsworth radio later in the day to talk to presenter, Emma Gordon aka Mrs Stylist, about the charity ‘Find Your Feet’ and their ‘Curry For Change’ campaign and hosting your own supper parties to help the charity. In addition the plan was to talk about alternative christmas snacks, so thought the samosas and my Indian tomato chutney were perfect for the occasion. You can hear the interview here if you fancy hearing me on the airwaves.


For those keen to get involved in the campaign they are really having a push next week (21st November). The charity is all about helping those who live in rural communities in northern India, Nepal, Malawi and Zimbabwe to help them ‘find their feet’ – rather than simply giving handouts, through acquiring training and skills that can break the cycle of poverty by setting up their own business to allow them to feed themselves and their families. The idea is that we host supper parties. Natco and Kingfisher beer sponsor the whole campaign and will send those who sign up here a spice pack, which invariable includes lentils and other exciting goodies. Kingfisher will also send a crate of beer to  drink at the event. You ask diners to pay what they would ordinarily spend on a curry take out and the money then goes to ‘Find Your Feet’. Natco then double the amount you raise.  It’s a simple idea that is a win win for all involved. You don’t need to be a food blogger to take part. Everyone young and old can give it a whirl – even my mother has expressed an interest to take part. The curry for change website also has lots of inspiring recipes to help you plan your curry evening. You may even see one of two of mine listed on their site.


Back to the spiced squash samosas.

The good thing about these snacks is that they can be prepared and then frozen, pre cooking, and then when you are ready to bake them you simply place them in the oven for 20 minutes from frozen. So simple. I often like to prepare a chutney to go along with a street food snacks, such as samosas. You can see my recipe for Indian spiced tomato chutney here. It is very quick to prepare and stores in the fridge for a couple of days.

Folding the samosas is easier than you think. Place the filling in the bottom right hand corner and then fold the pastry over so that a triangle forms. Then you fold the pastry up along the line before folding over to the left hand side, continuing with the triangle theme. Just keep in mind that you need to keep folding in alternative triangles and using water or ghee to stick the sides together. There are more photos showing how it is done on my post about ‘beetroot, feta and cumin samosas’ – see here. I like to sprinkle the samosas with nigella seeds, also known as black onion seeds, equally you could sprinkle sesame seeds or even chilli flakes.

img_3468-2 img_3467-2 img_3466-2 img_3465-2

 Baked Spiced Squash and Potato 

Makes 20

700g squash/pumpkin of your choice, cut into small cubes

1 large potato (250g), cut into small cubes

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp nigella seeds

pinch of asafoetida/hing

1 onion, finely chopped

1 birds eye green chilli, finely sliced

1 tsp ginger paste

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp cumin powder

100g frozen peas

2 packets of Jus Filo Sheets 270g each

2 tbsp melted ghee

  1. First place the cubed squash and potatoes in a pan with boiling water and let them soften, which will take around 10 minutes. If they are still a little hard, allow them to cook for a little longer. Strain and place to one side.
  2. In a separate wide pan add the oil and then add the mustard, cumin and nigella seeds followed by the asafoetida. Allow them to move around the pan for around 20 seconds before adding the onion.
  3. Allow the onion to soften for around 8 minutes, before adding the ginger paste and fresh chilli.
  4. Add the squash and potato and cover with the spices along with the cumin and turmeric powder.
  5. Using a fork or potato masher, gently squash the squash and potatoes. You don’t necessarily want it as smooth as mash, but certainly soften from it’s cubed form.
  6. Add the frozen peas and place a lid on the pan for a few minutes, adding a little water if it is becoming too dry. Take off the heat and leave to one side.
  7. Take the filo pastry out of its packet and using one sheet cut into in two horizontally. With the remaining filo pastry cover with a damp cloth.
  8. Working quickly you want to place a spoonful of the filling in the bottom right hand corner of the pastry (see photos). Place a little the melted ghee along the left hand edge of the pastry. Bring the bottom right hand corner of the pastry up to the right hand side at a diagonal to form a triangle (see photos above). Fold over from side to side until you reach the top. Stick the ends with melted ghee and either place on a plate to go into the freezer or one some greaseproof paper on a baking tray. Sprinkle with nigella or sesame seeds.
  9. Work your way through all the filling until it has all been used up. Freeze any left over filo pastry.
  10. If you are cooking immediately heat the oven to 180 degrees. Once the oven is hot place the samosas into the oven for 20 minutes – or until they are nicely bronzed.
  11. Eat when they are nice and hot with either a spiced tomato chutney or perhaps some tamarind and date chutney

If you host a curry for change dinner I would LOVE to hear about it. Take a photo and tag #chilliandmint and #curryforchange on twitter/instagram.


Vietnamese Tofu Banh Mi Sandwich


I have a love affair going on when it comes to the ubiquitous Vietnamese sandwich known as banh mi. If the truth be told I love them in every form: pork, chicken, fish, beef, tofu – you name it and I pretty much love all the varieties that you can have. I love the cruchiness and sweet and sour piquant from the pickle, combined with the freshness of the coriander, the spices from the marinaded tofu/meat/fish, the chilli and the freshness from the baguette. Every bite has so much action going on for the palate – sweet, sour, umami chilli notes.


They are not as much of a chore as you’d expect if you make them at home. I tend to buy the baguette, but if you have time on your hands, then I can totally recommend The Banh Mi Handbook by Andrea Nguyen to show you how to make the traditional baguette as well. Father Christmas kindly popped it in my stocking a few years back – such a thoughtful fella!


I’ll talk your through it step by step, but once you’ve made the pickle – this takes no time at all – you’re pretty much all set. The pickle also lasts up to a month in the fridge so there is no need to use it all in a couple of days.  I am going to show you how to do the tofu version, but if you prefer to make it with chicken or pork then the same marinade can apply.


I used the silken firm tofu, which you need to handle with care. Some brands are firmer than others, but ultimately if it falls apart a little it doesn’t really matter once it is in the baguette.

There are a few ingredients that you really need to get hold of before making a banh mi:

  • daikon (also known as mooli or white radish) – it looks similar to horseradish but has a lot milder flavour. I pick mine up from my local Indian grocer.
  • carrots
  • rice wine vinegar
  • a crunchy baguette
  • maggi seasoning sauce – according to Andrea Nguyen for a ‘first class banh mi, drizzle on some maggi sauce; it will boost each bite with an umami hit’ – she goes on to explain that ‘it is practically synonymous with banh mi’. I picked mine up from my local Asian supermarket but you can also order it from Ocado here
  • chillies to give the heat injection
  • fresh coriander
  • cucumber to add texture and crunch
  • mayonnaise (vegan if you want to keep the whole meal vegan)
  • sriracha sauce
  • 1 litre jar for the pickle


So to begin with you need to prepare the pickle. Trust me it is quick and easy to make.


Carrot and Daikon Pickle

500g daikon, peeled and cut into matchsticks *

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks (as above)

1 tsp salt

2 tsp caster sugar

100g caster sugar

300ml rice wine vinegar

250ml warm water

1 litre storage jar (can be slightly bigger but no smaller)

  1. After peeling, cut the carrot and daikon up into equal size matches and place them in a bowl.
  2. Sprinkle the salt and the teaspoons of sugar over the carrots and daikon and gently massage them gently for a few minutes using your hands. This will make them become softer and more bendy.
  3. Wash and drain them thoroughly under some cold water before placing them into your jar.
  4. In a separate jug mix the rice wine vinegar, caster sugar and warm water so that the sugar dissolves and then pour into the jar with the carrots and daikon. Discard any left over brine. If you need a little extra brine to cover the carrots and daikon simply add a little more warm water.
  5. Refrigerate for up to a month.

*the exact size of the matchsticks is irrelevant, obviously not too big, but do make sure that the carrot and daikon matchsticks are of similar size if possible.  I have seen them super skinny and slightly wider like mine below. Both ways taste delicious. 



Matchstick daikon and carrots above and with salt and sugar ready to be massaged below.


Once your carrot and daikon pickle is resting it’s now time to make the marinade for your tofu. I slice my block of tofu gently into about about 9slices. You don’t want to cut them too thin or they will easily break.

Place them gently in a bowl and add the marinade, which consists of: tamari (or soy sauce), 1/2 lime and zest, 1 tsp of minced garlic, 1 tsp minced ginger and cracked pepper. Coat evenly and then leave to marinade for around 20 minutes. Heat some groundnut (or sunflower) oil in a pan and then let the tofu  cook gently on each side for around 3-5 minutes before turning over. It wants to be nicely bronzed.

Tofu Marinade

349g firm tofu (or similar size pack), sliced

2 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)

1/2 lime, juice and zest

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp minced ginger

liberal amount of cracked pepper

1 tsp groundnut/sunflower oil

  1. Slice the tofu gently into approximately 9 pieces and then place in a bowl and cover with the marinade ingredients.
  2. Leave to marinade for 20 minutes.
  3. Heat  the pan with oil and gently space out the marinated sliced tofu. On a medium low heat, leave the tofu for around 3 minutes to see if it is nicely bronzing. If it is then carefully turn it over for a further 3 minutes. Leave a little longer if it requires more time to bronze.
  4. Remove from pan and leave to cool whilst you prepare the rest of the sandwich.

If you are using pork or chicken make sure to slice the the meat thinly and leave to cook for longer on both sides. 


The next part is easy. You simply mix a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise (homemade, vegan or shop bought) and add sriracha to taste. I usually find that around 1/2 tbsp works really well.


Sriracha Mayo

2 tbsp mayonnaise (homemade, vegan or regular shop bought)

1/2 tbsp sriracha, or to taste

  1. Mix the two ingredients together to form a salmon pink sauce. Taste and add more sriracha if necessary.

The next part is the assembling. First you need to slice the baguette, but not all the way through.  Take out some of the white bread part within – this allows more space for the fillings. Now follow the instructions below.

Assembling the Bahn Mi

few drops of maggi seasoning sauce

1/4 cucumber, thinly sliced

handful of fresh coriander

2 red chillies, chopped – optional

  1. Spread out the sriracha mayo evenly along the baguette followed by a few drops of maggi seasoning sauce.
  2. Next add the cucumber, tofu followed by some of the pickled carrot and daikon. You can also add some thinly spiced fresh red chillies for extra heat if necessary or omit this part and just add the fresh coriander.

It sounds terribly long winded but I assure you that it really doesn’t take that long at all. The pickle will last for ages and is pretty quick to make in the first place. The marinading is straightforward and the sriracha mayo takes seconds. So give it a whirl. Trust me you’ll become as addicted as me about banh mi.