Toasted sourdough with goats cheese, broad beans, watercress and radish and a simple leek and potato soup

Here in the UK we’ve been enjoying blissfully balmy weather this October. To date, I have yet to don my winter coat, which would have been unheard of in past years. As such we’ve not been craving heavier stews and curries, but instead continuing to enjoy lighter food that we would eat in the summer months. So when my friend Vritti, the founder of Binge Magazine (have you bought your copy yet? I took a couple of the photos, including the front cover and one of the articles – you can buy your copy here), made a whirlwind visit to London from Dublin, I wanted to cook something fuss free, light and delicious for lunch.

I adore sourdough bread, so opted to make toasted sour dough with goats cheese, radish, watercress, lemon zest and pink peppercorns with a honey, lemon dressing. Lots of colours, textures and flavours each complementing one another.

On the side I cooked a simple leek and potato soup that was both light and flavoursome.  I garnished with a dollop of creme fraiche and fresh chives adding another layer of flavours. Both dish are relatively quick to rustle up and can be made a little in advance as the toasted sourdough is best eaten at room temperature and the soup can be heated upon the arrival of your guests.

 

Toasted sourdough with goats cheese, broad beans, watercress and radish

serves 4

150g broad beans (frozen or fresh), boiled and skins removed

6 large pieces of fresh sour dough

2 cloves of garlic

150g smooth goats cheese

3 handfuls of fresh watercress (you could also use rocket)

4 pink radishes, finely sliced (I find a mandolin great for doing this, but be careful about your fingers!)

1 tsp pink peppercorns, roughly ground

1 lemon, zest only

salt (optional – I find you don’t need any due to the goats cheese)

 

dressing

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp running honey or agave

juice from 1 small lemon

  1. First boil the broad beans for 4 minutes and when cool de-pod them and place to one side.
  2. Next make the dressing, taste to test the balance is right for you. If it is too acidic then add a little more honey.
  3. Place the sour dough under a grill and when it is delicately bronzed turn over and repeat. Be warned it burns easily so really monitor this process.
  4. Remove the toasted sour dough from the oven and rub the garlic cloves over each piece so that a hint of garlic lingers on each piece.
  5. Spread a generous amount of goats cheese on each piece of toasted sourdough. Layer up all the other ingredients: broad beans, watercress, radishes. Sprinkle with lemon zest, pink peppercorns and salt if using.
  6. Finally sprinkle, using a teaspoon, the dressing over all the pieces. Cut each piece of sour dough in half and plate up.

 


Leek and Potato Soup

50g butter

3 leeks, sliced

1 onion, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

2 large potatoes, diced

1 vegetable stock cube

water to cover the vegetables

100ml milk

pepper and salt to taste

to serve

creme fraiche and finely chopped fresh chives to serve

 

  1. In a large deep pan heat the butter and once melted add the leeks, onion, potato and bay leaves.
  2. Move around the pan for 5 minutes before adding the stock cube, water and milk to cover the ingredients. I have purposely not given a precise amount of water to be added as I find some people prefer a thicker soup than others. I tend to opt more for the slightly thinner soup.
  3. Leave to simmer for 10-15 minutes, by which time the potato will be soft. Remove the bay leaves and then blend, using a hand blender, until smooth. Add more water if you want to thin out the soup.
  4. When ready to serve, ladle into bowls and add a dollop of creme fraiche and some finely chopped chives.

A great combination that looks colourful and healthy and is packed with lots of fresh flavours.

 

 

 


Shakshuka and Visiting the Dead Sea area of Israel

Our final leg of our Israel trip was to visit the Dead Sea. You can do a day trip from Jerusalem, but we felt it deserved more than a passing glance, besides there was quite a lot to see in the area.

We stayed on the Ein Gedi Kibbutz, which is located on the western shore of the Dead Sea, at the edge of the Judean desert. It was founded in 1953 with its primary focus on agriculture and tourism. The kibbutz is all lush and green owing to a natural water source that runs under it, but the neighbouring area is barren and desolate. There is a hotel within the kibbutz – but we stayed in an apartment at the top of Zahava’s house, who has lived on the kibbutz, with her husband, for over 30 years.

We booked through Airbnb, so it’s easy to find if you fancy going. She and her husband were wonderful hosts, who made us feel right at home. As it was an B&B, Zahava would arrive each morning with a huge tray of delicious food that set us up for the day. We ate on the veranda before the weather got too hot, overlooking the dead sea and Masada in the distance.

As we were based on the Kibbutz we also had all the facilities available to us – pools, tennis courts, running track, supermarket, as well as a restaurant in the hotel. (Its important to note that the Ein Gedi spa by the edge of the Dead Sea – is not located in the Ein Gedi Kibbutz or hotel, but nearby) One evening we also ate in the kibbutz part of the complex, which you would not be able to do if you were simply staying in the hotel. The calm rhythm of the kibbutz dictated out days. In the morning we would head out and explore and then come back and relax in the afternoon before a late afternoon hike in a wadi. The kibbutz is within the En Gedi Nature Reserve, where there are some truly phenomenal hikes.

It’s super hot here as it is the lowest part of the earth, so as well as carrying a lot of water, I also carry an umbrella and wear a swimming costume so that I can soak in every waterfall and pool we pass. Walking in 40 degrees, requires soaking in cold water as often as possible.

The wildlife is also pretty special here. There are a some venomous snakes – I only saw one at night on the perimeter of the Kibbutz, so it’s advisable to wear covered shoes when you are on the hikes.

We also saw lots of Nubian ibex – desert dwelling goats – clambering around precariously upon the slopes of the wadi. You need to be aware of sudden rock fall if they are climbing above you.

Historically the area is fascinating with huge swaths of tourists visiting spectacular Masada. Herod the Great built a large fortress on the plateau as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. He erected two palaces there between 37 and 31 BCE. According to Jewish Roman historian – Josephus, the siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire, at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War, ended in the mass suicide of 960 people (the Sicarii rebels and their families) hiding there.

The fortress is huge and had impressive ways of redirecting and saving fresh water at the fort, along with swimming pools, cold pools and spas. The mosaics found by archeologist are beautifully intact.

To reach this city you can either take the snake path before sunrise or else use the cable car. It’s one of Israel’s most popular sights but as we were in one of the first cable cars of the morning we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

The other great magnet of the area is the Dead Sea itself due to its medicinal qualities. Sadly the sea has dramatically shrunk in recent years causing great concern. You can read more about this here.

When you go to the Ein Gedi spa you now have to get on a little train pulled by a tractor from the spa to the waters edge. In the 1980’s the water was right up by the spa itself.  Despite the notion that it is impossible to drown in the dead sea, this is a myth and there have been cases of people drowning. You need to keep on your back, not your front, and don’t attempt to swim.

Due to the high salinity, the water feels very heavy, kind of like bathing in salty olive oil,  so if you are on your front you can find it hard to turn on your back. It feels oily and you want to make sure you don’t get any water in your eyes or mouths. Thankfully the showers are in on the edge of the sea so that you can immediately wash the salty water off you as you get out. The medical qualities of the dead sea mud are also well known so make sure you slather yourself in mud (this is back at the spa itself) and then wait for it to dry before showering if off. Your skin will be glowing and you will be feeling pretty radiant.

The other must-see in the area is over in the West Bank – The Dead Sea Scrolls or the Qumran Cave Scrolls. It’s about 30 minutes from Ein Gedi Reserve and a good place to stop on your way back to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. There is an interesting museum there and you can hike all over the area, although those we saw hiking here had ropes and proper equipment so perhaps only for serious climbers.  The scrolls, which are ancient religious writings, were found by a shepherd in the 1940’s in 11 caves near the site of Qumram. You can see some of the caves in the photograph above.

 

I am going to leave you with a classic Israeli dish that is found throughout the Levant. Shakshuka is a delicious breakfast dish – although of course you can eat it at any time of day. It is basically poached eggs in a spiced tomato sauce with crumbled feta and parsley or coriander sprinkled on top. Everyone has their version but this is mine. It’s a big hit in my house and is super straight forward and easy to execute. Perfect for a filling breakfast before school/work as it takes 15 minutes to make from start to finish.

Shakshuka

serves 4-5

2 tbsp oil

1 white onion, finely diced

1 garlic clove, finely diced

1 sweet red pepper (these are the long ones, but bell peppers are also good), sliced lengthways and then finely sliced crossways

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp smoked paprika powder

1 tsp salt

1x 400g tin of plum tomatoes, chopped in the pan

3 large fresh tomatoes, finely diced

50ml water

4 eggs (or 5/6 depending on how many you are feeding)

To serve

1 handful of crumbles feta

1 handful of fresh coriander

 

  1. Heat a deep frying pan and add the oil.
  2. When hot, add the onions followed by the garlic and gently heat. After a couple of minutes, add the pepper, salt and spices. Move around the pan to soften for a further couple of minutes.
  3. Add both the tinned and fresh tomatoes and stir in well.
  4. Add the water and simmer to allow all the ingredients to soften and infuse. Leave for 8 minutes so that it thickens.
  5. Make a hole in the mixture and break an egg into this hole. Repeat, leaving a good gap between each egg.
  6. Place a lid on the pan and leave to simmer on a moderate-low heat for 3-5 minutes, by which time the eggs should be cooked but still soft. Leave for longer and increase the heat if they have not cooked sufficiently.
  7. Just before serving, scatter the feta cheese and fresh coriander. Spoon onto plates with some flatbread or sourdough to mop.

 

 

 

 

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Oven Baked Aubergines with Tahini and Tomatoes in Acre, Israel

It’s been a while, but I am excited to be back. Israel was the most INCREDIBLE adventure where we were treated warmly by all those we met. I have been pondering on how best to break up the blog posts as I know that some of my blog readers (or social media followers) have trips planned and others that are thinking about going in the future. As not everyone is interested in the travel aspect I will incorporate every Israel blog post with a recipe that was inspired from my trip – therefore hopefully appealing to all readers.

The order of our trip (which maybe useful if you are thinking on going yourself) was as follows:

Tel Aviv (stayed in Jaffa – highly recommend)

Acre (also known as Akko/Akka) – which I will talk about today

Sea of Galilee – and explored all the northern region – Golan Heights

Jerusalem  – mind blowing – absolutely loved the city.

Dead Sea – stayed on the Kibbutz part of Ein Gedi (more on that in another post)

First up I wanted to tell you about the old Crusader city of Acre, which is also known as Akko/Akka. In Israel most places have two or three names – just to keep us on our toes. Acre was recognised in 2001 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is an absolute must if you are visiting Israel. The old city is mainly Muslim, although Jewish and Christians can be found living and working together within its walls.  It is an ancient port city and was the gateway to the holy land. The present day city is 300 years old, but beneath it lies amazing ruins of a 900 year old Crusader city, which as a tourist you can see first hand for yourself, thanks to careful preservation.

The place itself is wonderfully peaceful, a living museum, that was not overrun with tourists when we visited. As an aside the city reminded me of Galle in Sri Lanka – probably because of its ancient stone wall surrounding the city and its walkable size.

As we wanted to experience all that Acre had to offer we bought a combined ticket which allowed us to visit: The Knights Hall, The Hospitaller Fortress,Turkish Bath, Templars’ Tunnel and the Okashi Art Museum. You are given an interactive headset, which really helps bring the city to life, especially when you are in the old city under the present day old city. The exhibitions and sites were really impressively curated and filled a large part of our day. You can find details of all the sites here. I highly recommend embracing all these museums. They are fun and perfect for all ages.

Taking a step back however, I will never forget our arrival through the labyrinth of streets, little changed for hundreds of years, at the boutique Arabesque Hotel, which is a beautiful Ottoman building that has been recently restored and renovated to a high standard. It has three bedrooms, however, in the next couple of months a further four rooms will be available at another equally beautiful building across from Arabesque. The hotel is an oasis of calm and tranquility and the perfect place to rest after a days touring of the city, which is very easy to do on foot.

It is also a few minutes walk away from the old market (suk) where you will find a little shop selling all manner of baklava and the BEST kanafeh I had in the whole of Israel. It is a traditional Arab dessert made with thin noodle-like pastry, or alternatively fine semolina dough, soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and typically layered with cheese, or with other ingredients such as clotted cream or nuts, depending on the region. It tastes amazing and I urge you to see out this cake shop.

It comes hot, which surprised us, but it utterly addictive; it became our daily tea-time treat whilst we were there. You will recognise the shop as you go down a couple of stairs and all the baklava and kanafeh are on the right, even in the entrance, and the seating is on the left. It’s so close to Arabesque, you can’t miss it.

Whilst staying at the hotel, which offers B&B, we were fed this wonderful offering at breakfast (see above). So much so that I wanted to show you all how to make. Simple to prepare and yet it tastes SO good. I have cooked it quite a number of times since returning home, although I have mainly eaten it for lunch of supper, along with a couple of other dishes. All it requires is a couple of aubergines, tahini – which you can pick up at any supermarket these days, although I did managed to purchase the one below in Acre itself, as the guys at the hotel said it was the ‘best’, – tomatoes, flat leaf parsley, spring onions and a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Tahini, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is a sesame seed paste, which is added to hummus in fact. The flavour combinations and textures work really well and I think you will be equally impressed.

 

 

Here is my version of this dish.

Not bad hey! I had some heritage tomatoes in my fridge hence the rainbow coloured tomatoes. Here is a close up.

Oven Baked Aubergine with Tahini and Tomatoes

Serves 4

2 aubergines, cut in half lengthways

2 tbsp olive oil

270g tomatoes, cut into bit sized pieces

1 spring onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, roughy chopped

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat an oven to 260C (I use a fan oven) –  basically you want the oven really hot.
  2. Place the aubergines on an oven proof dish and score the top of the flesh along the top like a lattice (see the photo below)
  3. Evenly distribute the olive oil over the flesh.
  4. Place in the oven for 20-30 minutes so that the flesh has turned dark brown – to the point that it has almost blackened.
  5. Meanwhile in a bowl prepare the tomatoes, spring onion and flat leaf parsley.
  6. When the aubergine is cooked you can either allow the aubergine to cool down completely or serve it hot with a dollop of tahini on each aubergine half, followed by the tomato mix and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Two other suggestions when you go to Acre are:

  1. Go and have drinks on the roof of the beautiful Efendi Boutique Hotel. It would also be another wonderful place to stay in Acre. The sunset views from the roof are pretty special.

2. Book a table at Uri Buri – the food at this restaurant was exceptional and the owner, the award-winning head chef  – Uri Jermia , is a larger than life, ‘Father Christmas’ looking culinary wizard. It was tricky to photograph all the food due to the light, but you can see them on my instastories under ‘Israel’ if you are interested. We opted for a tasting menu where they bought out dish upon dish of beautifully presented (and tasting) Mediterranean fish and seafood. This is not your typical Levant restaurant – it is more fine dining, but in a relaxed setting, overlooking the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


‘Masala Mamas’ Dill Stew

I feel it’s been a while since I posted any Indian recipes. That is not to say I’ve not been cooking any Indian food at home. For those who have been following me for a while, or have read my bio, will know my husband is Indian so cooking Indian food is part of our regular diet – but some of the recipes I’ve been cooking are already on my blog. These are always family favourites that I have been cooking:

DalsBengali red split lentil dal, channa dal, toor dal

CurriesBengali chicken, speedy salmon, Bengali prawn, Laal Maas (when I want a seriously hot one!) or Chettinad Chicken, 

Sri Lankan tuna curry, mild cod curry

Vegetarian curries  – cauliflower with fenugreek, ginger and turmeric okra, chickpea curry, butternut squash and lemongrass (more Asian influenced than Indian, but a great recipe)

Not so long I was contacted by a Elana Sztokman, an anthropologist and award-winning writer specialising in women from traditional societies. She has written an Indian cookbook, which tells the inspiring story of a group of sixteen Indian women from the Kalwa slum in Mumbai, changing their communities through food and love. The slum is home to over 200,000 people where clean water and electricity are hard to find. These harsh conditions often prevent children going to school, with many being sent out to work to make a few rupees so that they will have something to eat.

These women are changing all this by making sure the children eat and learn, and consequently changing their otherwise inevitable destiny. Each morning the women rise early to prepare a host of delicious, nutritious vegetarian food for the children. In one year alone they cook 257,400 meals. They deliver the food to the Love2Learn school, run by the the NGO Gabriel Project Mumbai, where the children know that if they show up to learn, they will eat. It’s a win win. The children learn, have nutritious food and thus begin to end the cycle of poverty they are trapped in. The women feel inspired and thrive and thus the children and communities thrive around them.

The book that Elana has sent to me – ‘Masala Mamas’ incorporates recipes and stories from all these Indian women. It’s a joy to read, hearing about the rural villages the women have originally come from and how they came to the sprawling metropolis of Mumbai in the hope of giving their children an education, which most of them lacked. The group has provided kinship, connections and a purpose, which is motivating them every day. All the proceeds from the sale of the cookbook go directly to the women of the Masala Mamas cooperative. You can order a copy for yourself here.

I thought it would be interesting for you to see a typical menu for the children:

On Mondays the children eat poha – rice flakes with vegetables.
On Tuesdays –  dal khichdi – lentil and rice stew.
On Wednesdays – chana dal – black bean curry.
On Thursdays – veg pulav – a pilaf made with mixed vegetables.
On Fridays – soya pulav – a stew made from soya chunks, an affordable and simple source of protein.

And on Saturdays, as a special treat, the children eat sheet – a kind of sweet semolina pudding that they particularly love.
And for special occasions and holidays, the women prepare special holiday fare like shankarpali and modaks.

After a lot of pondering on which recipe to show you  I ended up gravitating towards the ‘Dill Stew’ or ‘Shepu Bhaju’ by Jayshree Chavdry. It’s basically a dal, and you know how much I adore dals and could quite happily eat a different one every day. I also liked the fact that it contained dill, a herb that I do not usually associate with Indian food. It’s also super straightforward, requires no unfamiliar ingredients and is perfect for a light meal on a summers day. The result – it tasted really really good and I will now be including it in my Indian culinary arsenal for sure. Give it a go and if you are on instagram, don’t forget to tag me #chilliandmint so that I can see how you got on.

 

Dill Stew

1 cup/240ml yellow moong dahl (lentils)

1 tbsp/15ml oil

1 tsp/5ml mustard seeds

1/2 (half) tsp/2.5ml cumin seeds

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 small green chillies, finely chopped

1 tsp/5ml turmeric powder

2 cups/1/2 litre water

1 cup/240ml finely chopped dill

3 cloves garlic, crushed

salt to taste

  1. Soak the dahl in water for 20-30 minutes. Then rinse well.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan on a medium heat and add the mustard seeds. They will begin to crackle almost immediately. Add the cumin seeds followed by the onions. Mix well and let them cook for 2 minutes before adding the chillies and cooking for a further 2 minutes.
  3. Drain and rinse the presoaked moong dal and add to the pan along with the turmeric powder. Add the water and mix well together. Cover and allow the dal to cook for 10-15 minutes or until it is fully cooked and softened. Be careful not to burn the dal and add more water if necessary.
  4. Add the dill, garlic and salt to taste. Cook covered for another 5-10 minutes
  5. Serve hot with rice or puris/lunchi or simple in a bowl on its own. Divine.

If you are making it earlier in the day to eat later you may find you need to add a little water when reheating it. 

 

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Wild Garlic Scones

Continuing with the wild garlic theme for another week, (I hope you are not bored yet!) I thought you might like my recipe for wild garlic scones, which are wonderful slathered with a little butter and a cup of tea. Scones are ridiculously easy to make and are great to freeze and then reheat when you want to eat one of two. All my family love this delicious snack, and as you can freeze them, are perfect all year round. A taste of spring even in the winter!

Unlike my wild garlic pesto you actually need no more than a handful of wild garlic but will still get the wonderful flavour resonating through the warm scone. If you have more of a sweet tooth then you might want to see my sweetened scone recipe here.

To make and cook these little beauties takes no more than 30 minutes, so are quick to prepare a batch. My girls always love to get involved in the kitchen and making scones is very straightforward so fun activity to do together.

 

Wild Garlic Scones

Makes around 22 scones

350g self-raising flour

pinch of salt

1 tsp baking powder

85g softened unsalted butter, cut into cubes

125g mature cheddar cheese, grated

1 handful of wild garlic, washed and finely chopped

2 eggs

1 tsp fennel seeds

175ml milk, gently warmed

1 egg, beaten to glaze

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7 and line a baking tray.
  2. In a large bowl sieve the flour and then add all the ingredients*, aside from the milk and the final egg to glaze.
  3. Mix together gently using your hands and slowly add the warmed milk to bind. Add a little more flour if it remains a little sticky.
  4. Flour your hands and the work surface and move the dough onto the surface. Flatten it with your hands and fold it over a few times. Use a rolling pin to flatten it to a thickness of about 3cm. Use the top of a small glass or a cutter to cut out the scones evenly.
  5. Place the scones at intervals on the lined baking tray so they do not touch. Brush the tops with the beaten egg.
  6. Once you have used up all the dough, place in the oven for 11 minutes exactly. Remove from oven and then either leave to cool completely and then freeze or eat immediately with some butter. YUM.

Note: *If the butter cubes are not super soft then add these first with the flour and baking powder and using your finger tips mix with the flour to create a crumbly mixture. Then add all the ingredients. 

If freezing, when you want to eat them simply defrost completely then heat in a very low oven for 2/3 minutes to rewarm the scones.

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Wild Garlic Pesto

I love this time of year, when the rain stops, the sun comes out and if you head into the woods you are likely to be rewarded by a bountiful supply of wild garlic. When I was down at my parents recently I went to my usual secluded wood to gather up some bags  of the stuff. The photo below is of my father looking rather fetching in his country garb standing amongst the wild garlic.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here as I did a couple of blog posts a a few years ago about how to actually make wild garlic pesto – you can read the post here. It is SO good to freeze that I make enough to carry us through the whole year. I only finished last year’s batch about a month ago.  My family are all slightly addicted by it and one of my daughters even pops it on her toast.

 

If you want an alternative to pesto and wild garlic linguine with sausage crumb then I have a rather delicious soup – wild garlic, courgette and lemon soup with poached egg with crispy panko breadcrumbs which you can see here.

I still have two whole bags to use up so may make some more pesto today and then maybe some wild garlic scones – as they’ll be good to freeze too. Check out instastories to see what I get up to.

 

Have you been gathering wild garlic yet this year? What are you going to do it. Would love to hear so leave a comment below.

 

 

 

 

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Roasted Sweet Potato, Garlic and Smoked Paprika Soup

So hands up if you are as addicted to soup as me? I could, and almost do, have a bowl most days. Indian dal is very like soup and I often make one up for lunch – my red split lentil dal is a fav – see here.

Today however I wanted to show you my roasted sweet potato, garlic and smoked paprika soup. Anything roasted has that wonderful smokey flavour that is so addictively satisfying. This soup will warm the belly and soul with one spoonful (or preferably a whole bowl). The snow provided such a good backdrop the other day that I ran outside to take this shot. When I came to eating the soup later in the day I realised it was far too thick so I added more liquid. How thick or soupy you like your soup is up to you but just add the stock a little at a time until you have reached your desired consistency.

The whole family will love it and it involves minimum fuss so win win.

 

 

Roasted Sweet Potato, Garlic and Smoked Paprika Soup

5 sweet potatoes, cleaned and chopped into cubes (skin on)

1 whole garlic bulb

1 heaped tsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, roughly chopped

1 tbsp butter

2 stalks of rosemary, leaves only, stalk removed

1 tsp salt, to taste

pepper, to taste

1- 1.5 pint of vegetable stock, add more if you refer a less thick soup

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees.
  2. On a baking tray place the cubed sweet potatoes and add the olive oil and smoked paprika and mix together so that the sweet potatoes are nicely covered. Add the whole garlic. Place in the oven for 40 minutes or until the sweet potato has softened.
  3. Meanwhile in a large casserole pan add the butter and a splash of olive oil and gently fry the red onion and rosemary for 7 minutes so that it has nicely softened.
  4. Remove the garlic cloves from the bulb, which will be all soft and gooey at this stage. Add them and the sweet potato to the main casserole pan and add seasoning and the vegetable stock.
  5. Using a hand whisk, blend until smooth. Add more boiling water/stock depending on how you like your soup consistency. I actually added a lot more water after this photo (above) was taken as it was too thick initially.
  6. Serve piping hot with some crunchy bread on the side. If you want to add a topping you could add a dollop of creme fraiche with a sprinkling of smoked paprika on top,  a little extra virgin olive oil or perhaps some roasted pine nuts.

If you try making this soup please post a photo on instagram and use the #soupmeuptoday so that I can see it.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

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Indian Chana Dal – Sweet and Salty

As some of you may know I am a BIG dal fan. Huge in fact, I love the stuff, and I am always trying to convert the uninitiated. Dal is an Indian lentil soup, or porridge of sorts, that can vary in consistency depending on personal preference. There are so many varieties, using a wide range of lentils, that there is at least one to appeal to every palate. For the most part (some need soaking) they are quick and very easy to make. Once you have bought a few staple ingredients for your pantry, you will find that cooking dal is a very economical meal to cook and, for many in the Indian subcontinent, an essential source of inexpensive protein.

Chana dal, also known as cholar or yellow split lentil, is one of my personal favourites. It is absolutely delicious with delicate sweet undertones coming from the coconut and sultanas. I use desiccated coconut, however in India as coconuts are more readily available, they often use shavings of freshly fried coconut. I eat it for lunch or dinner, although out in India it is even served up for breakfast!

Unlike the red split lentil dal, which I spoke about in an earlier blog, you need to think a little ahead for this dal as the yellow split lentils need to soak for a number of hours. I always soak them over night, but if you check on the packet you will probably find that you can soak them in the morning and they will be ready to cook by the afternoon/evening.

Chana Dal

Serves 4-6

300g of chana dal, soak overnight

1 tbsp of oil

1 tsp panch phoron

3 bay leaves

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp chilli powder (more if you prefer it hot)

sultanas, handful

1 tsp of ghee/butter (optional)

1 tsp of sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp of desiccated coconut

  1. Before cooking soak the lentils overnight ideally or at least for a few hours.
  2. After soaking, remove the water and refresh with more water. Boil on a low heat, until soft, approx. 20 mins (45mins + if not soaked). You will know they are soft when you are able to squeeze them easily between your fore finger and thumb. If they are still a little hard, leave them to boil for longer.
  3. In a new pan heat a tablespoon of oil on a low heat. Add the panch phoron, bay leaves, turmeric, chilli powder, sultanas, salt and sugar.
  4. Move around the pan for 20 seconds max, so that it does not burn, and add a couple of spoonfuls of chana dal and stir into the pan. Then transfer all of the contents of the pan into the original pan. Add more salt if necessary.
  5. Add the ghee/butter if using. Sprinkle the desiccated coconut over the top of the dal and let it simmer for a few minutes.

Other additions to this dal is to add fresh green or dried red chillies instead of curry powder. If you have fresh coconut to hand then thinly slice it into pieces (no more than a handful) and bronze initially in a little ghee, remove and place to one side. Scatter on top at the end instead of the desiccated coconut.

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