Sri Lankan Egg Curry and ‘Sri Lanka The Cookbook’

Recently, when I was in Sri Lanka, I was having a look at the local cookery books and, similar to the ones I had seen in Kerala, they seemed a bit dated, 70’s style.

 

Photograph by © Kim Lightbody and book published by Frances Lincoln

Don’t get me wrong the recipes are probably wonderful, but today we are quite spoilt with such beautiful cookery books being published here in the UK that the bar has been raised long ago on what makes a great looking cookery book. So you can image how thrilled I was to arrive home to find Prakash Sivanathan and Niranjala Ellawala’s beautiful cookbook ‘Sri Lanka The Cookbook’ waiting for me – photo above. 

Photograph by © Kim Lightbody and book published by Frances Lincoln

Firstly I adore the tactile, almost hessian feeling cover and opening up the book I was equally as impressed. The photographs, of which there are many, where well shot by Kim Lightbody – matt and crisp with great props and importantly, tasty looking recipes. Photographs are so important and sometimes I have high hopes when opening a cook book for the first time and my heart sinks a little as the photographs just don’t do justice to the book. I’m no pro by any means but I am quite particular on what I think looks good to the reader.

Photograph by © Kim Lightbody and book published by Frances Lincoln

The book starts with an introduction giving a concise overview of Sri Lanka’s chequered past, it’s people and cuisine. As a side note: if you want to learn more about Sri Lanka I highly recommend these two books that I read on my recent trip. Love them both equally.

It then gives a short note about the authors themselves and their background – interestingly Niranjala is  Sinhalese from the south, growing up in the the hill country in Ratnapura and Balangoda and Prakash a Tamil from the Jaffna peninsula in the north – and then moving to London for university. Following their studies they set up ‘Elephant Walk’ restaurant in London in 2004. In 2006 it won the coveted ‘Cobra Good Curry Guide Award’ for the best Sri Lankan Restaurant in the UK.  The restaurant closed however in 2013 and the couple continue to work with food through their Coconut Kitchens cookery school.

Photograph by © Kim Lightbody and book published by Frances Lincoln

The next sections are dedicated to a glossary of ingredients and how to make a range Sri Lankan curry powders, before tempting readers with a host of Sri Lankan favourites: idli, appa (hoppers), sambols and many meat, fish and vegetable kari (curries). Some of the ingredients they use are exciting as I don’t often cook with them – such as plantain, snake gourd, breadfruit. Thankfully I live near an Asian area so sourcing all these ingredients is straightforward. For the home cook who loves to try new things – this is the book for you. That said there are many ingredients which don’t require so much sourcing for ingredients – such as the prawn and coconut curry or spicy baked chicken. Come the Autumn I am definitely going to be trying the ‘wild boar curry’. There are a few pages dedicated to sweet recipes – love cake, semolina pudding, banana fritters, but it is the mains, sambols and other savoury delights, which really capture my attention.

Photograph by © Kim Lightbody and book published by Frances Lincoln

It is published by Francis Lincoln and is available to buy at all good bookshops or online. This is definitely a keeper for me and I hope those of you who want to try to widen your Sri Lankan repertoire will consider getting hold of a copy. It’s a book you want to linger over and to go back to time and time again.

I thought the ‘Mutate Kulambu’ or ‘Egg Curry’ looked a lovely recipe to share with you all. It is straightforward and is great for a vegetarian lunch or supper.

 

It talks about adding a tablespoon of Thool (curry powder), but since I bought some back with my from Sri Lanka I have not followed their recipe for curry powder but thought it might be useful to include it for you if you would like to replicate this recipe here at home. Their are 2 methods and I have shown you method ‘A’.

Roasted Tamil Curry Powder: Thool

250g coriander seeds

50g cumin seeds

75g fennel seeds

20g fenugreek seeds

250g dried red chillies

20 fresh curry leaves

1 tsp ground turmeric

50g black peppercorns

 

  1. Dry roast the coriander seeds in a frying pan until they are golden brown. Keep the pan moving the pan so that the spices do not burn. Remove from the pan and place to one side.
  2. In separate batches dry roast the cumin seeds, followed by the fennel and fenugreek seeds. Set aside.
  3. Dry roast the dried red chillies for 20 seconds or so allowing them to darken in colour. Set aside.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and when it is hot add the turmeric and toss for a few seconds so that it is lightly roasted.
  5. Place all the ingredients, including the black peppercorns into a spice grinder – I love my Krups – and grind to form a fine powder.

Place in an airtight container. They say it will last up to 2 months but I keep mine for much longer to be honest.

Muttai Kulambu: Egg Curry

serves 4

4 hard boiled eggs

2 tbsp oil

half tsp mustard seeds

half medium onion, finely chopped

6 fresh curry leaves

6 garlic cloves, cut into quarters

2 green chillies chopped

half tsp fenugreek seeds

quater tsp cumin seeds

quarter tsp ground turmeric

200ml coconut milk

400ml water

1 tbsp Thool – Sri Lankan curry powder

quarter tsp salt

 

  1. After boiling the eggs for 9 minutes (if medium size and 12 minutes if large eggs), shell them and cut them in half lengthways and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a medium, lidded saucepan over a low heat. Add the mustard seeds and once they begin to pop – which will be a few seconds later – add the onion and curry leaves and stir for a few seconds. Add the garlic, chillies, fenugreek and cumin seeds and cook until the onions are soft and turning golden.
  3. Add the turmeric and stir. Add the coconut milk, water, curry powder and salt and mix well. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and half cover allowing the sauce to simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Gently slide in the halved eggs and half cover with the lid again and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Taste for salt and remove from the heat and serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chilled Delicately Spiced Watermelon Soup

It’s a sweltering 31 degrees today here in London, hotter than LA, Dallas and Bahamas and New York. I’m not complaining, although if I’m honest I wish we had a sea breeze keeping us cool, wouldn’t that be just perfect.  Thankfully I picked up a giant watermelon over the weekend (my pal took half as it was SO gigantic) so have been eating it in all manner of guises ever since.

As well as being so visually stunning watermelon is perfect for hot weather, due to its largely watery, cooling consistency. I wanted to make a savoury chilled soup that was delicately spiced and balanced sweet and savoury, not just sweet. I think I have managed it so would love you to try my recipe. Eat it as you would a chilled gazpacho, although the flavour of this is very different from anything you have probably tried before. It has sweet tones of course but has savoury notes coming from the fresh curry leaves, tomatoes, cumin seeds and hing/asafoetida. I’d love to hear what you think so please leave a message below in the comments box.

 

Chilled Spiced Watermelon Soup 

Serves 4

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

pinch of hing/asafoetida

10 fresh curry leaves

1 small birds eye green chilli, roughly chopped and deseeded

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1.4kg fresh watermelon, deseeded and chopped into small pieces

3 medium sized tomatoes

1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

pinch of hing/asafoetida

10 fresh curry leaves

salt to taste

 

  1. First prepare all your ingredients and make sure they are chopped and ready to use.
  2. Heat a pan with the oil and when it is hot add the cumin seeds, the hing/asafoetida and the fresh curry leaves and move around the pan for 20 seconds, allowing the flavours to be released.
  3. Now add the garlic and after a couple of minutes add the ginger and tomatoes.
  4. Finally add the watermelon and a little salt. Allow to simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes.
  5. Using a hand blender blend the ingredients of the pan so the liquid is smooth.
  6. Using a colander strain all the liquid so that a lighter consistency liquid is released and any tomato skins, seeds etc are caught in the colander. Taste and season further with salt as necessary.
  7. Allow to cool and place in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  8. It will last for a couple of days in the fridge no problem.

 

As an idea you could add a feta crumb of fresh mint flakes on the top of each serving, but I preferred to eat it as is this time.

 

 


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 on line 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

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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?

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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.

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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.


Roasted Zaatar Beetroot, Goats Cheese and Quinoa Salad

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Whether you work in an office, from home, or not at all, having an enjoyable lunch gives the body both sustenance and also a boost to be productive for the rest of the day. Before the birth of my second daughter I worked for twelve years in the City (London’s financial district). Lunch times, whilst often eaten at my desk, were without doubt a highlight. Not that the work that I was doing was dull, far from it, but more that it was a nice interlude, even if it was for a very short period. Typically I would aim to seek out that latest lunch time hot spot, which seemed to sprout up in the city by the week, but occasionally I would bring in something from home. Curry’s were a no-no as the smell was too ‘in your face’ for an open plan office, so something a little more subtle needed to be created.

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Transporting food needs to be easy and fuss free. Whilst bowls of Vietnamese pho are wonderful, transporting liquid like that is certainly never going to fly if you travelling by London transport. Imaginative salads on the other hand do work well. Adding a dressing must be done when you are about to eat, otherwise everything gets a little limp and moist.

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This salad is versatile in that it can be transported for an office lunch at your desk or at home, eating on your own or in the company of a friend. I love everything about beetroot – from the vibrancy of the flesh, to the sweetness of the taste and the fact that they are fairly easy to source here in the UK. This salad requires very few ingredients – beetroot, zaatar, smooth lemony soft goats cheese, fresh mint, dry roasted pine nuts , preserved lemons and a little olive oil.

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For those who are unfamiliar with zaatar, it is the Arabic word for a wild thyme spice mix that is used in Levant cooking. Traditionally zaatar is made from a wild herb (with the same name), very similar to the thyme you find in the UK, that can be found in Lebanon.  However many of the zaatar blends that you can buy or make yourself are a mix of fresh oregano, marjoram and British thyme. My Lebanese friend has it for breakfast sprinkled on some pitta bread with some olive oil. It is very easy to get hold of either at specialist Middle Eastern shops or the large supermarkets here in the UK.

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The flavours and textures coming from all these ingredients complement each other well. Roasting beetroot takes a little time – just shy of an hour, but will last refrigerated for up to a week so you can make a batch and use them as required over the week.

Roasted Zaatar Beetroot, Goats Cheese and Quinoa Salad 

serves 2 portions

2 medium sized fresh beetroot

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2-3 tsp zaatar

120g quinoa

360ml cold water

40-60g soft goats cheese

handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped

20g pine nuts

2 slices of preserved lemons (or one small whole lemons)

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat an oven to 180 degrees fan.
  2. Remove the stems close to the base of the beetroot.
  3. Wash thoroughly and then rub the beetroot in the olive oil and cover with the half the quantity of zaatar above.
  4. Place in their own individual foil parcel and then roast in the oven for up to an hour. Check at intervals to see that they are softening. If they look a little dry add a tsp of water to the parcel.
  5. Place cold water into a pan with the quinoa and gently cook for 20 minutes, by which time the water will have been absorbed and the quinoa will be soft and ready to eat. Allow to cool.
  6. Heat a pan and when it is hot add the pine nuts and move around the pan for a couple of minutes, by which time they will have bronzed slightly. Place to one side.
  7. Once the beetroots have cooked allow to cool and then chop into rough cubes.
  8. Chop the preserved lemons into even smaller cubes than the beetroot.
  9. In a large mixing bowl, add the quinoa, pine nuts, fresh mint, beetroot cubes, lemon cubes and the remaining zaatar and mix gently.
  10. Finally break the goats cheese up with your hands and combine and then serve/store in a container to take to the office.

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Tuscan White Bean Soup

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

 


Polenta with Cavolo Nero, Spaghetti Squash, Parmesan and Sundried Tomatoes

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I stumbled across spaghetti squash the other day and thought it would be fun to create a recipe around it. Spaghetti squash lives up to it’s name in that once you have roasted it (I simply cut it in half length ways then added a dash of olive oil and salt and pepper) you use a fork to scoop out the flesh and it comes out looking like little spaghetti strands. You could easily substitute it for spaghetti in fact, although it tastes like squash and not pasta. Please note when you cut into the raw spaghetti squash it is slightly harder than your regular squash so do be careful when handling the knife.

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A great friend was coming over for lunch so I wanted to cook something straightforward, comforting and easy to assemble. The squash takes about 40 minutes in the oven, but does not need any attending to once it is in the oven. I opted for polenta (bramata) which takes a couple of minutes max to whip together. Any form of greens is always a great addition to any meal so I opted for cavolo nero, but you could easily use spinach, green cabbage, shard. I took a photo of all the ingredients but once I had thrown the dish together I realised it needed a splash of colour and one other flavour to bring it all together. So I opted for some sundried tomatoes, which completely lifted the whole dish. Also in my haste to photograph and then devour the meal, I completely forgot to place the crispy sage leaves on the top, so if you can try to remember to do this bit.

The dish came together so well and is perfect for this time of year, when the days are crisp and you come in from the cold. When you make the dish, photograph it and then use the #chilliandmint so I can see your efforts.

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Polenta with Cav0lo Nero, Spaghetti Squash, Parmesan and Sundried Tomatoes

serves 2

1 spaghetti squash, halved

500ml water

145g polenta bramata (course cornmeal)

45g parmesan, finely grated

25ml single cream (optional)

45g butter

4 cavolo nero leaves, finely chopped

salt

pepper

8 fresh sage leaves

3 sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped

  1. Carefully cut the squash in two and place on a baking tray with a little olive oil and seasoning. Place an oven at 180 degrees for 40 minutes.
  2. Whilst the squash is in the oven, add a little olive oil to a pan and when it is hot add the sage leaves and allow to crisp up, which should take around a minute. Remove and place on kitchen paper.
  3. Wash the cavalo nero leaves and finely chop. Heat a pan and place them in the pan for a couple of minutes to allow them to wilt. Remove from the heat and place to one side.
  4. Once the squash is cooked (40 minutes) remove from an oven and using a fork take the flesh out of the squash. It will come away in strands giving it the name ‘spaghetti squash’.
  5. Roughly chop the sundried tomatoes and have the parmesan grated and ready to use.
  6. Boil the water in a deep pan and when it is boiling gradually pour in the polenta stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.
  7. Immediately add the parmesan, single cream (if using), butter, salt pepper to taste and stir. *
  8. To plate up place a generous portion of polenta on a plate then add some cavolo nero and place it in the centre followed by the spaghetti squash, a little parmesan, sundried tomatoes and the crispy sage**.

 

* The longer you heat polenta the harder it will become so take off the heat at the consistency you desire. Personally I prefer my softer.

**After the excitement of platting up and photographing the dish I dived into eat it, only remembering once I had eaten it that I had forgotten to put on the crispy sage.

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