Softened Cucumber with Chinkiang Vinegar, Sichuan Pepper and Red Peanuts

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There is a dish that I always order when I visit Silk Road restaurant in Camberwell. The main ingredient is cucumber. Yes cucumber folks. I think they even call the dish ‘cucumber salad’. Doesn’t sound that appealing does it at first glance, but let me assure you that cucumber that has been delicately softened or rather smashed with a small ‘s’, then doused in Chinkiang vinegar, soy sauce and sichuan pepper marinade elevates the humble cucumber to something quite extraordinary.

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It is quick to rustle together and is the perfect snack when you have the munchies or if you want to accompany it with perhaps Chinese spiced roast pork or chicken, ginger and spring onion jiaozi or dan dan noodles. Give it a go next time you find a cucumber lurking in your fridge. Chinkiang vinegar (also known as Chinese black rice vinegar) you can get at the larger supermarkets, or you can get online here . Sichuan peppercorns can also be found here.

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I adore the different textures and tastes dancing around on my tongue. Sichuan pepper is seriously addictive – in a good way, so it is worth sourcing it if you can.

Softened Cucumber with Chinkiang Vinegar, Sichuan Pepper and Red Peanuts

1 cucumber, bashed lightly with a rolling pin

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp Chinkiang vinegar

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns (optional)

1 tsp salt

50g red peanuts

  1. Using a rolling pin gently bash the cucumber so that it begins to soften slightly. The reason for doing this is to create a slightly softer texture which will then absorb all the delicious flavours of the marinade more easily.
  2. Cut the cucumber lengthways and halve it again and then cut it on the diagonal into 1 inch pieces. Place in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl add all the other ingredients, aside from the red peanuts, and stir so that they are all mixed together well. Add a little more sugar or salt as needed.
  4. Place the red peanuts into the cucumber bowl and then add the marinade and throughly mix it together so that the cucumber is fully coated with it.

You can prepare this ahead of time or eat it immediately.

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Green Tomatoes – Two Ways

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During half time we went and spent some time at my parents house, which is hidden away in the depths of the Sussex countryside. Life slows down and allows you to become at one with nature. I love living in the city and am not the type to rush out to rolling green hills at every opportunity, but that said now and again it really does ones soul the world of good. Breathing in fresh air, getting properly muddy and having walks in the woods. Also if the truth be told I love my folks wood burning fire that warms the house and wafts woody smells throughout.

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My mother is Mrs green fingers and has an enviable vegetable patch, which supplies my father and her with bountiful crops of endless vegetables and fruit. She has been overrun with green tomatoes this year and had a couple of troughs full sitting in her pantry so I asked if I could take one to make into a chutney and a relish back in London.

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The result has been pleasing and I wanted to share both recipes with you. They are perfect to bring out with pretty much any cold meat, especially any type of pork product.

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The photo above and below are of the cucumber and green tomato relish.

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Green tomatoes are simply tomatoes that have not ripened in the sun. Change in weather can mean that some of your crop just aren’t able to make the transition from green to red. That said you can bring the whole plant inside and there are ways to help them turn red – see here for tips, but my mother had already picked the remaining tomatoes, most of which were green.

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To eat raw, whilst still green, would not be advisable as they are tart, however by cooking and making into a chutney or relish brings them into their own and sweetens them enough to make a fabulous little preserve.

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Both recipes require a fair amount of chopping so if you can gather in helpers that will certainly speed up the laborious part of the preparation.  The above photo shows the layered vegetables in the colander sprinkled with salt – they leave them like this overnight.

The photo below is the pickling spice that is used in the chutney but not the relish!  I have made my own pickling spice – you can add whatever you fancy, but I decided upon bay leaves, green cardamom, black mustard seeds, dried chillies, whole cloves, cinnamon bark, allspice and peppercorns.

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Once you have made either the relish or chutney – or both, once sealed in jars, leave to rest in a dark, cool place for a couple of weeks for the chutney and 1 week for the relish. The chutney will last longer – around a year, whilst the relish should be eaten within 6 months. Once open store in the fridge and eat with in a couple of weeks.

Both recipes below I have adapted from ‘The Complete Book of Preserves & Pickles’ by Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhew

Green Tomato Chutney

makes approx 8 jars. I mainly use Wares of Knutsford 250ml Mason jars

2.3 kg green tomatoes, chopped

600g cooking apples, chopped – cored and peeled

600g onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1.5 tbsp salt

1 small muslin bag full of pickling spice (see below)

800ml cider vinegar

600g granulated sugar

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Pickling spice

1/2 tsp allspice

2 bay leaves

3 green cardamom pods

1 tsp black mustard seeds

2 inch piece of cinnamon bark, broken into pieces

4 cloves

5 peppercorns

2 dried red chilli

1 small piece of muslin cloth

some string

You can also add dried ginger, cassia, coriander seeds

1. After roughly chopping all the tomatoes, apples, onions and garlic place them in a large pan (or two if you need to) and add the salt. Add the muslin full of pickling spice, securely tied, along with half the vinegar and bring to the boil.

2. Once it has reached boiling point, reduce the heat and let it simmer for an hour stirring at regular intervals to aid with the softening of the ingredients.

3.  In a separate pan add the remaining cider vinegar and sugar and gently heat, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once this has happened pour into the main pan and give a good stir. The chutney needs a further hour and a half to simmer and become thick.

4. In the last half hour of number 3. wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water and then place in a cold oven. Turn the oven on to 110 degrees and then let the jars and lids (do not place the lid on the jar) sterilise for 30 mins.

5. Once the jars and lids have sterilised and the chutney has become thick remove the muslin and then spoon the hot chutney into the warm jars and seal. I find this wide neck funnel, immensely useful during this process as it means I keep the rims of the jars clean. I tend to put a waxed disc on top (was side down), although I think with the two piece gold disc and screw band lid it is probably not necessary.

6. Label and store in a cool dark place and leave to mature for a couple of weeks before opening. It will last for up to a year.

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Cucumber and Green Tomato Relish

Makes approx 5 jars

2 cucumbers, cubed 1cm

900g green tomatoes, cubed 1cm

4 onions, finely chopped

1.5 tsp salt

350ml white vinegar

150g demerara sugar

200g granulated sugar

1tbsp plain flour

1/2 tsp mustard powder

1.  Layer the cubed cucumber, green tomatoes and finely sliced onions in a colander placed over a bowl and sprinkle each layer with salt. Leave to drain for minimum 6 hours or overnight if you can.

2. Removing the salty liquid and place the vegetables in a large pan along with 320ml of the white vinegar. The remaining 30ml of white vinegar will be used later! Add both sugars to the pan and gently heat, stirring to allow the sugars to dissolve. Simmer gently for 40 minutes.

3. In a bowl add the flour, mustard powder and remanding white vinegar to form a paste and then add to the relish. Simmer for a further 20 mins or until the mixture is thick.

4. Similarly to point 4. in the instructions for the green tomato chutney, sterilise the jars and then spoon the contents of the relish into each one, remember to push the relish down firmly so that there are no air bubbles. Add the waxed disc, waxed side up (if using) and place the gold disc and screw top lid on top.

5. Store in a cool dark place for a week before using. Use within 6 months. Once opened store in the fridge and eat within a couple of weeks once opened.


Vietnamese inspired Salmon, Cucumber, Red Onion and Grapefruit Salad

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Up in my old neck of the woods there is a fantastic restaurant that I love to visit whilst catching up with friends. It goes by the name of Granger & Co, owned by the Australian chef Bill Granger. Bizarrely I have never purchased or been given any of Bill’s cookbook (sorry Bill – take note friends and family ;o) but if any of the dishes at his restaurant are to go by I really ought to get my hands on some copies. The restaurant is always heaving and it’s important to note that they don’t take reservations, so it is always best to go with plenty of time in hand as there may be a wait – max I have ever waited was 20 mins.

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The other day my lunch companion and I were seated to a table immediately – we were in luck – and then cast our eyes over the menu, which quite frankly has all the types of dishes that I would like to eat in a restaurant. Delicate, fresh, exotic, great flavour combinations and healthy, the menu appeals to anyone with a love of food and flavours.  I actually found it hard to make a decision as there were so many things that appealed. I opted for a Vietnamese inspired salmon salad – mainly for two reasons: firstly I have a bit of a ‘thing’ going on for Vietnamese cuisine at the moment which you’ve probably noticed and secondly I was curious to see how the dished compared to those I actually ate in Vietnam recently. It was also light and healthy, which was a bonus!

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It is no exaggeration but every mouthful was an utter delight. Making a mental note of what I was eating I was determind to replicate a similar dish at home and share it with you. I don’t know exactly what Bill used in the dressing but I have made my own twist on the dish. I have cooked it many times since and the response has been really positive. Aside from the red grapefruit, even my seven year old  really loves the dish. As alternative you could always replace the red grapefruit with fresh mango.

Vietnamese inspired Salmon, Cucumber, Red Onion and Grapefruit Salad

Serves 4

4 salmon fillets

2 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp runny honey

1 tbsp sesame oil

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2 cucumber, sliced at diagonal angles (see photos)

1 red onion, finely sliced

1 red grapefruit, chopped into bite sized pieces

200g trimmed fine green beans

1 large handful of fresh coriander

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2 tbsp mirin

2 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tbsp caster sugar

2 limes, juice only

1. In a bowl place the salmon fillets and add the soy sauce and runny honey and using your hands coat the salmon pieces and leave to marinade in the fridge for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat your oven to 170 degrees.

3. In a frying pan heat the sesame oil and when hot add the salmon skin side down to begin with. Literally allow to bronze slightly for a minute and then turn over gently and leave for another minute. You want to have it so the outside is delicated bronzed but not cooked all the way through. It can begin to turn a lighter pink but you want the remainder of the cooking to take place in an oven gently.

4. Spread out a large piece of  tin foil and place the salmon pieces in the centre, making sure not to break them up. Add the remaining marinade from the bowl over the salmon.  Now you need to create a Papillote effect. It’s very straightforward – all you need to do is create a salmon parcel making sure all the foil edges are closed up so that no air can escape and there is some space above the salmon so don’t enclose it too tightly.

5. Place the salmon parcel in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, by which stage it will have be cooked through and ready to crumble gently on the salad.

6. Whilst the salmon is cooking steam the green beans for a minute or two. You want to make sure they continue to have a good crunch but that the bite is taken off a little with the steaming. Equally you could boil them for a minute and then drain under cold water.

7. Add the green beens to the cucumber, red onion, red grapefruit, fresh coriander and place a good helping on eat plate.

9. Add the mirin, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, caster sugar and lime juice to create the marinade. Taste to check you have the right balance for you.

8. When the salmon is ready remove from the oven. Gently remove the skin, which will come away easily and place a salmon fillet on the top of each salad, allowing it to crumble slightly. Pour a little of the marinade over the fish and salad and serve immediately. Place the remaining marinade in a small jug for guests to add more should they wish.