Toasted Cumin and Cinnamon Cauliflower

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I often think that cauliflower gets a little overlooked as a vegetable, unlike its more ‘superfood’ cousin, the broccoli. Boiling it can be bland, like most things, but roast it and add a little spice and textures then you have a truly delicious treat. I wrote a piece a few years ago on the merits of the humble cauliflower here so do check it out.

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This recipe is quick, extremely tasty (ok I know I am biased), full of goodness and great as a lunch to take to work in a tupperware or as an evening meal. It can be eaten hot or cold so is hugely versatile. A slight chill is now in the air in London, although I am still hopeful for an Indian summer, so the warming cumin and cinnamon gives the dish autumnal comforting notes. The sweetness come from the cinnamon and the saltiness from the feta so no extra salt is necessary.

Toasted Cumin and Cinnamon Cauliflower

serves 2 or 4 if serving with another dish 

1 cauliflower, chopped into florets and greenery removed

1 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

30g pine nuts, toasted

30g raisins or sultanas

1 small handful of fresh coriander

30g feta, crumbled

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (if using fan). In a large mixing bowl add the cauliflower florets and add the cumin and cinnamon powder along with the extra virgin olive oil. Mix gently with your hands so that the florets are evenly coated.
  2. Place on a baking tray in the oven for 20 minutes, so that the edges are nicely charred.
  3. Meanwhile heat a heavy frying pan and toast the pine nuts so that they begin to bronze. They bronze quickly so keep an eye on this. Add the raisins/sultanas to warm them and allow them to become soft. Place to one side in a bowl.
  4. Once the cauliflower is cooked add to a new mixing bowl and add the pine nuts, sultanas, coriander and crumbled feta. Toss gently and either plate up or leave to cool before adding to your lunch container.

I have also made this with prunes instead of raisins/sultanas, which works really well. Dates would also be another option.

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Vietnamese Summer Rolls – healthy and utterly delicious

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Vietnamese summer rolls, also known as Gỏi cuốn in Vietnam, are THE perfect lunch time meal, starter or snack when the sun is shining and you want something light, tasty and flavoursome. They are great fun to make and you can get creative on what to fill them with. The original Vietnamese ones often have pork loin and prawn wrapped inside them, however, I have always omitted the pork and simply added prawns, but its up to you. If you do include pork loin boil it in water for around 20 minutes and then thinly slice the pork loin when it has cooled.

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Fresh herbs are key and you ideally need: coriander, garden mint and Thai basil, although regular basil will suffice if you can’t lay your hands on the former. If you happen to live near or pass by an Asian grocers pick up some perilla/shiso leaves to add a more authentic flavour. A little lettuce – cos works well – is also good to include (I didn’t have any in my fridge so for the ones above I have not included this). Rice noodles, carrot and cucumber batons are also needed.

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So to wrap you need to follow the photos above:

  1. Pour tap water into a tray and then dip the rice paper in it. Literally quickly submerge and take out straight away or else it will become too wet and sticky.
  2. Place a small amount of herbs, noodles, carrot and cucumber buttons and lettuce if using, at the central bottom of the circular rice paper.
  3. Roll it once and then bring in each side. Now place the prawns (if they are large slice them in two) and a couple of garlic chives/thin slices of  green spring onions with the ends poking out and roll again.
  4. Continue to roll tightly until the rice paper is firmly wrapped around the filling. Place to one side.

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I like to use my nuoc cham dipping sauce – recipe here. Equally they are also tasty if you dip them into a combined sauce of crunchy peanut butter with hoisin sauce.

 

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

makes around 16

A packet of Vietnamese rice paper – size 22cm

300g prawns (if you do not eat prawns you could add tofu)

packet of thin rice noodles

2 large carrots, sliced into thin batons

half a cucumber, slice into thin batons

cos lettuce

large handful of fresh coriander

large handful of fresh garden mint

large handful of thai basil (or regular basil if cannot find thai)

large handful of perilla/shiso leaves – optional

  1. Soak the rice noodles in a bowl of boiling water for around 7 minutes with a plate covering the bowl to keep in the heat. Check to taste they are cooked and then drain under cold water. Place to one side.
  2. Prepare all the ingredients and place them on a plate ready to use. If you are using giant chunky prawns it is best to slice them in two.
  3. Pour tap water into a tray and then dip the rice paper in it. Literally quickly submerge and take out straight away or else it will become too wet and sticky.
  4. Place a small amount of herbs, noodles, carrot and cucumber buttons and lettuce if using, at the central bottom of the circular rice paper.
  5. Roll it once and then bring in each side. Now place the prawns and a couple of garlic chives/thin slices of  green spring onions with the ends poking out and roll again.
  6. Continue to tightly roll until the rice paper is firmly wrapped around the filling. Place to once side and repeat.

They can be made ahead of time and then covered and placed in the fridge until ready to use. Bring out of the fridge 30 minutes before eating.

I often use my nuoc cham dipping sauce which you can see here. If you like this recipe you might also like some of my other Vietnamese ones such as:

Vietnamese pancakes – bahn xeo

Vietnamese chicken herb salad

Vietnamese fish with turmeric, ginger and dill

Vietnamese chicken rissoles with shallots, lemongrass and garlic

Vietnamese inspired salmon, cucumber, red onion and grapefruit salad

Bun cha

Vietnamese Pho Bo – Beef Noodle Soup

Vietnamese iced coffee


Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Garlic, Broad Beans and Crispy Sage and Kale

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The summer hols have started in my house. My daughters have weeks ahead to relax, explore, learn and grow. It’s a time to unwind and go at a more leisurely pace, no 6.30am wake up calls until September *does happy dance*. New additions to our family have arrived – two mini lop bunnies, so rabbit is firmly off the menu from henceforth.

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Picnics are wonderful but sometimes more of a proper meal at lunch time is required. This recipe is straightforward and although there are a couple of parts to bring together it really does not take long. I also love the bright summer colours of this meal, you can’t help but be happy when eating it. If you want to make it a morning activity though and involve your children/friends/partner then making your own gnocchi is really good fun. Here is my recipe.IMG_1335

I like to make kale crisps to add to this meal. Eleven minutes in a low oven and hey presto you have kale crisps. You can get creative as well and add cayenne pepper, soy, chaat masala, whatever takes your fancy. For this dish I have simply added a sprinkling of rock salt. By all means you can have the kale crisps in a bowl on the side, but I rather like the crisp aspect to the whole dish. It’s comfort food with a twist and they work well with the crispy sage. Broad beans are in season right now and I love to throw them in so many dishes. I prefer to shell them but I leave that to you to decide.
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Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Garlic, Broad Beans and Crispy Sage and Kale

1/2 of a small butternut squash, skin removed and cubed to the size of the gnocchi

100g chopped kale

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 tbsp butter

40g shelled broad beans

350g potato gnocchi

salt and pepper to taste

handful of grated parmesan, optional

1. First cube the butternut squash into the size of the gnocchi. Boil in a pan of water along with the broad beans for around 10 minutes, or until soft but not mushy.  Rinse under cold water and leave to one side. If you need to shell the broad beans then do so at this stage.

2. Preheat an oven to 140 degrees fahrenheit. Meanwhile separate any stems from the kale and discard. Place the kale on a baking try and add the olive oil. Massage the oil into the kale and make sure that the kale is spread out evenly over the tray. Place in the oven for 11 minutes, by which time the kale will be crisp. If it is not then leave it for a minute or two longer. Keep a watchful eye over it as they can burn quickly. These kale crisps are a great snack but also rather lovely in this dish.

3. In a frying pan add the butter and when it is melted add the garlic. Move around the pan before adding the sage leaves. Allow them to cook on a low heat so that they begin to crisp.

4. Add the butternut squash and broad beans and coat them in the butter, garlic and sage.

5. Place the gnocchi in the pan and boil away for 1 minute or according to instructions. If you fancy making your own – here is my recipe.

6. Strain the gnocchi and add the pan with the other ingredients. Stir together for a minute, season to taste and plate immediately.

7. Sprinkle crispy kale over each serving with a scattering of parmesan as desired.


Simple Chicken Curry – when your spice cupboard is bare

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If you are starting out cooking curries or if you are running low on spices, then this is the curry for you as it only requires chilli powder – I tend to opt for the Kashmiri chilli powder for it’s deep red colour and its subtle heat. It also includes onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes and chillies, which are pretty much fridge staples for me and I’m guessing you too! So it is ridiculously straightforward to make with minimum fuss.

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I like to use boneless and skinless chicken thighs for this curry, but breast meat is fine too – it’s really up to you. Like with most curries it can be cooked well in advance and then slowly reheated adding a little water if necessary. You can reduce the amount of fresh chillies if you want it less hot, but I find adding two fresh green chillies is fine for my 9 year old – I would cook a separate curry however for my 5 year old.

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Simple Chicken Curry

Serves 4

9 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 red onions, roughly chopped

2 inch piece of ginger, skin removed and roughly chopped

2 fresh chillies, roughly chopped

4 medium sized tomatoes roughly chopped

1 tsp of Kashmiri chilli powder

2tbsp water

*****

2 tsp groundnut oil

800g boneless and skinless chicken thigh, chopped into bite sized pieces

1 tsp salt

coriander to garnish (optional)

1. Using a blender add the garlic, onions, chillies, tomatoes, ginger and chilli powder. Depending on how juicy your tomatoes are you may need to add a little water to make the paste smooth.

2. Heat the groundnut oil in a pan and add the chicken. Move it around the pan for a couple of minutes so that it whitens. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place to one side.

3. Using the same pan add the paste and gently fry for 45 minutes so that it thickens and allows the flavours to come through.

4. Return the chicken to the pan and add the salt. Simmer gently for a further 7 minutes, coating the chicken in the spiced tomato sauce.

5. Serve with a coriander garnish with either rice or flat bread.

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The Tastiest Spiced Chickpea Curry Ever

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The humble chickpea can provide the most satisfying of meals if it is mixed with a little magic, and in this case spices. The final note of adding chaat masala raises the game of this dish into one bursting with flavour that is both salty and sour. For those who have not come across chaat masala before it’s a spice mix that is commonly used in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and normally includes many of the following: mango powder, black salt, asafoetida, pomegranate seeds, nutmeg, mint leaf, chilli powder, black pepper, salt, cumin, coriander and dried ginger. You can pick up sachet’s or packets at your local Asian grocers or any of the large supermarkets.  If you are feeling really adventurous you could make your own. Have a look at this lovely lady showing you how to do so .

 

Like many of the dishes on my blog this is very straightforward, filling, nutritious, tasty and kind on the wallet. My eldest daughter loves it (she just avoids swallowing the green chillies that I simply cut in half so are easy to spot) and my youngest….well she tells me she prefers ‘English’ food. I asked her like what and she answered ‘Like udon noodles, chicken, spring onions and soy sauce’. Oh dear!

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If you are UK based chances are that you’ll be on half term next week – if you have children that is. This dish ticks so many boxes and is perfect for an adult, or more sophisticated child eater. Next time your are in the shopping aisles of your local supermarket – think Chaat Masala, seriously you won’t regret it. A little bit of searching will reward you royally.

You heard it here first.

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 Spiced Chickpea Curry

2 tbsp groundnut/rapeseed oil

10 fresh curry leaves

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

2 tsp garlic paste

1 tsp ginger paste

2 small green chillies

1 tsp cumin powder

3 medium sized tomatoes, diced

500g chickpeas (tinned is fine)

1 tbsp yoghurt

1 tbsp tomato puree

150ml juice from chickpea tin/boiling water

125g fresh spinach

1 tsp chat masala

1/2 lemon, juice only

handful of fresh coriander to serve

1. Gently heat the oil in a deep frying pan and then add the curry leaves. After 20 seconds add the onion and salt and lower the heat to allow the onions to soften and not burn. After 5 minutes add the garlic and ginger paste along with the green chillies and stir into the existing ingredients.

2. Add the cumin powder and then add the fresh tomatoes and allow them to soften slightly before adding the chickpeas.

3. Add the yoghurt and tomato puree and stir into the chickpeas.

4. Add the chickpea juice and/or boiling water and leave until the liquid has reduced. This will take around 10-15 minutes.

5. Stir in the spinach, which will wilt almost immediately.

6. Take the pan off the heat and add the chaat masala and lemon juice and stir into the curry. Add a little fresh coriander on the top of each serving.

Relax, sit back and enjoy a very satisfying bowl of chickpea curry.

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Vietnamese Pancakes – Bahn Xeo

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Savoury food for breakfast has always been my kind of thing. Other than the pain au chocolat craving I had when I was pregnant with my first, savoury food has always been my go to breakfast choice. As such Asian food in general is my idea of heaven. Curry for breakfast, a bowl of hot steaming Vietnamese pho or Vietnamese Bahn Xeo (Vietnamese pancakes), and I am in culinary nirvana. These kind of foods I could eat all day so I am not necessarily suggesting you start cooking Vietnamese pancakes before the school/office run but having the recipe in mind when you want to try something new at any time of day.

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Banh Xeo (pronounced Ban say-oh – see video below if you want to sound like a pro) are thin crisp pancakes made with rice flour, coconut milk (or beer in fact), turmeric, and water. Traditionally they are filled with both pork (thinly cut pork belly strips) and prawns, but for mine I have omitted the pork and used just prawns. If you are vegetarian you could equally use some fried tofu, which would taste really good. Xeo actually means ‘sizzling’ in Vietnamese and it is this sound that you want to hear when the pancakes are crisping up. They are also known as ‘happy pancakes’ and you’ll see why after you have tasted your first mouthful.

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I pick up my rice flour from my local Asian supermarket or you can easily buy it online, it’s also only a matter of time before the bigger supermarkets will start stocking it too. I rather love the packaging of the one that I use – it’s got happy flour written all over it!

 

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The turmeric gives the lovely bright yellow hue to the pancakes and I also put in coconut milk. Some central parts of Vietnam do not use coconut milk and instead opt for beer to give the pancakes an extra crispiness, but I personally love the coconut taste to the pancakes.

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Now eating the crispy pancakes can be done in a couple of ways. You can either simply use a knife and fork and eat it like that, or in Vietnam you are often provided with a spoon and large lettuce leaves along with fresh herbs such as coriander and mint. You break off a little of the pancake …..like so

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and then place it on the lettuce leaf, along with the herbs …..

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and then roll it so you are able to pick it up and dip it in your nuoc cham dipping sauce. Easy hey. I cannot stress how delicious this is, so much so that I am craving more of these writing this post. Seriously seek out rice flour and give these a shot – I promise you you won’t regret it.

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Vietnamese Pancakes – Bahn Xeo

Makes 7 Pancakes

Pancake batter

250g rice flour

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

pinch of salt

400ml coconut milk

250ml cold water

*******

1 tsp coconut/groundnut oil (to go into the pan for each pancake made)

 for the filling

350g king prawns, shelled and deveined

4 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal

125g beansprouts

a handful (per person) of mixed herbs: coriander, mint, thai sweet basil

 

Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

2 tbsp rice vinegar

5 tbsp fish sauce

2 small red chillies, finely chopped

2-3 tbsp caster sugar

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

200ml cold water

1 lime, juice only (optional)

To Serve

3x cos lettuce, broken up into lettuce cups

 

1. First you want to make the batter. Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk so that the mixture is smooth and not too thick in consistency. You want to make it a similar consistency as if you were cooking regular European pancakes. Place to one side to rest ideally for at least 30 minutes.

2. To prepare the nuoc cham dipping sauce place the garlic and chilli in a bowl followed by the water, sugar, fish sauce, vinegar and lime (if using). Stir well so that the sugar dissolves. Place to one side.

3. Next prepare the filling. Place a small amount of coconut oil in a pan and cook the prawns on a medium low heat for 3 minutes, turning and stirring as you do so. Once they have become pinker in colour, transfer them to a plate.

4. Heat a large non-stick skillet or frying pan and when it is hot add 1 tsp of coconut oil (or ground nut oil) and then ladle in one spoonful of the pancake mixture. Move it around the pan immediately so that it is completely covered. Lower the heat and let it cook for 3 minutes.

5. Place some beansprouts over one half of the pancake, along with some spring onions and place a lid on the pan for a further 2 minutes.

6. Now remove the lid and place the prawns on top of the beansprouts and spring onions. Cook for one more minute checking to see that the underside of the pancake is beginning to bronze slightly and crisp up. Place some fresh coriander, mint, Thai basil on top of the prawns and then fold one half of the pancake over the other. Leave to cook for 20 more seconds and then place on a serving plate with more fresh herbs and some lettuce cups.

To Serve:

Serve immediately when it is hot. Cut a bite sized portion off the pancake and place on a lettuce leaf. Add a few more herbs and then roll so that you can pick it up and dip it into the nuoc cham dipping sauce.

The video below shows you how to eat it.


Tomato and Garlic Red Lentil Dal

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This recipe is for all of you lovely people out there who claim you don’t have time to cook. It is super quick, satisfying and great for cold winter nights. It literally takes no longer than 15 minutes to cook from beginning to end. To be fair it is very similar to this dal of mine although it differs in that it has a tin of tomatoes in it, loads of fresh whole garlic (great for ridding those horrible colds and coughs we pick up in winter), and a sprinkling of cumin powder.

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I had a bunch of friends over for lunch the other day and as well as cooking some tasty winter salads had a huge pot of this on the stove. It seemed to go down a treat as there was very little left over once they had gone, another sign that it’s worth giving it a go.

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I like to add a splash of lemon juice liberally at the end, but it’s up to you. Like with all dals they can be made more soupy or firmer depending on personal choice. For this dal I like to make it more soupy so that I can spoon it out of a bowl. If you are cooking it with rice and another dish then maybe you want to add less water. I never really measure the water that goes into it. I always go on how it looks, so my advice is to put in enough water so that it covers the dal by half an inch and then keep adding more boiling water once  the water has soaked up. It’s a winner and so simple. Give it a go and leave me a comment below.

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Tomato and Garlic Red Lentil Dal

Serves 4-6 (4 as a main 6 as a side dish)

300g red split lentil

water, enough to cover the red lentil

1 tbsp groundnut oil

5 (or more) garlic cloves, gently crushed but kept whole

1 tsp panch phoron

1 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp salt (to taste)

400g tin of tomatoes

1 lemon, quartered – optional to serve

1. In a deep pan place the red lentils and cover with cold water. Gently wash the lentils using your hand and pour out the murky water. Repeat three times.

2. Add boiling water to the red lentils and cover so that all the lentils are submerged by 1/2 inch. You can add more boiling water once this has soaked up if need be. Boil on a gently heat, skimming off any white residue that comes to the surface. Stir at intervals so that all the lentils cook through and turn from orange to a more yellow colour. Add more boiling water if you prefer it to have a more soupy consistency.

3. In a separate pan heat up the oil and then add the panch phoron. Once they start sizzling add the garlic and move around the pan. After a minute add the turmeric and cumin powder. Keep on a low heat, making sure the garlic and spices do not burn.

4. Add a spoonful of the now yellow lentils to the panch phoron and stir into the spices. Pour the contents of this pan into the pan with lentils and stir in thoroughly. Add a little water to the saucepan to make sure the spices pan is now clear of spices.

5. Add salt to taste and the tin of tomatoes and cook on a low heat for 5 minutes, or until the garlic has softened.

Voila. That simple. Enjoy.


Chicken and Egg Kathi Roll – a Kolkata speciality

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Snow is forecast for London this week and our boiler has decided that this is the week to completely pack up on us *weeps*. Whilst we wait for a new one to be found and fitted, a small fan heater keeps me from freezing in the study. To keep mood and spirits up I have decided that comfort food is what is needed. Step forward ‘chicken and egg kati rolls’.

They are the perfect lunch time (or anytime come to thing of it) snack to perk you up and give you a feeling of happy blissful contentment.

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My husband is originally from Kolkata and these rolls, or wraps if you will, are very popular in the city. They are a cross between a Mexican burrito and a Lebanese chicken shawarma. In short, they are ridiculously delicious and one is never enough. Take a look at the locals in action on this little YouTube clip below.

I have seen some have a little egg omelette inside as well as the chicken, but I find the way that I prepare them below (and also in the video clip) works efficiently and quickly and allows you to wrap the Kathi roll more easily.

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 To save time you can buy your chapatis (or you could use paratha) but I find that making your own is pretty quick and easy and whilst not as circular as the store bought ones are equally delicious. I use a tawa, which is a flat disc like frying pan, which I picked up at my local Indian store, but if you do not have one a regular frying pan will work equally well.

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There are three steps to making these rolls – 1) the chicken filling, which can be made in advance, 2) the chapatis with the egg coating on one side, 3) the coriander and mint chutney, which can also be made in advance.

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They are best eaten straight away when they are hot. You can make a number of the chapatis with the egg topping and place them in a low warm oven to keep warm, whilst you prepare the rest or you can serve them as and when you prepare the chapatis.

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 My coriander and mint chutney is great with any of my curries and can be stored in the fridge for a week. I like to pop a couple of teaspoonfuls in my kathi roll to give it that extra kick. With a squeeze of lime on top then you have yourself a truly delicious treat.

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Coriander and Mint Chutney

1 handful of fresh coriander, washed and chopped

1 handful of fresh mint, washed and chopped

1 (or 2 if you prefer it hotter) small green chilli, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 tbsp fresh ginger roughly chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp sugar

salt to taste

1-2 tbsp lemon juice

  1. Place all the ingredients into a small blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Taste and add more salt/sugar as necessary.
  2. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use.

 

******

Indian Chapatis with an egg coating

 Makes around 6-8 depending on the size of your chapatis

 200g chapatti (wholemeal) flour

 1 tsp sea salt

 2 tbsp sunflower oil

 125ml warm water

3 eggs, whisked

  1. In a large bowl place the flour, salt and oil and rub together with your fingertips. Gradually add the water so that a dough forms and all the flour is gathered up into one large dough ball.
  2. Place the dough ball on a floured surface and kneed for around 8 minutes so that the dough is soft and springs back when you poke it with your finger.
  3. Cover the dough with cling film and leave to rest for 20 minutes.
  4. Kneed once again for a couple of minutes, before breaking the dough up into smaller dough balls the size of large ping pong balls.
  5. Roll out the small dough ball so that it is circular and thin.
  6. Heat your frying pan or tawa on a medium heat and when it is hot add the chapati (do not add any oil). When you begin to see the chapati form bubbles, after about 30 seconds, you can have a look underneath to see if it is beginning to lightly bronze in places. If it is turn over carefully and using a folded over tea towel press down on the chapati and it will begin to puff up. Press down where the puffing occurs to help the air circulate around the chapati. Do not worry if yours does not puff up every time, it will still taste good.
  7. Gently pour a little of the whisked egg mix onto the side of the chapati that has bronzed slightly and using the back of a spoon swirl it around the whole of the chapati and  then carefully turn it over so that the egg cooks onto the chapati.
  8. Place the chapati onto a warm plate and keep in a low heated oven whilst you prepare the rest of the chapatis.

******

Spiced Tomato Chicken filling

2 tsp vegetable/sunflower oil

1 small red onion, finely chopped

1/2 tsp salt

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp ginger paste

1 tsp garlic paste

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp coriander powder

1/2 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp chat masala

1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

300g boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces

1/4 tsp garam masala

To serve

1 red onion, finely sliced

2 limes, quartered

2 tsp coriander and mint chutney (see recipe above)

1. In a pan heat the oil and add the onion and salt and allow the onion to soften for around 5 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and ginger and stir with the onion so that it does not burn.

3. Add all the spices, aside for the garam masala and mix well with the onion, garlic and ginger.

4. Add the chopped tomato and allow to soften for another 5 minutes.

5. Add the chicken and stir into the other ingredients. Place a lid on the pan and allow to cook, stirring at intervals for 15 minutes.

6. Remove the lid and cook for a further 5 minutes so that all the sauce is absorbed and the dish looks dry.

7. Before turning off the heat add the garam masala and stir. Taste and season with more salt if necessary.

My fan heater now seems to have broken. I seem to be jinxed. Right I am off to fill up my hot water bottle – something I can usually rely on.


Vietnamese Chicken Herb Salad

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When time allows I enjoy getting my weekly fruit and veg from my local market. Thankfully I live a short hop, skip and jump away from a seriously good one in West London, where the stalls are bursting with colourful produce and the stallholders have an infectious energy and enthusiasm for their produce. Bowls of fruit and veg go for £1 and when you buy herbs it’s two large bunches for a £1 – to ask for one just won’t do – so I invariably  end up with rather a huge amount of coriander, mint, parsley and dill.

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Dill, mint and coriander remind me of fond times in Vietnam – the food is so fragrant, largely due to mint and dill being in so many dishes, Cha Ca La Vong being a perfect example – you can see the recipe here. As I ended up with two huge bundles of cos lettuce, I decided to create a Vietnamese inspired chicken salad for our Saturday lunch. Something that could be thrown together quickly and that would appeal to the whole family.

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It was a success and we polished it all off in one sitting. Since then I have cooked it again (I still have lots of herbs to get through) and photographed it for you so that you too can prepare it at home. The dressing I use for the salad is the typical Vietnamese dressing of nuoc cham, which adds zing and sweetness, the perfect combo.

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Vietnamese Chicken Herbed Salad

Serves 4

450g chicken breasts

1 tbsp olive oil

black pepper

large cos/romaine lettuce, 6 leaves

handful of fresh coriander

handful of fresh mint leaves

handful of fresh dill

1 red chilli, finely sliced

2 spring onions, cut on the diagonal

**********

Nuoc Cham Sauce

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 lime, juice only

1 garlic, finely chopped

3 tbsp water

1.5 tbsp white sugar

1. Cover the chicken breasts in the olive oil and season with a little black pepper. Meanwhile heat a griddle/cast iron pan and when it is hot place the breasts into the pan and bronze on each side for just under 2 minutes a side. Place on a baking tray in a preheated oven 180 degrees for 20 minutes.

2. Break off the lettuce leaves and cut into mouth size chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the dill, mint and coriander leaves along with the finely sliced red onion, spring onions. If serving to children as well slice the red chilli and place in a separate side dish. Mix together gently using your hands.

3. Prepare the nuoc cham sauce by mixing all the ingredients together. If it needs to be a little sweeter add some more sugar, if you prefer it more sour add more lime.

4. Pour half the dressing over the salad and gently toss. Pour the remaining dressing in a small jug so that you can add more dressing over the individual salad portions as needed.


Roasted Butternut Squash and Beetroot with Pistachio Pesto, Feta and Pomegranate Seeds from Persiana

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It was love at first sight. The vibrant butternut squash (the beetroot is my own addition) with dollops of pistachio pesto infused with fresh dill, coriander and parsley, crumbled feta and bejewelled pomegranate seeds. Simple and yet so very right. I did not even need to try it to know that I would love it and include it in my culinary repertoire from that day forth.

 

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It was served to me by the very likeable Sabrina Ghayour earlier this year at her hugely popular supper club that takes place in her west London residence. Twelve or so hungry diners feasted on a number of mouth watering Persian dishes that were lovingly prepared by Sabrina herself.  Her recipes and ingredients sing to me and I can honestly say that I actually want to cook and eat a large number of them. Dried lime, lamb and split pea stew or saffron chicken, fennel and barberry stew or bamia – bring it on.

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The recipes will really come into their own in the autumn and winter time as there is even a section dedicated  to ‘soups, stews and tanginess’, perfect to serve up and nourish the soul on cold, blistery autumnal days. That said, there are also sections on ‘salads and vegetables’,  ‘roasts and grills’, ‘mezze and sharing plates’, ‘breads and grains’ and finally ‘desserts and sweet treats’ so something for everyone no matter what hemisphere you are living in. The recipes are easy to follow and beautifully photographed. I also particularly love the cover which is not only eye catching with it’s title that rolls off the tongue, but it also has a very tactile cover.  As you pass your hand over it gives the impression that spices and rose petals have really been imbedded into it’s very cover.  Such a clever and original idea.

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This recipe you can eat as is, or accompany it with another in her book. I thought the ‘tray-baked rose lamb chops with chilli and herbs’ (above) would be a particularly delicious combination. If you want to learn more about Persian food and feel comfortable cooking it for yourself then I cannot recommend the book more highly. Sabrina’s chatty, informative and unpretentious style will connect with it’s readers and guide them through the very exciting world of food from Persia.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Beetroot with Pistachio Pesto, Feta and Pomegranate Seeds

adapted slightly from Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour

Serves 4 

1 butternut squash, halved and then chopped into about 6 large pieces (skin left on)

4 beetroot, gently cleaned (be careful not to damage the skin) kept whole and stems left intact

4 tbsp olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

150g feta cheese

100g pomegranate seeds

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for the pesto

100g shelled pistachio nuts

70g parmesan chopped into rough chunks

olive oil

1 handful of fresh coriander

1 handful of fresh dill

1 handful of fresh parsley

2 tbsp chilli oil

juice of 1 lemon

sea salt

1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees if using fan oven or 200 degrees if not/gas mark 6.  Place the chopped butternut squash and intact beetroot on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and cover the vegetables in olive oil, pepper and salt. Place in the oven for 50 minutes so the edges of the butternut squash begin to char.

2. Meanwhile to prepare the pesto, place the pistachio, parmesan chunks and a glug of olive oil into a food processor and mix together. If it remains quite thick in texture add some more olive oil to soften it.

3. Add all the herbs, chilli oil and lemon juice and blitz together with a sprinkling of sea salt. Taste to make sure the flavour is well balanced. Leave in the refrigerator until ready to use.

4. To serve, place the roasted butternut squash and beetroot (now cut in two) on a serving platter. Place dollops of the pesto on each vegetable portion, crumble the feta on each portion and around the  platter. Finish by scattering the pomegranate on top.

Voila you have the most pleasing of meals to dive into.