A Couple of Simple and Yet Tasty Lunch Ideas

Hi everyone. How are you all doing? The days seem to be flying by don’t you think? Have you managed to get yourself into a rhythm that suits you and your lifestyle?  I’m loving all the cooking and baking that everyone seems to  be doing on instagram. Being stuck inside seems to have unleashed inner domestic culinary gods and goddesses in us all; it is wonderful to see. It seems everyone is baking banana bread and making their own hummus – I can almost smell it when I step outside on my daily exercise.

Meal times have always been a special time for my family to get together, update each other on each others days and news and during this period of uncertainty they have become even more sacred. We take it in turn to cook as it’s a good way to relax and focus the mind and we try and come up with interesting things to cook, to keep the diet varied and interesting. I thought it might be helpful to share a couple of lunch, or indeed supper ideas, that we have eaten recently that were super simple, require few ingredients and take 15 mins max to cook.

First up is my spaghetti alla puttanesca – also known as prostitutes pasta – as it can be made quickly, in between other obligations, hence the prostitute allusion! My version is similar to the Neapolitan in that omits anchovies as I think it makes the dish just too salty. I also add spinach because I LOVE spinach and you can add fresh chillies or chilli flakes but I have omitted these this time round.

The main ingredients are tomatoes, garlic, black olives and capers and together they work so well with the spaghetti. You can use linguine too, whichever you have to hand.

 

Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca

serves 4-6

Spaghetti/linguine (enough for 4-6 or however many you are feeding)
2 tbsp olive oil
8 medium tomatoes, quartered
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 large tbsp of stones black olives, halved

1 tbsp capers
salt
pepper
3 large handfuls of fresh spinach
1 cup pasta water

1. Fill a large pan with boiling salted water and add the spaghetti/linguine.

2. Heat a large wide pan with olive oil then add the tomatoes ūüćÖ followed by the garlic. Stir

3. Add the olives and capers. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for a few minutes to allow everything to soften and meld together.

4. Check to see the spaghetti is cooked and when it is to your liking add it to the sauce, mix well with tongs and then add the spinach.

5. Add a cup of the pasta water to loosen and continue to fold in together. Simmer for a couple of minutes.

6. Serve immediately.

It’s deliciously sweet from the tomatoes and salty from the olives and capers and I love the taste of spinach and garlic binding it all together.

The other easy meal is “cauliflower fritters”. I was inspired by Sami Tamimi (Yotam Ottolegnhi’s business partner) who made them on his instagram feed. If you are on instagram have a look at him cooking them on his feed – you can find him @sami_tamimi.  I made a few changes in that I added a heaped tsp of curry powder and some black urfa chilli from my favourite spice provider in the US Burlap & Barrel. If you live stateside I highly recommend you ordering some of their spices. They are incredible. I always try and pick some up when I am in the US or have friends bring some over. I also only used plain flour, but you can use chickpea/bread flour or whatever you have to hand.

I also decided they would go really well with a simple tomato, fresh coriander, black olive and feta salad on the side, instead of his suggestion of a yoghurt raita or tahini dip, but it’s totally up to you.

Spiced Cauliflower Fritters

serves 4 (makes around 11 large fritters)

1 cauliflower, chopped into even size piece and the green leaves washed

 2cups/ 300g flour or enough to form a batter (you may need to add a little more so adjust as need be)

3 eggs

water – a little to loosen the batter

1 white onion, finely diced

1 large handful of fresh parsley, finely sliced

1/4 tsp cinnamon powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp cumin powder

1 heaped tsp of curry powder

1-2 tsp chilli flakes (black Urfa chilli, Allepo chilli flakes, red pepper flakes)

1 heaped tsp salt

pepper

 

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Tomato salad

8 tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 tbsp black olives, stone removed and halved

handful of fresh coriander (or parsley) chopped

1 tbsp feta, broken up

 

  1. First boil a large pan of water and then add the cauliflower, including the green stalks, which you keep at full length at this stage.
  2. Meanwhile mix the flour with the eggs, water, spices, parsley, salt, pepper and white onion.
  3. When the cauliflower has completely softened – around 6-8 mins, drain and remove the green stalks.
  4. First thinly slice the green stalks and add them to the batter.
  5. Using a knife or potato masher, roughly break up the cauliflower so that it is broken down but not like mashed potato.
  6. Turn it out into the batter and mix together.
  7. Heat a large pan with a little vegetable or sunflower oil – you want to shallow fry  NOT deep fry.
  8. Using a large spoon turn out some of the cauliflower batter into the pan and flatten with the back of the spoon. Fill up the pan – I find three work well as you don’t want to over crowd the pan. Leave the fritters to bind together and bronze. If you touch them too early they will break apart.
  9. Leave to bronze on both side. This will take around 3-4 minutes per side. If it is not bronzed sufficiently leave for a little longer.
  10. Once both sides have bronzed, turn out to a plate with some kitchen roll and keep in a warm oven whilst you continue with the others.
  11. Prepare the tomato salad whilst the fritters are bronzing and place in a bowl ready to serve.
  12. Once all the fritters are ready serve and eat whilst still hot.

 


Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Lemons – one of my favourite dishes to feed a crowd

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Cooking for 6+ guests always requires a bit of thought and forward planning. You typically want something that is relatively fuss free, that you can pop in the oven and leave to cook. I have a very open planned kitchen so if I am prepping veg, talking and raising a glass at the same time it can become a little overwhelming. I prefer to plan ahead and then enjoy my guests company once they arrive without being frantic in the kitchen.

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Moroccan food is a great people pleaser and tasty all year round. It’s spices are delicate, fragrant but not hot spicy; think along the lines of cumin, coriander, turmeric, black pepper, saffron and paprika. They are perfect gently marinaded and cooked with some tender chicken thighs or even some lamb. Olives and preserved lemons are synonymous with Moroccan cuisine and are key for this recipe. I need to do a post on preserved lemons so those of you who live in places where preserved lemons are hard to source you can make your own and store them.

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The marinading can be overnight or in the fridge or for an hour or so if you are working to a tight deadline.¬†The part that takes the longest is browning off the chicken thighs. You want to leave them for about 5 minutes each side so that both sides are nicely bronzed. Then you place them to one side on kitchen paper whilst you prepare and cook the onions. I cook my chicken thighs in batches as¬†I don’t want to overcrowd the pan.

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You can cook the whole dish on the stove, however I often find it is easier to place in a preheated oven for around 30 minutes so that the chicken thighs are sufficiently cooked and moist and all the flavours have blended together to create the most delicious of dishes.

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I tend to serve with spiced rice or couscous with pomegranates, slithered almonds or pistachio nuts and fresh coriander or parsley. It is always best to cook more than you need as seconds is pretty much guaranteed or¬†if you feeding a reserved bunch then at least you have lots of lovely leftovers for another day. It’s a win win.

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Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Lemons

Serves 6-8

2.7kg chicken thighs, skin removed

2 heaped tbsp garlic paste

2 tsp paprika

2 tsp of ground cumin

1 tsp of freshly ground black pepper

4 tbsp of olive oil

3 medium sized white onion, finely chopped

1 tsp of saffron threads

1 tsp of ground turmeric

370g green olives, stonned

1 fresh lemon

6 preserved lemons, quartered

1.  Remove excess skin from the chicken and place in a large mixing bowl.

2. Add the garlic paste, paprika (I love using this one), cumin, black pepper and half the olive oil. Smother the chicken completely with the paste and leave covered in the fridge for a few hours, or even overnight if you are being organised.

3. Heat the remaining oil in a casserole dish or shallow pan. Add the pieces of chicken so that they are golden on both sides – this may need to be done in stages. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on a plate with kitchen roll so as to soak up the oil.

4. Add the chopped onion to the oil, add more oil if you feel it is necessary. When the onion is golden, add the saffron, turmeric and olives and let it simmer for a few minutes.

5. Pour the juice of the fresh lemon over the pan along with 200ml/7 fl oz of cold water. Add the preserved lemons at this stage. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and let it simmer. If you find there is too much liquid then increase the heat again to reduce the liquid.

6. Preheat an oven to 180 degrees centigrade.

7. In a couple of ovenproof dishes spread out the chicken and pour over the onion, olive, preserved lemon and juice equally. Place in the oven for 30 minutes, by which time the chicken will be sufficiently cooked and ready to serve.

8. Serve with either couscous, pomegranates, almond slithers and fresh coriander or cinnamon rice with brown lentils – both work equally well.

You can cook the chicken ahead of time and then simply heat up gently in the oven for 10-15 minutes (add a little extra water to keep it juicy) then serve.


Watermelon, Feta, Black Olive, Mint and Lime Salad – a knockout combination

OK, I take it all back. The weather gods have clearly been reading my blog so much so they have decided to let it shine big time. Ever since I wrote my blog about ‘Raoul’s Eggs Rock‘ and that it is incessantly raining, the sun has come out to the extent that it’s been a scorcher ever since. A few days ago London was hotter than the Caribbean, which is wonderful really wonderful, aside from the fact that England is not really set up for extreme conditions – hot or cold. Its been so humid I keep having to go down to our cellar to get some cool air. Even the paddling pool water has heated up to bath water temperature. I don’t know about you but when it is really hot and humid I really like eating mountains of fresh fruit. A huge bowl of sweet melon, mango, strawberries, raspberries and fresh mint always goes down a treat.

This inspired me to share one of my absolute favourite salads with you. I have been cooking it for years and then discovered that the ubiquitous kitchen goddess – Nigella – has a similar recipe. It combines fresh, cleansing watermelon with the salty robust feta cheese. The flavours combined are perfectly balanced, although I know its hard to believe. Then with lime juice, black olives, fresh mint and a splash of olive oil you have a heavenly dish.

Its simple to create, truly delicious and very memorable. Perfect for a light lunch or for an evening dinner served alongside some grilled chicken. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Watermelon, Feta, Black Olive, Mint and Lime Salad

Serves 4

 1 mini watermelon (circa 2kg in weight), cubed

200g/8oz feta cheese, cubed

100/4oz black pitted olives

2 limes, squeezed

2 tbsp of olive oil

1 handful of fresh mint, torn into small pieces

1. Cut the watermelon into bite sized cubes and place in a bowl. Try not to handle it too much as it will begin to break and become more juice than melon.

2. Similarly cut the feta cheese into slightly smaller cubes than the watermelon. Place into the same bowl as the watermelon along with the black olives.

3. Squeeze the juice of two limes over the ingredients as well as 2 tbsp of olive oil. Using your hands mix into the ingredients gently.

4. Tear some fresh mint over the salad and serve.