Red Camargue Rice Salad

The days of summer are subtly shortening way too quickly, there is a little nip in the air and the sky is clearly beautifully blue. I do relish the prospect of autumn, it's one of my favourite times of year and there is some lovely produce around too. Still too warm for most dishes and frankly, making a stew now would be utterly depressing as winter looms. Salads are wonderful, versatile bowls of happiness. Ever present on our table, I am always looking for new and interesting combinations, especially for grain or pulse based salads. They often need a lot more seasoning as they tend to soak up every bit of dressing and also change once refrigerated. This is a little cracker of a salad, intensely flavoured and sooo moreish. It is inspired by a puttanesca sauce and uses lots of rich ingredients. The dressing can be adapted to your taste and if you're feeling bold, add some marinated anchovies.


1 cup red camargue rice
half a small red onion
250g or punnet cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
1 tbsp capers
5-8 black olives
small bunch flat leafed parsley
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
juice of half a lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper

Bring rice to the boil in two cups of water and a pinch of salt, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, the rice should be cooked with a slight bite not mushy. Rinse well in cold water, drain and set aside.  Chop onion and quarter the tomatoes, put into a bowl with the drained rice. Remove the pips from the olives and cut flesh into quarters, add to the mix. Rinse capers if they have been stored in brine or salt and chop roughly, add them together with the garlic and chopped flat leaf parsley into the bowl. Dress with vinegar, lemon juice and a good few glugs of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Mix all together very well without crushing the tomatoes. I always find fingers work best.


Blackberry and Almond Cake

It's the time of year for picking blackberries, the hedgerows are full to bursting with these sweet and sour black jewels. Plump and piquant they are perfect in cakes, crumbles, preserves, jams and really just for stuffing into your mouth at any time. I often get home with a paltry few to spare, their moreishness too irresistible. This cake is fool proof, super easy to whip up and can be made with any fruit, try raspberries or blueberries or combine them all into a berry bomb. The more fresh fruit you use the longer it will need in the oven to bake through to the centre due to the excess water. If you would like a slightly drier sponge, flash the fruit in a pan with some sugar before gilding the cake. This is a dense almond sponge with just the right amount of sweetness offset by the tartness of the fruit. It makes a great tea time treat and keeps well for a few days. It can be served warm as more of pudding or allow to cool completely for full cake effect, serve plain, with yoghurt or cream. 


150g butter, softened
125g castor sugar
150g blackberries
2 large organic eggs
1 tsp baking powder
75g flour
75g ground almonds
2 tbsp flaked almonds

Preheat over to 170 degrees, grease and line the base of a 20cm tin. Cream butter and sugar well with a hand beater or wooden spoon until light and fluffy. Add a tablespoon of the flour and beat into the mixture to stop it from separating. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in well. Lastly fold in flour, baking powder and ground almonds. Scoop out mixture into the tin and spread gently to the edges. Litter the top with blackberries and flaked almonds. Bake for 45-50 minutes until a knife comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin. 


Hummus Perfection

A mind blowing visit to the Holy Land a couple of months ago has left me with an obsession with hummus.... this is not hard as hummus is actually a religion amongst many there. There are tiny shops dotted around called Hummusaria where the freshest, smoothest, creamiest hummus can be ordered with a variety of toppings. The most significant thing is that the hummus is served as a large portion for one person. You have a whole bowl to yourself! None of this measly pot of shop bought hummus to share. Oh no! A large bowl first thing in the morning for breakfast, served with a raw onion (bit early for us), chilli vinegar, paprika and soft soft pita bread... a revelation! Since returning to London I now make an enormous plate of hummus and we eat it warm and fresh from the pot... we cannot get enough of this heavenly stuff. I used to make hummus with lots of olive oil and lemon, which is great but it has always been illusively unsmooth and creamy. I also enjoyed flavouring it with cumin, roasted red pepper, coriander etc. but it is officially the ultimate when very plain made with tahini, lemon and a little za'atar or sumac sprinkled on top. Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice mix made from a combination of dried herbs, sesame seeds, sumac and salt. It can be bought or easily home made. 

Now we come to the question of the chickpeas. Hummus is made from these humble versatile little legumes, the earliest cultivated. They remain a staple of the Middle East and now populate tables across the globe. I grew up on them, not least having a Jewish background but because my mum loves a chickpea like no other. The question about chickpeas and hummus is... to peel or not to peel? Chickpeas have tough skins that are usually the cause of textured hummus, you can boil them for hours and still they will not soften adequately. Even tinned chickpeas do not give the desired consistency. I have tried peeling them at different stages in the cooking process and still couldn't get it right. In Israel they definitely didn't spend hours wasted on peeling tiny legumes. Theirs were plump and completely soft. I finally found the secret to heavenly hummus thanks to the brilliant Ottolenghi, it is the addition of bicarbonate of soda to the cooking process. This is an old traditional technique that helps to break down the pectin molecules in the skins and this in turn makes smooth creamy hummus possible. It's important to soak the chickpeas in plenty of water for up to 24 hours before cooking them too. The most amazing thing is that depending on the freshness of the dried chickpeas you can cook them for as little as 20 minutes! They need to be soft but not mushy, easily overdone so keep a beady eye on them. This is hummus perfection, well as close as it gets. Nothing beats the Hummusaria!


1 cup dried chickpeas
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
juice of 1-2 lemons
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 quarter to half a cup tahini
ice cold water
1 tsp salt

Soak chickpeas in plenty of cold water for 12-24 hours, rinse and drain. Heat a pot up and when hot place the chickpeas in with the bicarb, stir continuously for a few minutes. The pot will become quite dry. Cover with 3-4 times the amount of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Drain and allow to cool slightly. Put chickpeas into a food processor and blend until you have a stiff paste. Add garlic, salt and lemon juice and blend well together. While the machine is still running add the tahini, this will make the mixture stiffen up again. Drizzle in a a few tablespoons of ice cold water, this will loosen the mixture and create creamy magic. To make it looser add a bit more water. Blend for 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cover with cling film, allow it to rest for 30 minutes or so and then drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with sumac, paprika or za'atar. Eat it fresh and slightly warm. If you have refrigerated it, allow it to come up to room temperature before serving or eating.


Super Fiery Slaw

Coleslaw... mmm... it's either love or hate... I am in love! Over the last few months I have been on a mission to emulate a coleslaw that I ate in a tiny American style eatery... tried a variety of different dressings, some of which worked but none had the wow factor. I was out looking for a new book to read and came across the recipe book for Pitt Cu & Co., the very place whose slaw I was so enthralled by! Happy heart indeed! Took some mental notes and vowed to make it immediately. By the time I got home, much was forgotten in memory and shopping except for a few ingredients, definitely got the gist of it anyhow! This recipe is for a magical, scrumptious, serious coleslaw. I have chosen to use red cabbage only and have used much less mayonnaise than I remember being called for. I don't enjoy anything drowning in the stuff as it can be truly overpowering, but it does help to tone down the chilli. This is a sensational side dish and can be eaten immediately or over a couple of days. It is definitely more Asian than American and seems slightly counter intuitive but the flavours work incredibly together. Makes a great side for a summer bbq, perfect with everything else too.

Recipe (adapted from Pitt Cu & Co.)

1 medium red cabbage
1 tbsp crushed garlic
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp soya sauce
1 medium green chilli
zest and juice of one lime
small bunch coriander

Cut the cabbage in half, remove the hard white piece of stem at the bottom and finely slice the cabbage evenly, starting at the top. Place cabbage into a large mixing bowl. Char grill the chilli over an open flame or in a very hot pan. To make the dressing mix together garlic, ginger, sugar, zest and juice of the lime. Add the chilli and blitz it all together, alternatively hand chop the chilli as finely as possible. Add the soya sauce and mayonnaise. You should have a thickish dressing that is really very fiery. Pour over the cabbage and toss together until thoroughly coated. Lastly add in some chopped coriander.


Broad Bean and Lentil Salad

After an awfully long time with no computer courtesy of some ruddy thieves, I am finally managing to publish a post! Thank you all for bearing with me and continuing to read and reference oh so buttery, hope to make up for some seriously lost time! So much to share about travelling and culinary discoveries, I feel I've had a whole lifetime since I last wrote. First, something super easy and delicious...

Summer has finally arrived and London is sweltering, basking in thirty degree heat with no clouds in sight. Almost can't believe it, truly spectacular... picnics at every opportunity!
With this glorious weather comes the most beautiful produce, grown here in abundance. Broad beans are just such a lovely variety of the beans out there. Fat and succulent emerald jewels resting in large puffy pods. They are incredibly versatile, can be added to pastas, salads, made into purees, the list goes on. Here is a salad I make frequently in which any ingredient can be substituted depending on seasonal availability. The basics are always brown lentils, onion of some kind, coriander, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Recently I discovered the joys of adding dried cranberries and radishes. In this version I've used fiery radish sprouts, use regular salad radishes if you can't get your hands on these little babes. Make a large bowl and allow to develop in the fridge for a few hours before eating. It keeps well and gets more delicious over time.


100g brown lentils
60g quinoa, plain or mixed colours
3 spring onions, finely sliced
handful radish sprouts or 6/7 salad radishes quartered
handful dried cranberries or sour cherries or a bit of both
good bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
100g fresh broad beans, podded
juice of 1-2 lemons
lots of olive oil
salt and pepper
small red chilli, finely chopped

Boil lentils and quinoa in plenty of water separately until tender but not mushy, drain and rinse in plenty of cold water. Boil broad beans for about 5 minutes and then plunge into cold water to stop them cooking any further. Remove the skins as these are usually very tough, just tear the skin and pop the bean out. Put all the ingredients into a big bowl and mix together thoroughly, season with salt, pepper and add as much lemon juice and olive oil to suit your taste. The salad should be glossy and have a good balance of flavors. Add more of any ingredient if you feel there isn't enough. 


Hot and Sour Quinoa Soup

Spring should have sprung but the winter weather is just not abating.... it has been truly grim. The shelves are still providing us with various types of cabbage, potatoes and produce flying in from afar. If you are the type of cook who chooses seasonality over variety it has been a very long season indeed! Hot soups and stews are still very much on the menu and I am just longing to eat salads and drink rose in our tiny garden.... alas we must be patient and wait a littler longer.

This soup is a beautiful combination of crunchy vegetables, nutty quinoa and a fragrant hot and sour broth. A version of it was made for me by a friend a few years ago and since then it has featured regularly. I cant actually remember the recipe she used so this recipe is one I have adapted over time. It is so easy to make and is great when the fridge is looking a tad bare and you have the odd carrot and leek lolling about. Quinoa is one of my favourite grains and I cook it far too rarely, this soup brings out its delicious flavour and adds wonderful texture. It is a complete meal in a bowl and lovely with some whole grain bread or crispy crackers. I am ridiculously addicted to Finn Crisp, thin rye crisp breads that I could eat with everything. You can also add a final gilding of yoghurt and coriander when serving. 


1 large carrot
1 medium green leek
an inch of fresh ginger
1 red chilli, sliced
half a tsp fennel seeds
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 Lt vegetable or chicken stock
juice of a lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
60g quinoa
olive oil
salt and pepper

Prepare quinoa: two parts water to one part quinoa, bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until tender. In the meantime julienne the carrots and thinly slice the ginger into tiny match sticks. In a heavy saucepan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil and add the fennel seeds, allow to sizzle. Add chilli, ginger and garlic, fry for a couple of minutes until garlic is just turning golden. Add carrots and warm through. Add tomatoes, stock and lemon juice. Bring to the boil and reduce heat, simmer for 5 minutes. Add finely sliced leeks and quinoa, again bring to the boil and then allow to simmer for a further 10-15 minutes. Keep the cooking time quite short to help the vegetables retain some crunch. Season with salt and pepper and add a teaspoon of sugar if the broth is too tart. There should be a lovely balance between the hotness from the chilli and the sourness of the lemon, adapt to suit your taste.


Bakewell Tart

Living on this grey and green isle has exposed me to the most incredible array of things, not least of which has been to the humble Bakewell tart. It is a traditional English confection which is completely delicious and comes in the form of a rich tart or pudding made from pastry, jam and an eggy almond filling. I love the simplicity of this tart and the satisfaction it delivers is well worth making pastry for. Strawberry jam can be used but this recipe uses raspberry jam for tartness and also calls for lemon zest to lift the richness of the frangipane filling. There are varying recipes, with fillings that are more sponge like and others that are custardy. This once is a luscious affair. It keeps really well for a few days and makes the best tea time treat. It's hard not to smile....

Recipe (Olive Magazine)

125g plain flour
75g unsalted butter
25g castor sugar
1 egg yolk
2-3 tbsp cold water

Put all the dry ingredients in a food processor and blitz until the mix resembles fine bread crumbs. Add the egg yolk and a tablespoon of water, pulse again and add more water if necessary until the dough just comes together. Don't over process it, as this will result in tough pastry. Knead lightly and press down into a thick disc. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Once chilled, roll out to about 5mm thick and line a 20cm flan tin. Return to the fridge for a further 30 minutes before baking.

150g butter, softened
150g castor sugar
150g ground almonds
3 eggs and 1 egg yolk, beaten
zest of a lemon
2-3 tbsp raspberry jam
1 tbsp flaked almonds

Preheat oven to 190C. Line the pastry case with baking paper and fill with baking beans or dried beans. Bake blind for 15-20 minutes, remove paper and beans, return to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes until the base is cooked through and golden. Remove from the oven and reduce temperature to 180C. To make the filling: cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add egg very gradually to avoid mixture splitting, beating well after each addition. Fold in almonds and lemon zest. Spread jam over the base of the pastry case. If you have a piping bag, fill it with the almond frangipane and pipe the mixture evenly over the jam. Smooth top with a knife. If you don't have a piping bag, cover the jam very carefully with the almond frangipane to avoid the jam from moving towards the sides. Bake for 15-20 minutes and then sprinkle with the flaked almonds. Return to the oven and bake for a further 15-20 minutes until golden and set. Allow to cool before serving.