How to bring a bit of Spain into your life

One of the things I love most about the Spanish food culture is tapas; the way people move from one bar to the next, not just for the drinks or the atmosphere but to share in the different foods on offer at each place.  It sounds so marvelously sociable, decadent and…sensible.  There are so many great places to eat, it seems a shame to limit ourselves to one place for an entire evening. And another bonus of moving from place to place is that if you go somewhere bad, at least you won’t be staying long.  When talking about this tapas tradition with one of the staff at a local Spanish restaurant I was told that Spaniards call it “going for a walk”…sounds so civilized 🙂

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Tapas Taxonomy – from Matt Gouldings book Grape, Olive, Pig

My interest in tapas and Spanish food has intensified recently after reading Matt Gouldings book Grape, Olive, Pig.  It’s the most amazing travel guide for food lovers which has left me aching to experience EVERYTHING that he has experienced!  And it got me thinking; do I really have to wait until I can go to Spain to experience this fabulous food phenomenon?  After all, it’s becoming quite common for bars and restaurants outside of Spain to serve small sharing plates.

After carrying out some research I discovered that there’s actually a fairly long and varied list of places serving small plates around town.  My only criteria was that they must be in walking distance to each other; otherwise the easy movement and spontaneity would be lost.  Once I had my list, I sorted it by locality, noted their opening hours and was nearly ready to begin my food adventure.

However, before getting started on this epic journey I felt that I should seek the advice of one more experienced than I in the art of tapas.  In his book Grape, Olive, Pig Matt Goulding has some “Rules of the Crawl”:

01. Find the balance.  For every crispy croqueta you’ll want a briny clam to keep your palate primed for more.

02. Keep moving.  The point is to work your way from one bar to the next, sampling the best of each.

03. Fill it up.  Tapas culture is as much about drinking as eating.  Not getting drunk, but enjoying good wine, sherry, or your poison of choice.

With these words of wisdom and my well researched list of eateries I felt fully prepared to launch into the realm of good eating; all I needed now…was a friend.

Enter Nadine; my fair foodie friend, more than happy to assist me in this foodie adventure.  Like Matt Goulding, Nadine had two excellent suggestions for our outing:

01. Travel by Bike.  Increases the range of eating options and the speed with which we can reach them.

02. Start Early.  To maximise our eating time.

And I’m happy to report that these five pearls of wisdom saw us through the good times.  See the images below to drool over the food we ate on this glorious tapas marathon (click into them for descriptions of what they are):

As suspected, this turned out to be one of the BEST ways to spend an afternoon…EVER!

Last weekend, buoyed by the success of this outing, I decided that – in the name of research and good eating – it was time to go again.  Enter husband and daughter; two most excellent eaters and food adventurers.  This time we traveled by foot and while it was still good, it didn’t offer the same flexibility as a bike.  The food and enjoyment however, were epic.  For further drooling, see the photos of what we ate below:

So far this experiment has been very successful, and can only improve as we learn from each outing.  It’s interesting (but not surprising) to note that Christchurch bars and restaurants aren’t used to people coming in for just one or two things; it’s expected that once you’re there that you’ll have a full meal.  A few places expressed concern that we would be hungry if we didn’t order more food (even after we explained to them what we were doing); but trust me, they had no need to fear 😉

Key learnings from these first two tapas crawls:

01. Check opening hours.  Some places don’t open until 4-5pm.

02. Get to popular places early.  Christchurch isn’t used to walk-ins or people moving from one place to another so popular places are likely to be full later in the evening.

03. Biking is best.  If you get somewhere and it’s full, it’s no big deal to bike somewhere else…plus you look super cute if you’re on a vintage bike with a basket.

What with the starting advice from Matt, the excellent suggestions from Nadine and my first hand experiences, I feel that this is well on the way to becoming one of my favourite ways to spend a weekend afternoon and I fully intend to keep it up; all in the name of research you understand.  Oh, and good food, good times and adventures.

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The Romance of the Garden Bounty

It seemed like such a good idea at the time…

I’m always super enthusiastic about growing our own fruit and vegetables and when the first crops start coming through it’s very satisfying to be eating them hours or even minutes after they’ve been picked.  But as summer progresses and crops start to come in thick and fast, we suddenly have more courgettes/peaches/apples/rhubarb than we know what to do with; even after giving some away it can become a bit of a burden. This year was no exception and it became time to find some new ways of using the excess.

I found a couple of new courgette recipes this year; one savory and one sweet.  The savory recipe is based on a very simplified version of the Breakfast Fritter recipe in Donna Hay’s book “Life in Balance”.  I wanted a light batter for the fritter and this recipe achieves that by using egg whites and a small amount of rice flour.  It’s actually a great base for adding whatever vegetables that you want to.  On this occasion I added grated courgette and served them with lemon juice, plenty of salt and some Chevre cheese that I had in the fridge.  They’re great eaten fresh from the frying pan while the next one is cooking!

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The sweet courgette recipe is a stand out cake from Julie Le Clerc’s book “Made by Hand”.  It’s a chocolate courgette cake with walnuts, raisins and buckwheat flour.  It bakes to a gorgeously dark colour, uses up HEAPS of courgette and when it’s fresh, it’s crispy on the outside and moist in the middle…the way a good cake should be.  I’ve made this more than once and it’s definitely become a favourite.  I’m a bit lazy when it comes to icing and the great thing is that this cake doesn’t need it.  It’s got a gorgeous, deep, satisfying flavour.  I would like to say that because of this, one slice is enough *cough*; but really…is one slice of cake ever enough?!

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Blackboy peaches were the next big glut that needed dealing to.  Usually I just stew them or put them in crumbles (so good!) but they’re such nice peaches that I felt like I should try and do something more interesting with them for a change.  The first thing I did was make them into a Blackboy Peach and Raspberry Tart using the Peach Tart recipe from “Jane Grigson’s Fruit” book.  This is a great recipe that gives plenty of tips and techniques for preventing soggy pastry (which I’m happy to report that I achieved). The way the fruit is laid out looks absolutely stunning and the flavour is intense and beautifully offset by the cream.  As the icing on the cake, I glazed it with a homemade rhubarb and rose jam – to die for.

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The next peach recipe is by Emma Galloway – Peach, Rosemary and Yoghurt Cake from her book “My Darling Lemon Thyme: Recipes from my Real Food Kitchen”.  I don’t often use the harder herbs like rosemary in sweets so I’m always excited when the opportunity arises.  The batter is a mix of ground almonds and rice flour which gives it a lovely texture and the yoghurt and peaches help retain moisture in the cake.  Really really delicious and the rosemary adds a subtle piney flavour.  I’ve made this cake twice; on the second time around I didn’t put it in the fridge for a day or two – this was a big mistake because it went mouldy.  I was traumatised when I had to put it in the compost! *sob

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I know that looks like ash but it’s actually a mixture of rosemary and icing sugar 🙂

The last thing that I did with the blackboy peaches was to make a dessert from “Martin Bosley Cooks”.  This was also divine and a really straight-forward recipe.  Just crumble up amaretti biscuits and mix the crumbs with egg and brown sugar; spoon over the top of halved peaches and bake in the oven until tender and caramelised…drool.

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They’re topped with creme fraiche and mint

We tend to get a lot of rhubarb and raspberries in the garden as well (hence including the raspberries in my peach tart earlier).  We collect these with the intention of doing something delicious with them and then promptly forget about them/can’t be bothered…lucky compost (but poor us)!  I often put them into a clafoutis or a crumble (when I remember to) and this year I used them to make a Ricotta, Rhubarb and Raspberry Loaf using Annabel Langbein’s Miracle Cake recipe; this is from her book “Endless Summer”.  It’s so rustic looking and gets a gorgeous crispy top.  When my daughter bit into it it made her gasp which I think is a pretty good sign!  This one probably won’t get made as often as the others though because I don’t often have ricotta in the house and I don’t like to make special purchases for baking (is that weird?!).

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I haven’t mentioned the apples yet even though they’re actually our biggest crop. Luckily they’re great eating apples but we do get a lot of wind-fall ones that aren’t so good to eat.  You’d think this would call for copious amounts of apple crumbles but despite the number of desserts I’ve just mentioned, we don’t actually eat them often. We generally find that by the time we finish dinner we don’t have any room left for a heavy pudding. This year I used some to make Earl Grey Tea Jelly from Diana Henry’s book “Salt, Sugar, Smoke”.  I love Earl Grey tea (and I’m a bit of a tea addict in general) so I couldn’t resist this recipe.  It’s quite easy to make and also gave me the opportunity to use my jelly bag and boiling-water canner (small pleasures!).  I haven’t actually used this jelly since I made it but it tasted pretty damn good when I was licking the spoon!  The recipe suggests using it with ice cream or pannacotta (yum!) or with duck or game.  I imagine it would be pretty good on toast as well to be honest!

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And the final recipe from my garden glut is a bit of a cheat because it isn’t actually things from my own garden but just a build up of stuff in the fridge. Somehow we ended up with a huge number of carrots and a cauliflower from the market that had been sadly neglected.  Luckily I had just bought Nicola Galloway’s book “Homegrown Kitchen” which has a recipe for Crunchy Winter Vegetable Pickle using lacto-fermentation as the preserving method.  I love a bit of fermentation so couldn’t resist using said vegetables to make up a batch.  These I have tried since I made them and they’re delicious.  So far all I’ve done is eat them straight out of the jar…I need to up my game; the recipe suggests eating them with eggs or stirring them through rice with some herbs; sounds like excellent advice to me!

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So finally the garden has calmed down for the winter – I just picked our last courgettes yesterday – and the need to frantically use produce has passed.  Of course, next year I will have completely forgotten about the amount of work it takes and will once again romanticise the idea of bottling, preserving, baking and puddings and it’ll start all over again!  But to be honest…I love it really 🙂

(See, I’ve forgotten about the hard work already!).

Deliciously Italian

We’ve been eating quite a lot of Italian food during the last month…this coincided (not coincidentally) with the arrival of Rachel Roddy’s book in my letterbox – “Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome”.  This is such a good book; full of stories from her life and experiences living in Italy.  Details of food markets, local eating places, quirky characters and of course, her own cooking and learning. It makes me CRAVE a trip to Italy (I’m very impressionable) so that I can do all the things that she does!  But in lieu of that, I’m making full use of her book so that I can get that delicious Italian feeling.

The first time I used her book was following a trip to the Mediterranean Food Company -one of my favourite places to shop in Christchurch (just for the ambience if nothing else) – where we bought beautiful Italian wines, salami, cheeses and cured meats for a Saturday afternoon platter.  This was then to be followed by a large pot of Pasta and Potato Soup.

To go on the platter I made a batch of Rachel’s Marinated Olives which is incredibly easy but super delicious.  Olives are mixed with olive oil, shed loads of lemon and orange zest, chilli and herbs and it’s recommended that they’re left to sit for at least 3 hours. However…being slightly greedy and impatient, I put some of the olives and their marinade into a small pot after just a couple of hours and gently heated them to further infuse their flavours.  As an added bonus, they’re absolutely divine served warm.  I also didn’t realise until that moment just how great olives and citrus are together.

Following the platter we had a surprisingly satisfying pot of Pasta and Potato Soup.  It’s an incredibly simple soup to make; just cook up a soffritto (finely diced onion, celery & carrot) with some guanciale (cured pork cheek) then add finely diced potato, pasta and water.  As Rachel says in the introduction to the recipe, it sounds like it’ll be too heavy and slightly boring but it’s neither of those things.  On first tasting, it has a very delicate flavour, but after a few mouthfuls you start to fully appreciate the purity of the flavour coming through  – Rachel describes the soup as “pure-tasting, elemental even…” – I wholly agree with this comment.  I’m very much looking forward to making it again as it’s also quick and easy to prepare.  The perfect meal to follow a platter and to accompany copious amounts of wine.

Potato and Pasta Soup

In the vegetable section of the book is a “Recipe for Lentils”.  I’m a sucker for lentils and so decided to make this the central element of our dinner rather than a side dish.  I had some leftover guanciale from the Potato and Pasta soup so I added this to the lentils (fantastic decision if I do say so myself).  It’s basically lentils cooked with a soffrito which gives them a wonderful deep, savoury flavour.  The recipe suggests serving the lentils with sausages which would be delicious, but I served them with blanched fresh greens from the garden which I quickly fried in some of the fat from the guanciale.

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The first pasta dish I made from this book was selected on the basis that we have lots of courgettes in the garden at this time of year…in future this recipe will be selected because it is sooo so tasty.  The recipe is Linguine with Courgettes, Egg and Parmesan (Linguine con Zucchine) – basically a vegetable version of Carbonara.  To look at the finished dish with its basic ingredients, it’s hard to imagine that it would have flavour to match a more typical carbonara, but looks can be very deceiving!  My husband looked particularly skeptical but on tasting it we were all blown away.  I have found that this is typical of the recipes in this book – a few basic ingredients which deliver a purity of flavour that has me licking my plate (…I know).

Courgette Pasta

Not surprisingly, the next recipe also contains courgettes, although this was a slight adjustment to the recipe on my part.  The recipe is Bucatini with Tomato & Cured Pork Sauce but in this case I substituted courgette spaghetti for the bucatini.  The sauce was absolutely to die for, and I have to admit that it would have been better with traditional pasta rather than courgettes.  It’s another very basic looking recipe (only 5 ingredients) that delivers big flavour – primarily just tomatoes, wine and cured meat cooked until their flavours intensify, seasoned with a healthy dose of pecorino romano (as tends to be the case with a lot of these recipes) and then…scoffed.

The final recipe consists of very slow roasted tomatoes and spaghetti.  This was intensely easy to make and intensely delicious to eat.  Simply put 1kg of small tomatoes in a roasting tray, add a generous amount of olive oil and salt, then roast for about an hour until they are sticky and sitting in a thick sauce made up of their juices and the oil.  Tip cooked spaghetti directly into the roasting tray with a bit of pasta water, mix well and serve.  Too too easy…too too tasty 🙂

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So this is the beginning of my foray into Rachel Roddy’s book “Five Quarters” and I feel that it is the only the start of what I am sure will become a long and meaningful relationship.  In fact, I’m already looking forward to cooking Sweet Pepper and Tomato Stew tomorrow night with the tomatoes I have sitting on the bench from the garden…and while I eat it I will revel in that delicious Italian feeling 🙂

 

Salads that aren’t shit

I’ve been making an effort this summer to make salads that aren’t shit – some would say, a worthy goal. My standard salad has always been:

…tear up some lettuce, add some chopped tomato, cucumber, peppers etc (you get the gist), top with lemon juice, olive oil and salt…

Very boring; very shit.  But some of my cookbooks have AMAZING salad recipes in them.  Yes, they are more time-consuming but they are well worth the effort (and generally provide left-overs – always a bonus).

I bought Gill Meller’s new cookbook “Gather” towards the end of last year; a gorgeous book.  I took it to the pub for it’s first reading which may have been a mistake…I had a number of involuntary vocal reactions to the recipes that perhaps weren’t suitable for a public place.  So obviously, I couldn’t resist working my way through a few of Gill’s salad recipes.  The first two I made were Tarakihi with Pickled Cucumber, Barley & Herbs; and Fried Pears with Roasted Red Onions & Crisped Puy Lentils.  So many favourite things in these salads – love pickled things; love barley; love fried pears; love puy lentils.

The herbs and pickles go beautifully with the fish and lighten up the barley; in contrast, the pear and roasted red onion provide a subtle sweetness.  A great combination and both were absolutely delicious.

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The next couple of salads from this book were Barley , Squash & Mushrooms with Herb & Crème Fraiche Dressing and Raw Courgette with Fennel, Pea, Mint, Dill and Lemon. The squash combined with the barley and a creamy dressing created a pretty robust and filling salad.  I think next time I would loosen the dressing up a bit more because the salad became quite thick and dense, particularly the following day.  A really delicious salad though.  The squash and mushrooms are cooked long and slow enhancing the pumpkin’s sweetness.  And once that’s done and the barley’s cooked, it’s just a matter of tossing it with the herbs and dressing and shoveling it into your mouth!

Given the heaviness of the Barley and Pumpkin salad, the Courgette and Fennel salad was a perfect accompaniment and pretty low effort to bring together.  A bit of slicing, chopping and dressing is all that’s required.  The mint, dill and fennel are so deliciously refreshing against the heartiness of the other dish.

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I’ve also created some of Peter Gordon’s salad’s from his most recent book “Savour”.  This is proof that my salad skills are improving because, when I first bought this book I was a bit intimidated by the salad recipes.  So, buoyed by my recent successes, I launched into Peter Gordon’s recipe for Freekeh, Poached Tofu & Shiitake, Roast Beetroot, Wasabi, Crispy Capers & Curry Leaf Salad (officially meant to be quinoa but I wanted freekeh…I love freekeh).  This was a challenging salad because there were a lot of things to do…roast some beetroot, thinly slice other beetroot, deep fry sliced beetroot (whoops…burnt some ie.most), cook the freekeh, make a poaching liquid and poach the tofu, fry the capers, fry the curry leaves…phew!  I was definitely starting to get a bit frazzled at the end of all of that!  Particularly given that I’d decided to make the Minted Baby Potatoes, Peas & Crème Fraiche as well.  Luckily this was a quick and easy one to make.  And the good news is that it was worth the effort.

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My final salad for this post is a simple Green Salad from “Savour”.  As mentioned earlier, my usual “green salads” are “pretty shit” so I decided to up my game on the simple salad front.  The salad below is a version of Peter Gordon’s green salad recipe using the greens that I had in the fridge and the garden.  My favourite improvements from my usual salads are that:

  • there’s no lettuce in it (a revelation!);
  • the veggies are really thinly sliced; and
  • it contains fresh mint

I was interested to note that Peter Gordon’s dressing is the same as mine – olive oil, lemon juice and salt – but it’s the mint that makes all the difference.  Result…my green salads have been revolutionised!

img_1320v2So if you’re also a boring salad maker, maybe it’s time for you to up your game.  It’s definitely worth the effort to make a salad that isn’t shit.

 

 

The Food of Paradise

or…expletive worthy food

In my last post I took a big step and admitted to my growing addiction to Persian food.  Like many addictions, this one needs constant feeding and there have been many Persianesque feasts since my last confession.

The first of these was a birthday meal for my husband (I mean, how could I refuse a birthday request?); Beef Fillet Steak, Fattoush Salad and Basmati & Wild Rice Salad with Chickpeas, Currants & Herbs.  I was a bit worried about ruining the beef but actually it was superb – pan fried at a high heat until caramelised and then finished in the oven before resting and slicing…mm-mmm!  WARNING: Vegetarians and hungry people should avert their eyes about now.

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Such a perfect colour and oh so tender

I’ve made a few versions of Fattoush Salad over the years (which generally consist of radishes, cucumber, salad greens, flat bread croutons and sumac) and this one from Sabrina Ghayour’s “Persiana” was as good as any other.  However the first Fattoush that I ever made was a Julie Le Clerc recipe and that one will always be special 🙂

The Basmati & Wild Rice Salad with Chickpeas, Currants & Herbs from Ottolenghi’s book “Jerusalem” was absolutely amazing. I didn’t have quite enough currants so I topped them up with barberries which added a delicious sour pop.  We brought some wild rice back from Malaysia a couple of years ago and I’m always excited when I get to use it; it’s so nutty and feels slightly exotic.  The fried onions and chickpeas on top are the icing on the cake.

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I also got a new cookbook this month (as if I wouldn’t!) called “Ima Cuisine” by Yael Shochat.  This is from an Israeli restaurant in Auckland and I was very excited to buy it as soon as possible after its release.  The first things I’ve cooked from it are Falafel, Arab Israeli Salad and a herb condiment called Zhoug.  The salad and condiment are fantastic – the salad is very herby and is a great side dish to make in bulk and keep in the fridge (as I discovered by accident).  The falafel itself was a bit disappointing – I’ve made falafel a few times now and this is the only one that’s not worked out well.  The mixture was very wet and sort of dissolved into the oil in the pan.  I ended up having to coat them in flour and fry them in a fairly dry pan…the flavour was good but they were a mission to produce.

However – as usual when it comes to Sabrina Ghayour – the star of the meal was the Freekah Salad from her book “Sirocco”.  If you haven’t tried Freekah yet you definitely should…it tastes amazing in its own right just boiled in salted water let alone having anything else done to it.  But adding cranberries, dill and pomegranate takes it off the charts!  On a side note, dill is seriously becoming a favourite herb just now.

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The full ensemble…pretty fab despite the dramas

But oh my god…if I thought the Freekah salad was good…I hadn’t yet tried the Preserved Lemon & Baharat-Marinated Pork Loin Kebabs also from “Sirocco”.  This was life-changing.  I made a Baharat spice mix from “Ima Cuisine” which I rubbed all over the pork pieces and then fried them in a healthy (ie. vast) quantity of oil so that they become gorgeously crisp but still moist in the middle…drool.  To go with this I made a Barley, Griddled Broccoli & Za’atar Salad from Persiana; barley is so good in any form and I love it in a salad.  This salad also contains slow roasted, caramelised tomatoes and red onions and a simple yoghurt dressing.  I’m trying very hard not to use expletives to describe how good these were 🙂

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A classic Persian dish that my friend Nadine first told me about is Chicken, Walnut & Pomegranate Stew.  The first version I made of this was from Naomi Duguid’s “Taste of Persia” which was ok but not as good as I was expecting.  I decided to try Sabrina Ghayour’s recipe from “Persiana” given how good all of her recipes seem to be and I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s a very decadent dish using a lot of walnuts and pomegranate molasses which gives it a lovely rich and sweet/sour flavour.  One thing I would say about both of the recipes that I’ve tried is that it doesn’t need nearly as much sauce; both recipes had me throwing away excess sauce which was pretty upsetting.  I served this particular version with a Marinated Kale Salad and Crushed New Potatoes both from “Sirocco”.  I’ve tried making a marinated kale salad once before and wasn’t that fussed with it but as I may have mentioned…Sabrina can do no wrong and this was delicious.  Almonds and sunflower seeds provide crunch while the dressing provides sweetness from pureed apple, honey and ginger.  The crushed new potatoes were also AMAZING!  Roasted with peas and chargrilled spring onions and my favourite…dill.

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The most recent meal I cooked was all from “Sirocco” – Lamb, Apricot & Fennel Seed Meatballs; Radish, Dried Fig & Apple Salad & Warm Salad of Spiced Kale, Bulghur Wheat & Puy Lentils.  These three recipes were definitely a highlight of the Persian experience so far (and that’s saying something!)…all the way through dinner we just looked at each other and said “yuuum” and “oh my god, this is sooo *expletive* good”!  The meatballs contain sweetness from the dried fruit and so many fennel seeds that I was seriously (but unnecessarily) concerned!

The Fig and Apple Salad was quick to put together and had a delicious mixture of crunchy vs sticky sweetness balanced by the tartness of pomegranate molasses.  And the Warm Bulghur and Puy Lentil salad was wonderfully substantial.  It’s drizzled in a mixture of spiced oil and fried onions and topped with a sharp but creamy goats feta.  An absolutely incredible trio both individually and combined.

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So if you don’t mind exploring life-changing flavours and uttering the occasional involuntary (but cheerful) expletive then I emphatically recommend giving Persian food a go.  However, I do feel that it’s only fair to warn you – it can be addictive.

Totally Addicted to Persia

…and Sabrina Ghayour

I have been on a Persian binge recently, I can’t get enough of it; the more I cook it the more I want it…you can see how this could easily get out of control (and it has).  I have quite a few recipe books of that ilk (see my Cookbook Library for the full list) which I’ve used on and off over the last few years; but it’s Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour (see post here) that has set me off on my binge.  After loving Persiana so much I couldn’t resist buying her new book Sirocco and it hasn’t let me down – oh no – It. Has. Not.

The first meal I made out of Sirocco was Citrus & Za’atar Roast Chicken with a Date, Orange, Almond and Rocket Salad and a Maftoul Salad.  The chicken is pretty straight forward – just smother the chicken in a rub made of spices and zest and bung it in the oven for a while. One thing I did find a challenge was not letting the spice rub burn; you can see in the image below that it got pretty dark (but luckily in a good way).  I turned the chicken over a few times while it was roasting and next time I’ll put it on a rack so that the skin stays crisp on all sides.  I ended up taking the chicken out of the oven early (thanks to my trusty instant read thermometer telling me it was cooked) but if I’d left it in there for any longer I would have had to cover it in tin foil to stop it colouring further.

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What a gorgeous looking bird 🙂

To go with the chicken I made a Maftoul Salad which is basically just Palestinian couscous mixed with lots of other tasty morsels and a gorgeous citrus-y dressing.  I’d had some black garlic in the cupboard for quite a while and I recently bought a jar of sour cherries so I couldn’t resist making this salad just so I could use both of those ingredients!

I also couldn’t resist the Date, Orange, Almond and Watercress Salad because it looks so beautiful.  In this case I couldn’t find watercress so I used rocket which worked well.  The dressing on this salad contains honey and red wine vinegar and it is ab-so-lutely delicious. One of the great things about all of these recipes is that they are very straight forward to put together and they make a great alternative to the western-style Sunday roast.

 

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YUM!

The next meal I cooked from Sirocco was Rose Harissa Seared Lamb Steak (was meant to be beef but I wanted lamb) with Turmeric & Spice-Marinated Cauliflower and Asparagus with Preserved lemon & Pickled Chilli.  This was actually a pretty quick meal.  I did do one thing in advance that you wouldn’t normally need to do, but because I was going out on the night that I wanted to cook this I made the spice paste the night before and left the cauliflower to marinate in the fridge. That meant that when I got home from work all I needed to do was make a quick tomato sauce and fry the cauliflower (another adjustment – the cauli was actually supposed to be deep-fried but I shallow fried it).

The asparagus was also super quick and easy to prepare and is deliciously crisp, has a lovely freshness from the mint, a salty tang from the preserved lemons and heat from the chilli (in this case I didn’t have pickled chillis so I just used chilli flakes).  Sooo good!

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For the lamb, I don’t have rose harissa so I crushed up some edible rose petals and mixed those in with the standard harissa that I have in the fridge.  After rubbing that all over the steaks I gave them a quick hot fry and Bob was my Uncle – dinner was ready!  Such a nice combination of flavours, looks super fancy and is quick enough for a week night – I had it cooked and eaten in plenty of time for me to lounge around for a while before I went out – win, win and win 🙂

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It’s funny but I didn’t realise how often I was making slight changes to the recipes until I was writing this post and it reminded me of something that Sabrina Guyour wrote in her introduction to this book:

“…many people feel the pressure to follow recipes to the letter, but Middle Eastern cookery just isn’t rigid in that way.”

I can certainly vouch for that.

Simple

by Diana Henry

At the beginning of this year I started using Instagram (to which I’m now slightly addicted…).  I ended up following Diana Henry’s Instagram feed although I’d never heard of her at that point; now that I do know more about her I’m amazed that I didn’t know her before!  Not to mention the fact that she owns more than 4000 cookbooks (makes my collection of 200 look embarrassingly modest; I was sure to let my husband know that!) she was also a winner at the 2016 James Beard Awards.  I’m happy to report that I am now the proud owner of two of Diana Henry’s books – “Salt, Sugar, Smoke” which is a book on preserving (I haven’t used this book yet) and “Simple” which she published just last month.

The first recipe I cooked from “Simple” is Lamb with Preserved Lemon, Dates & Cumin Butter…and yes, it does taste as good as it sounds.  The lamb is stuffed with a mixture of kale, chili, dates and preserved lemon before being slathered in cumin butter and roasted until it has a gorgeous crust.

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Straight out of the oven looking gorgeous in it’s golden pool of butter and lambiness

I don’t often make a stuffed roast but it looks amazing when it’s sliced; I was very happy to see that the lamb had retained some pinkness (phew!)  One very sad error I made was forgetting to pour the cooking juices over it at the end – what a mistake!  The greens are out of the garden and dressed in butter, lemon juice and shaved parmesan.

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If only the cooking juices were on that lamb…

I’m always a sucker for Spanish flavours and anything with chorizo and beans, so I couldn’t resist making Diana’s recipe for Spanish Rice with Chorizo, Beans & Pumpkin.  This is a good one for a weeknight because it doesn’t take too long and it doesn’t require lots of stirring.  Saffron is used to add an earthy flavour to the rice…I have to admit to cutting back substantially on the number of chorizo – the recipe calls for 10-12 chorizo! I used half that. I also had to use quite a bit of extra stock to get my rice to cook through (so actually…when I say it’s a good weeknight meal, it did end up being quite a late one!).  Other than the laborious task of cutting up the pumpkin everything else is quick to prepare and it all gets cooked in the same pan which is great for those on washing up!

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I had some leftover roasted red peppers in the fridge so I added those to the pan as well…great decision 🙂

Probably my favourite of the recipes I’ve made from this book so far is Chicken Piccata with Lemon & Parsley Orzo.  The chicken is cooked in oil and butter over a high heat so that it becomes crisp and golden and then a quick sauce is made with vermouth, lemon juice, capers and herbs.  I made some slight adjustments to my sauce – instead of capers I used nasturtium capers that I made from the nasturtium berries in our garden last summer and I added a few green peppercorns (so good!).  The orzo with lemon and parsley is a great side dish to the chicken as it contains similar flavours, is quick to make and has a satisfying texture.

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It doesn’t look very impressive…but trust me, it’s good

The most recent recipe I’ve made from this book is Persian Inspired Eggs with Dates & Chilli.  Mine doesn’t look anywhere near as good as Diana Henry’s version (which my husband kindly pointed out to me) but it still tasted amazing.  It’s basically fancy scrambled eggs with cumin, spinach and dates added (among other things).  It makes me realise that while basic scrambled eggs are definitely a winner there are so many other possibilities! For this particular recipe I didn’t have fresh dates so I used some gorgeous black dried figs instead…too good.

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So I’m very happy to know of Diana Henry now that I’ve cooked some of her recipes. I’m looking forward to working my way through more of her recipes in this and her other books.  I’ve also discovered another cookbook author through Diana Henry’s Instagram – Naomi Duguid – I now own two of her books as well…but hey, as long as I own less than 4000 cookbooks then I think I’m doing ok 🙂