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Posts from the ‘Starters’ Category

Green and crunchy

Fruit in savoury dishes. A subject certain to elicit strong reactions. Be it the traumatic experience of eating my Mother’s chicken curry with bananas and raisins, a frequent occurrence in our household, and definitely not for the fussy or the faint-hearted, or the horror of discovering pineapple on your pizza, it can be the stuff of nightmares. However, as you grow older and culinary experiences abound, tastes change and we now have more options, more opportunities to discover interesting and subtler food combinations. For instance, mango, when not quite ripe, brings a little crunch to an Asian coleslaw or understated sweetness to a stir-fry. Blood oranges give asparagus and blue cheese salad an instant boost of freshness, a perfect balancing act. What about the humble Granny Smith, so green, so crunchy, and so perfectly sour? And by all accounts, one of the star ingredients of the summer salad I am about to share with you – quite understated but full of flavour. Tell me about your savoury fruit dishes – what’s your favourite? What was your first experience of a dish containing fruit? Pain or pleasure?

Granny Smith’s Prawn Salad
Adapted from a recipe from wholeliving.com
Serves 4 as a starter and 2 as a light lunch

Ingredients

3 tarragon stems and 1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
1/2 lemon, quartered
salt and ground black pepper
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
200g large prawns (you can use frozen)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 Granny Smith Apple, halved and thinly sliced*
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced*
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
* I use a mandolin for ease

Method

In a saucepan, bring 750ml of water, tarragon stems, lemon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and peppercorns to the boil.

Remove from heat, add prawns and poach until opaque, about 3 to 4 minutes (more if frozen and raw). Transfer prawns to a plate and set aside to cool.

In a small jar, whisk together the oil, vinegar, chives, tarragon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Put lid on jar and shake well. In a large bowl, add prawns, apple and cucumber and avocado. Drizzle with the dressing and serve immediately.

Asian Style Tortellini

I always remember my Mother taking an Asian cooking course when I was in my teens. She was a keen shopper at the best of times and this latest project meant she could go wild in the aisles of the Chinese supermarket in Lausanne. I’d laugh at the number of bags she’d return with, filled with these wonderful and mysterious goods – apparently we needed all of it ‘just in case’.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Asian food was a novelty as Switzerland only had a handful of restaurants specialising in this kind of cooking so the opportunity to try it at home was warmly welcomed in our household. I spent quite a few Saturday afternoons making so many spring rolls that our freezer was almost fit to burst!

My fondness for Asian food, be it Thai, Vietnamese or Chinese stems from this time. It’s always interesting; it can be mild or spicy, fresh or intense, light or more substantial. But more than anything it brings back some great memories.

Prawn & Tofu Asian Style Tortellini
Tortellini dough & soy dipping sauce adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe
Filling & Fish Sauce dipping sauce – my own

Ingredients

Tortellini dough
250g strong flour
2 free range eggs
4 egg yolks

Method
Whisk the two eggs and 4 eggs yolks in a bowl, mixing yolks and egg white roughly together. Place the flour on a clean counter surface. Create a well in the middle of the flour and add the beaten eggs into it… be careful it might spill out. With a fork mix the egg in with the flour, it will start to form a paste. At this stage, just get in there with your hands and knead until you obtain smooth dough. Wrap in cling film and then put in the fridge for 30 mins.

Remove from fridge and split the dough in half. If you have a pasta machine, go ahead and use it, putting the dough through several times so it’s only 1-2mm thick by the end of it. If not, use a rolling pin. It will take some effort and a little bit of time, but I promise it is worth it. Again aim for a thickness of 1-2mm. Once you have rolled it out to desired thickness, cut into 10cm x 10cm squares.

Prawn & Tofu filling
3 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1 clove of garlic, peeled
2 sticks lemongrass, outer leaves removed and roughly chopped
100g frozen prawns, rinsed and defrosted
100g firm tofu, roughly cubed
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornflour
A handful of tinned water chestnuts

Method
Put the ginger, garlic and lemongrass into a food processor and whizz through. Add the rest of the ingredients and repeat. You should have a rough paste by now. Set aside.

How to make the tortellini:

Take a teaspoon of filling and place in the centre of the square. With a small brush or your fingers dipped in tap water, wet all around the filling.

Now fold over one corner of the dough square over to the opposite corner, creating a triangle. Cup the filling with your hand and press down so the dough sticks, ensuring there are no air bubbles.

At this stage, with the flat edge of the tortellini facing you, roll over once towards the tip.

Bring the two side flaps back towards you and squeeze together where they meet. I use a bit of water here if it doesn’t stick.

Cook in salted boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Drain. Then add some oil to a pan and fry one side of the tortellini until it is crisp and golden. Serve immediately with the two dipping sauces below.

Serves 6 as a starter.

Soy dipping sauce
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 fresh chilli, chopped
Chopped coriander

Method
Mix all the ingredients and refrigerate until gyozas are ready to be served.

Nuoc Mam dipping sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp water
1 fresh red chilli, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped

Method
Put all the ingredients in a small bowl and leave in the fridge to infuse all the flavours.

Surfing & Yoga at Surf Maroc

Onwards, in a taxi, to somewhere north of Agadir. A place called Aourir, known by everyone as Banana Village, just a little south of Taghazout, the surfing community of the area. The journey is chaotic but funny as our enthusiastic taxi driver bombs down the motorway towards our destination. This is argan tree land, there are thousands of them planted everywhere, on the hills, the side of the road, in every small patch available.

Late afternoon, we arrive at Villa Mandala, a wonderful house on the beach. A warm welcome awaits from Louise & Emma, our yoga teachers and hosts for the week. We also meet the other residents of this 7-day yoga and surf retreat – an array of nationalities from Europe and the US, a great mix of personalities and backgrounds.

Our schedule each day includes two hours of meditation & yoga early morning, followed by a hearty and wholesome breakfast, before Eunice and Karim, our surf instructors, turn up to take us surfing to the various spots in the area. We return mid-afternoon, salty, sandy, windswept and sun baked ready for another two-hour session of yoga early evening. We are then rewarded by an amazing Moroccan inspired vegetarian feast cooked up by Shane Vincent, the Global Table Chef.

I take part in a 4-hour cookery class with Shane and some of the girls on holiday there. Going to the market to pick out the produce is a great experience, the stalls are over spilling with fruit and vegetables, it is busy, hot, fragrant. Back in the kitchen, Shane has us working like a well oiled machine: peeling chickpeas and almonds, toasting seeds and nuts, making curry paste, melting chocolate… Cooking the evening meal for everyone is incredibly rewarding.

On the surfing front, Eunice, our instructor, is an incredible teacher – clear with his instructions, patient, happy, kind and always full of praise when you finally catch that wave and stand up. If you ever get the chance to go on a Surf Maroc holiday, be sure to seek him out.

And, of course, the yoga… This holiday changes everything for me. I’d never been particularly into yoga before I went to this retreat. I dabbled a little here and there for several years, focusing on running and cycling rather than increasing my flexibility or strength. The wonderful set-up, the teachers, the progress I make and the open atmosphere this retreat offers takes me to a place where I suddenly understand why people are passionate about yoga. I now embrace it, trying to practice at least three times a week by any means I can – be it alone or in a class.

Surf Maroc’s Villa Mandala is the place to go if you want an active holiday, with great food, some pampering, a welcoming environment and the opportunity to feel not only revived but relaxed. You can do as much or as little as you want… which is just what you want when you are on holiday, away from all the obligations of your usual life.

Back to basics

Recent times have shown how adversity can bring people together, you recognise you are stronger than you thought you were and from the murky depths you found yourself in, you re-emerge feeling like someone new, a better version of the one who came before.

It has been a dark journey, interspersed with moments of delight, quiet contemplation and learning. It is one journey which I cannot imagine myself not having as part of my life. It is part of who I am, it has shaped me.

This has prompted me to take everything back to basics, to crave simplicity, clean lines and tastes. To start from scratch with solid, plain ingredients.

This soup is all of those things. The first time I made it, I fell in love with it. The texture of the different ingredients, the clean yet comforting taste, the subtlety of it all. It’s all there. It is where I am at now.

Lemon & Spinach Lentil Soup
Slightly adapted from Cook in Boots by Ravinder Bhogal

Ingredients
225g split red lentils
1.5 litres of water
1 knob unsalted butter
Sea salt & ground black pepper for seasoning
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic gloves, chopped
Zest & juice of 1 lemon
150g baby leaf spinach

Method
Rinse the lentil until the water runs clear, then put in saucepan with the cold water, butter and the seasoning (be generous). Bring to the boil, cover the pan and cook the lentils for about 20 minutes. You might find foam from the lentils comes to the surface, this is normal, just scoop it out.

Heat olive in a frying pan and cook onion and garlic until soft. Add the lemon zest, cook for a further minute, then set aside.

Once the lentils are tender, put the onions & garlic in the pan and add the spinach. Add the lemon juice and take off the heat.

Serves four.

Love at first bite

You know that recipe you are not quite sure will turn out well, or, in fact, at all. The one which could be quite dull. Or a failure. Or make you curse under your breath. And then out of the blue it comes and blindsides you with its almighty success. BAM! It’s a roaring and cheering crowd, it’s like winning the 100m at school, it’s love at first bite. People, I bring you polpette di spinaci alle nocciole, found on an Italian food blog recommended by a work colleague. The fact it was in Italian wasn’t going to stop me (thank you Google Translate). Don’t let it put you off either. This fabulous blog, Mozza In Carrozza, is a must if you are serious about your food.

Polpette di spinaci alle nocciole
Adapted from Mozza in Carrozza

Ingredients
1 egg
Salt, pepper, oil
A handful of breadcrumbs
100g potatoes
500g spinach
15g chopped hazelnuts
30g grated parmesan

Method
Put the spinach in a colander (you might have to do this in batches) and pour boiling water from the kettle over it. Drain and carefully squeeze out the water. Spread out on kitchen paper if need be and soak up the excess water by patting it with more paper.

Wash and peel potatoes, then cut it into pieces. Cook in boiling water until soft. Drain. Mash the potatoes and mix with the spinach. Add in the parmesan cheese, egg and hazelnuts. Season with salt and pepper.

Lightly grease your hands (I use spray oil) and shape the mixture into balls the size of a walnut. Place on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle the spinach balls with breadcrumbs and then place in a preheated oven for 20 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius.

Serves two generously as a starter.

A prize turnip

January. A month for repenting the sins of Christmas over-indulgences. In my case too much cheese (Vacherin Mont D’Or and Stinking Bishop I am pointing my finger at you) and red wine. It was delicious whilst it lasted. Oh hum.

It is high time for some healthy foodstuff.

Back in July, recounting my teens in Switzerland, I promised you the legendary soupe aux raves my Grandmother used to make regularly. Warming, tasty and very easy to make. Turnips would probably not be everyone’s first choice when it comes to soup but I guarantee you happiness in a bowl! I made my first ever batch at the weekend and have been enjoying it for lunch this week.

Soupe aux Raves (serves 4)

15g butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

4 medium sized turnips, peeled and grated.

2 small Désirée potatoes, peeled, and then cut into julienne.

600ml vegetable stock

3 tbsp chopped parsley

Salt & Pepper

A splash of cream

Heat the oil and butter in a heavy bottomed pan on medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the garlic and onion and cook until translucent.

Add the potato cut into julienne and cook for a minute of so. Add the grated turnip and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil then simmer for 35 minutes.

Season. Add the parsley, stir and serve into warm bowls with a splash or ‘un nuage’ of cream as my Grandmother would say.

It is not draconically healthy but my food never is!

Summer, Summer, Summertime

It has made a late appearance. Finally. If the forecast is to be believed, an Indian summer is on its way. I am rather sceptical… Anyway, it does not detract from the fact that summer is about salads. I love salads, so many possibilities, so much freshness and perfect for your packed lunch.

A lifelong love affair with red cabbage had me in a creative mood on Friday evening and emboldened by some rosé wine, I created this little delight:

Red Cabbage, Radish & Pistachio Salad

One small red cabbage, sliced very finely

5-6 radishes, sliced

A good handful of pistachio nuts, chopped roughly

Dressing

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp Kressi vinegar or any herb vinegar

Salt and pepper

Mix the cabbage and sliced radishes together. Make the dressing and toss into the salad. Sprinkle pistachios on the salad after the dressing is mixed in so they remain crunchy for longer.

It’s a very pretty salad, all dramatic shades of purple and red with the pistachios adding a little contrast, with their vibrant green colour. The Kressi vinegar is a must, although it’s virtually impossible to get hold of in the UK.

For good homemade herb vinegar (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is a good combination), wash the herbs very well under running cold water. Push them into a tall, clean bottle and top up with white wine, cider or sherry vinegar. Cover and leave to infuse for a couple of weeks before use.

Another of my favourite salads is a creamy cucumber salad my parents used to make. Oh the decadence of it, cream with healthy foodstuff. Indecent I hear you say… but not before you’ve tried it!

Cucumber Decadence

Cucumber, Parsley & Cream Salad

1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced (preferably with a mandolin)

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 tbsp of chopped parsley

75ml of single cream

Knorr Aromat Savoury Seasoning

Pepper

Place the slices of cucumber in a flat serving dish, then add the shallot, sprinkling it evenly over the cucumber. Pour the cream. Sprinkle with parsley and season with Aromat and pepper. Mix before serving.

Incredibly simple and very tasty.

I am not a glutton

It rarely happens but I overindulged this weekend… in spectacular fashion. It was my last weekend with John before he took off for Europe for three weeks so I decided that trying new recipes was the best way to deal with it. Maybe I was selfishly and subconsciously trying to make him too fat to get on the plane.

Cheese & Wine

I’ve always loved suppers of what we call ‘les restes’ (or leftovers). A baguette, a selection of cheeses, some sort of pâté and green salad dressed with tangy vinaigrette. Not to mention a nice glass of red wine. It is relaxed, easy and really satisfying. Instead of pâté, I made salmon rillettes.

Salmon Rillettes

Adapted from Cooking At Home on Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis

I served the rillettes with slices of fresh baguette.

250g skinned salmon fillet
salt
75 g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped chives
125 g smoked salmon, cut into thin strips, then cut into 2 cm pieces
¼ smoked paprika

 

Salmon RillettesPoach the salmon in simmering salted water for 7-8 mins depending on the thickness of the fillet. Once cooked, remove from heat and leave to cool.

In a medium-sized bowl, mash together with a fork the butter and the olive oil until very smooth. This is important otherwise you will have big chunks of butter in the finished rillettes.

Stir in the lemon juice, then the chopped chives and smoked salmon.

Flake the cooked salmon over the mixture, then fold the pieces of salmon into the rillette mixture along with the paprika.

Season with salt, if necessary.

Put into a serving dish, cover, and chill for at least two hours. Bring back to room temperature before serving.

Please note that this keeps in the fridge for a good couple of days.

I also made Pistachio & Apricot Cake and Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Ganache, but more about that later.

Grand-Mamy knows best

carrots

When I was in my early teens and still living in Switzerland, every Thursday I would jump on the bus or ride my moped to my grandmother’s place in Territet for lunch. She’d always be eagerly awaiting my arrival on the balcony of her top floor flat.

I remember the familiar smell of her apartment block as you entered it and the creaky lift which slowly crept up the floors. Grand-Mamy would always open the door of the lift and give me a big hug. I liked the familiarity of this weekly ritual, and looking back, I realise how wonderful it was to be able to go home or to my grandmother’s for lunch.

I remember two things my grandmother used to make regularly: a refreshing carrot, apple and orange salad in summer and a warming and filling soupe aux raves with a dash of cream in winter. Just recalling those recipes bring all the memories of my childhood and teenage years flooding back.

As it is summer, I thought I’d share the very simple Carrot, Apple & Orange salad recipe with you: 

Carrot, Apple & Orange Salad (makes enough for 2-3 servings)

2 medium sized carrots, grated

2 medium sized apples (Braeburn, Gala), peeled and grated

The juice of one orange

Squeeze of lemon juice

Mix the apple and carrot together and add in the orange juice. Put in the fridge for 15 mins so the juices of all the ingredients combine.

Remove and serve with a squeeze of lemon. No need to add sugar. Serve.

Refreshing with a bit hit of vitamin C, this recipe really opens up your appetite before the main offering.