Sea Bass with Lemon and Fennel

I wish it were possible to transmit an aroma over the internet. The smells than come from this dish are just incredible.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

2 small sea bass – about 300g each

1 heaped tsp fennel seeds

1 heaped tsp cumin seeds

1 heaped tsp brown mustard seeds

1 heaped tsp ground turmeric

olive oil

2 fennel bulbs, very finely sliced

2 red chillies, very finely sliced

the juice of a lemon, plus 1 lemon, sliced, plus wedges to serve

a small handful of fresh coriander, chopped, to serve


METHOD

Prepare the fish: remove the scales and gills, and gut the fish; your fishmonger will be happy to do this for you, you only have to ask.

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Mix the spices together in a small bowl and prepare the remainder of the ingredients.

Cut two large lengths of foil, drizzle a little olive oil in the middle of each and spread it around with your fingers. Scatter the thinly sliced fennel over the oiled section, mounding it up so it is roughly the shape and size of your fish. Sprinkle most of the sliced chillies over the fennel, followed by roughly a third of the spice mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Now lay the fish on top of the fennel and work the remaining spice mix into the cavity of the fish and all over its skin, using your fingers. Stuff the cavity of each fish with the sliced lemon, ensuring it is filled from end to end. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and generously with lemon juice.

Fold the sides of the foil up and over the fish, and roll the sides together. Do the same with the ends, ensuring that you end up with a sealed foil package.

Place the two fish parcels on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes, remove from the oven, remove everything from the foil and serve on a bed of red rice, noodles, or toasted bulghur wheat (pictured). This also goes well with fennel chips.

Scatter with coriander and serve alongside a simple green salad.

Toasted Bulghur Wheat

Bulgur wheat is a whole wheat grain that has been cracked and partially pre-cooked. It is a naturally high in fibre, low in fat, low-calorie vegetarian and vegan food that is most commonly found in tabbouleh. You can also use it in the place of rice or couscous, or any other whole grain such as barley or quinoa.

My favourite way of cooking it, which brings a deep and delicious nutty bite to it, is by dry-toasting it before hydrating it. It is so very simple to do, and ramps up the flavour of any meal with which it is served.


RECIPE 

70g bulghur wheat per person

and 120 ml water for each 70g serving


METHOD

Heat a large non-coated frying pan (I use a stainless steel risotto pan), do not use any oil. Add the appropriate amount of bulghur wheat to the pan, measure out the accompanying amount of water and set that aside.

The bulghur wheat will look golden like this when it enters the pan:

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Cook the bulghur wheat over a medium-high heat, keeping the grains moving often. Keep watching the pan at all times, the grains go from toasted to burned very quickly. After 3-5 minutes there will be a noticeable change in the colour of the bulghur wheat, and when it reaches the colour of dark honey it is time to take it off the heat.

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Add the water you measured previously, be careful because it will bubble vigorously when it hits the pan and release a lot of steam – the moisture loss is accounted for in the amount of water you measured. Agitate the pan so the water sits in an even layer with the toasted bulghur wheat, then cover and let sit for 30 minutes.

After this time fluff the grains up with a fork and serve.

Depending on what you are having it with, you can stir coriander or parsley through it.

Spanish Cod With Spinach and Chick Peas

Every time we eat this my wife says that it doesn’t need the cod to be a complete meal. That’s true, but the cod is delicious as well as being a great source of protein. Bearing her comment in mind, if you don’t fancy the fish you can easily just make the sauce with spinach and chick peas. It is very filling indeed.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

2 tbsp olive oil

3 small red onions, finely chopped

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tbsp chilli bean sauce

1 tsp fish sauce

3 sun dried tomatoes, chopped

15 black olives, chopped

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tin of chick peas, drained

300g baby leaf spinach

2 cod loins or fillets

juice of a lemon

lemon wedges to garnish

rocket leaves to serve


METHOD

First make the sauce: heat the oil and gently fry the onions and garlic for five minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the dried oregano and stir thoroughly, then add the chilli bean sauce, sun dried tomatoes, olives, tinned tomatoes and fish sauce. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer and let it gently bubble away until it is nice and thick. This will take 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Add the chickpeas to the sauce and continue to simmer. Meanwhile, cut a large piece of baking parchment and lay the fish in it. Season the fish with salt and pepper and drizzle with the lemon juice. Fold the sides of the parchment into the middle and fold in on themselves to make a seal, then bring the ends in and fold them. You should now have a sealed parcel of parchment. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately ten minutes until the fish is just cooked and flakes easily.

While the fish is baking, add the spinach to the sauce and stir it through, it will wilt down.

Put a good handful of rocket into each of two bowls, and spoon the sauce on top of the rocket. Lay the cooked fish on top of the sauce and garnish with a couple of lemon wedges each.

You could add a simple green side salad if you wish, but really this stands as a perfect dish all by itself.

Vegetarian Bolognese

It’s a well-worn cliche that every man can make spaghetti Bolognese, even if it is the only thing that he can make. Sorry to shatter any illusions, but opening a jar of ragu and dumping a shrink-wrapped packet of mince into it doesn’t qualify.

A Bolognese sauce, done well, is a wonderful thing. It doesn’t take too long either, most of the time that it does take it is just sitting over a low heat, reducing and intensifying. I have a good handful of recipes for spaghetti Bolognese, for all kinds of people. The full meat version, a lovely lentil version suitable for vegans – both of which I will blog one day – and this one, made with Quorn mince which is ideal for vegetarians.

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RECIPE – Feeds 4

3 tbsp olive oil

a knob of butter

2 large onions, finely chopped

3 sticks of celery, finely chopped

3 medium carrots, finely diced

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 bay leaves

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried thyme

120ml dry vermouth

4 tbsp tomato puree

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

500g Quorn mince


METHOD

In a large pan, melt the butter with the oil and saute the onions for 5 minutes or so until softened. Add the celery, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, basil, oregano and thyme and sweat under a cartouche for ten minutes until deeply aromatic and very soft.

*Tip: Sweating vegetables under a piece of parchment is known as using a cartouche. It is a way of cooking that simultaneously sweats and steams the vegetables, extracting maximum flavour in minimum time.

Cut a square of baking parchment that is slightly larger than the surface area of your pan, push it down so it sits on top of your sweating vegetables and then tuck the sides down so the vegetables are completely covered. Keep the heat low and after a few minutes check to see that nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan, then re-cover and continue to sweat them until they are as soft as you need them to be and the aroma is filling your kitchen.

Turn the the heat up and add the vermouth. Cook for a minute or so until the alcohol has burned off then add the tomato puree and stir until everything is evenly coated, now add the tinned tomatoes. Bring to the boil, then add the Quorn mince. Bring to the boil again then turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

This is one of those dishes that improves if it is left to sit and infuse for a few hours. If you do this, add the Quorn mince, bring to the boil then remove from the heat, cover the pan and set it aside. Then re-heat it when you are ready to eat.

Cook your spaghetti following the packet instructions until it is just al dente. Add it to the sauce, not the other way around, toss thoroughly.

Serve with a simple rocket or green salad and focaccia, toasted ciabatta or garlic bread.

Creamy Healthy Coleslaw

We had the remnants of a shop-bought coleslaw in our fridge the other day, somebody brought it over as part of their contribution to a family barbecue. I was quite pleased, since I was a boy one of my favourite things is a cheese and Marmite sandwich with lashings of coleslaw, and this was a premium offering from one of the major UK supermarkets. This, I thought, is going to be good.

It wasn’t. I have been spoiled by home-made food. The shop-bought coleslaw was a little too vivid in colour, a little too thick, a little too finely cut, and much too creamy. In previous years I would have loved it, because as far as I knew this is what coleslaw tastes like, but not now.

Immediately I had to go and buy a small cabbage and make my own coleslaw again; last summer there was always a large tub of homemade in the fridge, but I fell out of the habit – I won’t make that mistake again. This coleslaw is simple, cheap and absolutely gorgeous. It does use mayonnaise out of a jar, but that’s okay, it keeps it quick and easy.

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RECIPE 

1 small white cabbage, core removed, shredded

3 large carrots, peeled and grated

4 spring onions, finely sliced

a handful of sultanas

75g mayonnaise

2 tbsp wholegrain mustard

a dash of lemon juice

salt and pepper


METHOD

Peel away the outer leaves of the cabbage, quarter it and cut out the core, then thinly slice through the quarters. Prepare the carrots and spring onions and put them all into a large bowl with the sultanas.

Combine the mayonnaise and mustard in a separate bowl, season, then adjust to taste with lemon juice. Add to the shredded vegetables and stir very thoroughly.

Pan-Fried Sea Bass on Pita with Labneh, Tomato and Preserved Lemon

A straightforward middle-eastern inspired dish that utilises a handful of delicious ingredients all working together. If you make your own pita and labneh it goes from delicious to stunning.

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RECIPE – feeds 2  

2 sea bass fillets, skin on

3 tbsp olive oil

2 small preserved lemons, pulp removed, skin cut into thin strips

2 pita bread (white or wholemeal) each cut into 3 pieces

labneh (or some thick Greek yoghurt mixed with olive oil)

2 tbsp pomegranate seeds

2 tsp za’atar

2 good handfuls of rocket

For the salsa:

2 ripe tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and finely diced

1 long red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

juice of a lemon


METHOD

First combine the salsa ingredients. To de-skin your tomatoes: boil a kettle, lightly score a cross in the base of the tomato and put it into a cup. Pour the just-boiled water over the tomato and leave for 15-20 seconds. Empty the hot water out and immediately refill it with cold water. Lift out the tomato, insert the point of a knife under the score and lift the skin away, you should find that the skin peels off easily. If you leave the tomato in the hot water for too long it will begin to cook, and the skin will not come so easily.

Cut the tomatoes into quarters and cut out the seeds, then slice into thin strips, then slice across to make fine dice. Season, then put the salsa to one side.

Prepare the remainder of the ingredients. Pat the sea bass fillets dry with kitchen paper, season, then heat the oil in a large frying pan.

Lightly toast the pita.

Fry the fillets, skin side down, over a medium heat for approximately 3 minutes until the skin is crisp and the fish moves freely in the pan. Carefully flip the fish over and cook for a further minute.

To serve: put a good handful of rocket in a large bowl, place the cooked fish on top. Scatter the salsa on top of the fish and all around it. Tuck the pita into the rocket and under the fish, spoon some labneh on each piece of pita and sprinkle some za’atar over the top. Scatter the strips of preserved lemon and the pomegranate seeds over everything.

Pour a glass of good dry white wine and enjoy yourself.

Pita Bread

A quick and very simple bread to make, Pita is a slightly leavened flatbread said to have originated in the Near East over 4000 years ago.

Most bread books have a basic white loaf as the opening recipe; Pita is much easier, and I believe it should be the first bread used to introduce newcomers to the art of bread making – if only to give pita its historic due.

The defining characteristic of pita is the internal pocket, and the secret to getting a good pocket is a hot oven, so make sure you give your oven plenty of time to thoroughly heat up before putting your bread in to bake.

There are two recipes here, one for white pita and one for wholemeal. The method is the same for both.

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RECIPE 

For 4 white pita:

100g strong white flour

100g plain or ’00’ flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 heaped tsp dried yeast

135g tepid water

olive oil

For 4 wholemeal pita:

50g strong white flour

50g strong wholemeal flour

100g plain or ’00’ flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 heaped tsp dried yeast

145g tepid water

olive oil


METHOD

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, make a well in the centre and add the tepid water. Using your fingers as a claw, drag the dry ingredients through the water and begin to mix everything together, gently kneading until everything comes together as a dough. The dough should be of a consistency that it leaves the sides of the bowl clean.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface, leave for ten minutes, then knead for twenty seconds and shape into a ball. Lightly oil the bowl and put the dough back into it. Cover the bowl with a damp tea-towel or cling film and leave in a warm place for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, push the air out of the dough with your fingertips, fold the dough in half while still in the bowl, turn the bowl through 90 degrees and fold the dough in half again, then shape into a ball once more, cover and leave for a further 40 minutes.

Heat your oven to its maximum setting.

Remove the dough from the bowl and shape into a loose sausage. Cut the dough into four equal pieces then, using a little more oil, roll each piece out gently until approximately 5mm thick.

Turn the oven down to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 8. Your pitas will cook perfectly in the falling heat.

Place the pitas on a baking sheet and bake for approximately ten minutes or until puffed up and golden.

Labneh

Labneh is a delicious semi-sour cream cheese from the middle east, similar in texture and consistency to Italian mascarpone. It is so easy to make, and vastly superior to anything you would buy from a specialist international shop simply because when you make it yourself there is nothing added.

It is lovely when used fresh, but it can also be rolled into small balls and stored in olive oil, or rolled in herbs such as mint and eaten with pita as part of a mezze. A quick browse through any middle eastern recipe book, or a quick internet search, will turn up dozens of uses for labneh – but if you’re so hungry that you can’t wait then it is also delicious all by itself on a piece of flatbread.

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RECIPE 

250g thick Greek yoghurt

That’s it!


METHOD

Line a sieve with a piece of damp muslin and stand it over a small saucepan or bowl with enough height to allow the bottom of the sieve to sit clear of the bottom of the pan.

Spoon the thick Greek yoghurt into the muslin, pull the top of the cloth together and twist tightly. Leave in the fridge for 24-48 hours to allow the whey to drip out of the yoghurt.

To serve: empty the labneh into a small bowl and drizzle with olive oil, or… dip into your books and try this as many ways as possible. It’s just gorgeous.

Tuna with North African Spices and Roasted Pepper Salad

We eat a lot of tuna, mainly because we love it but also because it is a great source of protein, is filling and very affordable. The challenge for me therefore is to come up with a wide range of different ways to serve it, lest we get bored. Tuna is such a meaty fish that it copes well with deep flavours, and anything involving spice pairs very well with it.

The star of the show here (apart from the tuna) are the roasted peppers. They’re a bit of a faff, but only a bit. If you have never roasted peppers yourself before I will give you a quick tutorial below, and once you have tried them I am sure they will become a staple part of your repertoire.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

2 yellowfin or other sustainable, line-caught tuna steaks

6 garlic cloves

1 small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

1 small bunch of parsley, roughly chopped

1 small bunch of mint, leaves only,

150ml olive oil

3 tbsp ground cumin

2 tbsp ground coriander

1 tbsp paprika

a pinch of hot chilli powder

2 lemons, juice only

1 red pepper

1 yellow pepper

3 ripe tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and cut into thin strips

a pinch of ground cumin


METHOD

First, place the peppers on your largest gas ring, turning regularly until they are completely blackened.

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If you don’t have a gas hob, put your grill on its highest setting and blacken them under it.

When they are completely blackened, place them in a sealable plastic bag and leave for ten minutes.

Put the garlic, coriander, parsley (reserving about a tablespoon), mint, 135 ml of olive oil, ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika, hot chilli powder and most of the lemon juice into a food processor or blender and blitz until it is a paste. Tip onto a plate and place the tuna steaks on top. Using your fingers, completely coat the tuna with the paste. If you are making this for more than two people then this amount of paste will easily coat up to four steaks. Cover and chill for 15 minutes – don’t leave it any longer, the lemon juice will start to ‘cook’ the outside of the tuna.

By this point your roasted peppers are ready for some more work.

While they are still in the bag, rub the blackened skin off the peppers. Then take them out and wipe off the remaining blackened skin with some kitchen paper until they are clean.

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Now cut them in half and pour out the liquid that is inside them, remove the stalk, seeds and the internal membranes and slice thinly.

Now de-skin your tomatoes: boil a kettle, lightly score a cross in the base of the tomato and put it into a cup. Pour the just-boiled water over the tomato and leave for 15-20 seconds. Empty the hot water out and immediately refill it with cold water. Lift out the tomato, insert the point of a knife under the score and lift the skin away, you should find that the skin peels off easily. If you leave the tomato in the hot water for too long it will begin to cook, and the skin will not come so easily.

Cut the tomatoes into quarters and cut out the seeds, then slice into thin strips. Put the tomato strips into a salad bowl with the sliced peppers, stir through the pinch of cumin, the remaining lemon juice and parsley, 1 tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Set aside for later.

Heat a ridged griddle pan to a high heat, just short of smoking. Scrape the marinade off the tuna steaks and lay them in the pan. Cook for approximately 1 minute per centimetre thickness on one side, and half that on the other – to make that clear, a 2 cm thick tuna steak would be cooked for 2 minutes on one side, then flipped over and cooked for a further 1 minute. Do not move the tuna while it is cooking, it is likely to stick until it is properly cooked, and you want well-defined char lines where the ridges are. Cooking it this way should ensure the outside is well-sealed and the very middle is still quite rare, the tuna steak will cook on even when it is on your plate though.

Serve on warmed plates with the roasted pepper salad, a baked sweet potato is the perfect partner.

Keep your marinade! You can use it again and it will easily keep in a sealed container in the fridge for a week. Try it with salmon steaks for equally delicious results.

Indian Spiced Rice

Think of this as an Indian version of Nasi Goreng and immediately you can see how much flexibility it gives you. Served tossed with prawns, chicken, pork, paneer or tofu it is a delicious meal all by itself. It also pairs well with milder sauces – pictured below it has been served with Prawns in a Spicy Tomato Sauce.

The list of ingredients looks daunting, but it takes minutes to prepare and can be on the table within 20 minutes.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 generously

2 tbsp groundnut oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 cardamom pods, seeds only

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp fennel seeds

2 whole star anise

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

3 cloves

a knob of ginger, trimmed but not peeled, finely chopped

2 tsp garam masala

140g basmati rice

1 bay leaf

small bunch of coriander, finely chopped

2 red chillies, finely chopped

1 tbsp mango chutney

1 tbsp lemon juice


METHOD

Prepare your ingredients: bash the cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle to release the seeds, discard the husk. Use as much ginger as you like, but at least a thumb-sized knob; there is much flavour in the skin so trim off any rough, woody and grey bits but don’t peel it. If you like chilli heat then leave the seeds in the chillies, if not then scrape them out before chopping.

In a large saucepan that has a lid, fry the onion, garlic, cardamom seeds, cinnamon stick, fennel seeds, star anise, fenugreek seeds, cloves and ginger in the oil with 1 tsp of garam masala. Cook over a medium heat until the onion is a deep golden brown, stirring regularly. This will take approximately 5 minutes.

Add the basmati rice and stir well until the rice is thoroughly coated. Add 250ml water, the bay leaf and the other teaspoon of garam masala. Add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Now put the lid on the pan, turn down to the lowest heat and leave for approximately 15 minutes until the rice is cooked and the liquid has all been taken up.

Remove the cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves and bay leaf.

Add the chopped coriander, chillies, mango chutney and lemon juice. Stir thoroughly, check the seasoning and serve.

If serving tossed with any of prawns, chicken, pork, paneer or tofu, cook those separately and toss through the rice just before serving and serve with your salad of choice.