Stir-fried King Prawns with Chinese Spinach and Garlic

Browsing in my local supermarket the other day, I spotted a living salad tray that contained Chinese spinach. It’s not something I have ever encountered before, and in truth it’s not actually that different from the ‘regular’ spinach you find on supermarket shelves, though it does release a deliciously earthy liquor when it is wilted down. This makes it an ideal choice for a stir-fry, where all that flavour can be used to enhance the sauce.

If you can’t find Chinese spinach, use ordinary spinach, or substitute it for pak choi.

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RECIPE serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a starter

2 tbsp groundnut oil

3 fat garlic cloves, finely sliced

4 birds-eye chillies, finely sliced

200g Chinese spinach (or pak choi) roughly chopped

16 large, raw king prawns, tails on

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

2 whole dried red chillies, crumbled

1 spring onion, finely chopped

2 tsp toasted sesame oil


METHOD

Prepare all the ingredients before you begin to cook. Things happen quickly when you stir-fry so you need to be organised.

Put the oil in a cold wok with the garlic, and heat it up over a high heat – this will flavour the oil and protect the garlic from burning while it releases its flavour. When the garlic is golden, add the birds-eye chillies and spinach (or pak choi) and cook for about a minute, keeping things moving all the time.

Now add the prawns, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes, keeping it all moving, until the prawns are just cooked.

Remove from the heat and sprinkle over the dried chilli flakes, spring onion and sesame oil, toss together and serve immediately accompanied by steamed Basmati rice or your choice of noodles.

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Pan-Fried Salmon with Roasted Apricots and Couscous

Everybody I know who has ever tried dieting, has failed. Actually, that’s not strictly true; in general they have lost some weight, but then gone back to eating how they used to eat and put the weight back on again. The key to losing weight and keeping it off is, of course, to permanently change the way you eat.

The trouble is, it’s all a bit of a trial isn’t it? All that denial, no treats, and the food is so unappealing…

It doesn’t have to be that way. I’m probably preaching to the converted, but if you can cook, then rustling up delicious healthy meals is very easy. With a little practice and a stock of good recipes you can make food that you would be happy to pay for in a restaurant. This is one of those meals: it’s quick and easy, packed full of interesting and delicious flavours, it’s attractive and it is, of course, extremely healthy.

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RECIPE serves 4

250g couscous

310ml light vegetable stock

2 pinches of saffron

25g unsalted butter

8 apricots, halved and stoned (fresh or dried)

1 tbsp caster sugar

1/4 tsp ground cumin

4 spring onions, finely sliced

3 tbsp pistachios, roughly chopped (or flaked almonds)

4 250g salmon fillets, skin on

coriander leaves, roughly chopped, to garnish

lemon or lime wedges, to garnish


METHOD

If you are using dried apricots, soak them overnight to rehydrate them, and keep the liquid that is left.

Dry the salmon fillets thoroughly on kitchen paper, set aside.

Put the couscous into a large bowl. If you have the soaking liquid from rehydrating dried apricots, add the stock to it to make it up to 310ml. add the saffron and a pinch of salt and, in a pan, bring it to the boil and turn the heat off. Add the butter, stir until it is melted, then pour the stock over the couscous, stir well, cover and set aside for ten minutes.

Place the apricots, cut-side up, on a grill tray and sprinkle with the sugar, cumin, salt and pepper. Grill under a high heat until they are bubbling and golden. Chop into smaller pieces, then fluff up the couscous with a fork. Stir the apricots and spring onions through the couscous, check the seasoning and scatter the pistachios over the top.

Season the salmon on both sides with a little salt, then fry in a little oil over a medium high heat for 3 minutes, skin-side down. Flip over and cook for a further minute, the flesh should still be bright pink and just cooked.

Serve alongside the couscous and lemon or lime wedges, garnished with coriander leaves. Apple and celery salad is a fantastic accompaniment to this dish, adding more flavour and texture.

Mauritian Butter Bean Curry

I’ve been away for a while, enjoying the summer, but I haven’t been idle. I’ve been living in a camper van for most of the last two months so I have been experimenting with cooking with limited resources, as well as over coals (when the weather permitted). The break from the norm has led to some new ideas, some new discoveries, and has definitely made me a better cook.

My big discovery of the summer has been Mauritian cooking, courtesy of Shelina Permalloo (shelinacooks.com), winner of UK Masterchef in 2012, and her wonderful book ‘Sunshine on a Plate’. As she puts it: “Mauritius is a melting pot of cultures and [the] food reflects that, encompassing Creole, French, Indian, African, British and Chinese influences.” It’s also delicious!

I first made this curry eight weeks ago, and since then I have made it at least another dozen times. Everybody who tastes it, swoons. The difference is in the spicing, rather than use an Indian curry powder blend, the Mauritian version of curry powder is subtly but discernibly different. I have included a recipe for it, just click here.

It’s quick to make (though it does benefit from being left all afternoon to steep, or overnight if you can manage it), low calorie and filling. Did I mention that it’s delicious? It’s delicious!

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RECIPE – Serves 4

2 tbsp ghee (or rapeseed oil)

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a fat, 3cm thumb of fresh ginger, grated

5-10 curry leaves

3 tbsp Mauritian curry powder

2 red birds-eye chillies, seeds in, chopped

2 medium, ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 tbsp tomato puree

400ml chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

1 tin of butter beans, including the water from the tin, OR 200ml dried butter beans

flaky sea salt

the stalks from a bunch of coriander, finely chopped

the leaves from a bunch of coriander, to garnish


METHOD

If you are using dried butter beans, soak them overnight then cook them before doing anything else, they take a lot of time. To cook: place the beans in a large pan covered with 2cm of water. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender and creamy, checking after 1 hour and adding more water as necessary to keep beans submerged. They should be cooked within 1.5 hours.

Personally, I use a pressure cooker, which cooks them perfectly in around 20 minutes. However you do it, retain the cooking water to use in the dish itself.

To make the curry: melt the ghee in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat then gently fry the onion until it is translucent.

Meanwhile, add some water to the Mauritian curry powder to make a loose paste. This will stop the powder from burning when it is added to the pan.

When the onions are ready, add the garlic, ginger and curry leaves and saute for a further 3 minutes.

*Tip: It seems that every time I read a recipe that calls for finely chopped or grated ginger it tells you to peel the ginger first. That is a huge waste of flavour. All I do is cut off any rough and dry bits on the outside and make sure that it is clean, then chop or grate it finely, skin ‘n’all.

Now add the curry paste, chillies, tomatoes and tomato puree, and cook for a further five minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the chicken (or vegetable) stock, and the butter beans together with their water. Simmer, uncovered, for a further 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened.

Now begin to season the curry with flaky sea salt. Do this properly and it will be transformed from excellent to mind-blowing. Add a small pinch of salt at a time, stir thoroughly and cook in for a minute or so. Taste, and repeat, until the flavours are jumping in your mouth. Turn off the heat and add the finely chopped coriander stalks.

If you can now leave it to steep for a few hours, or overnight, it will be even better. You can serve it immediately though, if you wish.

Garnish with the coriander leaves, alongside Basmati rice and a few simple roti.

To make this suitable for a vegetarian or vegan, use rapeseed oil instead of ghee, and vegan vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

Chunky Butternut Mulligatawny

It may seem odd to make a hearty winter soup in the middle of summer, but the truth is that some things taste great all year round. This hearty one-pot supper is something I often make when I yearn for some spice but I’m short on time. It’s also an easy go-to when I am on a 5:2 diet day and need something filling and delicious in the evening; on those days when I limit my calorie intake, food like this makes them something to look forward to rather than a trial.

The nigella seeds are the ingredient that really elevates this dish, they are readily available in larger supermarkets or Asian shops so please don’t be tempted to leave them out. Also, please, please please make up your own curry powder, it makes an unbelievable difference. My recipe for curry powder is linked from the ingredients list below.

This recipe is suitable for vegans, in fact it makes a persuasive argument for embracing veganism.

Ostensibly, this recipe will feed four people, but very often I will make it for my wife and myself and we will polish off the lost between us. At only 212 calories per serving it is guilt-free gluttony!

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Picture Credit: BBC Good Food

RECIPE – Serves 4

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

2 onions, finely chopped

2 apples, peeled and finely chopped

3 celery sticks, finely chopped

a small butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, chopped into small pieces

3 heaped tbsp curry powder

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp nigella seeds

2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

1½ litres vegetable stock

150g basmati rice

small pack of coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped

zest and juice of a lemon


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan. Add the onions, apples and celery with a pinch of salt and cook gently for 10 mins or so under a lid, stirring occasionally, until softened.

Add the butternut squash, curry powder, cinnamon, nigella seeds and a grind of black pepper. Cook for 2 mins more, then stir in the tomatoes and stock. Cover with a lid and simmer for 15 mins.

By now the vegetables should be tender but not mushy. Stir in the rice, add the chopped coriander stalks, pop the lid back on and simmer for another 12 mins until the rice is cooked through. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.

Finely grate the lemon zest over the top, then squeeze the lemon juice over that, scatter the chopped coriander leaves over everything (don’t stir it!) and bring to the table to serve in bowls.

Prawn Risotto

I reintroduced myself to the simple, calming pleasure of stirring a risotto yesterday evening. Admittedly, spending 25 minutes or so watching over and stirring rice isn’t everybody’s idea of pleasure, but after a hectic day rushing around from pillar to post it made me stop, and allowed me to reset and relax. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the results were divine, but by the time it got to the table I was in exactly the right frame of mind to enjoy it.

There are a few essentials in making a great risotto: the rice you use is crucial, Carnaroli is best I think, though Arborio is fine. Also, the finer you chop your shallots and celery the better; I try and ensure that each piece is no larger than a grain of rice so they release all their flavour then disappear. The quality of your stock is also crucial: chicken stock gives the best flavour, fish stock comes a close second, or you can use a light vegetable stock. If you absolutely must use a stock cube then the results will also be great, but with something as simple as this you get out what you put in. It is essential that you keep your stock at a gentle simmer so that you never interrupt the cooking of the rice as you add it.

Serve alongside an apple and celery salad, the perfect accompaniment.

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RECIPE – Serves 2 

2 tbsp olive oil

2 or 3 banana shallots, very finely chopped

2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 celery stick, trimmed and very finely chopped

200g carnaroli risotto rice

100ml dry vermouth

approx 800ml hot stock (chicken, fish or vegetable)

220g raw peeled king prawns

140g peas

1 spring onion, white and green parts, very finely sliced on the diagonal

finely grated zest of half a lemon

1 1/2 tsp finely chopped mint

a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil to finish


METHOD

Get your stock bubbling at a very gentle simmer, and keep it at this temperature throughout the cooking.

Heat the oil in a wide, deep, heavy-bottomed risotto pan or saucepan over a low-medium heat. Gently fry the shallots, garlic and celery for around ten minutes until softened. Turn the heat up to medium, add the rice and stir thoroughly to ensure that every grain is coated. Cook on for a minute or so, then add the vermouth and turn the heat up. Bubble the vermouth for a couple of minutes until the alcohol has evaporated.

Turn the heat down to low-medium again, then add a ladleful of stock. Stir with a wooden spoon until the rice has absorbed the stock and is just at the point of sticking to the pan (don’t let it actually stick though!). Continue to add the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring very frequently while it is absorbed. Keeping it at a low temperature ensures that the rice takes up the stock and its flavour, rather than it evaporating off. This will take 20-25 minutes.

When the rice grains are plump and tender, yet still retaining a little ‘bite’, season generously and add the prawns and peas. Cook for 2 minutes, then cover and cook for a further 2 minutes until the prawns are only just cooked through.

Stir through the spring onion, most of the lemon zest and 1 tsp of the mint. Top with a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil, remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for a couple of minutes.

Check the seasoning, garnish with the remaining mint and lemon zest, and serve.

Salmon and Prawn Burgers with Chilli Mayo

Get them right and there are few things better than a well-made fish cake. The trouble is, every recipe that I have for fish cakes involves quite a lot of work, time and effort. I don’t mind that at all, the results are always worth it, but sometimes the craving arrives on a day that I am pushed for time. To my joy, I spotted this recipe in a BBC Good Food magazine, and it delivers on every front: it’s quick to make (on the table within 30 minutes), requires no skill at all, and it tastes absolutely divine.

It is infinitely flexible as well. This recipe calls for a simple salad as an accompaniment but you can add onions, gherkins, capers, chillies… anything you fancy. You can also substitute the chilli mayo for tartar sauce. At around 500 calories per burger (including the bun) it is also low-calorie and rich in omega-3 oil, so it’s guilt-free.

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

180g peeled raw prawns, roughly chopped

4 skinless salmon fillets, chopped into small chunks

3 spring onions, roughly chopped

1 lemon, zested and juiced

small pack coriander, stalks and leaves

60g mayonnaise or Greek yogurt

4 tsp chilli sauce

2 Little Gem lettuces, shredded

1 cucumber, peeled into ribbons

1 tbsp olive oil

4 seeded burger buns, toasted, to serve


METHOD

Briefly blitz half the salmon, the coriander stalks, spring onions and lemon zest in a food processor until it forms a coarse paste. Tip into a bowl, stir in the rest of the salmon and the prawns, season well and shape into four burgers. Chill for at least 10 mins.

Mix the mayo and chilli sauce together in a small bowl, season and add some lemon juice to taste. Mix the lettuce with the cucumber, dress with a little of the remaining lemon juice and 1 tsp olive oil, then set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan and fry the burgers for 3-4 mins each side or until they have a nice crust and the fish is cooked through. Alternatively, you can make it even lighter by placing the burgers on a piece of parchment on a baking sheet in a 180C oven (160 fan, gas 4) for approximately 15 minutes until just cooked through – the burger will cook on slightly so don’t worry that the centre is a little pink, as long as it is hot.

Serve with the salad on the side in toasted burger buns, with a good dollop of the chilli mayo.

Roasted Chick Pea Wraps

Quick, easy, filling, low-calorie (around 500 kcals per serving) and utterly, utterly delicious. All food should be able to be described this way.

This recipe originally appeared in BBC Good Food magazine, and has only been slightly changed.

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

2 x 400g tins of chick peas

2 tsp olive oil

2 heaped tsp ground cumin

2 tsp smoked paprika

2 avocados, stoned, peeled and chopped

the zest and juice of a lime

a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, chopped

8 soft corn tortillas

1 small iceberg lettuce, shredded

150g feta cheese, cubed

480g jar of roasted red peppers, chopped


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 220C/ fan 200C/ gas 7.

Drain the chick peas and put into a large bowl with the olive oil, cumin and paprika. Toss well until the chick peas are fully coated, then spread in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking tray. Roast for between 15 and 25 minutes, until they have the ‘bite’, crunch and texture you like. Check frequently as they can dry out just a little too much, very quickly. Shake the tray occasionally to ensure they roast evenly. Remove from the oven and season lightly, to taste.

Meanwhile, toss the chopped avocados with the lime juice and zest, and the coriander leaves.

Warm the tortillas according to the pack instructions and set the table with dishes and bowls of roasted chickpeas, avocado, lettuce, feta and roasted red peppers. Pile in and smile!

Seared Tuna with Braised Little Gems and Peas, with Mustard New Potatoes

My cooking time remains seriously limited at the moment, so I am largely confined to old favourites and quick bites. This combo is a new favourite however, we are having it again this evening due to popular demand and thankfully it is very quick to make as well as being delicious.

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

4 tuna steaks, approx 200g each

20g unsalted butter

2 banana shallots, finely sliced

6 little gem lettuce, halved

150ml light vegetable stock

400g petit pois

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

a small bunch of chives, chopped

1 tbsp creme fraiche

For the mustard new potatoes:

500g new potatoes, scrubbed

2 tbsp creme fraiche

1 tsp wholegrain mustard


METHOD

Defrost the tuna steaks if necessary.

If necessary, cut the potatoes so they are all a similar size. Bring the potatoes to the boil in a large pan of salted water, then reduce to a simmer for approximately 20 minutes. Set aside to steam dry in a colander; when cool enough to handle, mix the creme fraiche and mustard with some salt and pepper in a large serving bowl, then toss the warm potatoes through the dressing, set aside.

Fill the bottom of a dish large enough to hold your tuna steaks with dark soy sauce to a depth of 2 millimetres. Crush two garlic cloves into it, stir thoroughly then place the tuna steaks in the soy sauce, turning until it is completely coated. Cover with cling film and chill in a fridge for 30 minutes.

Gently saute the shallots in the butter over a medium-low heat for 5 minutes, until softened but not coloured. Place the lettuce in the pan, cut side down, and cook for a minute, then turn over and cook for a minute more.

Add the stock, cover and simmer gently for around 10 minutes until the lettuce is tender. In the last couple of minutes of cooking, add the petit pois.

Season, add the chopped herbs and creme fraiche and stir thoroughly, set aside while you cook the tuna.

Heat a ridged griddle pan over a high heat. When the griddle pan is very hot, scrape any pieces of garlic and excess soy sauce from 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.

Serve the tuna on warmed plates and let everyone help themselves to the braised lettuce and mustard potatoes.

Roasted Red Pepper Chana Masala

I seem to have had no time at all to enjoy cooking for the past few weeks, it has been a steady diet of ‘what can I make quickly?’ without the pleasure of actually enjoying the process. Yesterday was no less busy but, starved of inspiration and looking for something satisfying for a 5:2 diet day, I stumbled across this forgotten gem in one of my notebooks.

Please forgive me, but it was stunning. It had all the freshness and vibrancy of the best restaurant dishes, and I put that entirely down to fresh ingredients and the use of appropriate garnishes. I made up a fresh batch of Masala paste for this, and I also used a generous amount of chaat masala sprinkled over the top at the end. Links to my recipes for both are in the ingredients list, please try them, they turn a great dish into a magnificent one, and all for around 400 calories per serving (using rice as an accompaniment adds more)

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RECIPE – Serves 3 

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

3 fat garlic cloves, finely sliced

3 tbsp masala paste

2 tsp nigella seeds

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 400g tin of chick peas

2 roasted red peppers (good quality from a jar is fine), in bite-size pieces

200g piquante peppers (from a jar)

a small bunch of coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves picked

the zest and juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp chaat masala


METHOD

Place the oil and garlic in a large, cold pan and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes until the garlic has been gently fried to a light golden brown.

Add the masala paste and nigella seeds and cook out for a minute or two until deeply aromatic, then add the tomatoes, chick peas (including the water from the tin, it acts as a great thickener) and both kinds of peppers. Simmer for twenty minutes until the nigella seeds are soft. Add the chopped coriander stalks.

If you have the time, leave this to sit for a few hours while the flavours get to know each other. Otherwise, just before serving, finely grate the zest of half an lemon over the top, then drizzle the juice over the top. Evenly scatter the chaat masala over everything, then dress with the coriander leaves.

DO NOT STIR! Bring it to the table and lift up each spoonful from underneath to serve, by doing so you will preserve the intensity and integrity of each flavour. It makes a real difference.

Serve alongside plain boiled or steamed Basmati rice, an onion salad and a carrot and ginger salad.

Roasted Vegetable and Chick Pea Tagine

I put this delicious vegan stew together last week, for one of my 5:2 diet days, but because it is similar to other recipes that I have written in the past I wasn’t going to put it up here. That plan didn’t last long; those who had tasted it demanded that I share the recipe with them, and who am I to argue?

A single serving of this comes in at a mere 210 calories, so indulge yourself and eat as much as your belly will hold!

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

200g dried chickpeas (or one 440g tin)

1 tbsp plain flour

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda

1 bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tbsp olive oil

300g of mixed butternut squash, celeriac and carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks

2 banana shallots, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tsp chilli flakes

1 large thumb-sized knob of ginger, finely chopped

1 heaped tsp cumin

1 heaped tsp cinnamon

1 heaped tsp ras al hanout

100g very ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 tbsp runny honey

1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar

a small bunch of coriander, stalks only, finely chopped

To garnish:

the zest and juice of a lime

1 tsp za’atar

a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, chopped

a small bunch of fresh mint, leaves only, chopped


METHOD

The evening before, soak the dried chick peas in plenty of water (they will absorb a lot) with 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp fine sea salt and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, stir well and set aside.

The next day, rinse the chick peas well, there should be no salt left on them. Put into plenty of water with the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks and bring to the boil, then simmer for 60-90 minutes until they are soft and tender, skimming off any scum if necessary. You may need to add more water as it evaporates. If you have a pressure cooker it will save you a lot of time, cook as per the instructions for your device (mine takes around 25 minutes).

Drain and set aside, removing the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, use one tin; you won’t need the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, bay leaf or cinnamon sticks.

Preheat the oven to 220C/ fan 200C/ gas 7.

Place the chopped butternut squash, celeriac and carrots in a large bag with the olive oil, seal and work the vegetables around the bag until every piece is finely coated with the oil. Tip onto a large baking tray in a single layer, make sure there is a little room between each piece otherwise the vegetables will steam rather than roast. Season lightly with coarse sea salt and roast for around 30 minutes until the vegetables are golden and starting to caramelise at the edges. Set aside for now.

Heat a large pan over a medium heat, add the chopped shallots with the garlic, chilli flakes and ginger, a couple of tablespoons of water and a pinch of salt and steam gently under a lid for around 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the cumin, cinnamon and ras al hanout into a small bowl and add sufficient water to mix to a stiff paste.

Add the chopped tomatoes and the spice paste, stir well, turn the heat up to medium and cook out for a minute or so until deeply aromatic. Add 125ml water and the chick peas, honey and balsamic vinegar. Mix well and bring to the boil. Turn down to a gentle simmer for ten minutes to allow the sauce to thicken. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

At this point you can set the stew aside for minutes or hours, to allow the flavours to develop, deepen and mellow. Or you can just move straight on…

Five minutes before serving, add the coriander stalks, stir well and keep at a gentle simmer until ready to serve.

Just before serving, give it a final stir, remove from the heat then sprinkle the zest of the lime over the top of the soup, followed by all the juice. Do not stir!

Scatter the za’atar evenly over the top, and then scatter the coriander and mint leaves over that. Once again, do not stir, the garnish will sit on top and retain its vivacity. Even when you serve, dip your ladle down to the bottom of the pan and come up underneath the soup to retain the garnish layer. It might sound like a nuisance, but your taste buds will love you for it.

Serve alongside steamed couscous, also garnished with coriander and mint leaves.