Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta

The first bite we had of this resulted in a collective “wow”. It comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s superb book “Jerusalem”, and though he has called it a risotto it doesn’t require the constant watching and stirring of an Italian risotto, instead it’s an all-in, one-pot dish that cooks like a stew. It’s delicious, simple and quick to make, there is no excuse for you not to try this one.

The revelation here is the addition of strips of lemon rind. They soften and mellow as they cook, and provide a sharp counterpoint to the richness of the barley. Likewise, the marinated feta adds another taste and texture that elevates this from the merely great to the truly wonderful. If you don’t like feta then try it this way, I’ll wager it will convert you.

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RECIPE serves 4

200g pearl barley

30g unsalted butter

90ml olive oil

2 small celery stalks, cut into 5mm dice

2 small shallots, cut into 5mm dice

4 garlic cloves, cut into 2mm dice

4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1 bay leaf

the rind of a whole lemon, cut into strips

1/4 tsp chilli flakes

400g tin chopped tomatoes

700ml vegetable stock

300ml passata

1 tbsp caraway seeds

300g feta, broken roughly into 2cm pieces

1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves


METHOD

Rinse the pearl barley well under cold water until the water is no longer cloudy, and leave to drain. You can substitute pearl barley for pearled spelt if you wish.

Melt the butter and two tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large frying pan, or risotto pan, and cook the celery, shallot and garlic on a gentle heat for around 5 minutes, until softened.

Add the barley, thyme , paprika, bay, lemon rind, chilli flakes, tomatoes, stock, passata and 1/2 tsp of fine sea salt. Stir to combine, bring to a boil then reduce to the gentlest simmer possible. Cook for around 45 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure it doesn’t catch on the pan. When the barley is ready it will be tender with a little ‘bite’ and most of the liquid will have been absorbed.

While the risotto is cooking, gently toast the caraway seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes until aromatic. Then, using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush them so that some whole seeds remain. Add them to the feta with the remaining olive oil, mix gently to combine thoroughly, and set aside.

When the risotto is ready, check the seasoning and divide it between four shallow bowls, topping each with the marinated feta (including the oil) and a sprinkling of fresh oregano leaves.

In this hot weather our thyme was in full flower so I picked some off and added small flower heads to each dish as well. They were also delicious and added even more flavour.

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Sea Bass with Roasted Fennel and Tomato Agrodolce

I spotted this Italian sweet and sour dish in an old Jamie Oliver magazine a couple of weeks ago. It looked simple (it is), uses ingredients that I know work together, and looked like an interesting twist on tradition. If you know Italian food then you know, of course, that the sweet and sour agrodolce is indeed traditional. I looked it up and it is used in a similar way to a French gastrique, adding piquancy to a dish. 

That’s just one more thing that I love about cooking: there’s always something new to learn. More than that, every new thing I discover takes me off down other hitherto uncharted avenues.

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RECIPE serves 2

1 medium fennel bulb (around 200g after trimming), finely sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

150g very ripe cherry tomatoes

3 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped

6 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp runny honey

50g fresh pine nuts

2 sea bass fillets, pin-boned

2 tbsp raisins


METHOD

Heat your oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7.

Remove the tough core from the fennel, trim off and reserve any fronds and slice it very finely, using a mandolin if you have one.

In a roasting pan. toss the sliced fennel in the oil with a little seasoning. Spread in a single layer in the roasting pan and roast for ten minutes.

Mix the vinegar and honey together, remove the pan from the oven and drizzle the vinegar over the fennel. Add the tomatoes, garlic and pine nuts, toss everything together and return to the oven for a further ten minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven again and switch the grill to high.

Using a very sharp knife, score the skin of the fish 4 or 5 times each, rub a little oil over the skin and season it lightly with sea salt. Toss the raisins into the roasting pan, lay the fish on top – skin side up – and grill for four or five minutes until the fish is just cooked through.

Take the roasting pan to the table and serve from it, alongside some crusty bread and a simple rocket salad.

Pea, Courgette and Basil Soup

This is another brilliant way to use a glut of herbs and vegetables, this time making use of our courgette and basil mountains. We are not growing peas this year, but we are fortunate to have a greengrocer who stocks peas in their pods so I bought a massive bag full.

It’s very quick, simple and heavenly, testament to the magic of just-harvested ingredients.

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RECIPE serves 6

30g unsalted butter

1 medium onion, chopped

2 large courgettes (or 3 medium) diced

1 fat garlic clove, crushed

1 litre of hot chicken or vegetable stock

1kg of peas in the pod, or around 400g shelled peas

a few sprigs of fresh basil


METHOD

Melt the butter in a large pan over a low heat, add the onion with a good pinch of salt, cover and soften gently for around 15 minutes.

Add the diced courgette and garlic, stir well and cook for a couple of minutes more before adding the stock and most of the peas – save a handful to put in whole at the end – with the basil.

Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for around ten minutes until the courgette and peas are tender.

Blitz using a hand blender – or in batches in a worktop blender – until smooth, season, then add the remaining peas. Bring back to the boil then simmer gently for a few minutes until the whole peas are cooked but retain their crispness.

Serve in bowls with a light drizzle of olive oil, or a swirl of double cream, alongside some toasted ciabatta or rustic bread.

Low-Calorie Chilli con Carne

I seem to spend a lot of time searching for my ‘definitive’ take on classic dishes. Trying different variations and tweaking them until they are exactly how we want them to be. This is my current definitive take on Chilli can Carne, suitable for vegetarians and if you can find vegan quorn mince or similar it can also be made for vegans.

The key ingredients here are chipotle chillies to add smokiness, and raw cacao powder, which adds a hint of bitterness. I also like to use some liquid smoke to amp up the umami, it’s not vital but since I have it in my pantry why not use it? Browsing Amazon recently I spied a catering size can of chipotle chillies in adobo sauce, three or four of those in place of dried is delicious. I just froze the rest of the can in convenient sized bags.

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RECIPE serves 4  

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 red pepper, cut to small dice

1 green pepper, cut to small dice

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

4 fat garlic cloves, crushed

500g Quorn mince (the vegan variety if you can get it)

1 heaped tsp dried oregano

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp ground cumin

4 dried chipotle chillies, rehydrated (keep the liquid)

1 tsp liquid smoke (optional)

200ml red wine

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 vegan vegetable stock cube (or 1 tsp bouillon powder)

1 400g tin of kidney beans, with the water

1 tbsp raw cacao powder (or cocoa)

a small bunch of coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves to garnish

the zest and juice of a lime, to garnish


METHOD

In a large pan over a moderate heat, soften the onion, peppers and celery for between 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic for the last few minutes.

Add the Quorn mince, stir well then add the oregano, bay, cumin, chipotle chillies (chopped) and liquid smoke. Stir well so everything is well-coated, then add the red wine, turn up the heat and cook it off for a few minutes until there is almost no moisture left. Keep stirring it so it doesn’t catch on the pan.

Add the tomatoes, kidney beans (with the water from the can, there’s flavour there), the chipotle water and the stock cube or bouillon. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, so the sauce is really thick.

Add the cacao powder and chopped coriander stalks right at the end, stir thoroughly so they are fully incorporated.

If you can make it a few hours before serving, so much the better. The flavours will deepen and mellow, and if you can make it the day before it will be even better.

To serve, garnish with the juice and finely grated zest of a lime and coriander leaves.

Serve with lime wedges if you like, alongside steamed rice (brown basmati is amazing), guacamole and a bright and zingy salsa for a real treat.

Chickpea Mushroom Burgers with Turmeric Aioli

The best thing about sharing recipes on a blog is that people share theirs with you as well. These delicious vegan burgers were devised by Ella Woodward but came recommended by my friend Bridget, who raved about them. She was right, they are absolutely gorgeous, as well as being quick and easy to make.

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RECIPE serves 4  

For the Burgers:

2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

4 fat spring onions, white and green parts separated and finely chopped

150g of mushrooms, finely chopped

1 large carrot, grated

1 heaped teaspoon of cumin

1 teaspoon of hot chilli powder

salt and pepper

2 400g tins of chickpeas

2 tablespoons of gram flour

a small bunch of coriander, finely chopped

olive oil

For the aioli:

100g of cashews (soaked for at least 4 hours)

1 lemon, juiced

1 small clove of garlic, chopped

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon of ground turmeric

4 tablespoons of water


METHOD

Gently fry the chopped garlic and the white half of the spring onions in olive oil over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until they are cooked through and just beginning to brown.

While those cook, finely chop the mushrooms then add them to the pan along with the cumin and chilli powder, with a pinch of salt and a grinding of black pepper and cook for another 3 minutes.

Grate the carrot, finely chop the green ends of the spring onions and add both into the pan, then cook for another 2 minutes.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and finely chop the coriander then add both to the pan along with the gram flour. Mash the mixture with a potato masher until all the chickpeas are crushed then scoop up handfuls of the mix and mould into eight patties. Place these in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

While these cool, drain the cashews and add all the aioli ingredients to a high speed blender and blend until totally smooth.

Heat a little olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and cook the burgers for about 4 minutes on each side, until they turn golden brown. Alternatively, heat your oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6, brush a little olive oil on each side of the patties and cook for 15 minutes, turning them over half way through.

Serve alongside the turmeric aioli, with a salad and pitta bread.

Mushroom and Lentil Pappardelle Bolognese

This is a wonderfully rich, low-calorie vegan version of Bolognese, so good that even the hardened meat-eaters in my family love it. The key is to use puy lentils (the dark speckled green type) which hold their shape and bite when cooked, and building flavour through the use of minced mushrooms, a good quality vegetable stock and a rich tomato sauce.

It does take a little time to put together, but most of that time it is bubbling away doing its own thing and it is very simple to make. This is an adaptation of a Jamie Oliver recipe, so you know it’s going to be good…

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RECIPE serves 4 

For the tomato sauce:

2 tbsp olive oil

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp dried oregano

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

For the Bolognese:

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 stick of celery, roughly chopped

2 fresh bay leaves

a small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked

4 large portobello mushrooms

100 g dried Puy lentils

400 ml dark vegetable stock

350 g dried pappadelle

To garnish:

freshly picked basil leaves

vegan Parmesan cheese


METHOD

First, make the tomato sauce:

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat and add the garlic, cook gently for a minute until aromatic, then add the chilli flakes and oregano. Cook for a further minute, allowing the flavours to infuse the oil, then add the tomatoes and fish sauce. Mix thoroughly, bring to the boil, then simmer gently for an hour to allow the sauce to reduce, thicken and intensify.

After an hour, add the red wine vinegar and cook for a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and prepare the carrot, onion and garlic, trim the celery and roughly chop it all. Pulse it all in a food processor, until finely chopped.

Heat a good splash of oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the chopped veg mixture and bay leaves, pick in the thyme leaves and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes or until soft.

Blitz the mushrooms in the food processor until finely chopped. Add to the pan and cook for 3 minutes, until softened.

Stir in the lentils, tomato sauce and vegetable stock, bring to the boil and simmer uncovered on a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Check and adjust the seasoning right at the end.

When the lentils are almost done, cook the pappardelle according to the packet instructions, until al dente.

Drain the pasta and stir it through the Bolognese sauce. Pick the basil leaves and sprinkle over the Bolognese with shavings of vegan Parmesan to serve. The Parmesan is used as a seasoning here, so feel free to omit it if you cannot find the vegan version.

Serve alongside a bowl of rocket, splashed with a little freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Potato Pastry

This idea is pure genius.

I saw it in a Hairy Bikers’ diet book, but a quick internet search told me that it’s not a new idea at all. I must have been walking around with my eyes shut…

It is simply a development of potato gnocchi, kneading some flour into dry mashed potato to make a dough. It is amazing though, I made a chicken pie last week and didn’t tell anybody that the dough wasn’t regular shortcrust – nobody knew. The edges catch and crisp just like shortcrust, and the ‘mouth feel’ is almost exactly the same, it’s just lower in calories. You can use it pretty much anywhere you would normally use a savoury shortcrust pastry.

The only thing it has against it is that it doesn’t reheat very well, it tends to go soggy, so if you make a pie with it be sure to eat the whole thing! The recipe quantity below easily makes enough to cover a standard pie-dish.

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RECIPE

275g floury potatoes (e.g. Maris Piper, Roosters)

40g fridge-cold butter, diced

80g plain flour

1 or 2 tbsp semi-skimmed milk

a pinch of salt


METHOD

Peel and cut the potatoes into large pieces, so they don’t absorb too much water, then put into cold water and bring to the boil. Just as the water comes to the boil, turn the heat right down and let the potatoes slowly poach. This will ensure that they cook through and is another way to ensure they don’t absorb water. When tender, drain the potatoes and space them out on a wire rack to dry thoroughly.

When completely dry, mash them without adding any butter or moisture.

Put the diced butter and flour in a food processor and pulse until it forms crumbs. Add the flour and butter to the mash with a tablespoon of the milk and a pinch of salt and gently bring it all together into a dough, if it is a little dry and not holding together then add a little more milk – a tiny bit at a time. Handle it as lightly as possible, and when it holds together, shape it into a ball, wrap it in cling film and chill it for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out, as you would for shortcrust pastry.

When rolling, be sure to turn it around on a floured surface regularly to ensure that it doesn’t stick. Don’t try to roll it too thinly, it needs to be slightly thicker than normal pastry in order to hold together when you pick it up to drape over your pie.

Glaze with a beaten egg and cook it as usual. You can use this in any situation that normally requires shortcrust – it makes a great pie lid, can be used to make pasties and hand-pies, even sausage rolls.

Baked Bramley Apples and Custard

A curious thing happened at our dining table yesterday evening…

We had eaten and we were all feeling pretty full by the time I pulled these baked apples out of the oven. We very rarely have any kind of dessert, none of us has a particularly sweet tooth; I only cooked this because it looked interesting and, for a dessert, it’s low-calorie (around 270 kCal per serving).

I didn’t much fancy it, thinking I would have a couple of bites to test it. Another at the table was extremely dubious about the entire concept, and the third flat-out refused to eat it as he hates mushy things.

Anyway, there we were, chatting away, politely nibbling away from our bowls. Some little time later I realised that my bowl was empty. It wasn’t only mine, so were the other two. That tells you all you need to know about this incredibly simple, incredibly moreish winter dessert.

The original recipe is by Tom Kerridge. Sir, I salute you.

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RECIPE serves 4 

75g sachet of low-fat instant custard

400ml skimmed milk

4 medium Bramley apples

40g amaretti biscuits, crushed

the zest of an orange

30g raisins

1 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cardamom seeds

1tbsp soft light brown sugar

a scattering of flaked almonds


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas3.

Pour the custard powder into a large heatproof jug. Heat the milk on the stove-top until it reaches scalding point (just below the boil) then pour it , while whisking continuously, onto the custard powder. When it is smooth and free of any lumps, set it aside for now.

Remove the cores from the apples, leaving a good-sized hole so you can fit the filling into it.

In a small bowl, mix together the crushed amaretti biscuits, orange zest, raisins and spices.

Pour the custard into a small roasting tin, then place the apples on top of the custard. Spoon the filling into the core-holes. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle with the brown sugar and scatter over the flaked almonds. Bake for a further 15-20 minutes until the apples are soft all the way through.

Serve each baked apple with a portion of the hot custard.

Sweet Potato Saag Aloo

Saag aloo is usually made with regular potatoes but this sweet potato version from The Hairy Bikers is particularly luscious. The great thing about sweet potatoes is that they are richer in nutrients – particularly vitamin C – than white potatoes and lower in starch. They count towards your five a day too, while regular potatoes don’t.

This is a great meal if you are dieting, coming in at only 200 calories per serving and making you feel comfortably full. That means you can have a serving of rice and a couple of rotis with it, without bursting your waistband.

The secret to great flavour here is to use your own fresh curry powder mix. It’s not hard to make and my recipe is here.

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RECIPE serves 4 

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

20g fresh root ginger, grated

2 tbsp curry powder

2 medium sweet potatoes, diced

1 large ripe tomato, diced

300ml vegetable stock

a small bunch of coriander, stalks only, chopped

200g bag of baby spinach, picked over and thoroughly washed

To serve:

the zest and juice of a lemon

a few green chillies, sliced

a small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole dish or a deep frying pan. Add the onion and cook it quite briskly until it’s softened and very lightly browned. Add the garlic, ginger and curry powder and stir until combined.

Add the sweet potatoes to the pan and stir to coat them with the garlic, ginger and spices, then add the tomato and the vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the stock to the boil, then turn down the heat, cover the pan and simmer very gently until the sweet potato is just cooked. This should take no longer than 10 minutes, but check regularly from 5 minutes as you don’t want the sweet potato to go mushy – it should still have a little bite to it. Loosen the sauce with a little more stock or water if necessary.

Add the spinach and chopped coriander stalks to the pan and cover the pan again until the spinach has wilted down. Stir very carefully to combine without breaking up the sweet potatoes.

At this point you can turn the heat off and leave it for for a few hours or overnight, the flavours will only get better. If you are going to eat it immediately, garnish with the lemon zest and juice and a sprinkling of finely sliced green chillies and chopped coriander leaves.

Serve with basmati rice and roti.

Sri Lankan Coconut Dhal

We are a diverse family, encompassing unrepentant meat-eaters, pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans. When any combination of us gets together it can be tricky to come up with meals that will satisfy everyone’s needs while also being satisfying.

What that really means is that I need a good stock of vegan recipes, a thought that would drive my grandfather into a rant about lentils. Well, this is a vegan dish, and its made from lentils, and even my grandfather would approve. He always appreciates luscious food, and this has lusciousness in spades. It’s quick too, so if you walk in the door after a long hard day and don’t fancy a big work-up in the kitchen, this will feed everybody and anybody.

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RECIPE serves 4 

2 tsp sunflower oil

250g red split lentils, rinsed thoroughly

1 banana shallot, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a small handful of dried curry leaves

a small cinnamon stick

1 green chilli, finely chopped

4 tsp curry powder

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

a small bunch of coriander, leaves and stalks

the zest and juice of a lemon


METHOD

Gently fry the shallots, garlic, curry leaves, cinnamon stick and chilli in the oil, for around 5 minutes until softened and aromatic.

Mix a little water into the curry powder – please use either my own recipe for curry powder, or (if you really must) a top quality, fresh off the shelf supermarket version – to make a paste, and add it to the pan. Cook the spices out for a few minutes, then add 400ml of water, the coconut milk and the lentils.

Simmer for around 20 minutes until the lentils are soft and plump. Finely chop the coriander stalks and add them to the dhal, stir them in thoroughly.

At this point you can turn the heat off and leave it for for a few hours or overnight, the flavours will only get better. If you are going to eat it immediately, garlish with the lemon zest and juice and sprinkling of chopped coriander leaves.

Serve with basmati rice and roti.