Moroccan Prawns with Paprika and Honey

It’s been a while since I made a stir-fry. I kept telling myself I didn’t have time to make one… if you have ever made a stir-fry you will know how absolutely ridiculous that statement is. There is generally a lot of chopping involved in a stir-fry, but the cooking takes mere minutes. This recipe doesn’t even involve much chopping, so it’s super-quick.

The paprika, ginger and honey do a sexy little dance on your tastebuds, it’s a bit like sweet ‘n’ sour but not quite – however you care to define it, it is absolutely delicious. It works all by itself with some flatbread as a starter, or you can cook up some Basmati rice and it makes a great evening meal. I made this with Basmati rice with butter and lemon, I cannot begin to tell you how well they go together.

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RECIPE – serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course

50g butter

4 tbsp olive oil

3 banana shallots, finely chopped

1 long green chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

3 fat cloves of garlic, finely sliced

a big thumb of ginger, finely chopped

1 tsp paprika

250g peeled raw tiger prawns

250g large tiger prawns, shell on

the juice of half a lemon

2 tbsp runny honey

the zest of half a lemon

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

lemon wedges, to serve


METHOD

First, prepare all your ingredients, this cooks quickly so you need to have everything to hand.

In a large pan or wok, melt the butter with the oil and when it is hot fry the shallots for a couple of minutes until translucent.

Add the chilli, garlic and ginger and cook for a further couple of minutes, then add the paprika, stir thoroughly then add all the prawns. Stir-fry over a medium heat – adding the lemon juice part-way through – for a few minutes until the prawns are just pink, they will cook on so take them off the heat sooner rather than later.

Once you have taken the wok off the heat, add the honey to glaze the prawns, stir well then add the lemon zest and parsley, then adjust the seasoning and take it to the table.

Perfect with flatbreads as a starter or, my favourite, with Basmati rice with butter and lemon.

Celeriac and Apple Soup

Simple as they seem, soups can be a real test of a cook’s palate and skill at combining flavours. This Tom Kerridge recipe is a great example, deceptively simple with only a handful of ingredients, the soup itself is the classic winter pairing of creamy celeriac and sharp cooking apples and is lovely by itself. Add some garnishes however and the resulting flavour combinations are eye-popping, every mouthful offers something different.

I have used pumpkin oil as a garnish here; it’s an unusual ingredient, and quite expensive – though it will go an awful long way. Use it like you would toasted sesame oil, as a seasoning and garnish, and it lifts anything it comes into contact with. A very worthwhile investment indeed.

This soup makes a delicious and filling supper meal, or a very elegant first course.

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RECIPE – serves 4

500g celeriac

1 litre vegetable stock

3 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 large Bramley apples, or other sharp cooking apples

the juice of a lemon, freshly squeezed

200ml double cream

1/2 nutmeg, finely grated

To garnish (use any or all):

salty, soft blue cheese (Roquefort, dolcelatte or similar), crumbled

toasted walnuts

celery leaves

a few drops of pumpkin oil

sourdough croutons


METHOD 

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.

Peel the celeriac and retain the peel, chop the flesh into 2cm cubes and tip onto a roasting tray, drizzle a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil over it. Using your hands, ensure that every surface of every piece of celeriac has a fine film of oil, then spread the pieces out evenly across the roasting tray. Do not crowd your tray, leave a little space between each piece of vegetable and in a single layer, otherwise some pieces will steam rather than roast. Roasting drives out some of the moisture in the vegetable, intensifying the flavour in a way that steaming does not. The oil coating protects the vegetable from the dry heat and delays caramelisation until the vegetable is soft. Roast for 30-40 minutes until soft and just starting to brown.

Meanwhile, put the celeriac peel into the stock and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and allow to infuse for at least 30 minutes.

Sweat the onion in 1 tbsp rapeseed oil with a little salt for around ten minutes until softened but not coloured – the salt will help as it encourages the moisture in the onions to be released.

Peel and dice the apples and toss them in a large bowl with the lemon juice. When the onion is soft, add the apples with the lemon juice and the roasted celeriac. Strain the infused stock into the pan and bring to the boil, simmer for ten minutes until the apple has started to break down. Add the cream, bring the temperature of the soup back up until it is just about to boil, then turn off the heat. Using a stick blender, or worktop blender, blitz the soup until it is smooth. Test and correct the seasoning, and grate in half a fresh nutmeg.

To serve, garnish with any or all of the garnishes listed.

Courgette and Sherry Soup

My mother-in-law makes a wicked courgette and sherry soup. Sadly, she has been ill this week so my lovely wife asked if I could make her something nice and light: “how about a courgette and sherry soup? She loves the one that she makes”.

Yeah okay, no pressure then. She’s a great cook and now you’re asking me to make something that she makes all the time, with no idea of her recipe.

On with the thinking cap, and I think I nailed it. The secret here is to keep it simple and let the ingredients sing. Boy do they sing. It’s the time of year when the courgettes we grow in the garden are just big enough to eat, so I grabbed a handful of them and let them speak for themselves. They were luscious. I was accused of adding cream to this soup, but no, all of the silky creaminess comes from the courgettes themselves. A delight.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

25g butter (or 1 tbsp olive oil, if making it for a vegan)

1 large onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

400g courgettes, chopped

1 tbsp dry sherry

500 ml water

1 vegetable stock cube (use a vegan-friendly one if necessary)

extra-virgin olive oil to garnish

small basil leaves to garnish

croutons to garnish (optional)


METHOD

Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onion and garlic, with the dried basil and oregano. Cover the pan and cook gently for 5 minutes until the onion is softened. Stir in the courgettes, cover the pan and cook gently for a further 10 minutes. Turn the heat up, add the sherry and cook for a minute or so to burn off the alcohol, then add the water and crumble the stock cube into the soup. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, season carefully.

Allow the soup to cool for a few minutes then pour into a blender and blend until smooth. You can also use a stick blender to do this.

To serve, garnish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a few small whole basil leaves, you can also garnish with a few croutons if you like.

Spicy Thai Prawn and Lemon Grass Soup

Testament to the old law that simplicity is best, this fabulous broth takes minutes to make yet is packed with fresh, zingy Thai flavours. It is the perfect starter course for a Thai meal, or a light summer lunch – best enjoyed out in the garden with the sun shining.

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RECIPE – serves 2

1 pint of fish stock

2 fresh lemon grass stalks, cut into 3cm lengths and lightly crushed

1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

zest of 2 limes

3 red birds eye chillies, de-seeded and cut into long strips

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice

100g raw king prawns

2 spring onions, finely sliced at an angle

a few sprigs of coriander


METHOD

Bring the fish stock to a gentle simmer in a large pan, add the crushed lemon grass and fish sauce, cover and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to sit, covered, to infuse for as long as you can, a couple of hours will do the job.

Later, remove the lemon grass stalks with a slotted spoon (or pour through a sieve) and discard. Bring back to the boil then add the lime zest, chillies, black pepper and lime juice. Simmer gently for 3 minutes, then add the prawns and allow them to poach gently until they are just pink. This will only take a few minutes. Stir in the spring onions and coriander and serve immediately.

Warm Salad of Trout, Watercress and Spelt

“Things that grow together, go together.”

I have a terrific book on my shelves, ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’, by Niki Segnit. It’s a very handy reference when you have something in the fridge and you’re trying to figure out what to use as an accompaniment; it’s also handy to refer to if you have had a wacky idea, just to check that those flavours really will work together.

On the subject of trout and cress it has this to say: “not so much a pairing as a reunification. Trout feed on the more tender leaves of watercress but they’re really after the sowbugs, tiny crustaceans that live in its thickets.” Having had the idea, and knowing that we would be attending the Watercress Festival at the weekend, I knew to look out for some trout in the farmers’ market that is at the heart of the festival. I would have preferred to have got hold of brown trout, which has a more fulsome flavour than the rainbow trout which was all that was available there, but it was no problem – all I had to do was ensure that I gave it a little help by putting other flavoursome elements around it.

Hitting the books, I found that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall pairs trout and watercress with pearled spelt (in his excellent book ‘Three Good Things’), with a strong sauce that cuts through and enhances the flavour of the fish. I was thinking of using horseradish, which goes brilliantly with salmon so should work here (and it does by the way), but I always prefer to make everything if I can, rather than opening a jar.

There was still something missing though, I thought Hugh might have missed a trick by limiting himself to just three main ingredients. What I now had planned reminded me a little of kedgeree, and of course egg and cress are a classic combination, so would eggs work here? I always presumed that the eggs in a kedgeree only really work because of the way they interact with the curry flavours; the flavour thesaurus indicated that it wouldn’t be a disaster and you’ll never know unless you try it. I’m not spoiling the plot by telling you that of course it worked, otherwise the eggs wouldn’t appear in the recipe below.

It’s enormously satisfying when a faint idea blossoms into a recipe that you will make again and again; for mere amateurs like me it is a fairly rare occurrence, there will always be more failures along the way than successes. There’s always more to learn though, and a failure isn’t really a failure when you can learn so much from it. The main point here is to remind you that it’s okay to experiment. Don’t be afraid of ‘failure’; just read recipes, steal bits of them, adapt parts of others, play around with flavours and textures and see what happens, it can be great fun and if you can make cooking fun your eating will be fabulous, just like it is here.

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RECIPE – for 2 people as a main course, for 4 people or more as a starter

1 rainbow or brown trout, 500g or so, or two smaller fish

1 onion, sliced

2 tsp black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

a handful of parsley stalks, gently bruised

150g pearled spelt

1 tsp bouillon powder (I use Marigold)

2 good handfuls of watercress, large clumps separated

a handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

2 duck eggs, boiled for 7 1/2 minutes and set aside

For the dressing:

50g plain yoghurt

1 tsp English mustard

juice of 1/2 lemon

a small pinch of sugar


METHOD

Lay the fish in a pan deep enough that you can completely cover it with water. Add the onion, peppercorns, bay and parsley stalks. Bruise the parsley stalks first, by gently pressing down on them with the flat of a knife.

Bring to a gentle simmer and poach the fish for 8-10 minutes. The exact time will depend on the size of your fish but be very careful not to go over – the fish flesh should be just translucent as it will cook on slightly. Lift the fish out and allow to cool completely before peeling the skin off and lifting the flesh from the bones. Try to keep the fish in fairly large chunks.

While the fish is cooling, strain the poaching liquid through a sieve to remove the onion, peppercorns, bay and parsley. Season with a teaspoon of bouillon powder and carefully adjust by adding salt, a tiny pinch at a time and testing after each addition.

You will now have a delicious fish stock, bring it to the boil and add the spelt. Simmer for 20-30 mins until the spelt is soft but still has a nutty ‘bite’.

Ten minutes or so before you think the spelt is done, boil the duck eggs for 7 1/2 minutes (if you can’t get duck eggs then use large hens eggs and boil for 6 mins) then set aside to cool slightly before cracking and peeling the shells, taking care to keep the eggs intact.

Drain the spelt and set aside while you make the dressing, by whisking together all the dressing ingredients.

On a serving platter gently combine the fish and spelt, dress with the watercress and parsley leaves, cut the eggs in half (the yolks should be soft but not runny) and place on top, then drizzle with the dressing.

This is lovely served warm as described; leftovers can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days and it is still delicious cold.