Archive for February, 2010

Fried eggs with dates

February 27, 2010

Sometimes, you need simple recipes that are little more than ideas to add into your repertoire, for the times when you don’t really want to cook but you don’t really want to eat any of the things that immediately come to mind. And then you remember that other, slightly odd thing you also used to eat sometimes when you first discovered it and that happens to be exactly what you want for lunch. I think fried eggs with dates is destined to become one of those things.

In the middle of last year I started working part-time – not very part-time, just Wednesday and Friday afternoons off – but this means that on Wednesdays and Fridays I can eat lunch at home. The pleasure of being able to eat something on toast for lunch mid-week is not to be underestimated, I’ve found. I almost always feel like toast, and it’s particularly comforting when a whole free afternoon stretches out ahead of you with many cups of tea to be had and, perhaps, another slice of toast a bit later on.

Fried eggs with dates   Serves 1 as a hearty snack

According to Sophie Michell, who classes this as a ‘pre-party stomach liner’, this is Persian in origin. It seems slightly odd, but actually works really well – I can’t explain how exactly, but it does.

1 thick slice bread
small knob of butter
1 egg
2 large, soft dates

Remove the stones, if any, from the dates and roughly chop.

Put the bread on to toast. Melt the butter over a gentle heat in a small frying pan and crack in the egg. Sprinkle the dates into the white of the egg and fry until the white is set but the yolk is still runny.

Serve the egg up on the toast with a sprinkle of salt.

From Sophie Michell’s ‘Fabulous Food: Sexy Recipes for Healthy Living’.


Asian-style crab omelette

February 27, 2010

So far, if this week could have a theme I think it would be ‘Asian quick and easy’. It makes sense, really, to pick several recipes invlolving, say, coriander, chillies and lime so that you can use them up throughout the week, rather than buying a big bunch of herbs for one recipe and leaving them to mulch in the fridge. That way you only need buy a couple of extra forms of protein to combine with the store cupboard into a different meal each night.

I may just be trying to justify the very expensive pot of hand-picked white crab meat I bought for an omelette, but in fairness nothing else in the recipe costs much. And you could equally make it with prawns, marinated tofu, even just stir-fried vegetables. I like the crab though, it adds a touch of luxury. I think omelettes need a little luxury to become a worthwhile supper dish, even if it’s just a glass of wine on the side.

Asian-style crab omelette  Serves 2

4 eggs
2 tbsp milk
100-150g crab (I only used 100g as that’s what size the tubs came in)
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated
2 spring onions, finely sliced
small handful coriander
sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds
1 tbsp oyster sauce (I used a bit of fish sauce and a bit of soy sauce)

Beat the eggs with the milk and season.

Heat the sesame oil in a frying pan and fry the spring onion, chilli, garlic and ginger for 3 minutes. Add the crab and heat through. Remove from the heat and stir through the coriander.

Heat 1 tbsp of the vegetable oil in a pan over a medium-low heat (you can use the same one, crab removed), and pour in half the egg mixture. Tilt the pan, allowing the uncooked mixture to fill the spaces, until you have a firm but just set omelette. Slide onto a plate and keep warm while you make the other omelette in the same way.

Fill each omelette with half of the crab mixture, fold and serve, sprinkled with the sesame seeds. Drizzle over oyster sauce, fish sauce and/or soy sauce to taste.

Adapted from Sophie Michell’s ‘Fabulous Food: Sexy Recipes for Healthy Living’.

Nasi goreng

February 23, 2010

What with busyness meaning I failed to really do the Leon book justice, we’re moving right along to ‘Fabulous Food’ by Sophie Michell. I picked this one up while at a photogrammetry conference in Leicester. Yes, if I say that my job involves travel, that makes it sound interesting and glamorous, but the reality is a little different. I have been to some fantastic places, true, but all too often I’m alone in a Holiday Inn in Leicester. It can get lonely. Generally, my main weapon against loneliness is consumption: i.e., I eat or I go shopping, preferably both. To my mind, the two most comforting places to head for in any strange city are 1) the second hand shops and 2) the art galleries. Some strange nesting instinct causes me to feel more at home in a hotel room if I can surround myself with unnecessary new purchases, like 15-piece tea-sets (socio-legal studies, Canterbury). You can’t buy much in an art gallery, but they make me feel calm, and they usually have a cafe.

Where am I going with this? Fabulous Food is probably not the sort of book I might have otherwise bought. It’s full of the sort of hyper-girliness that I find quite grating, all fitting into little black dresses, not drinking beer because it’s not ladylike and not cooking for a man until the third date. The food though, appealed to me. This week I feel like eating simple, quick food that makes me feel a bit healthier, and this nasi goreng really fit the bill – a doddle to make while famished, with enough crunch and chew and freshness to still feel rewarding.

Nasi goreng  Serves 1

Note: portion sizes in this book are small. When I made this for dinner last night I almost wept at its meagreness, but then I actually felt oddly full afterwards, so I’ve left it as is. However, I would suggest doubling the amount of rice if you’re hungry.

100g cooked rice (about 35g raw rice)
100g prawns (you could use tofu to make it veggie)
small handful salted peanuts
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 egg
lime quarters, for serving

Heat the sesame oil in a frying pan or wok and stir fry the garlic, spring onions and chilli for a couple of minutes. Add half of the vegetable oil and the prawns and cook for 3 minutes. Add in the rice, soy sauce and chilli sauce, stirring and heating the rice through.

Meanwhile, fry the egg in the rest of the vegetable oil, making sure that the yolk stays runny.

To serve, mound up the rice, scatter with peanuts and top with the fried egg. Lime quarters on the side.

Adapted from Sophie Michell’s ‘Fabulous Food: Sexy Recipes for Healthy Living’.

Sausage, kale, beans

February 22, 2010

I know that title reads like one of those non-descriptive menu entries some chefs seem to be so fond of at the moment, but really, it pretty much is just sausage, kale, and beans. OK, a bit of chicken stock, a handful of herbs maybe, but that’s it. It will give you a sense of deep and satisfying frugality, particularly if you dug the sausages and stock out of the freezer, and the beans were hand-me-downs from Tom’s sister, who can’t get her husband to like them. Just so you know, I will happily give any unwanted beans a home. I like to think this is exactly what they would have wanted, all cosy and warm, nestled into the kale fronds.

I made quite a few changes to the original recipe, not because I thought I was improving it, but because I didn’t read it very carefully before I did my shopping. The beans should be flageolet, which are certainly among the prettiest of the beans, but I used one tin of pinto and one of borlotti (when tinned they’re almost indistinguishable from each other anyway).

I also used sage instead of rosemary, and I left out the cream. Then I felt like it was missing a certain something so I added a bit of parmesan. Cream would probably have been better, but it’s still one of the best ways I can think of of eating up your kale (‘the new blueberry’, according to Leon).

Finally, a warning: this supper may induce a soporific effect. That was clearly why I fell asleep during Synecdoche, New York and missed the ending. Certainly not because I couldn’t understand it and was bored, at all.

Sausage, kale, beans  Serves 3-4

1 packet sausages (should be 6, we had one missing, consumed in fry-up)
2 tins whichever beans your cupboard yields (or 200g dried beans, soaked and cooked)
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
800ml chicken stock
1 tbsp olive oil
1 heaped tbsp chopped rosemary (or sage)
small handful parsley, chopped
200g kale, chopped and any large stalks removed
75ml cream
parmesan for grating (optional)
salt and pepper

Slice the sausages into manageable chunks, about 4 to a sausage. Fry them in the olive oil until nicely browned.

Add the garlic and sage/rosemary, stir, and then turn down the heat and add the onion. Cook over a low heat with the lid on for about 15 minutes, until all is soft and tender. Add in the chicken stock, season and bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes, with the lid on.

Add the kale (and cream, if using) and cook for 10 minutes with the lid on and a further 10 with the lid off. Check the seasoning and serve sprinkled with parsley, and parmesan if you like.

Adapted from Allegra McEvedy’s ‘Leon’.

Leon flatbread

February 22, 2010

I know I’ve written about flatbread before, but when a friend who had borrowed Leon returned it I remembered that this was the flatbread recipe I always used, the one that never failed. It’s super-easy, which is generally what I like about flatbread anyway, but this one you could probably (except that I obviously didn’t) remember off by heart once you’d done it a few times. The ingredients are as follows: 500g of flour of your choice, 250ml of warm water, a sachet of yeast and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. You mix it all up and give it a quick in-bowl knead – no scraping dough bits off your worksurface! – then there’s just one proving stage and the breads cook in minutes. It’s completely non-daunting to the extent that, if you have friends coming round later, you might think, “oh, I’ll just whip up a batch of flatbread for us to eat warm from the griddle with some hummus”. Honestly, I know because I did last week, pre-pancakes. Then I made some more yesterday for lunch.

This makes quite a bready flatbread, if that makes sense. Although flat, it’s a relatively airy dough, like a bread duvet. You can’t wrap anything with it, but it’s a good solid dipping bread. The sprinkle of za’atar on top is a nice addition: I wrote about za’tar here, but if you don’t have any use herbs, spices or seeds of your choice, or just sea salt.

Flatbread  Makes 6

I generally use half white and half wholemeal flour for these – plain is fine, you don’t need bread flour. Yesterday I made them with half spelt flour, which was nice enough, but you couldn’t really tell so I think I’ll try upping the proportion next time.

500g flour
250ml warm water (hand-hot)
1 sachet instant active yeast
4 tbsp olive oil
sea salt
za’atar (optional, to sprinkle)

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the yeast. (If you have the kind of yeast you need to activate first, do that in the warm water beforehand.) Make a well in the flour and tip in the warm water and olive oil. Mix with one hand until it comes together into a ball of dough and then knead roughly with the heel of your hand until it’s smooth and well-behaved, adding more flour if necessary. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it to stand for an hour or two until well risen. It shouldn’t come to much harm if you leave it longer than that.

To cook the dough, you can either use a griddle pan or the oven. I always used the oven until last week, when having something else in there I was forced down the griddle route. Now I think I might prefer it: not only do you get the pretty stripes, but there’s less chance of forgetting about it. The downside is, you can cook more bread at once in the oven. OK, so, either heat your griddle pan or heat your oven to 220c and put it a couple of baking trays.

Take out the dough and shape it into 6 rounds. Roll each one out into a long pitta-shape, about half a centimetre thick. You may need to lightly flour your work surface. Sprinkle your desired toppings onto the shaped loaves and give them each another roll so the spices stick. Proceed by either cooking on the hot griddle pan for 3 minutes a side, or placing on  the preheated baking trays, lightly oiled, and cooking for the same amount of time in the oven.

Adapted from Allegra McEvedy’s ‘Leon’.

Salmon superfood salad

February 17, 2010


You know things are bad when your boyfriend asks you,, “what kind of birthday cake do you want?” and you say, not, “carrot cake please, not too fluffy, heavy on the cinnamon and sultanas” but, “do I have to have a birthday cake?”

Yes, I have a bad case of food fatigue. All of this eating and drinking has left me struggling to muster interest even for one of my most favourite things, cake, in its birthday and pan forms (we decided to have a late pancake day, you see, having missed the official Shrove Tuesday celebrating a friend’s birthday. Happy birthday, Lindsey). After another slightly too late night and weary morning, I got home from work this afternoon and made the most overtly healthy of healthy salads. This is like rubbing virtue directly into your pores. Oily fish, dark green leaves, seeds, sprouts, broccoli, omega 3s, vitamins, minerals, goodness. After this you almost feel obliged to have a pancake.

Samon superfood salad  Serves 2-3

You can buy sprouted seeds in health food shops, or order them from some veg box companies. I sprout my own mung beans (of course I do, I’m a yoga teacher) – you can buy whole mung beans in most Indian grocers. Just soak a handful over night, and the next day drain and rinse them in warm water. Put them in a glass jar and cover the top with a piece of cloth – cheesecloth, muslin, clean bit of tights – secured with an elastic band. Continue to rinse them in a sieve with warm water each morning and evening until they sprout little tails, which will take a couple of days. They never grow quite as long as the ones in shops, but the longer you leave them the more they should grow.

For the dressing here, I used tahini (see this post) to save making the aioli used in the book, but you could use any sort of dressing you like best.

100g quinoa
1/2 large or 1 small head broccoli
2 small salmon fillets
3 big handfuls rocket
2 big handfuls spinach
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
120g frozen peas (I used frozen baby broad beans)
1/2 lemon
a scattering of sprouted seeds
2 tbsp toasted seeds (I used pumpkin)
3 tbsp each chopped parsley and mint
3 tbsp dressing of your choice
salt and pepper

Bring 200ml water to the boil, add the quinoa and boil hard for 5 minutes, then simmer for a further 5. Leave with the lid on to absorb the water, then fluff up the grains.

Put your griddle pan on to heat, or turn on the grill.

Chop the broccoli into small florets and slice the stalk thinly. Cut the stalk pieces in half if the stalk is particularly thick. Cook the broccoli in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes, dropping in the frozen vegetables at the last minute to thaw, then take the pan off the heat and run cold water over the veg to stop them cooking any further.

Season the salmon and griddle for about 4 minutes on each side, depending on how thick the pieces are.

Toss the leaves, tomatoes, broccoli and peas/beans in the lemon juice and pile into bowls. Scatter over the quinoa and sprouts. Top with salmon, then dressing, seeds and herbs.

Adapted from Allegra McEvedy’s ‘Leon’.

Lapsang poached fruit with praline

February 17, 2010


This is a recipe from the Christmas section of Allegra’s Colour Cookbook, but I like it so much I make it all year round. I have a particular affinity for dried fruit compotes, although I suspect that’s not the coolest thing to admit. This one has whisky in, if it helps.

The book is divided into 4 main sections, each with their own colour theme: roughly speaking, winter is dark green, spring is light green, summer is red and autumn is orange. Christmas is a bonus section on the end. What I particularly like about Allegra McEvedy, aside from the fact that she writes knock-out recipes, is that she writes about the health benefits of food in an enthusiastic and inspiring way, without making nutrition sound joyless or crackpot. I think there’s a sense of generosity and care about her food. When I flick through this book, I’m happily reminded of how much of it I’ve made and enjoyed, and feel briefly satisfied; then I remember how much I want to make it all again and all the other things I haven’t made yet, and feel pangs of regret. It’s a good book, that’s what I’m saying.

As she rightly points out here, winter is a bit low on the fresh, seasonal fruit front, and dried fruit can be a useful staple to add some nutrients to your diet (figs, prunes, apricots and sultanas are a good source of iron, as well as vitamins and fibre). This works as a pudding, snack, or (sans booze and praline) a breakfast. I especially like it on porridge.

Lapsang poached fruit with praline  Serves 3

I tend to half the recipe as I live in a dried fruit lover household of one. Also, you probably want slightly smaller servings for breakfast. You can safely double everything if you prefer.

Feel free to change the choice of fruit to whatever you like best or happen to have in the cupboards.

For the poaching liquor:
1.5cm chunk of ginger, sliced lengthways
45g brown sugar
1/2 vanilla pod
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 lapsang souchong teabag
1 clove
2 cardamom pods
1/2 – 1 star anise (I use 1/2 if I find a broken one, don’t break one on purpose)
1 bay leaf
1/2 mace blade (optional – I never have mace)

For the praline:
75g caster sugar
60g flaked almonds
2 tbsp water

For the fruit:
2 apples
1 pear
90g prunes
6 dried apricots
3 dried figs
35g dried cranberries or cherries

To serve:
35ml whisky, or booze of your choice
thick yoghurt or whipped cream

Put all the ingredients for the poaching liquor in a saucepan with 350ml water. Bring to a gentle simmer, then turn down to the lowest heat and leave for 20 minutes.

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, oiled, or even better, a silicone baking sheet. Put the sugar for the praline in a small saucepan, heavy-based if possible, and sprinkle over the water. Stir briefly so that all the sugar is wet. Set over a low to medium heat and wait for it to turn an amber, golden colour – this might take a while, but don’t forget about it or it’ll have gone too far behind your back. You can tilt the pan, but don’t stir the liquid. It helps if you have a light-coloured pan so that you can see the caramel changing colour, but in my experience most pans are black, unhelpfully. When it’s at the right colour and thickness, quickly stir in the flaked almonds, stir to coat, and tip them out onto the greaseproof paper. Leave to set.

Strain the poaching liquor into a large saucepan and reheat. Cut the apples and pears into quarters and core. I don’t bother to peel them.

Put the dried fruit into the poaching liquor – making sure any stones have been removed. Stew gently for about 10 minutes, then add the apples and pears and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until soft but still intact.

If you still have a lot of liquid left, take out the fruit with a holey spoon and leave the liquid to simmer down to a thicker consistency. Peel the almond praline off the greaseproof paper and break it into chunks.

Serve a portion of the fruit with some of the liquid poured over, and stir in the whisky. Top with yoghurt or whipped cream and praline pieces.

Adapted from Allegra McEvedy’s ‘Colour Cookbook’.

Salmon with sweet potato bubble and roast chilli guacamole

February 15, 2010

Lately, I’ve been well-fed. That is to say, I’ve been eating a lot: sometimes I’ve eaten well, other times it’s more debatable. The past week’s meals have segued from the rich and bitter deliciousness of semolina gnocchi with braised chicory to Chinese takeaway, from after-dinner sherry to beer and burritos, to banana cake and pancakes. I wish I could tell you about more of it. In particular, I wish I could tell you about the amazing dinner we had last night, in honour of a maligned and scoffed at day that some people say is a commercial swindle. I say why not use love as your excuse to celebrate, to sit down and eat dinner with your favourite person or people? Isn’t love as valid a reason as the baby jesus’ birthday, or his death, or a day randomly assigned to mothers, or any of those other, also commercialised things? Especially if it means you can eat the roasted butternut squash with the smoky aubergine dip from Ottolenghi, and a rabbit and chorizo hotpot, and a large helping of sherry cream pudding with berries and sugary toasted almonds. Oh, and we went to see A Single Man, which is so absolutely incredible it more than made up for Breakfast At Tiffany’s being sold out.

So, my only problem is that none of these things I’ve been eating have been made by me. My sole contribution to the ongoing project of tackling my cookbooks was this salmon dish, which I think needs a bit of work; I think it’s good enough to write about as is, but with a bit of tweaking it could be fantastic.

In fact it should have been a red snapper dish, which might have been more interesting, but I always seem to have packs of special-offered salmon lurking in my freezer. If you’re interested, red snapper is on the MSC’s list of fish that’s OK to eat and I often see it frozen in whole and filleted form in the local Oriental shops or Indian grocers.

The idea of turning the recipe’s accompanying roast chilli drizzle into a roast chilli guacamole came about, rather uninspiringly, from the avocado ripening at speed in the fruit bowl.

Salmon with sweet potato bubble and roast chilli guacamole  Serves 2

2 salmon fillets (or use red snapper)
2 large sweet potatoes
1/4 small green or Savoy cabbage, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 red chillies (I would use the regular large-ish ones, you’ll need to skin them later and mine were too small to do this easily)
1 ripe avocado
1 lime
3 tbsp chopped coriander (small bunch)
1 spring onion
1 tbsp plain flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tbsp olive oil, plus a bit extra for oiling
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180c. Put the sweet potatoes in a small baking tray and drizzle with a tbsp of the olive oil, season, and roll around to coat. Bake for about 50 minutes, until thoroughly soft all the way through.

Meanwhile, wrap the whole chillies and one of the garlic cloves in foil with a touch of salt, making a tight, flat package. Now, the recipe instructs you to chop the garlic first, but this gave me slightly burned garlic bits. I think it would be better to roast the clove whole in its skin and squeeze it out later. You might even roast a whole bulb or half a bulb, sliced through the middle, this way, so you can have extra roasted garlic around for squeezing onto bread.

Put the chilli/garlic package into the oven and cook for 20 minutes, then remove it and leave to cool.

Once slightly cooled, peel the chillies. Apparently this is easiest if you cut them in half lengthways, lay them skin-side down and scrape the flesh off with the back of a knife. You can discard the seeds or leave them, depending on how fiery you want your guacamole. Mash the garlic flesh and chilli flesh together in a bowl with a fork. Peel and destone your avocado and mash that in too. Stir in half of the chopped coriander, cut the lime in half and squeeze half into the bowl. Season well.

When the potatoes are done, take them out and leave to cool slightly so you can peel them (you’ll need the oven to stay at 180c for later, so leave it on or remember to turn it back on ahead of time). The skin should come away easily if you pull it. Roughly mash the flesh with a fork, then stir in the spring onion, cabbage, the rest of the coriander, the other clove of garlic, chopped, and the flour. Season and cool in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

When the time is up, heat the other tbsp of oil in an ovenproof frying pan. Shape the sweet potato mix into two round, flat discs, dusting each side with flour. When the oil is hot, fry the bubble for a few minutes on one side until browned and easy to turn. Flip them over and put them in the oven for 10 minutes while you cook the fish.

Heat a griddle pan, or the grill if you don’t have one. Lightly oil the salmon skin and season the fish on both sides, then press them skin-side down into the hot griddle pan. They should take 3-4 minutes on the first side – when they’re done, the skin will lift away from the pan without tearing. Turn and cook for a further 2 minutes on the other side.

Pile a fillet on top of each bubble cake, top with guacamole and serve with a quarter of lime.

Adapted from Allegra McEvedy’s ‘Colour Cookbook’.

Duck, mushroom and watercress broth

February 9, 2010

Ugh, this weather is really no friend to the cyclist. Last night I cycled to my yoga class with the wind blowing sleet down my hood and into my face, torn between the desire to keep my eyes shut against the onslaught of pointy ice and the need to see where I was going. This is why people hate February.

Even I struggle with February, and for me it’s birthday month, which means a lot of eating out and celebrating and presents. That just about pulls me through and drags me into March. I can’t imagine how everyone else manages.

This is a recipe for one of those February days. It’s not just soup, it’s broth, which is infinitely more restorative. It has chunks of tender duck meat, bright green watercress, and lots of mushrooms. I added noodles too, because soup is comforting and pasta is comforting, so therefore soup and pasta is comfort squared.

The flavour is all from the cooking of the duck and the stock it creates, a lovely soft cushion for the other ingredients to nestle against – what I’m trying to say is, this is easy to eat; it will pacify rather than wake up your tastebuds. You need a couple of hours to roast the duck and let it cool, but that’s the only time-consuming bit.

Duck, mushroom and watercress broth  Makes 4 huge bowlfuls

The recipe calls for duck legs, but failing those I got a pretty good deal on a Gressingham duck crown. Which, I know, is everything except the legs, but it worked. Also, technically the mushrooms should be shitake, but I used a combination of soaked dried wild mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms from the veg box.

1 duck crown or 2 large duck legs
10g wild mushrooms, soaked in hot water
150g chestnut mushrooms, sliced (or the same weight shitake mushrooms)
bag of watercress, mine was 100g but you might want to use more
200g vermicelli noodles, or whatever noodles you like
few handfuls beansprouts
1 tbsp or more soy sauce
1 lime or 2 tbsp lime juice

Heat the oven to 160c. Put your duck legs or crown in a very big roasting tray, if you have one – it should be big enough to also contain the 2 litres of water you’re going to add at the next step. Being not so well equipped, I used our big Ikea stockpot. Sprinkle with salt and roast in the oven for 25 minutes.

Take out the tray/pot and pour out any duck fat that has collected in the bottom. You can keep this for roasting potatoes and that sort of thing. Pour in the water. Put the duck back in the oven for another hour, or until it’s properly cooked through, clear juices etc. Take the duck out of the stock and set it aside until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, skim the fat from the top of the stock and strain it into a big saucepan.

Discard the skin from the duck and separate the meat into chunks. It may just pull away from the bones, but since ours was a bit more stubborn we sliced it into manageable pieces. Put the meat back into the stock and bring to the boil. Cook your noodles in a separate pan according to packet instructions.

Once the soup is boiling, throw in the mushrooms (you can put the dried mushrooms in soaking liquid and all) and add the soy sauce. Bring back to the boil and add the watercress and noodles, then turn off the heat. The watercress should be added right at the end so that it stays fresh and green looking, so if you want to save portions of soup for later hold off on adding all the watercress. You can even, as we did, just put a big handful of watercress in each soup bowl and ladle the soup over the top. The heat of the soup is enough to wilt the watercress.

Strew a big handful of beansprouts over each portion and squeeze over lime juice. Add more soy sauce to taste at the table.

Adapted from Allegra McEvedy’s ‘Colour Cookbook’.

Almond and prawn risotto

February 6, 2010

This is another of those cross-cultural reinterpretations of a dish; in this case, a Lebanese pilaf with toasted almonds, crumbled vermicelli and sweet spices, mish-mashed into a traditionally made Italian risotto. It works, I think – the almonds add a bit of crunch to the creamy rice, the cinnamon and pasta emphasise the comforting qualities of a big plate of oozing starch.

I added the prawns for a bit of contrast and extra protein, but I wished I had used scallops because I think the combination of scallops and almonds is so suited. (It would have been a bit beige, though.)

Anyway, the scope here is broad, since you could add almost anything that you’d put into either a risotto or a pilaf, that is almost anything at all. Chorizo, or merguez sausage. Chicken, chickpeas, broad beans, artichoke hearts, you get the idea.

Almond and prawn risotto  Serves 2

Because I put prawns in my risotto, I omitted the parmesan. You might want to add cheese for a non-fishy variation (stir it in towards the end).

50g flaked almonds
1-2 tbsp olive oil
25g vermicelli nest, crumbled into short strands
1/2 small onion
150g risotto rice (I used Arborio)
500ml chicken stock
1 tbsp celery leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper
1 packet prawns, about 140g, peeled
1 clove garlic
1 dried bird’s eye chilli, crumbled, or 1/4 tsp chilli flakes

Finely chop the garlic and crush it into a paste with a sprinkle of salt and the flat of your knife. Smear this over the prawns with the chilli, mixing with your hands, and set aside while you make the risotto.

Toast the almonds in a large dry frying pan until golden brown and then tip out and set aside. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in the pan. Halve the onion and stir the onion quarters in the oil for a few minutes to flavour it, then take out the onion and discard. Add the crumbled vermicelli to the pan and fry until it turns brown and crunchy. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat with oil – add  the extra tbsp if necessary. Have the chicken stock at a simmer in a separate pan.

Add a ladleful of stock to the rice and stir constantly until the stock has been absorbed. Continue adding stock a ladleful at a time, stirring, until the rice is tender and creamy. Stop just before it’s done to the consistency you want. (You may need to add more stock, or just boiling water, if you run out). This should take around 20 minutes, but I won’t be too prescriptive as everyone has their own way of making risotto: I like it soft, not al dente, with a gentle ooze but not runny.

Stir through the celery leaves, almonds and spices with the last ladle of stock and cook for a few minutes. Add the prawns in right at the end – if they’re cooked, you just need to warm them through. If your prawns are raw, cook until they turn pink all over.

Adapted from Greg and Lucy Malouf’s ‘Arabesque’.