samphire, seafood and grains

This meal was born of necessity. In the fridge I had samphire and mixed seafood that needed to be eaten, that I bought about 4 days ago and not had the chance to use yet. So I riffed along with what else was available, and what my palate told me was required (also known as ‘what I wanted to eat!’).food - samphire seafood grains 190516 (15 of 25)-Edit

Ingredients:

  • 200gm cooked mixed seafood (prawns, calamari, mussels)
  • 1 medium brown onion, chopped
  • 4 – 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (I don’t do easy on the garlic!)
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 2 handfuls of mushrooms, chopped
  • 90gm samphire
  • 2 rashers of smoked bacon, chopped (optional)
  • 125gm farro dicocco (pre-cooked spelt grains)
  • 10 – 12 leaves of fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 1/4 of a lime
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • coconut oil
  • olive oil (optional)

Method:

I’m very much a ‘prep everything, then cook’ kind of girl. I simply can’t stand multi-tasking in the kitchen to the extent of chopping, slicing, stirring, tasting and monitoring multiple things at once. It drives me to distraction and invariably something goes wrong.

So, prep all the various items that need chopping/ dicing/ mincing/ etc. Put water on the boil for the farro dicocco. Once the water is boiling, put the grains in (they will take about 12mins until al dente).

In a high-sided sauté pan, warm the coconut oil (and olive oil, if using it) over a medium heat. Sweat the onion, carrot and garlic until soft & fragrant. Add the bacon, ginger and mushrooms and cook a further 5mins. Then add the seafood and samphire, stirring reasonably frequently for two minutes, then turn off the heat.

Once the grains are cooked, drain them and add to the sauté pan. Mix everything together, adding the mint and squeezing over the juice of the 1/4 lime.

Serve, and enjoy

food - samphire seafood grains 190516 (19 of 25)-Edit

  • Serves 2 – 3 people
  • For a pescatarian/ halal/ kosher option, simply omit the bacon
  • suitable for egg, soya, rice, dairy and nut allergies

I’d love to know what you think of this – my family inhaled it. But if there are adaptations or evolutions of this that your family enjoys, pop me a message as I’d love to know about your version.

nb – I promise that there were prawns in this dish! Unfortunately none made it into the serving I set aside for my shoot … despite my best efforts :-/

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Watercress

Watercress is a lovely plant. It’s small, delicate, peppery leaves can pack a surprisingly strong punch, and it’s amazingly versatile. You can cook with it – it makes a lovely spring or summertime soup, or sauce … or a riff on the traditional green pesto for pasta.

Alternatively, you can add it to salads, serve it washed and undressed as a side on a plate, sprinkle it atop an omelette or simply stuff it into an otherwise ordinary salami & cheese sandwich!

watercress & salami sandwich 1
Watercress, German salami and cheddar cheese sandwich on seeded sourdough from Gail’s Artisan Bakery (available in store at Waitrose)

Essentially, anywhere you would think of putting the equally delicate and peppery rocket (arugula) leaves, you can put watercress.

For such a small plant, it is an incredibly good one to have as a part of your diet. It is actually classified as a ‘superfood’ – it’s that packed with nutrients and vitamins! Actually, if you take watercress and analyse it on a gram-for-gram basis, you’ll find that it:

  • has more calcium than whole milk (!)
  • has more vitamin C than your typical orange
  • is a better source of vitamins  B1, B6, K & E and of the minerals magnesium, iron, manganese, calcium and zinc than pretty much any other plant food

This is due (in part) to that fact that watercress is generally eaten fresh, meaning that none of the nutrient value is lost in a cooking process.

Watercress is in season from Spring through to early Autumn in the UK (April to September). Make the most of it!

For some more ideas on how you can incorporate watercress into your kitchen, there are some specific recipes here.

 

 

Moroccan lamb, grains and Spring veg

Part of my transition from a south-east Asian focus in my cooking to a seasonal, more ‘European’ focus has been seeking ways to incorporate the fast cooking method employed in much south-east Asian cuisine with the ingredients and flavours most readily available to me in the south-east of England.

food - grains and seasonal veg 050516 (42 of 52)-Edit-EditThe inspiration for this meal came one evening when, after a long day of parenting the very thought of cooking was almost beyond me. So the solution (given that there were no leftovers in the fridge begging to be eaten), was to come up with something easy to prepare, quick to cook and satisfying to eat.

The result was lamb, cut into bite-sized chunks and dry-marinated in Ras el Hanout, quick
cook grains, vegetables and pomegranate as the finishing touch. Given that this meal now makes regular appearances on our dining table, I’d say that this is a success!!


Ingredients

  • 300gm lamb* fillet, trimmed and cut into bite-sized chunks and coated with approximately 2 teaspoons of Ras él Hanout spice mix
  • 160gm quick cook grains** (80gm per person)
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • handful of purple-sprouting broccoli
  • handful of spring greens, washed and chopped
  • the seeds of half a pomegranate
  • toasted sesame oil
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper
  • coconut oil

Method

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 litres of water to the boil. Add the grains (which will take approximately 12 minutes to cook al denté). After 4 minutes, add the broccoli and carrots to the grains, adjusting the heat to ensure the water maintains a simmer. When the grains and vegetables are almost done, add the spring greens to wilt in the final minute or so of cooking.

In the meantime, warm a medium sauté pan/ frying pan over a medium heat. Add the coconut oil to the pan and once hot, add the diced lamb. Cook the lamb to your preference – personally I go for medium rare.

Drain the cooked grains and vegetables, dress with a splash of toasted sesame oil, extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Serve the grains and vegetables, topped with the lamb and garnish with a generous sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.

Enjoy!


  • serves 2 as a main
  • good for wheat intolerances (contains gluten); to
  • organic (always my choice, if possible)
  • Spring

* I’ve found that 2 pork chops, on the bone, or 4 lamb loin chops also work really well

** my go-to grains for this dish are the Love Life Italian 5 Grains from Waitrose – hearty and scrumptious! For a gluten-free option, use quinoa instead

 

ancient grains

Modern day, ‘western’ cuisine often feels like it is completely dominated by the basics of the Italian kitchen – pizza, pasta and rice. I can only speculate as to why this is … an exceptionally long hangover from the days of the Roman Empire, when everything (the majority of European languages and legal systems included) either emanated from, or was significantly shaped by Rome?

Or perhaps it is a more recent phenomenon, from the days of the Renaissance and ‘The Grand Tour’ when Italy – Venice and Tuscany especially – were the height of culture, learning and sophistication.

A third option is that it is a more modern influence even than this, and is purely a side-effect (or benefit?) of mass migration following the end of WWII. In any case, pasta, pizza and white rice are now absolute and firm staples in many homes … but does it have to be this way?

Personally, I found that having just these as basics led to a lack of inspiration on my part and boredom for our palattes. Not to mention the fact that if you (or someone in your family) has an intolerance to commercial wheat then chances are that they will find the after-effects of a pasta meal made with mass-market, dried pasta to be somewhat uncomfortable!food - grains 050516 (25 of 82)-Edit-Edit

So, what are the alternatives? Ancient grains and products made from ancient wheat flours. Dried pasta products made from ancient wheat flours (buckwheat, spelt, khorasan and rye) are increasingly available, especially in health food stores and online. They all have slightly different cooking properties and tastes, so some experimentation may be required for you to hit on the right pasta + sauce combinations for your table.

Ancient grains, however, give us a huge range of possibilities since this category of staples includes spelt, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, couscous, brown (unhusked) rice and wild rice, amaranth, bulgar wheat, freekah, millet, einkorn, emmer, sorghum, rye, teff, polenta, oats …. and many are gluten-free to boot.

millet 1When presented with a list like this, it’s a wonder that we have allowed our horizons to be narrowed SO MUCH to so FEW grains varieties!! Many grains can be purchased as both whole and quick-cooking varieties, with the quick cooking grains taking 12 – 15mins in boiling water. Whole grains either need a longer cook or pre-soaking. All have a subtle, nuanced flavour, but if you want to impart a stronger flavour profile it’s simply a matter of adding a stock cube or flavour pot to the cooking water.

One of my favourite ways of doing grains at the moment is to serve them with seasonal vegetables (cooked in the same pot as the grains – seriously, one-pot cooking is totally where I’m at!), served as a main, or as an accompaniment to either meat or fish.

purple-sprouting broccoli

The season for purple-sprouting broccoli here in the UK is traditionally early February through to late April, but with the weird weather and cold start to spring mean that the season has been pushed back a bit. So yay for being able to enjoy this fabulous, peppery brassica for a little bit longer! food - purple sprouting broccoli 300416 (25 of 33)

This is an incredibly versatile vegetable, but one of my ways to enjoy it is to have the stalks (spears?) simply steamed, tossed in a peppery extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with a teeny pinch of sea salt, sliced Santini tomatoes and Parmesan shavings as a side-salad.

However purple-sprouting broccoli works well in stir-fries, quiches, warm salads, vegetable gratins, with pasta, blitzed into a pesto paste, with eggs … the list is extensive as your imagination! (see my spring greens and sausages recipe for a little inspiration)

As long as this variety of broccoli is in season I’ll be cooking with it – I’ll post some recipes in the near future.

Do you have any particular or favourite ways of enjoying this brilliant and vibrant vege?

khorasan and thyme shortbread

Throughout this blog, as it grows, matures and hopefully blooms bright and wonderful, you will notice a distinct lack of references to ‘plain flour’.

This is due to not everyone in my house being able to eat plain, commercial flour without experiencing rather uncomfortable side effects. This is true of commercial wheat products in the UK and in Australia, but curiously not in continental Europe, which leads me to think that it must be a combination of farming methods and perhaps the variety of wheat grown for flour.

Happily, flours produced from ancient wheat varieties don’t cause the same symptoms … even more happily, ancient wheat flours are increasingly available in the UK. So my store cupboard is stocked with wholegrain and plain spelt flour, khorasan (or kamut) flour, buckwheat and rye. Most of these are available as organically certified, whickhorasan-shortbread 3stackh is brilliant. I tend to mix my own blends of self-raising flour as and when required by a recipe.

I predominantly use spelt flour in my cooking and baking, but for this shortbread I use organic khorasan flour. Khorasan flour is incredibly fine – think ’00’ pasta flour and you’ll get the idea. It has a mild, nutty flavour that, together with the dried thyme give a pleasing savoury edge to these otherwise sweet, crumbly biscuits.

 

Ingredients

  • 125gm unsalted butter, softened (organic if preferred)
  • 150gm golden, granulated sugar (organic if preferred)
  • 175gm organic khorasan flour
  • 1 teaspoon of dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1 dessertspoon of golden caster sugar
  • either a silicone baking mould (approximately 18cm square) or a greased loose-bottomed cake tin (18cm diameter)

Method

Heat your oven to 150deg Celsius (300deg Fahrenheit)

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and granulated sugar until combined. Add the flour and dried thyme, mixing to combine until a loose, crumbly ‘dough’ forms.

Pour the crumbly ‘dough’ into your baking mould/ cake tin, pressing the dough down to form an even, smooth-topped layer in the bottom of the mould.

Prick the surface lightly with a fork – go ahead and be artistic with patterns if you wish! – and dust the top with the golden caster sugar.

Bake for approximately 55 – 60mins. Once done, the shortbread should be a golden-brown colour, and still soft. Cut the shortbread into bite-sized pieces while still hot and pliable, and leave it to cool and harden in the mould.

Once cooled, remove from the baking mould and enjoy!

Khorasan shortbread blog header (1 of 1)

  • recipe yields approximately 20 biscuits that last for a week in an airtight tin (unless eaten first!)
  • organic
  • good for those with intolerance to commercial wheat flours
  • vegetarian

pomegranate

Although this spectacular fruit is a non-native to the British Isles, I feel justified in including it here as it is cultivated in the Mediterranean basin … and as long as the UK is a member state of the EU … produce from within the EU can, within my personal definition, be classed as the outer edges of local. As a result of this, while the official season for pomegranate is September – February, unforced ripe fruit are available in the UK year-round.food - pomegranate 300416 (58 of 79)-Edit

Pomegranate are amazing. There is an incredibly long history of this fruit being associated with fertility, abundance, prosperity, ambition and royalty. It appears in remnants of Ancient Egyptian kingdoms, Ancient Greece and within ancient religious texts (more information here). It has the shape of a natural orb, and a calyx in the shape of a crown – when added to the symbolism of fertility and prosperity it is unsurprising that pomegranates appear throughout royal insignia and heraldry.

Beyond this, though, pomegranates can provide the finishing touches to many dishes, as the sweet, crunchy jewels can complement warm or cold salads, meat, fish and vegetable dishes … and they are not cuisine specific. Pomegranate seeds, juice, or molasses can all work beautifully with Spanish, Moroccan, southern French, Greek, Persian and Indian flavours, and many more besides.

I have found myself using pomegranates more and more over the last year or so, and I feel I have only just started to scratch the surface of their culinary possibilities.

My method for extracting pomegranate seeds:

pomegranate seeds featured image (1 of 1)After a little bit of experimenting, the best, most time effective method for me of extracting the seeds from the fruit is to roll the pomegranate on a worktop applying moderate pressure with my hand (as you would a lemon or lime before juicing it with a reamer). This loosens the seeds within the pith a bit. Then slice the fruit in half, hold a half in your hand (cut side down) over a medium-size, high sided dish or bowl and whack the skin of the pomegranate with the back of a large spoon.

The seeds should come loose quite easily and any small segments of pith that come too are then simple to remove from the seeds once you’re finished. Any small number of seeds that remain in the pith are then easy to get by breaking the pith apart.

Failing that – a teaspoon and half a pomegranate can keep a small child occupied for a while!

Do you have any favourite dishes that feature pomegranate? If so, drop me a note in the comments as I’d love to know your favourite way of enjoying this amazing fruit!