The list of ‘annoying things I have read recently on obsessive clean-eating blogs’ is a long one, but hovering somewhere near the top is the suggestion that you should keep loads of cooked quinoa in your fridge, ready to whip up into a healthy salad or a ‘snack’ at a moment’s notice. There are two things wrong with this recommendation. Firstly, quinoa is not a ‘snack’. Snacks are portable and easily nibbleable commodities, like apples, granola bars and – if you must – almonds. They are usually sugary and designed as treats between meals. Much as I love quinoa, I would not consider munching on its dry, nubbly grains much of a treat if I were in the middle of a catastrophic blood sugar slump between lunch and dinner, with only the prospect of cake standing between me and an otherwise inevitable desk nap. Nor would I carry it around in my handbag. But the main gripe I have with what I shall henceforth term ‘The Cooked Quinoa Fallacy’ is, simply, who on earth can afford to cook quinoa in large batches just so it can hang around in the fridge on the off-chance you might use it in the next few days?Read More
There are few things sadder than a ‘chilli con carne’ done badly. Soggy mince; a sour, acidic tomato sauce; bullet-hard kidney beans straight from a can; the overpowering musk of cumin powder…this is a dish that is surprisingly easy to massacre. Perhaps it has something to do with being a student staple, much like its mince-sharing partner, spaghetti bolognese. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it is often served, entirely unimaginatively, with a bland canvas of white rice. Or perhaps it’s because bad chilli con carne can be smothered in cheese and crammed into a burrito and thereby turned into something vaguely acceptable, so why bother perfecting the thing?Read More
A friend of mine once asked me what ingredient I cook with the most (staples like salt and oil aside). I answered limes, but on reflection it could equally be raspberries. Having said that, I don’t tend to ‘cook with’ raspberries much: I prefer to eat them unadulterated, scattered over porridge or granola or with cubes of golden papaya or juicy ripe mango for dessert when I can’t quite justify eating loads of chocolate or crumble. I occasionally bake them into cakes: I love the way baking intensifies their sharp, almost grassy flavour, and the way they stew their rosy juice through the buttery crumb, perfuming it with that heady scent of summer. Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about the savoury uses of raspberries.Read More
I'm thrilled to say that I'm now a writer for Great British Chefs, a fantastic food and recipe resource featuring inspirational chefs and bloggers from all over Britain, coupled with mouthwatering photographs of beautiful dishes that you can recreate at home. I'll be contributing recipes inspired by my garden and my travels on a regular basis, featuring some unusual and exciting ingredients. One of my first recipes is this gorgeous soba noodle salad, featuring dark, nutty buckwheat noodles tossed in a tangy, vibrant dressing of citrussy yuzu juice, shredded galangal, lime juice and soy sauce, topped with garlic seared prawns, pomegranate seeds, cucumber, avocado and grapefruit mint, a fantastic herb from my garden with the unmistakeable zesty flavour of grapefruit. It works beautifully in this zingy, tongue-tingling salad full of contrasting flavours and textures. It's one of my favourite ever recipes, healthy and beautiful and incredibly satisfying to eat. Head over to Great British Chefs for the recipe, and don't forget to have a look at some of my other recent contributions, including blue cheese crusted pork chops with roasted apple and pineapple sage!
1. Caramelised peach, grilled chorizo, avocado and almond salad. I wasn't going to blog about this, but then I took some sad-looking things out of the fridge, did a bit of cookery magic, chucked them into a bowl with a liberal dousing of vinaigrette (made using some delicious hazelnut mustard that I bought from a deli in France), took a bite, and started scribbling furiously in my recipe notebook. I love using peaches in savoury recipes (particularly when they're starting to wrinkle and look a bit unappetising...), and they go amazingly well with any kind of salty, cured animal product - prosciutto is a classic, but chorizo also works wonders, I discovered. Crisp up some thick slices of chorizo in a frying pan, brown some almonds in the brick-red oil it releases, throw in the peaches briefly to caramelise, then toss it all with some salad leaves, cubed avocado, thinly sliced red onion (mixed with a little cider vinegar for a few minutes to take the edge off it) and the aforementioned dressing (mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, seasoning). It looks a treat and is an incredible medley of flavours and textures. This is the kind of salad that you feed people who think they don't like salad. It's great for your health and happiness, without being worthy. Speaking of not being worthy, this brings me on to number two...Read More
When I was a lot younger, I remember stumbling upon a very curious utensil in my family's kitchen. This little knife had a wooden handle like any other, but its blade was serrated on both sides and, bizarrely, curved sharply to one side. My mum explained that it was a grapefruit knife, designed to enable the scooping out of grapefruit flesh from the skin so you could enjoy it for breakfast. She must have shown me how to use it, because I distinctly remember enjoying, on several occasions, the ritual of slicing a grapefruit into two heavy halves, running that special knife in a circular motion around the pink flesh, using a small paring knife to cut in between the membranes, bisecting the fruit like the spokes of a wheel, and finally savouring the fruit of my labours with a teaspoon, scooping each tiny segment out of the skin and popping it into my mouth.Read More
I was teaching a student the other day when he asked me to explain the term ‘idiolect’. As with so many definitions, this is something that benefits from the giving of an example. I was plunged into a moment of introspective self-analysis, rapidly mentally running through the lexicon I use on a daily basis, the words to which I attribute non-standard uses or meanings and which therefore constitute my own, distinct, idiolect. I hit, suddenly, upon the word ‘insane’. “You see, when I use the word insane,” I explained to my student, “I use it to mean amazing; ridiculously good; incredible.”
The other night, I found myself murmuring, through a mouthful of pecan nuts, “Oh my god these are insane.”Read More
"I think I'm going to smoke something this weekend!" I announced excitedly to my friends last week. There were raised brows and quizzical looks. As probably the most straight-laced person in the entire universe, someone who has never in her life been properly drunk, stayed up all night, got in trouble at school, inhaled a cigarette or toyed with the boundaries of the law, someone who would much rather have a quiet evening in with friends and go to bed at 10pm than attend a party or - heaven forbid - a club, someone who is, let's face it, boringly calm and neurotic and ripe for a career as a cat lady, their surprise at my suggestion of forthcoming tobacco/illegal substance consumption is perhaps unsurprising.Read More
I made and ate this after coming home from an aerobics class. I haven’t been to said aerobics class in months. I’d forgotten that the reason said class is called ‘Body Attack’ is because it leaves you feeling – you guessed it – like someone has attacked your body. Muscles aching, and with a slight touch of nausea from repeatedly rolling over on my back from sit-up position to plank position, I whipped up this so-ridiculously-nutritious-it-should-be-available-on-an-intravenous-drip-on-the-NHS salad. I have rarely felt healthier in my life.Read More
I have a difficult relationship with yoghurt. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been unable to stand the stuff. I think I ate it as a child, but at some point something clicked in the back of my brain somewhere and I became deeply averse to the substance, to the point where watching a woman tucking into a big pot with a spoon early one morning at a bus stop in Oxford made me feel physically sick and sidle in precaution over to the nearest bin. I’ve tried to conquer my aversion, finding it irritating that there is a foodstuff out there that I don’t like, generally priding myself on my diverse omnivorousness – I used to hate melon, but a fairly un-rigorous process involving making myself eat more melon soon conquered that minor affliction – but I simply cannot get over it.Read More
Few people seem to know what to do with a persimmon. In fact, most people I know have never encountered them before. They’ll either hear me mention one and say ‘what’s that?’, or they’ll glance over at it in the fruit bowl and look confused. I can kind of understand why: persimmons do resemble large, squat orange tomatoes, so seeing them nestled there amongst the bananas, apples and pears might seem a little odd (even though the tomato is, of course, technically a fruit). I explain the unique qualities of this fine fruit, tell them how good it is in a variety of dishes…and then of course they say ‘Oh right’ and promptly forget, assuming this is another of my mad fruit whims to be humoured and then quickly disregarded.Read More
When you think about ‘something on toast’, that lifesaver meal that I’m sure we have all succumbed to at one point or another in our lives, it has to be said that, generally, they aren’t the most nutritious somethings that find their way onto our pieces of charred bread. Marmite, for example. Jam. Cheese. Bacon. Butter. Not very many vitamins there.Read More
I'm a bit of a girl when it comes to my eating habits. I cook and eat mostly vegetarian food, I love nothing more than a good salad, I get excited about few things more than seafood and fish, I have absolutely no willpower when it comes to baked goods, and I very rarely tuck into a good hearty slab of red meat. I think I've only ordered steak in a restaurant once, at a tiny little bistro in the tiny little town of Chablis, having walked around in the pouring rain after a rather arduous trek from London involving the Eurostar and several country trains. In that sort of situation, steak pretty much sounds like the best thing in the world. It was France. It would be bloody, and come with ample carbs. There would be tarte tatin and cheese afterwards. I couldn't say no.
There is a lot to be said for a good steak. On the rare occasions I tuck into one, I ask myself why I don't do it more often. Few things have more savoury satisfaction than a slab of beef, crispy and charred around the edges, still melting and mooing in the middle. I used to work at a restaurant in Cambridge that produced some of the best steaks I've ever encountered - gigantic slabs of cow smothered in truffle butter and served with perfect chips. The smell as waitresses wafted them around the restaurant was intoxicating, a heady mix of bloody animal, butter, and rich, earthy truffle.
I've had a huge picanha steak in my freezer ever since receiving a gigantic hamper of meat in February. Picanha is a cut of beef popular in Brazil, and also known as the rump cap. The muscle over the top sirloin and rump, it is covered in a layer of thick fat which is often left on for cooking. Given that it must be a year since I ate my last steak, I figured it was high time to indulge (and clear a bit of freezer space at the same time).
While I believe one of the best and simplest ways to eat steak is with perfect chips and a divinely rich peppercorn sauce, I have neither the resources nor the energy to whip up chips and sauce in my kitchen. I knew it would probably only be disappointing, so I went for the next best way to serve steak: in a salad.
This might sound like an odd hybrid of girly food and MAN FOOD, but a steak salad is a great thing. The crispy, crunchy and tangy salad ingredients cut through the richness of the meat, and provide a meal that is never monotonous. Much as I love steak and chips, each mouthful is pretty much the same. I sometimes make a Thai-style salad with steak, with a tangy lime and fish sauce dressing, plenty of chilli and some crunchy green vegetables like cucumber and green beans. However, I didn't want to overpower this beautiful piece of meat with such strong flavours, so instead I basically put a load of delicious things in a bowl and slapped the bloody meat on top.
You may have remembered that in a recent post, I mentioned that I would be receiving fortnightly baskets of avocados to experiment with in the kitchen. This is part of a campaign to support and promote Peruvian avocados: nutritious and, as I hope to show, extremely versatile fruits. I'll be posting my recipes and thoughts both on here and on the Avocado Brotherhood blog.
Steak and avocado is a winning combination - the buttery blandness of the avocado works perfectly against the meat. Avocado works well in salads with pineapple, as I discovered recently - the combination of its creamy texture and slight sweet bitterness with the assertive tang of pineapple is fantastic. Blue cheese works very well with steak, and also with avocado (add bacon and you start entering sublime territory). I decided to combine all these flavours in one colourful bowlful, combined with peppery watercress, rocket and spinach, and a delicious dressing made from flavoursome olive oil and a little tangy cider vinegar and lime juice.
This is one of those meals that is very simple to put together, but when you sit down to eat it you're a little bit amazed at your sheer genius. For one thing, it's a completely beautiful plate of food - the jade avocado, bright pineapple with its caramelised char marks, snowy blue cheese...and that perfectly cooked, juicy meat sitting on top. Secondly, it's a ridiculously good combination of flavours, fresh and sweet and tangy without being cloying. The steak was perfect - I didn't time it, somehow using my cook's intuition to get it perfectly medium-rare, with the layer of fat on top rendered into perfect crispiness. I mean, look at the pictures - gorgeous, right?
Genuinely, if you asked me to choose between steak and chips, or this salad...I think you now know which I'd choose. Another 'why don't I eat steak more often?' moment...except now I know how easy this is to put together, I can guarantee I won't leave it a year this time before I eat steak again.
Steak, avocado, griddled pineapple and blue cheese salad (serves 2):
- Half a medium pineapple
- 3 tsp caster sugar
- 2 steaks (I used piranha, but sirloin would be good here)
- 100g spinach, watercress and rocket salad
- 1 ripe avocado
- 60g crumbly blue cheese
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp garlic-infused olive oil (or a small crushed garlic clove and add 1 tbsp extra olive oil)
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- A squeeze of lime juice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
First, prepare the pineapple. Remove the skin and woody core, then slice into 0.5cm-thin slices. Toss in a bowl with the caster sugar. Get a griddle pan very hot, and griddle the pineapple slices on each side until caramelised and charred. Remove and set aside.
Griddle the steaks to your liking - I would suggest medium rare - then leave to rest for ten minutes while you make the salad.
Divide the spinach mixture between two plates or bowls. Halve the avocado, remove the stone, then slice into chunks and spoon out. Divide between the plates. Crumble over the blue cheese and scatter over the pineapple. Whisk together the olive oils, cider vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper to make a dressing - taste for the right amount of tanginess, adding more lime or vinegar if necessary. Drizzle half the dressing over the salad and gently toss together.
When the steak is cooked and rested, slice thickly and arrange over the salad. Drizzle over the rest of the dressing, mixed with any of the steak juices, and serve immediately.
You're going to be seeing a lot of avocado recipes on this blog in the foreseeable future. For the next year, I'll be receiving fortnightly baskets of the fruit to experiment with in the kitchen (I'll be talking a bit more about why in a future post). Before I even start on the potential of avocados in the kitchen, though, let me suggest another unexpected use for this beautiful fruit. You may not have realised, but suddenly becoming an ambassador for avocados gets you a surprising number of friends. I have yet to meet anyone in my close social circle who has not, upon hearing my news, promptly and enthusiastically declared themselves a lover of avocados and hinted that they would be willing guinea pigs for any recipe development. Extra friendship points to those who have recommended favourite avocado recipes, and über bonus points to those whose list of avocado recipes included ice cream. You are people after my own heart.
So there you have it. Nutritional powerhouses, definitely; delicious and versatile, yes...but avocados are also a quick and easy enhancer for your social life.
However, avocados do have one serious inadequacy in terms of their culinary usage: they are possibly the least spontaneous ingredient ever. One does not simply decide one day to whip up an avocado salad that evening. Recipes involving avocado need notice: time for you to buy your 'perfectly ripe' specimens from the supermarket, discover they are sour and rock hard, and then postpone your plans for a week or so until the fruit has softened into creamy, buttery jade goodness. By which point all the other ingredients you bought will probably have gone off, so you'll need to start again.
Incidentally, the same rule applies to mangoes. The two fruits are often used together by unrealistic recipe writers who, irritatingly, do not adjust the 'prep time' for their recipes in order to add a week or so's 'ripening time'.
Receiving fortnightly baskets of perfectly ripe avocados is a luxury I do not intend to take for granted. I am very excited to be able to experiment with an ingredient I love but don't get to enjoy enough. My experience with avocados is fairly limited to guacamole, chicken, bacon and avocado salad, and a favourite dish of orzo pasta with broccoli pesto and avocado. I have big plans for these beauties, so watch this space.
This recipe is, if you'll believe it, something I dreamed up on the spur of the moment and 'threw together' in a slightly haphazard fashion. Inspired by some beautiful wild Alaskan salmon that I picked up on special offer, and which seemed too good to ruin with any sort of cooking whatsoever, I decided to serve it as sashimi. Too lazy to bother rolling sushi, I decided to pile all the components of sushi into a bowl: salmon, toasted sesame seeds (I also use nigella seeds when I make sushi, because I love their strong earthy flavour), pickled ginger, cucumber, a sauce of soy and wasabi, and sushi rice mixed with vinegar, sugar and salt. The rice is delicious when freshly cooked and still slightly warm - a completely different taste and texture experience to when it has firmed up and is tightly rolled in seaweed.
I love sushi rolls that feature avocado, in delicious creamy contrast with the tangy rice and the subtly sweet fish (often crab or salmon), so topped my sushi bowl with ripe avocado, mashed with smoked salt and lime juice to bring out its flavour, plus a heavy-handed dose of fresh mint, which might sound unusual with Japanese flavours but works very well - you could, however, use coriander to equally good effect. I also added some cooked soya beans, because one of my favourite Japanese dishes is one of the simplest: sweet, salty steamed edamame beans, fresh from the pods.
I was expecting this to be tasty, but I wasn't quite prepared for how ridiculously delicious it was. Raw fish sometimes lacks flavour, but this salmon was utterly gorgeous, soft but still with that delicious salmon richness. It was the most beautiful coral colour, too, possessing none of those fatty white stripes you get with farmed salmon. The rice was soft and tangy, the seeds nutty and crunchy, while the beans and cucumber added a delicious fresh crunch. The mashed avocado really does make this dish, though, providing a nice bridge between the crunchy ingredients and the sticky rice, the hint of lime sharpening everything up. The tangy pickled ginger and salty soy is essential, making the whole thing moreish and addictive.
This makes me want to throw away my sushi-rolling mat. Why bother, when you can just throw everything into a bowl? It's quick to put together, looks absolutely stunning, and is incredibly healthy (although maybe less so when you consider it's so good that you'll want a second helping).
Sushi bowl with salmon sashimi, avocado, lime, edamame and pickled ginger (serves 2):
- 200g sushi rice
- 320ml water
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 ripe avocado
- Juice of half a lime
- 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt (I used smoked salt)
- A handful of fresh mint or coriander, finely chopped
- 200g Alaskan salmon, very fresh
- A quarter of a cucumber, finely diced
- A couple of handfuls of cooked soya beans or broad beans
- Pickled ginger (from oriental shops or large supermarkets)
- 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds and/or nigella seeds
- Soy sauce
First, cook the rice. Rinse it three or four times then drain. Place in a pan with the water, cover with a lid, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to very low. Cook for 15 minutes, without removing the lid or disturbing the pan. Meanwhile, mix together the rice vinegar, caster sugar and salt. Halve the avocado, remove the stone, then scoop the flesh into a bowl. Roughly mash, using a fork, with the lime juice, salt and chopped mint or coriander. Set aside.
Once the rice is cooked and has absorbed all the water, stir in the vinegar mixture while still warm. Divide the rice between two bowls. Very finely slice the salmon using a sharp knife, then add to the rice. Spoon the avocado mixture on top. Scatter over the cucumber, soya beans, and some pickled ginger, then sprinkle with the seeds. Mix together a little soy sauce and wasabi, then drizzle this over the bowl and serve immediately.
In honour of the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May) this Saturday - from what I gather from reading various US-based food blogs, across the pond it's basically known as an excuse to gorge oneself on nachos, tacos, enchiladas and the like - the lovely people at Discovery sent me a load of fajita-themed goodies to celebrate with. I have a bit of a soft spot for Discovery ever since I won a KitchenAid blender at one of their competitions last year, and am still trying to work my way through the huge stash of goodies I picked up then. Included in this treasure trove are their new Green Jalapeño Relish, a fajita kit and their mild and medium salsas; pretty much everything you need to whip up a perfect Mexican celebratory supper. They were even nice enough to send me a pan and a chopping board, so I literally had everything I needed to cook said supper...apart from maybe a hob. (Note to Discovery - I'd like an induction one, please, and you can deliver it any time that's convenient).
Rather than make your standard fajitas, however, I decided to do something a bit different. If you're feeling lazy, it's stupidly easy to whip up fajitas with Discovery's fajita kits, which include basically everything except the meat and veg (it's even easier if you follow their recipe for all-in-one chicken fajitas, where everything is fried in one pan). I love their fajita spice mix, which contains just the right amount of heat, flavour and piquancy to liven up chicken and make an authentic-tasting dinner, and they have a great range of salsa and relish (guacamole, sour cream topping, whole red and green jalapeños...) to make your fajita more interesting on its journey from plate to mouth (the green jalapeño is even better for being green - you can pretend it's one of your five-a-day!)
I've made this Mexican salad on several occasions, though, and figured it was time to blog about it. The photos aren't great, and certainly don't do this vibrant salad any justice, but given that the fifth of May is nearly upon us, I may as well suggest it to you as a dish for the occasion, as it's utterly delicious.
OK, so this is my interpretation of Mexican. I rarely eat Mexican food and have never been to Mexico, but I know what ingredients can be combined to make something vaguely authentic. This salad features all the staples - sweetcorn, beans, red peppers, avocado, lime juice, chilli, coriander and spiced chicken. Only instead of being stuffed into a tortilla, they're served in salad form. The chicken is coated in Discovery fajita spice mix and seared over a high heat, then serve atop its colourful bed of sweet, tangy, crunchy vegetables. The dressing is a mixture of lime juice, coriander, and Discovery chipotle paste. If you've never tried chipotles, you're missing out. They're smoke-dried jalapeños and they have the most incredible addictive aroma and flavour. They lend the salad a real kick. Discovery do them in a handy paste form which is ideal for adding to sauces and stews, but you can also buy them as dried whole chillies.
When I first made this, I used freshly cooked black beans, as they seem more Mexican (and by that, I mean they're normally the kind I find in burritos I buy every now and again). You can use a tin of black beans if you can find them, but I've never succeeded - in which case tinned kidney beans are fine. Discovery also do refried beans, which might work, and cannellini beans would probably work too. The point is to have those pillowy, starchy pulses to contrast with the crisp crunch of the vegetables. This is a pretty easy salad - you just chop stuff and put it in a bowl, and some of it you don't even need to chop because it comes out of a tin (not normally my style of cooking, but sometimes there's something so therapeutic about just opening tins and throwing things into a bowl, particularly when the end result is this good).
The avocado is, in my opinion, essential. It gives a really gorgeous creamy texture to the salad, and I love its mild flavour against the spicy chicken. Avocado, lime and coriander are such an excellent trio, and they feature well in this dish. It's such a healthy-looking and healthy-tasting plate, and pretty filling considering there aren't really any carbohydrates involved, but go ahead and add some nachos or a tortilla if you're that way inclined.
The beauty of this salad is its versatility. If you omit the chicken, you can stir some grated cheese into the vegetable mixture, sandwich it between two tortillas, and fry it in a pan to make a lovely melting quesadilla (be warned, though, that it'll be impossible to flip without at least some of the filling leaking out). That's how I first came across this combination, and it was delicious. You could wrap the whole thing in a tortilla and eat like a fajita, or stuff it into tacos, or maybe even bake it into enchiladas. Add some feta cheese instead of the chicken to make it vegetarian, or even coat slices of halloumi with the spice mixture and fry. Use steak or pork instead of chicken. Change the vegetables a bit. It's up to you.
My version has a bit of yoghurt on top - I didn't have any sour cream, but that would be preferable - and is served with lime wedges and Discovery salsa alongside. I find it quite spicy, but you can add some of that feisty green jalapeño relish if you want to make it hotter. Use it as a template for your own Mexican-themed feast, and enjoy its fresh, tangy, spicy flavours and beautiful vibrant colours.
Happy Cinco de Mayo! Will you be cooking up anything to celebrate?
Mexican spiced chicken salad (serves 4):
- 1 x 400g tin sweetcorn, drained
- 1 x 400g tin black beans or kidney beans (or cook your own from scratch if you like)
- 4 sweet pointed red peppers, chopped into 1cm dice
- 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
- Juice of 1 lime
- A large bunch of coriander, finely chopped
- 1 tsp Discovery chipotle paste
- 2 ripe avocadoes, sliced or cubed
- 4 chicken breasts
- 1 sachet Discovery fajita spice mix (mild or medium, depending on your preference)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- To serve: sour cream or yoghurt, lime wedges, and Discovery salsa
In a large bowl, mix together the sweetcorn, beans, peppers, spring onions, lime juice, coriander and chipotle paste. Toss well and check the seasoning - if you like it spicier, add more chipotle. Gently fold in the avocadoes without turning them to mush. Divide the salad between four plates.
Thinly slice the chicken breasts and coat in a couple of tablespoons of the spice mix and the oil. Heat a non-stick frying pan over a high heat then add the chicken, turning occasionally until slightly charred on the outside and cooked through. Taste - you might want a bit more spice mix if it's not flavoursome enough for you.
Divide the chicken between the plates. Top with a dollop of sour cream, a wedge of lime, and Discovery salsa, if you like. Serve immediately.
Do you like the look of this mango and avocado salsa?
It's a creamy, guacamole-style avocado dip with chilli and lots of fresh herbs (basil, mint and coriander), beautiful sweet chunks of ripe, juicy mango, and lashings of zesty lime goodness.
Zesty lime, mango and avocado salsa:
- A large handful of basil, mint and coriander (about 20g each) - save a few leaves for garnishing
- 1 red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped (or half a chilli if you're not keen on spice!)
- 3 very ripe avocadoes, stone removed and flesh scooped out with a spoon
- 2 tbsp sour cream or yoghurt
- 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- Juice and zest of 1 lime
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 ripe mango
Put the herbs and chilli in a food processor and blitz until finely chopped. Add the tomatoes, avocadoes, sour cream or yoghurt, lime juice and zest, and salt, and blitz until you have a fairly chunky purée. Taste and season - you may want a little more salt, herbs or lime juice. (If you don't have a food processor, finely chop the herbs, chilli and tomato by hand, then use a fork or whisk to mash them together with the avocado, sour cream/yoghurt, lime and salt.)
Peel and chop the mango into 5mm cubes. Stir into the avocado mixture, reserving a few mango pieces to scatter over the top. Garnish with a little extra chilli and/or herbs, and serve immediately.
I know you've been waiting with bated breath after my last post, eager to discover what exciting things I've been doing with orzo, the rice-shaped pasta that I finally got round to locating and purchasing this week. I'm a little bit obsessed with it. I can't get enough of its delicious texture; comforting and starchy like risotto rice, but less chalky and more slippery. You can pile it in mounds on your fork (which is always a plus in my - greedy - book), each individual grain held together by a flavoursome sauce. It's great both hot or cold, as a risotto-like meal or in a salad instead of something like couscous or lentils. Perhaps the only problem is that it slips down a little too easily...and before you know it, you've eaten an entire ice-cream tub full of the stuff for lunch. Oops.
A word of warning - if you do eat an entire ice-cream tub full of the stuff for lunch, a headache and the onset of intense stupor is fairly inevitable.
This recipe is from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day, which I bought recently after seeing an amazing-looking recipe for baked oatmeal from the book on another food blog. I haven't had much chance to experiment with it yet, but the three recipes I have tried (this one, a plum cake, and a really great dish of pomegranate-glazed aubergine and butternut squash with feta and coriander) have been so astoundingly delicious that I think the future holds exciting things.
It's easy to read through some of the recipes, though, and be unable to imagine how they'll taste. Rather like with an Ottolenghi recipe; there are some odd combinations that don't instantly make you think "YUM". Unlike, for example, cheese and bacon, or lamb and apricot, or mushrooms and butter. I read through this recipe and wasn't entirely convinced, but then I figured that adding toasted pine nuts, lots of parmesan, lemon, garlic, salt and avocado to a dish couldn't be a bad thing. Individually, the components sounded good.
Combined, the result was incredible. Essentially, it's a pesto made by putting partially-cooked broccoli, garlic, toasted pine nuts, parmesan and lemon juice in a blender. When I first tasted the result, I actually went "yum" out loud. (Which doesn't often happen, when I'm on my own. Then again I am drinking a lot more wine while cooking these days...)
I then ate a few more spoonfuls, for testing purposes. It has all the addictive deliciousness of pesto, from the pine nuts, parmesan and garlic, but a lovely depth of flavour from the broccoli, a flavour somehow richer and less overpowering than basil. You stir the pesto into the slippery grains of orzo, add some whole broccoli florets, a chopped avocado, some lemon zest, and eat. The avocado is an inspired suggestion - it lends the whole dish a wonderful creaminess. Heidi puts creme fraiche in her recipe, but I didn't bother stirring any into mine - the broccoli purée and the avocado contribute more than enough richness.
If you can't locate orzo, try making this with any pasta. It's an unusual and inspired combination of ingredients, and possibly on the cards to become your new favourite pasta dish. It's also full of all sorts of healthy things, like avocado and broccoli. The vibrant green colour alone is enough to make you feel more alive.
Orzo with broccoli pesto and avocado (serves 4):
(Adapted from 'Super Natural Every Day', by Heidi Swanson)
- 350g orzo pasta
- Salt, for the water
- 2 heads of broccoli, cut into small florets and stalk cut into thin slices
- 5 tbsp toasted pine nuts
- 2 tbsp garlic-infused olive oil
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4-6 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
- 2 avocadoes, flesh roughly diced
- Zest of a lemon
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, and add a generous amount of salt. Cook the broccoli for 3 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. Add the orzo to the pan and cook according to the packet instructions (about 13 minutes).
Meanwhile, put all the cooked broccoli stalk and most of the florets into a blender with all but 1 tbsp of the pine nuts, the lemon juice, salt, garlic oil and Parmesan. Blitz to a purée, adding a little water to loosen the mixture if it needs it. Taste to check the seasoning - you might want more cheese, lemon juice, garlic or salt; it's really a matter of personal taste. It should taste rather like basil pesto.
When the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving a little of the cooking water (about 4 tbsp). Add the broccoli pesto to the pasta in the pan and mix together, adding a little of the cooking water to loosen it up if it needs it. Stir in the avocado and lemon zest.
To serve, pile the pasta onto a plate and top with a few remaining broccoli florets and the remaining pine nuts. Grate over a little more Parmesan, and serve.
I'm not feeling well. The last couple of days I've been nursing some weird stomach bug, and it has done bizarre things to my appetite. I haven't exactly lost said appetite, which is how I know that this isn't life-threatening. Things are seriously wrong when I can't stomach food. I think the only time it has ever happened was last November when I spent a week in bed with flu. I've now joined the ranks of those who have lost their flu virginity, and will simply not tolerate those ignorant plebs who turn up to work with a slight sniffle and a packet of lemsip complaining that they've "got flu". Chances are, if you've actually got flu, you probably can't even summon up the energy to announce that you've got it, let alone turn up to work or muster the presence of mind to get some lemsip. After my week of flu, I marvelled that I hadn't got bedsores, so much time had I spent rolling around pitifully in my stagnant bed of pain, listening to the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry reading a Harry Potter audiobook on repeat. The book started to seep into my dreams, strange montages of Horcruxes and house-elves and evil Slytherins that dispersed only when I woke for long enough to marvel inwardly at how utterly crap my life was at that moment and how I wished someone would come along and put me into a coma until it was over.
So that was flu. This I can tell is not flu, simply by the fact that I still want to eat. I didn't eat for four days during that tragic episode; the only thing that passed my lips was some Lucozade, which promptly passed back out of my lips into the bin. Even worse, I didn't want to think about food. How on earth do you imagine I passed my bedridden days? I had simply nothing to occupy my mind. I couldn't even think about what I wanted to cook once it was all over, so nauseous was I feeling at the time. Eventually, however, my appetite returned with a vengeance, although all I wanted to eat were crumpets. Doused in butter, seeping through the little holes onto the plate, rich and salty and saturated in all the calories I'd lost by festering away in a mire of illness. My jeans hung off my legs - I could feel them practically flapping around my calves as I went for my first post-flu foray out of my house into the street. My eyes had gone all sunken, my face was horribly gaunt, and I generally looked a sad, emaciated mess. Perhaps some girls would have been slightly pleased at the loss of several pounds that comes with a week in bed (if you're going to suffer, you may as well lose a few pounds in the process, I guess). I was just disgusted by my haggard appearance, and heaped more butter onto those toasty crumpets.
Unfortunately, all this bug seems to be doing to me at the moment - apart from making me feel nauseous, lethargic and dizzy - is increasing my appetite for all the wrong things. I came into the house and absent-mindedly ate a chocolate biscuit and drank a glass of orange juice. Seeing as I normally neither eat biscuits nor drink juice, something is clearly amiss. My dinner? Buttery crumpets. Crumpets topped with melted cheese and toasted under the grill until bubbling and oozing with grease. I am craving chocolate brownies, toast with butter, a block of cheddar, a flapjack, a scone. I wish I could legitimately say that perhaps I've been too health-conscious of late and my body is craving fat and sugar, but unfortunately this is a complete lie, as I've spent the last week stuffing my face full of scones, cobbler, Michelin-star lunches and Indian restaurant food in Yorkshire. Oops. My mum suggested maybe my tummy has become used to such indulgent fare and is protesting at the notion of it being taken away.
So here I am, having decided I should probably write a blog post as it's been a while and I don't want my readers to feel left out. Yet all those delicious creations I've photographed and have been saving up for this very moment just make me want to be sick. All of them, except this ice cream. This may well be because of its high cream and sugar content - just the thing I apparently seem to need at the moment. If there were some in the freezer, it would be sitting next to me in a bowl as I write. Unfortunately it's all gone, but the memory still remains, so I feel I should share it with you before I lose the ability to think about food at all (P.S. just in case I do get struck down with flu - if anyone has a Harry Potter audiobook that isn't the Half Blood Prince and wants to send it to me, that'd be great. Thanks.)
I completely forget where I got the idea for this ice cream. I know it partly arose from the need to use up my vast stash of honey mangoes. I think the idea for the mango ripple came before the idea for the avocado base. It was possibly an extension of one of my favourite salsas to serve with fish - mango, avocado, lime, chilli, and lots of herbs (mint, coriander, basil). I figured the sweet, almost bland creaminess of the avocado would be a lovely foil for a delicious, lime-infused honey mango purée. Perhaps the idea of avocado in a dessert is a bit weird, but it is technically a fruit, and it does have such a lovely oily, creamy texture that it seems almost natural to turn it into an ice cream. A quick google will show that - sadly - I'm not the first to come up with this idea. However, I do seem to be the first to include a mango ripple, so I'll marvel at my culinary ingenuity on that account.
For the avocado ice cream base, I just put three very ripe avocadoes (stone removed, obviously - that wouldn't be pretty) into a blender with some sugar, whipping cream, lime juice and salt. For the mango ripple, I again just put things in a blender - two honey mangoes and some more lime juice. I churned the avocado ice cream until frozen, then layered it in a tub with the mango coulis for a ripple effect. Into the freezer it went, just awaiting some lovely summer weather. Naturally, it waited for a while, this being England. In fact, I don't think it was a particularly summery day when I served it, but I couldn't wait any longer. It's very good with strawberries macerated in a little sugar and basil, though I was originally going to serve it with basil shortbread - I just couldn't be bothered, in the end, to bake anything (a phrase you won't hear on this blog often).
Unfortunately, I am now experiencing another wave of nausea and the ice cream is no longer sounding as delicious as it did a few minutes ago. I'd better finish this post before I say something that will put you off it, because it really is delicious. The avocado ice cream alone is gorgeous without the mango, but it just helps to give it a little sharp sweetness which is nice against that pale green cream. If you manage to find some ripe mangoes (try markets - supermarket specimens often never ripen), give this a go - it's literally just putting some things in a blender. It also goes well with all sorts of summer berries, as well as tropical fruits like mango, and - I reckon - lychees.
Avocado mango ripple ice cream (makes half a litre):
- Flesh of 3 ripe avocadoes
- 160g caster sugar
- 300ml whipping/double cream
- A pinch of salt
- A squeeze of lime juice, to taste
- 2 ripe mangoes
- Put the avocado flesh, sugar, cream, lime juice and salt in a blender. Blitz to a smooth creamy mixture, then taste - you might want a little more lime juice. Churn in an ice cream maker until frozen.
Meanwhile, place the mango flesh in the blender with a squeeze more lime juice and blitz to a purée.
Put a third of the avocado ice cream in a tub then spoon over a third of the coulis. Repeat, layering the ice cream and coulis until you've used it all up. Put a lid on and place in the freezer to firm up. Serve with strawberries and basil, or just as it is.