Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Silk road bulghur salad or transcaucasian delight

The bright colours and bursting flavours of this salad are particularly welcome on a drizzly day. The pomegranate seeds look like jewels, and the dark green of the herbs is accented by the pale green of the pistachios. The flavours and textures combine to make very enjoyable mouthfuls, sharp and sweet, aromatic and savoury, and satisfyingly filling.

The recipe comes from a combination of cooking that I suppose could be called transcaucasian. I’ve been travelling the silk road in my kitchen, I was already familiar with middle eastern and Turkish cookery, and I’ve travelled a little bit further. I suppose you could compare it to tabbouleh.

It is what the French call a salade composée, a mixed salad, or a put together salad. The French make a big deal of such things, although many salads have more than one ingredient, even a green salad.

I’ve been known to complain about long lists of ingredients needed for some recipes, and I hope this recipe doesn’t put anyone off. The ingredients are now easily available in London and many wholefood and supermarkets – pomegranate seeds can be seen alongside sandwiches offered as a lunchtime snack. Currants are traditional standard of the store cupboard, used in old style baking, eccles cakes and squashed fly biscuits. I love their name, evolved from the way the French say Corinth, where they first came from. 

I’m writing this in March, slightly at the end of the pomegranate season this side of the globe. If you are reading this and can’t find pomegranates you can use another sour flavour such as barberries, lingonberries or such, but they won’t give that exploding in the mouth pleasure, rather flavour and a bit more chew. If you can’t find bulghur brown rice would work. Of course if you start substituting too many things then you won’t be making this salad.

I add a pinch of gomasio, which gives an extra dimension. Because sometimes more is more. 

Preparation: 30 minutes

Equipment: chopping board, sharp knife, medium sized bowl

(For cooking bulghur see information at the end)

1 cup (or mug) of cooked wholewheat bulghur
Small bunch  of fresh mint
Small bunch  of fresh parsley
Small bunch  of fresh coriander
3 spring onions
Seeds of small pomegranate (1 cup)
1 tbsp currants
2 tbsp shelled pistachios

Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 mandarin or Satsuma or tangerine
3tbsp olive oil
1 tsp honey
Generous drizzle of pomegranate molasses
Salt and pepper


Chop the herbs as fine as you can
Slice the spring onions as thin as you can
Chop the pistachios – but not too fine

Put the cooked bulghur into medium sized serving bowl
Add the chopped herbs, sliced spring onions and chopped pistachios
Add the pomegranate seeds and currants

Add the lemon juice, olive oil, mandarin juice, honey and pomegranate molasses and stir well and add salt and pepper to taste.


Cook the bulghur as usual or as follows:
Warm one tablespoon of the olive oil in a pan over a gentle heat and add a half cup of bulghur, shaking it around in the pan until it is coated in oil
Add a cup of stock and bring to the boil, and then to a simmer
Put a lid on the pan and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes, covered, then turn off and leave, covered, for five minutes
After this check the bulghur is nice and chewy, and not sticking to the bottom of the pan. There should be no liquid.

NB bulghur can vary hugely, and you may need to adjust the cooking of the bulghur in your store cupboard accordingly

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Fast cooked flattened chicken

I like recipes that work, recipes that you can follow with confidence and get the result that has been described. 

Flattened chicken is one of those. It is a recipe by Marcella Hazan, with a dash of eccentricity by me. It is a spatchcocked chicken with a light lemon and pepper marinade. In itself it's perfect. This weekend I will be trying a variation... hoping not to break the spell.

More to follow. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Minestrone - hot vegetable soup on a cold day

  • A bunch of fresh vegetables chopped up small along with some spaghetti, cooked in a tomato broth, and topped off with parmesan or the chees e of your choice. Yep, it’s a hot recipe for a cold day. It is vegan, if you leave the cheese off.

Minestra di verdure is vegetable soup in Italian. I got the recipe from a friend at school, but it is the same as many soups I’ve eaten in Italy. This version is pure veg, but people use meat stock, and sometimes include beans or bacon. On the basis that this is a pot luck soup, you include any vegetables you have to hand. My most recent version included courgettes, instead of potatoes.

Don’t bother with this soup unless you like chopping veg.

1 large onion
2 celery stalks
2 garlic cloves
2 carrots
2 potatoes
1 bay leaf
pinch of thyme
handful of fresh parsley
1 can chopped tomatoes
100g dry spaghetti (a small bunch)
salt and pepper and 2tbsp olive oil

  • Chop all the vegetables and garlic into small pieces, I like them to be about 1cm cubes
  • Fry gently a couple of spoonfuls of oil  using a heavy bottomed pan for a couple of minutes stirring all the time
  • Add enough water to cover all the vegetables and add thyme parsley and bay leaf, bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes
  • Add the chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper
  • Bring back to the boil and simmer for a few more minutes
  • Break the spaghetti into the cooking soup – I like short lengths, about 5cm and cook for about 11 minutes, or until the spaghetti is cooked
  • Serve with grated parmesan and a piece of buttered toast.

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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Persian vegetable stew

Sweet and slightly soured vegetable stew with a lovely golden colour from the turmeric and a sharp sweetness topped by dried limes.

50g ghee (clarified butter)
1 large onion, peeled and finely diced
½ tsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp tomato paste
20g coriander
10g tarragon
10g dill
1kg waxy potatoes, peeled and chopped into 4cm chunks
1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into 4cm chunks
3 dried limes, pierced 2-3 times
1 whole green chilli, slit on one side from stem to tip
5 medium tomatoes, quartered
150g spinach leaves
15g barberries 
1l water

300g Greek yoghurt (optional)

Serves six.


Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. 
(if you are preparing ahead, do this 25 minutes before you want to serve the stew)

  • Put a large casserole dish on medium heat and sauté the butter, onion, turmeric and cumin for 10 minutes. 
  • Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for two minutes. 
  • Tie all the herbs into a bunch and add to the pot with the potatoes, squash, limes, chilli, a teaspoon and a half of salt and a litre of water. 
  • Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and boil gently for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are semi-cooked. 

- You can prepare the stew ahead up to this point -

  • Stir through the tomatoes, spinach and barberries, crushing the limes gently as you do so, to release some of the juices inside.
  • Transfer to a large roasting tray and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened a little and the vegetables are soft. 
  • Remove from the oven and leave to sit for five minutes before serving

Serve with yoghurt if you like, and rice.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Burns night easy

Many people have already piped in a haggis for 2017, the Saturday nearest to Burns night having past. Maybe you want to do your eating and recitations on the 25th, observing the actual day. Why not try a haggis pie? It's colourful, and you can prepare it in advance. If Burns had had a 9-5 job, he might have tried this approach himself.

Take a look at the recipe here.

Pipe in your pie with the traditional poem: Address to a Haggis

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis