Asian fish parcels

Lunch today was this simple yet special dish of fish with rice and pak choi. It tasted really zingy, fresh and light after all the rich festive food we’ve been indulging in over the last couple of weeks. It is probably the recipe we have used most from Lindsey Bareham’s excellent cookbook The Fish Store, which not only contains great recipes for fish, but also lots of her family’s other favourite dishes for chicken, lamb, vegetables and puddings – do treat yourself if you haven’t already got it.

Asian fish parcels served

This is a great recipe to have in your repertoire if your New Year’s resolutions include eating fish more regularly for a healthy diet. It works with any white fish – we usually use haddock or hake – and the foil parcels can be prepared ahead ready to pop into the oven 15 minutes or so before you want to eat, so it’s perfect for entertaining. With rice and pak choi already in the parcel with the fish, it is also really easy to serve – and as Lindsey Bareham points out, there is very little washing up!

Irene tends to cook this for us, and has adapted the original recipe, blanching the pak choi first to bring out its flavour, adding some fresh chilli and tweaking the seasonings. Like her mother, she follows the Indonesian tradition of not salting the rice, so that it acts as a plain foil to the strong flavours of the sauce served with it. If you don’t have ketjap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) in the cupboard then just use 4 tbsps of ordinary soy sauce. You can use left-over cooked rice for this, in which case you will need about 250-300g, and if it is cold when you start, the parcels will need an extra 5 minutes in the oven. These quantities are for two; you will need two pieces of tin foil about 65cm x 35cm for the parcels.

150g basmati rice
2 small cloves garlic
pinch of salt
1.5 tbsp toasted sesame oil
3.5 tbsp Kikkoman soy sauce
½ tbsp ketjap manis
5cm knob of garlic
1 green chilli
2 small pak choi (about 150g)
2 white fish fillets (about 300g total)

Preheat the oven to 230° C. Put the rice into a small pan, rinse under cold running water, drain and add enough water to come to the first joint of your index finger above the rice. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, when you should be able to hear that the water has been absorbed, there will be little holes in top of the rice and you won’t be able to see any water. Once it has reached this stage, turn off the heat and leave the pan covered on the cooling hotplate so that the rice absorbs the last of the moisture to give you dry, fluffy rice.

Trim the pak choi and slice across into three. Put into a steamer and blanch the stems for 2 minutes and the leaves for 1 minute. Run briefly under the cold tap to stop it cooking, and leave to drain. We find the pak choi tastier if it is cooked through, but you can omit this step if you like your veg a little crunchier.

Peel the cloves of garlic and crush with a pinch of salt. Whisk together with 1 tbsp of the sesame oil and the soy sauce(s). Peel and grate the ginger. Trim, deseed and slice the green chilli.

Lay out your two sheets of foil, and drizzle the remaining sesame oil over the centre of each. You can put both portions into one (slightly larger) parcel if you want to save foil, as we did today, though individual parcels are nicer, especially if you are cooking for guests. Sprinkle a quarter of the sliced chilli over each piece. Then divide the rice between the two parcels, fluffing up the grains with a fork if necessary. Add half the ginger and the pak choi.

Asian fish parcels 3

Then top with the fish fillets, the rest of the ginger (including any juice from grating it), and the rest of the sliced chilli. Finally, whisk the sauce again and pour it over.

Asian fish parcel 3

Fold the edges of the parcel and seal carefully, avoiding pulling the foil tight.

Place the parcels on a baking sheet and cook in the hot oven for 15 minutes (or 20 minutes if you have used cold cooked rice). If you make one larger parcel it will need an extra 2-3 minutes to cook. You can open a parcel and check that the fish is opaque through to the bottom of the thickest part of the fillet to be sure that it’s cooked through.

You can serve the parcels just as they are, but we find it easier to eat if you scoop the contents onto the plate – they slide out easily with the encouragement of a large serving spoon.  The rice absorbs the delicious flavours of the soy sauce and toasted sesame oil, and the fish stays beautifully moist – it is really delicious.

Spicy peanut and vegetable stew

Here’s an easy and tasty vegetable stew for supper on a cold weeknight. It started life as Maafe tigidigi, a recipe from Timbuktu, which was adapted by Alicia Weston of Bags of Taste, an inspiring initiative that provides free cookery courses to people who need to learn how to eat well on a low budget. I saw an article about the organisation in Delicious magazine, and thought it was a great idea – and I liked the sound of the recipe too.

The original recipe uses okra rather than courgette, but I am not fond of okra, and using courgettes instead worked fine, though they are less authentic and don’t have quite the same texture. I’m sure you could ring the changes on the other vegetables too. The peanut butter makes it really tasty and satisfying. I guess you could serve it with some roasted peanuts sprinkled on top for crunch, but to be honest it doesn’t really need anything extra.

These quantities serve 2 – or provide two comforting suppers for one person (it will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge) – with rice.

3 tbsp peanut butter
2 tsp tomato purée
350ml hot water
175g courgette
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground fennel
good grinding of black pepper
½ tsp chilli powder
1 bay leaf
1 stock cube or 2 tsp Marigold bouillon
150g sweet potato
100g carrots
½ red pepper
1 celery stick (about 60g)

Measure the peanut butter and tomato purée into a medium saucepan and gradually mix in the hot water using a wooden spoon until they are well blended. Halve the courgette lengthways (unless it is small), and slice it fairly thinly.

Put the pan over medium heat, add the courgette with the spices, bay leaf and stock cube or Marigold powder, stirring well. I used a mild chilli powder and the stew was spicy enough for me, but you can up the heat if you wish by using hotter chilli or a fresh red chilli if you have one. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

While it is simmering, peel the sweet potato and carrot and cut them into large chunks. De-seed the red pepper and cut it into chunks. Trim the celery and cut it into 2 cm slices on the diagonal. Add the chopped vegetables to the sauce, bring back to a simmer, then cover and cook over a low heat for 20-30 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, cook some rice – I used wholegrain basmati, which I find takes about 20 minutes – and serve with the stew.



Baked Squash with leeks

I saw a wonderful display of squash outside a greengrocers the other day and couldn’t resist buying a couple. Rather than chop them up and roast them, I thought it would be nice to cook them whole. An internet search threw up a recipe for Squash stuffed with leeks by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, which turned out to be in his River Cottage Veg Everyday cookbook, which I actually have on my shelf. It is ideal for enjoying small acorn or harlequin squash that are around now, but you could serve one larger squash between two people, remembering to give it more time in the oven (another 10-20 minutes at a guess).

The leeks are sweated in a little butter, then a little mustard, cream and gruyère added to give an unctuous filling which makes a nice contrast with the soft orange squash. I have tweaked the recipe by halving the quantity of cheese (to make it a big less rich) and adding nutmeg. I also used goat’s cream, as I happened to have some, which worked well, and you could use a hard goat’s cheese rather than the Gruyère. I think blue cheese might be worth trying too.

Aside from the slight fiddle of preparing the squash – much aided by making sure your knife is nice and sharp – this is a very straightforward recipe. Just right for an autumnal lunch this weekend. Quantities are for two people. I forgot to take a photograph of the finished dish, so I will try to remedy that next time I make it, as I am sure it will be back on the menu soon.

15g butter
1 large leek
½ teaspoon English mustard
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
30g Gruyère
2 small squash (about 400g each)
2 sprigs of thyme
Salt, black pepper & nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5. Trim the leek and slice it finely. Heat a good nut of butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add the leeks, stirring them about. Once they start to cook, turn the heat down, cover the pan and cook very gently for about 10 minutes, until very soft. Grate the cheese and stir it into the leeks with the mustard and crème fraîche. Season the mixture well with salt, pepper and a grating of nutmeg, remembering that the squash won’t have any seasoning.

Cut a small slice off the base of each squash so it will stand up securely. Using a strong knife and a steady hand cut a cone out of the top of the squash to make a lid. I found that trying to cut a flat slice was more tricky and didn’t go through to the centre of the squash. Put the lids on one side, and use a small knife and a teaspoon to scrape out all the seeds and fibres.

Spoon the leek mixture into the two squash, leaving a little room for the filling to bubble away,  and pop a sprig of thyme into each one. Replace the squash lids and stand the squash on a large baking tray.

Bake for 50 minutes, and then poke a knife into the flesh inside to check that the squash is nice and tender. Serve in solitary glory, though a crunchy salad (chicory and watercress?) might be nice before or afterwards.

Aubergines, Chickpeas, Walnuts & Dates

Ten days ago I was lucky enough to be given Diana Henry’s book Simple: Effortless food, big flavours, and I have been obsessively cooking my way through it ever since. It really lives up to the promise of the title: lots of recipes that are simple enough to tackle when you’re  tired after a busy day, yet taste good enough to revive you – or fool guests into thinking you have been slaving over a hot stove for hours. I’m also delighted to find that Diana Henry has lots of recipes on her website (as well as those behind the Telegraph’s paywall) if you want to check them out before you commit to buying a book.

This satisfying combination of aubergines, chickpeas, walnuts & dates has the most wonderful tahini dressing, which I am planning to use for lots of other grain-and-vegetable salads in the near future. Aleppo pepper is also known as Turkish pul biber, which I found in Waitrose, but you can substitute a mixture of cayenne and paprika if you can’t find it – or don’t want another container in your spice drawer. The original recipe had a little date syrup drizzled over the dish at the end, which I omitted (though I did wonder about using pomegranate molasses instead). This is a perfect recipe for the sunny but autumnal weather we’ve been having in London, when you want something warm and reasonably substantial yet with the flavours of warmer climes.

These are the quantities for 4. As I was cooking just for me, I made it using a third of the quantity and had enough for one generous portion, plus a side for the next day, when it was just as delicious. The first day I served it on a bed of rocket, and second time round with quinoa and salad – the quinoa was particularly good with it. Henry recommends serving it with couscous or alongside lamb or grilled mackerel.

3 aubergines (about 750g)
3 smallish onions
6 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp pul biber/Aleppo pepper
salt & pepper
400g can chickpeas
squeeze of lemon juice
half a small packet of coriander leaves
5 Medjool dates
15g walnuts

50ml tahini
50ml extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
4 tbsp Greek yoghurt (or Dairy-free alternative)
juice of ½ lemon

Heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5. Cut the aubergines across into fat slices and then halve the larger slices. Peel the onions and cut them vertically into wedges. Put both into a large roasting tin and mix together with all but 1 tbsp of the olive oil, the cumin, pul biber, salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes, turning everything about half way through.

Put all the dressing ingredients into a small blender or a bowl with 50ml of water and either blitz or whisk until it’s thoroughly blended and the consistency of thick cream. Check the seasoning, adding more lemon if necessary.

Pit and chop the dates, roughly chop the walnuts and toast them for a few minutes in a hot frying pan if you have the energy (I didn’t). Pick the coriander leaves off the stems and chop.

Five minutes before the aubergines are ready heat the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil in a pan. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and heat them through in the oil for a few minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and tip onto a serving platter – over rocket, couscous or quinoa if you wish. Spoon the cumin-roast aubergines and onions on top, generously drizzle with the dressing, then scatter over the coriander, dates and walnuts.

And there you have a delicious, exotic dinner on the table in 45 minutes, of which at least half can be spent reading the paper or, in my case, doing your piano practice.

Roast vegetable salad with quinoa

This recipe evolved from Roasted Vegetable Couscous Salad in Delia Smith’s Summer Collection, a book which was a sensation when it was published in 1993. Full of vibrant colours and flavours, the recipes seemed fresher than the rather traditional dishes of Delia’s previous books. Recipes like Piedmont Roasted Peppers, Salmon with Avocado and Crème Fraîche sauce and Oven-roast Ratatouille instantly became part of my regular repertoire.

IMG_4444As you can see from the state of the page, I have made this recipe a lot! Although the harissa-style dressing is nice, I have more often used a mustard or basalmic dressing instead, both of which work well. These days I am not so fond of couscous, so I thought I’d try it with quinoa instead, and added chick peas instead of goat’s cheese, to make a satisfying vegan salad. As tahini goes so well with chick peas, I thought I’d try a tahini dressing, and it went really well with both the vegetables and the chick peas. Feel free to revet to using couscous and goats cheese if you prefer, but however you make it, it is a perfect dish for this lovely summer weather. If it’s really hot, you can roast the vegetables in the cool of the evening or early morning and then quickly assemble it for a lazy lunch. And it looks so summery served in a large bowl, for everyone to serve themselves.

1 aubergine
2 courgettes
2 red or yellow peppers
1 large or 2 small red onions
4 large tomatoes (or equivalent in cherry tomatoes)
4 cloves garlic
Olive oil
120g quinoa
1 can chick peas
1 lemon (optional)
mixed salad leaves
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp warm water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
handful of flat-leaf parsley

Start by heating the oven to 200 C Fan/Gas 7. Peel the onion(s), cut in half and the. Each piece into 4-6 wedges. Put into a roasting tin large enough to take all the vegetables.  Trim the top and bottom of the courgettes, slice them in half lengthwise (unless they are small, in which case you may need a couple more) and then slice diagonally into chunks. Add to the tin. Cut the stem off the aubergine, cut it in half lengthwise, each half into three wedges and then across into chunks. Add to the pan, season and drizzle the whole lot with some olive oil.

IMG_4445By now the oven should be up to temperature, so put the tray into the oven and set the pinger for 10 minutes while you prepare the peppers and tomatoes. Core and desired the peppers and cut into small chunks. Delia skins the tomatoes, which is an improvement, though I often don’t get round to it. Her recipe has the instructions. If using large tomatoes cut each into 6 or 8 pieces. Squash the garlic cloves with the side of the knife.

When the timer goes add the peppers and garlic to the roasting tin, giving everything a good stir. Set the timer for a further 10 minutes. Wash the salad if necessary. Measure the quinoa and rinse it under running water. Tip it into a pan, add 360ml of cold water, bring to a simmer and cook for 12-15 minutes until each little seed has unfurled like a comma. When the 10 minutes is up, stir the vegetables again and add the tomatoes for a final 10 minutes. I do this because I prefer the tomatoes to be soft and juicy – you can of course add them earlier if you prefer them more roasted.

IMG_4448Take the vegetables out of the oven and allow to cool a little – I think this salad tastes best when the grain and vegetables are still lukewarm (definitely not fridge cold, so if you are cooking this ahead, do get the vegetables out of the fridge an hour ahead so they can come up to room temperature).

When the quinoa is cooked I usually turn off the heat and let it sit to dry in the pan on the warm hot plate for a few minutes, before tipping it into a sieve to cool.

IMG_4447Drain and rinse the chick peas and mix with the quinoa in a large serving dish. I added some pieces of lemon to the quinoa, following a favourite Ottolenghi recipe. It does make the salad quite sharp, which I like. If you want to do likewise, cut off the top and bottom of the lemon, then stand it on a board and carefully cut away the peel and white pith using a sharp knife (preferably serrated). Then cut between the membranes to release the individual segments of lemon, discarding any pips as you go. Chop the parsley and mix it in.

Drizzle over a little of the dressing, then spoon over the still warm vegetables. Top with the salad leaves, drizzle over more of the dressing and serve with the rest of the desssing on the side.


Spinach and ricotta filo pie

Otherwise known as Spanakopita, this is a variant of a dish that I have known since I was a teenager. I went to Greece for the first time in the 1970s and still vividly remember the food: huge Greek salads of intensely-flavoured tomatoes and olives, yoghurt in earthenware bowls with a delicious creamy layer on top, Kolokithakia (light, crispy fried courgette slices) served with tzatziki, moussaka rich with aubergines (then hard to find in the UK), and spanakopita: spinach and feta encased in golden filo pastry.

I used to make it according to Claudia Roden’s recipe in Middle Eastern Food: spinach cooked in butter and crumbled feta for the filling (no egg), and 8-10 sheets of filo pastry each brushed with melted butter. It is delicious, but feta can be very salty and with around 125g of butter it makes rich eating and is not so good for eating cold. So my recipe has gradually drifted (recalling Mae West’s “I used to be Snow White but I drifted”) away from authenticity to something lighter yet equally delicious.

Fresh, milky ricotta replaces over half the feta, an egg gives a gentle set to the filling and olive oil turns the sheets of filo into the same golden shards in a more artery-friendly way. A Greek shop is the best place to buy good feta, olives and filo but I don’t have one nearby. Luckily, filo pastry and olives are now widely available, and I have discovered that some supermarkets stock barrel-aged feta, which is sweeter and creamier than the young cheese, if you can stomach the higher price. You can use an onion or half a dozen spring onions instead of the leek if you wish – the latter will obviously only need to be softened very quickly. Last night I also went completely off-piste and added a layer of roasted butternut squash, which we decided was A Good Thing – I give instructions for both variants below.

I love the light freshness of the ricotta combined with the soft, mineral taste of spinach and the sweet saltiness of the feta, all contrasting with the crisp filo. Including the squash makes it a slightly more substantial meal, adding another texture, and the chilli flakes add a hint of heat.

This is an excellent dish for a crowd, as I think it is best served warm or at room temperature (as it is in Greece), rather than hot. It can easily be assembled and baked ahead of time, and it looks splendid as you cut generous squares of it from in a big dish. All you need to serve alongside it is, of course, a Greek salad – tomatoes, cucumber, Kalamata olives, green or red pepper and red onion (if you like it), liberally dressed with green Greek extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar – with extra feta if you wish.

The dish I used for these quantities is 25 x 18 x 5 cm and made enough for 4 portions. It remains good eating for a day or two, so you may want to consider scaling up so that you have leftovers for packed lunches or an easy supper the next day.

450g spinach or 260g spinach and 200g butternut squash
2 leeks
olive oil
120g ricotta
80g feta
1 or 2 eggs
5 sheets filo pastry
a good pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
1 tbsp sesame seeds

If you are using the butternut squash heat the oven to 200º C/Gas Mark 6. Peel and deseed the squash and cut into small cubes. If you’re in a hurry you could use one of those bags of ready-prepared squash (often on special offer in the supermarket chiller at the end of the day). Put on an oven tray, drizzle with olive oil (keep your fancy Extra Virgin oil for the salad – you don’t need it for any of the oven cooking), season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the chilli flakes. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the squash is just tender to the point of a knife, while you get on with the rest of the recipe using the smaller quantity of spinach.

Otherwise, heat the oven to 180º C/Gas Mark 4. Wash the spinach thoroughly, discarding any tough stems, and drain in a colander. Trim and clean the leek and cut into 1cm slices. Put a large frying pan or wok over a medium heat and add about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the leek and cook, stirring regularly until it softens and turning the heat down if it shows any signs of browning – a matter of about 5 minutes. Put the ricotta into a sieve to drain (I don’t always do this, but it is worth it if the ricotta looks wet).

When the leeks are soft, add the spinach, with the little water clinging to its leaves, in batches if necessary, stirring it around as it collapses. When all the spinach has been added and is soft, take the pan off the heat and either press the mixture with a spatula and pour off the excess liquid or tip everything into a colander and press the liquid out.

Everything can be prepared up to this point in advance. When you’re ready, beat the egg(s) in a mixing bowl – using 2 eggs if you are using the larger quantity of spinach – and stir in the spinach mixture, ricotta and crumbled feta. Season with a good grating of fresh nutmeg and black pepper (you don’t need salt because of the feta). If not using squash, you can add a pinch of chilli flakes at this point if you wish. By now the squash should be ready and you can take it out and turn the oven down to 180º C/Gas Mark 4.

To assemble the pie, oil your tin and open your stack of filo pastry (ideally under a damp tea-towel to keep it soft).  Using a pastry brush and a small dish of olive oil, oil the top sheet of filo and lay it across the tin with the edges hanging out. Then oil the next sheet and carefully lay it in the opposite direction. Continue adding two more layers of oiled filo in alternate directions, making sure that you arrange them so that you have enough extra to fold over the top at the end (I kept back one sheet to make sure there was enough to cover the pie).

Now fill with the spinach and cheese mixture – and add the butternut squash in a layer if you are using it. Fold in each layer of the pastry in turn, brushing on a little more oil as you go, until it is all securely enclosed. Sprinkle sesame seeds across the top if you wish.  I don’t really recommend the black sesame seeds but couldn’t find any regular sesame seeds in my over-stuffed spice drawer.  Put into the pre-heated oven and bake for 35 minutes, giving it a peek after 20 minutes to check that it is not browning too fast – if so, loosely cover it with some foil or turn the oven down a bit (say 170º C/Gas Mark 3).

Spinach and ricotta filo pieAllow to cool a little before serving with a Greek salad (or, as here, the totally improvised salad we had with the leftovers!).

Trout with broad beans & watercress

Trout with broad beans and watercress

Looking for something to make for lunch or supper on this lovely summer day? This deceptively sophisticated meal is actually really quick and easy to prepare. When I made it yesterday, it was on the table in 25 minutes – and that included having a speedy shower while the potatoes were cooking! The rainbow trout has a delicate yet earthy flavour that goes perfectly with new potatoes, broad beans and watercress. If you want to be classy, you can make the cream and watercress into a sauce, though I would still garnish the dish with a little watercress too.

At a talk about the artist Edward Bawden the other day, a review of his early exhibitions by the art critic of The Times was quoted as saying his work had the ‘tang of watercress’, which is a wonderfully vivid description of the distinctive, strong and appealing flavour of Bawden’s work – and immediately made me want to eat watercress!

I find trout more interesting than all but the best salmon and like its lighter taste and texture. Pan-frying it without any oil also keeps it low in calories and you could easily replace the cream with 0%-fat greek yoghurt if you wished. That would, I think, work best if you used it to make the watercress sauce.

Purists would also peel the broad beans to reveal the shiny emerald beans inside, but I was hungry and impatient to sit and eat on my sunny terrace, after a morning of gardening, so my beans remained unpeeled. I had bought some broad beans in the pod – podding them always reminds me of sitting on the back step of my grandmother’s house podding peas – but frozen are really just as good unless you grow your own. If you are making this for guests, one packet of watercress should be enough for four people.

Trout with broad beans and watercressThe pale pink and greens looked so pretty on the plate and the combination of flavours was delicious – with a glass of chilled rosé this is a perfect summer meal.

For each person you will need:

1 fillet rainbow trout
3 (or more to taste) small new potatoes
2 sprigs mint (optional)
2 tbsps crème fraîche or soured cream
80g podded broad beans (250g if in the pod)
1 good handful of watercress
¼ lemon

Put a small pan of water on for the potatoes. Wash the potatoes if earthy and as soon as the water boils add them to the pan, drop in one sprig of mint, and set the timer for 15 minutes. If you are making the watercress sauce, take off any coarse stems from the watercress, wash it if necessary, put a few sprigs aside for garnish and put the rest in the goblet of a stick blender (or small bowl of a food processor), add the cream and blitz to a green-flecked sauce. Check for taste and add salt and lemon juice as necessary. It shouldn’t need pepper as the watercress is already quite peppery. If you are using broad beans in the pod, now is the time to pod them. Otherwise, go for a quick shower, set the table, water the plants, or pour yourself a glass of rosé.

When the timer goes, put a heavy frying pan over a medium heat and leave for a couple of minutes to heat up. Check the potatoes, which will probably need another few minutes. Chop the leaves of the remaining sprig of mint. When the frying pan is hot put the trout fillet(s) in flesh side down and set the timer for 2 minutes. If the pan isn’t hot when you add the fish it will stick. As soon as the potatoes are ready, scoop them out and add the broad beans to the simmering water. When the timer goes, carefully ease a fish slice under the fish, turn it onto the skin side and cook for a further 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the potatoes on the plate and scatter with the mint (and a knob of butter if you wish). When the timer goes, drain the beans and add the plate. Check that the trout is cooked through – a thick fillet may need a couple more minutes – and serve with a good squeeze of lemon, a spoonful of cream or watercress sauce, and the watercress.