Category Archives: Salad

Chickpea Salad and Other Stories

Last week we celebrated The Bristol Food Connections Festival and I was in a whirlwind of cooking (plenty of pulses), teaching, writing, cooking and a bit of gallivanting too. Of course the very mention of the “wind” word will have probably unleashed a bit of school boy humour amongst some of you and I’ll address that at the bottom (oh dear!) of the post.

Food Connections

My demo’ at the festival focused on chickpeas (perhaps my favourite pulse of all, and certainly the variety I use the most) and I had decided, rather bonkersly, to cook 10 recipes in an hour. I often feel that people don’t realise how versatile and easy chickpeas are to use and so, with the help of nine year old Imi, we flew through loads of simple ideas. We did also have some help from the wonderful Clare Hargreaves and Steve Ashcroft – thanks so much to both of you.

Some of the recipes are on my blog already, just click on the links for recipes. We kicked off with farinata , the gram (chickpea) flour flatbread which is super cheap and incredibly moreish (even Gwyneth has included a recipe in her latest cook book, she uses the French name Socca,…. love the idea of putting sardines and tomatoes on the top). Our simple  soup has been a go-to-recipe of mine for years, a real store-cupboard standby, with chilli and lemon juice. The zingy  Southern Indian chickpea stir fry  is a winner if you’re up for some Indian flavours . I only cooked one dish with meat and that was a simple one pot supper dish using a little chorizo , it’s a recipe that really does demonstrate my belief that a small quantity of well-sourced meat can feed a crowd when you cook with pulses. So those are your bonus recipes, and I’ll do my best to post all of the dishes I cooked over time, but today I wanted to talk about salads.

I’d quite happily eat salad every day of my life as long as it was more than a pile of leaves. Nowadays many of the hipster cooks and chefs seem to refer to a large plate of cold goodies as a buddha bowl or wellness plate, I just call it salad. It’s a great option instead of the daily sandwich that so many of us snatch at lunchtime, as long as it tastes fab’, fills you up and keeps you going for the afternoon. As you may know pulses are packed with fibre, are digested slowly and will keep you feeling satisfied and energised for hours. Another upside of chickpeas, beans and lentils in a lunch box is that they actually benefit from a few hours sitting in the dressing, herbs and spices that you may have decided to add. I could bang on about the low fat, no cholesterol, the protein ( when accompanied by grains, nuts or dairy), manganese and folate that chickpeas bring onboard but sometimes singing the health benefits of an ingredient makes people imagine that it will be a trial to eat. THIS SALAD IS DELICIOUS; one of my all time favourites from my book Pulse. I’ve taken a cheeky shot – of the salad pic’ by the fabulous Clare Winfield in my book (I’m up against it, I have a book launch on Wednesday and everything to get ready, so I do hope you’ll forgive).

 

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Chickpea, Beetroot and Feta Salad.
Serves 4

1/2 red onion, sliced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
500 g/ 1 lb home cooked or 2 x 400g/14 oz tinned chickpeas, (well rinsed and drained)
200 g/ 7 oz feta cheese, cut into large 2 1/2  cm/1 inch dice
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
100 g/4 oz baby spinach or other salad leaves
1/2 cucumber, diced
a large bunch continental parsley, chopped
About 20 mint leaves
2 small cooked beetroot (vacuum packed or home-cooked) , roughly diced
Seeds from 1 pomegranate
salt, pepper, wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to taste.

Soak the sliced onion in the vinegar, it will turn a glorious fuschia pink and become softer and more digestible.

Gently warm the olive oil and the garlic in a saucepan for about 5 minutes. The idea is not to fry the garlic but to infuse the oil and soften the the garlic’s flavour. Remove the pan from the heat and take out the garlic, it will be soft by now, chop it finely and return it to the pan with the chickpeas. Stir them around in the warm oil, season with a little salt and pepper and then set aside to cool.

Toast the sesame and fennel seeds in a frying pan until the sesame seeds dance around and turn gold. Tip the seeds onto a plate and carefully toss the feta around, covering each dice in a speckled crust.

Place the onion, chickpeas with their garlic oil, salad leaves, cucumber, parsley and most of the mint in a bowl and mix carefully. Now add the feta and beetroot and toss carefully just a couple of times otherwise the entire salad will turn a milky pink. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and a few mint leaves and serve with toasted pitta or some fabulous sourdough and a dash of olive oil.

How about?
Adding  a few pitted Kalamata olives
Some roasted pistachios along with the pomegranate
Grilled or char-grilled sliced aubergine
Chopped coriander instead of the mint

TIP: Warming the chickpeas in the garlicky oil makes them sing, if you’re not keen on garlic then try infusing with lemon zest or spices. This technique will make a difference to any beans or lentils, especially if they’ve come out of a tin

The Wind Factor

I’m always extolling the virtues of legumes and yet I’ve still to address the wind problem on my blog, it’s probably because it doesn’t really affect me (there are also plenty of things that help reduce the flatulence in any case ).

SO, why the wind? (Here’s a quote from my book – Pulse) “Legumes contain certain indigestible carbohydrates, the most troublesome being the oligosaccharides, that can’t be dealt with by the digestive enzymes in the stomach. So these carbohydrates pass through the upper intestine largely unchanged and are finally fermented and broken down by harmless bacteria in the lower intestine. This rise in bacterial activity results in gas. There’s also the high fibre factor; if your normal diet is low in fibre then a sudden rise will cause gas too.”

And what to do about it? Firstly, your body will gradually adapt to eating more pulses and fibre and then any wind will become less of an issue.
Secondly, the great pulse eaters of the world offer up plenty of calming options.
-You can add a small piece of Kombu seaweed to the beans as they cook as the Japanese do (available dried next to the Miso etc in health food shops)
-The Mexicans add a few leaves of epazote to the pot (available dried on line at Sous Chef  along with almost any other ingredient that you need to track down)
-Indians use asafoetida, cumin, turmeric or fennel in their dals and curries
-Italians swear by fennel and sage.

 

AND THE NEWS …….. COOL KIDS COOK is out this week

and of course there are a few pulse recipes thrown in, including 4 variations on a quick bean salad, ideal for the lunchbox. You can read more about it on my blog here

 

Black Badgers and Blood Oranges

Today’s bright and chilly; I’ll try to whisk myself along to The Lido for an outside swim once I’ve written this post. I’ve no problem with piling on the long johns and stuffing some extra fleece into the guinea pigs’ bed box, the cold feels invigorating and the light is a joy. Dingy, grey days are another matter; I’m often convinced that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, that awful drained and lethargic feeling during the dark months of winter. I have a S.A.D. lamp that I switch on beside my desk on the gloomiest of days, I’m not sure that it makes too much difference but at least I feel that I’m taking control of the situation.

People often talk about comfort food in dismal weather but actually what I need is a serious pepping up and so a salad packed with good stuff such as oranges, avocado and pulses is just the thing. It’s not that I would shun a doughnut (particularly if it happened to be a Borough Market Bread Ahead doughnut – once tasted never forgotten) but if I put together a really vibrant salad of fabulously tasty bits I will enjoy it just as much, yes I promise you, I really will. That’s just it, pulses are often considered rather stodgy and worthy, they can be, but given the right treatment they taste divine.

In Britain we produce vast, vast quantities of peas. Frozen green peas are the nation’s favourite veg’ and I’m not knocking them at all – sweet, quick, crowd pleasing and great for soups, (try this absolute cracker from Diana Henry), but it’s easy to forget that historically all the peas we grew were dried and cooked up into staples such as the  “pease pudding” we all know from the nursery rhyme. We get through a fair amount of marrowfat peas too; matured on the stem until starchy and rotund, and particularly popular for mushy peas. Nigella’s recipe for marrowfat pea and avocado hummus is inspired (just whizz up 1 ripe avocado, a drained 300g can of marrowfat peas, 1/2 a clove of garlic, juice of 1/2 a lime – then season with salt, pepper and more lime if required) Dried, split yellow and green peas make great soups – particularly the classic pea and ham soup  I wrote about on The Borough Market blog.

Today I want to tell you about my all-time favourite pea, the Black Badger, and not for the first time, here’s a “vintage” post (there’s an irritating title for yesterday’s news). Black Badgers or Maple Peas have plenty of other names: Carlin or Carling Peas in Yorkshire, Black Peas in Lancashire and Grey Peas in the Black Country.

The peas are said to have flourished in English monastery gardens hundreds of years ago, with their beautiful blooms. Geordie folklore tells a tale of siege and starvation back in 1327 when the people of Newcastle were saved by a shipload of Carlin Peas from Norway, other sources talk of the peas being gathered from a Spanish shipwreck  in Elizabethan times. Whatever their history these nutty little peas have only really been appreciated in more recent times up North. “Parched Peas” (just slow-simmered and served with salt and vinegar) are a Lancashire classic on Bonfire night whilst you’re more likely to be eating your Carlin Peas in Yorkshire on the Sunday before Palm Sunday  ( so best go buy some) with a little butter stirred in.

I like to cook up a pot of Black Badgers (they take about 45 minutes) and throw them into  salads, soups or stews. Try using them in the place of a chickpea in any recipe; they’re chameleons like all legumes, soaking up flavours and infinitely adaptable. I felt the need for a winter vitamin hit and never take any persuading when it comes to blood oranges. The citrusy sweetness is the secret to this salad, offsetting the hearty nuttiness of the peas and the richness of creamy avocado. Sprouted radishes add an almost mustardy nose-rush and then there’s plenty of coriander too. All in all the salad has attitude, that’s the best way with pulses.

Blood orange and Black BadgersBlack Badger and Blood Orange Salad

Serves 4 (as a light lunch, maybe with a bit of bread?)

600 g cooked black badgers, drained
4 blood oranges, peeled and segmented (reserve the juice)
2 avocados, flesh cut into chunks
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tbsp cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 handful of sprouted radishes (you could use sliced, feisty radishes instead)
Fresh coriander, leaves from 2 good sprigs
1 tbsp black sesame seeds (if you have them, or white or even a few sunflower/pumpkin seeds)

So, drain your badgers and put them in a bowl with most of the orange segments.

Keep the orange juice to toss the avocado around in (then it doesn’t oxidise and go black)

Mix together the dressing, taste and balance it up and then tip over the badgers. Taste again pulses need to be well seasoned and love vinegar/acidity.

Add the avocado and any orange juice, the remaining orange segments, radishes, coriander and sesame seeds but DON’T stir (or the creamy avocado will make your glistening peas look murky and sad).

 

Cooking Black Badgers

or any whole dried peas for that matter

I soak my peas overnight, drain and then cover with plenty of cold water. Simmer for about 45 minutes ( I put a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda in with 500 g dried beans to spend up the softening process as an experiment – yes they cooked marginally quicker and are definitely a bit softer and creamier than my last batch) Marrowfat, green or yellow peas may take a little longer to cook.

Leaving the peas overnight in the fridge in their cooking water has given the peas a darker look – more dramatic black than brown now.

You may have a local source for Black Badger Peas, I can find them in a number of Bristol stores, if not you can track some down on line at the wonderful Hodmedods  And, a little advice, don’t just stick with the Badgers, Hodmedods sell a whole range of fabulous British  Peas, beans and quinoa. The roasted peas are my current desert island snack.

No Black Badgers?

A black bean would work nicely (I love the contrasting colours here) as would a pert lentil (of the Puy/ French green style rather than softer brown) or even a chickpea. I know that I’ve said it before but here we go again…. legumes are wonderfully versatile.

If you’d like to learn more about cooking pulses how about coming along to my day workshop ?

Pulse: At the heart of the kitchen 
The Bertinet Kitchen on Saturday May 7th

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roast Vegetable Hummus and the Simplest Flat Bread Ever

Okay, it’s been a while and sadly I’m not about to regale you with fabulous tales of holidays and adventures that have filled my days. It’s just that Peter (the husband) is away in Antarctica for a few weeks and my life seems to be a hectic (read chaotic) combination of working all over the place at funny hours (a result of being freelance that I usually embrace) and farming Imi out to wonderfully supportive family, friends and neighbours (three cheers for “Spare Granny” Sasha) at both ends of the day.

The amazingly bright autumn weather (not today – the S.A.D. lamp is definitely on), a few trips to The Bristol Lido to swim outside and some very special one-to-one time with Imi have thankfully made the chaos pretty wonderful too. I feel so blessed living in Bristol where I took these pictures just 5 minutes walk from the house. Last Sunday, the 1st of November, just felt like a bonus, an almost summery day, before we hit the colder weather – everyone was out (and I remembered that I really, really need a dog).

One of my Autumn highlights has to be the day spent at Victoria Park Primary School, in Bristol, helping with their Healthy Schools Week. I was working with Ramona Andrews: a school Mum, food writer, social media guru, producer (she’s a talented lass) and we a ball (a tiring one, but oh so rewarding). The idea was to get kids cooking, tasting and experimenting with simple recipes that happened to be healthy too, rather than the didactic approach.

With over 30 kids at a time, in the school art room, it wasn’t going to be individual soufflés so we settled on flat breads and hummus. It was all about tasty, simple and accessible recipes that the kids would most likely eat too and with Halloween looming we thought we’d throw some roasted pumpkin into the hummus. The room was filled with great wafts of garlic, cumin, baking bread and lots of noise (good noise, enthusiastic, excited noise).

One thing that I’ve learnt about cooking with children is that everyone wants, and needs, to be busy for every available second (I so, so appreciate you school teachers – it’s knackering). We had plenty of grating going on to keep everyone gainfully employed and made a massive bowl of salad. Radishes, beetroot, carrots, cucumber, apples, pears, seeds, herbs, lemon zest – it all went in, and of course there were a few doubters (some rather more vociferous than others) but pretty much everybody tried the end result and, best of all, most of them loved it.

So here you have my recipes from the day and though I do admit to buying hummus sometimes, and pitta bread too, this reminded me how simple, cheap and adaptable they are to make. The children were amazed at how easy it is to prepare the basic flat breads with plenty of scope to play around sprinkling with different spices They’re ideal for baking with some eager little helpers but worth throwing some together for yourself too.

Halloween may be over, pumpkin fever a thing of the past, but there are plenty of squash around in the markets and shops to experiment with. The texture is fabulous in hummus and the slightly nutty, caramelised flavour works well with Middle Eastern spicing or you could try some rosemary instead. The children devoured this, one even suggested that it would be good for “dipping KFC chips in”! (you can’t win ’em all) but the best thing was the palpable excitement  at eating something they’d prepared.

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Hummus

1 x 400 g can of chickpeas, drained
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin (roast and grind your own if you have time)
juice of 1/2 -1 lemon
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of salt and ground black pepper

Whizz up the the chickpeas in a food processor with the garlic, the juice of 1/2 the lemon and most of the cumin.

Blend for a moment or two before adding the olive oil. If the hummus is very stiff you can add 1-2 tablespoons of water. Blend again until you have a nicely textured, rather than smooth, paste.

Season with the black pepper. Have a taste and decide whether you want to add more lemon juice.

Coriander or parsley are great stirred in at the last moment (no earlier or your hummus will look a murky khaki colour.

Roasted Vegetable Hummus

600 g carrots or pumpkin, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
1 x hummus recipe above

Pre heat the oven to 200ºC, fan oven 180ºC, gas mark 6

Put the carrot or pumpkin pieces into a roasting tin and add the olive oil, tossing to coat the vegetables and sprinkling with a little salt. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until they’re beginning to brown and caramelise.

Add the vegetables (hot or cold, it doesn’t matter) to the food processor  (or whizz with a stick blender), purée until smooth and then stir in the hummus.

Tip: Try using other vegetables such as roasted peppers, onions or aubergines too.

Simple Flat Breads (12)

250 g self raising wholemeal flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
250 g natural yoghurt

Just mix everything together in a large bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Squash the dough around in the bowl with your hands until it feels smooth and then roll the ball in a little four to stop it sticking the bowl. Cover the bowl with a plate or tea towel for at least 20 minutes

Divide the dough into 10 (easiest to chop in half and then cut the halves into 5 each- get the Maths going) Roll out until they are the thickness of a pound coin and bake in the hottest oven possible or cook on a ridged griddle until baked through..

Brush with oil and herbs ( try za’atar : sumac, sesame, tried thyme and salt) or garlic butter and eat straight away.

Grated Fruit and Vegetable Salad

You don’t need a recipe really but here are a few suggestions – a great moment to empty the veg’ basket and fruit bowl. It’s a fab’ way to introduce new flavours to kids, pile in plenty of the familiar and then just a little of something new.

Dressing made with lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning1 apple/pear
1 beetroot red or golden or even candy-striped (the kids loved these)
2 carrots
1 -2 sticks of celery
Fresh herbs such as parsley, mint, dill or coriander.

Put your dressing into a bowl and grate the r fruit and vegetables into it (turning so that they don’t get a chance to brown)
Mix everything together ( it’s best to stir in beetroot at the very end or you will end up with a Barbie-pink salad – you may want to wear gloves whilst you are grating).

Taste and season , then add nuts, seeds, herbs whatever you fancy.

 

 

 

Deconstructed Minestrone

Minestrone SaladIt does sound seriously poncey I know, but this salad came about quite by mistake and not as some highfalutin cheffy notion. A couple of weeks ago I was running a workshop at Imi’s Primary School with an entire class of Year 3 (7-8 year olds) and had planned on making a huge minestrone soup showcasing some of the vegetables picked in the school garden. Of course that particular day turned out to be the heatwave of the century (it did only last a day) and hot soup really did not fit the bill at all. SO, deconstructed minestrone it was and how tasty it turned out to be too.

I’ve started teaching regular cooking workshops with the help of some enthusiastic parents at my daughter’s primary school; it’s quite a challenge as we’re working in the dining room, have just one small oven and no individual hobs as yet. Interestingly these limitations forced me to really think how to go about the sessions and now we have a great formula. In each class we have a core recipe such as a bulgur wheat salad, or Turkish borek (little folded filo pastries) or in today’s case minestrone with about 4 or 5 key ingredients and a few basic instructions. Then we let the kids loose on a whole variety of other vegetables, herbs, cheeses, spices and seasonings (or any other appropriate bits) that I’ve arranged on a huge table. The children work in small groups on their recipe; it’s quite extraordinary to watch the peer pressure and competitive spirit at work -suddenly previously green-phobic kids are diving into pea shoots, raw courgette, dill and avocado.

Perhaps the most gratifying  thing about our Food Group sessions is the parental feed back, some children are even sending their mothers off with shopping lists so that they can reproduce the simple meal back at home, others are being more adventurous in their food choices. There’s no doubt that cooking is key to getting children excited about eating healthy food (it’s not just about making chocolate brownies and cup cakes – I could rant now but we’ll leave that for another day)

But back to the Minestrone –  a classic Italian dish that translates as “big soup”, it varies with the region and the season but is quite definitely never a salad! So get off my back Italophiles.  I know that it doesn’t really make sense but the ingredients (with the obvious omission of the stock) are basically the same – just raw rather than cooked.  This “Deconstructed Minestrone”  is great way of plumping up a summer salad into a substantial lunch dish and also using up any random vegetables that are good eaten raw. It’s up to you how many ingredients you throw into the mix.

Deconstructed Minestrone.

Minestrone Jenny Chandler

70’s Style Still L ife

The Base
250 g cannellini or haricot beans ( 1 x 400 g can of  beans drained or home – cooked – it’s up to you)
100 g tiny pasta e.g.  orzo (like tiny rice), acini de pepe (literally pepper corns) or stellette (little stars )
250 g ripe, tasty tomatoes cut into bite-sized pieces
3 or 4 spring onions, trimmed and finely slice
A large handful of basil leaves, ripped into small pieces
Shavings or parmesan or pecorino cheese

The Dressing
Juice of 1 lemon
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Optionals
Fresh peas straight from the pod
Courgette, cut into very fine slices (yes, raw courgette is delicious and a winner with the kids)
Celery, chopped finely
Red or yellow pepper cut into tiny dice
Carrot, diced finely
Parsley, dill, mint, oregano, rocket, pea shoots, baby spinach
French beans or baby broad beans, blanched until tender.

Rinse the cannelloni or haricot beans and place them in a large salad bowl.

Boil the pasta in salted water until just “al dente” it’s pretty quick with all these tiny, soupy shapes so keep an eye. Drain the pasta and add it to the beans.

Now add the remaining vegetables and dressing to the bowl, holding back on tender herbs, salad leaves and the cheese shavings until you are just about ready to serve.

The salad only improves with a few extra hours in the bowl with all the flavours getting to know one another.

You could add tinned tuna (leave out the cheese), anchovies, capers or olives to the mix but now we are really straying from the minestrone roots.

 

Sadly, hot soup seems the better option today as I sit at my desk in summer frock and flip flops desperately trying to think sultry sunny thoughts. We’re off to W.O.M.A.D. ( a fabulous music festival) tomorrow, the wellies and not-so-fashionable rain ponchos are by the front door but I’m crossing my fingers.

 

 

Thai- ish Watercress, Grapefruit and Peanut Salad

Oops, what happened to June? I’ll try to make up for my negligence this month.

The last few weeks were pretty bonkers as I was involved with The Bristol Good Food Awards, meaning that I had the desperately difficult job of eating my way around the city’s best breakfast joints. It’s pretty good news for anyone who likes to eat out of a mornin’ – the five nominees were all fabulous. So, just in case you feel like a great start to the day Rosemarino, The Boston Tea Party, The Souk Kitchen (North St- breakfast’sa Sunday affair only), Brew Coffee Company and Bakers and Co were all really outstanding. Bakers and Co won by a slim margin, I was just bowled over by my plate of sour dough with flat peach, cured ham, fresh ricotta and tomatoes.  So get down to The Gloucester rd if you happen to be in Bristol.

The down side of all this eating out (I was judging “family friendly” with Imi too – but more on that next time) is my ever expanding waistline. It’s particularly worrying as my wedding is fast approaching (in September); it’s one thing getting married at fifty, it’s quite another looking like a whale.

I tried on a potential dress in London the other day, but then did find myself hot-footing it to the lingerie department at Peter Jones in search of some serious corsetry to vacuum-pack the wobbly bits into. So there I was, crouched over the Spanx pant stand, grappling for my reading glasses because the size label was just a bit too small, when an old friend from university tapped me on the shoulder. I hadn’t seen Kitty in at least twenty years and there we were, both looking at reinforced underwear, both squinting at the labels. Life moves on. Ho hum.

I could have a quick fling with the 5:2 diet but I just know that it would make me miserable. I do love to eat salads during the summer any way so I’ve decided to make myself something interesting and quite possibly healthy for lunch every day. Today’s salad is seriously assertive and very light too. It was enough for lunch for me (Peter had some too) but I don’t have a big appetite when the weather’s  warm. This would be very good indeed with some spiced pork ribs off the barbie too.

Thai-ish Watercress, Grapefruit and Peanut Salad  (serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side)

Thai style salad

The salad is “Thai -ish” as I think it’s doubtful that you’d find watercress out there ( I may be wrong?) and the citrus choice would be a pomelo rather than a pink grapefruit. The dressing is, however, very authentic and not the thing to be cooking up if you’re trying to sell your house (read exceedingly pongy) so get the extractor fan on. Fish sauce smells vile as you cook it but tastes divine!

4 grapefruit, cut into segments, juice set aside
1 large bunch watercress, washed and trimmed
50 g lightly roasted peanuts
About 20 mint leaves

Dressing
4 tbsp thai fish sauce
Juice of 1/2 a lime
2 tbsp palm sugar (light muscovado works well)
1/2 – 1 clove garlic, crushed
1 – 2 Thai red chillis

Prepare the salad ingredients and place in individual bowls or on a large platter.

To make the dressing: warm about 1/2 of the fish sauce in a small saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of the grapefruit juice ( you will have gathered plenty as you prepared the grapefruit).

Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.

Tip into a small bowl and add the remaining fish sauce and the lime juice.

Now add the garlic, chilli and grapefruit juice a little at a time, balancing the flavours as you go. You are looking for the perfect equilibrium between sweet, sour, salty, umami and heat.

Tip over the salad to serve.

You could also try : adding prawns, white crab meat or poached chicken to this recipe for a fabulous light lunch.

Sour, salty, umami, sweet, bitter – this ticks all the taste boxes.

Shopping for watercress:
There are lots of things I love about Spanish food; the supermarket bags of tiny-leaved, pale green watercress are not one of them. You want the peppery punch of good, fresh English watercress here.

Wild Garlic Flower and Tomato Salad

I’m determined to make this post a short one; I’ve not got much time because I’ve been squandering it of late. I took a day away from my desk yesterday to go for a walk in the woods. I so rarely allow myself to take time out on a weekday, it’s that ridiculous Protestant work ethic we had drummed into us as children.

Well, it was glorious and now I’m determined to get out more often (I really do need a dog and then perhaps I wouldn’t feel so guilty or self indulgent).  I know that “the simple things…..” message is an old one but I often need reminding myself, so perhaps you do too?

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Prior’s Wood is just 15 minutes drive from my home in Bristol and at this time of year it’s renowned for the carpets of bluebells. The bluebells were heavenly yesterday yet I can’t help feeling that the haze of lacy, white wild garlic flowers deserve a shout too. Just like the rest of their allium cousins the flowers are arranged in glorious little star-bursty spheres and look so delicate above the lush green leaves.

The flowers aren’t just pretty , they taste fabulous too – you don’t need many to garnish a salad or a cheese plate so I’m not recommending that you set off with your empty knapsack and pick flower heads for the five thousand. Just a dozen flower heads will be plenty to serve at least four people. Have a taste, each tiny flower has a little bubble of garlicky juices that burst into your mouth as you bite.

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Wild garlic leaves are tasty too but by the time the plants are flowering they’ve often become a little bitter. So now’s the perfect season for sprinkling teeny flowers over the first of the English tomatoes, which is exactly what I did for my lunch.

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I could have added some young cheese too but those green tomatoes were spectacularly good and I wanted to savour them. So, a dash of extra virgin Arbequina olive oil and a few grains of coarse salt was all I added before garnishing with the flowers.

As I said, the simple things…..

A sprout is not just for Christmas

Jenny Chandler Sprouts

We bought our Christmas sprouts on the stalk yesterday, ensuring optimum freshness for our big feast tomorrow. The guinea pigs are already munching on some of the sweet leaves from the sprout top and we’ll have the rest for lunch.

I’ve adored sprouts for as long as I can remember, even as a toddler- along with Stilton cheese. I’d always felt quite proud about my developed palate; early signs of a true food lover, I thought. I recently discovered that a love of bitter, strong flavours as a child could betray the fact that I’m short on taste buds; “super-tasters” (those people with the highest concentrations of taste buds) apparently find most brassicas overpoweringly bitter. So, do I miss out on all sorts of delicate nuances as I eat every day? That may be, but at least it allows me to revel in the delicious possibilities of the Brussel sprout.

It seems tragic that most people only eat their sprouts once a year when there are so many tasty possibilities- so here are my …..

5 favourite ways with sprouts

Simply steamed until JUST cooked through and then tossed in a bit of butter before serving. If you’re using small sprouts there’s no need to cut those little crosses in the bottom; if using large sprouts I cut them in half. Any bacon you might have put over a roasting bird can be chopped or broken up and thrown in too

Roasted sprouts are a revelation. Turn your oven up really high  (200°c +). Toss whole sprouts in olive oil, salt and pepper and then roast for about 10 minutes (more if they’re large ones) or until the outer leaves are a bit charred and the centres are tender.

Stir fried sprouts with orange and chestnuts are heaven with a roast. Slice the sprouts as finely as possible. Take a wok or large frying pan and begin by frying a diced onion in olive oil until soft. Throw in a finely sliced clove of garlic and your sprouts and toss around over a high heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Now add about 1/2 tsp of orange zest and a handful of cooked chestnuts. Give everything a good stir before adding the juice of the orange and seasoning with plenty of salt and pepper.
A few lardons fried up with the onion at the beginning of the dish are fantastic here too.

Brussel sprout Bubble and Squeak is the  absolute best- using any left overs from the sprout dishes above or eve shredding some sprouts for the purpose. Make sure that having mixed them in with your potatoes you fry the mixture with plenty of oil and allow it to catch and caramelise on the bottom of your frying ban. The charred, crunchy bits are the key to a sublime dish, along with plenty of Worcestershire Sauce and a poached egg.

– My new favourite, sprout salad, discovered at a fabulous pop-up in Bristol only last week. If you happen to be a local then make sure that you head down to  Bar Buvette (great write up by Fiona Beckett) on Baldwin Street as this bar may only be around for a few weeks and you REALLY DON”T WANT TO MISS IT!
But back to my sprouts – Peter Taylor (formerly of The Riverstation and Bell’s Diner) was serving very simple cheeses, charcuterie, fab’ cheese toasties  and then this very simple (but incredibly delicious salad) when we went down to sample his wines last week. I don’t think I’d ever eaten raw sprouts before….strange when I love all sorts of variations on coleslaw.
(Peter pointed out that you could always ponce things up and go a bit Italian by calling it a Cavolini or Cavoletti salad).

 

Sprout, Pecorino and Hazelnut Salad 
(as starter or side dish for 4)

400 g sprouts, peeled and shredded
100 g pecorino or parmesan, grated
Juice of 1 lemon
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A good handful of hazelnuts
salt and black pepper

Toss everything together and season to taste. Great eaten on its own or very delicious with a crispy jacket potato and a bit of cold ham too.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS & I do hope you enjoy your sprouts.