Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Sichuan inspired pepper, carrot and broad bean salad

Ever had that dilemma... you know, when you've been flicking through a cook book looking for something new to cook and you can't make your mind up? Dish A looks amazing and Dish B sounds awesome. Which to cook?

This salad was born out of one of those dilemmas. I've been working my way through Fuchsia Dunlop's excellent cook book "Every Grain Of Rice", a varied and comprehensive book of recipes Fuchsia learned in Sichuan province in her travels to China. It's a wonderful book, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to go beyond Chinese restaurant food.

Trouble is, the book has so many recipes, it will take me months to cook my way through it! One very interesting discovery has been the salad recipes in the first chapter of "Cold Dishes". Having had a go at Lao Hu Cai (Tiger salad) a very easy to prepare cucumber and chilli salad, I was ready to try my hand at some other recipes. Trouble was, there were two I wanted to make at the same time: Xiang You Qing Dou (Sichuanese Green Soy Bean Salad) and Liang Ban Hu Dou (Sichuanese Broad Bean Salad). In the end, I decided to mash the two up. This recipe is the result. 

The dressing is Fuchsia Dunlop's, as I don't know enough about Sichuanese food ingredients to invent my own. It packs a chilli punch, let me tell you! If you can't take a lot of chilli, then you will want to keep the amount of chilli oil down (1 tablespoon rather than 2) and perhaps omit the half teaspoon of sediment. 

If you make it as in the recipe, it will be vegetarian and vegan. But I couldn't resist making this much more sinful. I topped it with some crispy cooked pancetta (highly irregular and extremely inauthentic). I would try steamed prawns in it next time. 

Sichuan inspired pepper, carrot and broad bean salad
(Serves 2)

For the salad:
500g bag of broad beans
A third of a cucumber
Half a yellow pepper
A small carrot 
Three spring onions
A handful of salad leaf (I used a bistro salad mix)

Fuchsia Dunlop's dressing:
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
Half a teaspoon caster sugar
Quarter teaspoon Chinkiang vinegar
1-2 tablespoons chilli oil with half a teaspoon of sediment
1 clove of garlic, crushed (optional - but I used it)
A few pinches of Sichuan peppercorns (optional - but I used it)

Prepare the salad first: 

1. Double pod the broad beans. You will be amazed - the half kilo bag only gave enough broad beans for what would have been a side dish. 

2. The broad beans should be blanched in boiling water for 1 minute, no longer. Drain and run cold water over them to stop the cooking. 

3. Peel and chop the carrot into small cubes (around 1 cm). Chop the pepper into similar sized cubes. These should be blanched in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, no longer. Drain and run cold water over them to stop the cooking. 

4. Peel the cucumber partially (in stripes along the length), scoop out the seeds/pulp. Cut into juliennes. 

5. Cut the spring onions into small 7mm-1cm rounds. 

6. Put all the salad ingredients into a large non-metallic bowl whilst you make the dressing. 

7. Toast the Sichuan peppercorns in a dry pan until you can just about smell them. Remove from the heat. When they are no longer hot, grind them in a mortar and pestle. 

8. Now mix all the dressing ingredients in a small (non-metallic) bowl. They might need a bit of a whisk to combine them. 

9. Put a couple of handfuls of the salad leaf on two plates.  

10. Either mix the dressing with the other ingredients (which were in the large non-metallic bowl) or put the other ingredients onto the plates and drizzle with the dressing.

11. Enjoy as it is or top it with something - as you choose.  

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

July 2018 Favourites List

Hello everyone! 

I am writing this post having had a very exciting time travelling around southern Africa. Most exciting was my first ever Safari experience! Seeing the animals in their natural habitat was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done. 

My trip, during the UK’s Summer, was scheduled in the middle of the dry Winter in the area of South Africa at the edge of the Kruger National Park. This period of time is great for wildlife because the trees are bare, making spotting the animals easier. Also, a lack of water means animals are drawn to fewer waterholes, making the predictability of spotting wildlife much more reliable. 

I’ll confess, waking at 5am (or soon after), to get ready for a 6am game drive was something of a challenge. Early mornings are very much not my thing! Two cups of tea are required before I become a human being most mornings. However, something changes almost the second you make your first sighting. Suddenly I found myself feeling full of energy and wondering what I might see next.

Safari is an unpredictable and erratic experience. You go out morning and afternoon in the hope of seeing wildlife. Trouble is, they didn’t get the memo. Maybe you’ll see them, maybe you won’t. One day a Hyena den will be full of life, the next… completely deserted. Another night, leopards hunting, the next… no big cats at all. You get the thrill of the chase – but thankfully the only shooting which happens is with a camera. 

I hope you like my pictures from my trip. These splendid animals show such personality, I feel. They're almost calling on you to interact with them (not recommended!). With my pictures, I present my monthly collection of food websites (articles and recipes) and other cultural fun for your enjoyment. As ever, I hope you will dig in. Please do let me know if there's anything which particularly gains your attention in the comments below!

Food and drink articles and know how:

Chicken thighs are more flavourful than breast and stand up to marinading and grilling extremely well (they don't get dry and cardboardy). In case you were put off using thighs because of the bones, here's how you de-bone a chicken thigh!

Looking for a new cooking inspiration? Kavita (of Kavey Eats) recommends Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu.

Chinese food often gets an outrageously unfair bad press. It's high time to stop demonising it.

Aldi's £11 Monsigny Champers named one of the best - a genuine supermarket wine bargain!


Felicity Jones will be playing kick-ass American judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a new film. Judge Ginsberg is more colloquially known as The Notorious RBG for her sassy judgments and unique take on the law. Here is a cocktail in her honour. All rise!…/…/ruth-bader-ginsberg-cocktail

Lamb neck stewed with rosemary dumplings, to make the most of new season lamb:

My local Turkish restaurant makes a fritter like this with carrot and courgette, served with a garlicky yoghurt dip. Carrot, sweet potato and feta fritters:

Put the ingredients into tin foil, throw into the oven for 30 minutes whilst you cook the rest of your dinner. A low effort side dish to impress:

Lamb mince spiced meatballs with jewelled couscous by Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers:

From indulgent potatoes slathered in dressing to a light Pimm's dressed Summer salad, here is a fab collection of 10 super tasty salads:

Cool noodle salad for hot days. From Thug Kitchen, known as much for their great recipes as their colourful language!

Yotam Ottolenghi’s picnic recipes: Giant couscous with golden raisins, lemon and almonds, Grilled and marinated sandwich vegetables, Harissa-spiced tuna picnic cake:


The Post

Black Panther

I, Tonya


Call The Comet – Johnny Marr

ATOMOS – A Winged Victory For The Sullen
Mogwai - Every Country's Sun


TOTP Big Hits – 1985

TOTP Big Hits – 1986

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

June 2018 Favourites List

Hello lovely readers!

It's Favourites list time again!

The month has flown by in a hectic daze at what is one of the busiest time of the year for academics. Time to get a bit of headspace...

It is for this very reason that this month's pictures are from the Beth Chatto Garden, near Colchester in Essex. Sadly, Beth died last month. Her garden, designed and tended by her for six decades, remains and will continue as a place for appreciating the beauty of plants and flowers. 

Beth wrote many books about gardening, and her key philosophy was about pairing plants to the correct environment. Beth managed to establish 5 distinct garden spaces; Gravel garden, Reservoir garden, Scree Garden, Water garden and Woodland garden. 

It's a beautiful place to feast your eyes and your mind. Taking in the peace and tranquility, I found my cares and worries ebb away. 

If you take the time to stop and look, there's a world of beauty in something as simple as a flower. 

I hope you will enjoy the pictures, food writings, recipes and cultural knick-knacks.

Food articles and food writing: 

As passionate about food and cooking as he was opinionated, Anthony Bourdain lifted the saucepan lid on what goes on in professional kitchens with his groundbreaking "Kitchen Confidential" book. If you haven't read it, treat yourself; still relevant and amusing 18 years on. His food and travel writing and TV journalism was inspirational. I've personally chased down places he recommended, all of whom proudly and happily displayed pictures of the man himself dining there. Despite his reputation as a "Foodie Bad Boy" and the observations of how aggressively male professional kitchens can be, his support of the #MeToo movement online shows there was more to him than laddishness. Reports suggest he took his own life - at only 61. Simply tragic news. Rest in peace, Chef Bourdain!

Anthony Bourdain's classic 1999 piece "Don't Eat Before Reading This" - the precursor to his Kitchen Confidential book:

Diana Henry talks about her new book which focusses on menu planning and organising your timing in the kitchen. Planning the steps to be taken and keeping track of it is such an important element of cooking skill!

Food funnies (cooking and food fails and other LOLz):


Barbeque A to Z... for fine weather days:

Some more BBQ recipes here - the carrots with spiced nuts looks like a great side dish for sunny days:

Helen at Fuss Free Flavours' Meat Free Veggie chick pea, feta and squash pie:

It's unashamedly retro, but who doesn't love potato salad? Here is Diana Henry's ultimate recipe:

A Japanese snack or lunchtime dish which is quick and yummy - Sesame chicken:  

Aperol Spritz has become one of the most popular Summertime cocktails these days. Somehow, it always tastes better in the sunshine. It always seems a little more bitter when there are clouds around, or is that just me?

I found this Beef Rendang recipe. I loved this dish in Malaysia (it originated in Indonesia, and hopped across).

Chick pea Chaat - I'd add some sev, amchur and a sprinkling of freshly ground cumin. A little tamarind chutney would be good, too.

Will need some overnight soaking of the beans and quite a long cooking time, but this is a meal-in-one - Lamb rump with flageolet beans:

Summery courgette and mango in this fresh wholewheat giant couscous salad:

Super easy and quick carrot and quinoa salad for weekday lunchboxes. I'd add some cooked edamame beans, maybe some sweetcorn (if I had leftovers): 

Watching Rick Stein on TV I want to give this Kozani chicken (with saffron and prunes, served with pilaf rice) a try:
What you might have missed at Snig's Kitchen:

Greek style pilaf rice:   


A Very British Scandal

BBC Music Big Weekend - Father John Misty

BBC Music Big Weekend - Courtney Barnett

BBC Music Big Weekend - Beck


99 Homes



Johnny Marr - Call The Comet

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Greek style pilaf with saffron, pine nuts and sultanas

I recently made a recipe for a Saffron infused Greek chicken stew from Rick Stein’s Long Weekend’s series and book. The stew is very tasty as it is, with the warming richness of saffron and paprika combining with on the bone chicken and pitted prunes to make a satisfying braised casserole. 

However, I personally found the pilaf recipe to be a bit too basic. The proportions of the ingredients to rice did not seem right to me, and if I wanted something plain, I would have served up plain rice. I also thought the onions needed proper cooking before cooking the rice. I like my onions soft before adding other ingredients.

So this is my tweak on Rick’s rice recipe. I am posting it here after receiving a request for the recipe on social media. I hope it meets with your approval. 

You can serve it with any Greek, Turkish or Cypriot stew, casserole or guvec. I am having a lot of fun experimenting with guvec recipes; with chunks of meat or with handmade kofte. 

The food of the eastern Mediterranean is underrated. Some people think it is “just kebabs”, as if even a carefully marinaded and perfectly barbequed skewer of meat is just a simple thing to throw together with no skill or technique. This is a food culture which deserves so much more recognition and respect. 

Greek style pilaf with saffron, pine nuts and sultanas

Serves 2


15g unsalted butter (if you choose to use salted, please be careful about using stock, it could end up tasting very salty)
150g basmati rice
20g pine nuts
Half a small organic onion, very finely diced
20g sultanas (Rick says you can also use currants, but I prefer sultanas or raisins. The juicier the better!)
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried, whichever is available
A couple of strands of saffron (5 or so maximum)
300ml hot water or stock (chicken or vegetable, as you see fit)
Salt to taste


1.       Decide if you are using hot water and stock. Whichever you decide, infuse the saffron whilst you prepare the other ingredients.  

2.       Lightly toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan on a low heat. Be careful, these burn unbelievably quickly!

3.       Melt your butter in a small saucepan on a low heat. Don’t let it burn. (Please use a saucepan with a lid, see below.)

4.       Then add the diced onion, stir, raise the heat to medium-low and fry for at least 10 minutes, until softened.

5.       Add the rice, coating thoroughly with the buttery onions. Keep stirring over the heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the bay leaf. 

6.       Add your hot water or stock with the infused saffron strands, mixing thoroughly. Turn the heat up to medium-high.

7.       When you can see the liquid is boiling, turn the heat back down to low or medium-low. Put the lid on. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. If you need to check at 10, 12 and 15 minutes.

8.       When the rice is beginning to approach tasting of a cooked texture, add your toasted pine nuts and sultanas. Stir thoroughly. Cook for another 5 minutes. 

9.       Taste for the salt level, adding salt if needed.

10.   Serve with your favourite stew, guvec or casserole.