Sometimes you fall at the first hurdle. I certainly did when I started cooking Yotam Ottolenghi’s gluten free dish: rice noodles with lime and crab chilli oil.
I trekked to the supermarket to get coriander but didn’t check that I had gluten free rice noodles in stock. Doh! No matter. In truth, this dish is good for both gluten freers and gluten imbibers – just use the appropriate noodles. As Yotam says: the star of the show is the crab chilli oil. It’s blooming delicious.
It feels a bit counterintuitive to hoy a pile of brown crab meat into hot garlic, ginger and chilli-infused oil (along with miso and tomato paste) and cook for 30 minutes. But there’s a wonderful alchemy here. A fishy, ozoney intensity that smacks of fish sauce but has a crab-induced sweet and savoury hum.
The chilli oil is hot as the fiery furnace – but this is a furnace you want to keep dipping into. A balancing citrus tang comes from the addition of a healthy slug of lime juice on the hot noodles.
Oh divine pleasures of taste and smell, I salute you! This week’s recipe from Guardian Feast encapsulates the gloriousness of carefully thought-through vegetarian recipes. Every element of Yotam Ottolenghi’s dish delivers flavour, aroma and texture, culminating in a mouth-explosion of deliciousness. And, with a plant-based yoghurt instead of cow’s milk, it would be easy to veganise.
It’s been a bit wild in our household recently. We went hot foot from Covid self-isolation to my niece’s wedding in Suffolk. It was a heart-expanding weekend celebrating love, friendship, family, hope and the future. I am so glad we were there to witness my niece and her partner’s commitment to each other and to partake in the communal breaking of bread and raising of glasses that sealed the deal.
In truth, the journey back to full health post-Covid – even with a double vaccine – is not totally straightforward. Smell and taste are slovenly in returning as are full energy levels – particularly since I’ve now developed pleurisy. But I’m sick of being poorly so am ignoring my scratchy lung and weary body.
Grateful thanks to my friend Barbara for dropping off Issue No.190 of Guardian Feast which I missed out on because of all the wonderful wedding shenanigans.
Bring on roast cauliflower with yoghurt and red pepper sauce which The Husband dubs ‘a microcosm of all things Ottolenghi’.
Yotam has a magic touch when it comes to marrying sharp-sweet-crunch-soft-fragrant-umami. But, dear reader, the magic moment was harvesting and preparing the mint: oh, hallelujah! I could smell its joyous scent! Such sensory delight after weeks of stunted smell brought a tear to my eye.
As ever, Yotam has you frying, toasting, mixing, crushing – but, the brilliant thing is, it’s all easily doable and manageable in the 25 minutes the cauliflower takes to roast. Turkish pepper paste would perhaps have furnished the dish with a hint of sweetness not found in my substitute tomato paste. However, ‘mild Turkish pepper paste’ was not available in the local shops here in Berwick. Next time.
It’s 4.30pm on Saturday. Earlier, we waved goodbye to all our children and grandchildren after a truly brilliant week together. The first time we’ve gathered as a full group in two years.
Beds stripped, sheets and towels on the washing conveyor belt, broken Lego binned and forgotten drawings and toys gathered up. However, our true focus is the final prep for our annual Open Garden day – it’s on Sunday: tomorrow.
There are 17 gardens around Berwick opening to raise funds to support the beautifying and upkeep of our local parks here. It’s a great occasion – all the more so because we couldn’t do it last year – full of socialising and gardening knowledge-sharing.
I get a text. Not a Love Island text calling me to the firepit – although, when I read it, it feels a bit like we’re about to go up in smoke. We’ve been exposed to coronavirus. We’re back home from the local walk-through PCR testing station by 5.30pm. I’m beginning to feel a bit coldy and achy. The Husband says he’s fine, but I think that sniff of his is suspicious.
We have cakes defrosting, the makings of 40 bacon rolls, a friend’s jam and more cakes arriving on the Sunday morning. The garden’s not perfect (it’s been a bit neglected by us and rampaged by the grandchildren in the very best of ways!) but it’s still looking good. But what if we have coronavirus?
I take the decision to pull out of Open Gardens.
Our PCR tests come back positive on Sunday morning. We take stock of the mountain of cakes and bacon. We slump in front of the telly all day, catching up on Love Island, watching people stroll past our window in the sunshine clutching Open Gardens trail maps. We’re groggy, fluey and lethargic – and a tad sorry for ourselves. We eat cake and bacon rolls.
By Tuesday I’m not sure I can eat another piece of cake or another bacon roll (The Husband’s not so sure!). I flick listlessly through Guardian Feast Issue No.188, even though I honestly cba to keep up with my ridiculous plan to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Feast during 2021.
However Meera Sodha – angel Meera – catches my eye with her fennel and courgette pistou soup. It looks so green and healing. Just thinking about spooning it into my body makes me feel better. Plus I have courgettes growing in the garden and a total abundance of basil. Okay, so we don’t have fennel. And we can’t nip out and get any. I never quite got round to sorting home delivery from any of our local supermarkets. At the beginning of Lockdown 1 it was impossible to register, let alone place an actual order, so I gave up. I find some sad celery in the bottom of the fridge and fennel seeds in the cupboard which I decide will do.
I use our ‘compost bag’ plus a shrivelled carrot to make veg stock. I’m not going to say that my compromises delivered the perfect solution. Fennel is clearly a signature ingredient in this soup. Hey-ho – as I so often say – sometimes you just have to use what’s on offer.
Whatever I lacked in my store cupboard, Meera’s soup made up for in healing benevolence. The perfect food for feeding the coronavirus-ridden body and soothing the angst-ridden soul. As we slurped it down, The Husband and I gave grateful thanks that we are both double vaxed and that we are not suffering the full and awful impact of the illness that so many around the world have had to endure.
There’s something in the air in Berwickland. It’s been hot for weeks. Our weekends have tumbled into our weekdays as muggy days roll into languid dreamy evenings. We’ve overdone it – working, gardening and, yes, eating and drinking.
So, Yotam Ottolenghi’s watermelon with pomegranate and mint sugar may sound cooling and seasonally appropriate, but it is the simple healing balm of Meera Sodha’s vegan tomato and turmeric kitchari that calls ‘eat me’ to us in Guardian Feast Issue No.183.
Kitchari is the perfect food for a Sunday soul slightly troubled by the memory of overindulgence the night before. And the fuel for a body wearied by hours of penitential garden strimming. Everything Meera says about this blend of rice, lentils, tomatoes, turmeric and cinnamon is spot on: cooking times, yoghurt and lime pickle accompaniments, suitable for all tastebuds.
Life feels pretty unpredictable right now and it’s kind of nice to have a steady week-by-week mission to work on. Having said that, I am having a moment of ‘why am I even doing this?‘ with my project to cook at least one recipe each week from Guardian Feast magazine.
I guess the answer is, that as well as keeping me writing regularly, it keeps me cooking way outside my knowledge zone and, hopefully, entertains a few people along the way. I’d also like to think that some readers are encouraged to ‘give it a go’ when they spot a fabulous mouthwatering pic which turns out to be the sidekick to a seemingly insurmountable recipe. Also, to take power in substitution of niche, unobtainable or simply not-in-stock ingredients. This week, for example, I used – shock, horror – tinned peaches instead of fresh for Liam Charles’ roast peach bao buns from Issue No.181 of Guardian Feast.
Read on, because this truly is an example of a recipe that is a bit time-consuming but not that difficult. And it SO pays back the energy investment in novelty value and taste sensations.
This is the first week of Feast I’ve tackled that is sponsored – sorry, supported by – Ocado. I see this is a good partnership for both but, frankly, when you live in North Northumberland… Ocado don’t deliver to Berwick-upon-Tweed and our nearest Waitrose is 59 miles away in Edinburgh’s Morningside. So, good on you Guardian and Ocado but your little QR ingredient buy codes mean nothing to me.
The great thing about Liam’s recipe for roast peach bao buns is that you simply follow it step-by-step. I have learnt, now I’m half way through this marathon year of cooking, to get all my ingredients ready from the get-go. It makes life so much easier. For this recipe, I also had to make my own pistachio paste – not available in the shop I tried and no time to go elsewhere to search. This is not difficult. Simply whizz the nuts in a blender as you do for nut butter. I did try to husk the pistachios (soak in boiling water for 1-2mins and rub gently in kitchen roll) to achieve a super green paste but wasn’t totally successful.
I also had to pound my cloves in a pestle and mortar to get ‘ground cloves’ and for ‘ground cardamom’ whizz my cardamoms in my coffee grinder. Ingredients set. Let’s cook!
Making the dough for the buns is easy peasy (I’ve wanted to make bao for a while, so I was super-excited). The radio accompanied my 10-minuted kneading session. As did the smug satisfaction that kneading always adds to my Fitbit footstep total. Over 94,000 steps in total this week (Mon-Fri). Thanks for asking.
The dough proved for an hour and, in that time window, I achieved the roast peaches and the custard (I’d had my doubts I’d make it). I’m sure fresh peaches would have given a fruitier tickle but tinned was what I had. I thought about reducing the roasting and syrup-reduction times but my peaches held their shape throughout the full cooking timings. I didn’t have lemon thyme so just used lovely fresh thyme from the garden.
The custard (my most angst-inducing element of the recipe) was also a doddle. I cut back on the caster sugar (actually I ran out!) using 100g instead of Liam’s 150g. I also had only semi skimmed milk but whisked in a dollop of double cream – that makes full fat, right? I had to battle through the foam I’d created through possible over-whisking to see if the custard was thickening – I enlisted Student Daughter, home from uni, to do a spoon test. In the event, the thin-to-thick turn was sudden. Into a sieve it went and out it squished. I’d just laid clingfilm over it when I remembered why the butter was winking at me. You have to stir 60g into the hot sieved custard and that makes all the silky smooth difference.
A couple of year’s back I bought The Husband a steamer from the charity shop. Now was it’s moment to shine!
Just take a moment to enjoy my buns. Look at the perky shape. Look at the rich colour palette. Now imagine the pillowy, chewy bite of the buns spiked with clovey deliciousness. Then let the flavours of honey, thyme, peach, cardamom and vanilla harmonise with the crunchy creamy pistachio. And don’t forget to scoop up that dollop of custard and syrup squelching down your chin.
The Husband has since discovered that Liam’s clove-spiked boa buns work deliciously with pork pie meat (from a homemade pork pie), spring onions, lettuce and hoisin sauce. Deep joy!
For me, this recipe is everything that my challenge is about. Give it a go and let me know what you think and how you get on.
‘Moroccan or Thai,’ asked The Husband as he cooked the prawns to go with my marinating peppers. I was on the phone to London daughter and gave her the choice. Thai it was. Perhaps not the obvious choice with vegan red peppers drenched in soy sauce, cider vinegar, garlic, maple syrup, sesame oil and topped with a cumin seed, pine nut and coriander crunch. The moral of the story: don’t consult someone who’s not there on your menu creation. Or, maybe, just don’t give options.
Fortunately, Yotam Ottolenghi’s sweet ‘n’ sour peppers with pine nut crumble from Guardian Feast Issue No.179 is so easy peasy and so darn delicious, you could serve them with old shoe leather and they’d still dazzle and dance around all your senses. These beauties made right pepper pigs of us!
And so my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues to surprise and delight.
I was right out of red romano peppers but Billy at Berwick market’s fruit and veg stall supplied me with some spot-on red peppers ordinaire. As there were just two of us, I halved the quantity of peppers to 500g (wish I hadn’t – so tasty!) but stuck to the same amount of nutty cuminy crumble (Yotam counsels to make double: he’s right, it’s a super crunchy, salty topping – a condiment as well as a crumble).
The only faff is peeling the roasted red peppers – but it’s worth the time. This easy vegan recipe punches above its ingredient and effort-weight in terms of flavour, aroma and prettiness.
It’s probably the same countrywide but I didn’t realise until we moved to Northumberland that many people judge a café purely on its scones. We’ve lived here nearly 11 years and I now know people who won’t enter the doors of certain establishments because of perceived scone quality.
Such people would surely celebrate were Yotam Ottolenghi to set up shop selling pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta on the corner of Marygate in Berwick-upon-Tweed. These gluten-free, veggie beauties are scones, Jim, but not as we know them.
My take on Ottolenghi’s pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta from Guardian Feast: they are scones, Jim, but not as we know them (in a good way)!
I’m six months into my epic challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), and the goodies just keep coming.
Some may take issue with a 16-ingredient scone. They’re wrong. But they’ve probably stopped reading already so they’ll never know. The only ingredient I couldn’t source here in Berwick was ‘powdered pectin’. After much consideration and a bit of Googling, I decided to eschew gelatin and agar agar and up the quantity of ‘finely grated lemon zest’ to a full lemon instead of 1/2 tsp. My square baking tin wasn’t quite the dimensions required by Yotam, but all was well with the end product.
My za’atar was what I’d term cupboard vintage – but it worked a treat.
Only two crisis points for me in the recipe:
Yotam says: ‘Pour in the cream mix, pulse again until the ‘crumbs’ are moist but not quite coming together’ – see picture below. Also, am I the only person who, when a recipe says ‘in a small bowl’, takes it literally and then has to upgrade to a bigger bowl? There was no way I could safely whisk my cream, yoghurt and egg in my chosen bowl.
Not sure what a ‘rough 15cm long rectangle’ looks like. I made a square – see below. The pile of cheese looked impossibly huge heaped on it, but it wrapped up just fine.
As Yotam promised, I ended up with nine scones and had 54g of dough left over rather than the predicted 80g – not bad!
The alchemy of Yotam’s scones is not only in magically making something gluten free feel light and fluffy (I know enough people with celiac disease to understand the sad hefty mouthfeel of many gluten free products), but also in the perfect balance of intense cheesy herbiness and floaty pastry.
I tuned into turmeric five years ago when I had bowel cancer and had chemotherapy. I’d read somewhere that curcumin – one of turmeric’s constituents (the one that gives it its trademark orange colour and stains your fingers) – has antioxidant properties and a whole raft of immuno-positive benefits. I decided to drink a daily mug of ginger, turmeric and lemon – which became known as ‘hot water on my bits’.
Obviously, I have no idea if my hot water and turmeric infusions have boosted my immune system or helped ward off a recurrence of bowel cancer. But I do like to think that turmeric has played its part alongside the gruelling but effective doses of chemo and a healthy, balanced diet.
Turmeric, the curry essential isn’t proven to have health-giving benefits but this little study from the BBC programme Trust Me, I’m a Doctor makes interesting reading. I’m particularly taken with the idea that heating in food with fat may make turmeric’s active ingredients more absorbable. In some chats I’ve seen, people suggest that a grind of black pepper may also help with absorption.
Overall, the suggestion is that turmeric may have a positive impact on depression, asthma, eczema and some cancers (others also suggest it’s useful with arthritis). In our household we’ve become partial to a turmeric latte (fresh turmeric and a piece of cinnamon warmed in milk, with an optional splash of maple syrup and sprinkling of cinnamon to serve).
Research around turmeric and its possible benefits are limited. However, potential health benefits aside, turmeric’s such a brilliant, vibrant, versatile and delicious aromatic – why not add a teaspoonful to your daily diet? And, as it turns out, it’s also a rather a dramatic plant.
My Sri Lankan friend Dewa who I collaborated with on Sri Lankan meal in a book We don’t write recipes down encouraged me to plant my piece of turmeric. Dewa remembers her family using it in cooking and as a face wash – although not the bright orange root, a paler part of the plant – when she was growing up in Sri Lanka. The root I planted (indoors) a year ago was shooting within days of potting up. I transplanted it a few times to ever bigger pots.
After about eight months or so, it grew into the giant on the right. Who knew that turmeric could be such a fine houseplant?
We kept wondering when we should dig it up and see how much (if any) turmeric was lurking beneath. Everything I read online suggested that once the leaves began to wilt, the roots should be ready to harvest.
So, almost exactly a year later, the eldest daughter and I took the plunge.
And what a thrilling harvest it turned out to be! We are now grating and chopping turmeric liberally into our food and drinks. When I don’t have a liberal supply of homegrown turmeric, I get my supply of delicious fresh root from our organic Green Shop here in Berwick.
We’ve already planted another shooting root to do its thing during the course of the forthcoming year – although, hopefully, we won’t have to endure three lockdowns before harvest.
Turmeric bounty: from little shoots many roots will grow
I have loved some things about lockdowns – although like everyone else, I ache when I think about the human cost of the pandemic. I feel a bit lost and a bit demotivated and a bit sad and a bit – but ENOUGH OF THAT. Counting your blessings doesn’t solve all the downsides of anything but – just like a brisk walk – it can offer a moment of escape, uplift and re-grounding in things that matter and offer bite-sized chunks of positivity and/or pride.
I have in a past life liked to think of myself as someone who would rather buy a new shirt than sew on a button
Technology has been a huge blessing during these times of little or no contact with those we love and those we work with. I’ve gone from hating Zoom to embracing its idiosyncrasies and awkwardnesses – from that little moment when people are signing in and haven’t quite got their facial expressions sorted, through the tricky lulls in conversation and the over-speaking, to the bamboozling protocols around backdrops, right on to the frayed leaving the meeting as the ‘byes’ dribble on.
My friend Millie runs Berwick’s food upcycling café Northern Soul Kitchen and asked me way back in April 2020 (before lockdown 3 was even a twinkle in the eye of Mr Johnson and his buddies) if I’d think about making a video using leftover food as part of a food waste promo. ‘Yes, of course,’ I said. Then I realised. My daughters mock the little clips I send them. Time for a bit of YouTube training.
My movie about turning leftover couscous into cheesy veggie cakes was (only in my eyes) a triumph – judge for yourself, it’s on the Berwick Slow Food website. I believe my second movie – re-purposing leftover chip shop chips into a Spanish-esque omelette is even finer. My crowning glory of film creation is about Sri Lankan meal in a book: We don’t write recipes down – another lockdown project raising funds for Sri Lankan charity The Jasmine Foundation. You can see that video here. For me, upskilling and experimenting with apps and media that I probably wouldn’t have attempted pre-lockdown has not just been fun, it’s been a great confidence booster.
Limiting visits to shops and supermarkets and trying to be more sustainable has turned our minds ever more to using every scrap of food (see couscous cakes above!) and making do and mending in ways not thought of or avoided like the, ahem, plague pre-pandemic. I have in a past life liked to think of myself as someone who would rather buy a new shirt than sew on a button.
The most poignant thing I’ve recently tried is darning woollen socks and jumpers. I say poignant because I remember vividly my mum taking her battered blue sewing bag from the dark oak dresser and settling to sew and darn at the kitchen table. She did this on what felt like a daily basis. I also remember despising Mum a little for undertaking something so menial and ‘womanly’. Oh, the ignorance of youth. Sorry Mum.
It’s strange to have waited all these years to darn – especially since every home I’ve ever lived in has been haunted by invisible moths quietly unravelling anything woollen. There’s something deeply therapeutic about restoring gorgeous woollen garments and getting more life and love from them – and thinking of my dear old Ma while I do it.
It feels as if coronavirus has snatched away our ability to plan and to be spontaneous. Focusing on small, accessible, doable things is somehow reassuring. And taking a moment to acknowledge and think about the things we have done during this last year that maybe we wouldn’t have done without lockdown gives some sort of rhythm and reason to these strange months. Yes, how I long for an impromptu cuppa with a friend, to go to my niece’s wedding, to hug loved ones (even strangers!), to go to parties and dance till the sweat runs, to sing loudly in church, to buy a pint in a pub, to visit people who miss me and who I miss… soon, soon, soon.