Saffron in the Souks: a perfect book for summer

Is it barbecue time? Is it eating outdoors time? I think it might be! And I have just the book to take you through the summer. Saffron in the Souks, by John Gregory-Smith, was given to me a couple of weeks ago and I spent all weekend immersed in its pages. It is a book that beats my ‘five recipes = buy it’ rule three times over. If you love Lebanese food, you will love this. Continue reading

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Honey & Co meatballs, chard, yogurt

One of the reasons I still buy a newspaper, the FT if you’re wondering, is because the food writers in it, or at least their recipes, are always inspiring. What’s more, since there is only one recipe per week in the pink paper, it’s not too much of a stretch/faff to a) rip them out and store them and b) choose what to make.

In recent years their magazine has toggled back and forth between ideas from Rowley Leigh and the Honey & Co team, and every one that I have tried has gone onto the repeat list. In fact, in the last few months, I have made three, all excellent. Here’s the first, a simple combination of homemade meatballs, chard and a yogurt sauce which is fast enough for a Wednesday but still special enough for a Saturday, and easy to double. I’ve changed it to use a standard 400g packet of mince, rather than 360g and cut out the sliced plum tomato, which I felt added very little. I could eat these every week. Continue reading

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The Real Vegans: buy a cookbook, not a packet

I saw someone buying a vegan ‘beet Wellington’ in the supermarket the other day. It was in Waitrose, of course. I can’t think of many dishes that are less ‘veganisable’ than a beef Wellington, with its fillet and pâté, and it’s difficult enough to make properly anyway, but someone in marketing obviously thought it was a good idea.

I am entirely resistant to PR-driven rubbish like ‘Veganuary’, or ‘Meat-free Monday’ (I can’t even be bothered to link to them, they bore me so), mainly because I have plenty of ‘ideas’ for how to eat well, at any time or on any day of the week, but it seems like a lost opportunity to me. Why would anyone who is interested in changing their diet in such a way seek the answers in ‘fake-meat’ ready meals and vegan sausage rolls? Especially when there are so many fantastic food writers out there who make it entirely easy to be vegan and eat gorgeous dishes. As long as you learn to cook.

So, in the spirit of trying to encourage cookery rather than reheating, here are some suggestions for how to improve your diet, vegan or otherwise, with three of the best cookbooks out there. They rely on plants and grains, not sulphite ammonia caramel and palm oil, to deliver taste and I happily cook from all three, omnivore that I am.

First, Fresh India by Meera Sodha (and her column in The Guardian) is essential for anyone wanting to cook a vegetable diet. This is one of my favourite books these days, so much so that I now have to resist posting everything I make from it on here. Last week I made her cauliflower korma and cabbage and potato subji; before Christmas I made her Mysore lemon pickle and last night I tried the ben ben noodle recipe from her column. Everything shines in her work, and though some things need a curry leaf or two (now, ahem, available in supermarkets) most of the ingredients are completely accessible. Not all of the recipes are vegan but most can be made so and even the completely ‘antis’ like me will find great delight in the pages of this book.

Second, anything by Anna Jones. If you are interested in vegetables, she is your woman. I’ve recommended her book, The Modern Cook’s Year, to so many people and they all love it. At this time of year, try her not-chicken soup, butter bean stew with kale and sticky blood oranges, or the pomelo and peanut winter noodles with carrot and coconut dressing. If you are vegetarian, not vegan, try the excellent mozzarella and citrus with toasted coriander seeds, the chard, lentil and bay gratin or the figs, ricotta and radicchio. Then, for the rest of the year, dip into the other 250 recipes that take you through all the seasons. Again, not all the recipes are vegan, but she offers ways to make them so.

Finally, if you want something that really simplifies cooking and shopping (without, of course, losing any of the flavour) try some of Elly Pear’s Let Eat recipes. Her particular genius is creating bases that can be used in several ways so, instead of having to plan for five or six dinners every week you can shop for two batches of something fantastic, but still be eating a different dish every night. The mushroom, lentil and walnut ragù can be used as a pasta sauce, as a chilli or as a shepherd’s pie with a sweet potato, miso and smoked garlic mash. Or try her Tuscan-style cannellini bean stew as a soup, with gremolata or a toastie. Once you start cooking like this, it becomes much easier to solve the problem of how to eat well, without constantly restocking the cupboards. Like Anna and Meera, she can be found on Instagram too, and is always offering recipe ideas and solutions, both vegan and not.

This is intelligent, inspired food, made to appeal to everyone. And a sign that, whatever you eat, however complicated your requests, it doesn’t have to come in a packet. Please, if you want to eat more vegetables, put that Wellington back on the shelf, and buy yourself a book. You won’t regret it.

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Diana Henry’s ‘Italian penicillin’, aka orzo with lemon, parsley and Parmesan

Midweek is usually when I run out of food. Leftovers, from anything long-winded made over the weekend, get eaten on Mondays or for lunches, Tuesday is usually cheese on toast after choir rehearsal and then there is Wednesday, home of empty fridges, a lack of inspiration and no time to shop. I am always looking for answers to that ‘can’t-be-bothered-with-cooking’ feeling and here, thanks to my friend Liz, is an excellent one. Continue reading

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Angela Hartnett’s one-pot lamb ragoût

The Italians seem to have stolen my heart. Or, at least, my kitchen. Everything I cook at the moment seems to be from Rachel Roddy or Giorgio Locatelli and, now, here is another Italian-inspired wonder. Don’t let the Michelin-starred name put you off; this is as straightforward as they come and, like the beef stew I wrote about last year, once you’ve tried it you’ll want to repeat it. The simplicity of the recipe and ingredients is misleading; it tastes as if you’ve spent days on it, not a few hours. Continue reading

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Rachel Roddy’s chicken thighs with citrus and olives

Here’s a tip: buy yourself some chicken thighs, an orange and lemon, some good green olives, a bit of fresh oregano (or dried, if that’s all you can get), salad and potatoes on your way home. Then follow the prep below for marinating the chicken in olive oil and citrus and leave overnight. Tomorrow, feel smug as dinner involves adding the olives and orange slices to your chicken and roasting it. Make a salad, boil some potatoes and thank Rachel Roddy for her genius, once again. Happy Saturday! Continue reading

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Pasta! Or how a little Trullo crab could make your week…

In seven years of this blog, pasta, the ultimate ‘daily solution to an eternal problem’, has only ever featured as a footnote to recipes designed for use with gnocchi. Thirteen years ago, thanks to a very stressful job (180 newly branded and packaged books to press in six months…yay!) my diet went a bit haywire and I suddenly couldn’t eat anything wheat-related. I left the job, relaxed tenfold and slowly went back to eating normally. However, pasta, even the freshest River-Café pasta, which I was lucky enough to try once, made me unwell. And, after many messy attempts to make it part of my diet, I made my peace with its absence.

Not long after this, I started working on cookbooks. I edited or proofread my way through the likes of Made in Sicily, trullo, Anna Jones’ excellent The Modern Cook’s Year and Brindisa, always knowing that alla Norma, one-pot pasta and fideuà were never going to enter my repertoire. Or appear in blog posts. Since pasta is the base ingredient of some of the quickest, cheapest and, generally, easiest meals on the planet, this has always been a very obvious gap but, as I couldn’t eat it, then I wasn’t going to cook it. Continue reading

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