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If there’s one altar of French cuisine that I am fully willing to worship at, it’s boulangerie and patisserie. Let’s face it, the French are unsurpassed in the pastry arts and a trip to Paris without substantial stuffing of pastries into one’s gaping maw is a trip wasted. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a wonderfully heavy apricot and custard pastry, a chocolate-studded brioche, and a very correct baguette. But you haven’t really had pastry till you’ve been to Poilâne and I try to work in a pilgrimage to the original bakery in St. Germain each time I’m here.

They have the most beautiful little breads, including these cuties with names on them.

They’re also famous for their punitions (the oddly-named punishment biscuits) and flavoured pastry forks and spoons, plus breads made from a wide range of grains including rice and quinoa as well as wheat. Their sourdough is legendary, and the nut loaves are rather good too.

However, there’s one thing I always go back for and that’s the simple apple tartlets. If there’s a better single bite in Paris than Poilâne’s apple tart, I’d be surprised. It’s the Platonic ideal of light, buttery pastry and soft, sweet apple. I could eat them every day and it’s really just as well I’m not in a position to.

Poilâne bakery, 8 rue du Rue Cherche-midi, 6e, Paris

With royal wedding fever taking over England, Mr Lemur and I have bailed on the whole unpleasant spectacle and taken the Eurostar to Paris for the long weekend. I like living in England, I really do, but there are times when it is imperative for a self-respecting Scot to get the hell out of Dodge and, along with the World Cup, this is one of those times. We’re staying in the 8th arrondissement by Parc Monceau, which I think might be the Parisian equivalent of the Upper East Side in New York. Right on the edge of the 17th, it’s leafy and quiet with the grand gates of the park enclosing some really beautiful apartment buildings. Longstanding Lemur friends J and D are lucky enough to live here with their kids, and are kindly allowing us to take refuge in this bastion of republicanism from the onslaught of royal media.

We wandered out into the neighbourhood for something to eat last night, and, at our hosts’ recommendation, stopped off at Rimal Lebanese restaurant. This is probably going to be something of a theme, I’ll warn you: I like French food just fine and I’m sure we’ll eat some of it while we’re here but honestly I often find it to be too heavy, meaty, and a teensy bit dull. I know, I know, this is a terrible thing for a foodie to say, but one of the things I like best about eating in Paris is the non-French food. (Note: this does not apply to the world of baked goods, in which, I think it’s clear, French have got it entirely right.) anyway, our ears perked up when J and D mentioned a Lebanese place, and they weren’t wrong. Rimal is a popular local joint with a cafe/takeout on one side of the road and a slightly more formal restaurant on the other. Both were crowded but we opted for the restaurant as we wanted to try the mezze.

Rejecting the house selection of mezze, we opted to choose our own, as there were a few dishes I knew I had to have. Since the house selection was ten plates, we went for eight, as we figured we weren’t hugely hungry, and it’s just as well we did as the portions were generous. Fattouche was exactly as you’d want it to be, a light and tasty salad full of fresh vegetables and crispy pita bread.

Foul moudamas were probably the most dramatic ratio of looks to taste – an unassuming bowl of beans, it fairly sparked with garlic and spices.

Probably my favourite Lebanese dish is mouhammara. I first ate this amazing spread at the a little hole in the wall Middle Eastern takeout called Waterfall Cafe in Brooklyn that a friend lived upstairs from. We used to call it ‘red stuff’ and ate it by the bucketload. It’s made of walnuts, pomegranate molasses, chilies and some spices I can never quite identify and it’s utterly addictive. I’ve made my own based on a recipe from the New York Times that’s very nice but not quite right. This version was just perfect, warm and spicy.

There were also some delicious meat dishes, including these cooked lamb kibbe, which were perfectly juicy, with none of the dryness that often mars these little morsels. The square pastries at the top are safiha, filled with lamb, tomatoes and pine nuts, and there were also arayess, leaves of grilled flatbread stuffed with ground lamb, which Mr Lemur was mildly obsessed by.

Today, it’s out into Paris to find some more deliciousness – and to keep as far as possible from any mention of bloody Wills and Kate.

This weekend featured both a bank holiday and lovely warm weather, with the result that apparently every single person in Brighton had a barbeque. Since we’d opened the doors to the garden, our house smelled of grilling meat for three days straight. I’m not an outdoor grilling kind of gal, and I don’t even like burgers especially, but since I had the lovely and vegetarian Thrifty Gal to stay, I wasn’t eating any meat at all and by Monday I was starting to crave flesh. Regular readers will know that I am far from a traditional carnivore – or rather, I have a relationship to meat that is actually very traditional for many cultures. I eat non-meat meals as often as I eat meat ones, and when I do cook with meat it is usually one ingredient among many rather than a giant hunk of animal flesh. But I do really appreciate the meat I eat and after a weekend smelling the stuff, I was ready for some omnivorous cooking closer to my heart than clumps of ground beef on bread.

I knew I wanted a spicy salad featuring beef – something like a Thai Yue Num Tok – but I also couldn’t resist buying some more local asparagus. I considered for a moment switching to a stir fry dish of beef and asparagus when it hit me that the answer was to keep my salad plan and use the asparagus raw. There’s been a bit of a trend for thinly sliced raw asparagus in the last couple of years, from Jonathan Waxman’s use of it in Barbuto to blog posts like this asparagus and manchego recipe at Yum Sugar. Asparagus isn’t a traditional ingredient in Southeast Asia but I’ve heard it has become popular there, and it makes perfect sense as an addition to the type of Vietnamese salads that combine cooked meat with crunchy raw vegetables. Despite the reservations of Mr Lemur, who quite likes his asparagus cooked thanksverymuch, I couldn’t resist the combination of a new technique with the reliable pleasures of hot meat and plenty of chilies.

Vietnamese beef and asparagus salad

  • 1 steak, not an expensive cut
  • 2 Spanish red peppers
  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 4 shallots
  • 7 small red chilies (prik kee noo) or to taste
  • 1 little gem lettuce
  • handful of cilantro
  • handful of mint
  • 4 tbsps lime juice
  • 4 tbsps fine sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 lemon

First slice your asparagus in a mandoline or with a potato peeler. (Honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to do it without the mandoline as it’s fiddly enough with it.) Do this part vewwwy carefully! Really, I’ve heard stories that would make your hair curl about mandoline accidents. I generally advocate buying and using a substantial hand guard but the asparagus require such careful guidance that you have to dispense with the protector and just be super careful. I’ve seen pictures of spears immaculately sliced with the tips still on them, but mine started to crumble immediately, so I chopped the tips off and cooked them separately. While you’re working, place the sliced spears in a bowl of water with the lemon squeezed in to keep them green. Once sliced, replace the lemon water with 2 tbsp of the sugar and the vinegar, plus a little water. You want the minimum water needed to cover them.

Next, slice thinly all but one of the chilies, the red peppers, shallots and lettuce. Pick leaves off herbs. Put them in a bowl.

Now it’s time for the steak. I don’t post a lot of raw meat pics but this one seemed rather deserving.

Fry the steak in a little oil, along with two of the garlic cloves, chopped, and the asparagus tips. Cook till you like it but this recipe should err on the rare side. Let rest and then slice very thinly. Meanwhile, make the dressing: mix the lime juice, 2 tbsp of sugar, fish sauce and one garlic clove and one chili, crushed and pounded. Discard the vinegar mix, wash the asparagus, and add to the mixing bowl, along with the sliced meat. Pour over the dressing, toss well and serve over jasmine or sticky rice.

Serves 3-ish

Mr Lemur has had a bit of a cold and, since I am Jewish, I naturally turn to chicken soup as a curative. But the old style Jewish penicillin doesn’t really do it for me as a culinary project and besides, I firmly believe that the best things for a cold are ginger, chilies, garlic and citrus. Like all cold remedies, they’re not going to cure it but they do make you feel slightly better about being sick. So I decided to make soto ayam, the Malaysian/Singaporean/Indonesian version of chicken soup that is about as soulful as a chicken soup can get.

I’ve made soto ayam before with noodles and with rice, but my Singaporean friend G suggested I should try it with ketupat, which are pressed rice cubes. G is a fellow foodie and is always sending me interesting nuggets of Southeast Asian food lore to consider. He knows exactly what’s going to pique my interest and ketupat, with their very specific twist on an ordinary ingredient, are right up my alley. They’re made by cooking rice inside a woven basket of coconut leaves. The rice has little space to expand and so cooks in a compressed form, making little rice cakes. Neat, huh? The only problem is that many Asian cooks buy the baskets ready made and weaving them oneself looks rather challenging, even assuming you could get hold of coconut leaves.

Frankly, it looks like the kind of craft project I’d make a total arse of. Luckily,  Sunflower Food provides a cheat’s guide to ketupat, which involves cooking rice then mashing it with a potato masher, forming it into a block, and pressing it under weights. Since I’ve never had the original, I can’t say how close this version comes, but it is certainly easy and the resulting blocks had a good texture.

As with the various starches that can go into a soto ayam, the soup itself has many variations. Most involve turmeric that turns the soup a lovely yellow colour, but I’ve seen versions that are pale and milky looking too. What they all have in common is chicken cooked in a spice-scented broth that then forms the basis for the soup. The cooked chicken is shredded and added back into the soup, along with an array of possible toppings. My version draws from James Oseland’s method of frying the spice paste before adding it to the broth (a method that I’ve found really useful in cooking Malaysian-style dishes) but I have a somewhat different balance of spices. Mr Lemur is still looking a bit peaky but I think he’s much better for the soto ayam.

Soto ayam / Singapore style chicken soup

  • 2 chicken leg and thigh portions
  • 1 litre or so of filtered water
  • 8 shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 inches of fresh turmeric
  • 1 inch of ginger
  • 1 inch of galangal
  • 4 stalks lemongrass
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 3 lime leaves
  • 1-2 limes
  • 1/2 a long red chili (or 2 smaller red ones)
  • a handful of cilantro
  • a handful of beansprouts
  • 12 or more blocks of ketupat
  • salt and cooking oil

Pour the water into a large pot. I got the filtering tip from Oseland also, and it makes sense that for a clear soup, you really want the water to taste good. Add the chicken pieces, star anise and lime leaves. Bash up the lemongrass a bit with the back of a knife and add. Add a good pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, skim the surface and simmer for about 45 minutes, till the chicken is beginning to fall off the bones. Remove the chicken and set aside to cool. (Make sure your cat doesn’t eat it.) Discard the flavourings from the broth but keep the broth. When the chicken is cool enough to touch, pull it apart into fine shreds.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the spice paste and toppings. First, slice four of the shallots thinly and fry until brown. Set these aside for later. Slice the chili thinly, wash the beansprouts, and pull the leaves off the cilantro. Put all these toppings aside.

Next, put the peppercorns, coriander seeds and cloves in a mini prep or spice grinder and process till powdered. Roughly chop the remaining shallots and add to the ground spices in a mini prep along with the garlic and the peeled and chopped ginger, galangal and turmeric. Process till smooth and then fry for five minutes or so in the same pan used for the shallots. You’ll want to be quite generous with the oil as this paste drinks it up, and stir often to avoid burning. When the paste doesn’t smell raw any more, add it to the broth along with the shredded chicken.

Now simmer the soup for another 10-15 minutes, to give the flavours time to meld. When the soup is ready, take it off the heat and squeeze in the juice of 1 lime (or more) to taste. Check for salt now too. To serve, put several ketupat blocks in the bottom of a bowl and ladle over the soup. Top with beansprouts, cilantro leaves and fried shallots. Other possible toppings include mint, pineapple cubes, shrimp crackers and sambal oelek.

Serves 2

When I visited Ukraine last summer, I found the food to be mostly ho hum: some nice soups and dumplings, but nothing really memorable. The exception was an amazing meal at a Georgian restaurant that I took my friends on a rather extensive tour of Kiev to find. By the time we were passing the crumbling abandoned parking lot part of town, I think some of them were rethinking their committment to food discovery, but hey, I got to test out my crappy high school Russian asking directions. And besides, don’t the best meals always require getting lost in a strange city? So, we found the restaurant eventually, and were confronted by an extensive and mostly incomprehensible menu. They kind of had an English version, but many of the translations were less than helpful and the place wasn’t really set up for tourists. Nonetheless, the meal was fantastic: kidney bean with walnut sauce, khachapuri, which is delicious cheese-stuffed bread, aubergine salad with fresh cheese, and a range of succulent grilled meats. Unlike the Ukrainian food, which was too plain for my tastes, Georgian cuisine has strong echoes of Persia and Turkey, with its use of nuts, vinegar, fruit and spices. My favourite plate was pork stuffed with pomegranate, garlic and onion and served with a thick pomegranate sauce. Everyone at the table kept going back to the jug of that sauce, pouring it over everything. Even almost a year later, I still remember it clearly.

So, when I was thinking about what to cook for Passover, those Georgian flavours came to mind as an appealing alternative to traditional East European fare. Obviously pork was out and pomegranate somehow didn’t seem a great match for brisket, so I decided on lamb shanks. I don’t know exactly what was in the restaurant version but I remembered the flavours pretty well and, after reading a few other Georgian recipes (for example in Claudia Roden’s book The Book of Jewish Food and online) and some blog posts on the cuisine, I put together my own version of the dish. If anyone has a more authentic version, I’d be happy to hear about it, but this version came out pretty well for a first attempt.

Pomegranate braised lamb shanks

  • 6 lamb shanks
  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 and 1/2 tbsp hot paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds, ground
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, ground
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for cooking
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup red wine
  • a head of garlic, cloves separated and lightly crushed
  • seeds of 1/2 a pomegranate

Heat the oven to gas mark 4/350 F/180 C. Mix the coriander, paprikas, fenugreek, cumin and salt with the oil to make a paste and rub it all over the shanks. Leave to marinade for a couple of hours. Next, brown the shanks all over in a large ovenproof pot, using plenty of oil and being very careful not to burn the spices. Remove the meat to a plate.

In the same pot, sauté the onions until they are very soft and beginning to brown. Add the garlic cloves and fry for a minute till fragrant. Add the shanks back into the pot and pour in the pomegranate juice and wine. The liquid should come quite far up the meat but there should be room for more liquid, as the shanks will give out quite a bit of fat. Cover and put in the oven for 3 to 3 and 1/2 hours, turning occasionally.

Once cooked, put the shanks and liquid in separate containers and refrigerate overnight. (You don’t have to do this stage, but it does give the opportunity to remove a lot of the fat and makes the sauce better.) The next day, skim the solidified fat off the surface of the sauce and reduce it by about two thirds over high heat. You’ll know it’s done when it becomes glossy and thickens a little. Heat the shanks up in the sauce, turning often. Serve sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.

Serves 6

Passover is one of my favourite holidays. I have happy memories of seders in Providence, New York and Iowa City, usually potluck affairs with assorted impoverished grad students and Jewish and non-Jewish waifs and strays. The evenings would be full of last minute discussions about the charoset recipe, culinary innovations both successful and not so successful (I’m not sure I’ll be having gefilte fish sushi again), and drunken debate over what comes next and how we might render the text less patriarchal, heterocentrist and Zionist. I love the particular challenges of cooking for Passover – in cooking, as in many other fields, restriction leads to creativity – but I’m also not religious and don’t especially mind if a few rules get broken here and there. At one memorable seder, a gentile friend brought pasta with ham, shrimp and cream, the most hilariously inappropriate dish imaginable and also delicious. This culinary mixture represents my attraction to the holiday: for all the conservative and religious aspects that chafe in the traditional seder, it’s a holiday that centres exactly that debate. What do oppression and freedom mean for Jews today? Who is included or not included and what part do we play? And how can we engage all of those ideas in the form of food?

So I was thrilled this year to discover the Love and Justice in Times of War Haggadah, a progressive, activist and queer-inclusive text for the Pesach seder. It’s a sometimes hilarious lefty manual for the seder, inserting the oppression of the US government and the IMF into the explanation of matzah and replacing the traditional four children with new characters like the trans child. But funny as it is to read this critical theory/haggadah mashup, it’s also kind of great. It suggested an orange on the seder plate to represent the fruitfulness for all when lesbians and gay Jews are included, and rewrote the Kiddush to say, “This year, we drink to the people around the world who have taken to the streets, the buildings, the cities in prostest of unjust, racist and classist wars.” It suggested we share stories of active resistance that we had participated in or been inspired by over the past year, and we did. By focusing on activism, inclusivity and social justice, the haggadah provided a map for exactly the kind of engaged conversation that make the Passover seder a meaningful ritual even for an atheist Jew like me.

As in the seder, so in this post I’m taking forever to get to the food. It’s the way of Passover…there’s a lot of talking and drinking before anybody gets to eat anything, so you have to prepare food that won’t be harmed by sitting around in the kitchen for a couple of hours. Luckily, everyone’s so hungry and drunk by the time it arrives, that it always tastes good. So what did we eat? Well, in the spirit of inclusivity and as a result of recipes gleaned from a range of sources over the years, it’s a glorious hodge-podge of different culinary traditions. We had cinnamon and allspice flavoured chard pancakes, a recipe I read years ago in Bon Appetit magazine and which has become one of my Passover standards.

My friend A brought an Italian charoset, redolent of oranges as well as rich with dates. Charoset is one of my favourite things to eat and every year I wonder why I don’t make it year round. This was an especially good version, sweet and jammy.

From Claudia Roden’s invaluable Book of Jewish Food, I made Georgian hake with walnut and tamarind sauce. There was a bit of a Central Asian theme to some of my dishes, and Roden has a great introduction to the foodways of the Georgian Jewish community.

For the meat-eaters, there was Georgian lamb shanks braised in pomegranate and wine. I’m going to post the recipe for this dish separately, as it’s the only one I invented myself for the night.

Closer to my own East-European Ashkenazi background, there was cauliflower and leek kugel, a surprisingly light dish with heaps of dill and parsley.

I also made a red cabbage salad and harissa flavoured quinoa, which you can learn how to cook from wackjob filmmaker David Lynch if you’d like. Technically a grass, quinoa is completely acceptable for passover and makes a nutty alternative to rice or couscous at any time of year. We finished the meal with a decadent flourless chocolate cake, also made by A and the highly addictive caramel chocolate matzah that I make every year. It was a great evening of food, new and old friends, and political debate. As the haggadah says, “May we all live next year in a world of justice and peace. May we all work together to build that world.” Happy Pesach!

Yesterday’s dinner was a locavore’s  delight. Now that spring is in full flight, it feels not just possible but pleasurable to cook from the local produce that’s turning up in the shops. I started off in our local butcher, which is the kind of fantastic place that not only stocks locally sourced, organic meat, but where the butchers will happily go and cut you just what you need, and offer advice on how to cook what you’ve bought. I was drawn to the lamb, which all comes from small producers in the South Downs. It’s toward the end of the Spring lamb season so the meat has now been hung for longer and has a really sweet meaty flavour. I like it that way, as it lends itself to long slow cooking, so I bought a half a shoulder. The butcher suggested roasting it for four hours over potatoes and herbs…so this recipe is really his.

With meat and recipe suggestion in hand, I crossed over to the greengrocer where they had lovely new Jersey Royal potatoes and Sussex asparagus. I can’t resist asparagus in season, and besides, there are only a couple of weeks of overlap between the South Downs lamb and asparagus seasons, so it only makes sense to enjoy them together while you can. Sadly, I can’t bring myself to love the greengrocer as much as the butcher. While the butcher gives good value and often throws in a bit extra, the greengrocer charges exorbitant prices for ordinary produce and the staff are sullen. Oh well, I suppose I’m lucky to have them locally even if they’re not very nice.

As regular readers will have gathered, I’m not really a meat and potatoes kind of cook, but I make the occasional exception for fantastic local meat that you can pop in the oven and ignore. My butcher’s recipe reminded me of the  recipe for Roman Spring lamb in the Silver Spoon cookbook, so I’ve kind of Italian-ised it. I can’t be expected to roast meat without large amounts of garlic after all…

Roast Spring lamb with rosemary and potatoes

  • half a shoulder of lamb
  • a head of new season garlic
  • several branches of rosemary
  • 1/2 kilo of new potatoes
  • a glass of white wine
  • olive oil

Slice the potatoes thickly lengthwise and layer on the bottom of a lasagna pan. Scatter garlic cloves and rosemary stalks on top and add the wine and a cup or so of water. Rub olive oil over the lamb, sprinkle generously with sea salt and place on top of the potatoes. Cook at a low heat (gas mark 3, or 160 C) for 3 and 1/2 to 4 hours, adding more water if necessary.

While the lamb rests, prepare vegetables: I just grilled the asparagus with more sea salt.

Serves 4.

One of my favourite Malaysian dishes is sambal petai. I always order it in restaurants – it’s one of the choices that tends to get me a side-eye from the waiter, with maybe an ‘are you sure you want this?’ thrown in. I don’t know why. Despite their English name of ‘stink bean’, petai aren’t stinky and with their buttery texture and slight grassiness, they’re like a more strongly-flavoured version of British broad beans (i.e. American favas). Fresh petai are hard to come by in these parts, but when I saw the first of the season’s broad beans in the co-op, I realised that they might provide a good local alternative. My usual way with broad beans is Italian: either mashed up with pecorino, mint and olive oil or in pasta with asparagus, chilies and mozzarella. But maybe I could combine them with the embarrassingly large bag of chilies I had sitting in the fridge…

The only problem is that no matter how big a bag of broad beans you fill, what you end up with is always disappointingly paltry. This might be true with petai as well, but they’re bigger beans and the pods seem more reliably packed. With broad beans, you go home with an enormous and unruly bag of pods but by the time you’ve podded them then boiled and peeled the beans, you’re left with a harvest that’s always smaller than you anticipated. So, I knew I wasn’t going to make the version of this dish that’s almost all beans, with a little sauce and a few shrimp studded among them. Instead, I went for more of a saucy sambal, with lots of plump shrimps and the beans as a secondary element. I think if I made it again, I’d bite the bullet and buy kilos of broad beans to ensure they were the star of the show, but it was still pretty good this way.

Shrimp and broad bean sambal

  • 12 large shrimp, peeled
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a small chunk of ginger
  • 5 shallots
  • 6 long red chilies
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 tbs palm sugar
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • as many broad beans as you can bear to pod

Pound the garlic, chilies, shallots, shrimp paste and ginger into a paste either in a mortar and pestle or with a mini-prep. (You can toast the shrimp paste first but I tend not to if it’s going to be cooked in a paste right after.) Boil the broad beans for a few minutes, then cool and peel.

Fry the paste in a good glug of vegetable oil for 5 minutes. Add the lemongrass whole, bashed a bit with the back of a knife, and the chopped tomato, fish sauce and sugar. Add the shrimp and stir until cooked. Take out the lemongrass. Lastly, add the broad beans and stir carefully to mix.

Serves 2.

Our local food co-op has some amazing spring greens right now and so this dinner began with me clogging up their rather poky vegetable section pondering what to make with the giant bunches of beautifully colourful rainbow chard. Having just had Asian greens for the previous couple of days, I wanted something different, plus the selection of fresh herbs and spices at the co-op isn’t really conducive to Asian cooking. Then it struck me that I had enough peripherals in the freezer and store cupboard to make a quick and appealing set of taco fillings. There are still several pots of Oaxacan mole negro in the freezer from Christmas – I make mole for Christmas most years and there is always a bucket of the stuff – and I have several tins of salsa verde that American friends keep me supplied with when they visit. Tinned tomatillos are one of those compromises that cooking Mexican in the UK seems to demand: I’ve blogged before about the difficulty in finding fresh tomatillos, nopales, and poblanos here and until I learn to grow them myself, I am doomed to the canned stuff. But some brands of salsa verde are actually quite good, containing just tomatillos with a bit of serrano and cilantro. Others have the alarming green colour of cheap limeade and taste like the dip in bad Mexican restaurants. I like Herdez brand, but look for a lack of additives in the ingredients list and you should be ok.

Anyway, with these store cupboard ingredients in mind, I planned two types of taco: Oaxacan mole with sweet potato, red pepper, and goat cheese and rainbow chard in tomatillo sauce. The chard wants to be topped with grated hard cheese, and since the co-op has a good selection of Sussex goat cheeses, I decided on two kinds: one soft with peppercorns and one aged.

The mole tacos couldn’t be simpler, though of course they do depend on having mole to hand. You could replace the mole with a much quicker chipotle or ancho sauce, both of which would work with these ingredients. In any case, all I did was chop and steam the sweet potato then serve with fresh peppers, a bowl of sauce and cubes of goat cheese to be assembled at the table. The chard tacos are barely more complex: for a dinner that looks quite involved, this was all very easy.

Rainbow chard tacos

  • 1 large bunch of chard
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 garlic cloves
  • 1 tin of tomatillos / salsa verde
  • a handful of cilantro
  • 3 serrano chilies
  • a lump of hard goat or sheep’s cheese
  • corn tortillas

Wash and chop the chard, saving the stalks for another purpose. Chop the onion and fry in a little oil till beginning to brown. Add the crushed garlic and chopped serranos and fry for another minute or two. Dump the contents of the pan into a food processor, add the tomatillos and process till relatively smooth. Reheat the same pan and when hot, pour in the sauce. It should bubble rapidly and then settle down a bit. Cook for 5 minutes or so, till the sauce darkens and thickens.

Add the chard and stir as it wilts. Cook for another 5 minutes, adding a little water if necessary. (Not too much as the greens will give out quite a bit of their own liquid.) Salt to taste.

Serve with tortillas warmed in a steamer or on a skillet, and top each taco with a handful of grated cheese.

Well, I’m home from Chile and feeling both jetlagged and ready for some lighter food. You think seafood is light, but not when it’s being used basically as a conduit for butter… Actually, truth be told the food in Chile is pretty healthy, but eating out all the time on holiday means you eat a lot more richly than at home, regardless of the cuisine.

So, for my first post back at home, I’m not making anything complex, just the slightly more rigorous food I am feeling in need of: a tofu and kale stir-fry with chilies and ginger. Now I’m not one for cleanses. Some of my more hippyish friends are inclined to really punitive diets when they’ve over-indulged but I really don’t believe in that approach. For one thing, I don’t think it’s especially good for your body to veer from one extreme to another and for another I don’t like to use food in that psychological way. It feels negative and unfeminist and just not for me. So…this dish isn’t at all a punishment for gluttony but rather a mix of some favourite flavours I didn’t get to eat for the last couple of weeks of travel.

Gingery kale and tofu stir fry

This simple dish mixes the softness of tofu with the bite of just-cooked kale, and has a Vietnamese influence in its gingery lime dressing. The trick is to be very generous with the ginger, especially the raw ginger added at the end with the lime. You could replace the kale with any other dark greens and the radish sprouts with whatever sprouts are available.

  • 1 large bunch of kale
  • 1 bag of radish sprouts
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 block of firm tofu
  • 4-5 spring onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • a generous thumb-sized chunk of ginger
  • 2-3 long red chilies
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce or soy sauce (or more)
  • 1 lime
  • 2 tbsps oil

Wash and shred the kale, dice the red pepper and thinly slice the spring onions and chilies. Chop and pound the garlic, ginger and lemongrass into a paste, leaving about a tablespoon of chopped ginger to the side. Cut the tofu into bite sized chunks.

In a wok or large frying pan, heat the oil and sauté the spice paste. Add the spring onions, chilies, and red peppers and cook for a minute. Add the kale in batches and wilt. Now add the palm sugar and fish sauce, and mix well to dissolve the sugar. Add the tofu and stir carefully.

When the kale and tofu are cooked and the sauce well mixed, turn off the heat and add the lime juice, remaining raw ginger, and sprouts and mix well.

Serve over rice – it goes especially well with Thai black rice or red rice.

Serves 2

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