Edible Christmas gifts there’s still time to make…

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Rather than going out to get last minute presents today, why not stay in, listen to some Christmas tunes, and let the smell of edible gifts permeate the house instead?

Below I’ve collected a few of my gifts from Christmases past, and a few other recipes that work as presents – I hope they’re useful if you’re stuck for that last present for someone!

(Click on the titles to find the recipes)

Salted butter caramels

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These are a crowd-pleaser: I’ve made them numerous times in the past and they always get good comments! They also don’t take too long – about 15 minutes on the hob and then a couple of hours to set – stick them in a cute gift bag and you’re sorted…

Vanilla extract

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A lot of people don’t realise you can make your own vanilla extract, but it’s pretty easy and looks impressive! You will need to put a ‘use after’ label (or words to that effect) on this as the vanilla won’t be infused enough by Christmas – but it will look pretty in a glass bottle with the vanilla pods…

  Blue cheese & poppy seed biscuits

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These biscuits are great as an aperitif with a glass of fino, or equally as good with a glass of port post-meal. They’re a good pressie for anyone who likes cheese – just keep them in a sealed container after making. You can also swap out the blue cheese for any other semi-hard cheese you wish!

Pickled rhubarb

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This year I have decided to make some pickled cherries, but I don’t know what they taste like yet as they’re not quite ready. The pickled rhubarb I made earlier in the year was great though and a good accompaniment to cheese and cold meats. It also is quick to make, and can be used after 48 hours – winning!

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Have an excellent Christmas and New Year all – eat, drink and be merry!

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Caramel Apple Cake

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Today is definitely a day for staying-in and pottering (if you can). The weather here in Bath is not nice – I’m feeling sorry for anyone who’s come to the Christmas market – get in a pub with a mulled cider is my advice!

I’m going to be making some edible Christmas presents today – more on that soon – but if you feel like doing some baking I have a great cake for you (particularly if you’re still trying to use up a glut of apples).

Apple cake with Caramel Icing

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I love apple cake, it’s delicious and moist because of all the fruit. You can spice it with cinnamon or ginger like the one I made last year (link here) which was really tasty, but this year I wanted to try a variation on the classic ‘toffee apple’ flavour. I had a lot of cooking apples left over so decided to make a variation on Mary Berry’s apple cake, and found a recipe for caramel icing which I thought would go well with it. The result was definitely a triumph! The cake was really moist inside, but with a good crust, and the icing was thick and caramelly (new word) and good enough to eat out of the bowl – there was also lots of it left over which was excellent.

Mary Berry suggests eating the cake warm, in which case the icing could be served on the side, but the cake was delicious cold also and still moist a couple of days later!

Recipe lightly adapted from Mary Berry and BBC food

For the cake:

225g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

225g caster sugar

2 large eggs

½ tsp vanilla extract

150g butter, melted

250g cooking apples, peeled, cored & thickly sliced

 

For the icing:

125g white caster sugar

80ml double cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

160g butter, softened

200g/7oz icing sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease a deep 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin. I don’t own a particularly deep loose-bottom cake tin so I gave it some extra height with a baking paper collar. 

2.  Put the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and melted butter into a bowl or stand mixer. Mix well until combined, then beat briefly.

3.  Pour half of the mixture into the cake tin. Place the apples on top of the mixture, piling most near the centre (they will spread out during cooking. Spoon the rest of the mixture over the apples, again making sure that the centre is well-covered as it will spread out in the oven.

4.  Bake in the preheated oven for 75-90 minutes until the cake is golden and coming away from the sides of the tin. Leave to cool (or eat straight away!)

5.  For the caramel icing, put the caster sugar & 4 tbsp of water in a saucepan and cook over a gentle heat for a couple of minutes. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat and cook the caramel for 2-3 minutes, or until golden. Don’t stir, just be patient! Once golden, remove the pan from the heat immediately and stir in the double cream. The caramel won’t like this and will spit at you so be careful. Stir in the vanilla and then set aside to completely cool.

6.  Cream the butter and icing sugar together for at least 4- 5 minutes until light and fluffy (less if using a stand mixer), then beat in the caramel a little at a time.

Decorate the cake however you want with the icing (or serve on the side if you want to eat the cake warm!)

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Happy Sunday (whatever you’re up to!)

A snapshot of Cuba pt.2: Eating in Casa’s, and visiting Varadero & Trinidad

Eating in and staying in a Casa

We stayed in Casa Particulare’s as much as possible in Cuba – these are similar to b&b’s (and airbnb, which has only just launched in Cuba), and are normally rooms in a family house. It’s a good way to get acquainted with a town/city and its people – we really enjoyed chatting with our hosts – and they are pretty cheap too. Most will offer breakfast and some also offer evening meals (at a separate price).

Breakfasts usually included fresh fruit (we went in mango season – yum), followed by bread, eggs (scrambled, fried or as an omelette), edam-style cheese, ham or salami, tomato & cucumber, and coffee.

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Breakfasts at Casa Yadilis & Joel, and the roof terrace where we ate

We had an evening meal in two of the casa’s we stayed in, and both were better than some of the restaurants we encountered!

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Evening meal at Yadilis & Joel’s 2nd casa – and view of the sun setting over the sea from their roof terrace

We stayed in Casa Yadilis & Joel in Havana and they were great – friendly and helpful, nice room, good breakfasts and evening meal. They are in Centro Habana which is a bit more run-down than some areas, but it was easy to get to the old town and the malecon.

At Yadilis & Joel’s I loved the fact that even though the breakfasts consisted of similar ingredients each day, they were presented creatively and were always slightly different. We also had various fresh fruit juices and smoothies with our breakfast here. Cuban coffee is really good too so I always looked forward to that.

Casa Yadilis & Joel

Prices as of May 2015: room per night 30 CUC

Breakfast: 5 CUC

Evening meal 10 CUC

Varadero

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After Havana we went to nearby beachy paradise Varadero for a couple of days of well-deserved r&r – you can’t beat the first view of a Caribbean beach with its palm trees, powdery white sand and turquoise, warm-as-a-bath sea – take me back! We stayed in an all-inclusive for 3 nights here (our first experience of one), as they were all on the beach and we wanted as little hassle/movement as possible for a couple of days. I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty blissful going from bed to sun lounger to pool to bed! I’m not sure I could do a full holiday in one though…

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The food here wasn’t amazing, but it was ok for those days – the best restaurant we ate in was actually a Japanese one!

We stayed at Meliá Las Americas which is marketed as a golf resort hotel, but we don’t golf – it just had some of the best reviews online for hotels in Varadero, and it was very nice!

After two days of relaxation we then had a little bit of stress travelling to Trinidad (in Cuba, not & Tobago!). We didn’t realise at the time, but Cuban buses are ridiculously punctual, and you should turn up at least half an hour in advance to check in your luggage… being a fairly chilled-out Caribbean country we’d just assumed the public transport would be at least as bad as it is in England (i.e. crap) but oh no.  We booked a taxi for half an hour before departure, which then turned up 25 minutes late, getting us to the bus station about 3 minutes after the bus should have left – and it had. Being a sunday, this was the only bus making the 7 hour journey that day 😦

Luckily, an Irish couple had also just missed the bus, and we all piled into a taxi which agreed to take us on the journey. The taxi then stopped on the highway an hour and a half into the journey and told us we’d have to swap cars to his ‘brothers’ car, because he didn’t go as far as Trinidad. We all exchanged nervous glances, but did as he said, and we actually made it to Trinidad in one piece and 3 hours earlier than expected!

Trinidad

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We stayed 3 nights in Trinidad but could have stayed longer – it’s not a large town but it is lovely – lots of colourful colonial buildings, and live music EVERYWHERE. We went to two great clubs – the Casa de La Musica which is outdoors on the steps of one of the squares, and the Casa de La Trova which is smaller and indoors – both get very busy with drinkers and dancers, and it’s great to watch!

Trinidad is near some amazing countryside and also near the coast, so it’s a good base if you want to do a bit of travelling around. Seeing as we’d just come from the beach we didn’t go to another, but we did go to the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the sugar mills) to an old sugar plantation which was nice – the countryside on the way there is stunning.

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Valle de Los Ingenios and Manaca Iznaga sugar plantation

We stayed at Casa Elda y Roberto, which was in a lovely colonial house in the old town. We had an evening meal which was good, and excellent mojito’s 🙂 The breakfasts were nice but not quite as interesting or inventive as they were in our previous casa.

Our room was lovely – quite rustic, but colourful with lots of old furniture, and the terrace out the back of the casa was a nice place to eat breakfast – there were even hummingbirds buzzing around!

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The Casa and our food (peppers stuffed with mince on the left, bruschetta & mojito on the right).

The hosts Mercedes, Eddy and their son Saul were friendly and so were the other guests – we spent our last evening out with 3 Australian girls, Saul, and two of his friends – listening to live music, and then listening to Saul and his friends singing and playing the guitar until 2am – and us all joining in on Enrique Iglesias ‘Hero’ 😉

NB. For some reason lots of Cubans also seem to love James Blunt which we found a bit strange – they have all this amazing music – why play/listen to him?!

Casa Elda y Roberto

Trinidad

Approximate prices as of May 2015:

Room – 25 CUC

Breakfast – 5 CUC

Dinner – 10 CUC

Stay tuned for part 3 – Cienfuegos, The famous Hotel Nacional in Havana – and the cocktails!

Feeding a cold (with lentils)

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I write this swaddled in a blanket, trying to get over a cold which my loving husband passed on to me last week. It is taking its sweet time to leave. I’ve tried nudging it with Night nurse*, smothering it with sleep and Sudafed*,  and now I’m going to flush it out with food – chicken soup, stews, all the good, warm, autumnal stuff.

*Other cold/flu medicines are available.

One of my recent favourites that might help to do the trick is a kind of lentil stew with tomatoes, mustard, garlic and thyme. It’s from a book the OH and I are a little obsessed with at the moment: A Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones. All vegetarian/vegan dishes, all amazing. There will be more of her recipes on this blog soon.

I admit, lentils don’t tend to get people excited, but these are blinking tasty – I’ll let the photo’s convince you…

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Garlic & thyme lentils with roasted tomatoes, breadcrumbs, and mustard cream 

lightly adapted from A Modern Way to Cook

Ingredients

For the lentils:

300g green/puy lentils

4 cloves garlic

1 tomato

a few sprigs thyme

2 bay leaves

1 vegetable stock cube

Glug of oil and splash of red wine vinegar (optional)

For the tomatoes:

400g cherry tomatoes, cut in half

Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

olive/rapeseed oil

2-3 slices wholemeal bread, blitzed into crumbs

small bunch fresh thyme (or equivalent dried)

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

For the mustard cream:

2 tsp english mustard (or to taste)

100g cream cheese

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1. Preheat the oven to 220C and boil a kettle of water.

2. Put the lentils in a large pan with the tomato, the 4 cloves of garlic (unpeeled), the bay leaves, and the sprigs of thyme. Dissolve the stock cube in 1 litre of boiling water and pour over the lentils. Bring the pan back to the boil, then reduce to a medium heat and simmer gently for 25-30 mins, until the lentils are tender and most of the water has evaporated.

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3. Whilst the lentils are cooking, put the cherry tomatoes on a roasting tray – cut side up. Drizzle over some oil, sprinkle over the lemon zest, and season with salt and pepper. Put in the oven and roast for around 15 minutes.

4. Whilst the tomatoes are roasting, put the breadcrumbs on another roasting tray with the thyme leaves and the chopped garlic clove. Drizzle over some more oil and put in the oven with the tomatoes for a further five minutes.

5. Meanwhile, mix the mustard with the cream cheese and set aside.

6. When the lentils are cooked, scoop out the tomato, the garlic, and the bay leaves. Discard the bay leaves and put the tomato into a small bowl. Pop the garlic cloves out of their skins and mash into the tomato to create a rough paste, before stirring this back into the lentils. Check the lentils and add a glug of oil and a splash of red wine vinegar to the mixture, and extra seasoning if desired.

To serve: Ladle the lentils into a bowl and spoon over some of the mustard cream. Scatter over the roasted tomatoes and the breadcrumbs, and get cosy…

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Hopefully this will get my cold moving – wish me luck!

Beautiful Bibimbap

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I’m one of those annoying people on Instagram who take photo’s of their food: I don’t do selfies, I do photogenic bowls of deliciousness instead. Some, taken in restaurants with dim lighting, don’t do justice to the beautiful creation before me. Others, when the light is good, or the food is particularly pretty, do have the desired effect. Bibimbap is one of the latter… and lots of people have realised it – over 158,000 photo’s tagged #bibimbap on Instagram and counting!

To be honest, I think Bibimbap probably did come to my attention from one of these photo’s – I love Asian food but Korean was a new one on me until recently, when restaurants started popping up and the food was papped. Also you can’t really forget a name like that…

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Bibimbap is essentially, a bowl of rice, with lots of different toppings, all arranged artfully in a bowl, with an egg on the top. The combination of colours is beautiful, but it’s not all style and no substance – it is also totally delicious.

I came to make Bibimbap a few weeks back when we returned home from a bbq with leftover meat – Korean marinated flat-iron steaks. This was great because it meant we missed-out the most time-consuming part of the dish: the marinade. (If you can’t find pre-marinated beef try this: 2 1/2 tbsp soy sauce, 2tsp sesame oil, 3 cloves garlic, 3 spring onions 1/2 tsp black pepper. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, add the beef and leave for at least 30 minutes).

I have cheated a little with another element of the dish too, but that’s only because it’s tricky to find (in Bath anyway) – Gochujang chilli paste. This is a Korean institution and is a paste made with chilli, sticky rice and fermented soybeans.  If you have a large asian supermarket then you may well be able to buy it there, if not try souschef, an online shop with all sorts of foodie things. I found a chilli sauce recipe that I made instead, which is not the real thing (no fermenting!), but it tasted good so it will do for now. I did find kimchi in our local thai supermarket which is another Korean staple made from fermented vegetables and chilli, so that gave the dish a bit more authenticity.

I used fried quails eggs instead of regular because i’d been given some (from someone who keeps quails!), they looked cute fried, but one big egg would be fine – and more satisfying when you break into it.

If you want to try making Bibimbap the recipe is below – it isn’t difficult, it’s just lots of little things that need cooking separately, so you may end up with quite a lot of washing up!

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Bibimbap

Recipe adapted from a variety of sources – koreanbapsang, mykoreankitchenepicurious & Jack Monroe (And the Observer Food Monthly Aug 2015 supplement)

 Ingredients

400g short-grain or sushi rice

400g beef steak, thinly sliced & marinated

a selection of vegetables, such as:

250g spinach

150g bean sprouts

150g carrots (approx 2 small), thinly sliced

200g shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

4 eggs or 12 quails eggs

For the sauce:

2 red chilli’s, deseeded and finely chopped

1 large garlic clove, crushed

50ml white wine vinegar

2 tbsp sugar

2tbsp oil

To serve:

A handful of toasted sesame seeds

Kimchi, if desired

  1. Firstly, cook the rice as suggested on the packet. Whilst the rice is cooking, make the chilli sauce and prepare your vegetables, keeping them all separate until the end of the dish.

2. To make the sauce, put the chilli’s and the garlic in a small pan and add the vinegar and the sugar. Bring to a boil, then cook for a couple of minutes so the mixture becomes sticky. Remove from the heat and leave to cool, stirring in the oil just before serving.

3. Bring a pan of water to a rolling boil and blanche the carrots and the bean sprouts – the carrots will only need about a minute, the bean sprouts about 2. Keep warm.

4. Heat some oil in a frying pan and stir-fry the mushrooms until cooked. Remove from the pan and fry the spinach until wilted. Squeeze out any excess water from the spinach and set aside. Keep warm.

5. When the rice is cooked, drain and put the pan back on the heat. Add some oil and then transfer the rice back into the pan, squashing it down into the oil. Leave the rice to cook for another 10 minutes (without stirring), until it is nicely crisped and browning on the bottom.

6. Using the same pan you used for the vegetables, fry the strips of marinated beef until cooked – between 3 and 5 minutes approximately.

7. In a clean pan, fry the eggs until the white is cooked but the yolk is still runny.

8. Now you’re ready to make it look pretty! Divide the rice into 4 bowls. Put a small amount of each of the vegetables and the beef around the rice, separated out so you can see all of the ingredients. Top with the egg(s) and the chilli sauce, and a dollop of kimchi, if desired. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Gaze in adoration, then tuck in!

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A Snapshot of Cuba – Part 1: Havana and Eating Out

Well the summer in England this year has been a bit of a non-starter.  July was pretty wet, windy, and decidedly autumnal. August is so far a bit temperamental.  I’m hoping for an Indian summer now…!

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Instead of focussing on the English climate too much, I’m instead harking back to warmer days and remembering a time when it was (too) hot – back in May, when the OH and I went to Cuba. We spent almost a week in Havana, a few nights on the beach in Varadero, then went south and spent some time in Trinidad (in Cuba, not Trinidad & Tobago!) and Cienfuegos.

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When I told friends and family we were off to Cuba for our holidays this year, some were jealous, and some were unsure what the country had to offer. I thought it was obvious: sun, mojito’s, 1950’s american cars, salsa music… the only thing it’s not got much of is great food. The political situation in Cuba has meant that there are not a lot of ingredients to play with, the Cubans also generally don’t like spice and have a fairly conservative attitude to food, so it’s quite a plain cuisine – think plantain, potato, rice and beans, chicken etc. This is fine for a few meals, but it does get a bit boring after a while! We did find some gems in the rough however, and the cocktails were all excellent 🙂

Below are some thoughts on Havana and the nicest food we found there…

Havana

Havana is a very interesting city. It was fairly obvious to us back in May that it is going through a time of change; buildings are being spruced up, businesses are springing up out of people’s doorways and windows, and there were plenty of roads being paved and swept. Overall however, the city still feels very poor. A lot of buildings are derelict and crumbling, there aren’t many shops or cafés in large parts of the city, and the shops that are there have only a small amount on their shelves. We were staying in Centro Habana which is one of the poorer parts of the city, so it may have been more obvious to us than tourists staying in the parts of the city that have had money injected into them (such as Vedado and Vieja), but I was pleased we saw that and not just the sanitised version of the city.

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There’s a certain charm to the city, it’s colourful, the cars are amazing, and the people are generally friendly. It would be interesting to go back in a few years time and see how the city (and country) has changed, now the US embargo has lifted. I think some things will definitely change for the better (the food hopefully being one of them!), but some of the charm of the place may be lost. We shall see…

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Eating out

There are lots of restaurants in Cuba, and they are generally split up into State-run Restaurants and Paladars. We didn’t really eat in any State Restaurants as we were told the food wasn’t great, opting instead for the Paladars. The most interesting thing about Paladars are that most are privately run, and they are quite often in people’s houses. Sometimes it feels like having dinner in someone’s living room, and sometimes they are incredibly professional and have entertained the likes of Jay Z and Queen B.

La Guarida

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L – R: The entrance to the building, the floor below the restaurant, inside the restaurant.

Our favourite meal of the entire holiday was in La Guarida (a paladar that has entertained the aforementioned musical royalty). This was in Centro Havana, but in culinary terms, you wouldn’t know you were in Cuba. The food was beautifully presented, and on a par with any fine dining restaurant in Bath taste-wise. The flavour combinations were excellent and i can’t help but wish they would run a cookery school to help educate some of the restauranteurs in flavour. The building was also very atmospheric.

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L- R: Bread basket, utterly delicious Green Salad with Baked Pineapple, Goats Cheese & Tarragon Vinaigrette, vintage cutlery, crazy looking but really tasty Rabbit Paté with Mango, Tamarind and ‘Cotton’ (similar to candy floss!)

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L- R: Suckling Pig with an Orange & Honey Reduction (perfectly crunchy top, melt in the mouth bottom, lovely sauce), Three Tenderloins with Three Sauces – Blue Cheese & Chocolate, Green Pepper, and Béarnaise (a nice idea but a bit odd in practice – the only dish we didn’t love), and a Mango & Coconut Tart (really refreshing and a good way to end the meal – quite similar to a cheesecake in texture). 

La Guarida

Concordia no.418 e/ Gervasio y Escobar

Centro Habana

Decameron

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Another paladar we were impressed with (also in Havana), was Decameron, in the Vedado district. The food was a little simpler here, but the flavour combinations were still excellent, and they made the most of the produce Cuba has to offer, and made it interesting. My Duck Confit with Papaya was delicious. The decor in here was interesting too, lots of pendulum clocks on the walls.

Decameron

Linea, no.753 e/ Paseo y 2

Habana Vedado

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Part 2 will be about eating in Casa Particulares and our experiences in Varadero, Trinidad and Cienfuegos! And maybe some cocktails… 😉

Have you been to Cuba? Are you thinking about going? Let me know!

For relaxing times, make it: Tahini Time

DSCN2280As soon as it gets hot in England I start thinking about going abroad – I don’t know why, it would make more sense to enjoy the weather here, then go somewhere when it turns cold and wet again… maybe it’s because working in the heat is not so fun and going abroad normally means relaxing a bit more! Alas, I’ve had my summer holiday already this year so I’ll have to live vicariously through exotic food instead…

I do enjoy eating alfresco wherever I am though, and light, summery dishes are usually quite quick and easy to make. This dish is a case in point – the most time-consuming bit is shelling broad beans (which I actually quite enjoy doing).
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This dish is middle-eastern inspired, which I gravitate towards when it’s hot (and also because we had some leftover tahini in the fridge that needed using up). I’d read recently that tahini goes well with lamb – so lamb kofta’s it was. These were served with flatbreads, a broad bean, mint, & pomegranate salad, and the aforementioned tahini mixed with yoghurt to make a dressing. It was delish – we had it two days running but I could have carried on 😉 The lamb kofta’s are lightly spiced, the tahini and yoghurt cool them down but add some nuttiness, and the salad is fresh and crunchy…

Spiced Lamb Kofta’s with a Tahini Yoghurt Dressing and Broad Bean, Mint & Pomegranate Salad

serves 4

Ingredients

500g lamb mince

1tsp cumin

2tsp ground coriander

2 garlic cloves

1tsp harissa paste (optional)

2tbsp tahini paste

250g greek yoghurt

2tbsp olive oil

pinch of salt & pepper

500g broad beans

6 radishes, thinly sliced

1 pomegranate

5 sprigs fresh mint, chopped

5 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped

8 small flatbreads or 4 large

To make the kofta’s: Mix the lamb mince with the cumin, coriander, garlic and harissa (if using). Separate into 8 balls, then roll to make ovals. Thread onto metal skewers then place under a grill (or on a griddle pan or bbq) and cook for approx 3-4 mins on each side, until lightly brown.

To make the tahini dressing: Mix the tahini, yoghurt, olive oil and salt & pepper in a bowl and set aside.

To make the salad: Blanche the broad beans and shell, then put in a large bowl. Remove the seeds from the pomegranate and add to bowl. Add the sliced radishes, the mint, parsley and a drizzle of olive oil and white wine vinegar, and mix well.

Serve with flatbreads and a glass of something cold…

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Salad inspired by my wondering if broad beans and pomegranate would ‘go’ together. Helpfully realised by appetite magazine 🙂