chilled spinach, avocado and pea soup with crab salsa

If like me, you managed to OD on  mini-eggs and treacle tart over the weekend, you might be thinking about injecting something a little bit healthier into your poor, saccharine-addled body. This chilled green soup of mind-boggling goodness is just what the overworked NHS GP ordered. Verdant with veg and gorgeous supped with tomato juice ice cubes, a touch of greek yoghurt and a piquant crab salsa (don’t worry if you can’t get fresh crab, the supermarket tinned lump-meat stuff is just as good for these purposes) it’s something you can put together super-quickly after the shock of being back at the electronic coalface. Perfect for when you’re feeling a bit kitchen shy and just want to bask it up in those final rays of the day…

ingredients

for the soup

1 x 230g bag spinach leaves, washed and blitzed right down in a blender with ½ pint cold vegetable stock (I used 1 tsp Marigold powder)

2-3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

2-3 spring onions, roughly chopped

1 avocado, roughly chopped

1 small clove garlic, crushed

The juice of a lime

A couple of pickled chillies

A dash of sherry/balasamic/rice/not Sarsons vinegar

1 hefty pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper

1 handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

2-3 tbsp peas (I used defrosted frozen petit pois)

For the salsa:

One tin of whole lump crab meat (or fresh if you can get it)

A red pepper, diced

½ red onion finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 red chilli, finely chopped

Juice and zest of half a lime

A glug of good olive/avocado oil

Chopped parsley/coriander

Salt and pepper

to serve

a spoonful of greek yoghurt

frozen cubes of tomato juice, or if you’re feeling a bit flash, whole mint leaves frozen in tomato juice cubes.

Method

  • Place all the soup ingredients in a blender, whizz and adjust the seasoning to taste (it develops over time, so if enjoying this straight away, I’d add a smidge more garlic, salt and/or chilli).
  • Chill in the fridge with ice cubes while you get on with the salsa.
  • Combine the salsa ingredients.
  • Serve with the chilled soup.
  • If you’re mega-organised you can make tomato ice cubes ahead of putting this together, otherwise a cold swirl of yoghurt it is. Some toasted almonds would be nice too.

Muffuletta AKA the mother of all sarnies

Because it’s definitely picnic o’clock.

ingredients

a good, sturdy loaf of bread (I experimented with sourdough and ciabatta but found one of those Grand Mange Blanc loaves in Waitrose worked brilliantly)

cheese  (I used Emmental, Jarlsberg and Gouda)

for the vegetarian half

1 aubergine sliced and griddled until tender

2 or 3 spring onions, halved and blistered on a griddle

1 jar grilled courgettes

for the carnivorous half

pastrami

salami

ham

for the olive salad

6 marinated artichoke hearts, plus a tablespoon of the oil they’re marinated in

approximately 10 sunblush tomatoes, plus a tablespoon of the oil they’re marinated in.

100g marinated olives

1 stick celery

1 carrot, grated

1/2 red onion

1 tbsp fresh parsley

10 caperberries

1 clove garlic

5-6 jalapenos

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

olive oil

1/2 tsp oregano

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Jelly and Ice Cream

When she first arrived on these shores, nineteen and newlywed – a green eyed slip of a girl, shivering in her unfamiliar winter coat and grappling with the lingo; my mother struggled with a number of elements. One of the toughest aspects of her new life was trying to recreate traditional dishes minus so many of the familiar ingredients she’d grown up casually plucking from the trees and plants in her village. Back in the days when curry came in Fray Bentos tins and garlic was still considered to be a foreign ingredient, creating the most basic Bengali supper or teatime snack was more often than not an exercise in creative improvisation. Relatives returning from trips to the motherland would be excitedly mobbed, their suitcases bulging with delicious secrets. Chinese dates (boroi), dried fish (shutki), jaggery (toffee like boulders of unrefined palm sugar), jolpai (Bengal olives), jackfruit seeds and other precious edibles were meticulously divvied up. For these much coveted goodies simply weren’t available for love nor indeed, for any sort of currency.

How times have changed.

I know the trains are rubbish and the air is filthy, but one of the best things about living in the smoke right now is the astonishing amount and variety of ethnic treats you can lay your greedy mitts on, if you’re so inclined. A brief jaunt around Chinatown the other day resulted in the following haul:

Almond Tea –You add hot water to these luscious sachets of gingko nuts, fungus, yam and almond powder, and the results are pure molten marzipan.

 

Dried anchovies and peanuts  – these pocket sized snackettes are pretty moreish. Speckled with chilli and spring onion, the anchovies are both salty and caramelised to addictive effect – which might sound a bit wrong, but tastes oh so right.

 

Umeshu- super fruity and podgy with booze-saturated umeboshi plums that loll around at the base of the bottle. An icy drop of this stuff can slip down with dangerous ease.


Despite having access to grub from practically every crevice of the globe, it seems there are still some foodstuffs that require a bit of the old suitcase smuggling. One of the few things I haven’t been able to track down anywhere has been the elusive, lesser spotted tiger nut.

The Ancient Egyptians ranked tiger nuts amongst their oldest cultivated plants, having discovered them some 4000 years ago, before introducing them to the Spanish. Apparently, they used to make cakes with them. On a recent trip to Valencia I raided the local supermarket for a hessian bagful of “chufas”, after acquiring a taste for the cool, sweetened nut-milk they sell on street corners. Back in East London I decided to celebrate the arrival of summer with some horchata ice cream and plum wine jelly. However, most of the recipes I came across seemed to be made with the Mexican version of rice and almonds, rather than the sweet, nutty tubers, so I decided to experiment by soaking and grinding the tiger nuts, before adding them to a classic custard base. This is definitely one of those start-a-day-or-two-before-you-want-to-eat-it type recipes, but is absolutely worth this piffling hassle. Rich with cream and custard and with a subtle nutty chord woven throughout, this makes quite a sophisticated little ice. It works particularly well with the fruity joy that is plum wine jelly – all in all the perfect way to rip off that dingy shroud of winter and bask it up in the intermittent sunshine (cool shades and VW Beetle are optional).

 

For the ice cream

ingredients

130g soaked tiger nuts (I soaked mine for a good 24 rather than the instructed 8 hours)

150ml water

3 egg yolks

1 small cinnamon stick

200ml whole milk

200ml double cream, whipped

60g vanilla sugar

½ vanilla pod

Method

  • about 8 hours before you want to start, grind the nuts and water in a blender to a smooth paste. Leave in the fridge for 8 hours to macerate.
  • Toast a small cinnamon stick in a dry, hot pan.
  • Add the milk, sugar and vanilla pod and heat very gently (you don’t want too much sugar as the tiger nuts are already quite sweet).
  • Just as it’s on the brink of boiling, fish out the cinnamon stick and vanilla pod.
  • Beat the yolks and pour the hot, sweet, milk over, whisking continuously.
  • Return this to the saucepan and gently heat until viscous. Once thickened, allow to cool.
  • Stir in the cream and the ground, macerated tiger nuts.
  • Freeze in an ice cream maker (or in a plastic tub in the freezer, stirring every 30 minutes or so to avoid a congestion of ice crystals).


For the jelly

Ingredients

Mixed berries (I used strawberries, blueberries and blackberries)

200 ml plum wine

100 ml water

Juice of half a lime

One sachet of gelatine

Method

  • Heat the wine and the water in a small pan. Add the lime juice to taste.
  • Arrange the fruit in jelly moulds, or glasses.
  • Just before simmering point, stir the gelatine into the wine mixture, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before pouring over the fruit.
  • Leave to set in the fridge.
would be excitedly mobbed,

Roast Duck A La Yuzu

There’s no anticipation quite like the build up of a long, languid roast, and for me that’s especially the case when we’re talking roast duck. This one gently crisps up for a good five hours, which might sound a bit time guzzling, but apart from the odd bit of turning and prodding, you can pretty much leave it alone.

I picked up a bottle of yuzu juice (that distinctive, mandarin-grapefruit like citrus) in the Japan centre the other day and had the remnants of a jar of yujacha* knocking around, so decided to experiment with a modern twist on the classic duck a l’orange. The slow roasting resulted in ultra tender meat and conker-coloured skin, while the aromatic citrus scythed through those crisp lipids beautifully with just the perfect degree of acidity  (you can buy yuzu online here, but I’m sure a juicy blob of good old Seville marmalade and some pink grapefruit juice would also be a brilliant substitute). The sauce a la yuzu is sweet, sharp, savoury and salty all at once, in that maddeningly addictive drink-it-straight- from-the-pan kind of way.

*Yujacha is a marmalade type drink from Korea made with yuzu and sugar or honey and diluted with hot water to make fruit tea.

Ingredients

One duck, giblets removed

1 or 2 onions, peeled and studded with a few cloves

Fresh ginger

Salt

1 tbsp sugar

1 tsp rice vinegar

1 tsp chilli sauce

5-6 tsp yuzu juice/pink grapefruit juice

½ pint chicken stock

2 tsp cornflour

3 tsp honey

1 tbsp yujacha, plus 2 tsp for the sauce

method

  • Wash and dry the duck thoroughly. Lightly score diamonds through the fat.
  • Stud an onion or two with cloves, and roughly hack up a fat finger of ginger –stuff these in the cavity.
  • Salt liberally and snip off any excess fat from the extremities. Place in a rack in a roasting tray and roast at 150C/300F/gas mark 2 for an hour.
  • Prick all over and turn the bird over. Repeat for about 4 hours, until crisp and brown all over.
  • Drain off the fat, and reserve for roasting vegetables, smothering on toast etc.
  • Gently heat a tablespoon of sugar in a thick-based pan until it turns to a rich mahogany caramel.
  • Add a teaspoon of rice vinegar, one of chilli sauce and about 5-6 teaspoons of yuzu.
  • Add half a pint of chicken stock and whisk in a teaspoon or two of cornflour. Stir and simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon (you might want to add a bit of soy at this point, but I found my stock was salty enough). Stir in the honey and two teaspoons of yujicha/marmalade.
  • For the final hour, the breast should be face up. Turn the heat up to about 190C/375F/gas mark 5 for ten minutes or so, just to ensure a good depth of colour.
  • Brush liberally with the yujicha/marmalade, turn the oven down a little and continue to roast for 30 minutes (make sure the glaze doesn’t burn).
  • Rest for 15 minutes and serve with plenty of sauce and some nice green vegetables.

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