Roasted tomatoes with labneh

I’m posting this recipe mainly as an advert for Sabrina Ghayour’s book Simply. A revelation. I know next to nothing about Persian food, but this was a 99-centime Kindle deal. My first experience of a cookbook on Kindle too — I was very dubious, but it works pretty well on the iPad.

This is the first recipe in the book, and the first we tried. It’s a cracker. Within about three weeks we’ve had it three or four times. Making labneh was another first — I had no idea how easy it is. We now have jars of it preserved in olive oil.

Ingredients: I did find za’atar easily at the spice stall in the market. Pul biber (mild chili flakes, mainly produced in Turkey), an ingredient in many recipes in this book: nope. Eventually I bought some online, and it was well worth it; it brings a lovely smoky, complex flavour and I foresee I’ll be using it regularly. Alternatives: Mexican ancho pepper or (maybe) piment d’Espelette.

Again I urge you to try this, and then buy this book or any of her others. Such a burst of exotic, sunshiny flavours. A great tapa or starter.
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Pride of the Punjab

I got a Label Rouge free-range chicken on special offer, only 7 euros, and decided I fancied a change. Suddenly I remembered a recipe from an ancient Josceline Dimbleby book, one of those little ones they used to sell in Sainsbury’s in the 1980s, for, I think, 50p. A Traveller’s Tastes, it’s called, and it’s divided into sections of half a dozen recipes from different parts of the world. She has been pretty much forgotten now (try Googling her to see what I mean, the results are scanty). But most pages of this book are spattered with sauces and other ingredients — I used to use it a lot. See also … this blanquette still features on our menu regularly over thirty years after I bought the book. This is another of her recipes that deserves a wider audience.

This recipe is from the “India and Burma” section. Unusually for an Indian recipe, it features a whole chicken. It’s easy to do and the sauce is deliciously aromatic. I serve it with simply boiled Basmati rice; a green vegetable is a good idea too. Get started early because it needs to marinate for at least an hour.
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Mango millefeuille

Loosely based on a tapa served in a bar on the Costa Tropical, where mangoes are a popular crop. A ripe, freshly picked mango is a wonderful thing, best served simply. It works really well with soft cheese. The original was stacked millefeuille fashion with goat’s cheese and liberally sprinkled with coarsely grated Parmesan (not a good idea, it swamped the other ingredients). You can either stack or arrange on a plate as here, whatever takes your fancy. We actually like it with Philadelphia, in which guise it could almost be a dessert, but soft sheep’s cheese would work very well too. You can buy reduced balsamic vinegar in Lidl, otherwise it can be made by boiling down (cheap!) balsamic to reduce by 50%. We sometimes use miel de caña instead, which is a type of molasses, a byproduct of cane sugar production.

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Espinacas con Garbanzos: spinach and chickpeas

Spinach and chickpeas

This is a classic Seville tapa: every bar has a version of it. It might not sound exciting, but you will never regret trying it. It’s delicious and much healthier than the many deep-fried or meat-heavy tapas available. Suitable for vegans as well as vegetarians. We don’t often have it as a tapa at home — it makes a great light lunch or first course, with some flatbread. I use the recipe from my favourite Spanish cookbook, Anya von Bremzen’s The New Spanish Table, which I can’t recommend too highly.
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Clementine jam

Clementine jam

I had a large bag of impulse-bought clementines to use up — they didn’t taste that great raw, but they turned out to make a very good jam. I’m calling it jam rather than marmalade because you don’t get a clear syrup with small strips of peel suspended in it; instead it has a thicker, more jammy texture, but still with the tang of marmalade thanks to the peel. It’s also a lot less work than marmalade.

I adapted this from a recipe on French cookery site Cuisine Actuelle. I liked the idea of keeping the peel on some of the fruit and peeling the rest. I didn’t though think it was a good idea to simply halve the unpeeled clementines — you’d end up with massive pieces of peel in the jam, hardly toast-friendly.

This amount will make about two to three 375 g jars. I wouldn’t make a much larger quantity than this, as it’s always difficult to get a set with a large volume. It’s best to choose clementines with as few pips as possible.
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Duck breast with dried fruit sauce

I had a recipe something like this years ago, off a packet of duck breast — now lost, but this is more or less a re-creation of it. Delicious and easy. I used PX sherry, but use whatever sweet wine you fancy — port or madeira would work too. Serve with something to mop up the sauce: mashed potato, rice, or just good bread. This amount serves two (we never eat a whole magret each).
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Ensalada tropical

ensalada tropical

This is a ubiquitous dish in the beach bars of Spain’s Costa Tropical, using locally grown exotic fruits. It’s a lovely refreshing starter which can also be quite substantial, while providing a large contribution to your five a day. We usually share one between two of us before a platter of grilled fish.

I will confess to not being a fan of conventional fruit salad: a variety of soggy fruits swimming in sickly sweet liquid does not float my boat. Bananas are especially loathsome in this context. But ensalada tropical is completely different: the dressing adds a welcome acidity that complements the fruit beautifully.

The recipe allows for considerable variation. The essentials are crisp lettuce, some kind of citrus, and something crunchy (although apple is not tropical, I think a few slices add the necessary texture). You won’t go far wrong by including mango, avocado and pineapple, in fact I think it’s incomplete without at least two of these. Melon in some form is good, and a few slices of kiwi fruit are attractive. We added persimmon to our last one, and that worked well too. I think passion fruit would be a lovely addition. Other than that, use what you like and is available (although I have to say I have never seen one featuring bananas, thank goodness).

We also toss in some of the handy fruit and seed mix sold as “salad mixture” in Spanish supermarkets (I always stock up on it when there). This usually features raisins, chopped walnuts, sunflower seeds, and maybe some chopped roasted hazelnuts.

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Vegetarian chilli

Adapted from a recipe in the Slimming World magazine — a useful source of low-calorie recipes that don’t compromise on flavour. I cooked my lentils from scratch, but if you’re lazy or in a hurry, you can use a can. A very easy midweek dinner.
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Jerusalem artichoke velouté

Many years ago, we grew some Jerusalem artichokes. I loved the flavour, but the knobbly little roots were such a pain to scrub and peel that it was a one-off experiment. But the other day I was shopping for Christmas in the wonderful covered market in Narbonne. Apparently progress has been made in selective breeding of Jerusalem artichokes. One stall had a box of oval pink topinambours about the size of new potatoes. No lumps and bumps! A plan was formed, and I bought half a dozen.

With my idea in mind I had a quick browse on Marmiton.org and picked this simple recipe for its overwhelmingly favourable reviews; everyone who tried it gave it 5/5. An excellent choice: easy to do, and the flavour was exactly what I hoped for. I’m serving it in shot glasses garnished with small cubes of foie gras, as an amuse-bouche on Christmas day. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can garnish with shreds of crisp-fried prosciutto, Iberico ham, or bacon; shavings of truffle; or just a drizzle of truffle oil.
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Spanish chicken casserole

This is a Lucy Bee recipe from a magazine. Described as “traditional Spanish”, it features coconut oil. But I guess that’s because it’s from a book called Coconut Oil: Recipes for Real Life. So naturally we substituted more authentic olive oil. Effort versus results score: excellent. It was really delicious, and a great one-pot meal for cold weather. When we’d eaten all the chicken and veg there was quite a lot of spicy sauce left over, so we had it with pasta later in the week, and it was worth having leftovers just for that. Definitely a keeper.
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