Spring veggies

aspergesHEAVEN !  I love this time of year…  One by one, the spring veg show up in the market and in the garden 🙂

asperges1Lunch becomes more fresh and simple…  Quick to prepare.  Less cooking, more green, more crunch, feels healthy…  The chickens LOVE radish greens, so everyones happy 🙂

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To celebrate the arrival of the first broad beans and peas in our garden, I made a simple lunch adding fresh purple asparagus, bright red radishes and fresh herbs piled high on a beautiful slice of toasted sourdough bread after smearing a thick layer of the first fresh goats cheese from Anita’s farm.  A good shake of Espelette pepper and some local fleur de sel and we felt like we where the richest people in the world.  Quite sure that any great chef would be delighted to have access to this quality….

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Feeling fortunate and pretty pleased with myself !

Bon appetit !

Wild Garlic Pesto

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Wild Garlic season is upon us !  Where I live, you are sure to find fields of beautiful fresh wild garlic from early spring.

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I was a bit late this year so they are starting to flower…  Even better !  The flowers are more pungent than the young leaves.  To eat wild garlic raw in salads, the young leaves are nicer so its wild garlic and nettle soup and wild garlic pesto on the menu today 🙂

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Pesto is pretty forgiving stuff, so play around with the ingredients to adapt to your taste and what you have on hand.  I used a few cashews and a few more almonds this time.  Strong Ewe’s milk cheese gave it a wonderful flavour.  Use more or less olive oil depending on what you will use the pesto for (for pasta it should be runnier).  This made enough for one meal of pesto on roast chicken and potatoes and tossed through pasta the next day.

Wild Garlic Pesto

  • Servings: 2 meals for 4
  • Difficulty: very easy
  • Print

  • 1 bunch or large handful wild garlic leaves (flowers are ok too)
  • small handful parsley (optional)
  • 70g or a small handful of nuts (pine nuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts etc.)
  • 70g hard Ewe’s milk cheese (or pecorino or even parmesan)
  • extra virgin olive oil (around 150ml’s depending on the finished texture desired)
  • a squeeze of lemon juice to taste
  • salt & pepper to taste

Everything goes in a food processor or herb chopper (use a blender for a smoother finish, I like mine chunky) and give it a whizz until you have the texture you are looking for.

Store any leftovers in a jar, covering the pesto with oil, in the fridge.

Bon appétit !

Simple Lentil Dal

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I could live off Dal (I think quite alot of people do in India !)…  Isn’t it wonderful when “healthy” also falls under the heading of “comfort food” ?

Dal (daal, dhal etc.) is a broad term that refers to legumes (lentils, peas, and beans) that are cooked and spiced.  I’m sure there are an infinite number of recipes for Dal though one of its endearing qualities is the lack of need for a recipe.  Get the water to lentil ratio about right and play with it from there.  One of my favourites is this base, made with red (actually orange, go figure ;)) lentils.  PS :  red lentils are a great source of iron ….

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The most exciting bit of this dish lies just before serving. . . TEMPERED OIL. Once you try tempering spices in oil, you’ll be flavouring all of your curries this way….

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Oil, or even better Ghee is heated, spices are added and the whole sizzling lot is poured into your finished dish.  Total transformation, trust me 🙂

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Simple Lentil Dal

  • Servings: 4 - 6
  • Difficulty: very easy
  • Print

  • 1 cup (200 g) red lentils (picked over if needed, and rinsed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 4 cups (235 ml) water

Tempering Oil

  • 2 – 3 Tablespoons oil or Ghee
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 or 2 whole dried red chilies
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds (lightly crushed in a mortar & pestle)
  • Finish the dish with the juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime if you like

Put the lentils into a large saucepan with the turmeric, salt and water.  Bring to a boil and skim the foam that rises.  Simmer, covered on a low heat until the lentils are soft, 20 minutes or so.  Add more water if necessary and taste for salt.  Some like their Dal thick some like it soupy, its up to you.

For the tempering oil, combine the oil, coriander seeds and the cumin seeds in a small pan and heat over a moderate heat, stirring until they colour slightly (1 minute).  Add the chilies and cook, stirring for another 30 seconds.  CAREFUL NOT TO BURN THE SPICES.  Pour the oil and spices into the Dal, add the lemon or lime juice if using  and simmer for another 5 minutes before serving.  Serve on its own, with rice or Naan bread, or as part of a curry feast.

Bon appétit !

Some yummy variations to play with:

  • Before adding the lentils, fry a grated onion until soft adding chopped ginger and garlic just before the lentils and water go in.
  • Add a chopped fresh tomato just before the lentils are done.
  • Replace half the water with coconut milk.
  • Top with fresh coriander (cilantro).
  • Play around with other spices, either added with onion at the beginning or in the tempering oil; cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, garam masala, black mustard seeds, curry leaves etc…
  • Top the dish with crispy fried onions or leeks just before serving.

Garlic Confit

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I suffer when garlic season gets to the point where the cloves become soft, dry and past their prime.  The green shoot in the middle changes the taste. . .   I love young garlic, or even “young-ish” garlic.  Since coming to live in France, I have never eaten so much garlic.  Our family of four easily get through 2 heads per week.

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In the spring I wait impatiently for the first fresh new garlic on market stalls.  Then the garlic party starts and we eat masses of it until its gone until the following year.  This is my favourite way to preserve garlic. This couldn’t be easier ! I may be addicted to this stuff.

I also freeze a bag of peeled cloves to use during the “down time”.  They can be grated (using my handy microplane) straight from frozen.  The fresh skins and stalks of new garlic can be kept in the freezer as well to pop into meat stocks.

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Peel one or two heads of garlic and place the cloves in a heavy bottomed pan.  Cover them with olive oil and slowly heat the oil.  Cook on a very very low heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour until they are knife tender.  Leave to cool, pour into a clean glass jar and store for several weeks in the fridge.  Make sure that the garlic is always covered with oil.  Don’t forget to use the oil for cooking when the cloves are all used up  🙂

A few ways to use your garlic confit (though you will easily find ways to use it !) :

  • spread the cloves on toasted bread and sprinkle with salt flakes and/or chili flakes
  • toss the cloves and some of their oil through pasta
  • mixed in with roasted vegetables
  • blended into a home made mayonnaise (very delicious)
  • spread over a piece of fish or meat
  • flavour soups, sauces, dressings and dips

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Solar oven notes: We do this in our solar oven whenever the sun is out and we have nothing else to cook.  Almost fill a jam jar with garlic and pour over enough olive oil to cover the cloves.  Place, uncovered in your solar oven just until some of the cloves start to rise to the top or they are knife tender.  This could take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours.  When I do this in the solar oven their is a thin film of yummy stickiness that forms on the surface and sticks to the sides of the jar.  My husband calls this “caramel d’ail” or garlic caramel 😉

 

Preserving Chili peppers – 3 ways

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Its the long awaited chili season so out come my three (or four) ways to preserve them.

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 After over-wintering a few of my chili plants in the greenhouse, the Jalapenos are ready first. So the Caribbean Sauce is first in line.  Its pretty tasty this year.  I never use the same amount of each herb, so its never quite the same.

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Next up is chili jam but my “sunburst” chili’s are still green.

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GOOD food from the good life . . .

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Actually “4 ways” !  One of my favourite things to do with my garden Chili peppers is to make Chili Butter.  My Chili Butter is a sound favourite in this house, especially when spread on toast and topped with a boiled egg for breakfast.

Rural France = no fresh chili peppers for sale !  This has led me to grow them myself and to be creative and find ways to preserve that addictive heat to get me through until the next Chili season . . .   This years harvest includes Jalapeños and Calabrese peppers.

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In chili season I pick a few and finely chop them (followed by thorough washing of my hands) to have them freshly chopped, ready to use in the fridge.  Next step is to preserve the bounty !

ChilisaucesI have added 3 new additions to my “preserved chili pepper” larder this year.  Chili Jam which is…

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Shakshuka !

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Besides really enjoying saying the name of this dish (note the exclamation mark), I’m in love with this. . .   Couldn’t be easier to prepare and has endless versions waiting to be created !

A summer favourite for a healthy lunch or dinner.  In France it it more common to have your eggs for those meals than for breakfast but I think this dish is sweeping the western world as THE brunch dish of the moment.

Shakshuka has its origins in Tunisia, but has been adopted by many other countries for so long now that they call it their own as well (Israel for example).  Basically it is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce made with peppers and tomatoes (sometimes onions) and usually cumin.  It is so forgiving, as you will see in my the photo of the finished dish here, I overcooked the eggs AGAIN and its still fabulous.  The above shot is from the book JERUSALEM by Yotam Ottolenghi and is how its supposed to look 😉

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This is the perfect time of year, with tomatoes and peppers nice and ripe.  I have tried a few versions of this recipe but come back this one (good old Ottolenghi) often. Harissa is nice, I’ve made my own but this is the best shop bought brand.

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Tip:  If you take some regular plain yoghurt and plop it into a cheese cloth or tea towel over a bowl and leave it to drain for a few hours (even an hour or so is enough), you get thick Greek style yoghurt which is great to top Shakshuka.

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Let me count the reasons to love a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, but one is that he often gives you the weight of an ingredient, such as eggs.  I find this so important for some preparations and here you will find the weights for the peppers and tomatoes.  If you could have seen one of my beefsteak tomatoes this summer, it was 800g on its own.  So what does “5 large tomatoes mean”?  Very helpful.

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After you have fallen in love with Shakshuka, as I have, here are some ingredients you may want to play around with:  onions, feta, chopped courgettes, potatoes, different coloured peppers, a touch of sugar, a touch of lemon juice, crumbled chorizo or merguez sausages, fresh chopped chili, parsley, paprika (smoked or not).

To be served simply with your favourite dipping vehicle such as crusty bread or flatbreads.

Shakshuka Servings=2 as a main meal

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons harissa paste (optional and use less if not big on spicy !)
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 large red peppers, cut into dice (2 cups / 300 g in total)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon toasted ground cumin
5 large, very ripe tomatoes, chopped (5 cups / 800 g in total); canned are also fine
4 large free-range eggs
1/2 cup / 120 g labneh or thick yogurt
Salt and a handful of chopped coriander (aka cilantro) to serve

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and add the  harissa, tomato paste, peppers, garlic, cumin, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Stir and cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes to allow the peppers to soften. Add the tomatoes, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for a further 10 minutes until you have quite a thick sauce. Taste for seasoning.

Make 4 little dips in the sauce. Gently break the eggs and carefully pour each into its own dip. Use a fork to swirl the egg whites a little bit with the sauce, taking care not to break the yolks. Simmer gently for 8 to 10 minutes, until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny (you can cover the pan with a lid if you wish to hasten the process). Remove from the heat, leave for a couple of minutes to settle, then spoon into individual plates and serve with the labneh or yogurt.

***Directly adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe in his book Jerusalem

Solar oven notes: If your solar oven is nice and hot (at least 120°C) you can follow the directions as above.  Good idea to use a transparent lid or none at all so you can monitor the cooking process with out opening the oven all the time.

Piedmont beans

With the late August heat, this has re-emerged as a “test” in the solar oven. Great results with a beautiful crispy top . . .

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GOOD food from the good life . . .

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Its late August and the garden is in overdrive !  We are now on our 8th continuous week of eating green (or purple 😉 ) beans numerous times per week…  I usually make this recipe at least once in the season when I want to “get rid” of loads of beans in one meal.

Its an interesting recipe as it seems a bit odd, on the verge of “will this work?”.  The ratio of beans to the other ingredients just doesn’t seem right.  Trust me as I trusted the original recipe, it does work.

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I’ve adapted this Italian inspired recipe to suit my tastes and the ingredients I can get here in France so play around with it, its a forgiving recipe.  I used a beautiful ground red pepper produced in the Basque Country called “Espelette Pepper”, that I’m quite addicted to which adds a bit more depth and a…

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