When life gives you lemons…

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It’s Tuesday, it’s late February and Ocado is clean out of lemons. This can mean only one thing…it’s pancake day. Presuming you don’t need me to tell you how to make pancakes (what’s that?…a recipe?…of course, here you go: 110g flour, 1 egg, 1 yolk, 300ml milk, pinch salt, butter for frying, you’re welcome), I thought instead I would offer a suggestion for what to do with all those leftover lemons should your family be anything like mine and eschew this old school topping for something more fancy (ham and gruyere (the husband), salted caramel hazelnut chocolate spread (the teen), squirty cream, although as a weapon rather than a foodstuff (the 10yo).

You could of course make lemonade, or a classic lemon drizzle cake, but if you have a glut of lemons to use up, I urge you to try this which I made for the teen’s birthday last week, essentially a mash up between an Italian lemon polenta cake and the aforementioned drizzle. Its use of ground almonds instead of flour makes it incredibly rich, moist, moreish and, well yes, calorific (but highly nutritious, no?) and means it will keep for up to a week in an airtight container. Except it will never last that long.

Lemon polenta drizzle cake

This recipe is based on one from the original River Cafe Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, but their recipe makes enough to feed a small army, so I have reduced the quantities and finished the cake off with a good dousing of lemony syrup. Serve as is, or with some creme fraiche or natural yogurt, sweetened with a little icing sugar and a drop of vanilla bean paste or extract, and an artful scattering of berries.

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Makes one 20cm diameter cake (10-12 portions)

  • 300g unsalted butter, softened
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 300g ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • zest of 2 1/2 lemons
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 150g polenta (I used the quick cook stuff and it worked just fine)
  • 1 tsp baking powder (use gluten free and the whole cake will be)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the drizzle

  • 100g caster sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon
  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (fan), butter a 20cm cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy then stir in the almonds and vanilla.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then fold in the lemon zest and juice, the polenta, baking powder and salt.
  4. Spoon into tin, smooth over the top and bake in the oven for about 50 mins until the cake is set (ie. no wobble) and rich golden brown in colour. Leave in tin to cool.
  5. To make the syrup, heat the sugar and lemon juice in a pan over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Simmer briefly until the syrup thickens a little, but do not boil.
  6. Prick the top of the cake all over with a skewer or fork and drizzle the syrup all over its surface. Remove from tin and enjoy.

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Wine not?

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I LOVE cooking with wine. It’s my second favourite thing to do with it. (There isn’t a third.)

A glass of white in your risotto, a splash of port in your gravy, a flagon of red in your beef stew – pop, glug, splosh, bubble – and dinner is elevated to the next level. A drop of the good stuff (or, dare I say, even the not-so-good stuff) adds acidity, depth of flavour and brings out umami in a dish in a way that a squeeze of lemon or a dash of stock cannot. It allows you to create food that not only satisfies the belly, but warms right through to the soul. What’s more, cooking with wine makes your home smell incredible – like you’ve walked into one of those idyllic roadside bistros in rural Southern France – one odour I don’t mind lingering in my soft furnishings.

There are, however, a couple of commonly held views about cooking with wine with which I – possibly controversially – disagree. The first is that you must only ever cook with wine that you would be happy to drink. While I possess a degree of snobbery discernment when it comes to the wine I quaff, I do not feel the same about stuff I’m going to bung in a stew, unless of course it’s a special occasion or I’m feeding someone with a chef’s palate. I have, on more than one occasion, made a pretty decent fist at boeuf bourguignon using a variety of past-it dregs from bottles that have been gathering on the windowsill for well over a week. The same goes for a perfectly palatable coq-(not)-au-riesling I made recently with a bottle of Pinot Grigio Blush (a ‘gift’), which was anything but palatable in its original state.

I have my standards, of course (although my bar is set quite low). If the wine smells like it would be better suited to a plate of chips than to the pot I won’t use it, and if it is corked to start with, I have learned (albeit the hard way) that no amount of cooking, reducing or seasoning will stop the end dish from smelling and tasting like a stagnant pond.

But wine is expensive – the average price per bottle is now north of a fiver – so I say keep the good stuff for drinking (saving, or even freezing any leftovers) and buy a cheap wine box which can sit happily in the back of a cupboard for months for all your culinary needs (or for moments of emergency self-medication when the wine rack is bare).

Then there’s the issue of using wine in dishes that may (or let’s face it, may not) be eaten by kids. ‘Just leave it out,’ advises Jamie O. But why? Of the kids I know who are happy to have their protein ‘contaminated’ by a sauce, many appreciate that unique tang that booze brings without being consciously aware of its presence (my teen would probably eat a shoe if it was smothered in a sauce made with marsala, while the 10yo is positively addicted (poor choice of word?) to brandy-laced peppercorn sauce). I can understand it might be viewed as questionable parenting to feed a boozy trifle to a five-year-old, but in hot dishes the cooking process does away with any alcohol. And if it doesn’t, what’s the worst that can happen? Happy, giggly, but – very quickly – sleepy kids.

And if all that hasn’t put you off dinner or playdates at mine, I don’t know what will.

Wine-braised chicken with juniper

This dish, based on one I found years ago in The Guardian by Hugh F-W, is simple and quick enough to make for a weekday supper but the addition of juniper gives it an unusual and sophisticated flavour, making it perfect for a dinner party. The juniper also makes it smell like gin. Win, win. (Anyone got the number for AA?)

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Serves 4-6

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 heaped tbsp flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 1 chicken, jointed into 8, or about 1.5kg of chicken legs/breasts
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, bashed (don’t worry about removing skins)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • a couple of sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tbsp juniper berries, lightly crushed
  • splash marsala (sweet fortified wine) (optional)
  • 500ml white wine
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • 1-2 heaped tbsp full fat creme fraiche (or a generous splash of double cream)
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped flat leaf parsley to garnish
  1. Put the seasoned flour in a large freezer bag, tip in the chicken and give it a good shake until the chicken is lightly coated (skip this stage if you are low carbing or gluten free).
  2. Heat half the oil on a high heat in a large heavy-based pan or casserole and brown the chicken, in batches if necessary, until golden on all sides. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Turn down the heat to medium, add a splash more oil to the pan, then add the onion, herbs and garlic and cook gently for 10 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent.
  4. Add the marsala (if using) and wine and let them simmer for a few minutes, scraping off any caramelised bits from the bottom of the pan, then add the stock and the juniper berries. Bring to the boil and then simmer for a further five minutes.
  5. Return chicken, skin side up, to the pan, and braise, partially covered, on a low heat for 25-30 mins until the chicken is cooked through.
  6. Remove the chicken once more, then strain the sauce through a sieve and return it to the pan (you can skip this step but I prefer a smooth sauce, as the flavour of a bitten juniper berry can be a little overpowering). Reduce a little then add the creme fraiche and mustard then reduce a little more so the sauce has the consistency of single cream.
  7. Return the chicken to the pan, warm through and scatter with parsley. Serve with mash or flat pasta noodles such as pappardelle or tagliatelle and greens of your choice.

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Friday night fodder

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I’ve been having myself a little break from writing. I was taught that if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all, and there has been nothing in the least bit good about January.

But January is over. There is warmth in the air, the birds are chirping and the little spears of green poking through the soil in my flowerbeds tell me the 67 bulbs I planted very late in the season (ie the day before Christmas eve) haven’t all died or been stolen by squirrels.

And it’s Friday. And that means one thing in my house: quesadillas.

Quesadillas with guacamole

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The perfect Friday night food is quick to make, indulgent in flavour and easy to eat, preferably with hands, in front of the telly. A quesadilla is essentially a fancy toasted cheese sandwich into which you can bung all manner of good things. Here’s what I usually put in mine…

Serves 4

  • 1 pack soft tortillas – I’m liking wholewheat at the moment, but you could use white or corn
  • 2 large handfuls of cold leftover meat, chopped – chicken, pork or beef work well
  • 2 handfuls of cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 1 ball mozzarella, diced
  • 1 small bunch coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped
  • 1/2 red pepper, finely diced
  • 3-4 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded if you don’t like too much heat and finely chopped
  • sour cream (optional)

For the guacamole

  • 1/4 red onion, very finely chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander
  • salt
  1. First make the guacamole by macerating the chopped onion in the lime juice and a pinch of salt in a bowl for 10 minutes, then add the avocado and mash to a rough puree with a fork (or use a mortar and pestle). Taste and add more salt or lime juice if necessary then stir in the chopped coriander.
  2. Then mix all the filling ingredients in a large bowl with your hands.
  3. Smear one half moon of the tortilla with sour cream (if using, but I often leave this out) and scatter over a small handful of the filling (don’t be tempted to overfill otherwise you will have problems with the ooze) then fold over the other half. Repeat until all tortillas are filled. img_2473
  4. Heat a large heavy-bottomed frying pan on a medium high heat and toast the tortillas in batches (no oil necessary) until golden brown on each side by which point the cheese should have melted. Remove to a chopping board and cut each into thirds or halves depending on how big you want them.
  5. Serve with the guacamole, plenty of kitchen roll and a cold beer or two. Gracias Mexico!

Other nice fillings…

  • Roast a selection of root veg (beetroot, parsnip, carrot, sweet potato) with chilli flakes, fennel seeds and salt and pepper until soft and caramelised and then crumble over goat’s cheese or feta.
  • Fry small cubes of potato in a pan until golden, then add some chopped cooking chorizo and cook through. Use this to fill tortillas with mozzarella and a scattering of chopped red pepper and some rocket leaves.
  • Cooked peas, edamame, spring onion, mint, chilli and feta, with a little cheddar to help bind it all together.
  • These chilli beans, with a scattering of cheddar and a dollop of sour cream.

Nachos (not so) grande

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I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Actually, this is a lie. I don’t make resolutions out loud. In my head, however, I spend much of January chanting the mantra: must do better, must do better.

I guess you know the good times have to stop rolling when you are rudely awakened from your night sweat sleep by a cascading crash which you assume are the binmen emptying the bins from the pub next door but is in fact emanating from your very own recycling bin of shame. Or when those red welts appear on your love handles caused by the jeans you used to wear only on ‘fat days’. All that fun you had in December has come at a hefty price and now it’s payback time. (When I say you I do, of course, mean me.)

But does the repayment have to be in a lump sum? Is it really sensible to give up everything that is fun in life for the entirety of January, already the clear favourite in the most miserable month of the year stakes? Doesn’t short term but extreme exclusion – be it for dryathlon, veganuary, carbannihilate, dairytox (I might’ve made up the last two) – simply feed into our unhealthy binge-purge culture, with our yo-yo approach to diets, drinking and the gym? What’s the point of giving up booze/meat/dairy/wheat etc for a month if it means, come February 1st, you dive headfirst into a XL stuffed crust meat feast washed down with a gallon or two of merlot?

If it works for you and you have the self-control not to fall horrendously off the wagon in a month’s time, that’s fine, although I still think the #veganuary thing is absurd – surely veganism is for life not just for post-Christmas? (I had my first ever run in on Twitter this week when I had a pop at this latest fad and was informed by a disgruntled vegan, in a manner that wasn’t at all passive-aggressive, that my children would already be suffering with atherosclerosis, a precursor to heart disease. Which was nice.)

I personally prefer a lazier slower, yet more sustainable approach – the monthly repayment as opposed to the lump sum. Cutting down, cutting back but definitely no cutting out (with the exception of that homemade Baileys – that absolutely has to go). Because deprivation never made anyone happy, and happiness is the cornerstone of good health, no?

Middle Eastern nachos with crispy chickpeas and chopped salad

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I guarantee you will not feel deprived with this healthy take on a Tex-Mex favourite. It is basically a deconstructed Middle Eastern fattoush style salad masquerading as junk food and I would happily eat this over the lardy original any day. It’s as good as a light lunch to share as it is for snacking in front of a film and you can pimp it up as you please, by adding dollops of houmous, toasted pine nuts, slices of avocado or these chilli beans for example. Just don’t tell anyone it’s good for them.

The idea is not mine – there are various versions of this on the internet – but the recipes are.

Serves 2-3 as a light lunch, 4 as nibbles

  • 5-6 pitta breads (I used wholemeal cos, you know, my body is a temple)
  • 1 400g tin chickpeas
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cumin
  • 1 heaped tsp ras el hanout or 1/2 of chilli powder
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 8cm piece of cucumber, finely diced
  • 150g tomatoes (I like baby plums), finely diced
  • 100g jarred red peppers, finely chopped, or use fresh
  • 1/2-1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (best to test how hot it is before adding as they vary enormously)
  • 1/2 small bunch flat leaf parsely, finely chopped
  • 1/2 small bunch mint, finely chopped
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp sumac (optional but adds lemony zing)
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • to serve: 2 tbsp Greek yogurt mixed with 1 tsp tahini, a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt; feta cheese
  1. Preheat your oven to 190°C (fan). Drain and rinse the chickpeas then dry them well in kitchen towel (this will stop them from exploding all over your oven). Place them in a baking tray, sprinkle with the cumin, ras el hanout and a pinch of salt, then drizzle over a little olive oil. Toss together to coat, then bake in the oven for 30 mins or until golden and crispy.
  2. Cut your pittas into tortilla chip style triangles, then separate the two layers and place on a large baking sheet. Brush each piece with a little olive oil (you can sprinkle over a little salt and/or smoked paprika too if you feel that way inclined). Bake in the oven alongside the chickpeas for about 5 minutes until crisp (your layers may be of different thickness so the thinner ones may need to be removed before the others are done).
  3. Put the chopped onion in a mixing bowl with the lemon juice and a pinch of salt, stir and leave for 10 minutes – the acid will take the harsh edge off the onion. Then add the cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, chilli, herbs, sumac and a grinding of black pepper. Stir then taste. Add a little more salt or lemon if necessary.
  4. When cool, tip the pitta chips onto a wide plate, spoon over the chopped salad (you may not need all of it), scatter over the crispy chickpeas, drizzle with yogurt, crumble over the feta and remember to share with your family.

 

What to eat (and drink) on Christmas Eve

Sorry, no time to chat, I’m sure you’ll understand. Instead Diana Henry’s recipe for Vietnamese lemongrass and chilli chicken, which I’ve been meaning to post for ages because it’s so good. So good in fact, that each time I have made it, the chaps have snaffled it before I’ve had a chance to take the requisite photo. So, shhh, while they’re not looking, here it is…

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Granted, not a great pic, but it’s so dark all the time

 

Aside from a little marination, the actual cooking is quick and straightforward. It’s what I will be serving up on Christmas Eve, because its zingy sour heat provides a welcome break from seasonal stodge and is the antithesis to anything that will be served up in the days following.

Oh and while I’m at it, I feel duty bound to mention a brilliant recipe for homemade Baileys that has caught my attention on the godmother of all food blogs, Smitten Kitchen. It literally takes minutes to prepare and tastes better than the original – particularly if you are liberal with the booze. So, you take one teaspoon of cocoa powder and one of espresso powder (optional) and stir to a paste with a splash of double cream, then slowly add one cup of double cream, then a can of sweetened condensed milk, a (generous) cup of whiskey (Irish would be authentic but I used bourbon and man, it was good) and a splash of vanilla extract. Whisk it all together, decant into bottles or jam jars and hey presto, you have instant homemade Christmas gifts, or at least a drink guaranteed to smooth the process of wrapping all those presents. It keeps for about two weeks in the fridge, but I’ll wager it won’t last that long. You’re welcome.

A very Merry Christmas to you all. Thank you for reading.

Vietnamese lemongrass and chilli chicken

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This is from the perpetually useful A Bird In the Hand by Diana Henry, a must for anyone who, like me, struggles to come up with new and interesting ideas for the ubiquitous bird.

Serves 4

  • 800g boneless chicken (thighs work best but use breasts if you must) cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, tough outer layers discarded and finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 1/2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp flavourless oil (e.g. sunflower)
  • 1 onion halved and cut into thin half moons
  • 125ml chicken stock
  • juice of 1/2-1 lime
  • sesame seeds, sliced spring onion, sliced chilli, chopped coriander to garnish
  1. Put the chicken into a bowl with half the chopped lemongrass and half the chopped chilli, reserving the rest for later. Add the sugar, fish sauce and garlic and stir to coat the chicken pieces. Cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least four hours.
  2. Bring the chicken to room temperature before cooking. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over a medium heat and brown the chicken on all sides (do this in batches if necessary). You want it to take on a good caramel colour at this stage.
  3. Add the reserved chilli and lemongrass with the onion and stir fry until the onion begins to soften. Pour in the stock and let it bubble away until the chicken is cooked through and the stock has slightly reduced. Diana says it should be wetter than a stir fry but drier than a braise.
  4. Add the lime juice then check that the balance for sweet and sour is to your liking and adjust with lime juice or sugar accordingly. Garnish and serve with steamed rice and a side of stir-fried broccoli. Baileys chaser optional.

 

 

Carpe diem

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Right, let’s do this.

I don’t usually get the Christmas decorations out until about a week before the big day but this year, which let’s face has not exactly been vintage – corked more like – I feel the need to squeeze every last merry drop out of the festive period.

The thing is, everyone (me included) keeps banging on about what a shocker 2016 has been, but really the shit hasn’t hit the fan yet. It’s going to get a whole lot worse – next year and beyond – before it gets better.

So I say carpe that diem. Embrace the tinsel, big up your baubles and party like it’s your last (which of course, it could well be). In any case, the world seems an infinitely better place when illuminated by fairy lights.

The best Christmas gingerbread ever

img_3386This recipe is based on one given to me by my marvellous mum-in-law, who every year makes the most amazing gingerbread house that actually tastes as good as it looks. Roll the dough out thick and bake quickly and it has a moreish fudgy texture, or roll it thinner and it’s as good as those spicy little flower biscuits you can buy from IKEA.

This recipe probably makes enough dough to fashion a small house, although I wouldn’t know as I’ve never tried (nor do I intend to), but the scaled down amounts (in brackets) will make a batch of smaller biscuits enough to decorate your tree or dunk in tea for at least a couple of days.

  • 250g (85g) unsalted butter
  • 200g (70g) dark muscovado or dark brown sugar
  • 7 tbsp (3 tbsp) golden syrup
  • 600g (200g) plain flour
  • 2 tsp (3/4 tsp) bicarb of soda
  • 4-5 heaped tsp (2 tsp) ground ginger (more if you like it hot)
  • 1 heaped tsp (1/2 tsp) ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp (pinch) ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp (pinch) ground nutmeg or equivalent of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 level tsp (generous pinch) saltimg_3388

 

  1. Heat the oven to 180°. Line two large baking trays with baking parchment.
  2. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, bicarb, spices and salt, then stir in the melted butter mixture and mix to form a stiff dough, adding a splash of water if necessary to help it along. Wrap dough in clingfilm and leave to chill in the fridge for 30 mins.
  4. Roll out dough to the thickness of 2 pound coins (or thinner for a crispier biscuit) and cut out desired shapes. If using the biscuits as tree decorations, cut a hole in each biscuit (I used a pen lid), then bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes (12 minutes for larger slabs) until golden brown.
  5. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack, re-punching the holes if necessary while the biscuits are still warm. When cool, string through ribbon, hang on the tree and admire your work while polishing off all the ones that, ahem, “broke” in the process.

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No pressure cooking

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I never much cared for stew as I child. I could never understand why people got so excited over stringy, muddy tasting meat that had had the joy cooked out of it, nor the exclamations of, ‘just look how it falls off the bone!’, when all I could see, taste and smell was something akin to dog food. To be honest, it took me the best part of four decades to fully come round to the charms of slow cooked meat of any kind.

But come round I have. I don’t know what happened to change my opinion – maybe it was the pulled pork revolution, the soaring price of prime cuts or simply middle age – but I can’t get enough of the stuff, be it braised, roasted or stewed. There is nothing nicer at this time of year, when it’s cold and dark and there are a million and one things to do in the run up to you bloody well know what, than something slowly blipping away in the oven, filling the house with the most warming, welcoming aromas, and cooked to perfection by the time everyone comes tumbling through the front door. All that’s left for you to do is prepare the accompanying starch – which, let’s face it, is usually mashed potato. What’s not to love?

The trouble is, that while it’s true that the oven does most of the work for you, this kind of cooking still requires a degree of forethought and organisation. It cannot be left to the last minute, or hour, or three – or eight if you favour a slow cooker. This is where I fall down. Planning is not my strong point. Most days, I don’t settle on what I’m making for dinner until about 5.30pm never mind chop onions before breakfast. My scatterbrain approach is not a problem if the fridge contains chicken breasts but, as anyone who has ever tried to cook beef shin in under three hours will know, this is not a workable strategy for stew.

This is why I think the humble pressure cooker deserves its time in the limelight. While there has been much enthusiasm surrounding the rebirth of the slow cooker and its ability to allow busy people to slow cook efficiently and without burning down the house, the time-saving (and therefore energy saving) benefits of literally cooking under pressure have been largely overlooked by the cooking public. Granted it’s not very sexy, but a pressure cooker is to the disorganised cook what the slow cooker is to the methodical – a game changer. A get out of jail free card when you’ve left things too late. You do the same prep as you would with a slow cooker or casserole, but clamp that lid on, bung it on the hob and 30-45 minutes later your meat will be as soft and yielding as if it had been bubbling away all day. Kitchen alchemy.

The only problem is my kids have the same aversion to stew as I once did. They too think it resembles dog food. Thank goodness for those chicken breasts…

Lamb and date tagine

…I have also devised certain strategies to fool my children into thinking a stew is not a stew. The first is to affix the adjective ‘pulled’ to any meat I slow cook, thereby endowing it with slightly hipper credentials. The second is to incorporate lots of spice: a curry, a Brazilian pork feijoada (recipe soon) or a slow cooked Mexican chilli tend to be better received than say Boeuf Bourguignon or a Lancashire hotpot. If all else fails, I stick the meat in a wrap and heavily disguise it with cheese.img_3373

You can make this in the oven, set at 150°C for 2-2 1/2 hours until the lamb is soft, or in a slow cooker, but I don’t have one (no room and, because I never go out, no need) so for this you’ll have to refer to the instruction booklet.

Serves 6 or will go even further with the addition of a tin of chickpeas

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.2 kg lamb (shoulder, or leg if you prefer leaner) cut into 3cm chunks
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 large or 2 smaller carrots, coarsely diced
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and coarsely diced
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped (leave seeds in if you like it hot)
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 heaped tsp each of ground cumin and ground coriander
  • 1 level tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • pinch of saffron steeped in 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 300g tomato passata
  • 300g chicken or veg stock
  • 10 Medjool dates, stoned and chopped (don’t worry, these melt down and add sweetness to the sauce)
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional if you like more heat)
  • plain yogurt, chopped fresh mint (or parsley or coriander) and pomegranate seeds to prettify
  1. Season the lamb well with salt and pepper and brown it in batches in whatever pan you are using to make your tagine. Remove each batch with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. If necessary, add a splash more oil to the pan and gently fry the onions, carrots and peppers for 10 minutes until softened.
  3. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a minute, then add the ground spices and cook for a further minute.
  4. Tip the meat back into the pan, then squeeze in the tomato puree and stir to coat the lamb. Let this cook out for a minute, then add the saffron and its steeping water, the passata, stock and chopped dates.
  5. Bring to the boil, clamp on the lid, turn the heat down to a medium flame and cook for 40-45 minutes on high pressure (I like to check about half way through that it’s not catching on the bottom of the pan). Alternatively place in the oven for 2-2 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender.
  6. When cooked, skim off any surface fat and check for seasoning. (If the sauce is a bit loose at this stage, strain off the meat and vegetables and reduce the strained sauce over a high heat until it reaches the desired consistency.)
  7. Serve with rice, cous cous or bulgar wheat, a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and a scattering of fresh herbs and pomegranate seeds. Or if it means your kids will give it a go, in wraps with hummus, lettuce, pine nuts and feta cheese. And don’t, whatever you do, mention the dates.