Chickpea and lemon pasta

My sister and I are definitely planners. It is something we tease each other about. I make lots of lists to organise myself, so much so that I didn’t realise that my husband wasn’t a lists person at all for several years as my list making had dominated over his more free flowing style. When it was suggested to my sister that she had a spontaneous weekend she immediately began blocking out the hours for spontaneous activities, suggested a spontaneous visit to an art gallery and was booking tickets in case the exhibition was fully booked before it was pointed out that this didn’t qualify as “spontaneous”.  However, no matter how much you plan and organise, life is unpredictable and it is always useful to have a few store cupboard dinners up your sleeve for those times when dinner plans change and you haven’t bought something to cook (though I do realise planning for the unexpected is maybe planning too much!).  Crab pasta is a store cupboard favourite of ours as it is easy to have some dried pasta and tinned crab in the cupboard and these tend to go well with a whole range of sauce ingredients, from a tomato sauce (based on passata, tomato puree or fresh tomatoes if you have them) to a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of chilli, or just a dash of olive oil and garlic.  I wanted to challenge myself by making a vegan version of this tried and tested staple and decided to replace the crab with finely mashed chickpeas for that creamy texture with a vegetable stock cube to enhance the savoury, salty flavour. I usually either make a lemon or tomato sauce for crab pasta and in an indecisive mood went for both combined, alongside some broccoli for a bit of fresh greenery

Chickpea and lemon pasta

Cooking time: 20-30 minutes

Dietary info: vegan (see the tasty twists for gluten-free options)

Serves: 2

  • 80g dried wholemeal spaghetti, or 125g fresh wholemeal spaghetti
  • 1 broccoli, the stem spiralized or coarsely grated, and half of the florets chopped into bite sized pieces (you don’t need the other half of the florets – you can steam these and serve them on the side if you want)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
  • 150g dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked as per the packet instructions, or 1 can chickpeas drained for last minute dinners (about 300-400 cooked chickpeas)
  • 1 vegetable stock cube (make sure it is vegan for a vegan / dairy free dish)
  1. Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions in a pan of boiling water (about 4 minutes for fresh spaghetti, 10-12 for dried), drain and rinse with water to stop it getting too sticky
  2. Mash the chickpeas with the vegetable stock cube, either by hand or in a food processor for a finer mash
  3. Put the garlic, broccoli florets and chopped tomatoes in a non-stick frying pan with a splash of water to stop them sticking along with the lemon zest, pepper, salt and cardamom until the tomatoes start to break down and the broccoli starts to soften (about 3-4 minutes)
  4. Add the spiralized broccoli and mashed chickpeas and cook for 1-2 minutes until the broccoli is just starting to soften, then stir in the cooked spaghetti and lemon juice and cook for a further 1-2 minutes so that everything is heated through. Serve with steamed green vegetables or a salad

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Cook and mash the chickpeas and keep them in a sealed container in the fridge for 2-3 days
  • Chop and spiralize the broccoli the day before and keep in a sealed container or bag in the fridge until you need them
  • Measure out the salt, pepper and cardamom and keep in a sealed container at room temperature for up to a week
  • However, this is all very easy to make on the night with no preparation ahead (if you are using tinned chickpeas, otherwise you need to cook the chickpeas ahead), which is why it makes a good last-minute dinner


A few tasty little twists…

  • This recipe was originally developed as crab pasta, so unsurprisingly works well with crab. To make it as crab pasta replace the mashed chickpeas and vegetable stock cube with 1 prepared crab, or 1 tin of brown crabmeat and 1 tin of white crab meat, drained
  • To make this recipe gluten free replace the spaghetti with gluten free pasta, rice noodles, or extra spiralized vegetables. If using rice noodles check the packet to make sure that they are 100% rice
  • To make a lighter dish, replace the spaghetti with a spiralized courgette
  • To make this more substantial, double the amount of spaghetti or serve with crusty bread or garlic bread, though shop bought garlic bread may not be dairy-free / vegan if you want to make a dairy-free / vegan dish
  • To make this even more store cupboard, replace the tomatoes with 2 tbsp. tomato puree, use frozen broccoli florets instead of fresh (don’t worry about spiralizing any of the broccoli) and use tinned chickpeas, then all you need is fresh lemons. You can use bottled lemon juice but I have never liked the taste much




Sausages with apple sauce and mash

I’ve written before about my love of apples, my parents apple tree and how, for me, autumn is the time of apples (see my blog on cheese and apple patties with celeriac mustard sauce). Luckily my mother-in-law shares my love of apples so, as she is visiting this weekend, we went to a local apple day where we saw and tasted lots of beautiful apples with weird and wonderful names, from tiny yellow pimaston pineapples (which despite their name, are in fact an apple) to the magnificent green and red orbs of Howgate wonder and many others in between. Afterwards we all went to my parents house for dinner where we ate baked hake with apple and celery (apple actually goes surprisingly well with fish) and had a choice for pudding of apple crumble, tarte tatin or baked apple: you would never guess they had an apple tree in the garden! You’d think after all of that I would be complete appled-out, but here I am writing yet another apple recipe, and being slightly reminded of the Margaret Mahy book I read as a child called “Jam” about a family who have a plum tree from which they make enormous quantities of jam. They then end up eating jam for all three meals a day, dreaming of jam and only just finishing the last jar when the first ripe plums begin to fall the next autumn. Luckily I am not at that point yet and am still very much enjoying munching my way through lots of apples. This recipe is a twist on two classics: sausages and mash and roast pork with apple sauce. These came together as sausages and apple sauce, and when we were wondering what to use to add a little more liquid to the mash we decided to use a bit of the apple sauce turning it into apple mash as well: you cannot have too much apple in my opinion!


Sausages with apple sauce and mash

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Dietary info: dairy-free, vegetarian/vegan if you use vegetarian/vegan sausages, see the tasty little twists for gluten-free ideas

Serves: 3-4

  • 8 chipolatas or 6 sausages (meat, vegetarian or vegan) – see the tasty little twists
  • 300g potatoes
  • Salt to season
  • A squeeze of lemon juice to season

Apple sauce

  • 2 small Bramley apples, or other cooking apple
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp garlic powder (smoked )
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 200 ml water, plus extra if needed
  1. Remove the core from the apples and chop them finely. I don’t peel the apples as I love the skin but if you prefer your apple sauce very smooth then you can peel them before you core and chop them
  2. Put the apples with all of the other apple sauce ingredients into a saucepan and simmer, covered, until the apples have broken down into a smooth sauce (about 15-20 minutes), stirring occasionally to help them break down. If you want an extra smooth sauce you can puree it
  3. While the apple sauce is cooking, wash and slice the potatoes then steam or boil until they are soft (a fork can be easily inserted, about 10-15 minutes), then mash or puree with 2 tbsp. of the apple sauce and season with salt and a splash of lemon juice
  4. Once you have the apple sauce cooking and the potatoes steaming, put the sausages or chipolatas in a frying pan and cook over a gentle / medium heat. This will allow them to release their fat and cook in their own fat rather than having to add extra oil. Cook them until there is no pink in the centre if you cut into them and the outsides are getting a little crispy. This will probably take 15-25 minutes. It is a good idea to turn them every 5 minutes or so to make sure every side is cooked
  5. Serve the sausages or chipolatas with the mash and apple sauce on the side

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the apple sauce and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days
  • Make the mash and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days
  • On the night, cook the sausages or chipolatas and reheat the apple sauce and mash (in saucepans, the microwave or the oven) until hot all the way through (about 3 minutes in the microwave, 3-5 minutes on the hob, 5-10 minutes for the oven) and serve
  • You can also cook the sausages a day or two ahead and just reheat them in the frying pan or oven on the night


Some tasty little twists…

  • As suggested, make this dish vegetarian or vegan by choosing from the large range of vegetarian and vegan sausages now available
  • Make this dish gluten-free by selecting gluten-free sausages or using pork loin or pork steaks instead of sausages
  • Whether you are using meat, vegetarian or vegan sausages, experiment with different flavours. I tend to use quite plain or herby sausages with this recipe to allow most of the spice flavours to come from the sauce but don’t feel bound by this. I am sure some of the more exotic or spicy sausages would also make a nice variation
  • Wrap the chipolatas or sausages in streaky bacon and bake them in the oven (about 15-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the sausage at fan 160C) for a pigs in blankets variation. As you might guess, this one is a winner for my bacon loving husband
  • Another variation suggested by my husband is a kind of sausage&mash toad-in-the-hole. Instead of encasing the sausages in batter as you normally would for toad-in-the-hole, put the cooked sausages in an oven proof dish, spread the mash over them (leaving bits of sausage poking out) and bake for 15-20 minutes at 160C fan until the top of the mash and any bits of sausage poking out are nicely crispy. This can be an easy way to heat up the sausages and mash together if you have prepared them all before and you can put them all in the oven proof dish a day or two ahead, cover the dish and keep in the fridge until you need them then put them straight into the oven
  • Use the apple sauce with any other pork dish e.g. roast pork, pork steaks, bacon sandwiches  etc., or with fish like my parents do. It really does go surprisingly well, providing a freshness but not being too sharp and overpowering


Crispy chickpea salad with aubergine baharat dressing

We eat a lot of salad: we normally have a big bowl of mixed vegetable salad with our dinner and also experiment with different grain or protein rich salads, although almost always with a hefty amount of vegetables in there too.  This wasn’t always the case. When I first met my husband I don’t think he really considered salad as a food (well, not unless it was mainly meat with a lot of creamy dressing and minimal green vegetables).  However, over the years I have brought my husband round to the idea that vegetables aren’t a lesser food and he is now just as much as of a vegetable salad lover as I am. In fact, he is usually the one who makes the salad while I prepare the main dish when we cook dinner together, and if he has to go away for a few days for work he normally requests dinners with a lot of vegetables and salad as soon as he returns.  Even when we make main course salads we usually have a side salad too, though my husband remarks that his former self would be horrified if he had know that one day he would happily eat salad with a side of salad.  However, the wonderful thing about ‘salad’ is that it is so broad that there must be a salad for everyone out there.  Although the immediate picture in my mind when I think ‘salad’ is a light spring or summer dish, this salad has bold, spicy flavours from the baharat (a Middle Eastern spice blend) and rich textures perfect for autumn or winter (and for people who don’t usually think that they like salads).

Crispy chickpea salad with aubergine baharat dressing

Cooking time: 15-20 minutes preparation, 30 minutes cooking (excluding the time to cook the chickpeas)

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 2-3

  • 200g dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked according to packet instructions (or 400g can chickpeas)
  • 1 tbsp baharat seasoning (see the tasty little extras section for a spice mix if you don’t have, or don’t want to use, ready-made seasoning)
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • 1 aubergine, cut into slices lengthways (each slice about 3-5mm thick)
  • 200g Calvo nero, chopped

Aubergine baharat dressing (this recipe can easily be doubled)

  • 1 onion, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 aubergine, top cut off but otherwise left whole
  • 300ml passata
  • 50ml water
  • 2 tsp baharat seasoning
  • ¼-½ tsp salt
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  1. For the sauce, put the onion halves and the whole aubergine in the oven at 160C fan and bake for 30 minutes, until they are both soft
  2. Once the onion and aubergine are soft, blend all of the dressing ingredients together until they are smooth. If you don’t have a blender, peel the aubergine and mash the flesh, chop the onion and skin of the aubergine very fine and mix these together with the other sauce ingredient
  3. Put the cooked chickpeas on a baking tray, coat them with the 1 tbsp of baharat seasoning and bake them at 160C fan for 20-25 minutes, or until they are crispy on the outside but not completely dry on the inside
  4. Steam the calvo nero until it is soft (about 6-9 minutes) and cook the aubergine. My favourite way to do the aubergine is to cook it over a high heat in a griddle pan until it is soft and has lines from the ridges in the pan seared into both sides (about 3-4 minutes per side depending on how thick the slices are and how hot the pan is). However, if you don’t have a griddle pan, bake the aubergine for 10-15 minutes in the oven, turning half way through, until it is soft. The baking option also requires less babysitting so is easier if you are trying to prepare several things in parallel. Once the aubergine is cooked, cut it into strips 1-1.5cm wide
  5. Mix the aubergine and calvo nero together with enough of the dressing to coat them (about 4-6 tbsp) and sprinkle the baked chickpeas on top. Serve hot or cold, with the remaining dressing on the side

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the aubergine baharat dressing and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week
  • Cook the chickpeas then bake them with the spice mix and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for 4-5 days
  • Chop the calvo nero and aubergine the day before and keep in sealed containers or bags in the fridge until you need them
  • Then on the night just cook the calvo nero and aubergine, heat through the dressing (in a pan or the microwave) and chickpeas (in the oven), and assemble the salad
  • If you want the salad cold you can also cook and assemble the vegetables the day before then just sprinkle over the chickpeas just before you serve to keep them crisper

A few tasty little twists and extras…

You can make this salad more substantial by mixing in some cooked grains such as bulgur wheat or farro (or wild rice or quinoa for a gluten-free version), or serving with warmed flatbread.

Although I have called the aubergine baharat dressing a ‘dressing’ as it is being used to coat a salad, it makes an excellent sauce for stews, bakes and a variety of other dishes so it is well worth making double quantities of and freezing half or using in the same week in one of these other dishes:

  • Mix the sauce with 1 sliced onion, 1 sliced green pepper and either diced lamb, or chickpeas or butter beans (for a vegan version) and bake in the oven for 1 hour (for lamb, only 30 minutes for chickpeas). This is nice served with a dollop of yoghurt (if you aren’t making a dairy free version) and some rice or flatbread on the side
  • Cook 300g of spinach in the sauce in a saucepan, make 4 dents in the surface of the spinach and break an egg into each dent. Put the lid on the saucepan and cook for 4-6 minutes until the eggs are steamed through. Serve with crusty bread for a light vegetarian meal
  • Use as a sauce on the side of grilled steak, lamb chops or chicken pieces served with some brown rice and steamed greens
  • Cook some sliced onion and aubergine chunks in the sauce and stir into pasta for a very quick and easy meal


If you can’t get any baharat seasoning then you can make your own similar spice mix:

  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon or cassia
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 20 grates nutmeg
  1. Mix all of the spices together and store in an airtight container (makes about 2 tbsp)

You can also make a simpler version:

  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp mixed spice


Thai style chicken (or tofu) salad

I usually like making my own spice mixes, curry pastes and sauces because I love the smells and textures of cooking from scratch, as well as the possibility of tailoring everything to your personal tastes.  However, there are a lot of excellent ready made mixes and pastes available and sometimes I want to use my time and energy on things other than making everything myself. After a busy weekend recently I bought a jar of red curry paste to make a quick and easy weeknight dinner, which meant that I then had some red curry paste left over. I hate to waste anything but didn’t want to make another red curry in the same week so searched my brains for a different way to use it up.  I always like browsing recipe cards and food magazines as well as cook books to look for new ideas and I came across a Thai salad with a peanut and chilli dressing on a recipe card. I hadn’t tried peanut salad dressings before so thought I would try making one with peanut butter and red curry paste alongside my failsafe dressing ingredients of vinegar and soy sauce.  For the salad I kept the ingredients simple to save on preparation time while still having enough textures and flavours to make it interesting so opted for crunchy beansprouts, sweet grated carrot and aromatic coriander, topped with shredded chicken.  This salad also makes a nice vegetarian or vegan dish if you swap the chicken for one of the alternatives suggested in the tasty twists section and use (or make) a vegetarian curry paste.  If you do have time and energy to make your curry paste from scratch I have included my cheat (i.e. quick and easy rather than 100% authentic) recipe in the extras section, which can also be used to make Thai red curries of course.

Thai style chicken salad

Cooking time: 20 minutes to bake the chicken, 10 minutes for everything else

Dietary info: dairy free (see the twists section for vegetarian, vegan and gluten free variations)

Serves: 2

  • 2 skinless chicken thighs, baked and shredded
  • 300g beansprouts
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1 small bunch coriander, chopped  (cook the stems along with the beansprouts if they are tough)

Peanut dressing

  • 3 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 scant tbsp crunchy peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  • Juice of ½ lime
  1. Mix together all the dressing ingredients to a smooth sauce. It is easiest to mix them evenly if you gradually add the liquids to the peanut butter and curry paste. Heat through for about 1 minutes (in the microwave or a small saucepan) just to cook the curry paste
  2. Bake the chicken thighs at 160C fan until they are cooked all the way through ie. no pink in the centre and the juices run clear. This will probably take 15-20 minutes
  3. Steam the beansprouts, along with any tough coriander stems, for 3-5 minutes until starting to soften but still crunchy
  4. Mix the beansprouts, grated carrot and coriander together with half of the dressing
  5. Shred the chicken thighs with 2 forks and scatter over the salad. Drizzle with the remaining dressing

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Bake and shred the chicken and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for 2-3 days
  • Mix together the dressing and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week
  • On the night heat through the dressing, prepare and cook the vegetables and assemble the salad

A few tasty little twists and extras…

  • For a vegetarian version swap the chicken for cooked Quorn chicken style pieces or quartered boiled eggs and use a vegetarian curry paste (see below)
  • For a vegan version swap the chicken for chunks of tofu, tempeh or vegan Quorn pieces and use a vegetarian curry paste (see below). Cook the Quorn as per the packet instructions, or bake the tofu / tempeh with a splash of soy sauce
  • For vegan and vegetarian versions make sure that your Thai red curry paste is vegetarian as most contain shrimp paste (I have put a quick cheat version of a Thai red curry paste below that is vegan)
  • If you don’t have time to make a vegan Thai red curry paste, you can replace it with chilli sauce or 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp chilli powder, 1 tsp ground ginger or galangal, and some grated lime zest.
  • For a gluten-free version use a gluten free soy sauce and make sure that the curry paste is gluten free (or make the one below)
  • To bulk this out serve the salad with rice or noodles, mix quinoa into the salad for a fusion style dish, or wrap it in tortilla

This curry paste is quick and simple to make, especially if you have a blender.  If you are making a non-vegetarian version you can also add 1 tsp shrimp paste.

Cheat vegan Thai red curry paste

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 4 people as part of a red curry or the salad above (i.e. enough for double the salad recipe)

  • 1 heaped tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 stalk lemon grass (fresh or dried), finely chopped
  • 1 heaped tsp fresh galangal or 1 tsp galangal powder
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 small bunch coriander, stems and leaves chopped (about 10-15g)
  • 3 sliced or crushed kaffir lime leaves (I use dried ones)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  1. Put all of the ingredients in a blender and blend to a paste, adding a bit of water if needed. If you don’t have a blender just chop the ingredients as finely as you can and mix together with a splash of water.

Sweet potato and cinnamon swirl soup

“In every challenge lives a greater opportunity” (Jeffrey Benjamin).  I don’t find avoiding dairy products much of a challenge but it is an opportunity for creative cookery: trying to create new dishes or recreate favourite dairy dishes in a dairy free way.  The weather has taken a decidedly autumnal turn in the last few weeks which has put me in the mood for warm and comforting food: thick, slightly sweet, steaming soup the colour of autumn leaves hits all the right buttons. I love the look of a bowl of soup served with a swirl of cream or crème fraiche in the middle so my challenge to myself was to recreate that swirl without using dairy. I decided to solve this by making a second, smaller batch of white soup. Thinking about the swirl had planted the thought of cinnamon swirl buns firmly in my head, and although I wanted to make a savory soup, I thought that cinnamon would go nicely with one of my favourite vegetables – sweet potato – which was also fortunately the right colour and texture for the soup I had in my mind.  Now the thought of dessert was lodged in my mind, I used another sweet for inspiration for the seasoning of the white soup too. I once had a wonderful chocolate from Hotel Chocolat that was flavoured with lemon and cardamom. I thought those two flavours went perfectly together and would provide a nice sour balance to the soft, sweet flavours of the cinnamon and sweet potato. Finally I added some stock, chilli and pepper to enhance the savoury flavours of the vegetables and make sure that this definitely tasted like a main course, not the desserts that had provided the inspiration.

Sweet potato and cinnamon swirl soup

Cooking time: 10 minutes preparation, 20 minutes cooking

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 3

Sweet potato and cinnamon soup

  • 1 sweet potato  (400-450g)
  • ½ cauliflower
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 2 pints of water
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp mild chilli powder

Cauliflower swirl soup

  • ½ cauliflower
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 pint water
  • Extra salt and lemon juice to season both soups
  1. Put all of the potato soup ingredients into a saucepan and all of the cauliflower swirl ingredients into a different saucepan and simmer both until soft
  2. Once the vegetables are soft blend each (separately) to smooth soups
  3. To serve, put the potato soup in a bowl and the cauliflower soup in a jug then pour a swirl of cauliflower soup into the potato soup

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make both soups and store in separate sealed containers in the fridge for up to 6 days
  • On the night, heat both soups through in saucepans and serve

A few tasty little twists…

  • To make a more filling meal, or to serve more people, Serve with bread or stir some cooked red lentils into the potato soup
  • Make the soups into sauces by halving the amount of water in each then use to make a bake:
    • Mix cooked gnocchi, pasta, lentils or beans (the quantity will depend on how many people you want to feed, the packet should have a guide on portion size) with enough of the potato sauce to coat
    • You can also stir in some cooked vegetables to increase your vegetable intake e.g. spinach, broccoli, sweetcorn, green beans
    • Pour cauliflower sauce on the top of the bake to cover it with about 2-5mm of sauce
    • Bake in the oven until the top is getting a little dry and crispy (about 20-30 minutes)
  • If you are short of time and don’t mind not having the swirl when you serve, the sweet potato soup is also perfectly nice served on its own, perhaps with a squeeze of lemon juice to season


Salmon (or beans) with dill pickle sauce

We almost always have a box of homemade pickled cucumber in the fridge to have on the side of meals after having it with a Persian recipe from the Spicery and loving the zingy flavour it added to the dish. The advantage of making pickles yourself is you can put a lot less salt and sugar in them than there is in shop bought pickles and although they don’t last as long it is very easy to make up a big batch of the vinegar then just make a weeks worth of the pickled vegetable at a time. This may not be a very authentic way of making pickles but we really like them and I wanted to find a way of taking the fresh and tangy flavour and making it into sauce. I decided to pair this sauce with salmon because I think the sharpness of the vinegar is a perfect balance to the richer, oily taste of the salmon.  Salmon is also one of my favourite fish and is high in omega oils. The contrast in taste and texture means the pickle sauce also works well with other oily fish such as mackerel, and it can also be used to dress bean salads as a vegetarian or vegan alternative.

Salmon with dill pickle sauce

Cooking time: 20 minutes for making the sauce and other preparation, 10 minutes to bake the salmon

Dietary info: dairy free, pescatarian

Serves: 2-4 depending on how many salmon fillets you use

  • 2-4 salmon fillets depending on how many people you are cooking for

Pickle sauce

  • ½ a cucumber
  • 1 small bunch of dill (about 20g), chopped and bottoms of the stems and smaller stem/leaf bits separated
  • 150ml rice or white wine vinegar
  • 3tbsp soy sauce (if you want to make this gluten-free use a gluten-free soy sauce or just add extra salt to taste)
  • 2 onions, diced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp sugar or sweetener such as Stevia
  • 1 heaped tsp grainy mustard
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • Water
  1. Put the onion, sugar (or sweetener),  salt and mustard in a small pan with enough water to cover (about 100ml). Simmer until the onion is soft and the water has evaporated (about 15 minutes), topping up the water if needed
  2. Blend the cucumber,  soy, vinegar and dill stems to a smooth sauce
  3. Stir in the dill small stem/leaves, softened onion and lemon juice
  4. Put the salmon fillets in an oven proof dish and put a tbsp of sauce on top of each and smooth over the fillet to cover
  5. Bake for about 10 minutes until the salmon is cooked through (opaque and flaky) and serve with the remaining sauce and any sides you want (e.g. salad, steamed vegetables, crusty brown bread, mashed potato, beans etc – see the twists for celeriac mash)

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the sauce and keep for up to 6 days in the fridge
  • On the night just coat and bake the salmon and heat through the sauce (bring to the boil in a pan or 3 minutes in the microwave)
  • If you are serving with the celeriac mash below, make the mash and store it in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days then heat it through in the microwave or a saucepan before serving so that it is hot all the way through (3-4 minutes)

A few tasty little twists and extras

  • Swap the salmon for other oily fish such as mackerel, or for chicken
  • For a vegan alternative use the sauce as a dressing for a bean salad: mix 200g cooked beans such as butter beans or cannellini beans, finely diced tomatoes and baby spinach leaves together and dress with the pickle sauce.
    • You can experiment with different combinations of vegetables in the bean salad e.g. green beans, peas, peppers, rocket or swap the beans for cooked green lentils for more variety
    • For a vegetarian version, top the bean salad with some grilled halloumi, baked goats cheese or crumbled feta

This celeriac mash is a bit lighter than potato mash and I think it has a more interesting flavour.  It is also incredibly simple to make.

Celeriac and pickle mash

cooking time: 5 minutes preparation, 10 minutes steaming the celeriac

Dietary info: vegan

Serves: 4 (easily halved)

  • 1 celeriac, chopped and steamed
  • 4 tbsp of the pickle sauce (see recipe above)
  • Salt to season
  1. Steam the celeriac until soft (about 10 minutes)
  2. Blend or mash the celeriac and pickle sauce together until smooth and season with salt


Son in law tofu

Have you ever been to a restaurant and wanted to try most of the starters or side dishes but not been that bothered about the mains? There are so many delicious starters and sides that you tend to only get a few mouthfuls of but are easily good enough to be the star of the show. I think it can be fun to bring these to centre stage and appreciate how delicious they are rather than letting them hide on the side lines.  Son in law eggs are a popular Thai street food: a deep-fried egg with crispy shallots and tangy tamarind sauce that is usually eaten as one of several little dishes.  The rather gruesome story behind their name is that Thai mothers would serve them to their sons in law as a warning: suggesting that the eggs could be replaced by the son in law’s family jewels if they didn’t treat their wife well. Despite this nasty history the taste is delicious and is the inspiration for this dish. I have made it vegan by replacing the eggs with turmeric tofu, and tried to make it a bit healthy by making the tofu baked and the onions braised rather than deep fat fried and reducing the sugar in the tamarind sauce.

Son in law tofu

Cooking time: 10 minutes preparation, 20 minutes cooking time

Dietary info: vegan

Serves: 2

  • 1 block firm tofu
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 small bunch coriander, washed and chopped
  • Nam prik (see the tasty little extras) or lime juice to serve

Topping onions

  • 2 red onions sliced
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion granules
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • Water to cook

Tamarind sauce

  • 4 heaped tsp tamarind powder (or paste)
  • ½ tsp sweetener such as Stevia or sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp amchur
  • ½ tsp ground galangal
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • 50ml water, with extra if needed
  1. Drain the tofu, wrap it in kitchen paper to absorb some of the liquid and crumble it into bite sized chunks.
  2. Mix the tofu with the soy sauce and turmeric with the tofu, put in an ovenproof dish and bake at 160C fan for about 20 minutes, until the tofu is getting a bit crispy on top
  3. Mix the onion in a saucepan with the garlic, onion granules, salt and chilli powder and enough water to stop them sticking and cook over a medium heat until they are soft and the water has evaporated
  4. Put all of the tamarind sauce ingredients into a small saucepan, adding the water gradually to prevent lumps forming, and heat over a medium heat until it comes to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. You can add more water if it gets too thick
  5. To serve, put the tofu in a dish, top with the onions, drizzle with the tamarind sauce and finish off with the a sprinkling of chopped coriander and some lime juice or nam prik (see the tasty little extras for a cheat version) on the side to season

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Cook the tofu and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days
  • Make the onion and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days
  • Make the tamarind sauce and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days
  • On the night you just have to heat through each part of the meal (in the microwave or the tofu in the oven and the onions and sauce in saucepans) until hot all the way through (about 1-5 minutes), chop the coriander and assemble

A few tasty little twists and extras…

  • If you want to make a bit more of a feast, this dish is great served alongside jungle curry
  • For a vegetarian version that is much closer to the original, replace the tofu with 4 eggs: boil the eggs until the white is firm but the yolk is still a little runny, then peel them, heat a few tbsp of vegetable, sunflower or coconut oil in a frying pan and brown the eggs in the oil until their outside is crispy. Cut the eggs in half and serve topped with the onions, tamarind sauce and coriander
  • For a gluten-free version replace the soy sauce with ½ tsp salt or a gluten free soy sauce and make sure that you are using gluten-free tamarind.
  • To bulk this meal out serve with boiled rice or rice noodles and steamed oriental vegetables
  • The tamarind sauce makes a good salad dressing or dressing for steamed beansprouts or Asian greens and I often like to make double or triple quantities when I make it

Nam prik is a spicy chilli sauce used in Thailand. There are lots of versions and this one isn’t very authentic but it is my quick fix to use on the side of Thai dishes. I have used soy sauce to make this vegan but you can replace this with fish sauce for a more authentic Thai taste.

Cheat’s Nam Prik

Cooking time: <5 minutes

Dietary info: vegan

Serves: 2 on the side of a Thai main meal

  • Juice of ½ a large (or 1 small) lime
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ – 1 tsp chilli flakes depending on how hot you like your food
  • A pinch of sweetener such as Stevia or sugar
  1. Mix all of the ingredients together in a small saucepan and heat gently until the sweetener or sugar has dissolved.
  2. Serve as a dipping sauce or to spoon over a Thai main meal


Gammon stir fry with sweet plum sauce

Although many people mourn the end of the summer, I really love the autumn because of all the wonderful fruit that suddenly floods into the shops.  Last week I wrote about my love of apples, and how early the crop on my parent’s tree has been this year.  I have noticed (with excitement!) that even though it is still summer, lots of other autumn fruit has started to appear in the shops too and I have been enjoying using it in my cooking.  One of my favourite stir fry sauces is sweet chilli sauce as it has a wonderful balance of sweet, salty and sour.  Last time I made a sweet chilli stir fry I used gammon to accentuate the saltiness and slices of plum for some balancing sweet and sour.  I thought that the addition of fruit worked well but wanted to incorporate the plums more fully into the dish. Therefore I decided to make a sweet plum and chilli sauce. The plums bring a lovely fresh sweetness to the sauce so, unlike most shop bought sauces you don’t have to add lots of extra sugar.

Gammon stir fry with sweet plum sauce

Cooking time: 15-20 minutes for the sauce, 15-20 minutes for the stir fry

Dietary info: dairy-free, gluten-free if you use a gluten-free soy sauce

Serves: 2

  • 1 gammon steak (about 300g), cut into strips about 1-1.5cm wide and 3-4cm long
  • 6 large leaves of savoy cabbage, sliced
  • 150g beansprouts
  • 200g plums (about 5 small plums), stoned and sliced

Sweet plum sauce

  • 200g plums (about 5 small plums), stoned and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp star anise powder (or 5 spice powder)
  • ½ – 1 tsp chilli flakes (depending on how hot you want it to be)
  • ½ tsp cornflour
  • 4 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 100ml water
  1. Put the plums for the sauce in a saucepan with the garlic powder, ground ginger, star anise, chilli flakes and corn flour and stir to combine
  2. Gradually add the vinegar, soy sauce and water, stirring so that the powders don’t form into lumps
  3. Cover and simmer on a gentle heat for about 15 minutes until the plums have broken down to form a thick sauce. Stir about every 5 minutes to help the plums break down and to stop the sauce sticking to the bottom of the pan, adding extra water if it gets too thick.
  4. Put the sliced cabbage in a non-stick frying pan with a splash of water and cook for 3-4 minutes until it is just starting to soften.
  5. In a separate pan, cook the gammon strips with 1 tbsp of the plum sauce until they are opaque all the way through (about 4 minutes)
  6. Add the sliced plums, 4-6 tbsp of the plum sauce and the beansprouts to the cabbage, stir to coat everything with the sauce and continue to cook until the vegetables are cooked to your liking (about 4-6 minutes), adding the gammon for the last minute of cooking

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the plum sauce and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for 4-5 days
  • Slice the cabbage and keep in a sealed container or bag in the fridge for 1 day
  • Then on the night you just have to slice the plums and gammon, cook the vegetables and meat and combine

A few tasty little twists…

  • For a vegan version, marinade slices of tofu or tempeh in a splash of soy sauce, bake or grill them until cooked through and going a little crispy on the outside (20-25 minutes for baking, 10-15 minutes to grill) and add to the stir fry at the end to replace the gammon
  • To bulk the recipe out, serve with noodles or rice
  • To reduce the amount of salt in this dish replace the gammon with strips of pork
  • Replace the gammon with sliced duck breast for a quick and easy take on Chinese duck with plum sauce, or serve this sauce with roast duck, Chinese pancakes and batons of cucumber as a lower sugar alternative to shop bought sauce

Cheese and apple patties with celeriac mustard sauce

When I was 8 we moved to a house with a large Bramley apple tree in the garden. Since then the autumn has been inextricably linked with the smell of cooking apples and we have had as much baked apples, apple puree and apple pie as we want. This year the apples have come earlier than we’ve ever seen before and the tree is already heavy with them. Apples are one of my favourite foods so I have been thinking of ways I can include them more in my cooking. Bramley apples are not too sweet, with a lovely sharp tang so I think they make a good addition to savoury as well as sweet dishes. When we were children I remember my mum would sometime give us slices of crunchy apple with sticks of cheese as a snack and the crisp acid of the apple was a perfect balance to the salty creaminess of the cheese. That childhood snack was my inspiration for these patties, where I have combined the apple and cheese with celeriac to add an earthy base note to compliment the sweet and salty flavours.

Cheese and apple patties

Cooking time: 10 minutes preparation, 30-35 minutes cooking

Dietary info: vegan if you use vegan cheese, otherwise vegetarian

Serves: 2-3

  • 1 large cooking apple, cored and grated, no need to peel unless you hate the skin (I used a Bramley apple)
  • ½ a medium celeriac, washed, peeled and grated
  • 50g cheese, grated (I used vegan cheese, but if you don’t want this to be vegan/dairy-free you can replace with cheddar, edam or gouda)
  • 150ml water
  • 100g wholemeal flour
  • 30g oatmeal
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  1. Mix the flour, oatmeal, baking powder, salt and water together to make a batter then add the grated apple, celeriac and cheese.  Stir well until the apple, celeriac and cheese are well mixed and evenly coated in batter (the batter will tend to stick into clumps)
  2. Spoon tbsps of the patty mixture into a frying pan and cook in batches over a high heat for 30-60s per side until slightly browned then transfer to a non-stick baking tray and bake for 25-30 minutes at 160C fan
  3. Serve with the sauce (below) and steamed green vegetables, or for more serving options see the tasty little twists section

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Measure out the dry ingredients for the batter (flour, oatmeal, baking powder, salt) and keep in a covered container at room temperature for up to a week.
  • You can wash and peel the celeriac a day ahead and keep it in the fridge until you grate it. I would not recommend grating the celeriac, apple and cheese ahead of time as they might oxidise / dry out
  • If you are very short of time on the night, you can make the pattied completely, store in a sealed container in the fridge for 1-2 days then reheat them for 5 minutes on a baking tray at 160C fan when you want to eat them
  • Make the sauce (below) and store it in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Reheat in a saucepan or in a microwave safe container in the microwave until hot all the way through (2-4 minutes) on the night

Some tasty little twists and extras…

These patties are nice but feel more like a snack on their own rather than a meal. To make them into a meal you can serve them with the sauce below and some steamed vegetables or salad as suggested above or you can try some of these options:

  • Apple goes very well with pork so if you aren’t going for a vegan / vegetarian option, serve these with some sausages (although you could use vegan or vegetarian sausages to keep the meal meat free), bacon or pork chops, maybe glazed with a mixture of 1 tsp honey, 1 heaped tsp grainy mustard and 1 tbsp water. Serve with the celeriac sauce, some pureed cooked apple or mustard on the side
  • You could also thread chunks of diced pork, diced chicken, or Quorn (for a vegan or vegetarian option) on a skewer, alternating with slices of apple, glaze them with the honey mustard glaze above and cook them under the grill or on a BBQ
  • Top the cooked patties with ham and some extra grated cheese and finish under the grill for a light lunch. For a vegetarian / vegan version swap the ham for a handful of spinach cooked in a pan with a pinch of salt and tsp of mustard until the spinach is wilted and most of the water has evaporated.

You can also swap the grated celeriac in these patties for grated carrot or parsnip for variety.

Mustard and celeriac sauce

Cooking time: 10-15 minutes to steam the celeriac, <5 minutes to prepare and make the sauce after that

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 3-4 as a side

  • ½ medium celeriac, chopped and steamed until soft
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 200ml water
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  1. Blend all the sauce ingredients together into a smooth sauce (a food processor is the easiest option for this, but you can also mash the celeriac by hand then mix with the other ingredients) and heat through in a saucepan or a microwave safe bowl for 2-4 minutes before serving


Tempura prawns in blankets

This recipe breaks most of my blogs normal rules: I’m not making the claim that deep fat fried food is healthy, and most of this dish needs to be made on the night rather than prepped ahead. However, it was my husband’s birthday this week and I always like to create something a bit special as a treat for him. I have written before about his love of all things battered and of bacon, and his particular love of tempura prawns. I’ve never been brave enough to cook them for him before as his absolute favourite ones are made by the noodle restaurant he’s been going to for over a decade and I was worried mine wouldn’t be up to scratch. I screwed up my courage this year and decider go for a twist on tempura prawns inspired by “pigs in blankets” hoping that the addition of bacon would make up for them not being the tempura prawns he has known and loved for so long. They seemed to go down very well and as they are also quick and easy to make I wanted to share the recipe, especially as I’m firmly of the belief that a treat every now and then is good for you. We also served this with a salad which in my husbands book means it counts as healthy food anyway.

Tempura prawns in blankets

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Dietary info: dairy free

Serves 2-3

  • 235-250g king prawns
  • 1 packet bacon (about 200g)
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup water, which has been kept in the fridge for at least 1 hour, preferably longer
  • 1 egg
  • Sunflower or vegetable oil for frying
  1. Cut the bacon into strips about 1cm wide and 10cm long. Wrap each prawn in a strip of bacon
  2. Sift the flour onto a plate and start heating the oil (about 3cm deep in a medium saucepan) until a piece of batter dropped into the oil sizzles
  3. Beat the egg lightly until the yolk and white are just combined then stir in the cold water
  4. Sift in the sifted flour into the egg and water (so it gets sifted twice – this helps keep the batter light and lump free) then mix to combine: chopsticks work really well for mixing as they don’t introduce too much air into the batter
  5. Dip each bacon wrapped prawn in the batter to coat it then drop it in the oil and fry for a few minutes until golden brown. Don’t worry if the bacon slips off the prawn, it will still taste nice if the prawns and bacon are fried separately.
  6. Remove the prawns from the oil with a slotted spoon or fork and put on kitchen towel to remove some of the excess oil.
  7. Put the fried prawns on a baking tray in an oven at the lowest setting to keep them warm and crispy while you fry the remaining prawns.
  8. Serve with sweet chilli sauce (see the tasty little twists) or soy sauce for dipping and some steamed oriental greens or salad

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • This is really a dish to make on the night so there’s not much you can do ahead. If you really want to do something you can:
    • Measure out the flour and keep in a covered container at room temperature for up to a week
    • Measure out the water and keep in a container in the fridge overnight
    • Cut the bacon up the night before and keep in a sealed container in the fridge overnight


A few tasty little twists and extras…

  • If you subscribe to my husbands philosophy that everything tastes better with bacon and batter (which he has put into practice over the years battering a wide variety of foods including chips and black pudding) then you can swap the prawns in this recipe for pretty much any other food, but some particularly nice substitutions include swapping the prawns for scallops, thin strips of chicken (take extra care that they are properly cooked through), or par-boiled asparagus spears
  • If you want a vegetarian version, then most vegetables make good tempura so swap the prawns and bacon for your favourite vegetables . Some of my personal recommendations are aubergine slices , sliced peppers,  oriental mushrooms, thin par-boiled slices of squash or sweet potato, thin slices of carrot, par-boiled asparagus spears or baby corn. You can also use slices of tofu, preferably marinated to boost the flavour
  • If you want a vegetarian version that keeps the wrapping element, wrap batons of vegetable or tofu in thin, 1cm wide strips of another vegetable such as carrot, beetroot, sweet potato or courgette. Use a peeler or spiralizer to get the thin strips of vegetable

I love homemade sweet chilli sauces, and tend to make mine more tangy and less sweet than shop bought varieties.  This version is very quick and simple to make, a good consistency for dipping and a nice accompaniment for any of the tempura variations described above.

Sweet chilli dipping sauce

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free if you use a gluten-free soy sauce

Serves 2-3 as a dipping sauce

  • 5 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ – 1 tsp sugar or stevia, to taste
  • ½- 1 tsp chilli powder depending on how hot you like it
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Juice of half a lemon
  1. Mix the cornflour to a smooth liquid with 1 tbsp of the vinegar in a small saucepan
  2. Stir in the rest of the vinegar, the soy sauce, sugar or sweetener and chilli powder and heat, stirring until the sauce thickens enough to coat a spoon
  3. Stir in the lime and lemon juice and serve with the tempura