Tag Archives: mint

Fattoush for a final summer hurrah

I’m finding it hard to decide if summer is over. Is that it? Are we going to ease into chillier days via a bright, sunny but fairly fresh period of weather. Is it time to get out the lentils, pasta and various potato bakes? Well, not quite. I’ve still found that there is a warmth in the air in the early evening, so at the moment, I’m still quite happy to enjoy fresh salads before succumbing to cheese pasta bakes that will be on the menu come late September. Indeed, this weekend, it seems we are due to get another blast of heat from Continental Europe, so I’m sure we’ll get one last hurrah out in the park with a picnic before the chilly embrace of autumn comes upon us.

I’ve done posted a few salads recently, so today it’s more of the same I’m afraid. One of my favourites is the Middle Eastern fattoush, which is a lovely collection of fairly chunky vegetables, finished off with lots of crisp bread and flavoured with a sharp, lively dressing made with lemon and ground sumac.

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Fattoush can be made with pretty much whatever you have to hand – I’ve used a fairly traditional recipe with cos lettuce, tomato, red peppers, radishes, carrot, parsley, mint, spring onions and cucumber – and finished it with toasted flatbread and a dressing made with lemon juice and sumac (ground red berries that impart a fruity, sour flavour to the dish). This dressing is key – it needs to be fresh and it needs to be sour. However, you can of course add whatever other vegetables you fancy – like shredded red cabbage, mushrooms or onions – there are no hard or fast rules. In fact, onion is fairly traditional, but it can be a little overwhelming in a fresh salad, so I tend to omit it (and anyway, the milder spring onions seem to do the trick here).

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Now, the bread. This is so fundamental to fattoush that it is often called a toasted bread salad. I’ve seen various versions of fattoush that suggest using any sort of bread that you can lay your hands on. I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that this isn’t really the case. When made with things like cubes of sourdough bread, the effect is something more like large croutons than a salad that suggests the warm evening air of the Levant. No, I prefer to use flatbreads (the ones that look like a cross between a tortilla and a pitta), tear them up and toss in olive oil. Popping the bread into a hot oven allows you to keep a close eye on it, so you get pieces that are golden, toasted and crisp, but with none of the burnt bits that you can get it you shallow-fry the bread in a pan.

My three top tips for making excellent fattoush are fairly simple. First, the ingredients should be fresh but at room temperature. Carrots, tomato and radishes taste so much better if they are not icy-cold and straight from the fridge. Second, make sure the dressing is properly sour, made with lemon juice and sumac. This is the proper flavour of this salad. And third, keep the toasted bread apart from the rest of the salad, and only combine the vegetables, bread and dressing just before serving. This will keep the green leaves perky and the bread crisp. The salad tastes so much better if you have all the contrasting textures as you eat it. Colourful, tasty and healthy – you can you resist?

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To make Fattoush:

For the salad:

• 1 large flatbread
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 cucumber, halved and sliced
• 1 cos lettuce, chopped
• 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
• 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
• 6 radishes, trimmed and sliced
• 1/2 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped
• small handful fresh mint leaves, finely shredded
• small handful flat parley
• 1 spring onion, finely sliced
• zest of a lemon

For the dressing:

• 2 teaspoons ground sumac
• 1 tablespoon boiling water
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• salt, to taste

1. Tear the bread into pieces. Add the olive oil, tossing the bread to coat it, and place on a tray and bake in the oven at 180°C (350°F) until golden brown (watch it like a hawk – it goes from golden to burn quite rapidly). Remove and allow to cool.

2. Put the rest of the ingredients into a large bowl and toss to mix.

3. Make the dressing: put the sumac in a jam jar and add the boiling water. Allow to sit for a few minutes. Add the lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Seal the jar and shake vigorously until you have a smooth dressing. Add more lemon juice or olive oil as needed.

4. Serve the salad – add the bread to the salad, add the dressing and toss to ensure everythign is coated. Serve immediately.

Worth making? This is a great salad with lots of tastes and textures, and very fresh thanks to the use of lemon, parsley and mint. Good for a summer’s day as part of a picnic!

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Watermelon and Feta Salad

So we’re still in the middle of a heatwave…so today I’ve got a suggestion for a salad that is part tasty feta, olives and herbs, and part refreshing, juicy watermelon. It’s a funny old time of year. The things I usually love to eat – pasty, pastry, curry or warm lentils – are all just too, too heavy to enjoy when it’s hot by day and still warm by night. This has been driving me to try some new ideas, and this classic Greek combination has been part of my attempts to eat well while still also staying cool.

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Most recipes for watermelon and feta salad seem to be fairly simple – just add some dressing and a few black olives, with perhaps a dash of mint. However, I have a garden and windowsill that have really taken off in the heat, so I was able to pick a selection of baby herb leaves to add to the salad which added some aromatic flavour to the dish. Baby basil, rocket micro-leaves, thyme, oregano and parsley. There would have been dill in there too, but my plant had wilted, but I think it would also make a nice addition. The overall effect of deep pink fruit, white feta, black olived and bright green leaves is really quite stunning on the table.

One little tip – I am normally an advocate for taking fruit out of the fridge well ahead of serving to allow it to come up to room temperature – the flavour is so much better. However, in this dish, you really want the watermelon to be chilled, and if it’s ripe, you’ll still be able to enjoy the flavour of sweet melon with the salt of the feta. One of those dishes that sounds strange, shouldn’t work, but does, and works really well!

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To make a Watermelon and Feta salad:

• 1/2 medium watermelon, peeled and cubed
• 1/2 red onion, finely sliced
• 200g feta
• 70g black olives, quartered
• 2 limes, juice only
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• handful of mint leaves, finely shredded

• 2 handfuls of other herb leaves (depending on what is to hand)

1. Make the dressing – put the lime juice and olive oil in a jam jar. Shake vigorously. Add the red onions and leave to sit for 15 minutes.

2. Put the watermelon in a large serving dish. Add half the mint and half the other herbs, then toss lightly. Add the black olives and crumbled feta, trying to arrange them artfully on top (presentation is all!).

3. Pour the dressing over the salad, then sprinkle over the rest of the mint and the herbs, and serve right away.

Worth making? This salad is super-easy to make and fantastic as part of a casual lunch in the garden. It’s also very more-ish, and oh-so-easy to keep picking at pieces of feta and watermelon.

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Pumpkin Pita Pie

When it comes to selecting blogging themes and developing ideas, pretty much everything I do is based on ideas I have or some sort of national or international event (Olympics, Royal Wedding, Norwegian National Day), but from time to time it’s nice to get a suggestion of something new. And so it was then I was recently asked by the folk at Sunvil Supper Club if I wanted to try a recipe for pumpkin pita pie. It sounded rather nice, so I thought I’d give it a go and said yes.

At this point, I’ll share a learning from a now-wiser person – don’t agree to do anything when you are on holiday, as you will feel for a couple of weeks as if you have all the time in the world. Then you arrive back home in your blissed-out state, only to realise you’re up against the baking clock. Eek!

Anyway, this recipe is for a Greek savoury pie combining the sweetness of squash with the saltiness of feta, and enlivened with a dash of mint. It’s all quite easy to make, although I did come up against two little issues during my attempt.

First, the recipe wasn’t too clear about whether I should be using just tinned pumpkin puree, just mashed up butternut squash, or some combination. I think it was a choice, rather than both, and the fact I failed to read the recipe until I got home was a bit of a bummer. I had just come back from the United States, where the shelves were groaning under the weight of tinned pumpkin. But could I find it in Clapham? Nope. I had a look in a few stores, but wherever it was, it was hiding from me, and I just gave up (remember that jet lag?). I went instead for the idea of just mashing up a whole squash. That seemed the way that a Greek granny would do it, so I should do that too.

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The second thing I grappled with a little bit was the way that the pie should be formed. I assumed you lined the tin with several layers of pastry, brushing with olive oil between each layer, then dump in the filling, then cover again with more filo. However, it was (inevitably) more complex than that, involving preparing sheets of pastry, brushing with oil, adding a little filling, rolling into a cigar shape, then lining them up in a coil in the pan. Once you know what you’re doing it’s a breeze, but I would advise you not to use a pastry brush for applying the olive oil. Just put the oil into a bowl and dip your palm in there. It’s more fun to do it this way, and your hands will end up nice and soft.

To finish off my pie, I took a bit more filo and tried to wrap it artfully into a sort of swirl on top, and when it came out the oven, it did indeed look golden and inviting. The flavour of the pie is superb – rich sweetness and sharp salt, topped with very crisp pastry, complemented by a green salad (as suggested in the original recipe). This pie is tasty while warm, but is also nice cold, so I’m looking forward to wedges of this over the next few days for lunch.

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However, if I were to have another go at this recipe, I’d make one little tweak. Instead of the pie shape, I would instead make smaller fingers of the filling wrapped in filo, like mini savoury strudels. Christmas is just around the corner, and we’ve all the need for handy little recipes that we can use to wow our guests. This should be super-easy to make ahead of time, then just pop into the oven, serve with drinks and enjoy the kudos.

However, if you’re convinced the by the coiling approach, this is how it looks – rather nice, yes?

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To make a Pumpkin Pita Pie (adapted, original recipe here):

• 1 large butternut squash (around 500g once peeled)
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 onions
• 340g feta, crumbled
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint
• 2 tablespoons uncooked rice or bulgar wheat
• freshly ground black pepper
• 400g filo pastry

Prepare the squash:

1. Peel the squash, remove seeds and chop into chunks. Place in a large bowl with a spoonful of olive oil and mix with your hands until the squash is coated. Put the squash chunks into an overproof dish, and roast in the oven at 200°C (400°F) for around 45 minutes until tender and the edges are just starting to brown. Turn off the heat, and leave the squash until cool (easiest to do this the night before, and leave to cool overnight).

Make the filling:

2. Chop the onions, and saute with two tablespoons of olive oil until they are lightly browned and translucent. Leave to cool.

3. Take the cooled squash and mash or puree as you prefer. I like chunks of squash, so prefer to mash and leave some texture.

4. In a bowl, combine the squash, feta, cooled onions, eggs, mint, black pepper and rice/bulgar wheat. Mix until combined, but make sure you still have visible pieces of feta.

To assemble to pie

5. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Get hold of a large springform pan (the recipe called for one that was 14 inches (35cm), mine was nearer 9).

6. Take a piece of filo pastry. Lay it lengthways in front of you, and brush olive oil on the lower half (or smear with your hands). Brush again with oil. Add a little of the filling along the middle of the strip, then roll into a cigar. Aim for 1 inch (2.5cm) diameter. Brush with olive oil, or rub with oily hands.

7. Repeat the process, placing each roll into the pan, start at the edge, to build up the pie. You should end up with some sort of spiral. To keep things neat, arrange the rolls with the seam underneath, and lay the coils in the tin as tightly as you can.

8. One all the filling has been used, brush the top of the pie with a little more olive oil, then bake for around 50 minutes until the top of the pie is a rich golden colour.

Worth making?This is a classic flavour combination, and works very well in a pie like this. The mint is a welcome addition. Highly recommended, either as a pie or as the basis for festive party food (just reduce the cooking time).

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Spicy Lentils with Mint and Goat Cheese

I’m still in the post-Christmas health kick phase. There has been lots of walking instead of taking the bus, “body attack” classes at the gym, and I’m still sticking with my attempt to cook lots of healthy dishes based on lentils and beans. So mostly, I’ve been feeling the effects of exercise on a scale that I’m really not use to – ouch!

But on the culinary front – we did beans last week, so today, it’s lentils, and one of my favourite easy dishes.

This dish basically consists of lentils in a spicy tomato sauce that is enlivened with crumbled goat cheese and some shredded fresh mint. You’ve got a filling lunch or supper which is, in turns, warm, spicy, creamy, tangy and minty-fresh. It therefore lends itself very nicely to this time of year, but it’s equally suited to a lazy lunch or dinner on a warm day (remember those? Just a few months to wait…).

This is one of those dishes that is easy-peasy. I know that so many blogs promise recipes that are “really easy” (which begs the question – would anyone really post a recipe that requires three days in the kitchen???), but I promise you, this really, really is. You essentially throw everything into a pot, and then let it simmer slowly until the lentils are tender. Allow to cool slightly, then add the cheese and mint – job done!

For the spices, you can pretty much go with whatever you have to hand, so take this more as a guide rather than any sort of precise list. I like to add turmeric (for a slight yellowish tinge), paprika or piment d’Espelette, a dash of cumin and coriander, dried oregano and thyme, and a few cumin and mustard seeds for busts of flavour. Most likely I have never used the same combination twice – I just go with what I see in the store cupboard.

If you’re after more depth of flavour – and don’t mind some extra steps in the cooking process – you can fry the spices before adding the lentils (either dry fry or cook in a little olive oil), but that is about as complicated as this dish gets. I often fry the spices in oil, but when I’m in a lazy mood, I go for the “all in” approach and it works just fine.

The only thing that I add towards the end of the cooking process is a tiny pinch of salt – I read somewhere that it can make lentils tougher if added too early. I have no idea is this is true or not, but it’s become one of my kitchen rituals, so I guess it’s a habit that I am stuck with.

To make spicy lentils with mint and goat cheese (4 portions):

• 250g brown or green lentils
• spices, according to taste (around 4 teaspoons in total)

• 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
• stock cube or salt

• goat cheese or feta, crumbled
• fresh mint leaves, chopped

Rinse the lentils and put into a large saucepan with the spices.

Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, then add the tomatoes and simmer until the lentils are tender (around 30 minutes). Season with the stock cube or salt, then keep cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Serve warm or cold, with crumbled goat cheese or feta and some chopped fresh mint.

Worth making? Definitely worth making – this is quick, easy and very, very tasty. Tweak the spices according to preference, and you get a delicious lunch for the next day too!

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Chickpea and Herb Salad

Summertime…and the living is easy….

…and standing next to the stove is not really appealing. Quick, light and fresh are the words of the moment, so here is a chickpea salad which hopefully ticks all these boxes, and is healthy to boot. So it’s a quick post for a quick dish.

The idea behind this is pretty much based on the ingredients in hummus, but rather than purée the lot, things are just mixed in a bowl, and each ingredient is allowed to shine through. Then just throw in a little spice and some fresh herbs, and you’re done. If you want to jazz things up, add some toasted pine nuts or almonds or a little Parmesan or feta cheese. The recipe can also be made vegan-friendly by skipping the yoghurt.

Easy!

To make chickpea and herb salad:

• 2 x 400g tins of chick peas
• 3 tablespoons lemon juice
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 tablespoon tahini
• 1 tablespoon natural yoghurt
• ½ teaspoon paprika(*)
• ½ teaspoon ground cumin
• Handful of chopped herbs (chives, basil, mint, oregano…)
• 2 large lettuce leaves, finely shredded

Rinse the chickpeas, pick out any black ones, and leave to drain.

In a bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, tahini, yoghurt, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper and mix well. Taste the sauce and adjust according to your preferences.

Add the chickpeas, 2/3 of the chopped herbs and the shredded lettuce. Toss the salad until everything is coated.

Just before serving, scatter the rest of the chopped herbs over the salad.

Worth making? This is a very easy dish to make either as a main or a side, and can be endlessly adapted depending on what you’ve got in the cupboard.

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Mamma Mia! Pea Shoot Risotto

OK, mamma mia indeed.

I can imagine Italians out there rolling their eyes as yet another cook thinks this is a way to jazz up a risotto, and how odd to do it with an ingredient as English as pea shoots. I, of course, being Scottish, would be outraged at that suggestion. Just kidding! Bring on the creativity.

Now, let’s start by admiring the grace of the pea shoot. Very art nouveau, isn’t it?

The idea for this risotto came to me from seeing quite a few recipes recently for pea shoot pesto. Now, I flatter myself that I can make a pretty darn good risotto anyway, and I make a version with peas and mint that is usually very well received. So it was not much of a mental hop, skip and jump to combine pea shoot pesto and my risotto. Literally – make the risotto as usual, but stir in the pesto right at the end, so that the intensely fresh “pea” flavour of the shoots is retained.

I ummed and aaahed a little about how to approach the pea shoot pesto.

I had initial plans to make something involving olive oil, cashew nuts and Parmesan, but I did not want to detract from the delicate flavour of the shoots. So instead I added the pea shoots to a blender with a little water, and blitzed them to a puree. I left this mixture to drain in a strainer – the liquid that drained off went into the pot early to give the rice a jaunty green colour, and the now-slightly-drier puree went in at the last minute.

The result was a brilliantly green risotto – bring, fresh and very spring-like. A nice counter-balance to all those chocolate eggs and hot cross buns we’ve been eating of late.

To serve 4 (or 2, with lots left over):

For the risotto

• 25g butter
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped (optional)
• 250g arborio rice
• 1 glass dry white wine
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 litre vegetable stock
• 120g peas (fresh or frozen)
• 50g Parmesan cheese, grated
• handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons cream

For the pea shoot paste:

• 100g pea shoots
• cold water

Start by making the pea shoot paste – rinse the shoots, then put most of them in a blender with some water (keep a few for decoration) and blitz until smooth. Transfer to a sieve and allow to train (reserve the liquid).

Next, start the risotto. Melt the butter and olive oil in a pan over a low heat. Add the onion and fry gently until translucent. Add the garlic (if using) and cook for another 30 seconds.

Add the rice, raise the heat to medium, and fry for 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Add the wine, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the rice seems “oily”. Add the black pepper, the liquid from the pea shoots and the stock (one ladle at a time, stirring well after each addition). Add more stock when the previous addition has almost evaporated.

Once all the stock has been added, add the peas and cook the risotto to the desired consistency (some like it runny, some like it thick). Add the Parmesan cheese, stir well, and remove from the heat. Stir in the cream, chopped mint and pea shoot paste, then and allow to sit for two minutes with the pot covered.

Serve with a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan and an artfully arranged pea shoot.

Worth making? If you are a risotto fan, this is a great version for spring time. The result is impressive and looks stunning on the plate, and all for not too much effort.

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