I’m really happy with this one. It’s a cous cous salad and, as you know, I make a lot of those. This one is different. No, really. Why? Instead of using plain old water to cook the grains I infused it with thyme and star anise and it rocked!!!! To be honest, I stole the idea from Dylan Mc Grath. I had an absolutely amazing dinner in Rustic Stone last week which included a whole sea bream they had on special. One of the things it came with was a kind of grain risotto. I asked what was in it and the waiter listed off about 10 things including thyme and star anise. These two struck me as the place to start (after all I don’t have 10 comis at my beck and call so simplicity tends to be key). All it took was sticking some thyme and a few star anise in the water I steamed the beans for the salad in then using that water to cook the cous cous. Genius.

Star anise, if you don’t know, it is a spice (that is actually star-shaped) that hails from China originally. Although they’re not related, it has the same flavour as anise due to the presence of something called anethole. It’s used all over Asia and is one of the spices in Chinese 5 spice which I’m a big fan of. I love it not least because it’s so pretty. In the past I’ve used it to decorate kitchen shelves, sticking it on with blu tack then leaving it to  send out random bursts of perfume (the state of my current kitchen and its shelves will not be mentioned this week but the end is in sight!!!!)

So, apart from all this spicy loveliness what else is in the salad? Well, first off there’s blood orange. It nearly the end of their season so I had to use them. Then we’ve got broad beans which I always think of as a high summer staple. The Spanish variety have been available for a while and I finally weakened and got some this week. I love broad beans. Some of my absolute favourite dishes are made with them. The root veg that we’ve had all winter are now on the wane and we’re at that crossover stage also known as “the hungry gap” . The Irish summer crops are still a way off (Marc Michel says a month or so for his stuff while we’ve already had the first of this year’s gorgeous baby leaves from the Healy’s) so we supplement our Irish stocks with some Spanish goodies. Finally there’s a generous measure of salty feta which just seems to set the whole thing off perfectly.

Star anise infused cous cous with broad beans, feta and blood oranges

You’ll need:                                                                                           

300gr broad beans shelled

3 star anise

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 cup whole meal cous cous 

100gr feta

1 blood orange peeled and cut into segments then sliced

Olive Oil

Peeled blood orange

Begin by podding the beans. I usually steam them and this time I added 1 teaspoon dried thyme and 3 star anise to the steaming water. The beans take about 2 minutes to steam then you add 2 cups of water to the liquid left over and gently heat it all up. Let the beans cool and while this is going on put the cous cous on a dry pan and begin toasting it over a medium heat until it turns golden. When the grains have changed colour, turn the heat down and add the liquid along with the star anise and thyme. Cook over a lowish heat until the liquid has been absorbed then turn off the heat. Continue stirring adding some olive oil so the grains don’t stick. Let the cous cous cool down while you prepare the other ingredients. Pop the beans out of their skins and then throw them into the cous cous along with the orange slices and the feta. Mix together and taste for seasoning. I didn’t add any salt because the feta seemed to give a big enough hit but you may want a little. We ate this sitting on the back door step in a blaze of sunshine. Roll on the summer!!!!!



Red grapefruit and avocado salad

I know. What was I thinking? It’s blowing a gale out there and I’m making salad???? Well, it’s a filling one, perfect for lunch on its own or as part of a bigger mezze style meal. This is  a  salad that will bring some very welcome sunshine to your plate. Close your eyes and you might just be somewhere else (you may have to put on music to shut out the pelting rain)……

Pink grapefruit and avocado are in season at the moment and this doesn’t actually happen when the weather’s hot unless you live in the Middle East. For us both of these are winter varieties. For the colour alone I had to put these two together and salad seemed like the obvious way to go. I also had some spinach and that seemed like a good bet but when I put the three  altogether with some olive oil, balsamic and a little honey to offset the tart of the grapefuit the result just didn’t seem quite right. Maybe on a blistering hot day in July but right here, right now……… no. First of all, despite the honey, there was still just too much bite from the grapefruit plus a bit more texture was required. What about cous cous? I love cous cous salads especially with avocado so I got to work toasting some up on the pan. Toasting the grains, if you’ve never done it, adds a lovely smokiness  to things. You just stick the cous cous on a dry pan until it starts to turn a lovely golden brown. Then turn the heat way down and add hot water (double the amount of the cous cous is the usual ratio). Stir like mad until all the water has absorbed. At this stage the grains should have plumped up nicely. If they still seem hard, stir in a little more hot water.

Cous Cous

When the cous cous is done stir in some olive oil to stop the grains sticking together. Let it cool down then add some perfectly ripe avocado, sliced grapefruit, finely shredded spinach and then a handful of toasted pinenuts. Has to be good right?

pomegranate molasses

But what about the dressing? I really was beginning to wonder and then a bottle of pomegranate molasses caught my eye. I’d bought it just before Christmas but still hadn’t managed to get round to trying the stuff . Margaret always raves about it and  it’s a staple for Yotan Ottolenghi. So, what is it? Well it’s a pomegranate syrup basically and flavourwise it’s both sweet and sour so very interesting indeed….. especially for salads. One taste and I knew I’d found what was needed. I think this might be the start of something. Apparently you can even make cookies with this stuff. You can get yourself a bottle in any Middle Eastern shop for a couple of yo yos and a lot of delis have it too.



Toasted cous cous salad with spinach, avocado and pink grapefruit with a pomegranate molasses dressing

You’ll need:

1 cup wholemeal cous cous

2 cups hot water and maybe a little more

Maldon salt

Olive oil

1 perfectly ripe avocado

120gr spinach – well washed and finely shredded

1/2 pink grapefruit

2 tablespoons pinenuts

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses plus some more for drizzling on top at the end

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Begin by toasting the cous cous as I described above. When it starts to change colour turn down the heat and add the 2 cups of water. Stir until the water has absorbed adding a little more if the grains haven’t cooked fully. When the cous cous is ready, put it in a bowl and stir in some olive oil. The idea is to coat all the grains so it doesn’t all clump together as it cools down. You can add a pinch of salt at this stage aswell. Set aside and get on with the other ingredients.

Chopped grapefruit

Toast the pinenuts in a dry pan over a medium heat until they start to change colour then remove and set aside. Peel the grapefruit removing the white pith aswell. I find a sharp knife works best for this. Cut the fruit down the middle, set aside one half then cut the other into segments which you then slice. Peel the avocado and chop into smallish pieces. Along with the spinach mix all these ingredients through the cous cous. Be gentle so the avocado doesn’t go mushy.

Make the dressing by putting the ingredients into a jar then giving it a good shake (with the lid on!!!!). Pour over the cous cous and mix the salad again. Taste and add a little more salt if you think it needs it then drizzle with some more mollases and serve. As I said this makes a good standalone lunch especially if you add a bowl of or make a big mezze selection – a nice Spanish omelette, some green salad, olives,  good bread, hummus, roasted  peppers, a block of salty Feta,….. you get the idea. Either way, enjoy!!

Butternut Squash

October 24, 2008

Hi everyone,

This week sees the return of Butternut Squash  which can be used to make all kinds of wonderful soups, gratins and stews. It’s also great served on its own (roasted, boiled, steamed or fried)  then dressed  with a little Sea Salt, Olive Oil and the tiniest dash of Balsamic Vinegar. Flavourwise, it’s earthy and quite sweet (which makes it a great weaning food for babies) and goes very well with Garlic, Leeks, Onions, Potatoes, Chiles, Maple Syrup, Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Parsley, Sage and Orange.
Most recipes call for just the flesh and getting the skin off does look daunting but it’s not really. I find the best way is to quarter it first and then peel. After that, take out the seeds and stringy bits and cut the flesh as required. And what a lot of people don’t know is if you roast your Butternut the skin ends up soft enough to eat which makes things even easier.
One of the simplest ways to cook Butternut comes from a friend who reckons she got the recipe in New Zealand.You basically cut your Butternut in half and stick in the oven so it really couldn’t be less labour intensive…..

Sweet roasted Butternut

Clean the skin and cut the Butternut in half, then roast it softside up for 20 minutes. Turn it over and smear the flesh with Butter,  Brown Sugar, a generous pinch of Sea Salt and either a pinch of Cinnamon or Chili. Return to the oven and roast for a further 30 to 40 minutes depending on the size of your Squash or until the flash has caramelised.
This is fantastic served with Lamb, Pork or some baked Feta Cheese with a cous cous salad dressed with Olive Oil, toasted Pinenuts and plenty of chopped Rocket or Flatleaf Parsley.

I hear it’s going to turn cold this weekend so soup is definitely going to be on the menu in our house. This week’s recipe is for one with Butternut, Parmesan and Thyme and it’s incredibly tasty, filling and guaranteed to warm……………

Butternut Soup with Parmesan and Thyme (for 2)

You’ll need:
500gr Peeled Butternut
60ml Olive Oil
1 small Onion chopped
4 Cloves Garlic finely chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh Thyme leaves or 1 Teaspoon dried Thyme Leaves
750ml Vegetable Stock (as usual I cheat and use Marigold)
2 Tablespoons Double Cream
3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan and some Parmesan Shavings for garnish (make these with your veg peeler)
Sour Cream for garnishing at the end – not absolutely crucial and some regular Cream or Yogurt will also do fine

Heat the Olive Oil in a pot over a lowish heat then very gently sweat the Butternut for about 5 minutes before adding  the Onion, Garlic and Thyme. Continue cooking gently for another 10 minutes. Turn up the heat a little and add the vegetable stock  in 3 stages stirring well between each addition. Bring everything to the boil then reduce to a gentle simmer, season with Salt and Pepper then cover and continue cooking for a further 25 minutes.
To finish the soup off add 2 Tablespoons of double Cream and 3 Tablespoons of grated Parmesan. Check and correct the seasoning if necessary then cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before blending until smooth adding a little more stock if necessary to get the consistency you want.
Before serving reheat and garnish with a drizzle of Sour Cream if you have it and some Parmesan Shavings.
Don’t forget that soup freezes really well so it’s worth making a double or triple quantity (use Spuds and/or Carrots to make up any shortfall on the Butternut front). Freeze in individual portions and then you’ll be able to bring it to work  where you’ll go straight to the top of the recession chic charts!

Roasted Butternut Squash is great in salads and this recipe is a meal in itself….

Warm Roasted Butternut Feta and and Cous Cous Salad (for 2)

You’ll need:
300gr of peeled Butternut per person cut into bitesized pieces
Olive Oil
200gr Cous Cous (I like the wholemeal kind as it has a lovely nutty flavour but it’s up to you)
1 small Onion finely chopped
A handful of Parsley (flatleaf if possible) roughly chopped
120gr Feta Cheese
1 Lemon
Balsamic Vinegar
Roasted Pumpkin or Sunflower seeds if you have them.

Put the Butternut on a roasting tray and with your hands smear about 1 tablespoon of Olive Oil on them then roast in a hottish oven (Gas mark 6 or 200 degrees) for about 30 minutes or until the pieces are soft and starting to caramelise. If you’d like a bit of a kick you can add a little finely chopped dried Chili to the Butternut before roasting.
While the Butternut is roasting prepare the Cous Cous. Most recipes suggest steaming Cous Cous or sitting it boiling water but I learnt a technique from a chef in Barcelona which I reckon works better than anything. Basically you roast the grains on a dry pan as you would seeds and when they start to turn golden brown you turn down the heat, add hot water and stir like mad until the grains have softened and the water is absorbed. After that, turn off the heat and continue stirring so the grains don’t all clump together adding a little Olive Oil. As the Cous Cous starts to cool down you can stir it less and get on with preparing the rest of your ingredients. This recipe calls for 200gr Cous Cous which is about 1 1/4 cups and I’d reckon on adding about 2 cups of water but it’s not an exact science. If you find that the water has evaporated before the grains are cooked add a little more and if you find there’s still water in the pan and the grains are cooked turn up the heat and and stir everything so the excess water evaporates as quickly as possible.
When your Cous Cous is cooked add the Onion, freshly roasted Butternut, crumbled Feta Cheese and Parsley.
To make the dressing, mix 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil with the juice of half a Lemon and a dash of Balsamic Vinegar. Add this to the salad and then adjust (you may find it needs more Balsamic) as needed. Top with some Pumpkin seeds or roasted Sunflower seeds if you have them.

Hope you enjoy the recipes,

Have a great weekend,