Maille Culinary Challenge: Harissa and Lemon Mustard Chicken

Harissa and Lemon Mustard Chicken with Date and Almnd Cous Cous

Harissa and Lemon Mustard Chicken with Date and Almnd Cous Cous

If you were to take a look in my perpetually overloaded fridge, you may worry that I have something of a mustard obsession.  At the very minimum I will keep four types in the fridge:  good old English mustard for ham sandwiches, wholegrain for salad dressings, Dijon for sauces and a bright yellow tube of French’s American mustard for squeezing over burgers or zig-zagging over hotdogs.  As well as this, I have a tin of mustard powder in the cupboard, which often makes its way into shortcrust pastry and my favourite cheese, chive and mustard scones, and a stash of both horseradish and wasabi.  I love the kind of heat that you get from those ingredients, the kind that, unlike the heat from chillies, blasts you in the nose and sends a pulse of fire through your sinuses.  I love it to the point of addiction, so was very happy to be approached by Maille to take part in their culinary challenge.

Maille is a brand of mustards, sauces and oils from France that started in the eighteenth century.  Despite the fact that they have, in recent years, branched out into other ingredients, it is mainly for their mustard that they are known.  Their boutique in the Piccadilly Arcade is like a mecca for condiment lovers – I never thought I would covet a £29, 125g pot of mustard with chablis and black truffles, but somehow I managed.

From the list of products they sent me, the one that caught my eye was a mustard with white wine, lemon and harissa.  The prospect of the dry heat of mustard combined with the chilli pepper punch of harissa presented the opportunity for some exciting flavours.  This recipe is for a a simple chicken in mustard sauce with the middle eastern influences of harissa, mint, lemon and oregano. It is a quick and simple dish that can be made in under half an hour, so is perfect for a weeknight meal.  The tomato and harissa cut through the cream and mustard and the nuggets of pomegranate seeds and the dates in the cous cous provide a sweetness that matches the flavours surprisingly well.  The dish would work perfectly well without the additional teaspoon of harissa but, if you live with a chilli fiend, as I do, it adds just that little extra punch.

As if the condiment shelf in my fridge wasn’t full enough, it seems I may have to make room for another.

In the bowl

Harissa and Lemon Mustard Chicken with Date and Almond Cous Cous

For the chicken:

  • 6 boneless chicken thighs, cut into strips
  • 3 tbsp Maille Mustard with White Wine, Lemon and Harissa Spices
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • ½ tsp dried mint
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp harissa
  • 180ml hot water
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp double cream
  • 1 tsp fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp pomegranate seeds

For the cous cous:

  • 125g cous cous
  • 10 dates, roughly chopped
  • Handful of almonds, roughly chopped
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Place the chicken thighs in a large shallow dish.  Spoon over the mustard and mix to coat the chicken thoroughly.  Cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate in the fridge for a minimum of two hours, but preferably overnight.

In a large saucepan over a medium heat, gently fry the onion in the olive oil until translucent, 5-10 minutes, be careful not to let it brown.  Once cooked, stir in the dried mint, dried oregano, tomato puree and harissa.  Pour over the hot water and stir until smooth.  Season with the salt and pepper and cook for 15-20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Whilst the chicken is cooking, make the cous cous by placing it in a bowl and then covering it with just enough boiling water so that it is submerged.  Cover with clingfilm and leave for ten minutes or so, until the water is absorbed.  Fluff the cous cous with a fork and stir in the dates and almonds.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Once the chicken is cooked through, lower the heat and stir in the double cream.  Check the seasoning.  Remove from the heat and sprinkle over the fresh mint and pomegranate seeds to garnish. Serve with the cous cous.

Serves 2-3 as a main dish.


Two Lemon Cakes

Spring has sprung?

Spring has sprung?

If there’s one thing I like to keep a constant supply of in my kitchen, it’s lemons.  I just bloody love their versatility – a slice is equally at home in a cup of hot water to start the day and in a large gin and tonic to end the day, and their juice livens up everything from cakes to curries.  Honestly, without lemons the world would be a very dull place.

Despite the fact that I love baking and run a baking club, I’ve been trying not to make too many sweet treats of late in an attempt to control my weight prior to my wedding in June.  I kid you not, I have actually been having anxiety dreams where my beautiful wedding dress, that is currently hanging in the shop storeroom, does not fit on the day.  So you may notice that there haven’t been as many cake recipes as there were last year, which makes it all the more strange that there are two today.

This week has been a bit of an exception; although I managed to get through the oft-calorific Easter weekend succumbing only to half a Lindt chocolate bunny and a slice of the chocolate and raspberry tart I made to follow the Easter lunch (more on that later); I did have too occasions on which I had to dig out the cake tins. 

Lemon and poppy seed cake.  Photo by Naomi Knill.

Lemon and poppy seed cake. Photo by Naomi Knill.

The first was a mercy mission and entirely necessary:  delivering cake to my friend Naomi, housebound after having a gorgeous new baby boy.  Going right to the back of my baking cupboard, I found an unopened bag of poppy seeds that had slipped down the back, so decided to make the lemon and poppy seed loaf from Skye Gyngell’s excellent cookbook, How I Cook.  It is a gorgeously robust loaf, made lighter with the addition of some whisked egg whites and made decadent with a syrupy glaze.  Quite a snack for a sleepless night. 

Lemon and prosecco cake.  Straight from the oven, pre-glaze.

Lemon and prosecco cake. Straight from the oven, pre-glaze.

The second was simply that we are having another Band of Bakers event this evening, this time with a ‘springtime’ theme.  I haven’t made an actual cake for Band of Bakers for a while – so far this year I have made a tart (chocolate and salted caramel), scones (cheese, chive and mustard) and miscellaneous puffs (caramelised onion, Gruyère and London Pride) – so it is long overdue.  This cake is from a recipe by Gennaro Contaldo and caught my eye a while ago due to the inclusion of some booze:  a lemon and prosecco cake.  What I love about it is that it contains a mere 150g of flour but six whole eggs, with the yolks and the whisked whites added at separate stages, which means that the texture is more akin to a flourless cake than to a traditional sponge.  The dominant flavour is definitely lemon, with the prosecco providing something of a fuzzy backnote, but it is totally delicious.  As a pudding with a drizzle of fruit coulis (and a glass of bubbles, obvs) it would be perfect for any springtime lunch table.

Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

For the cake: 

  • 115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 175g caster sugar
  • Zest of three large lemons
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 35g poppy seeds
  • 275g plain flour
  • 2½ tsp baking powder
  • 230ml whole milk
  • 4 egg whites (from large eggs)

For the syrup:

  • Juice of two lemons
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 170°c / 340°f / gas 4.  Grease a medium loaf tin and line with baking parchment.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in the lemon zest, vanilla and poppy seeds.  Sift together the flour and baking powder and beat this into the mixture.  Pour in the milk and stir again.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Gently fold a third of the egg whites into the batter using a metal spoon, then repeat with the remaining egg whites.

Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the centre of the oven for around one hour, until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes.

In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice and icing sugar until you have a smooth syrup.  Whilst the cake is still in the tin, spoon the syrup over the top.  Leave to soak in for 20 minutes or so and then turn out on to a wire rack.  Using a pastry brush, brush any remaining syrup on the top and sides of the cake.

From Skye Gyngells’s ‘How to Cook’.


Lemon and Prosecco Cake

For the cake:

  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 100g caster sugar
  • Zest of 3 large lemons
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 150ml prosecco
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder

For the glaze:

  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 4.  Grease a 24cm springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until they are light and creamy.  Beat in the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and vanilla extract.  Gently beat in the flour and baking powder.

In a separate bowl, or in a freestanding mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff.  Gently fold a third of the egg whites into the batter using a metal spoon, then repeat with the remaining egg whites.  The batter will be quite loose.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 150°c / 300°f / gas 2 and bake for a further 20 minutes.  You will be able to tell that the cake is ready as it will have risen and the edge of the cake will have shrunk away from the sides of the tin.  Leave to cool in the oven with the door slightly open.

The cake will collapse and condense a little, but this is fine.

Once cooled, mix together the ingredients for the glaze (it will make a very small amount) and brush lightly over the top of the cake.

Adapted from a recipe by Gennaro Contaldo.

Leftovers Love

I woke up this morning and almost turned off my alarm, believing I had another day off.  The cruelty of it all.  Judging by the expressions on the faces of my fellow commuters on the Peckham Rye – Victoria this morning, you would think the world, not the bank holiday weekend, had ended.

Much like, I expect, everybody else, I spent most of the weekend overindulging on food and drink.  One of the highlights was the great Ox Roast at The Ship who, in conjunction with Flat Iron, had procured a 250kg longhorn steer, fed it on a diet of London stout and roasted it on a spit for us all to enjoy.  For the bargain price of £12, diners were each given a plate of the ox meat, along with a baked potato and some salad, and a pint of the very stout the beer had been fed on.  My bovine pile of joy came from, as far as I could tell, different parts of the ox and had the wonderful combination of being quite rare in some places and rather well-cooked in others.  The flavour was phenomenal, with a deep beefy flavour and a massive whack of smoke.  Even eating it standing up in a slightly windy pub garden was a joy.

My plate from The Ship / Flat Iron Ox Roast

My plate from The Ship / Flat Iron Ox Roast

 As well as this, I was quite busy in the kitchen.  Especially on Sunday when we slow-roasted a whole lamb shoulder for lunch with my parents and dug out our Ottolenghi cookbooks to make a range of salads to accompany it:  cous cous with tomato and onion, spinach with dates and almonds and, my favourite of all, squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses.

As with many of Ottolenghi’s recipes, the title doesn’t tend to give much away about the structure of the dish.  ‘Squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses’, taken from his first and eponymous cookbook, is actually a plate of roasted squash, scattered with a medley of seeds and accompanied by possibly the best sauce ever:  one made of burnt aubergines and pomegranate molasses.  It is fairly similar to a baba ghanoush in the sense that it contains aubergines charred over an open flame (to give them a smoky flavour when you aren’t in possession of a smoker), lemon juice, olive oil and garlic.  The omission of tahini and addition of pomegranate molasses is where the difference lies, making it less nutty and far sweeter than the traditional middle-eastern dip.

On Easter Sunday, drizzled over the seed-encrusted squash, this sauce was excellent, but what really impressed me was its ability to bring the leftovers to life.  Pulling all of the clingfilmed bowls and tupperware from the fridge to cobble together a meal of leftovers can often be a bit uninspiring, but the addition of something fresh can perk it up a bit (my personal lifesaving ingredients are hot sauce, fresh bread or a poached egg) and a bowl of the burnt aubergine with pomegranate molasses did just that.  On Monday I found myself with some cold lamb shoulder, a few spoonfuls of cous cous and some squash wedges which, with a bag of salad leaves and the seeds of half a pomegranate, made a fairly respectable lunch.  What made it brilliant was covering it with huge blobs of the burnt aubergine sauce, dropped from a height with a spoon.

Leftover roast lamb with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses, pomegranate seeds, squash, cous cous and salad.

Leftover roast lamb with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses, pomegranate seeds, squash, cous cous and salad.

 I think there are few that would not agree with Ottolenghi’s ability to combine some of the most beautiful middle-eastern flavours to create dishes that home cooks can replicate.  Food from this region has been growing in popularity for some time and ingredients are becoming more widely available.  I am lucky to have the excellent Persepolis in my neighbourhood, which sells a huge range of gems from the middle east, but I am also reliably informed that you can pick up items such as pomegranate molasses in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.  Lamb with aubergine is not a new partnership, but it is a good one, and one that I keep coming back to in a multitude of ways.  Previously, any lamb that didn’t make its way on to the Sunday lunch plates would find itself in a shepherd’s pie; I think now it will find itself covered in a slater of this smoky, sweet, garlicky aubergine sauce.

Burnt Aubergine and Pomegranate Molasses

  • 1 medium aubergine
  • 150g natural yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1½ tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp flat-leaft parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Roast the aubergine over an open flame on the hob for around 10-15 minutes until the it softens and the skin becomes black and charred.  I usually place the aubergine directly on the flame and then use tongs to turn it every couple of minutes.   Once cooked, set aside to cool for a couple of minutes.

Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the cooked flesh of the aubergine and roughly chop it. Leave to drain in a colander for a few minutes and then transfer to a medium bowl.

Mix the aubergine with the other ingredients and serve.

From Ottolenghi’s ‘Ottolenghi’.

Yalla Yalla, Fitzrovia

Yalla Yalla

Yalla Yalla

There’s an exchange that happens in my office at least once a week:

Me:  “What’s on the lunch menu for today?”
Colleague:  *Downloads canteen lunch menu*, *reels of a list of boring dishes*
Me:  “Sod it, I’m going to Yalla Yalla.”
Colleague:  *Without looking up* “Can you bring me back a halloumi wrap?”

Yalla Yalla is always the kryptonite that breaks those weeks when I am trying to eat healthily or not spend too much money on buying lunch.  With a wedding looming, and a very unforgiving wedding dress to squeeze into, those weeks are becoming more and more frequent.  However, the healthy options from nearby boring salad bars and the cheapo options from the staff canteen can never compare to the sheer middle eastern delights on offer just a mere hop, skip and a jump away on Winsley Street.  And I KNOW that I should be making my own lunch at home and bringing it in and all that, but I am disorganised.  Also, somewhere in our building is a person who likes to pinch other people’s lunch.  My friend had some sushi nicked the other day and she was very annoyed about it.

Anyway, Yalla Yalla has a little takeaway counter that sells a range of different wraps, as well as coffee and those little sticky pieces of baklava that I just love.  I have tried most of the wraps now, and my favourite is the lamb shawarma, something I feared I would forever have to trek to the Edgware Road for, and the simple falafel wrap (not quite as good as Mr Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush but, in my mind, nothing is).  The wraps are priced anywhere between £4 and £5 and are well-made and delicious.  You have to wait a little while, especially during the busy lunchtimes, but it is worth it.

Takeout halloumi wrap

Takeout halloumi wrap

Despite being a frequent visitor to the counter, until Wednesday I had only ever eaten in at Yalla Yalla once before; at their beautiful little original site at Green’s Court.  On Wednesday, Claire and I met there for a very speedy lunch to share news on weddings and house renovations over some baba ghanoush.  There are two ways that you can eat in at Yalla Yalla:  you can order one of the mezzes as a starter and then move on to their menu of middle-eastern main dishes, such as a moussaka, mixed grill or grilled seabass; or you can order a range of the mezzes and share.  Being always keen to try as many dishes as possible in one sitting, I have yet to opt for the former, although I have cast many a desirous eye over the Lahem Meshoue.

During my two visits to Yalla Yalla, plus many jaunts to the takeaway counter, I have worked my way through a large number of the mezzes on offer and have found myself to be impressed with most of them.  The houmous, the stalwart of any middle-eastern restaurant, demanding the most perfection, is beautifully smooth and not overloaded with either lemon or garlic, which many restaurants have a tendency to do.  One of my favourite dishes is the houmous shawarma, a small bowl of houmous topped with a hefty portion of grilled lamb spiced with, among other things, cumin and cinnamon.  The baba ghanoush is equally as fine, with the smokiness not overpowering the aubergine flavour and a slightly loose texture.  The addition of pomegranate seeds on the top makes it a little more special.  Both of these come with a basket of flatbreads which, although delicious, with only three small ones between two, never seems like quite enough.

Houmous shawarma

Houmous shawarma

Baba ghanoush

Baba ghanoush

Always wanting to include a little greenery into my lunch, I will often order the tabbouleh or the fattoush, either as a side to the wrap or as part of the mezze.  The tabbouleh is very similar to those I have eaten in the middle east, very heavy with parsley and mint and, unlike the more westernised versions, with the cracked wheat taking more of a backseat.  The fattoush is also delicious, but I’ve always hoped that it would be a bit sharper with vinegar, but that may just be my personal taste.

Tabbouleh (right)

Tabbouleh (right)



Other favourites include the chicken rakakat, little chicken-filled pastries that have the appearance of spring rolls but the flavour of a kebab, complete with a huge kick of harissa, and the halloumi meshoue , which feels like a little bit of Greece with its olive oil, black olive and fresh mint dressing.

Chicken rakakat

Chicken rakakat

Halloumi meshoue

Halloumi meshoue

In addition to this, they have some delicious Lebanese reds and whites, something that popped on to my wine radar a few years ago when out with a friend whose approach is far more sophisticated than mine (if they’re French, they probably know what they’re talking about), and those little cups of strong, sediment-filled Turkish coffee that will safely pull you out of your food coma just in time for an afternoon back at the office.

Whilst not entirely perfect, it is one of the best examples of middle eastern food in London, and keeps me coming back for more.  They do get very busy around lunch and dinner and don’t take reservations (who does these days?!)  If you’re an expert on this kind of food, you may find that it is a little too wide-reaching, as it does encompass food from many regions and there are more country-specific places out there, however it is a great introduction.  For only £35 for lunch for two (with wine), it is also very kind to the wallet.

Yalla Yalla, 12 Winsley Street, London W1W 8HQ.  There is also a restaurant at Greens Court, Soho and a pop-up on Shoreditch High Street.

Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon

On Using Up What You Have

My, aren’t we a busy bee this week?  Seriously though, I have had so much to do I have barely had time to sit down, let alone write.  Mostly this has been to do with my job at a certain public service broadcaster, it’s awards season, don’t you know (dahling) and I have been super busy.  It’s not been all bad, though, at the weekend our dear friends Simon and Natalie came to visit us from Bristol and we had a weekend of mostly eating and drinking.  Saturday night was a Peckham extravaganza of pizza and wine at The Gowlett (Gowlettini, in case you’re interested), eye-poppingly strong pisco sours and keeping it real at Peckham Springs and then some gimlets and martinis at the Peckham Refreshment Rooms.  We would have gone on to Blow Up at The Bussey Building, had we not been too pissed.

On Sunday we took our tired selves up the East London Line to Hoxton for a hangover-busting lunch at MEATMission.  After talking the boys out of the Triple Chilli Challenge for the second time, we ordered (deep breath) Dead Hippie burgers, bingo wings, chilli cheese fries, currywurst, deep-fried pickles and a greek salad.  More on this later, but needless to say, I wondered if I would ever eat again.

Just one half of our feast at MEATMission

Just one half of our feast at MEATMission

In the interests of pacifying my bank balance and my waistline after such an indulgent weekend, I have been on a bit of a mission to make meals primarily out of what I have in the cupboards, fridge and freezer and buying just a few items to supplement this rather than a great big shop.  One of my new years’ resolutions (God, doesn’t that seem like a million years ago?!) was to reduce the amount of food waste in our household.  As the issue of food waste was given more coverage in the media, I began to notice that we did tend to throw a bit of food away.  Not huge amounts but often a wilted half-head of celery, a few slice of mouldy bread or some manky herbs would end up in the bin.  The main reason for this was that we would do a ‘weekly shop’ at the beginning of the week, allowing for meals for each lunchtime and evening, and would then end up going out for lunch or dinner on a whim, wasting some of the meals.  So since January, the big trips to the supermarket have ceased and I buy food only when I need it.  Saves money too.

I’ve also recently been thinking that our obsession with following recipes is partly to blame.  We not only have more access to recipes than ever before with an unprecedented number of cookbooks being released each year, a boom in food blogging and a number of recipe databases, such as those created by BBC Food and UKTV Food, we also have access to a wider range of recipes with our interest in global cuisine reaching further and further.  Wanting to follow recipes all of the time means that we end up buying more and more from the ingredients list to make specific dishes rather than focusing on what we have.  It was difficult to shift my focus, but I now look in the cupboards and think “what can I make with this” rather than look in a recipe book thinking “what do I need to make this.”  The results are sometimes experimental, but on the whole they are good.  At first I was apprehensive about using a mix of single cream and creme fraiche in my second batch of naan bread, rather than the specified yoghurt, but it all turned out OK.

Another wonderful outcome of this approach is that I rely less and less on the big supermarkets.  Let’s face it, nobody wants to trek to the Sainsbury’s Superstore to pick up a tin of lentils and a couple of red peppers, so I have been embracing local shopping a little bit more.  I am lucky enough to live in a part of London where the ethnic diversity is reflected in the type of shops we have available to us.  In Peckham there are Indian shops selling enormous bags of cheap spices, far better value than the little jars you get in supermarkets, a brilliant Persian shop, Persepolis, that sells anything and everything from the middle-east and two Chinese supermarkets.  There are also a number of vegetable stands where you can pick up a range of veg for next to nothing (I like the one right outside the entrance to Rye Lane station).  In East Dulwich there is the ‘triangle of love’ in the form of William Rose butchers, Moxons fishmongers and Le Cave de Bruno wine shop, destination of choice for a dinner party or lazy weekend dinner.  Brockley Market is a 20-minute bike ride away each Saturday and there is a new farmers market up in the Horniman Gardens in Forest Hill.  Of course, I still have to make the dash to the John Lewis food hall from time to time, if only to pretend that I’m one of those rich people that actually lives in central London. (OK, it’s a bit poncey, but it’s right next to my office).

Spinach and chickpea curry

Spinach and chickpea curry

This dish, otherwise known as ‘last night’s supper’ is an example of how to use up what you already have.  This is a spinach and chickpea curry made completely with items lurking in the flat.  There is a little exception here, as the spinach I had planned to use was ruined due to the fridge being up too high, so I had to make an emergency dash to Rye Lane for some fresh stuff.  The aforementioned grocer outside the station sells three bunches for a quid which, when you consider how much you pay in the supermarket, is a bargain.  Despite being a fridge-raid meal (or ‘storecupboard meal’, as my mum would say), it’s still a pretty decent little vegetarian curry in its own right.  If you do decide to make it, it’s best not to take the ingredients list too seriously.  Mix stuff up here and there, add things, subtract things, or use a different flavour paste.  Be a rebel.

Spinach and Chickpea Curry

  • 2 tbsp any old curry paste you have lurking about (I used Bhuna paste)
  • 1 onion, or a couple of shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tins chickpeas
  • 250g spinach (or two bunches from the man in Peckham)
  • Few drops lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

In a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, fry the curry paste for a few minutes until it starts to separate.  Add the onions and reduce the heat, cooking them until soft and translucent – about another 5-10 minutes.  Increase the heat again and add the chopped tomatoes, cook for about five minutes, stirring regularly,  until the sauce has thickened slightly.

Add the chickpeas and cook for a couple more minutes.  Season and turn the heat down to low before adding the spinach, stirring until the leaves have wilted.  Stir in the lemon juice and serve with whatever you have in the kitchen (fortunately, I had a load of basmati rice in the cupboard and two peshwari naans in the freezer – win).

Adapted from a recipe by BBC Good Food.  Serves Four.

Peshwari Naan

Peshwari naan

Peshwari naan

I am not, nor will I ever be, one of those wondrous people who get up early on a Saturday and go running in the park.  I sometimes see them, heading down towards Peckham Rye in their lycra whilst I am walking, bleary-eyed, to the local cafe for coffee and bread (which will be taken straight back to bed) and wonder whether I should make my weekends more energetic.  This weekend, my main energies were focused upon drinking martinis in the wonderful Peckham Refreshment Rooms on Friday evening, then sitting outside the French Cafe in East Dulwich on Saturday afternoon with the Grand National on Radio 5 Live, shrieking as my 18-1 horse was first, and then second. Fortunately I had the good sense to bet each way.

I keep meaning to write up my several visits to the Peckham Refreshment Rooms, but I have left most of them in a bit of a gin-soaked haze, so have not yet got around to it.  It is quickly becoming one of my favourite places to go in the East Dulwich/Peckham/Camberwell locale.  Yes, the seating arrangements are not the most comfortable, especially if you have little legs like me (the stools are very high and very hard), but it really is a small price to pay.  The wine list is excellent and very reasonably priced, they have a small but perfectly formed cocktail menu, including a rather good martini, and the food is great.  Several trips to San Sebastian has made me fall in love with the Basque way of casual eating: lots of small plates ordered as-and-when you want them, rather than a whole meal.  With little morsels of speck with celeriac remoulade and plates of chunky toast ready to be spread with nduja, the Peckham Refreshment Rooms accommodates this beautifully.

Sunday was a day of writing and television catch-up, made all the better when I realised that there was a portion of Ollie’s slow cooked lamb shoulder curry in the freezer.  A quick defrost turned this into a majestic dinner indeed, needing an accompaniment a little more special than a supermarket microwave poppadom, so I decided to make some naan.  It would be lazy of me to say that naan bread is quick to make, as no breadstuff ever is, but once you have endured the kneading and proving process, they needs another ten minutes tops as they are simply cooked in a hot frying pan until they bubble and char.  The real beauty of naan bread is that it can be made in advance and then revived in the oven for a few minutes with a little brushing of ghee or sprinkling of water.  They also freeze well, so a batch can be slipped into a ziplock freezer bag and simply defrosted when needed.  Batch-baking at its very best (and quick, in a sense).

I have a very sweet tooth, so almost always opt for the peshwari naan.  I am partial to a hot curry and I find the sweetness of the coconut and almond inside the bread adds a different dimension that none of the other sides can.  The Indian restaurant that we usually order from sends pillowy naans that, when ripped open, spill out a huge amount of filling, which I later scoop up and sprinkle across the top of my curry.  This is the kind I want to make at home.

This recipe for peshwari naan is an amalgamation of two recipes.  The dough is Dan Lepard‘s Frying Pan Naan recipe from the brilliant Short and Sweet cookbook.  I have used this naan recipe several times before and it makes a really nice, sticky dough and, like everything I have made from that particular book, never fails.  The filling is taken from the British Indian Restaurant-style Peshwari Naan recipe by The Curry Guy.  If you haven’t visited his website before, it is an excellent resource for Indian cooking. 

The filling of coconut, almonds, sultanas and sugar is made into a stiff paste with a little single cream that can easily be rolled into a ball.  Once the dough has risen and has been separated into smaller pieces, it is wrapped around the balls of filling and then rolled flat with a rolling pin.  This creates a ‘pocket’ of filling within the bread and distributes it equally throughout.  The naans are then cooked in a frying pan over a hot heat until they bubble up, just a few minutes on each side.  They turn out so well, it is unlikely that I will be buying pre-packed naans for my home curries any longer.

Peshwari Naan

For the dough:

  • 100ml cold milk
  • 125g low-fat plain yoghurt
  • 50ml boiling water
  • 1 tsp fast action yeast
  • 300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 50g wholemeal flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar

For the filling:

  • 2 tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 175g flaked almonds
  • 4 tbsp sultanas
  • 45ml single cream

Start by making the dough.  In a large bowl stir together the milk, yoghurt and boiling water until smooth before stirring in the yeast.  Add the flours, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar and mix until a sticky dough forms.  Cover the bowl and leave for half an hour.

Flour a work surface and lightly knead the dough before returning to the bowl, covering and leaving to prove for one hour.

In the meantime, make the filling by combining all of the ingredients in a food processor and processing until a smooth paste forms, this may take a couple of minutes.  Press the paste into a ball (it should be the texture of a firm putty) wrap in clingfilm and set aside.  If you cannot get the texture right, you can adjust the ingredients, adding more almonds if the mixture is too wet, or more cream if it is too dry and does not come together.

Lightly flour the work surface and pat the dough into an oval, using your fingers to knock out any air bubbles that may have formed during proving.  Cut the dough into six equal pieces, these will be roughly the size of tennis balls.

Unwrap the filling and divide this also into six equal-sized spheres.  To fill the dough, flatten out a piece of dough in your hand and place a piece of filling on top.  Wrap the edges of the dough around the filling until completely enclosed.  Press any edges together to seal the filling in completely.  Carefully roll out the dough on a floured surface until it is the shape and size that you want.

Place a large frying pan over a high heat – do not add oil – then dry fry the naan bread until bubbles start to form on the surface, about 3-4 minutes.  Flip the naan bread over with a spatula and cook on the other side.  Transfer to a plate to cool.  Repeat this process with the other five pieces of dough and filling.

Coconut Bread

Morning glory

Morning glory

I have reached the point, as I do every year, when the arrival of spring ceases to be a joy and becomes a damn nuisance.  I am talking, of course, about the scourge of pollen; the enemy of allergy-sufferers.  Hayfever season has bloody arrived.  For a few months we walk around puffy-eyed, drowsy on antihistamine and wondering if we will ever stop sneezing, until mid-summer comes and we are back to normal once again.  For the last few mornings, I have woken up with eyes so swollen it would be reasonable for people to assume that I had been in a fight.

Of course, I have ways to combat this: an antihistamine tablet and the dabbing of a cold flannel will usually bring it down in half an hour or so.  Rather large sunglasses are also a great disguise if they do not, but it does mean getting up that little bit earlier to give it time to work.  Always one to see the positives, I have used this time to rediscover the beauty of taking time over breakfast.

A leisurely breakfast is one of the joys of the weekend.  With ample time, we will either languish in a cafe reading the papers, ordering coffee after coffee; or will cook something enormous and sit at the kitchen table, listening to the radio and gossiping about the night before.  During the week there is no such bliss and breakfast is either a piece of toast eaten whilst trying to wrestle my hair into submission, or whatever delights my office canteen is offering up that day.  Interpret ‘delights’ as you will.  With my new-found time, I have rediscovered my love of perfectly-brewed leaf tea (something definitely not available from the office canteen) and breakfasts so substantial I seldom need much for lunch.

Coconut bread

Coconut bread

A while ago, I was perusing the Caravan breakfast menu online and fixated, perhaps a little too much, on their grilled coconut bread with strawberries and lemon curd cream cheese.  Since then, I have not been able to get the idea of coconut bread out of my head.  I bake rather a lot with coconut as its crunchy graininess gives an extra dimension to many a tried and tested recipe.  My banana bread with rum and coconut is an old family favourite and, recently, I added it on a whim to some chocolate brownies with surprisingly good results.  This recipe for coconut bread originally came from breakfast supremo Bill Grainger, with a few tweaks by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen.  It has also been given an extra tweak by me, swapping the ordinary milk for coconut milk. Yes, coconut milk is bloody expensive these days (the cheapest can still always be found in the World Foods aisle, if you have one), but it heightens the coconut flavour and adds a little extra moistness. 

There is a fair bit of sugar in the bread, but it isn’t actually that sweet.  I used ordinary unsweetened desiccated coconut and unsweetened coconut milk, but if you want a sweeter bread, you could seek out some of the sweetened stuff.  Or add a sprinkle of Demerara sugar to the top of the bread before baking.  Either way, you’re going to love this.

Coconut bread

Coconut bread

Coconut Bread

  • 85g butter
  • 325g plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 150g desiccated coconut
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 300ml coconut milk

Preheat the oven to 175°c / 350°f / gas 4.  Grease a medium or large loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper.

In a small saucepan, heat the butter until melted and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar and coconut milk and make a well in the centre.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs vanilla extract and coconut milk until fully combined.  Pour into the dry ingredients and mix together until fully incorporated.  Stir in the melted butter but do not over mix.

Scrape the ingredients into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the oven for around one hour, or until risen and brown and a skewer inserted into the centre of the bread comes out clean.  Cool in the tin for 20 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.  Serve in slices.