an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...


Saturday, 31 August 2013

Brown lentils with spinach and pomegranate molasses

Adapted from, itself based on a recipe from the fantastic book ‘Olive Trees and Honey’ by Gil Marks.

I first had a version of this made by the wonderful Alli. It tastes so rich and complex, and when I asked for the recipe I was amazed about how simple it actually was to make. It turns out that it is a traditional Egyptian dish, which I suppose makes sense – you wouldn’t make a dish this tasty and just forget about it.  This makes an excellent vegan main course as part of a Middle-Eastern themed dinner, freezes and reheats very nicely too. Serve with a dish of tahini sauce for vegans, or thick labneh mixed with za’atar and olive oil for dairy consumers.

Pomegranate molasses is one of my favourite ingredients to work with at the moment. I normally use it with tahini, with aubergines, or roasted fish, but this is the first time I have cooked with it in this way. It is easier to find than you might think, and not very expensive.

These quantities about 8 big servings. When I made this dish it was served with a Persian-style baked rice made by Becky, with fried onions and potatoes, and a crunchy top.


500g brown lentils, rinse and drain the lentils well.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, diced not too fine
4 cloves of roughly crushed and chopped garlic (this is significantly less garlic than in the original recipe – crushing is important as apparently it releases all the heart healthy benefits of garlic more than just chopping)
1 heaped tsp of ground cumin (toast and grind cumin seeds if you have time)
1 tsp ground coriander (toast and grind coriander seeds if you have time)
1.25 litres of water – will probably need a bit more later on in the cooking process
2 bay leaves
Big bag of spinach – 350g in Asda - big bags in Sainsburys are 260g
4 tbsp pomegranate molasses – you may want to add a little more
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
Salt and pepper – it will need more salt than you think

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, and fry the onion slowly on a medium heat for 5-8 minutes until soft. Add in the garlic, cumin and coriander, turn the heat down a bit and cook for a few more minutes, stir every now and again to make sure that the garlic doesn’t burn.

Next add the water, lentils and bay. Cover and bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Stir the pot every ten minutes or so to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom, and add a little bit more water if it looks to dry.

When the lentils are done, stir in the spinach and let it sit in low heat until it wilts. Finally add the pomegranate molasses and lemon juice and continue to cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Tastes and season with a big pinch of salt (at least) and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

I’m sure it would be delicious served with flatbread, bulghur wheat or plain rice too. 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Roasted aubergines with walnut and pomegranate salsa

A while back there was a TV programme on the BBC about the various fruits and vegetables grow in the UK but underutilised by suppliers and consumers. Either the food item itself wasn’t very popular, or it was just a lot cheaper to grow them overseas. For each episode a famous chef would investigate a particular item, talk to growers and then share some recipes. It was disappointingly dull. One good thing to come out of it though, was this incredible recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi on an episode focused on walnuts. Who would have thought that a half hour television programme about the British walnut growing industry could be boring? I was shocked.

I had never eaten or even seen a pickled walnut before I made this recipe, but I like walnuts, and vinegar, so thought they couldn’t be that scary. Boy was I mistaken. They are icky like how vacuum-packed cooked beetroot is icky – with added layers of ick due to the fact that they look nothing at all like a walnut, but a brown squishy blob thing. But my inner feminist domestic goddess would never be beaten by something as trivial as a pickled walnut, so I ‘ovaried up’ and carried on with the recipe. And it was definitely worth it.


4 medium aubergines
4 tbsp olive oil
Coarse salt (sea salt or I use pink Himalayan rock salt) and freshly ground black pepper

For the salsa:

125g walnuts, chopped
80g or 2 whole pickled walnuts, chopped
2 tsp liquid from the pickled walnuts jar
1 and a half tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped parsley
The seeds from ½ pomegranate. My insights into de-seeding pomegranates can be seen here.


Preheat the oven to 200c.

Cut both the aubergines in half lengthways through the stalk (its prettier that way). Score the flesh in a criss-cross pattern, being careful not to go through the skin and stab yourself in the hand with a knife.

Oil the cut side of the aubergines. Aubergines can absorb an awful lot of oil. I reckon that the best way to make sure they are coated but don’t absorb too much oil is to pour a little on the baking tray and press the cut side of the aubergine into it for a second or two.

Sprinkle the aubergines with a generous pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Place on a baking tray, flesh-side up, and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the flesh is cooked through and turns a dark golden-brown. Leave them in the oven with the oven off and the door closed for at least another 10 minutes.

Make the salsa by mixing all the ingredients together just after you put the aubergines in the oven. I reduced the levels of vinegar from the original recipe, as I wanted it to be a little lighter. Just before you are ready to serve it, taste it and judge if you feel it needs more vinegar.

Serve the aubergines on a big platter slightly warm or at room temperature, with the salsa spooned over the top. If you have any extra parsley and pomegranate seeds you may want to scatter some over the top of the finished dish too.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Rhubarb and Frangipane Tart

Here is another guest post, this time from the wonderful Naomi. Naomi, her husband Simon and I spend many Friday night dinners together, and I am always completely blown away with the dishes they make. They always seem to be trying something new and exciting, which I find so inspiring. Recent highlights include dhal-stuffed butternut squash, okra and tomato stew, and homemade elderflower cordial, with elderflowers picked outside our local pub The Queensbury

Naomi made this delicious rhubarb tart a few weeks ago, and it was so incredible that I have been pestering her for the recipe ever since. I have had frangipane tarts before, and normally the fruit/almond ratio isn’t quite right and they get a bit dry and cakey – but this one was perfect: sweet and sour, with just the right amount of goo. The straight-lines of the rhubarb also made it very easy to serve equal portions.

And now for Naomi's recipe: 

Serves 6-8

Approx 500g rhubarb (I’ve found one 400g pack will just about stretch, but any less than that and it can look a little sparse)
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 cups water
a few cardamom pods (to taste)
1 sheet good-quality puff pastry
1 free-range egg for an egg wash

For the frangipane filling:
75g unsalted butter
60g caster sugar
125g ground almonds
2 egg yolks
½ tsp vanilla extract

Pre-heat oven to 200˚C – I didn’t have a fan oven and put mine to this temperature, although I’ve seen some recipes with higher temperatures.
- – - – - – - – - – - – - -
1: Put the butter, sugar, ground almonds, egg yolks and vanilla essence in a bowl and mix until it is an even paste. I did this by hand, but you could use an electric mixer or food processor to speed things up. Mixing by hand, I found it easiest to cream the butter and sugar together first, and then add the almonds, egg yolks and vanilla essence after that, so that I had fewer lumps of butter through the frangipane mix.

2: Once mixed, put the frangipane mixture in the fridge and chill for 10-15 minutes or until required – if you do this first, then it can chill while you do everything else. (I have also made it where I mixed up the frangipane the day before and left it in the fridge over night.)

3: Cut the rhubarb into strips (about 2 inches/4-5cm in length), and with thick sticks of rhubarb, you may want to cut the sticks in half lengthwise as well. In two batches, place the rhubarb into a saucepan and pour in one cup of water and one tablespoon of caster sugar and some bashed cardamom pods/seeds/ground cardamom to taste. I have also made it all in one batch, but you just have to be very careful that the rhubarb cooks evenly! Still only use one cup (approx. 250ml) of water, but all three tablespoons of sugar.

4: Mix gently and bring to a simmer for no more than 3 minutes until the rhubarb is just tender and starting to soften. You want it to still hold its stick-like appearance and not go too soft for presentation purposes on the tart. I found that 2-3 minutes was plenty – my first batch went too soft in three and a half minutes! And another batch went too soft after 2 and a half (it clearly depends on the thickness and size of the rhubarb pieces). Transfer to a plate to cool as soon as you think it is ready to take out of the pan – it will keep cooking a little in the hot syrup/juices otherwise.

5: Repeat with remainder of rhubarb, water, cardamom and caster sugar, but keep the juices/syrup from the previous batch (in a cup/bowl/jug etc).

6: Remove pastry from packaging and lay flat. Roll out if needed. Score a 2cm border all around the pastry sheet, taking care not to cut all the way through. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork within the score lines.

7: Remove frangipane from fridge and spread onto pastry within the scored inner square lines. If too cold it might be a little difficult to spread due to firmness, but it should be pliable with fingers to spread out and break up evenly (I love cooking with my hands instead of implements).

8: Place rhubarb sticks onto frangipagne in vertical side-by-side lines.

9. Strain (or pick out any cardamom pods etc) and reduce the juices/syrup from when you cooked the rhubarb to a slightly thicker syrup. When thickened, pour over the rhubarb – this will form a beautiful glaze on top of the tart (and if you used any spices will add a hint more of that flavour). You might not want to pour it all on (or use a spoon to pour some on) as if the glaze gets over the pastry it might get in the way of the egg wash and may also encourage the pastry to burn in the oven. Ideally the glaze only goes on the rhubarb/frangipane bit in the middle, and not the pastry edges.

10: Brush edges of pastry with egg wash and place in oven for 35-40 minutes until pastry is cooked and edges are risen and golden.

Serve warm with cream or ice-cream.

Matching tablecloth not mandatory, but definitely adds to the whole dessert experience

Please click here to see the latest on the campaign to try and prevent the Queensbury pub from demolition