Chilled Thai Broccoli and Ginger Soup

This has got EVERYTHING going for it. Low-fat as I used low-fat coconut milk, non-dairy, no gluten, works well heated up or chilled so perfect for all seasons

and absolutely scrumptious.

Just before we get onto that I am going to just show you these in a fit of jingoistic, patriotic excitement. Good Luck Team GB we are rooting for you in this house!

So on with the recipe; you will need for 4-6 servings:

2 tbsp Thai Green Curry Paste, 1 can of Coconut Milk, 600ml of vegetable stock, 3 cm piece of peeled Ginger, grated, 2 freeze-dried Lime Leaves, 2 heads of Broccoli, washed and broken up into smallish florets, 2 tbsp of fresh Coriander, chopped, 1 ½ tsp of sugar, the juice of a Lime, plus a little zest to garnish.

If you have a recipe to make Green Curry Paste, then I strongly recommend preparing the paste from scratch. It is far superior to the bought stuff. I use Nigel Slater’s recipe which can be found here. Half the quantities stated gives 2 tbsp.

Once you have made the paste it is easy peasy. Pour the coconut milk and the stock into a heavy bottom saucepan over a moderate heat and add to that the curry paste, grated ginger, broccoli florets, kaffir lime leaves, sugar and half the lime juice. If you have not made your paste you may wish to add a tsp of fish sauce to supply a bit of saltiness. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down and simmer, with a lid on, until the broccoli is tender. Blend. Add the remaining lime juice and stir in most of the chopped coriander and check the seasoning.

That’s it.

Ladle hot or cooled into bowls and sprinkle with a little more coriander and the lime zest. I started off with it hot as I couldn’t wait and then moved onto chilled with a couple of ice cubes in the bowl. It delivers that sharp heat that inflames the back of your throat. Yummy.


Lemon Scented Butter Bean Dip

Anyone who has been following this blog for longer than a couple of posts will probably be aware that I am a sucker for all things Italian. This apparently now extends to the persuasive powers of Italian men.

What can she mean? I hear you cry.

Well it took a good friend of mine to point this out but the evidence appears to speak for itself. A few months ago Federico, the Italian Ski Instructor, persuaded me down half a dozen red runs which, until that point, I refused point-blank to attempt. Then last month Luciano, the Italian Dentist, cut through all the prevarication of the last 15 years and convinced me to have a front tooth bleached. This piece of dental work was scheduled for last week and I have been coping with a temporary filling ever since whilst he finesses his bleaching skills and attempts to brighten the offending tooth to skimmed milk colour like the tooth next door. (I think we are currently at whole milk colour).

The upshot of all this: mush to eat. Well not entirely but certainly not too much of a chewy quality to my food. So pea puree last week and a delicious dip today. It’s a good one though and refreshing in more ways than one if you are a little houmous-ed out.

You will need (serves 6-8): 1 Garlic clove, 1 420g can Butter Beans, drained, 3 tbsp smooth Peanut Butter (25% less fat varieties work here), juice and rind of a small Lemon, 5 tbsp Olive Oil plus a teaspoon more for drizzling, salt and pepper, a pinch of Paprika.

  • Place the peeled garlic clove in a saucepan and cover with 1-2 cms of recently boiled water and return to and boil for 3-4 minutes. Drain.
  • Place the garlic, butter beans, peanut butter, lemon juice and rind and seasoning in a blender or food processor and blend until almost smooth.
  • Gradually add the 5 tbsp of olive oil with the motor running, and continue blending until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and chill.
  • Serve drizzled with Olive Oil, a few strands of lemon rind and a pinch of Paprika.

Good with breadsticks, vegetable crudities, pitta bread, all the usual suspects.

Grazie ragazzi!

N.B. Names changed to protect the innocent.

Peto Garden Risotto

The Gardens at Iford Manor were designed by Harold Peto. Harold Peto was strongly influenced by Italian gardens he had visited. I adore anything Italian. Therefore, I love the gardens at Iford Manor. Luckily for me Iford Manor is literally down the road.

I took some pictures on Easter Sunday, so around a month ago. Here are some of the best, it’s the easiest place to photograph, picturesque barely covers it but the light was as flat as a mill-pond so I’ve done what I can in Photoshop.

First off the architectural ones:

I like the strange leaded lights and the shadow the branch produces

Gorgeous embellishments

Loving the Loggia

The overriding smell was that of wild garlic that grew in such abundance that it flowed like a river in places and so that got me thinking about risotto as a perfect use for it.

Both wild garlic leaves or wet garlic which is like a giant spring onion can be used in following recipe and the flavour is subtle here not punchy, sharp and leaving you reaching for the mints.

Butternut Squash and Garlic Risotto (serves 2)

As is usual with these things begin by bringing 600ml of vegetable stock (use a stock cube) to simmering point in a saucepan on the back of the hob and then fry off a small to medium finely chopped onion in a large heavy bottomed saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Once transparent, add a sliced wet garlic bulb (prepare as you would a spring onion) if using and a finely chopped stick of celery. Stir that around for a minute or two and then add 200g of Arborio or Carnaroli risotto rice and stir again to coat the rice with the oil. Add a slug of white wine if you wish and then begin adding a ladle full or two of stock and stir regularly as the liquid is absorbed. Add half a chopped medium-sized butternut squash and some more stock and keep stirring regularly again until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding stock and stir repeatedly for 10 – 15 minutes until the rice is almost tender. If using wild garlic leaves, you will need a good handful, washed and roughly chopped, add these now and allow to wilt. Grate in a little parmesan cheese and a knob of unsalted butter and continue to stir until everything is combined and melted. Check the seasoning and serve in bowls with additional parmesan grated over and a little black pepper.

If you feel you need to make this a little more substantial: chopped bacon can be added with the celery, shredded, cooked chicken towards the end of the stock absorption process (check it is piping hot before serving) or steamed purple sprouting broccoli can be laid on the rice once cooked. A multitude of options to suit.

Back to a few more pictures:

They hold Opera and Jazz concerts here on barmy summer evenings. Idyllic… Check Iford Arts link for details.

B is for Bristol, Bridges, Balloons and The Boston Tea Party’s Basiled Eggs

I adore Bristol. I love the Georgian and Victorian architecture, the sprawl, the vibrant, urbane youth culture, the coffee houses, the energy, the creative forces that flow there, the accent, the organic food hotbed it has become and of course all my lovely friends that still live there. I don’t live there anymore but many of the significant moments in my life happened there: moved away from home (to Bristol), met my better half, graduated from the University and the children were born there. The city itself is famous for Brunel’s Suspension Bridge spanning the Gorge, the annual Hot Air Balloon festival, brightly painted houses, rain, Banksy graffiti, the docks, the University, the longest Georgian Crescent of townhouses in the country and much more. But I always feel it is a place to live rather than visit, to get under the skin of and absorb it’s energy and atmosphere.

Brunel’s masterpiece: Clifton Suspension Bridge

Interestingly though very little cooking-wise can be associated with the city as far as I’m concerned. Don’t get me wrong there are hundreds of fantastic restaurants, cafés, bars, deli’s and the like and the city also hosts an organic food festival every year, but very little influences me now apart from the veg box routine and a tale I can tell about trying to transport an extremely hot, freshly roasted turkey across town as a student as no-one had an oven big enough to cook the turkey and all the trimmings for our Christmas meal.

Lift off at the annual Balloon Fiesta, however a common site at any time

One dish I ate there amongst all the hundreds was in a coffee lounge called The Boston Tea Party. This establishment was a bit of a trail blazer in its time. Housed in a large rambling Georgian Town House in ‘downtown’ Bristol very close to the University, the interior was painted cobalt blues and stately reds. The chairs, tables and sofas were mismatched and second-hand. The original shabby chic, in fact the shabbiest of chic. There was a courtyard garden for the rare moments of dry weather and it served the new wave of coffees: latte, Americano, flat white, double espresso together with deep filled hearty sandwiches, curiously forgettable cakes but fabulous breakfasts.

It was the place to go to nurse a hangover and take visiting friends to show how ‘hip’ Bristol was/is. Having breakfast out, and not in a transport-style cafe, was a new idea in the early nineties and new style fry-ups were definitely the thing to have. I was never much of one for bacon, sausages, black pudding and fried bread, but could be tempted with scrambled eggs. So this recipe is really just that but with an Italian twist which drew me in at the time and inevitably has stuck with me.

Another easy, peasy one. Serves 1.

Split a panini or thickly cut a slice of bread and toast. Meanwhile, crack two eggs into a smallish bowl and add 2 tbsp of milk, a pinch of salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Cut 4/5 cherry tomatoes in half and very roughly chop about 8 basil leaves.

Melt a knob of butter in a non-stick pan and add the eggs, stir around over a moderate heat with a wooden spoon until lumps start to form. Then add the tomatoes and basil and continue to cook until the egg sets to your preference. Spoon over buttered toast.

Despite the juiciness of the tomatoes the eggs continue to set as normal and the basil gives off a fantastic aroma which I think it works well for breakfast. Wakes you up a bit, but also works at any other time of day…

‘Gert Lush’ as the Bristolians would say. ‘Yummy’ for the rest of us.

Many thanks MW for the bridge and balloon photos. For those of you who think you may know MW, but need a clue, the W stands for a wellknown purveyor of cake ingredients, spookily enough.

Barbeque or Party Style Five Layer Mexican Dip

It has finally stopped raining. It has been relentless for weeks and this weekend is set to be mild, warming up even, as well as dry. Is the barbeque season finally with us? I think we may well peel the cover off ours and cook a few burgers to celebrate. If you are of a similar mind and looking for a hearty something to go with you might fancy the following….

I had this at a party recently and found it incredibly more-ish. The friend of mine who produced this delicious concoction explained what was involved well into the evening so I’m not sure I’m reproducing entirely what was described, but this went down a storm with my better half when I tried it at home.

I suspect there are a million way to present avocado, tomato and soured cream as a Mexican dish however this multi-layered dip-style version creates a bit of a splash. The quantities below produce the amount in the picture which was enough for 2 to 3 as a starter. But if you need it for a party or full scale barbeque double or treble the recipe. A glass bowl would work well too to display the colourful layers (I don’t have anything appropriate although some sort of earthy terracotta dish might have looked more suitable!)

You will need: a small tin of Refried Beans ( I used Discovery), 1 Avocado, juice of ½ a Lime, 12 Cherry Tomatoes, 1 Spring Onion, 150ml Half-fat Soured Cream or Crème fraîche, 2 tbsp chopped Coriander, 30-50g finely grated Cheddar, Tabasco Sauce, Tortilla Chips.

Start by spreading the refried beans over the bottom of the dish or bowl you are using, peel and slice an avocado and lay the pieces on top of the beans, drizzle the lime juice over. Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters and slice the spring onion. Mix the tomato and onion together and spread over the avocado. Next, evenly dollop on the soured cream and sprinkle with the coriander. Finally distribute the finely grated cheese as the top layer and drizzle over some tabasco sauce. Position tortilla chips around the edge of the bowl and await the cries of delight. It’s a good one.

Thank you Iford Arts Girl.

More from the Unloved Vegetables – No.4: Carrot and Ginger Soup?

Now with this series of posts about unloved vegetables I do fully appreciate that what is unloved for some is probably much beloved for others. Timing is probably also a factor in this regard too. I can well imagine carrots receiving a warm welcome alongside kohlrabi, turnips and swede, but just at the moment when the other inhabitants of the veg box are purple sprouting broccoli, mushrooms, aubergines and if you are really lucky asparagus, carrots will induce and sigh and droop of the shoulders. It has been a long winter with the root vegetables and still having to deal with carrots is starting to feel a bit much. Suddenly they are a little more difficult to use up as the hearty winter meals which lend themselves to featuring carrots as an accompaniment are now fewer and further between.

A seasonal dish using carrots such as coleslaw only needs one!

Soup is the answer. It is often the answer as you can make it and freeze it if you don’t really fancy it or the weather is too warm. Not something we are likely to be struggling with this Bank Holiday. Soup really will be the answer as temperatures are due to plummet. But something zesty and bright might help.

Carrot Soup I think might also assist if you are on a hidden vegetables campaign. A blended orange coloured, velvet-y smooth soup is really not going to seem unappetizing surely and if you can coax the target consumers into having a little taste that may well lead to the drinking of an entire bowlful.

You will need: 1 medium Onion, chopped, 2cm length of fresh Ginger or more if you like the flavour and zesty heat, grated or finely chopped, 1 medium Potato, roughly chopped, 6 or 7 medium Carrots, roughly chopped, 600-800 ml  Vegetable Stock, juice of ½ Lemon, 1 tbsp of Oil, Salt and Pepper.

It’s dead easy: Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, cook over a moderate heat until transparent, add the ginger and stir round for a minute or two. Add the potato and carrots and sweat gently with the lid on the saucepan for 5- 10 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or so. Once the vegetables are tender, blend the soup with a hand held blender for preference, check the seasoning, add the lemon juice and a little more stock or warm water to achieve a preferred consistency. Done.

Sorry for the lack of photos today, I can’t seem to get the iPad to let me load anything else up from the media library – best laid pans plans, blah, blah, – and I am not at home. But I’m sure everyone can guess what carrot soup will look like.

Photofest coming very soon …..

Enough Flavour to Keep it Simple

A good friend of mine has just returned from her first trip to Italy. First trip to Italy. It’s like some adolescent awakening a first trip to Italy. You will never be the same again.

My Mother will probably disagree here but I regard my time spend working as an au pair in Milan, at the age of 19, as my culinary awakening and the way I think about food now is defined by lingering memories and habits formed at that time. I saw a great quote on another blog site where the author remarked ‘well I’m off to make more food from food’. I think the author is American, but that sentiment would apply to the British too. Sufficient flavour in some foods can be an issue and the contrast if you are lucky enough to be eating in Italy is marked.

Now I know that the situation here has improved a lot over the last 10-15 years say but the Italian fruit, vegetables, cheese, cured meats and wine, all those deli items which can make a delicious lunch, have a depth of flavour which is hard to match except possibly by the French. One of the reasons for this is I suspect is the ambient temperature. Fruit and vegetables ripening on the plants, the intensity of the sun, storage methods, coupled with better collective culinary know-how, it all makes a difference. Before the restrictions on transporting liquids a few bottles of red wine would be heaved onto the plane as carry-on, you remember? In our case it was cases of the red in the car as we drove the 1,500 miles back up through France to the ferry at breakneck speed. Once home the wine would be presented as a rarefied object at some special event and it was supposed to transport us all back to our holiday. It didn’t really work though, England is too cold. It’s even worse with Languedoc Rosé, what was fruity and thirst quenching down in the South-West of France, seemed more like paint stripper in Blighty. It was always very disappointing.

Cheeses, salad ingredients and cured meats also travel about as well as the French Rugby Team. We in the UK tend to keep everything in the fridge and don’t let the food even warm up to our ambient temperatures before we consume it. Tomatoes are a case in point. Virtually tasteless straight from the fridge, yet given a couple of hours at room temperature, sliced and drizzled with Olive Oil and the merest pinch of salt they are transformed.

So when you catch those moments when you achieve a flash of those heady delicious Mediterranean lunches it’s always a surprise as much as a treat. Believe it or not a trip to Tesco recently produced such a lunch. Bread, cheese and tomato was about the size of it. However due to the fact that I had been shopping, the deliciously ripe looking beef tomatoes weren’t fridged anyway, the Spanish Manchego cheese out of the chiller for long enough and my new basil plant emitting the most pungent aroma, I felt compelled to assemble the following:

The tomatoes were sliced and oil, from a long since eaten jar of artichokes, drizzled over them (I do store such remnants in the fridge for such moments). A few torn basil leaves topped the dish off. The Manchego (ewe’s milk cheese, nutty and delicious) was in slices too and the Panini, Tesco own brand which I toasted, released a faint smell of Olive Oil. Pear, from the veg box and just ripe, has an affinity with sheep’s milk cheese, something understood by the Italians of Pienza, the home of Pecorino and some pear based jelly like condiment I can’t remember the name of……

Child 2 was with me and chose a grilled ham and cheese Panini. It is mildly irritating to me that he hates tomatoes.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Stirfry and the curious case of the ‘Blue’ Noodles

I have actually just finished eating this and it was so delish I cannot wait to share.

Something I learned very early on in the food business is that generally blue food is regarded as unappetizing and consequently is usually avoided. The theory goes that as there is no blue food in nature it is perceived as unnatural. Even with cakes, which can easily look unnatural indeed are often supposed to, blue coloured ones are the last to go and Thomas the Tank Engine cakes are rarely finished. However, those foods naturally with a blue/purple hue such as blueberries or purple sprouting broccoli are actually some of the most nutritionally beneficial.

Purple Sprouting broccoli is very much in season at the moment and my better half and I are so in love with it we are happy to munch it as the feature of a main course. Due to the ongoing attempts to declutter the house in spare moments I was in need of a quick meal in time for the start of The Apprentice and so a stir fry seemed the best option. I would say this took no more than 20 minutes from start to finish.

I shall start off by listing the ingredients today, serves 2:

2 layers of medium Egg Noodles, a handful of Purple Sprouting Broccoli spears, ends of the stalks removed, 3 Spring onions, chopped, 2 cm piece of Ginger, finely chopped, 2 cloves of Garlic, crushed, a few dried Chilli Flakes, 1 Carrot, finely sliced, ½ Red Pepper, sliced, 4/5 Mushrooms, sliced, 1 tbsp Sunflower Oil, ½ tbsp Sesame Oil, 25g Peanuts and/or Cashews, roughly chopped, salt and pepper, juice of ½ Lemon, 4 tbsp fresh Coriander, chopped.

Start off by boiling the kettle and pouring about a pint of boiled water over the prepared broccoli spears in a saucepan. Place saucepan on the heat, return to the boil and then simmer for 2/3 minutes. Fish the spears out after this time and remove to a plate. The water will be purple-y blue in colour, try not to be put off by this and add the layers of noodles. return to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes or so.

Meanwhile in a wok, dry fry the nuts over a moderate heat until lightly toasted and remove to a plate.  Measure the oils into the wok and over a moderate heat fry the spring onions, ginger and chilli for a minute or two. Then add the garlic and after another minute the carrot, mushrooms and pepper. Stir fry that around for 2/3 minutes and then add the lemon juice, purple sprouting broccoli and 3 tbsp of the coriander. Stir again. Drain the noodles and divide between 2 bowls, give the vegetables a final stir, season if required and likewise divide between the bowls. Sprinkle with the nuts and the remaining coriander.

So the broccoli water did colour the noodles to some degree. At school or by my Mother, I can’t remember which, I was told to try to use up the water vegetables were cooked in as the liquor was nutrient filled. Interestingly for once, one could see this advice in action. Don’t worry the effect is not too marked, unappetizing is not the word that will spring to mind.

D’ya like my new wok? I’m very pleased with this. After 6 years of trying to make stir fry in a frying pan on my ancient and temperamental induction hob, I have found the answer. I’m sure it has a name, I can’t remember the official title, but the description would be flat-bottomed wok and you don’t need gas.

Finally, beneficial foods: I seem to be surrounded by people with nasty coughs and colds at the moment. Fresh ginger is supposed to be highly beneficial for such afflictions. A tea of fresh ginger, grated and boiled in a cup full of water, strained,  then lemon juice and  honey added to taste should help.

Sea-Change in the Veg Box fuels Low-Carb Lunches

So we have been having a quiet time of it this Easter Holiday. The manic last week in March (two significant birthdays and the Help for Heroes Cake Sale) left us all feeling a little worn out in this house and completely distracted me from planning a vast amount of holiday excitement. Judging by Facebook this is not true for everyone. There has been much sharing of Disney Resort visits, ski-ing trips, Floridian escapades, family get togethers, camping or not as the temperatures plummeted, for one set of ex-pats (living in Australia) visiting other bits of Australia and finally counting the locally nesting swan’s egg collection (OK we could have done that last one too!).  I ♥ Facebook.

We did go ski-ing in the Tamworth Snowdome – that was good fun – surreal and invigorating, visited Studland beach for a day, made the best ever scones, tested some more chocolate salted caramel cupcakes (recipe coming end of the week), have caught up on lost sleep from the Child 1’s Camp In, went to see the Hunger Games and watched Child 2’s latest drama workshop performance:

Absolutely Fabulous Darling!

All perfectly exciting enough you might say, well yes it was and rather nerdishly from my point of view an additional highlight for me was the arrival of the veg box as (apart from the perpetual carrots and potatoes) there was not a root vegetable in sight.

Here are a few of the said highlights:

It’s all looking a bit green you might think and that would be true and at the time of year when we should be experiencing the ‘hungry gap’ –  very lush.

Now, I might be generalising here, but usually, when friends return from holidays, there are complaints about weight gained. Coupled with that my better half informed me that the largest upsurge in gym memberships is actually post-Easter not post-Christmas (how does he know this stuff – he regularly comes across as being the oracle). So I am thinking a low-carb recipe might be in order.

I am not going to get into a big discussion here on healthy eating and weight loss. I’m not qualified and currently fall within the ‘normal’ BMI range. I have dieted in my time, and get a lot of comments running along the lines of ‘surely you should be fatter as you are surrounded by cakes and buttercream’. I try to keep on top of weight gain by owning a pair of scales and using them regularly (monitoring really does make a difference I think), running (essential for me), and over the course of a week eating several low carb meals. As you get older this tactic seems to make the job of maintaining a steady weight much easier. If I see the weight creep up, so do the number of low carb meals.

However I don’t worry too much about essential fatty acids. These are the fats which are necessary to keep you healthy and are found in oily fish, olive oil, nuts, avocados that sort of thing. Animal fats: butter, cream, cheese and the fat on the meat have a different molecular structure and are the more ‘problematic’ ones. I don’t eat much in that department and try to keep my sugar consumption down. This last rule seems to be trickier the older I get! The other trick I have learnt is to stop eating when I start to feel full, and a need to feel properly hungry before I eat again. I understand that particularly for some eating food is wrapped up with issues such as stress and therefore this robotic approach won’t work for all, but over time some small shifts in behaviour can make a big difference. There was a weight-related motivational quote on Pinterest the other day ‘you will notice the difference after 4 weeks, your family after 8 and the rest of the world after 12’. 12 weeks is the beginning of the school summer holidays.

About perfect then.

So a salad recipe. In the bottom right hand corner of the picture is a Portobello mushroom and I believe these beauties are too interesting in their own right to be chopped up and put in Spaghetti Bolognese, let’s make a feature of them instead.

This can be made out of whatever you have knocking about really, or if you want to use half fat cheese (like those Mozzarella balls, grated Edam or even low-fat soft cheese) then do, but some easy melting cheese is essential.

  • Preheat the grill on a moderately hot setting.
  • Remove the skins from 2 Portobello mushrooms and place them gill-side down in a small roasting tin. Brush with a little olive oil. Pop under the grill for 3-4 minutes.
  • Meanwhile in a bowl mix together some chopped or grated cheese, I like Dolcelatte or Stilton mixed with a small amount of grated Jarlsberg or alternatively crumbled goat’s cheese, some chopped walnuts and some chopped parsley if available. In the picture above I also added some chopped avocado. (A lot of chopping).
  • Once the mushrooms are looking like they have softened and mushroom ‘juice’ is starting to run, remove from the heat, turn them over and pile on the cheese-y nutty topping. Return to the grill and continue to cook until the cheese has melted and is bubbling.
  • Prepare some salad leaves and maybe some tomato and cucumber on a plate and drizzle no more than ½ a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil over. Once cooked, transfer the mushrooms to the bed of lettuce and pour over the juices which will be running around the bottom of the tin. Squirt a little lemon juice over or, if you have used avocado particularly, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar and tuck in.

Other types of nuts or chopped tomato can be substituted for walnuts. This is actually substantial enough for an evening meal.

Biryani for Beginners


It is still the Easter School Holidays. The kids are at home and so there isn’t much time for a finely honed blog post.

I thought I might try the quick post function.

I cannot profess to be an authority when it comes to making curry. Friends and family seem to own books on the subject with words in the title like ‘Bible’. The only curry recipe book I have at home features in the picture above and is called ‘Let’s eat Indian at home’! For ages I thought it was more snappily entitled ‘Let eat Indian tonight!’ It’s in a series; one could be eating Italian, Mexican or Chinese instead. I can’t say I even follow the recipes that closely, just absorbing a feel for what ingredients and spices are necessary to distinguish my saags from my bhunas. I don’t seem to have the time for the full recipes either so usually invent and as usual that is what happened last night.

My Biryani worked out very well though, I knew what I was aiming for in principle but in the end I don’t think this is authentic in any way as I went entirely off-piste in construction. Like with all these things it is a bit of a effort, a 2-stage process, but surprisingly quick as well. This serves 4.

So there are 2 parts to this, a tomato and spinach sauce and the biryani. I will list the ingredients out as we go along but the biryani can optionally include 30g each of soaked sultanas and toasted flaked almonds. Therefore, if using, before you even get to the tomato sauce you need to soak the sultanas in a bowl of boiling water.

Stage One – The Tomato Sauce

¼ medium Onion, chopped, 1 tbsp flavourless Oil, crushed clove of Garlic, good pinch Chilli flakes, ½ tsp ground Ginger, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp ground cumin, pinch of Asafoetida, 1 red pepper, sliced, 1 tin of Tomatoes, chopped, or ½ tin of Passata, a handful of Spinach leaves, roughly chopped, 1 tsp chopped Mint, salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onion, fry over a moderate heat until transparent and tinged brown round the edges, add the garlic, stir round for 30 seconds or so, add all the spices and stir again for another 30 seconds. Add the pepper, coat with the oil and spices and then add the tomatoes or passata, season, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally whist you make the biyani. If using passata you may need to slacken the sauce with recently boiled water from the kettle to prevent it from drying out.

Stage Two – The Biryani

350g Basmati rice, 800ml just boiled water, some left over roast lamb or chicken if you wish, chopped, ¾ Onion, sliced, 2 tbsp flavourless Oil, crushed clove of Garlic, 1 tsp finely chopped Ginger or ½ tsp of ground, pinch of Chilli flakes to taste, 1 tsp ground Coriander, 2 tsp Cumin, 1 tsp Turmeric, pinch of Garam Masala, 4 or 5 Mushrooms, sliced, juice of 1 Lemon, good handful of frozen Peas, salt and pepper, optionally 30g each of flaked Almonds, toasted and the soaked Sultanas, fresh Coriander to serve if you have it.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 165°C. In something like a Le Creuset casserole, heat the oil and fry the onion again gently until tinged brown round the edges, then add the garlic, ginger and spices except the Garam Masala and fry again for a minute or so, add the meat, if using, and mushrooms and coat in the spices. Then add the rice and again coat in the spices and cook for a minute stirring continuously. Add 600ml of the boiled water, stir again to combine and once the liquid is bubbling, season, cover and pop into the oven for 15 minutes. Whilst that is cooking, toast the flaked almonds in a frying pan without oil over a moderate heat, shaking the pan frequently. This only takes a minute or so then remove from the heat and set aside. Drain the sultanas and set aside too.

Once the 15 minutes is up take the casserole out of the oven, stir the rice mixture which should look pretty much cooked, add the peas, lemon juice, Garam Masala and remaining 200ml of recently boiled water, stir through and return, covered, to the oven for 5 more minutes.

Add the mint and spinach to the tomato sauce and stir through until the spinach is wilted. Check the seasoning.

Once the 5 minutes is up, remove biryani from oven, fork through and add the almonds and sultanas if using. Sprinkle with fresh coriander.

Serve a bed of the biryani with a garnish of tomato sauce on top.

The kids coped fairly well with this, obviously you can tailor the chilli heat to suit and leave out almonds and sultanas to give a more child-friendly spicy rice dish which would be enjoyable on its own. Ours really liked the rice; the tomato/spinach sauce – not so much!

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