Festive Couscous Salad to Ease You into Your New Year’s Resolutions….

IMG_0568Well here we are on the eve of New Year’s Eve and any minute now those New Year’s Resolutions to eat less, drink less, shop less etc etc will kick in. I am always a fan of easy does it in this regard as going cold turkey usually ends in failure even before the hangover has actually cleared.

We had this a few days ago as a bit of a palate clearer after the Christmas meatathon, enjoyable as always, but as we don’t eat a lot of meat in the normal course of a week, a little bit of something fishy, spicy and herby was fancied.

I am quite into the hot and cold salad together approach and this is just one of several I like to make. The warm prawn component rarely changes but the cold salad underneath is designed out of whatever is lurking in the cupboards and fridge. This one has a distinct Yotam Ottolenghi feel to it. Hardly surprising really…..

You will need (for 2) for the couscous salad:  120g Giant Couscous (or the regular stuff) cooked according to the packet instructions, so boiled in water for 10 minutes for the giant and steeped in boiling water for 5 – 10 minutes for the regular stuff, then we are into a pinch of this and that territory, so some Pumpkin Seeds, some Poppy Seeds and some Pine Nuts, all toasted, some Cucumber, cubed, some Cherry Tomatoes, halved, some Olives, some Sultanas or Dried Blueberries, 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a squeeze of Lemon Juice from ½ a Lemon, 2 tbsp each of chopped fresh Mint and Flat Leaf Parsley, a pinch of Salt and some Black Pepper

Combine everything once the couscous and seeds are cool. Stir around and drizzle the oil and lemon juice over. Add the seasoning to taste. Of course other things like avocados, red pepper, dried apricots could be added too. Leave to sit and infuse whilst you cook the prawns.

For the warm Prawn Salad (serves 2): a 250g packet of Frozen Raw King Prawns, defrosted, 2 cloves of Garlic, peeled and chopped, a pinch of Dried Chilli Flakes, juice of ½ a Lemon, a splash of White Wine (optional), 2 tbsp of Fresh Coriander, chopped, a tbsp of Olive Oil, Salt and Black Pepper.

Into a medium-sized frying pan over a moderate heat add the oil, garlic and chilli, stir round for a minute or two and then add the prawns, wine, lemon juice and season a little, stir fry for 5 minutes or so until the prawns have thoroughly turned pink and the liquid has reduced a little, add half the fresh coriander, stir round and then, having plated out the couscous salad, divide the prawns and their juices between the two plates. Garnish with the remainder of the coriander.

This is fantastic after all the rich food that is knocking around at this time. One feels extremely virtuous.

A very happy and peaceful New Year to all, thanks to all who follow, comment and read and see you in 2013 I hope! x

Beach Hut Food (or almost half a dozen things to do with Tortilla Chips)

Despite the distinctly mediocre weather we have been experiencing this week, we have found our collective stiff upper lip and pressed on with our half term/Jubilee plans regardless. We like to book a beach hut on Studland beach for a week each year and this week has been the appointed one. The weather on the Isle of Purbeck can frequently render national forecasts useless and certainly for part of the time I think we have managed to suffer far less rain than some. Sunday tea time we returned from a very pleasant afternoon at the beach, switched on the TV, to find the National Anthem in full flow on the River Thames and a bedraggled choir trying to look cheerful notwithstanding the driving rain. Nightmare.

Kitchen for the week

So during a typical week, we like to cook at the beach as much as possible and over the years we have developed Beach Hut Food. This can easily be regarded as camping food and so with the camping/glamping/festival season upon us some might find the following useful. I’m not really suggesting anything very revelatory just jogging memories I suspect.

The return of the 5 layer dip; the original recipe is here but an easier or possibly more child friendly version would be as follows:

Small tin of refried beans spread on the bottom of  the bowl/saucepan/suitable receptacle.

A layer of sweetcorn from a small tin to cover the beans or a layer of guacamole from a ‘ready to eat’ tub

A layer of tomato salsa, strength to your taste

A layer of half fat soured cream

A layer of grated cheese

Arrange the tortilla chips around the bowl as illustrated. This is really good as an accompaniment to a barbecue. N.B. Doritos are not very strong and therefore not good for scooping. Sainsburys Basics Tortilla Chips are much much better in this regard.

Tortilla Soup; British summers being what they are, soup is still a must even in July at times. Cuppa soup Cream of Tomato or a tin of Heinz Tomato can be pepped up with a few drops of Tabasco sauce and tortilla chips to dip with.

Camp style Caesar Salad; this is adapted from a Nigella recipe so she deserves all the credit. Arrange some salad leaves (Little Gem are good here) in a bowl and dress with Caesar salad dressing (we like the Pizza Express Light variety). Add to that handfuls of tortilla chips and grated Parmesan or any grated cheese.

Tortilla chip sandwiches; if you are at the beach, the ‘do I have sand in my sandwich’ concern can be offset by adding tortilla chips to the filling. The crunchy sensation they provide will mask any actual sand. Again grated cheese, a drop of Tabasco and chips work well and should you have these ingredients around because you made the 5 layer dip, will help with using stuff up.

As it was Jubilee weekend, we really pushed the boat out however and had my favourite sandwich of all, baguette with smoked salmon, lots of dill, lemon juice and black pepper and whilst barbecuing constructed this user-friendly arrangement.

Frozen raw King Prawns can defrost throughout the day in a cool box. Thread onto the skewers as the barbecue is lit to finish defrosting if necessary. Fill a fish holder with the skewers and cherry tomatoes for ease of handling.

The fish holder is often filled with Bream stuffed with dill. If you have sea air up your nostrils, this barbecue dish has to be one of life’s great pleasures.

Warming up for Wimbledon

Ratatouille Style Prawn Curry

Well by now I was definitely banking on warm days, asparagus in the veg box and an opportunity to embark on a few salad recipes. What is going on with the weather? Particularly, as just two hours away by plane, Spain is experiencing some of the hottest temperatures for May on record. However, as I didn’t have the oven on today, I was considering a quick blast of central heating. (I didn’t succumb in the end – promise). So what are we eating instead with the seasonal veg shifting towards salads, courgettes and peppers, that sort of thing. I could have made a ratatouille, but you know what, it didn’t really seem ‘warming’ enough.

Curry. I think that will do it. As I have mentioned before I don’t really worry too much about authenticity with curries. I like a sharp, hot kick, usually mid-week which precludes too much genuine, subcontinental finessing. I appreciate that I should try harder and explore the cuisine with a little more diligence, but when the chilli/spicy craving strikes there simply isn’t the time. I do think though that with a good jar of curry paste and a plan, it is possible to make simple curries with distinctive punch.

Aubergines are excellent curried, one of the most delicious curry dishes I ever tried was curried baby aubergines. Spicy and creamy with some bite to the skins….Heavenly. So it wasn’t too much of a leap to get to this, serves 2:

2/3 Spring Onions, sliced, 1 cm Ginger, finely chopped, 1 clove of Garlic, crushed, 1 Courgette, roughly chopped, ½ Aubergine, roughly chopped, ½ Green or Red Pepper, sliced, 1 tin of Chopped Tomatoes, 2 tbsp Rogan Gosh Curry paste, 250g Frozen Raw Prawns, a good handful of roughly chopped Spinach (optional), Salt, Pepper, Oil and a squeeze of Lemon Juice.

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of oil and add the spring onions and ginger, stir round for a couple of minutes and add the garlic, give it another minute and then add the courgette, pepper and aubergine. Stir round and allow to sweat gently for 10 minutes or so. Stir from time to time and add a little more oil if necessary (the aubergine can really soak it up). Add the tomatoes and the curry paste and about ½ a tins worth of water from the kettle, stir to combine and allow to simmer for 15 minutes minimum, or longer if you wish, whilst you cook some rice. Keep an eye on the sauce, stir occasionally and add a little more water if required. About 5 minutes from the end of the rice cooking time tip in the frozen prawns and the spinach if using and turn the heat up slightly to bring the sauce back to a simmer. Stir frequently at this point, add some seasoning and lemon juice. Once the rice is cooked, the prawns have turned pink and the spinach is wilted, serve sauce on rice in the usual manner.

Spring fresh curry, just what we need it seems.

Sorry I don’t have an image of the final dish, but it looks like tomato sauce on rice; not particularly enlightening!

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