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Heat me up, melt me down: cool Vietnamese & Korean favourites

Oi muchim, courgette flowers & boiled rice

As you might’ve noticed, it’s been hot. Very hot. And when it gets hot, I want food which both heats me up and cools me down (as the Shirley Lites almost sang). You could plot a graph showing a direct correlation between outside temperature, and my yearnings for salads and chilli. When we were growing up (and unexposed to hot, spicy food) I didn’t fully understand the concept of hot food actually cooling you down. I’ve come to appreciate it more over the years, and now many of my favourite foods in hot, humid weather are liberally laced with chillies.

My first chilli experience was… instructive. When I was nine, I watched a chilli-eating contest on a BBC TV programme called ‘Zoo 2000‘*. They made it all look fun and easy, so I went to the fridge and took out a green chilli I’d previously spotted. Biting off a decent chunk in one go, my  reaction to the subsequent heat caused the rest of the family to dissolve with mirth.

What turned it from a minor distraction into a family legend, though, was our dad laughing in that slightly condescending way adults can do, then eating the other half in one go. He probably thought my young palate was overly sensitive… but when he turn scarlet and grabbed the milk bottle from my hands to douse the fire within, comedy reigned. I learned two things that day: to treat chilli with respect, and that milk tempers capsaicin better than water. One reason I prefer lassi to beer in a curry house.

Anyway, weather like this tends to suppress my appetite, so an array of light but spicy food is perfect to nibble on. Recently I’ve been enjoying two of my favourite different south-east Asian dishes, each with a bit of fire in them. Hope you enjoy trying them out.

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A warm salad for warm summer nights

So, I’ve recently returned from a week’s holiday in the warmth and civilisation of Languedoc. It’s not a part of the world I was familiar with, and as well as good weather, my companions and I enjoyed a week of superb local food and wine. As they’d been to the area before I enjoyed some local delicacies under their guidance, and we made plenty of new discoveries too. We ate simply, and tried as much as the short timescale could allow (finally ticked bouillabaisse off my list of ‘to dos’, cooked superfresh whitebait, and gingerly tried freshwater clams which we’d sourced ourselves from Lac du Salagou). Plus freshly picked figs & plums everyday, moules et frites at the local village knees-up, and a host of other delights.

I’ve only warmed in recent years to classic French cooking – my reference point was always further south in Italy – and I associated French with more courtly and less rustic cooking. However there’s a healthy overlap between the high-end and the more accessible, so I’ve been expanding my repertoire and gaining more confidence talking mirepoix rather than soffritto. In part this helps when you’re in an area where the aroma of herbs hangs heavy in the air – wild thyme and mint nestling next to tall fennel plants in the verges – and bushes and trees are laden with fruits and nuts. Foraging and gathering becomes a daily constant, not an occasional novel experience.

I’d mentioned previously I was working on the forthcoming Parlour Café Cookbook: before going on hoilday I’d worked up several of these recipes into postcards, and one in particular stuck in my mind: a warm salad of Puy lentils and goats cheese. It’s one of the star recipes in the book and supposed to be a favourite with the regulars,  so I decided to give it a whirl.

We picked up most of the ingredients in the local supermarket before a trip up country to visit Roquefort and Millau – great cheese, rather dull tour of the caves, although I did pick up some sheep’s butter there – and on the way home had to make our respective ways through an enormous, spectacular and somewhat frightening electric storm. Everyone was a bit frazzled by the end of the trip, so it was rather relaxing to potter around in the kitchen, unwinding with a glass in one hand and a stirrer in the other, unwinding while knocking this oh-so-simple recipe up. Mind you, it’s always fun find your way round somebody else’s kitchen for the first time, making the most of what you find lurking in the cupboards.

It still makes me smile that this most Mediterranean of dishes actually comes via Dundee, but using local ingredients (and some great local wine) meant it was perfectly transposed to a more Gallic setting. Rather than rewritng this I’ll use Gillian’s words from the cookbook, annotated slightly.

Puy Lentil and Goats Cheese Salad

Serves 4

●200g Puy lentils [oddly they weren't labelled as Puy but verte]
●1 onion, chopped
●1 carrot, chopped
●2 stalks of celery, chopped [wonderful dark green celery, still with all the leaves]
●A handful of fresh thyme [straight from the local hills]
●1 bay leaf
●150ml extra virgin olive oil
●3 – 6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped [I used the full six cloves, and it was extremely feisty… I guess due to the freshness of the garlic. No worries about being bitten that evening!]
●50ml red wine vinegar [I couldn't find any in the store cupboard so I used a mix of balsamic & some red vin du table instead]
●100g goats cheese [we used a local, strongly flavoured little number]
●a large handful of parsley, roughly chopped
●sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the lentils in boiling water for 20 minutes, until they are absolutely tender.

Meanwhile, fry the onions, carrots, celery, thyme and the bay leaf in a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil until soft and lightly coloured. In a food processor or with a hand blender, blend the garlic with the rest of the olive oil. With the motor still running, slowly pour in the vinegar and blend until it’s emulsified.

Drain the lentils and pour out onto a flattish dish. Smother in the garlicky dressing and turn gently so everything is glistening. Once the vegetables are cooked, gently mix them into the lentils and leave the salad to cool.

Then toss gently with the goats cheese, torn into chunks, and the parsley. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper if you think it needs it.

The only major change I made was that a couple of our party didn’t like goats cheese, so we served their portions first – they had comté instead – then crumbled the cheese in afterwards. We’d also picked up some smoked sausage to add some savoury notes to the dish. Otherwise we kept it simple – a hunk of fresh bread, a fresh green salad on the side, and some local wine to help everything go down.

This is such a good recipe: it doesn’t take long to make, tastes stunning, and it’s most evocative of warm summer nights and lazy times. I can see why it’s a favourite at the café, and I think it will be with you too. Delicious!

Salade Niçoise with guinea fowl eggs

Guinea eggs 6

To be honest; until I started writing this post I didn’t know very much about guinea fowl (or guinea-fowl), nevermind their eggs. I’ve bought guinea fowl on a few occasions, to make Ghanaian dishes like Nkatenkwan, as their flesh is almost gamey and really benefits from slow, moist, covered cooking methods. I also knew the bird originated in West African, hence their name, and have long been a favourite with chefs (Larousse suggests they’ve been domesticated since Roman times).

Guineafowl egg & duck egg

I’ve also spotted them pecking around farmyards on a few occasions, looking a little haughty and slightly out-of-place with their blue faces and wonderful op-art speckled plumage. Last week my friends from Porcus persuaded me to leave their farm with a selection of wonderful guinea fowl eggs (these are the same people who sated my quest to enjoy turkey eggs last year too)

Guinea fowl eggs

So I came home with six speckly guinea fowl eggs, undecided on how best to use them. I’d been warned they had thick shells, which could prove a bit of a challenge to break through, but I had an extra pair of hands in the form of our mum who was visiting. A quick search on the web threw up very few recipes specifically for guinea fowl eggs, but a friend suggested making a niçoise salad. This proved to be an inspired recommendation, as the diminutive hard-boiled eggs (sized somewhat between a quail and a bantam egg) looked gorgeous nestled against the other ingredients. Not that we needed an excuse to enjoy a classic summer salad (even when the sun is somewhat lacking) which manages to combine some of our favourite family ingredients.

In this case I followed an Antony Worrall Thompson recipe from the BBC website, deviating a little from some other versions, but ticked all the boxes in terms of fresh flavours. I started by marinating the tuna steaks for an hour or so in the vinaigrette mix while prepping the veg. These and the other ingredients filled a large salad bowl. Once the tuna was sufficiently soused it got seared on a very hot ridged griddle, then rested gently.

Meanwhile we boiled the guinea fowl eggs for six minutes, then cooled them off in cold water. They proved quite difficult to peel: the shell was indeed tough, and the inner membrane was equally resistant. Eventually we managed to de-shell and slice them, and were rewarded with sight of bright yellow yolks. They looked wonderfully pretty set against the rest of the salad. Once they were in place the tuna steaks were added, everything was drizzled with the vinaigrette, and we sat down to eat.

The whole thing looked and tasted wonderful: salty, smooth, crisp, sharp and rounded flavours contrasted just as you’d expect a salade niçoise to do. The eggs were creamy and more flavoured than hen’s eggs. The final verdict: great salad, and really tasty wee eggs. If you’re lucky enough to find guinea fowl eggs, don’t pass up on the opportunity to enjoy their delights. Cracking!

Going flat-out for flatbread…

Rosemary and anchovy flatbread

We’re both fans of fast, healthy and delicious Mediterranean-influenced food here at North/South Food. Miss South is definitely more confident and experienced when it comes to baking than I am, but a recent recipe I came across persuaded me to pander to my basest kneads and enjoy my daily bread.

I’m currently designing a cookbook for the wonderful Parlour Café on West Port in Dundee, run by Gillian Veal. Over the last few years her delicious and unfussy cooking styles have added some sunshine to the local food scene, and her recipes have become firm favourites with many Dundonians. So it’s perhaps only natural that Gillian’s sharing some of her favourites recipes with the wider world.*

One of the pleasures (or should that be perils) of receiving the manuscript for a cookbook is trying to resist the urge to try out all the recipes: in this case as soon as I saw the recipe for rosemary and anchovy flatbread I was powerless to resist the temptation to snip sprigs of rosemary and crack open a tin of anchovies. Rosemary oil and salty fish on warm bread? Instant win!

Having made these a couple of times now I’m a major fan. Incidentally they’re so moreable I challenge you to make them last more than one sitting. Perfect with some home-made smoky hummus or an edamame bean dip.

So without further ado let me share this recipe, in Gillian’s own words, alongside my photos. Enjoy!

Gillian’s Rosemary and Anchovy Flat-Bread
Makes 8 – 10 flat-breads

250 grams wholemeal flour
250 grams of plain white flour
250 ml warm water
1⁄2 a teaspoon of dried yeast
80mls olive oil
12 anchovy fillets
1 sprig of rosemary ● sea salt and pepper to season

“Mix both flours in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and gradually pour into the flour while mixing with the other hand. Pour in 60ml of the olive oil as well, and keep mixing until the ball of dough comes together. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it becomes smooth and elastic – you will feel the dough changing and it will bounce back when you stick a finger into it (5 minutes should do it). Cover the bowl with cling-film and set aside somewhere warm for about one and a half hours.

Meanwhile prepare the topping. Tear the leaves off the sprig of rosemary, chop them roughly and bash them up in a mortar and pestle with the anchovies and a glug or two of olive oil until you have a rough paste.

When the dough has about doubled in size, punch it down, gather into a ball and divide into 8 – 10 pieces depending on how many people you’re feeding and how big you want your breads to be. Heat up the oven to 220C, and put in two lightly floured baking trays. Roll the dough pieces out into rough circles, about half a centimetre thick, and evenly spread with the anchovy and rosemary paste. Push it into the dough with your fingers and make sure they’re well covered.

Get the hot baking trays out of the oven, and place the waiting flat breads on them. Sprinkle with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and put back in the oven for around 6 minutes until they are golden and starting to puff up”


*If, as I suspect, this recipe whets your appetite then I urge you to buy the book when it’s published later this autumn by Kitchen Press. Wonderful recipes and delightful illustrations make this a perfect kitchen companion. We’ll have full details on here closer to the time…

Slaw Food Movement

I’m picking up the slaw baton from Miss South, after last week’s delicious-sounding fennel slaw. Coincidentally I was busy making kohlrabi slaw here in the Pennines at the same time.

I’d clocked the distinctive and slightly alien shapes of kohlrabi last year when I was in Hungary, pottering around the markets. I knew what they were, but wasn’t sure I’d ever tasted them.

Here at North/South Food we’re both well-known for our love of all things brassica –  from roots like turnips; leaves like cabbage and kale; and flowers to cauliflower and broccoli – so of course I was keen to add these swollen stems to our checklist of brassica we’ve known and loved.

To my mind there’s something very mittel European about these light green orbs, so it was fitting I was introduced to their flavour by a friend who’d lived in Germany for many years, and had picked up a taste for them when she out there. This was one half of the dynamic duo behind Porcus, our local free-range pork producers (and general self-sufficiency experts).

We had some kohlrabi to accompany a fantastic spread of roast pork and other goodies, as part of a medley of vegetables, but while this was being prepared I was given a chance to sample a slice of the raw kohlrabi. It had a crisp and crunchy texture, and a ‘bright’ and fresh flavour, a little like celeriac with a hint of apple and a pinch of nuttiness. Very nice it was too.

So when I was given a couple of kohlrabi and some radishes, all freshly picked from their hilltop garden, I felt it was worth making the most of this flavour and texture. In the spirit of all things summer I knocked up a quick. light, refreshing slaw to accompany some other salad-y goodies.

I started by peeling and slicing a kohlrabi stem, before julienning it.


I did the same with a carrot, then grated the radishes (don’t you love the form and colour of grated radish?).


These were all combined with a wholegrain mustard mayonnaise (Hellmanns, rather than anything made by my own fair hand… I was far too hungry to go through all that palaver)

Finally, in what proved to be a mildly inspired flourish, I added some sliced chives and a few mint leaves from my windowboxes. These added a touch of clean coolness to the dish which really played off the other ingredients.

A few minutes later I was sitting in the sunlight, eating hardboiled sliced duck eggs, some tomato & feta salad, and a massive dollop of the coarse-cut kohlrabi-slaw. Gorgeous. Kohrabi’s not terribly well-known in the UK, but it you spot some at a farmer’s market, or if you fancy growing some yourself, I think it may become a firm favourite for you. It’s certainly got a place in my kitchen any time…