Banana Blossom Salad

This recipe was inspired by a dish that I ate at Chim Sao, a restaurant in Hanoi, but it can be found all over Vietnam. A fantastically fresh and zingy salad beautifully presented in a purple banana blossom boat, the dressing was so good I had to drink it straight from the blossom.

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The banana blossom salad was one of a number of well thought out dishes, alongside pigeon crackers and stir-fried buffalo. One thing we learned is to listen to the advice of your waiter. She tried to warn us when we ordered two special mountain rice wines. Expecting a shot to round off a lovely meal, we were surprised when she came over with a full bottle. There was nothing for it but to sit there and finish it off. So an hour later we stumbled out with fond memories of Chim Sao, and luckily I had taken notes pre-rice wine.

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Notes from the restaurant

Banana blossom is not a common ingredient back home but can be found pre-sliced in asian supermarkets. Otherwise it could be substituted by other fresh salad ingredients like shredded lettuce, or fruits like melon, guava or mango and some sliced orange zest. Its worth hunting down the real thing though.

Jim Sao

 

Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup (Phở Bo)

Pho is a wonderfully simple dish that is perfect for recovering after a big weekend. Made from bone broth, which is full of nutrients to bring you back to your best, its enriched at the last minute with fresh, vibrant ingredients: fresh herbs, spring onion, ginger, chilli and greens.

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The key to a phở is getting the broth right. Firstly, skim the stock regularly as it cooks to remove impurities, this will ensure a beautifully clear broth with a clean flavour. Secondly, make sure the seasoning is right. Balance the flavour right before serving with soy sauce, fish sauce and lime juice. Getting the broth perfect can be the difference between final slurps of joy, or your bowl of broth becoming a chore.

I added thinly-sliced beef skirt while the broth was still hot enough to gently poach it to perfection. You could use other tender cuts like sirloin or fillet, just make sure it is sliced across the grain (see notes).

In Vietnam, there is a fantastic selection of aromatic fresh herbs served at every street kitchen. Get hold of of some thai basil, rice paddy herb, or whatever else your local asian supermarket has. These can be dipped in and used to freshen up the broth and add an authentic freshness and flavour.

Two condiments that are always on the table in Vietnam are chilli sauce and garlic vinegar. The chilli served on the side so people can make it as hot as they like. It usually comes in the form of fresh sliced chilis or a Sriracha like chilli paste. Make the garlic vinegar by marinating some thinly sliced garlic cloves in rice vinegar. A little dribbled into the borth gives a subtle garlic hit and slight sweetness.

Chicken Breast with Bulgur Salad and Coconut Oil Dressing


Coconut oil has numerous health benefits which you can read about here. It is a versatile ingredient, it can top your muesli, be used like butter or olive oil in cooking, it can also be used in baking to replace other fats. Apparently people also rub in on their skin for some reason too. I’ll stick to cooking.

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My coconut oil is from Greenfield Farm Organic Life. I have enjoyed their delicious warming Chai many a rainy afternoon at Borough so when Anelie told me about their organic Sri Lankan coconut oil I couldn’t wait to try it. The coconuts are hand picked and the white flesh pressed at low temperatures to preserve all the natural goodness; fatty acids, vitamin E and minerals.

The solid white oil resembles candle wax but starts to melt and flake off to the touch. It disintegrates in the mouth to leaving a creamy texture and fresh coconut hint. I want to cook something simple that will allow the natural flavour and goodness to come through. This dish uses the coconut oil in two ways. Firstly, the chicken is fried and basted in the oil to give it a subtle coconut flavour. Then the juices from the pan are used to make a dressing for the bulgur salad by adding some fresh lemon juice.

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You can find Greenfield Farm Organic Life trading at Borough Market. Stop by for a delicious cup of tea and some organic products.

 

Sea Bass Ceviche

Ceviche is a south american dish of raw fish cured in citrus juice. The citrus denatures the proteins in the fish, changing the colour to white so it appears cooked. However, because no heat is applied the “cooking” will not actually kill any bacteria in the fish so it must be as fresh as possible and from a reliable source.

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I used sea bass, sliced very thin to allow the citrus to penetrate faster. I bought it from Furness Fish at Borough Market, and served it up the same day for maximum freshness.

The citrus juices are balanced with some fine red onion, chilli, salt and a little sugar and spooned over the thin slices of fish about five minutes before serving. I finished the dish off with some fresh pomegranate seeds for colour and texture and some shredded mint and coriander.

 

Roasted Bone Marrow On Toast with Tomato Salad

Beef bone marrow is a nutrient dense jelly-like substance that occupies the hollowed out interior of cow’s bones. I picked up slice of shin from Wild Beef. They rear excellent beef which roams free on Dartmoor feeding on the moor’s grasses and wild flowers, and they bring it all the way from the West Country to Borough and Broadway Markets every week.

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I roasted the piece of bone, which also had some meat around it, with some stock vegetables to soften the marrow. Then made a hearty broth with the bone. Marrow is full of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids so a marrow broth is excellent if you need to revitalise in the cold weather. It also contains gelatin which gives a lovely rich, sticky texture to the broth.

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The marrow is indulgent and fatty so I topped it with a salad of tomatoes, shallots and parsley to cut through the richness and freshen up the dish. Two delicious and nutritious meals from one bit of bone!

Apple, Celery, Radish Salad with Goat’s Cheese

This is a simple salad pairing early autumn vegetables with beautiful goat’s cheese from Ellie’s Dairy in Kent.

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Ellie’s produces outstanding goat’s milk, cheese and meat from a small herd grazing on the North Downs. The herd is carefully looked after by people who really care about what they are doing and the result is delicious produce. I used the Kentish Log, a soft goat’s cheese with a tangy goaty flavour, lovely with the fresh crunchy vegetables and zingy lemon dressing.

Ellie's Herd

You can find Ellie’s cheese and milk at Borough Market and other markets in London, and they have a blog where you can keep up to date with the goats’ activities on the farm at elliesdairy.blogspot.co.uk/. The meat is so good that we sell it at Gourmet Goat, also at Borough Market.

Why not try this salad with some grilled kid goat chops to make it a full meal!

Fig, Almond, Fennel and Rocket Salad with Raspberry Dressing

A fresh summer salad using beautiful figs that are just coming into season, make sure they are just ripe but not too soft. The fresh figs go brilliantly with toasted almonds and fennel seeds, peppery rocket leaves and a sweet, tart raspberry dressing. Parmesan shavings add salty umami and the whole thing is freshened up with zingy mint leaves.

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All these flavours work really well together and the salad is very light so would be great as a starter. It would also work with something salty like lardons or some grilled meat and croutons as a more substantial meal.

Clay Pot Cooking – Four-hour Roast Chicken

Clay pots have been used in cooking since at least as early as 6000 years ago. They were used traditionally by every ancient culture and are still used all over the world today. More recently clay has been replaced with metal but there are still several advantages to using clay that make it relevant today.

6000 year old cooking pot

Clay does not conduct heat well which gives it an advantage over metal because it means a clay pot will not lose heat as quickly, so it will keep an even temperature heat for longer. This makes it more efficient for cooking and gives an even temperature over long cooking periods, especially when using an open fire, where residual heat is all that is cooking the food. My previous post used this technique.

The second advantage of a clay pot is that it locks in moisture so you can cook over long periods without drying foods out. This is a particular advantage when cooking lean meats like chicken because you can keep the meat juicy without adding any fat at all.

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The clay pot I like to use is a chicken brick. It is a hollow clay brick that snugly fits a chicken inside. I placed some stock vegetables underneath the chicken and then added some red wine and water to cover them. The chicken went on top seasoned with salt and pepper, and a lemon in its neck, but no oil or butter. Then the all important clay lid on top that keeps all the goodness inside.

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The chicken brick went into a cold oven which was then set to 160℃. Its important not to put the clay straight into a hot oven as it may crack. The relatively low temperature will cook the chicken in four hours leaving even the lean breast meat juicy and pulling away from the bones.

Cooked chicken coming out of the oven
Cooked chicken coming out of the oven

One thing this method won’t achieve is a desirable crispy skin on the chicken. Because the meat has been steaming inside the clay pot, the skin comes out soggy and pale. There is a simple solution though. A kitchen blowtorch will dry out and crisp up the skin and leave it a lovely golden brown. If you don’t have a blowtorch you can finish the chicken off under a very hot grill for a few minutes. Blowtorch is more fun though…

You can serve the chicken with the vegetables that were cooked underneath, and make a gravy from the liquid. Worth the four hour wait in my opinion for tender but still juicy chicken with crispy golden skin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beet Leaf and Root Salad

My sister Tara is running an incredible 8 marathons in 8 days in order to raise £5000 for The Yoga Mission, a fantastic project helping some of the poorest children in India fulfil their potential. She is already halfway towards her total but with the challenge one week away she needs more support! There is more about the campaign on her website and please donate here for this great cause.

Tara is looking for ways to boost her endurance for this daunting challenge. In her blog post, she talks about the numerous health and performance benefits of beetroot but also that she can’t stand eating it!

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Personally I love beetroot either boiled or roasted under a joint of meat, it also has a unique, very earthy flavour when eaten raw and can take on strong salty and acidic flavours very well. I have read about runners drinking shots of the juice to boost performance and maybe it is the intensity of the raw juice with nothing to balance it that has given it a bad name.

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This simple recipe aims to showcase the beautiful colours and the unique flavour of beets by shaving them finely and pairing them with a tangy goat’s cheese and tart lemon dressing. The leaves are also used to give a slightly bitter background and fresh mint on top gives a fragrant freshness.