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Primavera Orzo Salad with Fresh Peas, Asparagus, Mint and Feta

22 Apr Orzo Primavera

Primavera Orzo Salad

Spring has definitely sprung. The wild flowers are wafting their sweet fragrance in the mornings where I run with the dog so my thoughts turn away from steaming hot soups and comforting stews towards lighter flavours and all things fresh and green.

Spring Flowers

I bought some fresh peas in their pods from the farmers’ market on Sunday. There is nothing more spring-like than peas, except for maybe asparagus. This recipe has both. In fact it has all my favourite spring flavours in one dish. There’s also fresh mint, dill, lemon, spring onions, spring garlic and feta. Is it singing to you yet?

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Orzo, in case you don’t know, is a rice shaped pasta. If you can’t find it (I got mine in Eroski, believe it or not, in the Moroccan section) you could use any small-ish pasta shapes or even cooked rice. The good thing about orzo is that it doesn’t go all flabby and stick together when it is cooked so it is perfect for salads.

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You toss all the ingredients and the dressing over the cooked orzo while it is still hot so all the flavours get absorbed and start to mingle. Leave it to cool to room temperature then you can store it in the fridge. The feta and fresh herbs are best stirred through just before serving. This is an ideal lunch that would be easy to take to work or for a weekend picnic.

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Primavera Orzo Salad with Fresh Peas, Asparagus, Mint & Feta Recipe

Serves 3, vegetarian.

  • 300 g uncooked orzo (or other pasta shapes)
  • 2 or 3 spring onions (scallions), finely chopped
  • 1 baby leek (or more spring onion), finely chopped
  • 1 spring garlic/green garlic/ajete, finely chopped
  • salt & black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • a pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 100 gr shelled fresh peas (or frozen)
  • a handful of fresh chopped dill
  • 12 fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 100 g Greek feta
  • toasted pine nuts (optional)

Cook the orzo in lots of boiling salted water for about 8 minutes until al dente and drain.

Meanwhile, cook the spring onions, baby leek and spring garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil over a medium heat with a pinch of salt some black pepper, the thyme, oregano and chilli flakes until softened. Mix this with the drained cooked pasta in large bowl. Add the olive oil, lemon juice and season with salt & black pepper. Leave to cool.

Trim or snap the woody ends off the asparagus and cut into 1 inch pieces. Shell the peas. Cook the peas & asparagus in boiling salted water for 3 minutes then drain and add to the orzo, Stir everything together well.

Leave to cool to room temperature. It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge from this point. When ready to serve stir through the crumbled or cubed feta and the chopped herbs. Taste for seasoning, add more salt or lemon juice if required.

Serve topped with some tiny mint leaves, dill fronds and toasted pine nuts, if using. I forgot to put mine on for the photos, duh…

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Say hello to spring even if it is raining where you are!

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Have a lovely week whatever the weather.

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Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad with Pistachio and Parsley

5 Jun Watermelon Salad

I know it may be a little early in the season for watermelon where you are, or it may even be getting on for winter but I got a baby watermelon in my organic veg box this week. Look how cute it is.

Look, I put it next to a lemon for you so you can see how small it is. Watermelon is one of the ingredients in my favourite summer salad and it is definitely feeling a lot like summer here so this is what I made with it.

Watermelon, Feta & Mint Salad with Pistachio & Parsley

Serves 2, vegetarian, gluten-free. Adapted from Nigella Lawson

  • 1/4 small red onion, very finely sliced
  • the juice of half a lemon
  • 400 g watermelon, rind & most of the seeds removed then cut into approx. 4 cm triangles
  • 100g Greek Feta cheese
  • a handful of fresh parsley leaves, left whole
  • 5 or 6 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 8 black or purple olives, halved & stoned
  • black pepper
  • extra virgen olive oil
  •  a handful of shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
  • lemon wedges to serve

Put the finely sliced red onions in a small bowl and cover with the lemon juice. Leave to soak while you make the rest of the salad. This makes the flavour less harsh and turns them a pretty magenta colour.

Place the watermelon triangles in a beautifully random arrangement on your serving dish/plates. Cut or break  the feta into similar sized pieces as the watermelon and scatter them amongst the watermelon. Tear off sprigs/leaves of parsley and do the same. 

Tip the bright pink onions and their juices over the salad, add the olives, drizzle with a little olive oil and top with the chopped pistachios and a grinding of black pepper. Serve with extra wedges of lemon if you like.

This is me sending some much needed sunshine in the form of this beautiful salad to all the people in the UK celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee in the cold and rain.

This is my 93-year-old Grandad at a Jubilee garden party yesterday. He is wearing ski gloves, a shawl and a blanket over his legs. This is the 4th of June by the way, a typically English summer’s day!!

Sending you some sunshine Grandad, Enjoy!!

Beetroot and Red Wine Risotto with Oregano and Seared Halloumi

10 Mar Beetroot Risotto & Seared Halloumi

This recipe is inspired by our trip to the Holden Manz Wine Estate in Franschhoek. Holden Manz is owned by Gerard Holden and Migo Manz, an artist whose paintings and sculpture decorate the public areas. They took over the existing wine estate about a year and a half ago and have been reinventing it ever since.

There is a beautiful Manor House with luxurious suites that has an exclusive yet unpretentious atmosphere. This could be said of the whole estate. They have a refreshingly modern approach to the business which translates into every area. The spa, guest house, winery and restaurant all have a positivity that comes from the staff being well-trained and excited about what they do and where they work.

You can order a picnic with food fresh from the garden orchard and a lovely bottle of the Holden Manz rose. Wander down to the banks of the river, chose your spot under the oak trees and while away the afternoon. Try some of their award-winning wines, a food and wine pairing or the extremely popular tapas menu.

The Franschhoek Kitchen restaurant has very quickly become a name up there with the heavyweights in the culinary town of Franschhoek. And those are some big names.

The stand out dish, for me, was the Holden Manz shiraz and beetroot risotto with duck prosciutto. I didn’t eat the duck obviously but the sweet beetroot risotto with a hint of peppery spice from the shiraz really was delicious. The Washer Up said it was perfect with the salty, smoky duck. My challenge was to recreate this dish at home and find a suitable replacement for the duck. 

I immediately thought of feta because its salty, sour creaminess would be the perfect contrast to the sweet, dark and earthy beetroot. And this would still be great but halloumi has that slightly chewy, meaty texture that as well as the saltiness that gave it the edge over the feta. The oregano is because we have just bought an oregano plant so it is “new favourite thing” and it goes well with hallloumi for that extra bit of Greek flavour.

You make a beetroot puree to add to the risotto, we made a bit extra to use as a dressing on the plate. It really increases the volume on the beetroot flavour. It’s up to you.

Beetroot & Red Wine Risotto with Oregano & Seared Halloumi

Serves 3-4, vegetarian, gluten-free. Adapted from The Franschhoek Kitchen recipe

Prep time: about 30 mins if roasting beetroot Cooking Time: 25-35 mins

  • about 160 gr baby beetroots, roasted until soft with olive oil salt & pepper (or you can buy precooked vacuum packed beetroot) but don’t used the pickled stuff in jars.
  • 250 gr arborio rice (we used brown short-grain rice it takes longer to cook and more stock)
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp finely chopped fresh oregano or thyme (plus extra for garnish)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk young celery, finely chopped
  • salt & black pepper
  • 250 ml (or more if using brown rice) red wine (Shiraz/Syrah if possible) something peppery and spicy
  • 250-500 ml veg stock
  • a handful of finely grated manchego (or parmesan) cheese
  • 250 gr pack halloumi cheese, in 1/2 cm slices
  • rocket or watercress to serve
  • some finely diced cooked beetroot for garnish (optional)

Blend the cooked beets with a stick blender to a smooth puree. Reserving some to finely chop for garnish if you like. Taste and season with salt and pepper (if you haven’t already).

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Put the veg stock in a small pan over a low-medium heat and keep hot, not boiling.

Fry the onions and celery in the hot oil until starting to soften (4-5 minutes) then add the garlic and oregano, cook for another minute then add the rice. Stir to coat the rice then add three-quarters of the beetroot puree, stirring again.

Add the wine, in three parts stirring all the time until each lot is absorbed into the rice. Then add the hot stock a ladle full at a time, stirring untill each ladle full is absorbed before adding the next.

Keep adding the stock until the rice is cooked (you may need to add more stock/wine to the small saucepan depending on the rice). Season with salt and black pepper.

Remove from the heat stir through the grated cheese, cover and leave to stand while you cook the halloumi.

Heat a frying/saute pan over a medium-high heat but DON’T add any oil. Dry the slices of halloumi on kitchen paper then put into the hot pan. Cook for a minute or so on each side until browned and slightly crispy.

To serve: spoon the risotto into bowls (or into a chefs ring on a plate) and top with the halloumi slices. Garnish with a smudge of the reserved beetroot puree, the rocket or watercress leaves, chopped beetroot and some baby oregano leaves.

Serve with a nice glass of the red wine you used to cook the risotto. The Holden Manz Shiraz if you’re lucky…..

For more information about the Holden Manz wine estate, visit their website here.

Have a great weekend!!

Savoury Feta and Pomegranate Cheesecake with Pistachio, Mint and Parsley (and a Winner!!)

29 Oct Feta & Pomegranate Cheesecake

Having seen Beth Michelle’s beautiful pure white sweet cheesecake bed topped with a generous pile of glistening ruby pomegranate jewels, I knew that I was going to make a cheesecake with the pomegranates that I am now seeing all over the trees here at the moment.

At the restaurant we used to serve a savoury cheesecake with an apricot chutney. It wasn’t baked and I think it was goat’s cheese. Anyway I was thinking of going down a Greek/Middle Eastern road because of the pomegranate, and feta was the obvious cheese choice. Continue reading

Andalucian Stuffed Vine Leaves with Spinach, Raisins and Almonds

4 Sep vine leaves

I’ve been watching these grapes drying on the vine and turning into raisins. Every day I walk past them and wonder if they are going to pick them today or whether they are just leaving them to rot.

There’s a traditional Andaluz dish called Espinacas con Pasas y Almendras which is Spinach with Raisins & Almonds. I wanted to use this as a filling for stuffed vine leaves because it is similar to the Greek/Middle Eastern filling except they usually contain rice. I wanted to do and Andalucian version but I couldn’t find vine leaves anywhere, they just don’t sell them.

So I decided to pick some and use them, well I got The Washer Up to pick them actually. I read about how to prepare them here. Basically you just wash them, blanch them for a few minutes in boiling water, drain them, leave them to dry and then store them in the fridge or freezer.

Or you could just buy them in a jar and rinse them before using.

When you’ve made the filling you pile a heaped teaspoon onto the vine leaf at the bottom where the stalk has been removed. Then you fold the bottom leaves up over the filling, fold the sides in and roll up like a spring roll.

I only cooked mine for 15 minutes because my filling didn’t contain rice. Most recipes I looked at were cooked over a low heat for about 45 minutes to cook the rice. This is much quicker.

This makes quite a lot of filling and I didn’t have that many vine leaves (as I had picked them off somebody elses vine) so I used the rest of the filling to make some empanadas which were lovely too. You can buy ready to use round empanada sheets or make you own pastry from my recipe here.

Just pile  a heaped tablespoon of the filling on one side of the circle, fold the other side over to make a semi-circle and seal the edges with a fork. Brush with olive oil or beaten egg and cook at 200 C for 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of your pastry.

Andalucian Stuffed Vine Leaves with Spinach, Raisins & Almonds

makes 24-36 stuffed vine leaves, vegetarian, gluten-free

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 500 gr frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped (optional)
  • 75 gr whole toasted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 50 gr raisins
  • freshly grated nutmeg (about 1/4 tsp)
  • a handful of fresh parsley, chopped plus extra for garnish
  • salt & black pepper
  • 50 gr manchego cheese, grated (or crumbled feta)
  •  a squeeze of lemon juice
  • vine leaves (rinsed if in brine) see how to prepare vine leaves here

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat, add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook for about 5 minutes until softened and translucent. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for another minute.

Add in the nuts, spinach, raisins and nutmeg, season with salt & pepper and cook for another few minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and the grated cheese. Taste for seasoning and drain away any excess liquid from the spinach. transfer to a bowl to cool.

Lay out your rinsed or blanched vine leaves (cut away any stalks) on a clean surface veiny side up. Pile a heaped teaspoon of the filling onto the bottom part of the leaf where the stalk was (see picture above) then fold the bottom leaves up and over the filling. Fold both sides of the leaf in and over the filling, then roll it up like a mini spring roll.

Place all the rolled vine leaves seam side down in a saucepan, squash them together so there’s no gaps. Drizzle with olive oil and then cover with water to about and inch over the vine leaves. Cover them with a heatproof plate (to stop them floating up), bring to the boil then lower the heat to a simmer, cover with lid and cook for about 15 minutes (if your filling doesn’t contain uncooked rice). Keep an eye on them though and try not to burn the bottom of the pan. I may or may not have done this!

Remove with tongs to a plate and leave to cool.

Serve at room temperature sprinkled with fresh parsley and a Greek yoghurt dip. I just mixed some Greek yoghurt with chopped fresh parsley, lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Things That Made Me Smile Today…….

My beautiful, if slightly mental cats……

The gorgeous and terribly aloof Anouschka. Also known as Moomin Mamma (If you don’t know what a Moomin is, they have big staring eyes).

The beautiful Biba, bonkers but very attentive….

And the baby Tallulah, looks evil, scared of everything but loves to be loved….

This is her favourite spot….

Baked Zucchini Fries with Tyrokafteri Chilli Cheese Dip

25 Aug zukes top right

So here you are as promised, these baked zucchini fries are the perfect vehicle for the Tyrokafteri chilli cheese dip that I posted yesterday. They are also really good with a basil pesto mayo.

I first had zucchini fries at a bar/restaurant called Liquid Lounge in Puerto Banus about 8 or 9 years ago. Liquid Lounge is not there anymore unfortunately but, at the time, it was the place to be in Banus. They had an amazing cocktail menu and a chef that thought he was Marco Pierre White. The food was modern Italian/British and they had zucchini fries as one of the starters.

I had them every time we went. They came with a basil pesto mayo and it seemed to me that everyone was ordering them as a side dish as well. We used to think that they must have had one person in that kitchen just doing zucchini fries. They were that popular.

I knew as I saw these courgettes growing where I walk with the dog that Zucchini Fries was going to be my first courgette recipe of the season. Definitely not the last though.

I have made them at home quite a few times and I’ve always deep-fried them in breadcrumbs. I made this version gluten-free and baked them instead of deep-frying. You know what, I think that they might actually be better this way.

The “breading” is  a heavenly mixture of finely grated parmesan/manchego, crushed fennel seeds, ground almonds, cornmeal (arepa flour or polenta), oregano, chilli flakes and gluten-free breadcrumbs. And they do crisp up nicely in the oven too, if that’s what you’re worried about.

Baked Zucchini Fries Recipe

Serves 2 as a snack or side dish, vegetarian, gluten-free. Adapted from Prairie Table

  • 1 medium courgette/zucchini
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 35 gr (1/3 cup) finely grated parmesan or manchego cheese
  • 35 gr (1/3 cup) ground almonds
  • 35 gr (1/4 cup) arepa cornmeal (or polenta)
  • 35 gr (1/4 cup) gluten-free breadcrumbs
  • salt & black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds (then crushed)
  • 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and brush it all over with olive oil.

Tip all the dry coating ingredients in a freezer/ziploc bag season well with salt & pepper and shake to combine well.

Wash & dry your courgette and trim off both ends. Cut the courgette in half into two even cylinders and cut each half lengthways into 8 fries. Make sure each piece has some skin to hold it together.

Put the beaten egg in a shallow dish or plate and season with salt & pepper. Toss 2 pieces at a time in the egg until coated on all sides, then drop the pieces into the freezer bag. Seal and shake about well to make sure they are well coated, then place on the lined, oiled baking tray. Repeat with the rest of the fries.

Drizzle over a little olive oil so that each piece has a little and bake for about 20 minutes until golden. Take the tray out of the oven and use tongs to turn them over. Put them back in the oven for about 5 minutes to crisp on the other side.

Serve immediately with Tyrokafteri chilli cheese dip or a basil pesto mayo.

I served them with my version of a Greek Salad too. Cos lettuce, tomatoes, chickpeas, red onion, cucumber, black grapes, (I don’t like olives), fresh mint, fresh parsley, dried oregano, olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper.

Enjoy!!

Tyrokafteri – A Greek Chilli Cheese Dip with Homemade Goat’s Cheese

24 Aug Tyrokafteri Dip

I’ve made Middle Eastern yoghurt cheese (labneh) before by straining Greek yoghurt in the fridge overnight but I’d never gone one step back and actually made the yoghurt as well.

I read about it at Chica Andaluza. She made yoghurt from cow’s milk and then drained it for longer to make a soft cheese. I really wanted to try this with goat’s milk to see if I could make my own soft goat’s cheese.

It took a little longer than expected to “turn” which may have had something to do with the unseasonably cloudy weather we had as soon as I decided I wanted to put my milk out in the sun, but it worked. I made soft goat’s cheese from goat’s milk and it was easy.

A litre carton of goat’s milk made about 250 gr goat’s cheese spread, which is the size of a tub of Philadelphia, it’s that sort of texture too.

Now I could get on with making a Greek chilli cheese dip called Tyrokafteri that had been wanting to try for a while. The original recipe is a mixture of feta cheese and ricotta blended with chillis, lemon juice and olive oil. I just replaced those with my soft goat’s cheese.

Tyrokafteri Chilli Cheese Dip/Sauce Recipe

Makes about 300 ml, vegetarian, gluten-free. Adapted from Epicurious

  • 4 red & 4 green chillis, I used birds eye chillis (use 20 gr if using the larger mild chillies)
  • 250 gr soft goat’s cheese (or 165 gr feta & 85 gr ricotta)
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 35 ml extra virgen olive oil
  • salt & black pepper

Wash the chillis, remove the stalks, cut them in half lengthways and remove the seeds and membrane. Wear gloves or your hands will sting for ages and don’t touch your eyes.

Boil them in a small pan of boiling water for 15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and peel off the skin (if using larger chillies) using gloves. If you used small chillies no need to peel. Boiling them takes away some of the heat but not the flavour.

Put the rest of the ingredients and  in a blender/processor and blend together well. I added my chillies two at a time because I was worried about it being too hot, and blended again. Taste and add more chillies until you are happy with the heat. I added all eight in the end and it was perfect. Blend until smooth and season with salt & black pepper. If  you are using feta you may not need any salt.

Pour into a serving bowl and refrigerate until using. It tastes even better the next day.

Serve with toasted pita bread or crudites for dipping or drizzle over roasted or chargrilled Mediterranean vegetables. It’s addictive. I served mine with some baked zucchini fries and I will be posting the recipe tomorrow…

Things That Made Me Smile Today……

I love these flowers, they look like a multi-layered gerbera…..

The bees seem pretty taken with them too….

Hasta Manana!

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