I’m up to my ears in plums this week. I came across a few 19p punnets in the Co-op near my house and I couldn’t resist. We had a plum tree in our back garden when I was little, but back then I wouldn’t touch the things. Now, I can’t get enough.
We’ve had porridge with stewed plums, plum and apple crumble, and a plum jam is in the works. But I realised I was missing out on something fresher, something that really let the almost-ripe plums stand on their own. I was missing this recipe.
This was inspired, as are most of my best ideas, by Catriona White, who also (co-incidentally) taught me everything I know about salads. Once a personal chef and now a cheesemonger, Catriona’s grasp of flavours taught me how to cook in an entirely new way – and most definitely gave rise to this recipe.
While I’ve put pearl barley in this recipe as a way to plump it up a bit and make it into more of a full meal, you really don’t have to; you can use more plums and no barley at all if you wish. However, don’t miss out on the vinaigrette. It’s a doozy.
You might have noticed that there’s been a distinct lack of action on the blog this year. This is due to two things. Number 1: I’ve been busy. Number 2: I found myself in something of a cooking (and baking) rut. How ridiculous, in a kitchen full of cookbooks, to find yourself cooking the same thing again and again! I resolved to rectify the situation thusly: Every time I thought to cook something boring, I’d drag out one of my woefully underused cookbooks and make something new from that. This led me into a months-long Nigel Slater obsession, but it worked.
Travel has also nudged me out of my comfort zone a little. With trips to Paris, Marrakech and a road trip around Italy this year, I’ve gained some new ideas and techniques (as well as some new equipment; tagine city, here I come). But mostly it’s been Sir Nige, as he should be, with his use of few ingredients and a lot of ingenuity, that’s brought me back into the kitchen with some excitement.
With a friend on his way over for dinner, I found myself reaching for the ingredients for my usual Lemon Drizzle Cake (i.e. the greatest cake of all time). But my mind screamed NO HEATHER. THINK OF SOMETHING ELSE. And I did. And here it is.
It was my flatmate that requested beetroot and celeriac from the veg shop this week, which means that I can’t take credit for this flavour combination at all. This dish was very much a team effort, as all the best dishes are.
It was a rainy, stormy, horrible day in Edinburgh yesterday; the sort of day where you really need a bright, sunshiney bowl of something to make you feel like the world isn’t all one massive grey cloud. We remembered the beetroots waiting in the fridge and realised they’d be perfect.
This is a subtle, gently flavoured soup that leans a little on Russian/Ukrainian cooking; the dill and beetroot combination is one that occurs in many recipes, most notably in borscht. Don’t hold back with the dill; chuck a good handful in there and some on top as well. Don’t be afraid of the dill!
I’ve often spoken on this blog of my love for the fruit and veg stand at the top of Leith Walk. It’s cheap and great, and you’ll get the more difficult to get hold of things like figs and rhubarb and Jerusalem artichokes just as often as you’ll get an entire box of mushrooms for a pound or about 2 kilos of “dirty carrots” for a quid because no one can be bothered to clean them. This week, my flatmate came to do the weekly shop with me and she grabbed some rhubarb. Excellent call, Eva.
She fancied a rhubarb something. A sweet something. I looked into it. Rhubarb and almond. The perfect combination. Job done.
Eva’s favourite cakes are, as she terms it, the “boring” ones. The more bready type of cake, the banana breads and the carrot cakes, the dense ones that have subtle flavours rather than a whirlwind of ingredients that slam into your face and make you feel instantly disgusting. I’m apt to agree, now that I’m an adult, though in my teens I was known to gnaw on a brick of fondant icing as if it were my only life source. These days, subtlety is everything.
After Christmas and New Year, everything is drained; our immune systems, our cupboards, our wallets. We need rejuvenation, and after the decadence of our eating and drinking over the holiday period, we need a bit of simple, hearty sustenance too. I certainly did this year.
Fighting off a sore throat and battling with an empty post-festive kitchen, I craved something easy to make but with enough garlic and ginger and spice to slightly ease the scratchiness in my oesophagus. I wanted warmth in a bowl. I wanted this.
While mint might sound like an odd ingredient to throw into this mix, both lemon and dried mint are ingredients in Harissa, so they simply act to enhance those flavours in this dish. The onion, ginger and garlic bring a warm along with the Harissa and the vegetables give you some much-needed nutritional love. It’s not too intense, but it’s full of goodness and taste.
Sometimes you need a kick up the bum when it comes to cooking. Your repertoire gets a bit dull, your imagination doesn’t seem to extend past the things you have made the week before. Well, I certainly got a kick up the kitchen bum this month; I spent three weeks eating the glorious, magical, indescribably good food in South India.
Real Indian food is far from the cheap parody of what we have been eating in the UK for all of my life. It’s varied, nuanced and full of fascinating ingredients, many of which we’ve never even heard of. It’s also incredibly cheap; a regular lunch “meal” consists of a number of different, small curries, salads and chutneys, served with breads, rice and a sweet, which is eaten before the savouries, and barely ever runs more than 150 Rupees, which is more or less £1.50. I came back from my trip feeling fantastic and eager to remake these recipes at home. Here’s one of the first I tried my hand at.
Alright, I’ve used the word “classic” here, but you should know me well enough now by now to know that I can never resist adding a couple of little tweaks into any “classic” recipe. The two that I’ve added into this fantastically simple soup don’t change the flavour; they merely enhance it.
It’s getting colder by the day here in Edinburgh, meaning that those sniffles and snorts of winter are becoming more and more common. The garlic and ginger in this recipe help to keep that damn sickness at bay, and the turmeric is added in for extra wonderful colour and for its whole host of health benefits. The coriander seeds warm the flavour a little without changing it (though you can use ground coriander if you prefer), and the whole shebang ends up being one of the best carrot and coriander soups I’ve ever had. Honestly.
Figs. They’re sort of new to me. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten one before this year, when they were sat looking delicious at my fruit and veg man’s stall and I took a punt on four for two pounds. I put them in porridge, I roasted them, I put them in salads. Delicious.
I brought some more figs this week, and realised I wasn’t being nearly enough inventive with them. I had got some of my usual pre-made vegan puff pastry (I know, Paul Hollywood; I should be ashamed) and, because autumn has definitely arrived in Edinburgh, I’ve got it into my head that warming, crispy, fruit-filled desserts need to be made. Figs pair beautifully with blueberries and vanilla – so why not wrap the whole shebang in that gorgeous, crispy, layered pastry and serve?
Why not exactly.
I’m a big fan of brunch, as you well know. I sometimes rely a little too heavily on potatoes in some sort of fried manner (because fried potatoes are the only actual, scientifically proven cure for a hangover), so I like when I come across a brunch idea that’s not all root vegetables and regret. I first read about shakshuka not that long ago, and chalked it up as a potential brunchable. Turns out, it’s amazing.
Shakshuka is argued to have originated in Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen, but its popularity spread all across the Middle East, and it’s now a popular breakfast in Libya, Algeria and Morocco as well as a common evening meal in Israel. The traditional version of the dish is made with eggs, which are cracked into wells in the tomato mixture and slowly poached this way.
For me, avocados are the natural vegan equivalent to eggs. They’re fatty and delicious, and they can be cooked (or prepared) in a number of different ways. Shakshuka is also served with a yogurt drizzle in a lot of places, and I’ve used my favoured basic tahini sauce as the drizzle here, as the flavours go really well with the spices and tomato (and of course, with the avocado). The result is a dish that I’ll be coming back to time and time again; easy, quick and a total crowd-pleaser.
Banana bread. One of the cheapest, easiest, most singularly satisfying things that you can make in your oven.
For me, banana bread brings with it memories Australia, of inhaling a slice of banana bread and a flat white on the Manly ferry after a Saturday of trying to surf. I’d shove the whole lot in my mouth while trying to keep my eyes open – usually followed by a nap on the ferry and a nap in the back yard hammock before heading out that evening. Even the smell of banana bread cooking makes my paddling muscles ache these days. I miss those Saturday afternoons on the beach.
A couple of fresh slices of this delicious cake bring a little of that Sydney sun to the ever-ripening autumn of Edinburgh.