European, Tasting

Split pea and smoked hock soup

This soup is the definition of simplicity. Apart from sautéing the carrots, celery and onion, you throw everything else in. And then all you do at the end is remove the ham hocks, blend the soup and throw the meat back in ‘sans’ bones.

It’s hearty, tasty and filling. It easily passes as a main course, especially when you serve it with some nice crusty bread. And it’s (relatively) healthy too. It will keep you regular, if you know what I mean.

It also passed the kid taste test (no screwed up faces and they finished it, with a bit of cajoling of course). Enjoy.

The ingredients (serves 4) – downloaded from

  • 290g (1 1/3 cups) green split peas
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, trimmed, chopped
  • 1 brown onion, halved, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 x ham hocks
  • 2L (8 cups) cold water
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper


  1. Rinse split peas under cold running water until water runs clear. Drain.
  2. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, onion and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the onion softens.
  3. Add split peas, ham hocks and water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 2 – 2 1/2 hours or until ham hocks are tender and the meat is falling away from the bones. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Remove ham hocks from pan. Remove the meat from bones. Coarsely chop meat and set aside.
  4. Place one-quarter of the pea mixture in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Repeat with remaining pea mixture. Return to pan with ham. Alternatively, hand blend the soup while it is still in the saucepan (as I did). Taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until hot.
  5. Ladle soup into bowls.
Asian, Tasting

Kaleem (Pakistani slow-cooked lamb and lentil dhal)

This, my fine fettled friends, is the best darned dhal recipe ever. Yes, I know, that is a big claim. But this is very tasty. Slow cooking with the lamb adds a tasty dimension. Some of the pulses hold their shape, unlike the many times I’ve made dhal, which normally ends up being 100% thick mush. Tasty mush you could build a house with.

Kaleem isn’t like that. It’s a thick sauce, yes. What dhal wouldn’t be like that? But it has distinguishable pulses dotted throughout and melt-your-mouth lamb. It’s not too heavy either, although I don’t think it’s a summer dish for you lot in the northern hemisphere.

I hope you give it a go.

Check out the recipe here.

Middle eastern, Tasting

A dish I’d turn vegetarian for…

Er, well, maybe not. That’s a big call. I don’t think I could go without a juicy steak and chips on a Saturday night, or a bacon and egg sarnie after my weekend cycle.

But there are some dishes that when I eat I say “Oooh, this is so good I could become a vegetarian”. One is Masala Dosa, a south Indian crispy pancake filled with a spiced potato curry and served with a number of condiments. It was recently featured on Bam’s Kitchen blog, so check it out. It is yum.

And this pumpkin and chickpea soup is another one of those dishes.

It’s hearty, filling and very tasty. It is the complex, yet subtle spice and textures that make this dish a real stunner. Turns a simple soup into something quite sophisticated.

And it can easily pass as a main meal. This is a Jamie Oliver recipe that was featured in a 2008 Delicious magazine.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

  • 1 butternut pumpkin, peeled, diced (about 2cm), seeds rinsed and reserved
  • 1 tbs cumin seeds
  • 1 dried red chilli
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsely, leaves chopped, stalks finely chopped
  • 2 small red onions, finely chopped (although I used white onions)
  • 1.5L chicken stock
  • 2x 400g can chickpeas, drained (I used 400g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight. But this was way too much, so I made hummus with the leftover. I reckon 200g would be more than enough).
  • 2 tsp each fennel seeds, sesame seeds and poppyseeds
  • 2/3 cup (50g) almond flakes
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • A few springs of fresh mint, leaves chopped
  • Harissa paste (either make your own or shop bought would be fine)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C.

Spread pumpkin on a baking tray. Sprinkle cumin and dried chilli over the pumpkin. Drizzle with olive oil, mix together and roast for 45 minutes or until cooked through.

Heat a large saucepan over medium-low heat and pour in a splash of olive oil. Add the celery, garlic, parsley stalks and 2/3 of the onion. Cook gently with a lid on until softened. Drop in the pumpkin and sweat for a few minutes, then pour in the stock. If you are using dried chickpeas, add them now.

Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. If you are using tinned chickpeas, Add them now and simmer for 15 minutes more.

Meanwhile, dry roast the reserved pumpkin seeds, fennel seeds, sesame, poppy seeds and almonds until coloured all over and you can smell the release of the natural oils of the spices.

Season soup well with sea salt and pepper, then using a stick blender, whiz for a few seconds so it thickens, but there are still some chunky bits. Keep warm while you mix together the lemon zest, parsley and mint leaves. Chop the remaining onion finely, then mix it into the zesty herb mixture.

To serve, put 1/2 tsp harissa paste into each bowl, then ladle over the pumpkin and chickpea soup. Stir each bowl once, then sprinkle with the toasted nuts and seeds, followed by the zesty herb mixture. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.


European, Tasting

Osso Bucco

I didn’t follow a recipe. I applied the same principles from my slow cooked lamb shanks and liberated myself from the shackles of a recipe book.  It was an enlightening experience. I also didn’t put any wine in so the kids could eat it. Even so, the results were mighty fine.

As a reminder, here are my principles for slow cooking:

  • right cut of meat: in this case veal shin, which after slow cooking falls off the bone
  • inject flavour into the sauce: I browned fatty bacon, used a decent beef stock and put in a bouquet garni freshly cut from the garden
  • don’t rush it: friends came over and I left it cooking on the stove top on a low heat for about four hours.


  1. 4 x veal shin (osso bucco)
  2. olive oil
  3. seasoned flour to dust the veal
  4. 1 x carrot, 1 x white onion, 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
  5. 1 x garlic clove, finely chopped
  6. two rashers of fatty bacon, chopped
  7. 400ml tin of tomatoes
  8. good teaspoon of tomato paste
  9. beef stock (amount depends on the casserole dish you use, but rule of thumb is that the stock should just cover the meat after all the ingredients have been included)
  10. bouquet garni tied with kitchen twine (I used bay, parsley and rosemary)
  11. chopped parsley


  • heat oil in a casserole dish (make sure it has a tightly fitting top)
  • dust the veal with the seasoned flour
  • brown the veal
  • brown the bacon until crispy
  • add the onion, celery and carrot and cook on a lowish heat until softened.
  • add the garlic
  • if there is any flour left over, add it now, and stir to mix with the vegetables
  • add the meat and bacon back into the casserole dish
  • add the tomatoes, tomato paste, beef stock and tuck the bouquet garni down the side of the meat
  • bring up to a simmer, lower the heat. Add the lid and leave for a few hours
  • when the meat is tender and falling off the bone, remove the lid and let the sauce thicken a little
  • remove the bouquet garni
  • add chopped parsley
  • I served with pasta, but steamed vegetables and creamy mash would be lovely
  • enjoy with a nice glass of red wine.

Asian, Tasting

Mrs Chen: old crone, pockmarked-face, tofu legend

By all accounts, Mrs Chen wasn’t blessed with good looks. She had a face so disfigured that she was thought to have leprosy. She was often described as a lady who had been stung by a plague of wasps and had an acid tongue to go with it. She was also a widow.

Mr Chen died early. On the one hand, he couldn’t live with being vilified by a society unforgiving of Mrs Chen’s looks. On the other, his brittle heart couldn’t stand the daily lashings of his wife’s stinging words. He died a broken man.

Mrs Chen, penniless, was banished to the outskirts of Chengdu city in Sichuan, to ensure she didn’t spread disease to the wider population.

But out of adversity came opportunity. Mrs Chen was banished to a busy trading post; a well-trodden road frequented by hungry workers earning their living transporting goods. With no restaurant in sight, they often brought food for Mrs Chen to cook for them. For poor weary travellers, this was mostly tofu and meat. As time went on, Mrs Chen perfected a unique way to cook tofu and her restaurant became well-known for it. Travellers came far and wide to sample her dish. Even Mrs Chen’s constant profanity weren’t enough to keep hungry travellers away.*

The dish she created became known as ‘tofu cooked by the old pock-marked woman called Chen’, or Chen ma po tofu.

We know it today as ma po tofu.

The finished dish

Ma po tofu is probably Sichuan cuisine’s most recognisable dish. Silken tofu is cooked with chilli bean paste, minced pork and Sichuan peppers to combine for a sizzling, spicy, numbing flavour. The numbing comes from the Sichuan peppercorn, which is not related to black pepper at all. The plant is part of the citrus family.

Make no bones about it, I am not a fan of tofu. On its own it’s tasteless and bland. But it’s like a sponge and carries flavour so well. In this dish it is the hero. The pork is the support act.

And until this week I had never cooked it from scratch. I have used the recipe from Neil Perry’s Balance and Harmony, probably my favourite cook book.

The ingredients

Note: the bottle of tsing tao is for oiling the chef’s wheels

  • 300g silken tofu, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 200g minced pork belly (or minced pork will do it)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 spring onions, sliced (I didn’t have any, so I garnished with coriander)
  • 2 tablespoons hot bean paste
  • 125ml fresh chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • A good pinch of Sichuan pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil


  • Grind the Sichuan pepper in a pestle and mortar until fine (ground to perfection here by my handy assistant and daughter).
  • Heat a wok until smoking.
  • Add the vegetable oil and, when hot, add the minced pork and stir-fry until browned.
  • Then add the garlic, spring onions and bean paste and stir-fry until fragrant.
  • Add the stock, shaoxing, soy sauces, sugar and salt.
  • Bring to the boil, add the tofu and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, allowing the liquid to thicken slightly. Add the Sichuan pepper and sesame oil and gently mix together.
  • Serve with jasmine rice.
*Note: I have slightly stretched the original story, but I promise no wasps were harmed in the writing of this post.

European, Tasting

An offally good pie

Now, I know offal isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But before you start pretending to put two fingers down your throat and mimic hurling your guts up, hear me out for a second.

Firstly, I’m not a passionate advocate when it comes to offal. I will only eat it if it is turned into something special and I can forget it’s offal on the plate. So there is hope for you.

I can, at a push, eat liver if it is cooked nicely (not overdone, slightly pink) and in a very tasty onion gravy that masks the flavour. Serve it with a mountain of buttery mash and I’m just about ok. I’ll give sweetbreads a go because the name has no bearing on what they actually are, and the French are very good at turning these little nuggets into something quite lovely.

But one thing I have never been able to eat on their own are kidneys. I could never quite get my head around the fact that kidneys are designed to siphon toxins from an animal’s body. Surely that can’t be good to eat. And that smell.

So, it may come as a surprise that I am writing about steak and kidney pie. This recipe is the one exception (there is only one) to my aversion to kidneys. You see, something remarkable happens when you cook kidneys with a good cut of beef, good stock, red wine and a smattering of a few other ingredients for a couple of hours. Gone is the smell of a male public toilet and hello delicious, rich gray with melt-in-your-mouth beef.

Convinced? No?

Well, add to that a buttery and flaky short crust pastry and you have in my view the tastiest pie on the planet. Rich, tasty, meaty, flaky, moist and all the yuk factor of kidneys melts away in your mouth like they never existed.

If you are unsure about offal, this recipe is for you. You’d never know you were eating it.

Gone on, give it a go. You only live once.

The recipe

I used the recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “The River Cottage Meat Book”. It’s a fab book, if you like meat. Good, hearty traditional and honest food. His recipe calls for homemade puff pastry, which is a little time-consuming for me. So I plumped for Delia Smith’s short crust flaky pastry. Dead easy and a winner in my book.

The filling

  • 1kg of beef skirt or chuck steak cut into generous cubes (you can ask the butcher to cut it up for you)
  • 400g of kidneys, cored and cut into chunks (again, ask your butcher to do this for you)
  • A little oil
  • Up to 50g of plain flour, seasoned
  • 1 glass of red wine (a generous glass!)
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon of English mustard
  • 1 bay leaf
  • About 750ml of stock (I used veal stock)
  • 350g of button mushrooms
  • Salt and pepper

The pastry (note you may have to increase the proportions because I didn’t quite have enough to line the dish and put the top on)

  • 225g of plain flour
  • 175g of cold butter
  • a pinch of salt
  • Cold water to mix
  • One egg yolk

Start by making the pastry. Make sure the butter is cold. Cut up the butter into cubes and add to the flour in a large bowl. Using a palette knife, stir and break up the butter so that mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Don’t use your hands. You’re trying to keep the mixture as cool as possible. My hands are as hot as hell – good for massage, rubbish for pastry making. I’m ok with that. But it means need to keep my hands as far away from the pastry as possible.

Then add cold water little by little (about a tablespoon at a time) and continue to mix using the palette knife. When it all comes together and the bowl is clean, pour it out onto a work surface and bring the dough together. You don’t need to work it much. If you do, you’ll lose the flakiness. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for an hour or so.

Now make the filling. Heat a little oil in a heavy based frying. Dip the beef in the plain flour, dust of the excess and fry the meat in batches until browned.

First brown the meat

Do the same with the kidneys. Transfer the meat to a heavy based casserole or saucepan.

Brown the kidneys

When all the meat is browned, deglaze the frying pan with half of the wine and add this to the meat.

In the frying pan, add a little oil and fry the sliced onion until softened. Add the onions to the meat, along with the mustard, ketchup, bay leaf and enough stock to cover the meat. Add the rest of the wine.

Add bay leaf, English mustard and tomato ketchup

Cook on a very gentle simmer for one and a half hours, until the beef is fairly tender, but not quite finished. Leave to cool. At this point, brown the mushrooms and add to the meat mix.

Next, roll out the pastry. I used a square pie dish. Make sure you grease it lightly.

Roll out two rectangles of pastry, one to fit the top and a bigger version to fit the bottom and sides. You’ll need to roll the pastry out about 5mm thick.

Line the dish with the largest bit of pastry, right up to the lip of the dish. Trim any excess. Brush the inside with egg yolk. Spoon in the meat so that it is higher in the middle than the edges. Then spoon in the juices.

Cover the pie with the smaller piece of pastry and add to the top of the pie. Crimp the edges to seal it.

Bake the pie in a moderately hot over (190 C) for 50 minutes to an hour, until the pastry is golden brown. Serve with vegetables and buttery mash.

More pie porn


European, Tasting

Leftovers: Spanish pork and olives

Leftover pork turned into Spanish pork

First of all, I have to make a confession. I didn’t cook this dish. My wife did all the hard work, so I can’t claim anything apart from writing this post.

She used the leftover pork from the weekend curry. Our daughters love olives and tomatoes, so this recipe ticks all the right boxes.

The Spanish pork recipe is from Delia Smith’s iconic Complete Cookery Course. My book is about 15 years old. It has no cover and the spine has all but disappeared. I daren’t move it from the bookshelf because it’s held together by air. It might dissolve into a heap of dust.

But the book has stood the test of time just like Delia’s reassuring and simple recipes. Spanish pork was first published in 1978 and the version below has been downloaded from for your delectable pleasure.

My wife changed a few things from the recipe below, mainly for convenience, and adjusting the ingredients for young palates.

First of all, there’s no red wine. Instead chicken stock is used. And because we want a quick and easy meal, tinned tomatoes replace fresh, skinned ones. Finally, because we have already cooked the pork, my wife gives the meat a quick introduction to the frying pan, but nothing more.

The dish is simple, and for a Monday is a treat in my book. Or should I say Delia’s book.


First skin the tomatoes (if using fresh and not tinned): pour boiling water over them and leave them for 1 minute before draining and slipping off their skins. Then roughly chop them.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the casserole over a high heat, and brown the pork on all sides, about 6 pieces at a time, removing them to a plate as they’re browned.

Then, keeping the heat high, add the rest of the oil, then the onions and pepper, and brown them a little at the edges – about 6 minutes.

Now add the garlic, stir that around for about 1 minute, then return the browned meat to the casserole and add all the thyme, tomatoes (fresh or tinned), red wine (or stock), olives and bay leaves. Bring everything up to a gentle simmer, seasoning well, then put the lid on and transfer the casserole to the middle shelf of the oven for 1¼ hours.

Serve with potatoes and vegetables to your liking.


2lb (900g) pork, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces

1½ oz (40 g) black olives

1½ oz (40 g) green olives

1 lb (450 g) ripe red tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, peeled and sliced into half-moon shapes

1 large red pepper, deseeded and sliced into 1¼ inch (3 cm) strips

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 heaped teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, plus a few small sprigs

10 fl oz (275 ml) red wine

2 bay leaves

salt and freshly milled black pepper