The pressure’s on in Hong Kong, when it comes to food, as so much of it is so expensive, particularly meat and fish which we buy imported from Australia or the US. If you mess up a roast chicken, hard I know, that’s twenty quid down the drain. Apparently much of the local stuff is full of pollutants, or hormones, or who knows what. It’s a shame because hunkered down beneath the skyscrapers, the banks and the big-brand mega stores are thriving markets. The classic one to go to for food is in Wanchai, east of the financial district, near the immigration department. I went there yesterday morning early to catch the good stuff and was the only Westerner in sight. Sadly they see the blonde giraffe coming a mile off and prices double. At the flower stall I asked the price of some lillies and was told $25 per stem (about £2), the Chinese customer next to me asked in an audibly shocked voice ‘$25???’ and I’m pretty sure the stall holder said, ‘no, no, not for you’ so we moved on.

I let my helper do the bulk of the shopping just pointing out stuff I like the look of or need. She haggles, squeezes fruit and veg with a trained eye and checks the scales before they weigh them, which it wouldn’t have occurred to me to try. She announces certain things ‘no good’ and we move on to the next stall. There is a sort of flick of the chin which means ‘OK I’ll take it’ which I must learn to perfect. Everything looks clean and abundant; there are stalls with simply heaps of bok choi, pak choy, choy sum – they all appear the same to me but some are better for stir-fries, others for dumplings, some for fish. There are stalls of incense, medicine, loo rolls, nuts, clucking chickens, rose petals… I have so much to learn. Never more so than when staring at a tank of live fish. Again I defer to my helper who looks each fish in the eye and pronounces it ‘maybe good’. If they have any damage to the scales around their mouth, they have been nosing the sides of the tank for a while and are ‘old’. She can’t imagine buying a fish fillet in a plastic tray – how would you know how fresh it was? We bought a fish, again expensively, which I didn’t see die, it just appeared in a plastic bag of ice. We ate it steamed with ginger, spring onions, coriander and soy sauce and it was delicious. Apparently you can taste the pollution from the Pearl River delta in the delicate flesh of the fish but I honestly couldn’t. I will try buying fish online, as I’m sure there’s truth in the rumours of metal pollution, but it’s so much more fun to buy like this.

I didn’t see any alligators on my trip to the market so substituted (Australian, imported) skinless chicken breasts for this recipe, you can also use pork loin or prawns. It’s from Jamie Oliver’s ‘Jamie’s America’, the inspiration for this recipe coming from Louisiana. The bright colours and sharp salsa appealed to me as the weather has been cloudless and warm after weeks of grey and cold. Judging from the popularity of the the sweet potato gratin featured on this site it should be a hit, it is heartwarming and comforting. It’s also really easy and requires very little preparation. Do marinate the chicken for as long as you can, I definitely felt it made a difference. I didn’t see any green tomatoes, but had a punnet of cherry tomatoes in need of eating so used those. I didn’t deseed them and Jamie was right that it made the salsa a bit wet. Over to you on whether you can be bothered…

Cajun chicken with sweet potato and salsa

Serves 4

4 sweet potatoes (approx 200g each), wrapped in foil

750g alligator tail, chicken breasts or pork loin, cut into 1cm thick slices

For the cajun marinade:

1 level tsp cayenne pepper

1 level tsp paprika

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a small bunch of fresh oregano, leaves picked [I didn’t use any]

a small bunch of thyme, leaves picked

1 fresh bay leaf, spine removed, leaf torn into pieces [I used a dried one]

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp wholegrain mustard

For the salsa:

3 spring onions, trimmed and very finely chopped

1/2 a fresh red chilli, or to taste, deseeded and finely chopped

2 green tomatoes, finely chopped

1 red tomato, deseeded and finely chopped

a small bunch of fresh curly parsley, finely chopped

2 tbsp cider vinegar

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Start by making the marinade. Whack [so Jamie to say that] the cayenne, paprika and a pinch each of salt and pepper into a pestle and mortar with the fresh herbs and grind them together. Add your garlic, olive oil and mustard and grind again – the oil will help all the flavours come out. When you’ve got a thick treacly paste, transfer it to a large bowl and toss your pieces of meat in it until they are completely coated. Cover with clingfilm, then pop the bowl into the fridge and leave for at least 20 to 30 minutes or, if you really want those flavours to do their work, for a few hours or even overnight.

Preheat your oven to 200C/400F/gas 6 and pop your foil-wrapped sweet potatoes in to roast for about 1 hour. When they’re nearly ready, make your salsa. It’s lovely and fresh, with the right amount of heat, crunch, herbiness, acid and salt to bring it all to life. Put all your salsa ingredients into a bowl, with a good pinch of sea salt to bring out the flavour of the tomatoes. Give it all a good mix.

When the sweet potatoes are ready, take them out of the oven but leave them in the foil so they stay warm. Put a large pan or wok on a high heat and get it ‘screaming’ hot. Quickly but carefully add your pieces of marinated meat and let them cook for a few minutes on each side so they get some nice colour.

Unwrap your sweet potatoes and put them on plates. Score them down the middle, then gently squeeze them so they pucker up. Serve your lovely cooked meat on top, and cover with a few spoonfuls of fresh salsa. And that’s it – beautiful meat, soft sweet potatoes and fresh lively salsa!






Moroccan fish stew

We’re moving to Hong Kong in December, and suddenly the ‘to do’ list is taking on slightly more epic proportions. I find myself walking through the house with a mental black bin bag, thinking ‘we don’t need to take that, this can go to charity, those we can store’, oddly a lot of the items on that list seem to belong to my husband. Fortunately the kitchen is going to be blissfully simple – take it all. I have romantic ideas of myself in Hong Kong making delicious ice creams out of tropical fruits and the husband has his own notions about how I will be breadmaking most weeks since apparently the bread isn’t good out there. We’ll see. In the meantime we’re starting to socialise like crazy, seeing people as much as possible before we suddenly go.

A doctor friend came to stay a couple of weeks ago, with news of a fourth pregnancy. I dished up this, which fortunately works for newishly pregnant ladies, and is dead easy to do while chatting and drinking and laughing and gesticulating. I also gave it to the husband one evening and while still really good it tasted different. I think how you measure out the spices makes a big difference. My tip is go easy on the pinch of cayenne pepper – that’s a pinch not a heap. I also didn’t bother with the flaked almonds, life felt too short. The recipe comes from Australian chef Bill Granger’s ‘Every Day’, which offers everything from energizing breakfasts to kid’s meals to Sunday roasts, all beautifully packaged with sunny photos of Bill and his Ozzie life – not dissimilar to how I imagine mine will look in a few months time…

Moroccan Fish Stew

Serves 4

Prep: 10 mins Cooking: 25 mins

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp turmeric

1 cinnamon stick

pinch of cayenne pepper

400g tin chopped tomatoes

pinch of sea salt

500g firm white fish fillets (such as cod, snapper or ling) cut into chunks

400g tin chickpeas, rinsed

2 teaspoons honey

freshly ground black pepper

To serve:

fresh coriander leaves

flaked almonds, lightly toasted

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric and cinnamon and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more, or until fragrant.

Add the cayenne, tomatoes, salt and 250ml of water and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add the fish and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the fish is just tender. Add the chickpeas and honey and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Season to taste. Serve garnished with coriander and flaked almonds.



Oh dear, and suddenly the summer has passed, or today certainly feels that way. Over the summer my daughter has learnt to sit up, eat and also reject certain foods, wave her hands and, most heart-brimmingly wonderful for me, started to call ‘Mama ma ma…’ over the monitor when she wakes. One of the first vegetables she learnt to love was the courgette, plentiful in France where we spent a few lazy weeks, whizzing green flecked or bright orange purees for her delectation. As a result we often had more courgettes than one little person can eat and then this tart was a wonderful way to use them up. You need to make this with the small, firm kind of courgette, not the monsters my mother apologetically hands me after a weekend at home and calls ‘soup courgettes’. If the idea of a tart puts you off – don’t let it. This is easy. You buy the case or pastry ready made (and follow pack instructions) and just mix the veg in with the eggs and cream. I have to confess I haven’t made the raw tomato dressing, but I meant to, so I include it as I’m sure you will too.

This recipe is by Tamasin Day Lewis and her wonderfully named book ‘The Art of the Tart’.

Courgette and basil tart

Serves 6

22cm shortcrust pastry case, chilled

800g small firm courgettes

salt and black pepper

2 – 3 tbsp olive oil

2 eggs and 2 egg yolks

150 – 300 ml double cream

a handful of basil leaves (about 4 tbsp)

Tomato dressing

1 small onion

1 clove of garlic

675g tomatoes, skinned, seeded and finely chopped

6 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp each of torn basil leaves, chopped chives and flat-leaf parsley

2 tbsp lemon juice

salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Bake the pastry blind for 15 mins, then remove the beans, prick the base with a fork, and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Slice the courgettes into thinnish coins and layer them in a colander, salting each layer. Leave to drain for 20-30 mins, then rinse and dry on kitchen paper.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan, throw in the courgettes, and cook until they are slightly softened and translucent, but do not allow them to colour. Remove from the pan and drain.

Whisk together the eggs, yolks, cream and seasoning: the amount of cream will depend on the depth of your tart tin, so begin with the smaller amount and add more if it doesn’t look as if the mixture will fill the pastry case. Put the courgettes into the pastry case with the torn basil leaves, and pour over the egg and cream mixture. Bake until just set, puffed up and deliciously browned, about 30 minutes. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes before turning out, and eat while warm with the gutsy raw tomato dressing, made while the tart is in the oven.

Mince the onion and garlic together in a food processor. Put in a bowl with the remaining ingredients, stir, then cover and leave in the fridge for 20 minutes. Stir again, and spoon on to the plates alongside the tart.


Gooseberry fool

I remember gooseberries, or ‘goosegogs’ as my father calls them, from childhood. No matter how badly things were going in the rest of the fruit and veg patch (drought, deer, birds and rabbits being the main culprits) the gooseberry bushes remained resolutely unaffected. They didn’t seem to need any attention and so they got none. Even when the hairy green fruit appeared I don’t think they received anything like the drooling delight that strawberries and raspberries did. I picked them on hot sunny days when the fruit was warm, almost prickly and sickly smelling.

Now I love gooseberry fool and think of gooseberries like damsons, a quintessentially English fruit that seems to have dropped out of favour and so is hard to find in the supermarket. Such a shame as surely they are a great herald of high summer. According to Sybil Kapoor in ‘Simply British’, they are not actually native to Britain but first arrived in England in 1275 when Edward I imported some direct from France for his garden at the Tower of London. By the early eighteenth century we were addicted – gooseberry clubs were set up and the newly formed Horticultural Society of 1826 listed 185 strains in its first catalogue. As other fruits became more available throughout the year, the gooseberry suffered and again, just like the damson, you are more likely to find them now in a country garden (or kitchen) than anywhere else.

I found the berries in our farmers market but if you can’t find them there try frozen or apparently you can get tinned. I halved this recipe and used more yoghurt than cream as that happened to be the situation in my fridge. This recipe is one I made up from several others – the inclusion of lemon rind being entirely my own invention but when tasting it before putting it in the fridge it definitely needed some added sharpness. Apparently elderflower is a common partner and works well too.

Gooseberry fool

Serves 8

800g gooseberries

200g golden caster sugar

500ml double cream

500ml plain yoghurt

zest of one lemon

Put the gooseberries and sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat. Stew for 10 mins, until softened, then let them cool. Whip the cream to very soft peaks and fold in the yoghurt. Fold in three quarters of the cool gooseberries through the cream and add the lemon zest. Spoon the fool in to glasses or little bowls and spoon over the remaining berries and leave in the fridge until needed (this will help them set slightly). Serve with something like (hard) macaroons or biscotti for dunking.

Our Lebanese greengrocer has had perfect, fragrant little mangos in canary-yellow boxes of six, each mango nestled in bright pink tissue paper in a little card compartment, all the way from Pakistan. I can’t resist them and have been haunting the shop like an addict as deliveries are frustratingly haphazard. I remember reading something by Nigel Slater about how ideally you’d eat mangos naked as the sweet juice always runs down your chin and arms. It’s a wonderful thought as eating is such a sensuous pleasure. For me mangos are a bit like asparagus – something to be savoured just as they are as their season is so brief.

Last week I had a few too many to manage. I’d ripped out this recipe from the Telegraph Stella magazine, by Diana Henry, and gave it a try. It’s very easy, the Greek yoghurt and lime gives the ice cream a bit of sharpness and you have a luscious taste of summer in the freezer whenever you need it. In this batch of recipes was also one for a mango bellini – you make a puree similar to the one above, ie mangoes and lime (and perhaps some sugar if needed), chill till icy then pour into a jug with prosecco and serve. Haven’t tried it but it sounds delicious too.

Mango, lime and cardamom ice cream

Serves 8

Prep time: 20 mins

100g granulated sugar

150ml water

seeds from 10 cardamom pods, crushed

3 large, really ripe mangoes, peeled

juice of 5 limes

200ml double cream

6 tbsp Greek yoghurt

4 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

Heat the sugar and water over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, stirring from time to time. Add the cardamom. Turn up the heat a little and simmer gently for 10 minutes, until syrupy. Take off the heat and leave to cool. Strain to remove the cardamom.

Peel the mango and cut the ‘cheeks’ off each side. Remove the rest of the flesh from the stone using a small sharp knife. Put all the flesh into a food processor. Whizz until you have a smooth puree; there should be about 600ml (1 pint) of it. Add the lime juice and sugar syrup and combine thoroughly.

Whip the cream until it holds its shape then add the puree, stirring as you do so. Add the yoghurt and icing sugar as well. You need to beat well to ensure there are no lumps of cream or yoghurt. [I found there were quite a few lumps and they were quite hard to get rid of]

Pour the mixture into your icecream maker or, if you don’t have one, into a shallow container and place in the coldest part of the freezer for about two hours or until it is beginning to freeze around the edges. Then, using an electric beater, whisk the frozen edges into the middle, replace the lid and return to the freezer for a further two to three hours. Repeat the whole process then freeze again until it is quite frozen.

Before serving, take the ice cream out to soften a bit.

Serves 8

Two-potato vindaloo

I love spicy food with a dollop of something cooling on it, like chilli with guacamole or curry with raita, almost to the point where the cooling element takes precedence. It’s the kind of food I want when I’m on my own of an evening and am going to sit down in front of the TV for dinner.

This curry, not as hot as the name vindaloo suggests, is made so much more delicious with thick, cold yoghurt and mint and coriander leaves. The recipe is for 4 but it’s even better eaten the next day or reheated from frozen so do make more than you need. I found myself searching my freezer hoping for one last bag of this the other day which seemed the sign of a good recipe.

Don’t be put off by the length of the ingredients list, it’s a cinch to make and most of this lot are just spices you quickly tip into the pot. Another from the wonderful Mr Ottolenghi, this time from his new cook book ‘Plenty’, which will be the first of many recipes I’ll try. Not sure the husband was convinced with the lack of meat in this recipe but even he had to admit it was pretty good – once he was pursuaded to try it.

Two-potato vindaloo

Serves 4

Prep time: 20 Cooking time: 2 hours

8 cardamom pods

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp sweet paprika

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tbsp vegetable oil

12 shallots (300g in total), chopped [I didn’t bother with shallots, just used the onions I already had in the fridge]

1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds

1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds

25 curry leaves

2 tbsp chopped fresh root ginger

1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped

3 ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped [I used tinned]

50ml cider vinegar

400ml water

1 tbsp caster sugar

400g peeled waxy potatoes, cut into 2.5 cm dice

2 small red peppers, cut into 2cm dice

400g peeled sweet potatoes, cut into 2.5 cm dice


mint or coriander leaves to serve

Start by making a spice mix. Dry-roast the cardamom pods and cumin and coriander seeds in a small frying pan until they begin to pop. Transfer to a pestle and mortar and add the cloves. Work to a fine powder [i found this quite hard work, not sure how ‘fine’ you’d call what I ended up with], removing and discarding the cardamom pods once the seeds are released. Add the turmeric, paprika and cinnamon and set aside.

Heat up the oil in a large heavy-based pot. Add the shallots with the mustard and fenugreek seeds, and saute on a medium-low heat for 8 minutes, or until the shallots brown. Stir in the spice mix, curry leaves, ginger and chilli and cook for a further 3 minutes. Next, add the tomatoes, vinegar, water, sugar and some salt. Bring to the boil, then leave to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Add the potatoes and red peppers and simmer for another 20 minutes. For the last stage, add the sweet potatoes. Make sure all the vegetables are just immersed in the sauce (add more water if needed) and continue cooking, covered, for about 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Remove the lid and leave to bubble away for about 10 minutes to reduce and thicken the sauce. Serve hot, with plain rice and garnished with the herbs and yoghurt.



Warm bread and honey

Just in case, like me, Gaitri Pagrach Chandra hasn’t come across your radar, her book ‘Warm Bread and Honey’ has recently won the Guild of Food Writers award for best cookery book and it looks delicious (I haven’t read it yet)! Apparently she is a food historian so her book is as much a good read as a great recipe book and it’s full of home baking inspiration from around the world – everything from Azerbaijani cream cakes to Zeeuwse Bolussen (some sort of Dutch delicacy)…

And with news today that the British governmental health body NICE (ironically named in this biscuit-y context) is considering banning trans-fats used in commercial cakes and biscuits now might be the time to start baking.