Tangy Carrot Salad

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It was December 1972 and I’d been living in Damascus for about 3 months, getting used to the presence of armed soldiers on every street corner; taking the shortages of food, clothes, and basic necessities like bread and bottles of calor gas, in my stride.

My mother-in-law and her relatives used to speak wistfully of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, which was less than 70 miles from Damascus.

They made the it sound the epitome of fashion, elegance, and refinement. And, most importantly, it had a very fashionable shoe shop – Red Shoe.

Beirut, located on the Mediterranean, was very chic and very French – at least the part my in-laws chose to visit.

It was decided, because I was from the west, I would be pining for a spot of refinement and elegance, and that I should visit this mecca of fashion as soon as possible.

A taxi was ordered and I went with my mother-in-law to Beirut. After a tense border crossing where the car was searched and I was eyed with suspicion, we rattled into Beirut in this ancient Damascene taxi.

The city was everything my in-laws had talked about. It was light and lively, and as we strolled down trendy Rue Hamra (Hamra Street) with its sidewalk cafes and elegant men and women gesticulating and speaking a mixture of French and Arabic, I could have imagined I was in France.

The Beirutis were so well-dressed, so confident, so European. By comparison, I felt dull and unfashionable in my hippy-style wrapover skirt and cotton top.

We had been invited to lunch at the house of an old school friend of my mother-in-law. Layla Khanoum was a tall, slim, charming lady of about sixty-two, and lived in a large apartment in a fashionable area of Beirut.

After she and my mother-in-law had exchanged greetings and brought each other up to date on the latest news, we sat down to lunch.

There are only a handful of meals I remember in my life and usually they are the simplest. That day, we ate sultan brahim (red mullet), perfectly grilled and served with wedges of lemon (I was by now getting used to lemons appearing with nearly every dish) and a simple carrot salad that was refreshing with the tang of lemons and sweet with plump sultanas.

Born and raised in Glasgow, I was used to eating lots of carrots. They were a staple root vegetable that usually made an overcooked appearance in soups, stews and the famous ‘mince and potatoes’. We rarely ate them raw, never with dried fruit, and as for lemons, they were used when you had a cold and not for squeezing into salads – certainly not the amount needed for that salad.

Since my visit to Layla Khanoum, I have made carrot salad frequently. It has grown more elaborate over the years, and nowadays, it’s a fiery, lime-soaked melange of carrots, dried fruits, seeds and sometimes, nuts.

I’ve given a recipe below but you can add or subtract any of the ingredients, or add more of one than the other. Also if you don’t have limes, you can add lemon instead. Walnuts give the salad extra crunch and earthiness and go well with a grated apple added to the mix.

The main thing is that the salad should taste fresh, sweet and citrusy. It should also be moist – that’s important. And because of its sharp flavour, it goes very well with any dish where you need something to cut through the richness or oiliness of the dish – oily fish, for example.

Bon appétit!

 

 

Ingredients 0.00 (4 Servings)

  • carrots Peeled and finely grated 500 gs
  • root ginger Peeled and finely grated 25 gs
  • red chilli finely chopped 1 ....
  • currants 40 gs
  • mixed seeds you can buy these ready-mixed or mix your own - pumpkin, sunflower, linseed 50 gs
  • small red onion Peeled and finely sliced 1 ....
  • zest of 1 lime ....
  • juice of 2 limes ....
  • flat leaf parsley chopped 5 gs
  • coriander chopped 5 gs
  • dill chopped 5 gs
  • olive oil 2 tbsps

Directions:

  1. Place the first 6 ingredients in a bowl
  2. Add the lime juice and lime zest
  3. Add the olive oil
  4. Now taste for heat, adjusting the amount of chilli, if necessary
  5. Then taste for sharpness and adjust the amount of lime juice – there should be a distinct refreshing zing
  6. When you are happy with the taste, gently fork through the herbs
  7. You can make this salad ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. If you do, add the herbs just before serving so they don’t become limp

Creamy Leek and Potato Soup

IMG_7360Organic vegetable boxes are lovely and the veg taste as flavoursome as they look.

At this time of year there’s usually a leek or two in our weekly box – untrimmed and dirty with earth sticking to them, they look as if they have just been pulled from the ground, which they have.

This recipe is based on the traditional leek and potato soup but I’ve blended it at the end till it’s smooth and creamy.  And, I’ve added fresh herbs for extra flavour – also organic, from Stockbridge Farmers Market in Edinburgh – and a dash of creme fraiche to contrast with the creaminess.

Enjoy!

 

Ingredients 0.00 (4 Servings)

  • leeks 350 gs
  • butter 20 gs
  • small onion, finely chopped 1 ....
  • clove of garlic, peeled and crushed 1 ....
  • potatoes,peeled and cubed 200 gs
  • vegetable stock 500 mls
  • milk 100 mls
  • sprig of fresh rosemary ....
  • sprig of fresh thye plus a few leaves for garnish ....
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper ....
  • creme fraiche ....

 

Directions:

  1. First, prepare the leeks – remove the tough outer layer, slice the leeks lengthways and clean under running water to get rid of all the dirt lurking between the layers
  2. Slice the leeks finely and then drain
  3. Melt the butter in a pan and add the oil to stop the butter burning
  4. Sauté the onion and the leeks till soft
  5. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute
  6. Add the potatoes and stir everything until coated in the butter and oil
  7. Pour in the vegetable stock and the milk, and give everything a good stir
  8. Add the herbs
  9. Now put a lid on the pan, bring the soup to the boil, lower the heat and simmer gently for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked
  10. Let the soup cool for a few minutes and remove the herbs. Check for seasoning
  11. Using either a jug blender or a stick blender, puree the soup until creamy
  12. Serve with a swirl of crème fraiche (or a spoonful if it’s very thick) on top and a few thyme leaves for added colour

Scallopine Alla Marsala with Basil

‘Basil’ comes from the Greek word Vasilias, meaning King.

There are over 60 types of basil, including purple varieties that taste of lemon, anise, clove and cinnamon .

Basil_sweetIn cooking, this strongly aromatic herb considers itself the monarch of the dish and can dominate other herbs with its powerful, spicy flavour.

But that’s not all – tea, made from basil leaves, helps digestion and a pot of basil in the kitchen is said to keep flies away.

I lived in Cyprus for over 12 years and nearly every house I visited had a pot of Holy Basil , a small, shrubby plant, sitting outside the front door, on the balcony or in the garden.

Sweet Basil, the one commonly used in cooking in the UK, has large, shiny leaves and is a native of South-East Asia. There it was valued not only for its culinary and medicinal properties but also the part it played in religious rites and even witchcraft.

Basil is usually associated with tomatoes but it can also liven up fish and chicken, soups and sauces. And, of course, it’s the main ingredient in basil pesto.

It’s also used in this quick, easy recipe:

Scallopine alla Marsala with Basil

Ingredients 0.00 (4 Servings)

  • Slices of pork or chicken flattened with a rolling pin and dipped in seasoned flour 4
  • olive oil 3 tbsps
  • onion finely chopped 1 ....
  • button mushrooms sliced 200 gs
  • sweet basil leaves 6 ....
  • sweet red pepper sliced 1 ....
  • marsala wine or sweet sherry 220 mls
  • salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions:

  1. Take each slice of pork or chicken breast, place between 2 pieces of clingfilm and beat with a steak hammer (or rolling pin) until thin. Then dip them in seasoned flour and shake off any excess flour
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan
  3. Add the onion, pepper and mushrooms, and fry for 8 minutes or until tender. Then remove from the pan and set aside
  4. Add the pork or chicken to the pan and fry gently till golden (about 2 minutes)
  5. Return the vegetables to the pan and add the marsala wine or sweet sherry
  6. Add the basil,salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes
  7. When it’s cooked, removed the meat from the pan and place on a large serving platter or dish
  8. Pour over the vegetables and sauce and garnish with a few small basil leaves
  9. Serve with creamy mashed potatoes

Pork With Giant Beans

TAFA_porwithbeans2Pork with beans is a traditional dish in Greece.

For this recipe, I’ve used butterbeans or ‘gigantes’ (giants) instead of the small fassolia (haricot beans). And, if you want to save time and effort, you can use a can of butterbeans instead of the dried beans that you have to soak overnight and boil the next day.

When this dish was first invented, the cooks would have used fresh tomatoes and for anyone who has tasted tomatoes plucked straight from the vine you’ll know that they’re sweet with  lots of flavour.

Nowadays, cooks tend to use canned tomatoes. But they can be slightly bitter and tasteless. So, when I’m using canned tomatoes, I always add a teaspoon of sugar and a few tablespoons of tomato puree to the recipe. This takes the bitter edge off the dish and adds depth.

Much of the flavour of Greek and Cypriot dishes come from olive oil, lots of it. I used 2 tablespoons, enough to saute the onions and the meat. So, to give even more flavour, I added powdered vegetable stock. It worked. Here is the recipe:

Ingredients 0.00 (4 Servings)

  • olive oil 2 tbsps
  • pork shoulder, cut into bite-sized pieces 500 gs
  • dried white beans or can of butterbeans 100 gs
  • canned chopped tomatoes 1
  • half a can of water
  • tomato puree 3 tbsps
  • sugar 1 tsp
  • vegetable stock powder 2 tsps
  • dried oregano 2 tsps
  • freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat 1tbsp of the oil in a large saucepan and fry slowly till soft and golden.
  2. Meanwhile heat the other tbsp of oil in a large frying pan and sauté the pork until coloured.
  3. Add the pork to the cooked onion.
  4. Then add the tinned tomatoes, half a tin of water, 3tbsp tomato puree and 1tsp sugar.
  5. Next add the vegetable stock and oregano.
  6. Mix everything together, place a tight-fitting lid on the pan and cook over a slow heat for 1 hour.
  7. After an hour, remove the lid and give everything a good stir.
  8. Add the beans and cook for another 15 minutes until the meat is tender and the sauce has reduced.
  9. Grind over black pepper.
  10. Serve with roast potatoes.

We’re Talking About Food Again

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Two years ago, I began writing this blog.

I thought it would be easy – a few recipes, a few photographs, a few stories and away we go. But life has a habit of getting in the way, and that’s what happened. I allowed myself to be distracted by other, more pressing things  and although I posted sporadically, I was always in a hurry.

Eventually, I had to make a choice and that was to either close down the blog completely or get back online. Frankly, I felt stuck. I couldn’t contemplate doing all the work again but the blog wouldn’t let me go.

So, with a newer, fresher design, a new logo, a more secure platform, the blog is back.

I couldn’t have done it without the support of my sons, my partner, friends and the 3 people who listen to me every month and keep me accountable for carrying out my projects, including this one (you all know who you are – thank you.)

My main reason for setting up this blog was to kickstart  a memoir about my experiences living in the Middle East and Cyprus, sharing stories and recipes from the countries  where I lived. But, I can’t ignore the experiences I’ve had since I returned to Scotland, the places I’ve been or the food I cook now.

So, against everything I’ve read about having to have a ‘niche’ and positioning yourself as an ‘expert’ in your field, I’m just going to write. I hope it strikes a chord with some people out there in the virtual world and in the real world.

On a recent holiday on the stunning Isle of Skye in Scotland with my partner, my two sons and their partners, the conversation sooner or later always turned to food. We had rented a huge house and when we weren’t sampling the local, freshly caught seafood, we were cooking and ‘talking about food again’. And as everyone is an enthusiastic and accomplished cook, I have asked them to share their recipes on this blog.

Meanwhile, I made a lazy Sunday lunch. I love bruschetta and it’s the perfect food when you don’t have much time or  don’t want to put in much effort. It’s also a good way of using what you have to hand. This is a quick recipe for

Roast Mediterranean Veg Topped With Grilled Halloumi

Ingredients 0.00 (2 Servings)

  • thick slices of sourdough bread 2
  • olive oil ....
  • clove of galic 2
  • leftover roast veg ....
  • halloumi slices 4-6 ....

 

Directions:

  1. Lightly toast both slices of bread and keep warm
  2. Then grill or fry the halloumi slices until golden – should only take a few minutes
  3. Rub the garlic over the warm bread – it’s usually easier to split the clove in two to do this – and drizzle them with about 2 teaspoons of olive oil or more, if you like
  4. Top with the roasted veg.
  5. Place the grilled halloumi on top
  6. Eat immediately or the halloumi will become rubbery

Eat and enjoy, and in the months to come, I’m looking forward to our  ‘talking about food again’.

 

Chicken Mango Salad with Fresh Herbs and a Thai Twist

Thai SaladSome of us get home from work, too tired to cook, and microwave a ready meal.

Others get home from work, too tired to cook, and manage to come up with a quick, delicious meal anyway.

My first-born son falls into the second category.

He invented this salad recently, and it sounded so refreshing and looked so delicious in the photo that I have been inspired to put, not quite pen to paper, but fingers to keyboard, and here is the recipe.

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Fattoush and The Macmillan Calendar

I’m always happy to contribute to anthologies, books and publications that support recognised  charities.

Macmillan Cancer Support is no exception. They do a wonderful job of looking after cancer sufferers and their families providing ‘practical, medical and financial support and push for better cancer care’. 

I was asked to contribute a recipe to the new 2013 calendar which features 12 delicious recipes all contributed by Macmillan staff and supporters.

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Foodies Festival Edinburgh 2012

On Sunday, I visited the Foodies Festival, held in Edinburgh’s Inverleith Park, not far from where I live.

I persuaded my partner Neil to come with me and, in the afternoon, we had a leisurely 10 minute stroll up to the park.

The festival was crowded with people walking around or lying on the grass, enjoying the sunshine and the music.

The aroma of smoking haddock and herrings filled the air.

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In Search Of The White Cottage

Brodick, Isle of Arran

About two weeks ago, my partner, Neil asked me what I wanted to do on my birthday. I said, half -jokingly, “go to Arran”.

The Brodick Ferry

I wasn’t completely serious because visiting the Island of Arran, on the west coast of Scotland, was something I had been talking about  ever since I returned from Cyprus in 1997. It remained one of those tantalising future events – I would go there ‘one day’.

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