A right falafel

Falafels are little nuggets of pulses, herbs and spices served as street food in Middle Eastern and North African countries. They are cooked and served in flat bread wraps with salad and tahini dressing. Traditionally they are made with chickpeas but here I have made two versions, firstly replacing the chickpeas with bulghar wheat to make a homemade falafel, whilst the second recipe not only returns to the classic chickpea falafel but uses a ready made falafel mix available from supermarkets and specialist food stores – making a really quick and simple mid-week supper dish.

Bulghar wheat falafel with courgette and haloumi salad 

 This recipe can be served as either a salad or as a wrap, it’s up to you – both a equally yummy.Bulghar falafel serve

Serves: 4

250 g bulghar wheat

1 bunch spring onions

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 bunch coriander leaves (about 30g)

1 tsp ras al hanout*

1 tbs chickpea* or rice flour

1 tbs tahini paste

juice 1 lemon

200 g baby courgettes

1 small cucumber

haloumi, thinly sliced

a handful rocket leaves

a few fennel or edible flowers (optional)

Preserved lemon yogurt

1 tbs finely chopped preserved lemon

150 g Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon clear honey

1 tbs chopped fresh coriander

salt and pepper

vegetable oil for shallow frying

flat breads, to serve

Pour boiling water over the bulghar wheat and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly and place in a food processor. Add the onions, garlic, coriander, ras al haout, chickpea flour, tahini paste, 1 teaspoon salt and a little pepper and blend to form a smooth green paste. Shape into 32 oval patties and set aside. 

Make the preserved lemon yogurt dressing. Place the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and speckled green. Very thinly slice the courgettes and cucumber (using a mandolin or potato peeler). Place in a bowl and add the rocket and a coriander leaves.

Heat 5 cm oil in a wok or saucepan and fry the falafel for 5 minutes until evenly browned, turning halfway through. Drain well on kitchen paper. Arrange the salad on a platter and top with the falafel. Serve with the yogurt dip, edible flowers if using and some flat bread.

* Ras al hanout is a Middle Eastern spice mix available from some supermarkets or specialist food stores. Chickpea flour is also known as gram flour and is also available from most larger supermarkets or specialist food shops.

Couscous salad with falafel and hummus sauce

Couscous and falafel 1

Serves: 4

150 g couscous

3 tbs extra virgin olive oil

3 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1 bunch roughly chopped fresh mint

1 bunch roughly chopped fresh parsley

2 tbs lemon juice

225 g packet ready-made falafel *

125 g Greek yoghurt

100 g hummus

1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds

a pinch hot smoked paprika

4 pieces flatbread or pitta pockets, to serve

Place the couscous and 1 tablespoon oil in a heatproof bowl. Add 150 ml boiling water, cover and leave to stand for 5 minutes until the couscous grains are softened. Stir with a fork to separate the grains and then stir in the tomatoes, herbs, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil. Set aside.

Heat the falafel following packet directions. Meanwhile, combine the yogurt, hummus and half the cumin seeds in a serving dish and drizzle with the remaining oil, cumin seeds and paprika. Serve the hot falafel with the couscous salad, yogurt hummus and flatbread.

Both these recipes were first published by Grazia UK. Photographed by Ian Wallace

Little beads of goodness

Quinoa pronounced kin wah, is the seed of a grain-like crop grown in South and Central America and is closely related to species such as beetroot and spinach. It originated in the mountainous regions of Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia and Peru where it has been grown for human consumption for over 3000 years. Its nutrient composition compares favourably with other cereals and is higher in essential amino acids such as lysine, making it a complete protein source. It also contains good levels of calcium, phosphorus and iron. It is gluten free and easy to digest. In its natural state the outer case of the seed is very bitter making it unpalatable but this is removed during processing. Despite this quinoa should always be well rinsed and soaked briefly before cooking. It is cooked rather like rice and once cooked it has a light fluffy texture and delicious nutty flavour. It can be cooked in either water or stock, flavoured with herbs and spices and combines well with vegetables, fruits and nuts. It is great in salads, as a side dish and provides a wonderfully power packed breakfast dish. Available as red, black or white quinoa, white tends to be the more widely available, and it can be found in health food stores and now in many larger supermarkets.

Grilled tuna steaks with preserved lemon quinoa salad

A00825PR Grilled tuna with quinoa salad copy

Serves: 4

Tuna is a good source of Omega 3 fatty acid and although it is recommended to eat fish twice a week (being a high source of protein but low source of fat) tuna does contain mercury it is best to only eat tuna (and other fish high in mercury such as swordfish and mackerel) once a week.

200g quinoa

250 ml water

80 ml orange juice

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp finely chopped preserved lemon

50g toasted pistachio nuts

50g raisins

6 spring onions, trimmed and chopped

2 tomatoes, diced

2 tbsp each chopped fresh coriander and parsley

4 x 200g tuna steaks

dressing

60 ml extra virgin olive oil

juice 1/2 lemon

1 tsp caster sugar

salt and pepper

Place the quinoa in a bowl covered with plenty of cold water and leave to soak for 15 minutes. Drain in a sieve and transfer to a saucepan, add the water, orange juice, cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes, remove from the heat but leave undisturbed for 10 minutes. Fluff up the grains and leave to cool for 15 minutes.

Combine all the remaining ingredients except the tuna in a large bowl, stir in the quinoa. Whisk the dressing ingredients together, pour over the quinoa and stir well until evenly combined.

Brush the tuna steaks with a little oil, season lightly and sear on a preheated ridged grill pan for 30 seconds each side or until cooked to your liking. Rest briefly and serve with the quinoa salad.

Quinoa bircher muesli

A00826PR Quinoa bircher muesli copy

Serves: 4

Bircher muesli is given an extra protein boost with the addition of quinoa making this delicious breakfast dish the perfect choice if you are planning a hard work out or have a busy day ahead.

150g cooked quinoa (about 60 g raw quinoa)

90g rolled oats

50g mixed nuts, roughly chopped

25g sunflower seeds

50g mixed dried fruits, such as craisins and blueberries

1 apple, cored and gated

375 ml organic apple juice

125 ml Greek style yogurt

100 g frozen mixed berries

2 tbsp clear honey

Place the oats, nuts, dried fruits grated, apple, apple juice and yogurt in a bowl, stir well until evenly combined and set aside to soak for 4 hours or overnight.

Defrost the berries and blend together until smooth. Pass through a fine sieve and stir in the honey.

Divide the soaked quinoa mixture between bowls and top each with a drizzle of the berry sauce and serve with extra yogurt.

The right background

Choosing the right background for a food shoot is a hugely important part of my job as a stylist and sets the scene for the picture. Whether it’s a moody rustic winter look or a clean white summer feel, without the right background the shot just will not capture what you are hoping to portray. Over the years I have been commissioned to put together hundreds of different styles for magazines and cook books so I thought it would be fun to share a few of these and look at a few options you have to do this yourself.

Still Life (Women's Weekly Books)
Still Life (Women’s Weekly Books)

For this shot of autumn produce I chose a zinc table top with an old metal sheet marked with rust immediately creating a rustic feel – implying an old farmhouse kitchen – with quite elegant props. A pewter cake stand and pitcher and French wine glasses. I love this contrast, which is further emphasised by an old distressed linen cloth with frayed edges.

Prop Stop, Sydney
Prop Stop, Sydney

Now that I live in the rural France I no longer have access to prop house like the one above (Prop Stop in Sydney ) where you can hire all the props you might need in order to fulfil a brief. So I have to  ‘ad lib’ and either buy or make backgrounds that I can keep to use in future projects. This could be purchasing a roll of wallpaper and pasting it onto a large sheet of ply so the image represents part of a room.

Wallpaper and Rust Paint
Wallpapers

Or perhaps I may have to paint up some surfaces to make a mock wall or table topLuckily there are some fabulous paint products available today which will create an instant rust look, or crackle glaze effect. All these skills are essential if you going to be a stylist.

Food and Travel 18
Rust paint product with a painted rust wall behind

I remember one of my most taxing and head scratching briefs was to create a look that said ‘heroin chic’! Taking the example from the fashion world where beautiful young models were made to look half dead from drugs, I determined the look should be a combination of old, damaged, rustic surfaces with very clean, beautiful plates and exquisitely plated food.

I trawl as many flea markets or brocantes as I can to pick up bargains both smaller pieces like plates, glasses, cutlery etc. as well as old tables, doors, shutters, chairs etc. These get stacked in the barn or painted  varies colours, all of which add to an ever growing props cupboard.

Spring Brocante Bordeaux
Spring Brocante Bordeaux

Below is an old trestle table bought on ebay, plus an old door sourced from a reclamation yard.

Old floor boards, still covered in old peeling paint can be cut into lengths and set into a frame, making a lovely rustic table top (thanks Mick) and even discarded skip items like the piece of zinc below that was at some point used to mix cement on. All add atmosphere to a shot.

You could also try creating your own distressed zinc table top – buy a sheet of new zinc from your local hardware store and then using a solution of copper sulphate, available from art stores or a pharmacy (as powder) wipe over it to create an instantly aged zinc top. It’s like magic working in front of you – I love it. Here’s one I made earlier this year and now it takes pride of place in my kitchen!

Zinc table top
Zinc table top

Of course in the real world you just use your kitchen table or work top but as a stylist it’s your job to create an image for the reader and for me, it’s why I do the job. Creating something from nothing and being satisfied with the end result. It’s very rewarding.

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Rolled with passion

I am a firm believer that rules are meant to be broken especially when it comes to pancakes! Yes for sure, flip away on pancake day but not exclusively. Why not make them whenever you fancy a wafer thin, slightly crisp, sweet, tangy dessert. I fancy that they are a forgotten pud, maybe a hangover from the 70’s dinner party favourite, crêpes Suzettes (along with the prawn cocktail and black forest gateaux). But I think we should reclaim them and this recipe is a far cry from the rather stodgy crêpes soaked in too much booze threatening eyebrows and fringes with it’s flames. Rather, here we have lovely thin pancakes rolled up and served with a divine passion fruit syrup spiked with Limoncello (easy to omit the Limoncello for the kids).

When making pancakes the first one is often a dud, but don’t worry just keep going; the next one, two, three, four and more should be perfect. For the best results get your frying pan hot and almost smoking, spray the base with a little oil and pour in the batter, swirling the pan as you go so the batter spreads immediately across the hot pan. Cook over a medium heat for just about 2 minutes lifting the edge of the pancake with a palette knife to check for doneness (a nice even, light golden brown is best). Then if you are feeling brave shake the pan to loosen it, flip up the wrist and the pancake will follow, up, over and down. Or if not, simply insert a fish slice underneath and turn over manually – either is fine. Cook for 30 seconds or so until the underside is speckled brown and turn out onto a warm plate. Repeat to make a second and serve both drizzled with the sauce. Then start over for the next serving and always eat them as hot as you can, as soon as you can.

Pancakes with passion fruit and Limoncello sauce

Photo Ian Wallace
Photo Ian Wallace

serves 6

3 passion fruit (about 50 ml pulp)

50 g caster sugar

50 ml water

2 tbsp Limoncello, plus extra to serve

125 g plain flour

a pinch salt

1 egg, beaten

300 ml milk

spray oil, for cooking

cream, lemon wedges, caster sugar or icing sugar

Make the syrup. Cut the passion fruit in half and scoop out the seeds. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Add the passion fruit pulp and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 4-5 minutes until thickened and translucent. Leave to cool completely and stir in the Limoncello, set aside until required.

Make the pancakes. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, make a well in the centre. Beat the egg and milk together until combined and then gradually whisk into the flour to form a smooth batter.

Spray a small non-stick frying pan (about 18 cm) with a little oil and heat until just starting to smoke. Swirl in about 60 ml of the batter to coat the base as evenly as possible and cook for 2 minutes until browned underneath, flip over and cook for a further 30 seconds or so until the second side is speckled brown. Remove from the pan and repeat to make 12 pancakes.

Roll pancakes, dust with sugar and serve drizzled with the syrup, lemon wedges and some cream

All fired up

It’s that time of year again, the tell-tale spiral of smoke swirling above gardens; backyards buzzing with talk and the evocative aroma of food sizzling on the barbecue. What is it that makes us so drawn to this age old method of cooking? I think its a combination of factors – its sociable, its outdoors and therefore has a more relaxed ambience and of course it is all about the taste – barbecued food should cook over a direct heat so the outside caramelises keeping the inside juicy and moist and of course delicious.

This recipe is my version of a classic south American barbecued steak traditionally served with a green sauce called Chimichurri – the cut used is a beef skirt steak that comes from the belly of the beast and it is best to marinate the steak before cooking, to help tenderise it. It is also best cut across the grain once cooked, again this helps tenderise the beef. The sauce, similar to a salsa is made with coriander and spices and goes really well with beef. Keeping with the all South American theme I have opted for blue potatoes to serve as crisps with the steak. They tend to be drier and more starchy than other varieties and lend themselves very well to deep-frying. You should be able to find them in larger supermarkets or speciality green grocers – alternatively you can use a more traditional chipping potato such as Yukon Gold, King Edwards or Maris Bard.

 Barbecued beef skirt wraps with chilli, coriander and lime salsa

Photo Ian Wallace
Photo Ian Wallace

Serves: 6

1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

2 garlic cloves, crushed

grated zest 2 limes

1 tsp each salt and pepper

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 kg skirt steak

500 g blue potatoes, peeled

ancho chilli powder

salsa

2 x bunches fresh coriander (50g)

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 small red chilli, seeded and chopped

juice 2 limes

1 tsp caster sugar

150 ml extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

serving suggestions

250 g heirloom tomatoes, 1 avocado, diced

coriander leaves and aioli

Place the rosemary, garlic, lime zest, salt, pepper and oil in a bowl and stir well to combine. Place the meat in a shallow dish, add the marinade, stir well and leave to marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Return to room temperature 1 hour before cooking.

Make the salsa just before you cook the meat to keep the lovely vibrant green colour. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, season to taste.

Preheat your barbecue (or ridged-grill pan) until hot and add the meat. Cook for 3-5 minutes each side, depending on how well you like the meat cooked. Transfer to a board and rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Make the chips. Either buy or make your own. Cut the potatoes into wafer thin slices. Soak in cold water for 30 minutes, drain and dry thoroughly on kitchen towel. Heat 5 cm oil in a wok or saucepan until a cube of bread, when added, sizzles immediately. Fry the potato wafers, in batches, for about 2 minutes until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with a little ancho chilli powder and salt and serve at once.

Photo Ian Wallace
Photo Ian Wallace

This recipe and both images first appeared in Grazia UK June 2014

Going green this summer

I just love summer salads and tend to eat little else once the weather heats up. Last year I was working as cookery editor for Grazia (UK) magazine and one of my favourite recipes at the time was a delicious poached chicken and pea salad with a coconut and chilli dressing. This has now become one of our favourite salads at home and as fresh peas are abundant at the moment I thought you might like to try this out.

Poaching is a great and somewhat under used cooking method. It is in fact a very healthy way of cooking both meat and fish as you don’t need to add any fat. Not only that, but the poaching liquid ensures the meat will be lovely and moist and full of flavour. Often the stock is used as part of the dish but here the majority of the stock can be frozen for use in another dish.

 

Poached chicken with fresh pea, coconut and chilli salad

Photo Ian Wallace
Photo Ian Wallace

Serves: 4

1.5 kg free range chicken

1 onion, roughly chopped

4 garlic cloves, bashed

5 cm piece root ginger, sliced

50 ml light soy sauce

250 ml Shaoxing cooking wine

500 g mixed freshly shelled peas, mange tout and sugar snaps

50 g fresh pea shoots

a few fresh mint leaves

dressing

125 ml coconut cream
1 tbs poaching liquid from the chicken

juice 1 1ime

1 tsp freshly grated root ginger

2 tsp grated palm sugar

1 red chilli, seeded and chopped

salt

Trim the chicken and place, breast side down, in a large saucepan with the onion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, cooking wine and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, skimming the surface if necessary and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave the chicken to cool in the pan.

When cold, remove the chicken, peel and discard the skin and bones and shred the meat. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the poaching liquid (reserve or freeze the stock to use another time).

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl and season with a little salt, if necessary.

Steam or blanch the peas, mange tout and sugar snaps until al dente, drain well and immediately plunge into cold water. Drain again and dry thoroughly.

Arrange the peas, shredded chicken, pea shoots and herbs on serving plates and serve drizzled with the coconut chilli dressing.

TIP: Shaozing cooking wine is a Chinese rice wine and has a distinctive earthy flavour. It is available from many liquor stores or some larger supermarkets, as well as Chinese food stores.

Photo Ian Wallace
Photo Ian Wallace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floral hints of summer

As soon as I see the first elderflowers appearing in hedgerows and gardens I know that summer is just around the corner – sometimes a little further away than we hoped – but for sure the evenings are getting longer and their is a definite ‘bon vivant’ in the air. Elderflowers have a special place in my heart too as they remind me of childhood forays into the woods to go gathering basketfuls to take home and make into cordial and fizzy pop, as we called it. The past few years have seen a return to foraging and preserving due partly to the economic climate but also a desire to reconnect with nature. Suddenly lost pastimes are popular again and everywhere you look people are out hunting and gathering, pickling, salting, smoking and preserving. Bring it on…….

So it is the beginning of June and due to a slightly cooler spring the flowers are a little later than usual this year. I’m off basket in hand, dogs by my side and husband in tow with his camera to capture and record this years collecting of elderflowers for the blog. It’s only a gentle stroll along the path behind our home to a lovely sheltered spot where there are several heavily laden trees, more white than green, with so many flowers this year just waiting for to be picked. But why oh why do they always have to grow in the middle of a hundred nettles – I hate nettles!

Both of us love elderflower syrup, so that’s a definite. It’s such a versatile syrup and can be served simply, with water or why not try drizzling a little over wedges of chilled melon or stirred through whipped cream to serve with scones. The recipe is simple to make and the end result refreshing and delicious. Add ice cubes and sparkling water for a lovely summer drink or perhaps top up with Prosecco for a wonderfully fragrant aperitif.

Photo Ian Wallace
Photo Ian Wallace

Elderflower cordial

Makes: approx 2 litres cordial

20 elderflower heads, choose those with all the flower heads open and bright white

1.5 L cold water

1 kg granulated sugar

4 un-waxed lemons, thinly sliced

55 g citric acid

Wash the flowers lightly under cold waking shaking away insects. Place the water and sugar in a large saucepan and bring it the boil over a low heat, without stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and carefully stir in the elderflowers, lemon slices and citric acid.

Cover the pan with a clean tea towel and leave to steep overnight in a cool place. The next day strain the liquid through a sieve lined with a piece of muslin and transfer to clean jars.

Seal and store until required. Once re-opened store cordial in the fridge.

Photo Ian Wallace
Photo Ian Wallace

Another great idea for making the most of the flowers is to serve them as crispy fritters, dusted with sugar and squeezed with lemon juice. The batter should be light so it doesn’t overpower the delicate nature of the flowers and they are best eaten just as soon as the batter cools enough to pop into the mouth. I tend to fry a couple, serve them and then fry a few more. Remember when deep-frying anything don’t over fill the pan with oil – for this recipe you will only need about 4-5 cm of oil in the bottom of a large wok or deep saucepan and have everything ready to go so that you don’t have the fat getter hotter and hotter. The best way to ensure that the oil is at the correct temperature for deep-frying is to invest in a sugar thermometer. It needs to be between 170-180c/340-350f but alternatively you can pop a small piece of bread into the hot oil – if it crisps and browns in 20 seconds the oil is perfect and remember the temperature will dip as the flowers go in so keep checking the thermometer and adjusting the heat as necessary.

Elderflower fritters

Serves: 4

8 elderflower heads

Batter

100 g plain white flour, sifted

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp caster sugar

175 ml fizzy water

caster sugar and lemons wedges, to serve

sunflower oil, for deep-frying

Wash the elderflower heads under water to remove any dead bits or insects and dry on kitchen paper. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and caster sugar in a bowl and gradually whisk in the fizzy water until the batter is smooth.

Pour 5 cm or so of oil into a wok or old, deep saucepan and heat until it reaches 180c/350f on a sugar thermometer (or until a cube of bread added to the oil, crisps in 20 seconds).

Working in batches, dip 2 flower heads into the batter, shake off excess and deep-fry for 1 minute or until the fritters are golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.

Serve the fritters dusted with sugar and some lemon wedges to squeeze.

Photo Ian Wallace
Photo Ian Wallace