Spicy Cucumber Salad

We recently celebrated Mother’s Day in England and for my mother I cooked a Chinese inspired meal with lots of different dishes. Some I’ve cooked before, like Stir Fried Beef with Ginger. Alongside the meat and fish dishes, I made a fresh and crunchy salad, inspired by one in my Gok Wan Cooks book. Sadly, there were very few leftovers the next day, and none at all of the salad!

Chinese Feast 003

Ingredients to serve 4-6

  • 1 cucumber, partly peeled
  • ½ fresh chilli, finely sliced
  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • A few handfuls of bean sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • A pinch of salt

Slice off the ends of the cucumber then slice it in half lengthways. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and then cut the cucumber into chunks about .5cm wide.

Mix the cucumber with the chilli, beansprouts and spring onions. Mix the rest of the ingredients together to make the dressing and pour over the salad a couple of minutes before serving.

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Ginger Spiced Carrot and Split Pea Soup

Winter and soups go together. As do winter and colds and I´ve got one right now. Fortunately it´s not too bad, as I´m still cooking and enjoying my food. Shame really, as a day or two of fasting is probably no bad thing for me.

I fancied soup this morning but didn´t want to wait for hours for stock to simmer. Now that I´ve realised I can buy split yellow peas in our supermarket, I don´t even have to wait overnight for other legumes to soak before cooking.  They´re also super healthy, packed with protein and fibre and low in fat.  This means they fill you up without filling you out.

As my sense of taste and smell is a little dulled at the moment due to my cold, I decided to make a warming spicy soup to try and wake those senses up a little.

To serve 4 as a main course

  • 1 cup of split yellow peas (or you could use lentils) rinsed
  • 5 cups of water
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 cup of minced tomatoes or conserva
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger (about the size of your thumb) peeled and grated or use a teaspoon of dried ginger
  • 3 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Salt to taste (but do not add until the soup is cooked)

Put all the ingredients into a large saucepan, bring to the boil then cover and reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes until the split peas and carrots are cooked.  Season to taste and either eat as is or purée with an immersion stick blender or in your regular blender.  It´s good with a dollop of creamy natural yogurt but I prefer a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of extra cumin.  Serve piping hot, sitting by the fire.

Gambas al Pil Pil – Sizzling Spicy Prawns

This is a hugely popular and typically Andalucían tapas dish or starter.  I have tried to find out the origin of the words Pil Pil and some say that it comes from an Arabic word felfel (I don´t speak Arabic so assume it has something to do with spice or chili).  Others say it comes from the sound the prawns make sizzling in the hot oil. I don´t know if either are true – I like both stories, almost as much as I enjoy making and eating Gambas al Pil Pil.

If you can get hold of good prawns (or shrimp) then this is a very easy yet impressive dish to serve to your guests. If you have a terracotta dish to cook them in, well that´s even better as it does add something special to the taste and the prawns stay hot and sizzling for a few minutes as you bring the dish to the table.

Per person for a good tapas serving you will need

  • 100g peeled prawns (defrosted if frozen)
  • 1 dried hot chili and/or half a teaspoon of hot pimentón – this is down to personal taste – crumbled
  • A fat clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • A good pinch of salt

About 2 tablespoons of olive oil (if you are doing a large serving, just use enough oil to half cover the prawns)

Start by putting everything apart from the prawns into a frying pan or terracotta pot. Turn up the heat and cook until the garlic begins to turn brown at the edges.

When you want to serve your dish add the prawns and cook at a lower heat until the prawns are cooked through then turn up the heat until they begin to sizzle.

Serve with plenty of bread to mop up the delicious chili oil. If served in a large pot or pan, it is traditionally served as a sharing dish. Everyone has their own fork and “prongs” their bread into the juices.

Serve with an ice cold beer, a chilled manzanilla or a crisp cool white wine.  ¡Buen provecho!

PS. No fear of me running out of chillis this coming year…the harvest is now safely stored and drying in the shed!

Pimientos de Padrón – A Spicy Little Snack

Eat them with your fingers!
Eat them with your fingers!


Pimientos de Padrón are a popular tapas, especially when they´re in season during the summer.  They are little green peppers that come from a town in Galicia (northern Spain) called Padrón.  So, their name translated means “peppers from Padrón”.  A little saying about them is that “algunos pican, otros no” which means “some are hot, some are not”. To be honest, as a dedicated chili eater, they´re mostly not that spicy…apart from some we grew last year which seemed to want to be like all the other chilis in the vegetable garden and nearly blew my head off!

Ready for frying

If you do manage to find them, all you do is deep fry them in very hot oil.  When the skin starts to blister and turn black (this will take long moments rather than long minutes), drain them and sprinkle heavily with coarse salt.

Frying tonight!

Eat with a cold beer to wash down the spicy, salty tastes or a delicious clara (that´s a shandy to you and me).

Just what you need...

And whilst you´ve got that oil hot, how about quickly deep frying some sage leaves and sprinkling them with salt too.

Scarily Addictive Sage

They can become really addictive, and as it´s a herb they´ve got to be better for you than crisps…haven´t they?!

Easy Green Tomato Chutney

Something to relish....sorry, couldn´t resist it!

I hope I´m not too late with this recipe as I know there are plenty of tomato growers out there who will, no doubt, be left with some green tomatoes at the end of the picking season.  I, like many others, had some green tomatoes left from our first crop and decided to give this chutney a go, for the first time ever.

Some of the recipes I found had daunting lists of ingredients.  Finally I came across what looked like a straightforward one in Floyd on Britain and Ireland by the late Keith Floyd. I know the poor man fought with the drink demons at times, but I did love his programmes and his cooking style – always adding in a big dash of wine and a slurp for the cook.

I made very few changes to his recipe, and was pleased with the results.  Here´s what I did.

  • A thumb sized piece of garlic, peeled and grated (his recipe calls for it to be bruised and placed in a muslin bag with the chilies and then removed at the end but I left mine in)
  • 4 chilies (he calls for 8-10 and I think next time I´ll use more than I did as there was only a little heat with just 4) I chopped my chilies finely and left them in
  • 2kg green tomatoes, chopped
  • 500g apples (peeled cored and chopped)
  • 250g raisins (chopped but I left mine whole)
  • 625g shallots (I used onions) chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 500g  brown sugar
  • 600ml vinegar (he says malt, I used white wine)

Place all the ingredients into a large pan, bring to the boil stirring until the sugar has dissolved and then simmer until it has reached the desired consistency.  Pour into warm sterilised jars and seal.

Result – sweet and sour chutney with a hint of heat.  Perfect with cheese, cold meats, burgers….