an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...


Monday, 31 March 2014

Spiced black bean soup

For T.O.M

As I have written before, I have a bit of an obsession with Mexican culture. I have realised since writing that first post that it isn’t just about the gory history and the beautiful art, its about death. Or rather, about life and death – by acknowledging death, life can be really noticed, and appreciated much more. Colours are brighter and more saturated, music is louder and flavours are stronger and more vibrant.

This soup is adapted from Thomasina Miers’ book Mexican Food Made Simple. This is the third recipe I have made from that cookbook, the others being warm corn salsa and ceviche, and I definitely think it is wonderful. Mexican recipes can be tricky, the ingredients aren’t necessarily that easy to get hold of in the UK, and it is quite pig and shellfish focused, not that easy if you are vegetarian or kosher. This book however is really accessible and contains loads of suitable and delicious authentic recipes.

When I first made this soup, known in the book as ‘sopa azteca’, I was completely blown away by how delicious it was – I did not expect something so simple to make to taste so complex. It is rich and deeply savoury – it tastes almost meaty even though it is vegan.

Makes 4 servings


Two 380g cartons cooked black beans – don’t drain
2-4 fresh plum tomatoes, depending on how big they are
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
½ onion, or a whole one if it is smallish, diced
1 tsp chiptle paste
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
juice of 1 lime
salt and black pepper to taste.

Garnishes: (optional – it is very nice on its own too)
Tortilla chips, broken up
Feta or goats cheese, crumbled
Tomato salsa
Sour cream
Diced avocado (tossed with lime juice to stop it discolouring)


First you need to toast the tomatoes and garlic. Heat a frying pan (no oil needed) and when its really hot, add the tomatoes and garlic cloves. Let them blacken on all sides (charred splotches is fine, don’t worry about blackening them completely) and remove. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and roughly chop. Don’t worry if you can’t get all the skin off the tomatoes.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the diced onion and sauté for about 5 minutes until translucent. Then add the garlic, tomatoes and chipotle paste, and fry off for about a minute before adding the beans with their water, stock and lime juice.

Let the soup simmer for 20 minutes, blend, and season to taste. Serve on its own, or with some of the garnishes suggested above.

Sorry again about the lack of photo – have a poem instead.

Christine M. Strickland

Frida Kahlo has come to dinner,
Late, as usual, a little drunk, as usual,
Scattering fag ash like confetti,
Partnered by her perpetual pain
Whose grim claws she wears as lightly
As the ribbons on her dress.
Undefeated, her thirst for life unquenched,
There is more energy in her hair
Than in my entire body.
The brass band of her beads and bangles
Transforms her limping steps
Into a fiesta dance, all rainbow skirts
And flashing teeth and eyes.
Frida Kahlo has come to dinner,
Though eating frankly bores her,
Gets in the way of talking, drinking,
Smoking, making love.
Aware of this I give her tiny pastries
Olives, nuts, morsels of spiced meat;
Fuel for her flame, swallowed without tasting.
Frida Kahlo has come to dinner
And the carnival never stops.
Her long hands are two kites,
Trailing coloured tails of laughter,
Sketching, in the smoky air between us,
Whole galleries of portraits.
Frida Kahlo has been to dinner
And is now gone, taking the party with her,
Leaving this withered Puritan
Faded, dusty, unbearably alone.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Roasted leeks with walnuts, yogurt and tarragon

Because she is wonderful, when my flatmate Shana came back from her last trip to the States, she brought back some cooking magazines for me to flick through, and I found ideas that inspired this recipe. American cooking magazines are so much fun, British ones look like dowdy sensible aunties in comparison.

I had never cooked leeks in this way before. They had always been a hidden ingredient in something else, and never the main element of a dish. This recipe really makes leeks shine, they are sweet and oniony and delicious.

This would make a brilliant starter or side for two people (increase quantities as needed)


3 leeks
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt
15g walnuts
75g natural yogurt
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
Approx. 2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon


Preheat your oven to 180 degrees

Clean and trim the leeks, and cut them in half lengthways. A clever thing to do (which of course I forgot), would be to keep the stem of the leek, to stop them falling apart when you cut them open.

Arrange the leeks on a baking tray, drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast them for 20-25 minutes, turning occasionally, until softened with some delicious roasty dark bits.

While the leeks are roasting, toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan (or put them in the oven), until they are fragrant and a bit charred in places. Let them cool and brush off any burnt skin with your fingers. Toasting really transforms the flavour of the walnuts so don’t miss this step out. Crumble up a few of them for the artful garnish later.

Make the yogurt dressing by mixing together the yogurt with 2 tsp of extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, tarragon and a pinch of salt. Save a little of the tarragon for the artful garnish later.

To serve, arrange the luscious, roasted leeks on a serving plate, and use a grater to grate some of the toasted walnuts all over them. This might seem a bit odd, but it works really well.* Drizzle with the yogurt dressing and garnish with the reserved artful garnishes - tarragon, and crumbled walnuts.

*It was a bit of a revelation actually, as it is so hard to find vegetarian parmesan. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Homemade labneh with parsley and pistachios

Someone once said ‘blessed are the cheesemakers’ and I think they had a point.*

When I was in Italy in the autumn we went to visit an artisan cheese factory somewhere in Umbria. It was all a bit stinky and damp, but the cheese was phenomenal.

Here is a way to make the super delicious Middle-Eastern yogurt-cheese labneh. It is also a bit damp, but not stinky. Much much love to Shana for showing me the way, and for the use of the genuine Australian cheesecloth.

To make approximately 500g of labneh you will need:

1 kg natural yogurt (low fat is fine)
A big bowl

To make the labneh exciting and delicious you will need:

Extra virgin olive oil
½ clove garlic, crushed (optional)
Big handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
Handful pistachios, chopped
1 tsp sumac
Lemon juice

Fold the cheesecloth in half and drape it over the big bowl. Pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth, gather the edges together, and knot or tie with elastic bands. Liquid will immediately start seeping through the cheesecloth. Hang the ball of yogurt so that it can drip freely, and leave overnight. 

Note the ingenious use of cupboard handle to hang cheesecloth
The following morning, untie the cheesecloth and scrape the thickened yogurt-cheese into a container.  Add a generous pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil, and mix well. At this stage you could also add a bit of garlic if using, some sumac, or any other nice spice. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Before serving, stir through some fresh parsley and sumac, and scatter with the pistachios, and some more parsley. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice.

You could also roll the labneh into balls, roll the balls in za’atar or chilli flakes, and store in the fridge in olive oil, which is very nice too.

*Because cheese is amazing. I'm not saying that I am especially blessed by making labneh. 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Roasted cauliflower with tahini and date syrup

Dear wonderful followers, occasional readers, and one-off Googlers,

Sorry that things have been a quiet round here. I have been having a bit of a hard time in the part of my life that isn’t to do with food or films. I realised that I completely wear my heart on my sleeve, so I have been trying to keep to myself, to contain any misery. I know it isn’t emotionally healthy, but I have never been very good at following my own advice.

What is interesting is that in spite of all that is going on with me, I have been eating relatively healthily, and doing more exercise than usual. Partly it is because comfort-eating is such a f**king cliché, and partly is that eating well and doing some endorphin-generating activity does actually make me feel better. I never thought I would be the kind of person who sweated voluntarily, but it seems to really work for me. I have been told on a few separate occasions that I have the legs of an athlete, so maybe the rest of my body will catch up soon.

Cauliflowers are for me probably the big fluffy duvet of the vegetable world. This recipe is really delicious, and I have been eating a lot of it lately. It is a bit like a healthier, Ottolenghified cauliflower cheese.

One medium-sized cauliflower will make enough for a mezze dish for up to 4 people. I tend to buy the extra-large cauliflowers wherever possible. I have left the quantities here vague so that you can scale up/down depending on how much you are making.


Cauliflower – separated into florets (ranging in approximate size from walnut-egg).
Olive oil
Sea salt
Tahini sauce (directions on how to make can be seen here. Omit the garlic and add enough liquid to make a good drizzling consistency).
Date syrup


Preheat your oven to 200 c (180 with fan)

Toss the cauliflower florets in olive oil and arrange them in one layer on a baking tray. Grind some salt over them, and roast them for 25-35 minutes, or until cooked through and browned in places. Try not to eat all the pieces straight out of the tray, and let them cool to room temperature.

Arrange the cooled cauliflower on a nice plate (this is very important), and drizzle with tahini in artful swirls. Add an artful swirl of date syrup on top of the tahini (a little goes a long way), and sprinkle some za’atar over the top.

And feel better.