Recipe book review: Mountain Berries & Desert Spices

I’ve come to baking quite late in life and still find it quite miraculous! You mix wet and dry ingredients, stick them in the oven and hopefully end up with some delicious treat. Like magic!

Mountain Berries & Desert Spices by Sumayya Usmani offers a whole new range of baking opportunities as a journey through the sweet treats of Pakistan. Many and varied they are too. The book starts off with explanations of the exotic ingredients used and moves from delightful fruity dishes through puddings, biscuits, breads, pancakes, doughnuts, samosas, pastries.

The recipes are easy to follow and all the ingredients are readily available in the UK. If you can’t find them in the shops you will online. Here’s a beautiful recipe to tempt you.

And you can win your own copy of this marvellous book – I have two to give away. Find out how to enter below.

Cardamom and rose water marzipan lace

(Badam ki jail)

This Hyderabadi sweetmeat translates as ‘almond lace’ and the name conjures up visions of delicate white fairytale lace. It’s a festive sweet for celebrations and gifts. The art is in its making as the traditional methods are laborious and badam ki jail is always made in abundance. The mixture resembles marzipan, but it dries out quickly so you must work fast.

Preparation 30–40 minutes + overnight soaking

Cooking 10–15 minutes

Makes 8–10

The ingredients

1kg cups almonds with skin on

2 tsp rose water

1kg caster (superfine) sugar

4–6 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground

Butter, for greasing

500g icing (confectioners’) sugar, for rolling

To decorate

Edible silver or gold leaf

15g ground pistachios

The instructions

Soak the almonds in a bowl of water overnight. The next day, the skins should come off effortlessly.

Place the almonds in a food processor with the rose water and grind until they are very fine and paste-like, then place in a heavy-based saucepan and add the caster sugar and ground cardamom. Cook over a very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and leaves the sides of the pan. Transfer the mixture to a greased glass dish, cover with clingfilm and allow to cool to the touch.

Now form the mixture into 2 balls. Roll each ball out as thinly as possible, dusting both the board and the rolling pin liberally with icing sugar. Using a 5–7.5cm/2–3-inch cookie cutter (flower shape is best) cut out 16–20 shapes. Divide the shapes into two equal groups. On one of the groups, cover the surface of the biscuits with silver or gold leaf. Then using a tiny cookie cutter (such as hearts), make holes in the middle of each shape in the second group. Place these on top of the silver or gold leaf covered ones.

Dust with ground pistachios and serve or store in an airtight container for 2–4 days.

Recipe extracted from Mountain Berries and Desert Spice by Sumayya Usmani, published by Frances Lincoln, an imprint of The Quarto Group. 

I’m regularly delving into this amazing book. First I made these lovely little sweet puff pastry biscuits called Bakar khani. Very simple, made from puff pastry sprinkled with ground cardamom, poppy seeds and sesame seeds. Sweet, spicy exoticness.

Win a copy of Mountain Berries and Desert Spice

The prize

Two copies of Mountain Berries & Desert Spice by Sumayya Usmani worth £20 each.

How to enter

Answer the following question in the comment section of Eating Covent Garden.

What country is the inspiration behind Mountain Berries & Desert Spice?

A India

B Morocco

C Pakistan

D Iran

Terms and conditions

Competition only for residents of the UK.

Closing date for entry will be Sunday 2 July 2017 at midnight.

The winner will be chosen at random after the closing date.

The winner will be notified by email.

No cash alternatives to the prize will be offered. The prize is not transferable.

The editor’s decision is final.

Recipe book review: Savage salads

It’s always exciting to acquire a new recipe book for my ever-expanding collection. And I was certainly inspired as I started paging through Savage Salads to decide what to cook for dinner.

The book is the brainchild of Italian chef Davide and Swedish food expert Katrina and the recipes came about because of their highly successful market stall in London.

They came up with the idea after noticing a distinct lack of healthy food options in London’s many food markets. And they also cleverly decided to offer a range of salads that were more interesting than your average leafy collection, as well as being substantial enough to leave you full and satisfied.

The book offers so many choices, it really does take salad to a new level. It’s divided into the four seasons and encompasses a mind-boggling array of ingredients, all of which are easily available in the UK.

The recipes are clearly laid out and easy to follow and I loved the mouth-watering photography.

So far I’ve tried three recipes, all of which have got a huge thumbs up from everyone who sampled them.

From the autumn section I made this fabulous potato salad with new potatoes, apple, spring onion and wholegrain mustard. Such a lovely sweet and sour combination with great crunch. It was served with a perfectly grilled pork chop.

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Something new for my potato salad repertoire

I love gazpacho and I love beetroot so it seemed a no-brainer to try this. Okay it’s soup, the book gets away with this by including what they call a Blitzed Salad at the end of each season. This is summer in a bowl, beautifully pink, sweet and health giving.

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Gotta love a bowl of pink soup

My third choice was from the winter section. No, I’m not confused it’s just that summer hasn’t really turned up so I’m still looking to cook comfort food. Little lamb kebabs marinated in garlic, lemon juice and rosemary are served with roasted sweet potato and turnip and served with crispy kale. Wow! I’m making crispy kale all the time now, it’s so easy and tasty and so full of goodness.

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There’s also a range of dip, dressing and mayonnaise recipes to try out. I’m loving the sound of smoked paprika and lime hummus, or maybe a bit of watercress mayonnaise. Salads are certainly never going to be boring again – the book certainly lives up to its strapline: Fierce Flavours Filling Power-Ups.

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Savage Salads by Kristina Gustafsson & Davide Del Gatto, photography by Kim Lightbody, is on sale now. Published by Frances Lincoln (£16.99). More information on the book can be found here

If you don’t want to cook them yourself (though I really recommend you do),  you can visit them at one of their stalls. You will find them in Berwick Street in Soho from Monday to Friday, Stratton Ground on Victoria Monday to Wednesday and at St Giles in field market in Covent Garden every Thursday.

Recipe book review: Lebanese home cooking

Having been inspired by the many tasty and inventive vegetable dishes I ate on my recent cruise around Greece and Turkey, I was delighted when this book came through my letterbox.

Lebanese Home Cooking’s subtitle is Simple, Delicious, Mostly Vegetarian Recipes and it’s packed with wonderful ways with lentils, beans, aubergines, chickpeas, potatoes, tomatoes, rice, bulgur wheat…I could go on and on.

The book is written by Kamal Mouzawak who grew up in Lebanon and was the founder of Beirut’s Souk el Tayeb Market. So he knows what he’s talking about. Even paging through the book makes your mouth water.

I love Lebanese flavours and spices, too, and there’s plenty of that going on. And although the dishes look and sound exotic, the recipes are simple and often don’t have many ingredients.

I started with the spinach stew with pine nuts. Cooked with garlic and coriander (a staple of Lebanese cuisine), the spinach condenses down and absorbs all the flavours. And spinach and pine nuts is simply a heavenly combination in my book.

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Health-giving spinach and pine nuts

I also made the chickpeas with yogurt, incredibly easy, especially as I cheated slightly and used tinned chickpeas.

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Chickpeas livened up with garlic and tahini

This white butter bean stew was wonderfully easy to make and the flavours of the creamy, buttery beans (my favourite in the bean family), garlic, onions, tomatoes and fresh coriander producing a fresh and tasty dish to savour.

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A heartily tasty bean dish

There are some great potato and rice recipes crying out to be tried – simple, genius ideas like mashed potatoes with spring onions and mint mixed through, beautiful bread and pie recipes and the sweets! I’ll be heading back in there soon.

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A recipe book you definitely need in your kitchen

Lebanese Home Cooking is on sale from tomorrow the 5th of November at £15.99.

Get in there quickly and I’m offering you a discount too.

A special offer for readers of Eating Covent Garden.
To order Lebanese Home Cooking at the discounted price of £12.99 including p&p* (RRP: £15.99), telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG380.
*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.


Recipe book review: Toast: The Cookbook

Sometimes there’s nothing you feeling like eating more than something on toast. Cheese on toast (with Worcestershire sauce obviously), avo on toast, Marmite on toast, egg on toast…we all have our favourites. Real comfort food that’s quick and easy to make.

These days it’s been elevated to a different level with the wide range of bread you can get. I often gasp at the displays in markets and bakeries with their beautiful loaves on offer. And the aromas to inhale are a joy to the senses.

Thinking back to my childhood days in Zimbabwe, there was only one type of bread available – the white loaf – and it was often stale. Now I’m so spoilt for choice.

Add to that creative toppings and you have a whole new world of toast opening up to you. Which is why I love this book Toast: The Cookbook by Raquel Pelzel.

It’s packed with great ideas for your toastie toppings, with inspiration taken from all over the world. Some simple, some more gourmet and complicated. And Raquel has the genius idea of making flavoured butter. Like in the first recipe I tried which involved tomato butter – now doesn’t that sound good?

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Freshly made tomato butter with the rest of the ingredients for making my toastie treat

Spread your toast thick with this amazing butter and top with peppery, crisp radishes for a delicious snack.

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The prettiest toast in its shades of red and pink

Another recipe involves an old favourite of mine – avocado. An often-consumed breakfast, sliced and spread on toast with plenty of salt and pepper. Or you can make a basic guacamole by mashing it with a fork and adding a touch of lemon juice so it doesn’t discolour. Then spread thickly on freshly made toast – and Raquel’s recipe tops it with a delicious crab/mayo combo.

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Avocado goes perfectly with toast

Time for another buttery treat with this fabulously tasty pepperoni butter. Spread thick  and topped with sliced mozzarella, the toast goes back in the oven until the cheese melts and voila you’ve got a pizza toast to savour! That’s clever!

pepperoni butter

Pepperoni butter is a good thing to keep in your fridge

This is just a small taster of what’s on offer. You could try making macadamia nut butter infused with cardamom, oven roasted tomatoes and whipped feta, spicy lobster balchao toast or lemongrass kiwi toast with honey cream. Yes, even pudding toast.

They’re the perfect recipes for anytime snacks with a difference – and are also great for entertaining. Time to try some creative toasting!

Toast: The Cookbook by Raquel Pelzel is published by Phaidon Press and sells for £14.95.

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Book review: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret: Sherry

I’m always inspired by Spain which was one of the reasons I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into this beautiful book telling the story of one of the country’s most important products – Sherry.  I had no idea what a huge subject it was and all lyrically explained here by author Talia Baiocchi whose love for this much misunderstood beverage and its history came shining through.

Sherry is a fortified wine that is aged in above-ground cellars called bodegas and includes in its spectrum the sweetest and driest wines in the world. How’s that for confusing? Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria in Andalusia form the 11,000 hectare Marco de Jerez where it is produced – otherwise known as the Sherry Triangle. And having taken a backseat for decades in the world of wine, its popularity is now hugely on the up.

Final cover

The book takes you through the history, different types, how it’s made and a tour through the sherry region, including detailed descriptions of all the bodegas to visit. Now there’s a good route to base my next holiday itinerary on.

It’s a fascinating tale and then of course there’s the sherry itself. My first taste of sherry was as an 18-year-old student in South Africa, sitting around the campfire playing drinking games with OB’s (Old Brown Sherry). It was sickly sweet, alcoholic and, most importantly (for us students) cheap. Oh and caused horrendous hangovers all round! I think everyone has their dodgy sherry story but that is not what the stunning sherries of Spain are about. The total opposite, in fact.

They taste surprisingly good and are extremely versatile, so go surprisingly well with a wide range of food. And there are a surprising amount of them. Well, I was surprised anyway. And they’re also fantastic for making cocktails and to cook with.

The book includes sections on these, too and I tested out several of the recipes. One of my favourite Spanish dishes is albondigas – tasty little meatballs served in a vibrant, silky sauce. I’ve eaten it many, many times and cooked several versions of it myself, too. But this one is the best one ever, the sauce is quick and easy to make and tastes heavenly. It’s a real wow dish, so I had to share the recipe with you.

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The meatballs bubble away in the silken sauce

Albondigas al Jerez

Serves 6

For the meatballs

340g beef mince

340g pork mince

1 clove garlic, minced

4 tbsps chopped parsley

120g fine breadcrumbs

1 egg

2 tsps salt

1 tsp sweet Spanish paprika

1/2 tsp hot Spanish paprika

A few grinds of black pepper

For the sauce

4 tbsps olive oil

235g onion, grated

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tsp sweet Spanish paprika

1 tbsp plain flour

120ml dry amontillado sherry

240ml chicken stock

1/2 tsp salt

Combine all the meatball ingredients, except the olive oil in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Prepare a baking sheet covered with baking parchment. Shape the meat mixture into 18-20 meatballs the size of golf balls, placing them on the prepared sheet as you shape them.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs to the pan in batches and brown all over to create a crust – about 6 mins. Remove and place them on a plate lined with kitchen paper to soak up the excess oil while you make the sauce.

In a medium pan over medium heat, heat 2 tbsps of the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and sweat until they are translucent, about 5 mins.

Add the paprika, flour and remaining 2 tbsps olive oil and stir well to combine. Let it simmer for 2 mins, the sauce should have the consistency of a roux. Stir in the sherry and the chicken stock and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low and simmer for 10 mins. Season with salt to taste.

Add the meatballs and stir gently to coat them in the sauce. Cook for a further 10 mins over a low heat, adjusting the heat to maintain a rolling simmer. If the sauce gets too dry, stir in a bit more chicken stock.

Serve with cocktail sticks for spearing as a tapas dish or with vegetables as a complete meal.

A special offer just for you

I loved this book, it’s comprehensive, entertaining, extremely informative and captures both sherry and the spirit of Spain so perfectly I wanted to head straight for the airport! And the photography is beautiful, too.

Bring on some sherry-based trips, I say, oh and I really must try out some of those cocktails, too.

 As a reader of EatingCoventGarden you can get your very own copy for a special price. To orderSherry at the discounted price of £16 including p&p* (RRP £20), telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG347. *UK only, please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.
Recipe extracted from Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes by Talia Baiocchi. Photography by Ed Anderson. Published by Jacqui Small (£20).


Recipe book review: Gennaro’s Italian Family Favourites

Gennaro Contaldo is an Italian chef and restaurateur who has kept me entertained for years, with his engaging personality and passion for food and cooking. His series with Antonio Carluccio called Two Greedy Italians was a joy to watch. He also is credited as being the person who inspired Jamie Oliver to learn all about and fall in love with Italian food when he worked with him. Gennaro is still involved in Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain (which I love and visit a lot).

So when I was sent his cookbook Gennaro’s Family Favourites to try out I couldn’t wait to get cooking. It’s subtitled “Authentic recipes from an Italian kitchen” and is packed with over 100 delicious recipes that are wonderfully easy to cook. From simple pasta dishes like farfalle with pancetta and peas, spaghetti with courgette carbonara and conchiglie with rocket pesto and cannellini beans to more complicated feasts like marinated rabbit with olives, capers and pine kernels, porchetta (gotta make this one) and rack of lamb with artichokes and sun-blushed tomatoes, there’s plenty to choose from.

I love a good sausage dish and am also partial to lentils (something I always mean to eat more of), so the first recipe I had to try was the lentils stewed with sausages. From the moment I started frying the base to this dish, composed of the most basic of ingredients – onion, bay leaf, sage, celery and carrot – the most tempting aromas filled my kitchen. Add the sausages, lentils, potatoes and stock, leave to cook and you’ve created a wonderfully flavoursome casserole-style dish.

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Succulent sausages in a flavoursome brothy sauce

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Fry up the veg and herbs and infuse your home with delicious scents

Next up a pork stew with potatoes and peas. Again easy and quick to make with few ingredients coming together to make a wonderfully comforting stew. The pork turned out perfectly tender and combined beautifully with the sweetness of the peas and carrots and more fresh sage. I didn’t intentionally choose two recipes using fresh sage but it did remind me what an aromatic and tasty herb it is to cook with.

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A colourful and nourishing stew

This is a book I’m sure I will cook more and more from. Thank you Gennaro.

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Gennaro’s Italian Family Favourites is available on Amazon for £13.50.