Palak Paneer

Palak PaneerHalfway between two homes doesn’t sound like one or the other. If you stick a pin between my two motherlands of Aotearoa and old Albion, you are still 14 hours away from each of them. However, this doesn’t mean long pit stops lying on your hand luggage in airport transit, nor contortionist efforts to fit into terminal lounge chairs for a few winks. It means stepping out into another dimension where sights, sounds, colours and most of all smells dominate your senses. A place that has been home on a number of occasions, India.

My best memories of eating food throughout India are always a shared meal, eating with my hands. Or meals that make steam shoot from your ears, that no Kingfisher beer or yoghurt will quench. And always a colourful, divided plate of taste explosions on a thali dish. But one sure-fire dish that I can always rely on is the palak paneer. Put originally on my radar by Mr Beaver’s brother, the veggie king.

Serves 4


500g spinach

1 inch ginger

1 tsp cumin

30g butter

1 bay leaf

1  onion, finely chopped

7 cloves garlic, 4 finely chopped, 3 whole

2 tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/2 tsp turmeric

3/4 tsp chilli powder

1 cup water

1 tsp garam masala

300g paneer, chopped into 1cm cubes

1 tbsp yoghurt

 Start by preparing your ingredients. Put on your rice. Next add the spinach to a large saucepan and cover with boiling water. Put the lid in and leave for 3 minutes to wilt. Then drain in a colander, and add to a blender. Also add 3 whole cloves of garlic and the 1/2 inch of ginger. Whizz until a smooth paste.

Next heat the butter in the large saucepan you used earlier on a medium heat, and add the cumin to brown off. Next add the bay leaf and the chopped onion, until the onion browns. Now add the tomatoes and cook until they soften. Add the turmeric and chilli powder, stirring in. Then add the spinach puree. Stir well. Add the cup of water and boil gently for about 5 minutes.

As this boils, brown off the paneer cubes in a frying pan. No oil is needed. Then add the garam masala, paneer and yoghurt to the sauce. It should be quite a thick consistency. Serve and enjoy.

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Zuppa Contadina

Zuppa ContadinaIf ever asked where to eat in London my mind immediately casts straight for the amazing diversity of restaurants that line the streets of Islington. From institutions like Frederick’s which has been a tall poppy since 1969, when your mother would warn you away from the area, to Ottoleghi, the western european light into middle eastern cuisine, and Le Mercury, the stalwart of tongue-in-cheek, un-chic, ‘best of budget’ European food and atmosphere.

But one little old favourite haunt, Food Lab, has kept me inspired to do simple food really well. Tucked just round the corner from my last apartment it was the best local I could ask for. Although a late convert to the immense diversity of Italian flavours, I marvel at how far a few simple ingredients bring that sufficient complexity to a dish. Zuppa Contadina is my italian take on a ‘peasant’s soup’, with only 3 main ingredients. This dish works fantastically to shake off those cold spells and will keep for a few days gaining flavour each day.

Serves 6

2 medium onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, thiny sliced
1/2 ring of chorizo, in 4mm slices and again into half moon
30-40g dried porcini mushrooms
handful of pearl barley
1 1/2 litres vegetable stock (preferably x2 cubes of mushroom stock)
Olive oil

Start by preparing your ingredients. Add boiling water to your vegetable stock, and soak your porcini in the stock until expanded.

In a heavy based saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté your onions on a medium heat until clear, around 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and sliced chorizo and fry for a further 5 minutes. The oily paprika juices from the chorizo will give you a good orange colour to the food.

Next add your stock, porcini and pearl barley and bring to the boil. Once boiling, simmer for 30 minutes, until the pearl barley is soft and swollen. Add salt and plenty of pepper to taste.

Tip: The soup will thicken up the longer it simmers, so for a slightly more soul-warming texture keep it going for a good hour. It will also gain the full flavour of the mushrooms and chorizo in just 1/2 a day, so pre-making this dish goes a long way.


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12,000 Mile Culinary Style

Fush un mash

It’s remarkable that through 2 centuries of culture exchange between UK and New Zealand, the gift that Blighty’s Shore has most lastingly bestowed on her distant cousin is its shared nautical national dish (excluding language, legal framework, political system and other such trivial social matters). The image is the same – a newspaper package, blotted with grease and salt, serving as a plate for the undeniably scrumptious taste of “fush und chups”, or fish and chips to those who speak the Queen’s.

It conjures up romantic visions for me of people sitting on benches at the seaside overlooking the expanse of water, with red and white wind breakers below them on the beach and healthy breezes bracing them into the warmth of their dinner. On one side of the globe its tarakihi fillets warming their cockles, on the other its good old chunky flakes of cod.

But regardless of location, I take a whole new dimension on the classic dish and make it dinner party friendly, whilst keeping that hint of unpretentious cockney geezer in the mix. So, kudos to Mrs Beaver this week, who brings you 12,000 mile cod, mash and tartare sauce.

Serves 4

4 fillets cod, skin on
1 tsp fennel seeds
200g crusty bread
4 cloves of garlic
50g tin of anchovies in oil
½ a 280g jar of sundried tomatoes in oil
Small bunch of basil
1 chilli
40g parmesan cheese
2 lemons
Balsamic vinegar
4 medium baking potatoes
1 head of broccoli
500g frozen peas
Knob of butter
1-2 tbs mint sauce
3 gherkins
1 tsp capers
Small bunch of parsley
200g mayonnaise
Sweet paprika

This may look like a lot of ingredients, but preparation is pretty simple with a food processor. In fact, you can pre-prepare the tartare sauce, crust and tomato sauce the day before if you want to save time.

Start by boiling the potatoes for 10 mins in salted water. Meanwhile chop up your broccoli into small chunks and add them to the boiling water.

Turn on the grill. Foil line a baking tray, drizzle oil onto it and spread the fennel, salt and pepper. Next turn the fish over in the tray, coating it in the oil mix, and place under the grill for 4 minutes, skin side down. Meanwhile throw the bread, 2 garlic cloves, and a glug of olive oil in the food processor and whizz into breadcrumbs. Set this aside.

Now add to the food processor – the sundried tomatoes, 1/2 tin of anchovies, 2 cloves of garlic, basil, chilli and parmesan. Squeeze in juice from 1 lemon and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Whizz into a paste. Remove the fish from the grill and spread the tomato paste onto the fleshy side. Next cover with the breadcrumbs and return to the grill for 5 more minutes.

Now add the peas to the potato and broccoli for the remaining 4 minutes. For the tartare, rinse the processor and add the gherkins, capers, 1/2 tin anchovies and parsley. Squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon. Whizz until smooth. Add the mayonnaise, mix and place in a bowl.

Drain the veg, add the butter and mash roughly. Remove the fish from the grill and serve.

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imageI’m pretty sure this recipe came into my repertoire because either no one wanted to tuck into tired ol’ sprouts over Chrimbo dinner or mum went leftfield. What we ended up with was a show stopper and has been recreated every year since, and can be served throughout the year as long as you can get hold of sprouts. I even shred spare sprouts and freeze them fresh for a summer’s day.

Boiling a sprout pretty much kills it. Steaming comes a crawling second. Eating them raw-likes-thems-grows means you get all that cholesterol lowering goodness. I’m uneasy to use the word ‘bile’ whilst talking about food, but the fibre in sprouts binds really well with bile acids that carries out the cholesterol busting task. In a quest for ‘vein vanity’, that sounds pretty sweet. Cautious to take all the credit (!) I’m pretty sure this is a recipe that deserves credit to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Makes a side serving for 6

20 sprouts, outter leaves discarded and inside shredded
3 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
150ml olive oil
A bunch of flat-leafed parsley, chopped
A small bunch of tarragon, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp fresh horseradish, grated
1 rounded tsp of capers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

All the effort that is needed for this dish goes into shredding the sprouts. Do get rid of the root and the outer leaves. Then slice the sprouts as thinly or thickly as you like crunch. It takes a short while but it’s worth it. Then add the rest of the ingredients and serve fresh. I love this as a side to something hot, like a roast, or even as a stand alone for a lunch.

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La Manche’s Mediterranean Marvel

IMG_2671Given that this dish first made its way onto my cooking repertoire whilst on a long weekend break to Jersey, this dish is only as mediterranean as the sum of its ingredients. With my Nann’s old green beetle as a runabout I found the local fish shack, The Fresh Fish Company, that sits at the water’s edge and sells its wares literally as fresh as it could be, save for being sold off the back of the boat.

I had a mission to seek out one of my favourite fish and the shack delivered. Red mullett, so I’ve been told, was one of the most valued fish in ancient Rome. The mediterranean fish would be trained to come to feed at the call of a voice, and often caressed by their owners. They were often sold for their weight in silver. Perhaps the equivalent to the modern day Koi (coy) carp. I’m afraid my respect for mullet stems solely from my absolute love for the taste, and thankfully that is achieved at considerably less than the cost of silver. It has a firm texture and a sweet, nutty flavour with little oil content, so if you are going to replicate this look to find something similar with the skin left on, like red snapper or tarakihi.

The joy of this recipe is that it is put together in literally 5 minutes, but looks and tastes like it took forever. A winning combo!

Serves 6

6 fillets firm white fish, skin on, deboned
1 medium jar olives, roughly chopped
1 medium jar sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts or sunflower seeds
1 bulb of fennel, sliced (optional)
1 red onion, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped small
1 lemon, in 8 slices
Olive oil
Poppy seeds (optional)

To start, oven goes on to 180C. Line a large baking tray with foil and lightly oil. Lay the 6 fillets across the tray and season with oil, salt and pepper. Lay 6 of the lemon slices on on top of each fillet, add the ends to the tray. Next sprinkle the sun-dried tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, onion, garlic and if you feel like it, fennel slices on top of the fish. Drizzle the veg with oil, sprinkle the poppy seeds, and season. It goes into the oven for 20 minutes. That’s it. It really is that easy and you will look like a legend for your efforts. Goes nicely with steamed kale, steamed green beans with oil and garlic, new potatoes with parsley, or steamed spinach.

La Manch Mediterranean

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Ta Dah, Dukkah!

IMG_2504Egypt has been conjuring up images of revolution, of military intervention, of chanting crowds on Tahrir Square, of hope, islamic autocracy and unstable democracy. But it’s easy to forget life as normal with such imagery, of mothers chasing their little ones out of the pantry with shouts of rebuke, out the back door, down a sun crowned back alley as they dash away with a smuggled jar of mum’s finest.

Unlike za’atar’s competitive regional differences, dukkah doesn’t enjoy such incredible local distinction. But extraordinarily we can see a parallel with the palestinian pride in family recipes, in the huge variety of dukkah recipes on sale on the australasian shelves, 10,000 miles away from Egypt, and some distance away from the original recipe. All good stuff, though, and a great way to create a dry, nutty, herb flavour to your dish. On it’s discovery, I made a bumper batch and handed my additional lot out to friends as I loved it so much I thought I’d share the love. So here’s a quick recipe hint – try crusting your chicken in dukkah, and throw together a lemon, mint, parsley and quinoa salad.


1/2 cup whole coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
3/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup roasted chickpeas
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

Turn the oven on to 180C. On a baking sheet, toast the sesame seeds for 2 minutes, then give them a shake and stir and bake for another 2. Set aside your sesame seeds in a food processor, keeping the sheet and adding the hazelnuts and chickpeas for 3 minutes, stir and shake and then another 3. Add them to the food processor with the rest of the ingredients and blend. Traditionally, a pestle and mortar would be used to crush the ingredients, hence the name dukkah, which derives from the word meaning “to pound”.

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Quick-fix Corn Fritters

IMG_2605This week I’m paying hommage to the mid-week muncher, who is left bereft of time but in need of a good meal in minutes. And when you find yourself in a last minute food mood, it’s unlikely you have Jamie’s 15-minute meals to hand in the supermarket. So, this is exactly where I found myself. With a recent move 400 miles south of Auckland to Lonely Planet’s “coolest little capital in the world”, Wellington, and after a full working day’s commitment (that’s why I’ve been off the radar of late), I needed a healthy quick fix.

I love beans. They’re healthy, good fibre carbs and protein rich. So when I’m short of time I almost go default for a mixture of beans to knock up a fast salad. As a killer lunch or a cracking light salad accompaniment, you can have it up and running in 2 minutes.

Serves 4

3 cans sweetcorn
1 can lentils
100g (gluten free) flour
100ml milk
3 eggs
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1tsp cumin
Salt & Pepper

Bean Salad
1 can chickpeas
1 can butter beans
1 can borlotti beans
1 can black-eye beans
4 tomatoes
3 spring onions
Balsamic vinegar

Start by making up your salad, so you don’t have to faff around with it when you have the fritter on. Drain all your cans, add the beans in a bowl, chop your tomatoes and spring onions and add them, season with olive oil, salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

For the fritters, drain the sweetcorn and lentils well and add to a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, paprika, coriander, cumin and seasoning. In a 3rd bowl, mix the eggs and milk, then add it to the flour mix until blended. Once prepared, add it to the sweetcorn and lentils. Heat oil in a frying pan and spoon in a good serving spoon’s worth of fritter mix. Fry on high for 1 1/2 mins then flip for another 1 1/2. Quick-fix!


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