Lamb scottadito with summer fregola was the first thing I cooked from ‘a change of appetite’; I had some local, organic lamb cutlets and Diana Henry’s marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and chilli flakes was simply delicious. I couldn’t wait to try her smoked mackerel, beetroot and poppy seed relish the following evening. Next was the sweet-tart gooseberry, almond and spelt cake. Inspiring ideas to use the last of my purple sprouting broccoli before it flowers too. And so it continued – a pattern of hungrily reading Diana’s beautiful prose then cooking my way through the enticing recipes immediately. This is a book about healthy eating, and it arrived at my home at a time when the wild cherry tree is covered in blossom and the warmer weather is forcing me to shed those more forgiving layers of clothes. Lighter, less calorie-laden dishes are obviously welcome. But that isn’t why I’m so keen to eat my way through ‘a change of appetite’ – it’s just all so blooming tempting. Even Ruby, my six year old daughter who’s begun looking suspiciously at my chocolate brownies recently (asking if I’ve sneaked in any beetroot) has bookmarked the date, apricot and walnut loaf cake. It’s brimming with dried fruit, malted brown flour and healthy seeds, so I’ll happily bake it for her. And scoff it too, it looks wonderful. Definitely one of my new favourites for a feel-good browse at the end of a busy working day, ‘a change of appetite’ is such an utterly beautiful book. The gorgeous photography helps but Diana Henry’s recipes and descriptions are just as seductive. From her Persian salad (I note happily that most of the ingredients including borage flowers and violets are currently growing just outside the kitchen) to squid with couscous, chilli, mint and lemon, this may be healthy food but there’s not a hint of self-denial. Written by a food writer who blatantly adores eating, none of the recipes are going to be joyless. In fact Diana stresses that her latest book is about food that’s “accidentally healthy” and I love her assertion that: “I’m much more into living life to the full than I am into thinking of my body as a temple.” Diana set out to “explore what a ‘healthy diet’ actually is and come up with dishes that were so good (and good for you, too, but first of all delicious that you wouldn’t feel you were missing out” and there are lots of interesting facts and opinions about which fats are fine to use freely, which to keep an eye on and why switching from refined carbs to whole grains is sensible. The emphasis though is on drawing on the robust flavours of Middle Eastern, Scandinavian, Japanese, Thai, Burmese and Vietnamese food – with food so fabulously fragrant with herbs and spices, you don’t crave excess fat, salt or sugar. With scandi salmon burgers, Sicilian artichoke and broad bean salad and Persian saffron and mint chicken amongst the many recipes still on my to-cook list, this book is influencing my planting plans as much as my shopping. While dried sour cherries and lots of interesting whole-grains are on the shopping list, Diana Henry has inspired me to be more imaginative in salads with the many garden herbs that are already emerging. And to grow more radish. Many hued radish in fact. Rather than use herbs as an afterthought in salads, Diana has reminded me that “…in the Middle East, they can be the salad.” And with dill fronds mingling with flat leaf parsley, mint and edible flower petals (violets and borage I think) as well as mauve and pink radish in this Persian salad, look at how beautiful this can be: With thanks to Octopus books for my review copy of ‘a change of appetite’ by Diana Henry, published March 2014 and for the use of the lovely photos above from the book. If you’re as addicted to books about food as I am, I can also recommend a read of this piece on Diana Henry’s blog about her favourite cookery books. It may prove expensive though.
I know, freshwater fish, potato cakes and childrens’ crafts may not be inextricably linked in everybody’s mind. And yes, I am developing something of a trout fixation. Trout ceviche last week, trout pate for lunch today, baked trout planned to go with the Easter mezze. Thanks to Pete the FishCatcher’s generosity, trout is becoming the new pork in this house. But honestly, the first two are delicious and there is an obvious connection.
When we were given 12 amazingly fresh trout last week, I was very excited about the prospect of beetroot-cured gravlax. I adapted the recipe for beetroot-cured salmon gravlax in Diana Henry’s wonderful preserving book, salt sugar smoke, leaving the fish to cure for a much shorter time as I’d heard that 48 hours was ideal for ‘curing’ trout.
I’d tried this gravlax with salmon at Christmas and was swayed by the glorious ruby-tinged look of it to use beetroot again. Even though I have to agree with Diana Henry that: “To be honest, the beetroot only flavours the fish slightly, but makes its mark through the colour it imparts.” I have to admit it’s made it’s mark on my copy of salt sugar smoke too. But I like to think that my beetroot stained pages are a reminder of great meals – rather than my shoddy ways.
The trout gravlax was delicious. The earthy sweet and salty flavours work well with root veg salads and slithers of it are wonderful on scrambled eggs. But latkes are my favourite treat with gravlax. Especially if there’s a little sour cream or some horseradish mixed with creme fraiche /greek yoghurt on the side and a green salad. I like red mizuna leaves, easy to grow and hardy even in the current chilly weather, moroccan cress (again, easy to grow in the garden in winter/spring/autumn) and young leaves of the salad burnet that grows by our back door in the salad. Maybe a few capers or gherkins too.
As long as you have very fresh trout, the gravlax is very easy to make and is the sort of salty, robust flavoured food that goes a long way:
beetroot-cured trout gravlax
1.2 kg trout, in fillets but with skin left on.
6 tablespoons tequilla (I had some lurking in the cupboard, it works very well, but you could follow Diana Henry and use vodka)
125g unrefined sugar
100g sea salt
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper (Diana uses 2 tbsp)
large bunch of dill, roughly chopped
400g raw beetroot, grated
Line a dish with foil and put one of the trout fillets (2 if they’re small) skin down on top. Pour over half the tequilla. Mix the sugar, salt, pepper, dill and beetroot together and spread over the trout.
Pour on the rest of the tequilla and put the other piece/pieces of trout (skin up) on top. Pull the foil up around the fish, then put some weights on top (I used some of the numerous jars of opened preserves already in the fridge, but tins, jars are good too).
Leave in the fridge for around 48 hours, turning the fillets half way through. Remove the foil, scrape the cure off the fish and slice diagonally off the skin as you would smoked salmon. Will keep, wrapped in the fridge for a week.
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem inspired me to make the latkes. Their version includes parsnips and I like this too, it just happens that I’ve dug all of ours. And I’ve replaced the chives with my Egyptian Walking Onions as they’re bursting into life in accidental clumps dotted around the garden and I can’t resist cooking with them. In a few months time, I’ll no doubt vary the herbs.
Potato Latkes (makes 12)
900g peeled and grated potatoes
a few Egyptian walking onions (or chives) chopped
4 egg whites
2 tablespoons cornflour
80g unsalted butter
100ml rapeseed oil
salt and black pepper
The Jerusalem recipe recommends rinsing the potatos in cold water, then drying them on a kitchen towel. To be honest I’ve never tried this, partly from laziness, partly because I’ve always made these at busy family teatimes so far when everybody is hungry and I need to crack on. They’re great just without this, but by all means do it properly! I mix the grated potato, egyptian walking onions, egg whites, cornflour, 1 teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper in a bowl. Then heat half the butter and oil in a frying pan and form half the potato mixture into flat (1 cm thick) pancakes, squeezing out excess moisture as you go. Cook for 5 minutes on each side until golden brown and drain on kitchen roll while you cook the remaining latkes in the spare oil and butter. Delicious warm with sour cream and wonderful with slithers of the trout gravlax.
Ruby loves these and has also had a strong desire to make eggshell mosaic. In the form of a fish birthday card for her Dad to be precise. So every time I’ve made these lately the yolks have usually gone into custard (often of the rhubarb variety) and the shells have been washed and saved.
Delighted when we’d scoffed enough to have a big supply of eggshells, Ruby painted each one, sort of carefully. We’re a big fan at the moment of the lovely Melissa and Doug paints that come in fab bright colours.
When dried (this took a while as some were daubed quite liberally with paint) Ruby cracked the different coloured eggshells into pots.
We drew a fish, spread it with glue and my 5 year old artist set to work decorating it with her mosaic. After a while this descended into adding the eggshells to the glue to make pink glue of course. But if there are many rainy afternoons over the Easter holiday (surely not!) I can recommend eggshell mosaic as very easy and good fun.
My daughter has a major dilemma this week. She has her first school disco and is wondering whether to wear her fairy outfit or flamenco dress. Meanwhile I’m wondering whether to make orange and flower water jam or pink grapefruit marmalade to add to my stash of seville marmalade. Sometimes I do wonder if we’re living in a surreal rural bubble.
But our hill is covered in snow again, the signs of energing life I was relishing are covered in a white blanket and I am back to woodburner worship. And making marmalade seems the right thing to do. Just as I love the comforting aroma of bread baking on a winter’s day, the citrus smells that fill the kitchen during a marmalade session make all that slicing of orange peel worthwhile. I love Diana Henry’s description in salt, sugar smoke (which has some lovely, unusual marmalade and orange jam recipes) of “vats of sunshine.” Besides, spreading my coarse (or messily) cut home-made marmalade onto thick slices of toast to go with a big mug of tea on a weekend morning is one of life’s simple pleasures.
This is the recipe I use every year for Seville Marmalade:
800g seville oranges
1.4 kg sugar
juice of 2 lemons
Put the oranges in a saucepan, fill with water to cover/so that they float freely, bring to boil and simmer for about 2 hours. A lovely citrus aroma will start to fill the kitchen. Take them out of pan, reserve the liquid, cut the oranges in half, scoop out the pips and put in a small pan. Chop up the oranges finely or coarsely, depending on personal preference (or patience and time!) and put them in large pan.
Ladle some of cooking water over pips in small pan and bring to boil. Boil for 5 mins, then strain through a sieve over chopped oranges in large pan. Add the lemon juice and stir in sugar. Bring to boil gently so that sugar dissolves before marmalade starts boiling, then boil until setting point is reached (I normally use a jam thermometer), about 15 mins. Ladle into sterilized jars (I normally wash then dry them in woodburner or use them straight from a hot cycle of the dishwasher) and seal.
While it’s hard to beat generously spreading sourdough toast with this marmalade, these are some of the other uses I have in mind:
– spread it onto Trine Hahnemann’s crispbread or shower buns to go with coffee
– try Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Ham, Squash and Marmalade
– use Diana Henry’s idea in ‘Cook Simple’ to heat 175g marmalade with 4 tablespoons golden syrup, 50ml orange juice and juice of 1 lemon. Bring gently to boil, press marmalade with wooden spoon to break down and serve warm over chocolate and vanilla ice creams.
– bake Sally’s fruity breakfast loaf at mycustardpie
Planning large family meals for the Christmas holidays, I keep turning to Diana Henry. For one thing, in salt sugar smoke, her recipes often seem to me to suggest wonderful ways of adding glamour to home-grown and local produce. I wouldn’t have thought this could be possible with root veg but Diana’s middle eastern pickled turnips look spectacularly exotic on my windowsill, the juice from chunks of beetroot adding a gloriously pink hue.
Many of her Scandinavian recipes for salt-curing and preserving also seem perfect for relaxing Christmas meals as most of the preparation is done leisurely in advance. The preparation of her beetroot-cured gravlax doesn’t seem very labour intensive at all, yet look at the dramatically delicious result:
I have a jar of Diana’s Scandinavian pickled cucumber in a cupboard in readiness, am planning to dig up a root of horseradish (cleaned it’s handy to have in the freezer ready for grating for homemade horseradish sauce) to mix with creme fraiche and a squeeze of lemon to go with the gravlax. I’m very tempted by the crunchy russian dill pickles too.
When I talked to Diana Henry, her view that the Scandinavians “are so brilliant at bringing the countryside to their plates – using dill, you feel so much as if you’ve been walking through a pine forest,” struck a chord with me. I’m hoping that although my post Christmas day family feast will include a mix of home-produced and cooked ham, gravlax, some very English pickles along with the Swedish ones and some Irish soda bread, Scandinavian grandmothers wouldn’t be too horrified at my jumble of food traditions. Even some of my Autumn preserves, including elderberry pickle, elderberry gin and blackberry whisky, made from very English hedgerow fruit, may contribute to the meal. My feast may draw on recipes from many cultures, but as it brings the garden and surrounding countryside to a table of food gathered around by a large family, it does seem to have some Scandinavian spirit. As well as pickles.
And having baked some lovely Honey Hearts from Trine Hahnemann’s “Scandinavian Christmas” I think dessert may be Scandinavian inspired too. Although, can I find time to make Diana Henry’s purple fig and pomegranate jam – how fabulously festive does this sound, maybe with mascarpone mixed with a little vanilla sugar, greek yoghurt, meringues….
In her latest book, Diana Henry explains her inspiration for writing about how to preserve fruit, vegetables, meat and fish: “I have a clear memory of sitting on the counter top in our small galley kitchen as she (her Mum) sliced warm wheaten bread and spread a piece with raspberry jam.” The jam was made by Diana’s Aunt Sissy and was the lovely soft set sort. In ‘salt sugar smoke’ Diana introduces us to the similarly soft-set jams of France and deliciously runny lower sugar preserves of Scandinavia but also wonderful savoury goodies such as moldavian pepper relish and maple hot-smoked salmon. As she does so, her enticing descriptions and infectious enthusiasm for food make you feel as if you’re similarly perched in Diana’s kitchen, eagerly wanting to dip into her apple and lavender jelly or raspberry and violet jam.
Arriving in the Autumn when I’m in the middle of my annual pickle fest, madly preserving some of the last of the years edible treats from the garden and hedgerows while wondering what else I can do with the freezer full of home-reared pig, this book offered wonderful inspiration. I love the recipes that add middle eastern exoticism to English ingredients: rhubarb, rose and cardamon jam sounds a wonderful accompaniment to greek yoghurt or creamy rice pudding, while I was totally seduced by the idea of orange and flower water jam (“a completely lovely, soft bitter sweet scented jam”) dribbled over a brioche.
The culinary tour we’re taken on in this book isn’t just geographical, although the insights into Scandinavian salt-curing “in coolness, in silence and in shadow”, American inspired maple-brined pork chops, Persian pickles and Indian achars are fascinating. We also skip back in time to Queen Henrietta Maria’s “marmalade” of cherries from the seventeenth century and there are many traditional English recipes that the most formiddable W.I. preserver would be proud of. In between exotic foodie adventures, Diana’s recipes bring to mind the lovely old fashioned feel of high tea: she quotes Betjeman on how fruit curds illustrate the “comfort and immutability” of afternoons in England”.
Diana has done her research extremely thoroughly. She refers to several 17th century tomes and quotes Simone de Beauvoir on comparing jam-making to capturing time, adding her own slant: “But preserving is also about capturing and holding on to a season, a particular mood. You can find autumn in a jar of pear and chestnut jam.”
Her own food writing manages to be both poetic and down to earth. She emphasises that she’s a home cook, that you don’t need masses of special equipment to cook from this book; plastic storage containers from Ikea are recommended for brining rather than expensive catering equipment. The recipes that I’ve tried so far work too. I’m particularly proud of the russet coloured quince cheese in my fridge and can’t wait to try some of the middle eastern pickles – I’m hoping they’ll add glamour to my home-grown carrots and beetroot! And the ‘adobo’ mexican paste is on my mental list of things to do with pork chops, while the country pork terrine looks like a great way of feeding lots of people well. With plenty of pickles on the side of course.
But you don’t have to have a pig in the freezer or a garden full of vegetables to appreciate this lovely book. The ideas for “using gluts and not squandering abundance” can be applied to seasonal produce bought from the farmers market or grocers. It seems to me that ideas for making everyday food special are highly relevant to all of us in these cost conscious times. Salt Sugar Smoke has left me feeling that injecting some exoticism and loveliness into our larders can be a frugal but very enjoyable thing to do.
As Diana says, “One of the good constituents of a good life is the abillity to find pleasure in small things. A good jam for your toast in the morning. A chutney that is made from the apples you gathered last autumn. Cutting salt beef that you’ve made and can feed a dozen friends.”
After keeping pigs this year I’d decided that pig was the new jam when it came to thank you gifts. But Salt Sugar Smoke has left me with an urgent need to buy vodka. Not that those dark winter nights in the Cotswolds are dreadful. Just that russian plum liqueur and sweet pear william sound like such deliciously useful things to have in the cupboard.
salt sugar smoke by Diana Henry is published by Mitchell Beazley.
For further information see www.octopusbooks.co.uk