Carrot Cake Oats | VEGANUARY

Happy Thursday, guys! If you’re still going strong with January’s vegan challenge – well done! I’m with you. This weeks recipe was inspired by my all-time favourite cake and it’s utterly delicious!

Jazz up your usual porridge oats with a little cinnamon, grated carrot, golden syrup, walnuts and juicy raisins and you’ve got yourself dessert for breakfast. Winning. It’s satisfying, healthy and can be adapted depending on what’s in your store cupboard. Sub the walnuts for cashews, or golden syrup for maple and you’ve got an equally delicious bowl of goodness. Give it a go!

Serves 1 | Cooking: 10 mins

  • 1 cup dairy-free milk (soya, almond or coconut work well)
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • Pinch of sea salt or Himalayan salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 carrot
  • A handful of whole walnuts
  • A handful of soaked raisins
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • Dusting of desiccated coconut

Step one: Gently simmer the milk in a medium saucepan on a low heat for 2 minutes.

Step two: Add the oats and salt and stir often to avoid lumps forming. You’ll want to cook this for about 5 minutes until smooth and creamy.

Step three: Pour into a deep breakfast bowl. Grate the carrot in the centre, then add the broken walnut halves, raisins and cinnamon. Drizzle with golden syrup and sprinkle with coconut before serving. Enjoy!

 

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Ackee, Callaloo and Pumpkin | VEGANUARY

Can you believe it’s 2018?! It’s currently 6 pm on 6th Jan, and I’m wondering how we got here already. One good thing to come out of this month though, is Veganuary, and I’ve dedicated myself to it this time round. I’m not into resolutions these days, but I do love a good challenge. If you’re not familiar with Veganuary, it’s essentially an initiative to encourage people to eat and live more consciously for just 31 days – and with that comes a vegan diet. You can get support, recipe ideas, starter kits and regular news online, so that’s half the work done for you.

As you guys know, this blog usually documents vegetarian (and the occasional plant-based) recipes, so I’m excited to take full advantage of the opportunity to blog 100% vegan! I want to show you how easy it can be; not at all restrictive, expensive or time consuming. Also, I plan to share more savoury recipes because I actually bake less often than I cook! Taking only 15 minutes to rustle up, this ackee, callaloo and pumpkin dish reflects my Jamaican heritage with a little bit of a twist and is probably one of my favourite things to eat. Usually eaten with dumplings, rice or bread, I enjoy this best with seasoned bulgar wheat (a little bit healthier, amazing texture!). This is a great one for breakfast, lunch or dinner, plus ackee is high in fibre so your digestive system will thank you for it.

Serves 2-4 | Prep: 5 mins | Cooking: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 540g tin of Jamaican ackee (in salted water)
  • 280g tin of Jamaican callaloo (in salted water)
  • 150g ripe pumpkin
  • 6 small plum tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 small white onion
  • 1 large spring onion
  • 1 small yellow sweet pepper
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • Half a veggie stock cube
  • 1 cup water
  • A thumb-sized piece of scotch bonnet pepper (or chilli flakes)
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder (hot or mild)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper
  • Olive oil

Step one: Heat a large, deep saucepan with two tablespoon of olive oil. Chop the pumpkin into small chunks leaving the skin on. Sautée on a medium heat for five minutes until softed, adding the water little by little.

Step two: While the pumpkin cooks, prep your veggies. Finely chop the onions, tomatoes, peppers and garlic. Set aside.

Step three: Add the seasonings, crumbled stock cube, bay leaves and thyme to the pumpkin and mix well. There should be little water left by now. Add the raw veggies and simmer down for five minutes with a lid on. They will release natural juices and add a tone of flavour!

Step four: Taste test the sauce at this point for thickness, then add the ackee and callaloo. Combine gently as these are both very delicate, before simmering on a low heat for five minutes more. Turn off the heat. To serve, garnish with spring onions.

Vegan banana bread & cashew cream frosting

Another Sunday, another recipe! Lately, I’ve really been enjoying plant-based eating more so than my usual vegetarian diet, and so I’ve filtered this into this week’s bake. I absolutely adore banana bread, so I figured a vegan-friendly version would be a quick and easy go-to for anyone wanting to experiment with baking with substitues.

A note on the ingredients – I’ve left out the eggs and butter, instead opting for the classic ‘flaxseed egg’ and dairy-free butter which both work a treat. The cake itself is quite close textured and dense because of the wholemeal flour, and the addition of soft, chewy dates gives a subtle caramel sweetness. The finishing touch is the fluffy cashew cream frosting which is super simple to make and the perfect substitue for mascarpone, traditional butter icing or cream cheese.

Serves 8-10 | Prep: 15 mins | Cooking: 1 hour

For the cake batter: 

  • 100g (organic) self-raising flour
  • 100g (organic) wholemeal flour
  • 100g soft brown sugar
  • 200g dairy-free butter (Pure, Flora or Vital are good brands)
  • 2 over ripe bananas, mashed
  • 10 soft pitted dates, chopped
  • 2 grated carrots
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp vegetable or rapeseed oil
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseeds
  • 1/4 cup water

For the frosting:

  • 50g dairy-free butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 100g soaked cashew nuts
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk (soy, almond or oat)
  • Zest of 1 lemon

Step one: Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line a 20cm loaf tin. Set aside.

Step two: In a large mixing bowl, add the flours, baking powder, salt and spices and mix well. In a smaller bowl, add flaxseeds and water and leave for 5 minutes to thicken.

Step three: In a seperate bowl, cream the butter and sugar until creamy or use an electric mixer. Add the ‘flaxseed egg’, oil, grated carrot and chopped dates, then mix well.

Step four: Blend the bananas for 1 minute or mash well by hand. Add to the wet ingredient mixture.

Step five: Add the dry ingredients to the wet bit by bit, ensuring you continue to mix well for an even finish. You should have a thick consistency that coats the back of a spoon. Pour into your lined tine and bake for approx 1 hour. You can adjust the temperature if the cake browns too much on top. The knife test will check the centre is cooked through.

Step six: Blend the softened cashews and milk until a thick yet smooth texture is achieved. Set aside.

Step seven: In a bowl, cream the butter and icing sugar until whipped and smooth. Add the cashew mixture and set aside in the fridge to keep cool.

Step eight: Once the cake has cooled, finish with the frosting and grated lemon zest to serve. Et voila!

Love Lisbon: Solo travel guide

For the last few years Lisbon has been on my radar. I feel as though there was a period when everyone was heading there, and I kind of missed that bandwagon (thankfully). I figured a trip this summer was well overdue, so I booked a few days in early July. I can tell you with certainty that ever since returning, I’ve had major holiday blues. Let me explain…

If you’ve seen photos of the Portuguese capital, or even heard stories, then you’ll know just how pretty it is. Every inch is covered in intricate detail; colourful buildings laced in patterned tiles, sun-kissed balconies and cobbled streets that make a city hike up rolling hills oh so worth it. Typically, I found myself in an airbnb staying with with an artist in Principe Real (yes, holiday goals indeed). She was amazing, and so was her home. I won’t share detailed photos here, but when a host leaves you cheese, a bottle of red and fresh fruit as a welcome gift you know you’ve found a good’un.

Here’s a quick and honest rundown of some of the best places I visited, and where I recommend you go too.

Getting around

The simple answer is by foot. Not only will you see more of the city this way, but you’ll want to walk around just to get a feel for the place. There’s always something to take a photo of or a side street to meander down, but those legs WILL be tired come evening. On a few ocassions I got the bus up to LX Factory and Belém, which is kind of essential being a fair distance away. Also, a tram ride from Baixa-Chiado is a fun way to do some hop-on hop-off sightseeing around the inner city.

Shopping

Possibly half the reason I came here. Lisbon is so cheap compared to other european cities, and you will not be disappointed with it’s array of designer and vintage boutiques, speciality food shops, independent stores and high street chains. One of my favourites was Embaixada, the Portuguese concept department store in Principe Real. Outdoor creative island LX Factory is home to agencies and professionals, plus a trendy mix of food outlets, fine art, fashion designers, world-famous chocolate cake-makers Landeau, and the rather special bookstore Livraria Ler Devagar. Head to Baixa-Chiado for the main shopping district, that will eventually lead you down to Lisbon Square where you can quite literally dip your toes in the river Tagus.

Eating + drinking

If brunch is your jam, make your first morning stop at Copenhagen Coffee Lab. Founded in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2013, these guys are onto a winner and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Staff are well-versed, and the vibe is very east London coffee-house. All white interior, communal seating, fresh-baked goods (cinnamon rolls are insane), and a neo-soul playlist to rival my own. The breakfast deal here is a winner for around 6 euro, and the speciality coffee is good and strong. Similarly, The Mill is perfect for avo on toast, eggs your way, great service and an eclectic crowd – but it gets busy. Just opposite here is a tiny little juice bar called YAO Pressed Juicery and it’s WONDERFUL.

Lunch on the go is the perfect excuse to head to the Time Out Market – an old fishing market near Cais do Sodre. It’s a buzing food hall, with around 35 vendors plus a couple of bars and a gift store. The made-to-order pad thai at Asian Lab and traditional pastéis de nata at Manteigaria (sister to the Chiado branch) were worth the trip alone. If you fancy a quiter spot for food or cocktails, Lost In blends Bohemian decor and nature with uninterupted rooftop views.

If like me you eat a vegetarian or plant-based diet, Lisbon won’t fail you for dinner. There’s plenty of seafood and meat floating arond the city’s restaurant scene, but look hard enough and you’ll find some amazing vegetarian gems suitable for attending alone, too. Jardim dos Sentidos is in a beautiful garden setting where you can eat a full three-course meal for under 20 euro, and you’ll find the BEST stonebaked organic pizza at In Bocca al Lupo – a cosy and friendly joint along the most unassuming side street. On my second visit they knew my order!

And to relax?

I found myself lazing around Jardín del Príncipe Real in the evening warmth – a neighbourhood garden filled with beautiful flowers and a conservatory-style restaurant. You’ll find these gardens dotted around Lisbon districts. If you enjoy being by the river, when in Cais do Sodre take a walk along the seafront; there’s a nice buzz around there. Equally, when in Belém, a walk along the prominade of this slow-paced town is a nice way to wind down with great views of 25 de Abril Bridge. For sunrise and sunset views, head to the infamous Portas do Sol (The Gates of the Sun) for panoramic views over the rainbow-coloured houses of Alfama.

 

 

 

Vegan banana oat pancakes & spiced maple

 

Over-ripe bananas mean one of two things for me: banana bread or pancakes. The latter is one of my absolute favourite breakfast or brunch items, especially when made fluffy and thick with just enough chewiness. One of my go-to places for American pancakes is The Breakfast Club (faultless 99.9% of the time!) but they’re not the healthiest, admittedly. So in those moments when I fancy something similar, these homemade vegan-friendly pancakes are a winner and the perfect way to use up those extra sweet fruit.

For this recipe, the main flavours are bananas and oats, with a few spices and nuts thrown in making them more nutritious. Big win! While I can’t imagine anyone subbing maple syrup from this recipe, warm runny honey or agave syrup will work just as well drizzled at the end. Likewise, fresh blueberries and peaches, or a spoonful of coconut yoghurt elevate these even more. The most important meal of the day is about get tastier!

Serves 2-4. Makes 6-8 pancakes | Prep: 5 mins  Cooking: 12-16 mins

For the pancakes: 

  • 2 medium ripe bananas
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk: soya, almond or oat work well
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or fresh vanilla bean paste
  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp rolled oats
  • 1 tbsp Linwoods flaxseed, almond, brazil nut and walnut mix (ground almonds will also work)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • Vegetable or sunflower oil

To serve:

  • Good quality maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice

Step one: In a blender, nutribullet or by hand, mix the chopped bananas, milk and vanilla until completely smooth in texture.

Step two: In a large dry bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, oats, nut mix, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the liquid banana puree and mix well. Set aside in the fridge for 10 minutes to activate the raising agent.

Step three: Heat up a non-stick pan with a little vegetable or sunflower oil. 3 tablespoons of mixture should be enough for each pancake. Cook for a minute on each side or until well coloured, adding more oil when needed.

Step four: Heat up the maple syrup in small saucepan (as much as desired) with the mixed spice until warm. Drizzle over the pancakes and serve.

In the kitchen: Five essential reads

For some people, cookbooks can seem like a little bit of a hassle. You buy them with good intention and then you look at the lists of ingredients and hours of preparation time required, and things go downhill from there. Instead, they sit gathering dust on the shelf and those wonderful recipes you envisioned never get made (except that one time… remember?). My mum springs to mind here, because growing up she always had a treasure chest full of books and magazines that lay dormant for “next weekend”. She is a brilliant cook might I add, so I guess she had no immediate need for those books but she would whip them out now and again have a quick read then they would go back to their nest, untouched. I’d read them in my spare time and I think visually, I started to appreciate food and food photography from there.

Fast forward 15+ years and I’ll spend hours rummaging through book shops, charity shops and online looking for inspiration from my favourite chefs and influencers. Things have taken a huge shift since the 90s and earlier 00s in terms of what’s available out there on the market. Authors know people want speedy, fresh, flavourful food that can adapt to working family lifestyles and those on both a budget and timescale. More bloggers and influencers are creating recipes for their online following. More of us are opting for alternative diets; plant-based, vegetarianism, gluten-free, dairy-free. Recipe books are offering up recipes as diverse as those who buy into them and I personally am so excited by this.

So, I’ve taken my time and sifted through my collection and here’s five of the best. I champion the vegetarian diet, so there’s a mix of books aimed to keep our health and wellbeing in balance. I hope you’re inspired to go out and try some of these!

Amanda Brocket | The Raw Food Kitchen

My latest addition to the bookshelf is The Raw Food Kitchen which I picked up in one of my favourite homeware stores, Oliver Bonas. Amanda’s philosophy on food and health is really refreshing and she aims to make raw diets accessible and appealing. She manages to break down the meaning of eating ‘raw’ beyond fruits and vegetables and talks about the benefits to the body, changes you’ll expect, ingredient lists and shares personal stories about her struggle with Candida and gut health. I can relate to this so I have enjoyed learning as I’ve flicked through the many beautifully photographed pages.

She also goes into lengthy detail about variations on everyday foods we enjoy (as not to alienate readers) as well as adding a nifty little meal planner before delving into recipes. If you’re on a new raw food journey and need some realistic inspiration, give this a try. Expect colourful salads, juices, snacks, stir-frys, ice-cream, breakfast foods and more.

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Plenty More | Ottolenghi

Plenty More is the book I return to most often. It’s just one of a series of cookbooks by Yotam Ottolenghi and offers superb recipes and photography that focus on the humble vegetable with strong Mediterranean influence. In his introduction (so well written), he explains his journey to appreciating the vegetarian diet and his influences. Dishes are vibrant, daring and visually inviting, yet with minimal fuss. I think the pictures really speak for themselves! What’s nice is that every recipe introduction is a personal account referencing friends, colleagues and family.

If you get the chance, visit one of his restaurants and deli’s across London. Nopi is next on my hit list!

LEON – Ingredients & Recipes

An oldie but goodie. Londoners know the well-know chain that is LEON – offering naturally fast food and getting us through the hectic working week, but where did it all begin? This book focuses on the founders; Henry, John and Allegra who opened up the first branch in Carnaby Street mid 2004. This book is split into two halves essentially: the first touches on the A-Z of ingredients (this book includes meat and dairy) and the second is the recipe book. So for anyone wanting a thorough lesson in seasonality, sourcing, understanding ingredients, eating habits and local produce then this book will get you an A* grade.

As well as the retro visuals, smooth matte pages and colourful content, LEON does a wonderful job of sharing recipes from the LEON family and is not short on ideas or creative content. From hearty soups and stews, to superfood salads and puddings all in line with the LEON philosophy, there are recipes to see you through the seasons. Wholly worth the read.

Neal’s Yard Remedies – Healing Foods

I have a lot of love for this book. It is simply a fantastic curation of ingredients, recipes and knowledge on the power of foods to heal the body of ailments. It talks about dietary patterns, the western diet, seasonality and healthy supplements before going into an A-Z of ingredients and properties. Now, I thought I knew about food but this will educate even the most seasoned traveller and foodie out there!

Expect recipes from breakfast to dinner, snacks, condiments and a pretty clever recipe chooser which offers up a list of recipes from the book for specific problems like heart health or detoxing. All in all, a handy book that leaves no stone unturned. You’ll definitely reevaluate your next weekly shop!

Natasha Corrett | Honestly Healthy Cleanse

Alkaline, alkaline, alkaline. It’s the motto of this neat and tidy book from Natasha Corrett. It’s split into four sections: feel good, slim down, high energy and life changing – all designed to cleanse the body over a set amount of days – menu planner included. Natasha gently guides you though the rules of the cleanse, why our bodies should be more alkaline than acidic and answers common questions too. A quick ingredient list sets you up for the next few pages of simple, honest food that looks (and tastes) fab. I enjoy making recipes from this book and it’s one I pick up when I want a quick one week detox.

Asian noodle soup

As soon as winter swings around, the British tradition is always to enjoy a few more warming home cooked meals that can be knocked up quickly without spending hours in the kitchen. For me, by the time January comes around I want to consciously eat cleaner, but still keep that element of comfort food for those cold nights! This recipe is one I created based on my appreciation of Asian flavours and the humble coconut and it also happens to be a brilliant way to use up the remainder of fresh veggies in the fridge come Sunday.

So, all you really need is 20 minutes spare in the evening and you’re good to go. The noodles really bulk out this soup, so it can easily serve 3-4 or if you’re cooking for one then divide out for the week. As with most of the recipes on here, adapt the heat/spice to your liking so if you want a milder flavour just use one chilli.

Serves 4 | Prep: 5 mins  Cooking: 15 mins

Ingredients: 

• 1 large carrot
• 1 small red bell pepper
• 2 spring onions
• 1 small white onion
• 2 green chillies
• 1 garlic clove
• 1 oxo vegetable stock cube or 1 tbsp bouillon powder
• 2 handfuls fresh or frozen green beans
• 200ml good quality coconut cream
• 300ml hot water
• 2 dried wheels of dried wholewheat noodles or rice noodles
• 1/2 tsp curry powder
• 1/2 tsp turmeric
• 1/2 tsp ground ginger
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tsp sesame oil
• Sea salt and black pepper

Step one: Prep the veggies. You’ll need to peel and cut the carrot into four even quarters and then slice finely length ways. Finely slice the onion, bell pepper and spring onions to even sizes. Crush the garlic clove.

Step two: Heat a large, deep saucepan on a medium heat with the olive oil. Add the garlic, chillies and onion and sweat for 2 minutes until softened.

Step three: Add the coconut cream and water, stir and simmer for 2 minutes before adding the spices, seasoning and stock cube.

Step four: Add the remaining veggies except the green beans. These cook the quickest and should be added last to retain the crunch and colour. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Step five: For the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the noodles and green beans and cook until soft. Serve hot and garnish a few spring onions and a drizzle of sesame oil.

Zesty orange & almond cake with coconut frosting

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When I’m reading articles, magazines and watching cooking videos for inspiration and new techniques, I often come across this classic bake and I’ve been wanting to try it out for a while. The thing is, I’m not keen on orange within cooking so I was always put off making this myself – that was until I tried it at one of my favourite Lebanese restaurants in London – Comptoir Libanais. I was pleasantly surprised at how subtle the orange flavour actually was, so here is my variation on the delicious wheat and gluten free cake.

The thing I love about this cake is how simple it is to make and the moist, dense texture the ground almonds give once baked. If you want a healthy alternative to traditional sponge bases, then definitely give this zesty cake a try! The addition of coconut in the frosting takes the flavour to a new level, complimenting the fruity orange and nutty almonds.

I’m trying out a new 24mm lens here, so do let me know if you like the photo quality a little more!

Serves 8 | Prep: 15mins  Cooking: 40mins

For the cake:

• 200g demerera sugar
• 200g unsalted butter
• 150g ground almonds
• 150g fine polenta
• 3 eggs
• 1/2 baking powder
• Zest and juice of one whole orange

For the syrup:

• Juice from half an orange
• 1 tsp demerera sugar
• 2 tsp good quality runny honey
• 1/4 cup cold water
• 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the frosting:

• 180g tub soft cream cheese
• 1 tsp creamed coconut
• 1 tsp good quality runny honey
• 2 tbsp unsweetened desicated coconut

Step one: Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees. Line and greese a 20cm round tin and set aside.

Step two: In a mixer, blend the sugar and butter for 5 minutes until creamy. Add the eggs one by one.

Step three: Add the polenta, ground almonds and baking soda and whisk until well combined. Grate the orange zest in and add the juice before giving a final mix by hand.

Step four: Pour the mix evenly into the tin and bake for 40 minutes until golden brown and firm to touch.

Step five: In a small saucepan heat the water, orange juice, sugar and honey on a medium heat until reduced and coats the back of a spoon. This should take 3-4 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and set aside until the cake is cooked.

Step six: Whilst the cake is still hot, prick several times with a fork then pour the syrup over the cake and leave to cool.

Step seven: In a small bowl, mix all of the frosting ingredients together until smooth.

Step eight: Smooth the frosting evenly over the cake with a knife and sprinkle with orange zest. Cut into slices and serve cold.

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Soy & ginger stir fry pak choi, broccoli & portobello mushroom

I’m a huge fan of Asian dishes (Thai and Chinese) especially because of their speed, versatility & vibrant flavours. I’ll whip up a stir fry when I want quick, clean, no fuss and honest food. There’s no endless dirty pots and pans to contend with either. I came up with this delicious recipe that happens to be vegan, too. It’s light & full of green goodness!

Along with the mushroom, broccoli & pak choi base (you can find this in larger supermarkets or a local fruit & veg market), I add courgettes and spinach along with a delicious mix of fiery red chilli, garlic, lime and muscovado sugar to balance out the hot, sour and salty flavours. There’s a few other additions but this really is a simple and satisfying meal alone or as a side dish. Grab your wok and you’re ready to go!

Serves 2-4 | Prep: 5 mins Cooking: 8-10 mins

For the stir fry:

  • 1 bulb pak choi
  • 10 – 12 small broccoli florets
  • 2 large portobello  mushrooms
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 small white onion
  • 1 handful baby spinach
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of scotch bonnet red chilli
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 lime
  • Ground nut or vegetable oil
  • Sea salt & black pepper

Step one: On a medium heat, warm up a wok with enough oil to cover the base.

Step two: Wash and prep your vegetables. Cut the courgette into half-moon shapes, slice the onion and mushrooms, separate the broccoli florets and pak choi leaves, thinly slice the garlic, ginger and chilli.

Step three: The wok should now be hot. Fry the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli for one minute before adding the remaining veg. Keep the pan moving constantly for 5 mins to spread the heat and cook them evenly.

Step four: Season with salt and pepper, then add the thyme, soy sauce, a squeeze of lime, sugar, sweet chilli sauce and spinach leaves. Add a splash of water if needed to create a little steam. Cook for another two minutes before turning off the heat. Best served hot, with steamed basmati rice, noodles or as an accompanying side dish.

Understanding flavour combinations: herbs & spices

Spring is upon on us and I’m so excited to be cooking lighter, flavourful meals full of fresh ingredients, herbs and spices that can be easily thrown together. I’ve always loved buying little and often when it comes to fresh food and now the sun is out, I haven’t hesitated to visit my local markets in search of the good stuff. London is bursting with choice when it comes to fruit and veg markets. There is something very satisfying about picking and choosing from the many stalls at a leisurely pace, chatting with the vendors and generally coming away with several bargains for your money! My recent trip inspired this updated post on understanding flavour combinations.

If you’re not much of a cook, flavour combinations will seem like an alien concept. When you go out to restaurants or cook at home, you just eat and know what tastes good or bad together, right? From classic duos like lemon and thyme or garlic and ginger, to sweet things like strawberries and chocolate or apple and cinnamon, they’re all combinations that we eat often because somehow, they just work.

But why?

Often, sweet foods and spices work well with more savoury, salty or sour foods – sharp contrasts that will enhance the overall flavour and bring out the undertones. There’s a reason why everyone is going crazy over salted caramel! Salt is one of those fundamental ingredients that do just that. One of my favourite combinations is a soft tangy cheese like goats or feta, with a sweet and spicy chutney like carrot or mango. It’s something I will always order on a menu!

I’ve found it can take a lot of trial and error to find out what compliments each other when cooking at home, as there are so many variations you can try that will elevate your meal to another level. Another fail-safe of mine? Honey or agave syrup. I use these in savoury meals a lot, usually in sauces or veg based dishes. You can combine with crushed garlic for fragrance, dark soy sauce for saltiness, fresh or dried chilli for heat and olive oil to make a tasty sauce or marinade.

The foodie and traveler that I am, discovering new countries, cultures, foods and amazing flavour combinations is what I enjoy the most so I eat out a lot, and I incorporate those ideas into my everyday meals and weekly shops too. Indian, Moroccan and Mexican cuisines are some of my favourites. Having Caribbean heritage also means I’ve always eaten well spiced and delicious food, so it’s what I know best.

Spices:

My spice cupboard is bursting, literally. Partly because I dislike bland food but also because I like to try new things. There will always be the staples though – I’ll let you in on my essentials.

  • Paprika – you can get hot, sweet or smokey varieties. I like smokey personally with it’s deep red/burnt orange colour and deeper flavour.
  • Fresh chilli – for added warmth but not necessarily overbearing heat. A little goes a long way, especially the dried flakes. Generally the smaller the chilli the hotter it is (except the round shaped scotch bonnet which is the hottest variety).
  • Whole cumin seeds – a classic aromatic Indian spice, usually toasted in a dry pan to release the oils before use. Works well with meat, potatoes and carrots especially.
  • Curry powder – hot or mild varieties. I use this to flavour veg and curries. Traditional in Caribbean and Indian cooking.
  • Turmeric – a subtle flavour with natural medicinal qualities. I use this to add colour and warmth to various dishes.
  • Fresh ginger – juicy, pungent and spicy it’s also part of the turmeric family. I use this in fresh teas and Asian inspired dishes mainly.
  • Garam Masala – a fragrant Indian ground spice made up of cinnamon, cloves, coriander, black pepper and cumin.
  • Whole nutmeg – ah, perfume worthy. I prefer the whole nut over ground varieties because the smell lasts longer. Used primarily in puddings, white sauce, cakes and other sweet bakes.

Herbs and misc:

  • Dried bay leaf – a pungent, strong and bitter sweet spice that I use in soups, stews and porridge. Works very well with nutmeg.
  • Thyme – fresh or dried. A fragrant but strong spice that I use in soups, sauces and stews. Works well with meat, chicken and roasted root veg.
  • Garlic – neither a herb or spice, but an essential. And always the fresh stuff!
  • Lemon and lime – I use the zest and juice to add a fresh lift to otherwise heavy dishes like curries and sauces, as well as in salad dressings, teas and plain water.

There are plenty of other fresh and dried ingredients I use for added flavour which you’ll see throughout the blog, but these are the foundations and a pretty good start for anybody just beginning to explore spices and herbs. Hopefully you can try some of these ideas out if you haven’t discovered them already, and if you have then keep going!