Baked Beans À La Différence

Baked Beans À La Différence

Baked Beans

À La Différence

A little while back we had some Mexican friends staying with us in London and we wanted to show them a traditional British Sunday breakfast down the local caff.

They loved the instant coffee, white toast, trans fatty acid laden margarine, pork bangers, mushrooms, bacon. Then Claudia made a face: “sweet beans? Wákala!” (yuk!)

Obviously they didn’t go to waste. I grew up with baked beans and love them. But I did think I’d have a go at making baked beans fit for a Mexican

No cheating: baked beans are sweet, just not so sweet they compete for dessert. They are also savoury with that oh so important twang of acidity. I think Claudia liked them. For myself, I haven’t bought a tin of (baked) beans since


These are typically white beans such as haricot, or cannellini, but any bean is good. I’ve even tried baked chickpeas – they’re great!

For a no faff method use a can of cooked beans. I find ready cooked beans tend to fall apart and prefer to cook my own. But if you don’t mind your beans a bit mushy or don’t own a pressure cooker keep it simple

Pressure cooked beans don’t need pre-soaking, though they will cook that much quicker if soaked. Throw them straight in the pot with 4 times their volume of water and a teaspoon full of salt. Salting does’t make your beans hard, producing instead a firm skin with a lovely creamy centre

Cooking times varies with the type and age of your beans, your pressure cooker and the altitude of your kitchen. As a rule of thumb cook unsoaked white beans for 18-20 minutes at high pressure then turn off the flame and let the pressure reduce naturally to ambient – around 15 minutes

If you don’t have a pressure cooker soak the beans for 8-12 hours and simmer in fresh water (with salt) for around an hour


Tinned baked beans are thickened with corn starch. While corn starch produces a nice shiny glaze, essentially if your sauce needs cornstarch it’s just too thin. The best thickener for a tomato sauce is tomato

Carrot and celery are the dynamic duo of the Italian soffritto, the basis for a number of sacuces, notably tomato. They are packed with umami (deliciousness) and impart a gentle sweetness to the sharpness of the tomato. They also add body – that is, they help thicken your sauce. Another help along the way for avoiding to corn starch


Tinned tomatoes are great. Better than the tasteless off-season ones you get in supermarkets

But if you have access to decent fresh plum tommies, it’s a no brainer. Cut them in four, throw them in the blender with a drop of water and blitz them till smooth. No blanching, no peeling, no chopping, no sieving. Tomato skin is full of lycopenes. And discarding the seeds you’re throwing away half the flavour.


I’ve known chefs use tomato ketchup. Fair enough. Bu+t if it’s sweet and sour you’re looking for there are alternatives:


SUGAR jaggari, muscovado, demerara, white

NECTARS agave, maple, coconut, honey
OTHER pomegranite or blackstrap molasses, stevia, xylitol


VINEGAR malt, wine, cider, sherry, rice

CITRUS lemon, lime, bergamot, yuzu
OTHER tamarind, dried mango powder


You can really go to town here. Or keep things simple. The recipe below has Korean gochujang: fermented rice and red chilli paste. Why? Because that high priestess of Korean food Maangchi keeps telling us how totally different real gochujang tastes to the shop bought variety and I was nuts enough to follow her recipe. Be warned: it’s massively hard work. And totally worth it

If gochujang is a step to far to exoticism, or you don’t have a Korean store nearby, or if you don’t want your beans spicy try Spanish paprika or whatever you fancy

Za’atar is a wonderful Palestinian blend of oregano, marjoram and thyme with ground sesame, sumac and salt. Using any of the above herbs singly or in pairs gives equally great results

Other condiments include

chipotle in adobo, guajillo, pasilla, ancho and just about any other fresh or dry chilli. Herbs: epazote, hoja santa, oregano ...


cumin, garam masala, black cardammon, fenugreek, asafoetida ...


gochujang, doengjang, miso, ginger, sriracha, shichimi togarashi, black bean sauce, sesame oil, sichuan pepper ...


sumac, ras el hanout, preserved lemon, za'atar, nigella seeds ...


Baked Beans A La Différence

Cuisine European
Keyword beans, pulses
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings 6


  • Pressure cooker (optional)


  • 400g dry white beans eg haricot, cannellini OR 2 400g cans cooked beans
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 400g tin tomatoes or 4-5 fresh plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp za-atar or any combination of thyme, oregano and marjoram
  • 2 tbsp vinegar eg apple cider
  • 1-2 tsp sugar, nectar or stevia
  • 2 tsp Korean gochujang or 1tsp Spanish smoky paprika


Dry Beans Without Pressure Cooker

  • If you're using tinned beans skip this step
  • soak the beans in plentiful water 6-8 hours or overnight
  • discard the soaking water and rinse the beans under a running tap
  • cook the beans generously covered with water with a teaspoon of salt for around 1 hour or until tender but not mushy

No-soak Beans In A Pressure Cooker

  • place the beans with 4 times their volume of waterf and teaspoon of salt in the pressure cooker and cook on a low flame at high pressure for around 20 minutes. But please note that the cooking times will depend on the type and also age of your beans. Turn off the flame and allow the pressure to come down gradually to ambient pressure (about 15 minutes)

Make The Sauce

  • peel of scrape the carrot and celery stick, then chop very finely
  • finely chop the onion and garlic
  • saute all the above in a pan with a little oil. When the mixture is well covered in oil pop a lid on and cook until very soft (this can take 15-20 minutes). Avoid browning by adding a large pinch of salt and an occasional small splash of water
  • Cut fresh tomatoes in quarters and liquidze in a blender. Chop whole tinned tomatoes
  • add the tomatoes, za'atar herb mix and gochujang or paprika
  • Add the "sugar" and vinegar
  • cook the sauce for 10-15 minutes

Purée The Sauce

  • purée in a globlet blender or a hand-held to a very smooth sauce
  • adjust the seasoning, sweetness and acidity to your taste
  • Add in the beans and cook them in the sauce for 10 minutes, stirring gently so as not to break the beans, and adding a little water if the sauce starts to get too think
  • eat with a couple of poached eggs and sautéed mushrooms on hot buttered toast, crumpets or english muffins

Related Posts

Khaman Dhokla Recipe: Fermented Chick-Pea Savoury Cake

Khaman Dhokla Recipe: Fermented Chick-Pea Savoury Cake

Khaman Dhokla Recipe

I first tried this savory snack in London, UK. A very special area of west London known as Southall, famous for it’s sumptouous Indian textiles (my raison d’etre: I wanted sari material for my home, not person) and the best curries outside of India, possibly in the world (my real excuse)

Dhokla is a savoury snack made from fermented chick pea or yellow-split pea batter steamed into a cake, then garnished with an aromatic oil of mustard seed, curry leaf, dried red chilli and hing

Jump to Recipe

My dhokla was light and airy with lots of body, a marvellous lactic tang, and a rounded sweetness. And it was wonderfully moist, a sharp-sweet fruity sauce of dates and tamarind rounding it off to perfection.

No wonder, then, that when I subsequently visited India I looked for this – far and wide, as it happens: dhokla is not ubiquitous in northern India. And when I did find it – in Delhi – I was rather disappoined! It was almost too light and spongy, and also dry, with little or no sourness. It did come with a great coconut and green chilli chutney, though, hot enough to make my throat burn, my nose run and my eyes cry. Marvellous!

I learnt two things from this:

  1. Indian cuisine is highly regional and to enjoy the best food it’s best to stick to the local fair
  2. Dhokla can be made the instant way with chickpea flour and citric acid without having to wait for an overnight fermentation. The result, though tasty and, with a little effort, moist enough, to my mind simply illustrates the vital importance of making dhokla the proper way

Method Summary

You’ll find the step-by-step recipe below. Here’s a summary of the main points of the dish. The spices mentioned are the most commonly used, but you’ll find plenty of variation with just a bit of research, and you’re always free to try your own

  1. chickpeas are soaked overnight then ground to a smooth batter with a drizzle of oil and only just enough water to allow the process of liquidizing
  2. spices can be added: try a pinch of fenugreek (dried leaf or seed), another pinch of hing and a quarter teaspoon of turmeric. A scan teaspoon of sugar, honey or maple syrup encourages fermentation and adds a hint of sweetness
  3. the batter is allowed to ferment for 12-36 hours, depending on the ambient temperature
  4. adding a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda at the last minute definitely helps the batter to rise and be fluffy
  5. the batter is steamed for 15-25 minutes in a cake tin of your choice, covered with a tea towel to stop water dripping onto your cake
  6. once done splash on some water with your fingers while still hot – this prevents the dhokla from feeling claggy and sticking to the throat
  7. cut the dhokla into squares with a sharp, wetted knive
  8. a tarka (aromatic oil) is prepared by popping black mustard seeds in hot oil, along with half a teaspoon of whole cumin, a pinch of hing, a handful or curry leaves, fresh or dry, and a couple of dry red chillies or some red chilli powder to your taste
  9. the hot tarka is poured over the still hot dhokla
  10. enjoy dhokla warm or cold as a snack or starter with some coconut, date-tamarind or other sweet-cour chutneys: try pommegranite-molasses with agave nectar and grapefruit. Be inventive. Have fun!

Khaman dhokla

A steamed savoury fermented-chickpea cake from Gujarat, India
Course any, Appetizer, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine Gujarati, Indian
Keyword cake, chickpeas, fermented, pro-biotic, pudding, pulses, snack, steamed, vegan
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
fermentation 1 day
Total Time 1 day 40 minutes
Servings 6


  • a round or square cake tin
  • a steamer with a well fitting lid


Dhokla Batter

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas soaked overnight
  • 1 pinch fenugreek (seed or dried herb)
  • 1 pinch hing (asafoetida)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 level tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (optional)

Tadka (tempered oil)

  • 3-4 tbsp neutral oil with a high smoking point
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp whole cumin
  • 1 pinch hing
  • 1 handful curry leaves (10 – 15)
  • 2 whole red chillies, roughly torn
  • ground chilli powder to taste (optional)



  • stir in the turmeric, fenugreek, hing (if using), sugar and salt
  • transfer to a covered non-metal bowl and leave in a warm place for 12-36 hours, depending on the time of year, to ferment
  • The fermented mixture should be quite fluffy and pleasantly sharp to taste


  • Prepare a steamer or put a trivet or saucer in a pan with water and bring to the boil
  • Oil a square or round cake tin
  • Add the bicarbonate of soda to the batter and stir lightly so you don;t lose the air (CO2)
  • Put the batter in the cake tin, place in the steamer and cover with a well fitting lid
  • Covering the pan with a teatowel will prevent water from dripping on your dhokla, but this is optional
  • steam on a low flame for about 20 minutes
  • Remove from the steamer and immediately splash on some water. This stops the dhokla from sticking in the throat

Make The Tadka

  • Heat the oil in a small pan
  • Add the chillies and allow to just darken. Follow with the mustard seeds until they begin to pop, then add the cumin and curry leaves, letting them sizzle for a few seconds. Finally add the hing and extra chilli powder to taste. Remove from the flame immediately
  • sprinkle the hot tadka over the still warm dhokla
  • allow to cool and enjoy with a sweet chutney such as tamarind and date sauce, or coconut-green chilli and corander chutney
Gluten-free Vegan Oat Flour Pancakes

Gluten-free Vegan Oat Flour Pancakes

Oat Flour Pancakes

As a type 2 diabetic I like to avoid the insulin spike you get from some starchy foods, essentially flooding your bloodstream with glucose to be flushed out (in poorly controlled diabetes) or stored as fat for a rainy day

AKA oat hotcakes, these pancakes are fluffy, light, really quick to make and satisfying. They can be sweet or savoury, or a mixture of the two, depending on what topping or accompaniment you’re planning to use

They’re great at any time of day. I like them for breakfast because they’re so hassle-free to make. I mean, who wants to start the day cooking even before breakfast?!

Glycaemic Index Of Oats

The rate at which starch and other carbohydrates enter your blood stream as glucose is known as the glycaemic index, scaled from 0 – 100 and conveniently divided into three categories.

Foods with a lower glycaemic index are healthier as they release glucose into your blood stream more gradually to keep you feeling full for longer

70 or above
56 - 69
55 or less

The glycaemic index of unprocessed oats averages 58 putting it at the lower end of the medium category. Compare this with instant porridge oats which have a whopping 83 glycaemic rating!

Closely related to the glycaemic index is the glycaemic load. This is the total amount of carbohydrate you absorb and is related to the quantity of food you eat. I’ll talk about glycaemic load in later posts

Meanwhile check out the glycaemic index and glycaemic load of 100 common foodstuffs according to Harvard Health

Soluble Fibre

Oats are rich in soluble fibre

Soluble fibre binds with water to form a gel which slows down digestion helping to

  • regulate your weight by keeping you full for longer
  • regulate blood sugar (see glycaemic index)
  • reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol to help prevent heart disease

Other Nutritional Details

Oats are rich in protein, low in sugar and fat and have a high fibre content, much of which is soluble (see above)

Half a cup of dry oats provides

  • Manganese: 191% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 41% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 34% of the RDI
  • Copper: 24% of the RDI
  • Iron: 20% of the RDI
  • Zinc: 20% of the RDI
  • Folate: 11% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 39% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 10% of the RDI

At a modest 300 calories

Oat Flour: Buy It Or Make Your own?

This partly depends on where you live. After a lifetime of living in London UK I’ve relocated to a small and very charming Spanish City of 9.5k inhabitants. Not quite a village, but where is Wholefoods or Planet Organic?

Fortunately oats are readily available and of all the non-wheat flours oats are by far the easiest to mill. Did I not say? We’re in Trujillo. Check us out. We’re on Google maps – just about

Oat Flour Recipe

Take some oats, put them in a coffee grinder, pulse for a few seconds et voila!

More To Oats Than Porridge

Tasty as it is there’s so much more to oats than porridge. Here’s the first of hopefully many non-porridge oat recipes. Great for breakfast, lunch, tea and supper: oat flour pancakes. Here’s the recipe

Gluten-Free Oatmeal Hotcakes

Gluten free oatmeal hotcakes great at any time of the day
Course any
Cuisine Worldwide
Keyword gluten-free, grains, oats, pancakes, vegan option
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes


  • any heavy based pan or skillet


  • 1 cup oat flour oat flour can be made really easily by milling oats in a coffe or spice grinder for a few seconds
  • 1 small pot yoghurt or keffir dairy or vegan, eg soy or coconut
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (optional)
  • 1 tsp sugar of stevia (optional)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • milk or water dairy or vegan


  • mix all the wet ingredients in a bowl
  • incorporate in the oat flour and other dry ingredients to obtain a creamy consistency
  • rest for five minutes. Oats soak a lot of fluid and the mixture becomes much stiffer. Adjust the consistency to a thick pouring cream by adding more liquid or flour
  • add spoonfuls of the batter to a medium hot skillet greased with a little oil or butter
  • after a 2-3 minutes when the top is partially cooked flip them over and cook for a further minute or so
  • serve them warm or at room temperature with your favourite sweet or savoury sides and toppings


I love these for Sunday brunch with a couple of poached eggs, griddled oyster mushrooms and my homemade "baked" pinto beans with Korean gochujang

Shiozuke: Cucumber With Kelp

Shiozuke: Cucumber With Kelp

Using salt to preserve food spans millennia. The earliest known records date back to 6000BC in an area around the Nile valley and Mesopotamia known as the fertile cresecent. Japan, however, has turned this process into the artform they call tsukemono

Tsukemono or pickled thing in Japan accompanies literally every meal, can be served over a bowl of rice and even forms part of the tea ceremony

The simplest of tsukemonos is salt pickle (shiozuke) and includes fermented and non-fermented varieties. The lacto-fermented plums in the previous post and the recipe below are examples of the former and latter respectively 

Vegetables with a high water content such as cucumber are just lightly and briefly salted to extract water and concentrate their flavour without fermentation

Harder vegetables such as radishes, carrots and other root vegetables can be fermented.

The principal of fermentation is to

  • use salt (2-10%) to suppress the “bad” bacteria, while allowing the growth of salt-resistant lactic acid bacteria
  • ensure the fermentation takes place in the absence of oxygen, traditionally done by submerging the vegetables in brine

Basic methods

  1. salt can be added directly to the vegetable
  2. the vegetables are steeped in a 5 – 10% salt : water brine and kept entirely submerged with the help of weights. You can buy special fermentation weights or fill a sandwich bag with the same brine, tie it with a strong knot and rest it on top of the vegetables
  • 5% brine requires 8 hours pickling and will last for 2-3 days
  • 10% brine requires 5 hours of pickling and will keep closer to a week


You can pickle vegetables with or witout extra condiments. This recipe uses kombu (sea kelp) and dried chilli with whole coriander seeds. The flavour combination is potentially endless: for cucumbers try dill with sumak, or preserved lemon with black pepper. Experiment to your heart’s content

Salted Cucumber With Kombu And Chilli

Course any
Cuisine Japanese
Keyword pickles, raw-food, salt pickle, tsukemono, vegan
Prep Time 5 minutes


  • 1 cucumber thickly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp non-iodized salt
  • a few thin strips of kombu (dried sea kelp)
  • a few thin strips of dried chilli
  • 1 tsp whole coriander seeds


  • put the sliced cucumber in a bowl with the salt and toss with your fingers to disperse the salt evenly. Add the coriander, kombu and chilli.
  • rest, covered at least an hour and preferably 5 hours in the regrigerator. Set a timer so you don;t end up with overly salty vegetables
  • rinse off the salt and pat dry with a clean tea towel or absorbent paper
  • serve in a clean bowl with the kelp and chilli. Try garnishing with a few black sesame seeds

Probiotic  Soured Lacto-fermented Plums

Probiotic Soured Lacto-fermented Plums

Our second post on the subject of tsukemono, Japanese pickles, introduces you to the subject of lacto-fermentation


Soured ume plums are an absolute staple in Japan. The small, yellow fruit is part of the genus prunus and though referred to as a plum is more closely related to the apricot. The plums are salted and allowed to ferment before the addition of crumpled red perilla leaves and finally sun-dried


Ume can sometimes be obtained in the West from Korean and Japanese stores when in season, but they are far from ubiquitous. Fortunately you can get fantastic results and comparable health benefits from standard plums. They will taste different. They’re a different fruit. But they are, in my mind, every bit as delicious.


This is an old concept and much has been written about it. What follows is a simple summary for your convenience

What is it?

Fermentation is the microbial transformation of carbohydrates into either alcohol or lactic acid. Both are useful preservatives and have been used for millennia to preserve food

Lacto-fermented foods are pro-biotic, providing health-promoting micro-organisms and their bi-products to benefit not only gut function but also strengthen the immune system and even enhance your mood

Since most fruit and vegetables naturally contain lacto-bacteria, all you have to do is to provide the conditions for these to proliferate in preference to other potentially harmful bugs. Two conditions must be met:


While salt kills most bugs our friendly lacto-bacilli don’t mind a bit of it, though they do mind a lot. So for example, the addition of anything above 7% salt by weight will start to kill our lacto-friends and cure food, but not ferment it. 2-5% salt, on the other hand, will allow lacto-fermentation to get to work on virtually any fruit or vegetable transforming it into something to grace any meal, great or humble

No oxygen

Lactofermentation will only take place in anaerobic (no air) conditions. If your fruit or veg are directly exposed to oxygen they will soon develop mould and harmful bacteria and the whole batch will spoil

There are 3 commonly-used methods for preventing aerobic exposure

  • Salting draws out water to create a brine in which you can keep your fruit immersed with the help of a weight – sliced sauerkraut is usually made this way
  • Or you can mix a brine in which to immerse your veg – this is the method used for fermented whole cabbages, the leaves of which are used to make the Turkish stuffed-cabbage dish Sarma
  • Large pieces of fruit such as plums do very well fermented inside a vacum-seal bag. These are very easily available and guarantee a scrupulously anaerobic environment. When fermenting plums this is, for me, the method of choice

Lacto-Fermented Plums

Keyword lacto-fermentation, pickles, pro-biotic, raw-food, sides, tsukemono, vegan
Prep Time 5 minutes
Fermentation time: +/- 5 days


  • Fermentation crock or sterilized jar with lid
  • OR
  • vacuum zip-lock bag(s)


  • 1 kg plums stoned and halved
  • 20 g non-iodized salt


Sterilize the container and all utensils

  • use a fresh vacu-seal bag
  • or, if you're using a jar or crock or a previously used vacu-seal bag wash these in warm soapy water and allow to air dry, especially in direct sun-light. Jars and crocks can be dried in an oven on the lowest setting. Lids and rubber seals can be plunged in boiling hot water before air-drying

preparing the fruit

  • wash the plums under running water, cut in half and stone
  • in a bowl toss the plums with the salt to cover evenly

vacu-seal bag

  • place in a vacuum seal bag, spaced apart by a couple of inches
  • remove all the air with a pump
  • leave in a warm place to ferment
  • when the fermentation is underway the bag will fill with CO2: burp the bag by opening, resealing and pumping out all the air once again

Jar or crock

  • recipes and ideas for using fresh and dried lacto plums and their skins follw
  • place the salted plums cut-side down in layers
  • weigh them down: I fill sandwich bags with 2-3% brine, tie theem woith a firm knot and place them over the fruit covering all available space so the lid squeezes the bag tightly against the fruit
  • after a couple of days open the jar and press the fruit down so it is well immersed in its developing vinegar and releasing any air pockets at the same time. Replace brine-filled bag, adjusting the water volume as necessary to keep the fruit wholly immersed

Fermentation times

  • At 25-28C this can take around 5 days. Fermentation at higher temperatures is quicker but gives a rather more acrid result. Generally, the slower the fermentation the better the taste
  • As usual the degree of fermentation depends on your taste. I like them sharp but retaining some fruity sweetness. Let your tongue make the decision


  • the plums and their vinegar will continue to ferment. To slow this down:
  • store the fresh lacto-plums in their vinegar in the refrigerator for a month to 6 weeks
  • or sun-dry for 3 days and store without the vinegar in a jar or plastic wrapper. They will stay good potentially indefinitely without refrigertion
  • the vinegar can be stored seperately, preferably refrigerated
  • the skins can be removed and sun or oven dried until crisp, then flaked or powdered to be added as a garnish to raw salads and cooked dishes
  • recipes and ideas for using fresh and dried lacto-plums, as well the vinegar and skins follow later

Roasted Tomato And Garlic Soup

Roasted Tomato And Garlic Soup

Too late to make it to the supermarket yesterday I woke to just enough milk for coffee and no bread. Oat porridge, then, with rich, thick soya cream for Sunday breakfast: veganly delicious! StillI I thought I’d better try to make the 2pm deadline for the corner shop for emergency supplies. Little bags of green thingummies in the fridge were figs. Eyeing big, ripe beef tomatoes out of the corner of one eye lunch was sorted

I’m not overly attached to eating things in season. We humans have come a long way in farming since our hunter-gatherer days, and I’m OK with that. Still, I have to admit that things taste best when in season, and figs and beef tomatoes are in season here in Extremadura. As are cherries. Paprika, mercifully, is a condiment for all seasons.

Spanish tomato soup is served with figs and slices of toasted or fried stale bread. I skipped the latter in favour of using up left-over buckwheat risotto in a frittata. Some crisp endives over rocket and a bowl of Jerte cherries rounded off the meal


Roasting Tomatoes

There many ways to skin a tomato: the most straight-forward is under a hot grill. you want the skin quite charred, but the fruit still firm. Roasting by this method cooks the tomato quite a bit, so no need to sweat them: jump straight to peeling them once they’ve cooled down enough to handle and proceed accordingly

Roasting over a flame or charcoal gives the best flavour. I have a wok-shaped pan full of holes especially for the job. I love it, and wholeheartedly recommend it. Flame roasting requires a period of sweating to cook the fuit and let the charred aromas of the skin penetrate the flesh. !5 minutes is minimum. Longer is better


I’m not overly attached to eating things in season. We humans have come a long way in farming since our hunter-gatherer days, and I’m OK with that. Still, I have to admit that things taste best when in season, and figs and beef tomatoes are in season here in Extremadura. As are cherries. Paprika, mercifully, is a condiment for all seasons.

Spanish tomato soup is served with figs and slices of toasted or fried stale bread. I skipped the latter in favour of using up left-over buckwheat risotto in a frittata. Some crisp endives over rocket and a bowl of Jerte cherries rounded off the meal


Roasting Tomatoes

There many ways to skin a tomato: the most straight-forward is under a hot grill. you want the skin quite charred, but the fruit still firm. Roasting by this method cooks the tomato quite a bit, so no need to sweat them: jump straight to peeling them once they’ve cooled down enough to handle and proceed accordingly

Roasting over a flame or charcoal gives the best flavour. I have a wok-shaped pan full of holes especially for the job. I love it, and wholeheartedly recommend it. Flame roasting requires a period of sweating to cook the fuit and let the charred aromas of the skin penetrate the flesh. !5 minutes is minimum. Longer is better.

The tomatoes as well as the garlic can also be blackened on a hot skillet. You’ll need to stick around to turn them over frequently, though.

If you don’t have all day you can just skip the roasting: plunge your tommies in hot water for 30 seconds, peel them and proceed accordingly. But you will be missing a whole dimension of flavour


Roasted Tomato & Garlic Soup With Figs And Goats' Cheese

Course any
Cuisine Mediterranean, spanish
Keyword broth, figs, soup, stock, tomatoes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Roasting & resting tomatoes 30 minutes


  • vegetable stock or a (good) stock cube
  • 2-3 ripe beef or plum tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • a splash of olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2-3 sprigs thyme
  • 3-4 ripe figs
  • a knob of butter
  • fresh goat's cheese (optional)


  • Start your vegetable stock by adding whatever veg you have to hand with a handful of herbs and spices to a pan.
    I made this one with carrots, white turnips, leeks, a stick of celery and a bunch of parsley (leaves and stems) plus a large pinch of fennel seeds
  • Boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Strain off the solids and keep back the stock
  • Meanwhile roast the tomatoes whole or halved if they're very large, and garlic, skin-on in a very hot oven or grill, on a skillet or over a naked flame (see notes above)
  • When the garlic and tomato skins are blackened wrap them in a kitchen towel over foil or plastic film and let them sweat for 20-30 minutes
  • Slice the onion and soften in a little olive oil with the finely chopped rosemary and the thyme. Adding a little salt stops then over-browning, as does a splash of water
  • Skin the sweated tomatoes and garlic. Slice the tomatoes thickly and the garlic very thinly. Add them to the onions, along with the paprika and cook for 5-10 minutes or until softened through
  • Add the tomatoes and other ingredients to the stock, or vice versa, season with salt and black pepper to taste, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes
  • Top and tail the figs and cut them in 4 or 6, depending on their size, and sautée in a little butter - or olive oil to keep the dish vegan
  • Serve the soup in wide soup bowls topped with sautéed figs.
    Traditionally some toasted or shallow-fried slices of yesterday's bread are added.
    I prefer a couple of medallions or soft goats' cheese or a dollop of thick soya cream and a few chopped chives with fresh crusty wholemeal bread on the side

Pasta, Caccio E Pepe

Pasta, Caccio E Pepe

I’m not a fan of eating large amounts of pasta on a regular basis. When in Italy, mostly in the north, I’m served pasta in quite modest amounts as a separate course before the main. Maybe it’s different down south, but I think this is the healthier way to enjoy a bit of pasta now and then.

If you think pasta with cheese and pepper doesn’t sound like anything to write home about, well, I’m happy to say that on this occasion you’d be wrong

One of the great features of Italian gastronomy is sophistication of technique within relative, sometimes great, simplicity of ingredients. This dish, from Rome’s Lazio region illustrates this perfectly.

I’ve seen recipes adding grated cheese and a bit of pepper to pasta. Really? No! Caccio e pepe is a marriage of cheese and pepper with very lightly salted pasta water turned creamy, velvety emulsion in gastronomic heaven. It’s not hard to make, but there’s a good bit of technique. The keyword is emulsion



The pepper is just lightly crushed with a pestle, then delicately dry toasted in a pan to bring out the perfume

Pecorino is the cheese of choice, though you’ll get great results with Parmesan or any hard aged ewes’ or cow’s cheese. To the fairly salty cheese you’ll be adding a little of the “glutinous”, salty pasta water. This requires that you use

  1. half the recommended amount of salt in the pasta water
  2. half the recommended amount of water in order to obtain that glutinous consistency

First time I made this I used too little water for the pasta and ended up with a delicious, but slightly sticky result. Thus, I took to keeping a small saucepan of simmering water nearby, ready to come to the rescue. I rarely need it nowadays, but it helps me feel secure

The pepper is coarsely cracked in a mortar and pestle and dry toasted in your frying pan at medium heat just until its aroma is released

Start cooking your pasta, and once the water starts to look gloopy, add a ladleful to the black pepper

A couple of minutes of lively bubbling later, add this to half the cheese in a bowl, whisking vigorously to dissolve it into a thin creamy emulsion, then add the remaining cheese while the mixture is still hot to create a thicker cream

The pasta is 3/4 cooked in its original pan and finished off in the secondary shallow pan along with a ladleful or two of pasta water and the caccio-pepe emulsion until al dente in the velvety nectar

Have your table very close by and your guests ready to tuck in. This dish waits for no-one.

Ready? Here’s the recipe

Pasta, Caccio E Pepe

Pasta with cheese and black pepper from Italy's Lazio region. Two ingredients, one big dish
Course any
Cuisine Italian, Mediterranean
Keyword cheese, ova-lacto, pasta
Prep Time 15 minutes
cheese grating time 5 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes


  • 1/2 -3/4 pounds tornarelli, spaghetti or macaroni I always use wholemeal
  • 1 cup freshly grated pecorino or parmigiano or your favourite aged HARD cheese
  • 15 black peppercorns
  • salt


grate the cheese

  • divide your grated cheese between two bowls

cook the pasta

  • follow the instructions on the packet using half the recommended amounts of salt and water
  • optionally boil some water in a small pan and have it simmering in case you run out of pasta water!
  • Cook the pasta till al dente but still a bit hard: you'll be stealing about 3-4 minutes from the recommended cooking time

prepare the pepper

  • while the pasta is cooking coarly crush the whole peppercorns in a mortar and pestle
  • when the pasta water starts to look gloopy put the crushed peppercorns in a dry large frying pan and toast on medium heat for a few seconds to just release the aromas
  • add a ladleful of pasta water to the pepper and cook on high heat for 2 minutes. This will release the pepper's aromatic oils into the water

emulsify the cheese, pepper and water

  • add the hot peppered water to half the cheese in a bowl, stirring vigiriusly to achieve a thin cream. While still hot add the relmaining cheese. If the resulting cream is too thick add spme more of the pasta water to achieve the consistency of thick double cream

finish the dish

  • transfer the pasta to the frying pan you used for the pepper along with a couple of ladle-fuls of pasta water
  • add the cheese-pepper emulsion in 3-4 stages, tossing the pasta contiuouslty. Add more pasta water to thin out if necessary and cook for 2-3 minutes until the pasta is cooked al dente and the emulsion is creamy and smooth. If if looks over sticky add a tiny bit more water, but careful!
  • Serve immediately

Sweet Potato, Broad Bean & Feta Tortilla

Sweet Potato, Broad Bean & Feta Tortilla

What distinguishes italian frittata from Spanish tortilla? The distinction is not a culinary but a historical one. The “open-faced” omelette most likely originated in Persia. It travelled to Spain where, with the addition of potatoes fresh off the boat from the new world became the tortilla, thence to France, Italy and yonder for omelettes, frittatas and whatever else

While in Italy frittatas are thrown together out of leftovers, in Spain it’s serious business, people going to such lengths as arguing whether an authentic tortilla does or does not contain onions, with onion-ists and non-onion-ists utterly divided and sticking to their guns with zeal and passion

I use onions. They make a sweeter, juicier tortilla. And I prefer sweet to standard white potatoes (not white sweet potatoes). The reason?

∼ Sweet potatoes aren’t potatoes ∼

Ipomea Batatas is a tuber related to Morning Glory, not to the nightshades, though the two have an extremely old common ancestor. And it has several important properties:


Sweet potatoes have a lower glycaemic index than the white potato making it more suitable for people with type 2 diabetes

That said, the glycaemic index is still high ranging from 44 (medium category) to 94, definitely in the high group. Boiling reduces the index, while baking increases it. Worth bearing in mind

Though containing mainly starch, around 11% of this is resistant starch, broken down slowly to reduce the rate of entry into the blood-stream (the glycaemic index). Cooling after cooking, increases the resistant starch content. You’ll need to cool it down to 4C or even lower. And reheating increases resistance yet again!

Resistant starch feeds your good gut bacteria, making it a pre-biotic

Sweet potatoes also contain high levels of beta-carotene which your body can convert to vitamin A, as well as decent amounts of vitamin C and many essential minerals

It’s worth noting they also contain high levels of oxalyc acid, which may exacerbate the formation of kidney stones if you’re susceptible

Sweet Potato Tortilla With Broad Beans And Feta Cheese

Course any
Cuisine spanish
Keyword beans, eggs, pulses
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
pre-cooking 10 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes


  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 medium opnion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup broad beans fresh or frozen
  • 5 eggs
  • large pinch nutmeg
  • mixed herbs of your choice fresh or dried
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 200 g Feta cheese
  • good oilive oil for frying


  • Finely chop and soften the onion in a little oil till translucent, about 5 minutes
  • Add in finely chopped garlic and soften for a couple of minutes
  • Peel and wash the sweet potato. cut it in half lengthways and slice each half into 1/2 centimetre slices
  • cook in lightly slated water until tender but still firm
  • cook the beans in water for 7-10 minutes, depending on their size
  • in a large bowl beat the eggs with the chopped herbs and nutmeg
  • add in all the slightly cooled pre-cooked ingredients, mixing thoroughly, and adjust the seasoning to your taste
  • heat some oil in a fying pan and add half the tortilla mixture, shaking the pan to avoid sticking
  • add the crumbled feta and cover with the remaining egg mixture. Keep shaking that pan
  • once you see a fine layer of cooked egg at the base turn the heat down to low. Thicker tortillas will cook through better covered with a lid. Thinner tortillas won't need this and can be turned after as little as 2-3 minutes, depending on how runny you like your eggs
  • To turn just flip it like a pancake, or play safe (highly recommended): place an upside-down plate over the top, flip the pan over and slide the tortilla back in from the plate. Remember the tortilla is very hot, so use a dinner plate which won't burn your hand
  • I have a (well-seasoned) double tortilla pan, readily available in Spain, but believe me, people have been using the plate method successfully for centuries
  • enjoy hot, cold or even warm

Flour-Free Almond Cookies

Flour-Free Almond Cookies

These delicate beauties, made with just almond flour, butter, eggs and sugar or stevia are deliciously sweet, light and crisp and contribute a good bit of protein to round off a vegetarian / vegan meal

The only requirement is that your “flour” must be very finely ground, Ground almonds, for example, are too coarse and you’ll end up with rough looking cookies which haven’t risen properly

The good news is that you can simply grind whole or partially ground nuts and seeds in a coffee grinder for silky smooth results. I’ve used sun-flour seeds, melon seeds (egusi), hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and hazelnuts in any combination. When using whole almonds I leave the skins on. What is this obsession with cakes having to be white?

Some are very precise with measurements when baking. In Spain we accept that things like eggs come in all shapes and sizes, and tend to start with the liquid ingredients, adding dry ingredients in the necessary quantities for the right consistency. For you, dear reader, I’ve given the “correct” weights and measures

The recipe uses eggs and butter. For a vegan version substitute coconut or other oil for butter and add a splash of nut or soy milk in place of egg

Flour-Free Almond Cookies

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Resting Time 30 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes


  • 100 g butter at room temperature (vegan = coconut oil, vegan butter, etc)
  • 1 egg (vegan = non-dailry mild eg oat)
  • 70 g non-sugar sugar (eg (xylitol) or honey, agave nectar, stevia or other sweetener to taste
  • 220 g almond flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • a few drops of vanilla essence (optional)


Method 1

  • melt the butter
  • put the dry ingredients into a bowl
  • add in the melted butter, egg and vanilla essence, if using
  • mix with a soft spatula making and folding movements until well amalgamated into a soft paste
  • put into a sandwich bag or wrap in parchment and rest in the refrigerator for at 30 minutes or longer

Method 2

  • cream the butter and sugar in a bowl
  • mix in th egg and vanilla essence (if using)
  • add in all the dry ingredients
  • mix to a paste
  • You can proceed right away but the mixture will benefit from resting in the refrigerator r for 20-30 minutes

Make the cookies

  • shape the cookie dough into a rough circle with your hands and cut into 16 segments
  • roll each segment into a ball and flatten slightly between your palms. Place on a baking sheet lined with grreased parchment paper
  • optionally brush your cookies with "milk" or beaten egg
  • bake at 180 C for 12-15 minutes
  • let them cool slightly on the baking sheet before transferring them to a cooling rack or a servid dish
  • enjoy with some really good tea


If you're making the vegan version be extremely cautious with the amount of liquid replacing the egg - start with just a couple of tablespoons

Paella A La Mexicana

Paella A La Mexicana

What’s A Paella, Anyway?

What makes a rice dish a paella? Paella is a rice dish from the Valencia – Alicante regions of Spain cooked in a wide shallow pan called a paella. The original Valencian recipe starts by sautéing chicken and rabbit … Luckily for vegetarians there are infinite varieties of authentic paellas using any mix of vegetables, including two of my favourites, artichokes and thistles

Here’s a quick guide. If you don’t care about the ins-and-outs of culinary history, authenticity or paella semantics skip to the recipe and come back later for a wee read

Arroz (rice) a la paella: the original name of the dish. Paella is made in a paella.

Paella is not yellow. It has saffron which is yellow, but this is used for flavour. Being expensive you might be tempted to omit this queen of spices. That’s fine. But please, please don’t stain your rice with that tartarazine-based paella colouring that Spaniards adore, but is only a food dye with no flavour and zero nutrition. Add turmeric when it’s aroma enhances your particular dish. But not just to make it yellow. Paella isn’t yellow. OK? 

Valencian Paellas use paprika as well as saffron. Originally unsmoked from the Murcia region, you’ll find plenty of modern paellas using the smoky La Vera paprika

Alicante paellas use salmorreta: dried sweet peppers (ñoras) are sautéd with garlic, tomato, parsley and salt then blended smooth. Salmorreta will colour your paella a rich rusty red with no hint of yellow.

Paella contains beans. Originally a type of butter-bean local to the region, nowadays you’ll see any mixture of white and green beans including haricot and broad beans Peas are OK too.

When to add the rice? Valencian paellas add the rice before the liquid coating it in oil to keep the grains separate. Alicantine paellas add the rice last. Though there is a difference in the outcome it’s a fine point. What matters is the rice.

Which rice? Paella is dry. Bomba rice from the Valencian Albuferra is the classic, being highly absorbent, but there are many other types which connoisseurs can distinguish in taste and texture. Any medium grain highly absorbent rice which holds its shape is good.

Socorrat:, the crunchy caramelized crust at the bottom of the pan is an essential of authentic paella. it requires two things: a shallow paella pan and not stirring the rice after adding the liquid. This applies to all paellas. Finally:.

A dash of lemon? There was a big hoo-ha a while back in Spanish Master-Chef. Like onions in tortilla (or, dare I mention Brexit?) the country was split down the middle on the subject. Admittedly lemon with rabbit and chicken isn’t to everyone’s taste. But vegetables love a bit of lemon. You can go a step further and pound garlic with black pepper in a mortar and pestle then add lemon juice and smother your paella all over with the resultant majado 

And now, here’s a recipe that respects principles while staying heroically unfettered by tedious rules: a long-grain rice paella with a smoked chipotle chilli – oregano salmorreta topped with avocado and a shallot-lime majado in the Alicante style A La Mexicana

Paella A La Mexicana

This is a Spanish paella in the Alicante style using Mexican ingredients
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican, spanish
Keyword paella, rice, spicy
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 4 people


  • long grain rice - such as Basmati use one handful per person plus one for the pot
  • salt to taste


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic whole or halved
  • 1-2 chipotle chillies dry or in adobo sauce
  • 4 fresh tomatoes unpeeled and quartered

other condiments

  • 1 tsp dry oregano
  • 1 pinch saffron (optional) saffron strands benefit from soaking in a little hot water; powdered saffron can go straight onto the rice


  • 2 carrots cubed
  • 1 stick celery very finely chopped
  • 2 medium sweet peppers (capsimums) your favourite colour
  • 1 tea-cup beans any, but pinto are very Mexican
  • 1 handful green beans sliced
  • 2 avocados sliced - allow 1/2 an avocado per serving


  • 8-10 whole black pepper corns pounded
  • 1 lime jiuced
  • 2-3 small shallots finely sliced
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander leaf chopped


Marinate The Shallots

  • Immerse the finely sliced shallots in lime juice with a pinch of salt. Cover and set aside

Prepare The Salmorreta

  • Gently fry the onion, garlic, oregano and chipotle chillies with a good pinch of salt in a tablespoon of oil to just soften and lightly brown. Add the tomatoes (no need to peel) and oregano and fry for another minute or two
  • Put the the mixture into a blender goblet with a little water or vegetable stock and liquidize to smooth

Prepare The Rice - Vegetable Base

  • In a wide, shallow pan sauté the carrots, celery, green beans and peppers in a tablespoon of olive oil to lightly brown and soften
  • Add a cup of water or vegetable stock and cook, covered, until the vegetables are soft but still firm
  • Add the rice, cooked beans, tomato-chile salmorreta, saffron if you're using it, and water or more vegetable stock to cover rice by a good inch. Season with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook on a low flame without stirring or uncovering for 15 minutes
  • Test the rice - it should have no crunch in the centre. If it does give it another 5 minutes. Finally turn off the heat and allow the dish to rest, covered, for 5-10 minutes

Finish Off The "Majado" Dressing & Other Toppings

  • Pound a small clove of garlic with 5-8 peppercorns in a mortar and pestle. Add marinated shallots with all the lime juice
  • Slice the avocados length-ways and arrange over the now rested rice
  • Sprinkle over the lime dressing and chopped fresh coriander and garnish with lime wedges. Serve with a fresh crisp salad