Salmon tacos with cabbage slaw

At the start of the year, buzzing with good intentions and goals for 2015, I set up several reminders on my phone. Eat breakfast. Yes, I need a cue for this extremely important daily task, to nag me, otherwise the window closes and I’m left hungry. Cod liver oil. To prompt me to take this age old supplement that I wholeheartedly believe in. Salmon. A memo to encourage me to eat oily fish more often. Most of the time these words that flash across the screen of my phone are hastily dismissed. Yet a subliminal message must trickle through to my consciousness, because today I had the urge to make salmon tacos with cabbage slaw.

Fish tacos are the best. Light. Fresh. Tasty. Colourful. Zingy. Zesty. Crunchy. Soft. Fun. This list of adjectives alone makes me want to prepare and scoff some right now. Plus they make great informal finger food and create a little bit of theatre when they are presented on a long plank, all neatly standing in a row, strands of pink cabbage and leafy coriander rustically on show, protruding from the sides.

Salmon tacos with cabbage slaw

For two.

For the salmon

  • 2 fillets of salmon
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • sea salt
  • black pepper

Mix the spices on a plate and then coat the salmon in them by pressing the fish onto the plate.

Cook the salmon on all sides in a fairly hot pan or on the barbecue, only turning when each side has a lovely crust.

For the cabbage slaw

  • red cabbage
  • juice of a lime
  • pinch of sea salt

Slice the cabbage as finely as you can, pour over the lime juice and add the pinch of salt then massage the slaw with you hands. This step will soften the cabbage slightly and make it juicy and flavoursome. Add some chopped avocado to the mix if you wish.

To serve

  • warm soft flour tortillas
  • mayonaise
  • coriander, washed and coarsely chopped
  • lime wedges

To assemble

Take a warm tortilla and spread a dessert spoon of mayonnaise across the middle section. Flake some salmon and place it on top of the mayo. Top the fish with some slaw, a few sprigs of coriander, a squeeze of lime. Now simply roll up and enjoy.

Enjoy this recipe? Then you might like this quick Cajun salmon recipe

Classic spaghetti and meatballs

Do you ever get that impulse, that you just have to make a certain dish. I do. And last week it was for classic spaghetti and meatballs. From out of nowhere came the absolute burning desire to make flavoursome Italian meatballs with a caramelised crust, in a rich, slow cooked, tomato sauce, with my favourite of all the pastas, spaghetti. A dinner to be served in a wide, shallow rimmed bowl, with garlic bread on the side to mop up all the delicious juices. Not a sophisticated meal, but complete comfort food, to be enjoyed with friends around a table with a bottle of red wine.

It just so happened that we would be dining with friends on Saturday night. During the day we would be removing all of our furniture from our house in order to store it in Ma and Pa’s garage. Knowing that Thea would need to be looked after for such a task, her Auntie and Uncle had stepped in to take care of her for the day and as way of thanks, I would cook them a delicious dinner. One that could be pre prepared a few days in advance, needing a few finishing touches on the night just before we all sat down to eat. My impulse to make classic spaghetti and meatballs and our weekend arrangements seemed perfectly aligned, so I headed to my new favourite butcher to buy the ingredients.

Making the meatball mixture is a straightforward job. One that you can stop and start, which is useful when there is a small person at your feet who is far more interested in gaining your attention than in patiently waiting while you make dinner. Portioning the balls however is a task that requires your toddler to be well occupied. Once your hands, and using your hands is the best way to do such a wholesome task as this, are immersed in meatball mixture, there’s no easy or fast way of turning back. So with snacks provided, books and toys all over the floor, Thea seemed happy and I set about rolling portions of parsley flecked meat between the palms of my hands.

For my meatballs I use half Italian sausage meat and half beef mince. The combination seems to make for really tasty, as well as, juicy meatballs. Ones that make you want to come back for seconds and thirds. When the mood strikes to prepare something like meatballs, it’s worth making a large quantity. The raw portioned mixture will freeze extremely well and serve as a quick and hearty week night dinner. I managed to roll out all two kilos of the mixture before Thea emptied the last of the contents of cupboard under the sink onto the floor. Something that I’m rather proud of. It is possible that since having an active baby, I am now faster in the kitchen than I was during my time working in restaurants. The thought of the chaos that she could cause while I’m busy with a task, is far more frightening than the wrath of any head chef!

With my impulse for classic spaghetti and meatballs satiated, a meal for Saturday prepared as well as a dinner for another night, I felt a cheerful sense of achievement. I sat on the kitchen floor with Thea and we restocked the kitchen cupboard. It seems to me that children always act on impulse, doing whatever is is that makes them feel good. Perhaps it’s something that we adults should all do more often, act on a whim, because it’s nice to feel happy.

Classic spaghetti and meatballs

For the meatballs. Makes 60-70.

  • 1kg beef mince
  • 1kg Italian sausage mince
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • bunch of chopped parsley
  • 1 cup loosely packed grated parmesan
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • generous grinding of black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with your hands. Portion the mixture into walnut sized balls.

For the sauce.

Plenty for 20-30 meatballs, assuming that the remainder have been set aside to be frozen.

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 sticks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 x 400g tins tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 500ml beef stock
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar to taste

Over a low heat, sweat the onion, carrot and celery with a little oil in a large pot. By sweat, I mean cover the pot with a lid and leave the vegetables to cook slowly for about 10 minutes until they are very soft.

Next add the garlic and cook until it’s fragrant, then add the tinned tomatoes, tomato paste and stock.

Bring the tomato sauce to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour until it has slightly reduced.

Using a stick blender, blend the sauce until it’s smooth and then season with salt, pepper and vinegar to your taste. It should be slightly sweet and piquant. Keep the sauce warm over a gentle heat. Perhaps put a lid over the pot at this stage incase the sauce bubbles and splatters.

Now to assemble dinner.

Cook the meatballs (5-7 per person) in a little oil in batches a frying pan. Make sure that there is enough space in between each ball so that they don’t sweat, but instead caramelise and brown. Make sure that they are well coloured before you turn them. Doing this will impart depth of flavour into the finished meal. Now add the cooked meatballs to the tomato sauce so that that flavours can mingle.

With the sauce and meatballs ready, cook the spaghetti and drain it. Tip it back into its cooking pot and add a few ladlefuls of the tomato sauce. Now set the pot over a moderate heat and stir to combine the two. This method will ensure that all the strands of pasta are not only coated with rich tomato sauce, but that it clings to it too.

Combine the spaghetti, meatballs and rest of the sauce together, stir once again, transfer to a big serving platter for people to help themselves to (or even just take the cooking pot to the table) and enjoy with grated parmesan, garlic bread and a glass of red wine.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you might also like A versatile beef and red wine stew

A Balinese coconut salad

Incense. Birdsong. Smiling faces. Car horns. Cow bells. Lush rice paddies. Soaring kites. Bright Hindu offerings. Theses are the things that have flooded my senses over the last seven days in Bali. In our peaceful oasis, we have dipped in and out of the pool, watched films, talked, napped and eaten. Eaten beautiful Indonesian food cooked for us by Ketut and Tomah, the two ladies who looked after us and our villa. A dish that we asked them to make for us every night, after we fell in love with it on our first evening, is a Balinese coconut salad.

We had booked to go to Bali earlier in the year, excited that we could make a beautiful, tropical villa our home for a week. We knew that we would be able to enjoy the luxury of having beautiful Balinese dinners cooked for us while Thea was close by, soundly asleep in the bedroom, after a day spent swimming and being made a fuss of by all the locals. The date to leave came around in a rush and with multiple bikinis and minimal clothes packed, we headed to the airport full of anticipation. Anticipation for a calm baby on a long flight as well as for the opportunity to relax and unwind. Walking through the faded pink doors to our villa some hours later, we were greeted by beaming faces. Hello. Welcome. The pool was glistening and the villa, glorious. Fresh, comfortable and inviting.

On our first night we ordered in pizza and drank Bintang. A wonderful way to start a holiday with complete carefree abandon. We took in our new surroundings, watched the gheckos on the ceiling, enjoyed the warmth of the tropical evening and contemplated our holiday. On our second night though, we were spoilt by local cooking. Snapper cooked with Balinese spices in a banana leaf. A flavour explosion of turmeric, ginger, garlic and chilli enclosed in a little green parcel. Satay chicken. Always a favourite, with smoky charred chicken and sweet, salty, crunchy peanut sauce. And a Balinese coconut salad. Green beans, bean sprouts, grated fresh coconut, garlic and chilli. It was superb. So simple. Six ingredients. But a completely different and totally delicious taste and texture sensation. Chewy sweet coconut, fresh crunchy beans, salty garlic and a subtle heat from the chillis. We both fell in love with it. So much so we ordered it the next night. And the next. And the next.

That’s the thing about being on holidays. Places become linked with the particular foods enjoyed there. I could probably tell you my most favourite dishes from all the countries that I have visited. Mostly because, when I find something I love to eat in a certain place, as was the case with this Balinese coconut salad, I have it again and again. Spanakopita in Crete, which I used to buy from the bakery every morning. Raclette in the French Alps. Croquettes in Barcelona. Shawarma in Egypt. The list goes on. And try as I might to recreate all these dishes at home, they are never quite the same. But that’s half the fun. Re living the memories of holidays by trying to capture the tastes and flavours of foreign destinations.

Balinese coconut salad

  • About a quarter piece of a whole coconut, not a fresh one, but an older one with a husky outer skin
  • 2 handfuls of green beans, finely sliced on the diagonal
  • 2 handfuls of bean sprouts
  • 2 French shallots, finely sliced lengthways
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely sliced lengthways
  • 1-2 small red chills depending on how much heat you like, sliced widthways into rings, seeds in
  • Fried onions to garnish (from a packet, easy to find in the Asian section of supermarkets)

Begin by cooking the piece of coconut, skin side down, over an open flame. A gas ring is great for this. Cook for about 5 minutes until the husk is charred and the flesh soft. Leave to cool.

Cook the green beans in salted boiling water until cooked, but still with a bit of bite. Add the bean sprouts and cook for a minute or two more. Strain the beans and bean sprouts and leave to cool.

Fry the shallots, garlic and chilli in a generous amount of oil. The ladies who cooked this salad for me used vegetable oil, but I think that peanut or coconut oil would both work nicely. Use a moderate heat so that the mixture doesn’t burn. You want the garlic and shallots to turn golden and start to colour around the edges. Remove from the heat and add to the beans, oil and all.

Now take the coconut and coarsely grate it into the bean and garlic mixture. Combine all the ingredients together thoroughly, transfer to a serving platter, garnish with fried onions and I dare you to tell me that you don’t love this Balinese coconut salad.

Enjoy this salad? You might like this smoky corn salad recipe.

 

My spaghetti carbonara

A tree falling on your house will do that. Get you out of your daily groove. Throw your life into disarray as you are one minute you are cozily reclined on the sofa sleepy and content after dinner, and quite literally the next, without a home at all. The past two weeks since the dramatic and scary event have tumbled past in a blur, of packing and unpacking, redirecting mail and all those other logistical adjustments that come with having a change in your fixed address. There has been little in the way of culinary adventures. Dinners have been quick and easy, tried and tested recipes. Fuel to punctuate the day. The spaghetti carbonara last night is worthy of a mention though. A dish I’ve made many times that for some reason came together deliciously well.

Inspiration for the comforting bacon and egg pasta dish came from half a dozen assorted pieces of smoked speck hanging in a row above the glass display fridge, of a now local deli. Seeing the cured meat suspended in a line made me want to make carbonara. To cut up the pork into little cubes and fry them in a blob of butter and a glug of olive oil until the fat starts to render and they caramelise and brown. I asked for enough speck to feed four people for dinner and with it neatly wrapped in waxed paper, knowing that I had all the other ingredients that I would need on hand, headed home inspired to make dinner.

Living with Ma and Pa, as we will be until our home is repaired, means a wonderful assortment of new food sellers to explore, brimming with inspiration of things to try out in the kitchen. The same deli I bought the speck from stocked whole pickled cabbages. The imagined taste of the sharp, punchy leaves sparked the desire to make a wintry dish of slow roasted pork knuckles. Individual portions of moist, sweet meat encased in their own armour of salty, crunchy crackling. Perfect with some silky mashed potato spiked with white pepper.

There’s also a twice weekly farmer’s market I’m hanging to get to know. Hopefully there will be some stall holders selling robust root veg. Celeriac, carrots, parsnips, wonderful to bake, roast and puree, to warm the soul during the cooler months. Perhaps like this with lemon, garlic and some coriander seeds. There’s also a covered weekend market, several vendors offering a landscape of neat little mounds of pungent yellow, orange and red spices, sticks of cinnamon, shards of cassia, ideal for perking up long simmered stews. I am genuinely excited to be able to share the results of my exploration when the proverbial and actual dust has settled. For now though. Spaghetti carbonara.





Spaghetti carbonara

  • 400g pancetta, speck or bacon, essentially cured pork (belly), preferably in a piece so that you can cut it up yourself
  • 1 tbsp each of butter and olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tbs milk
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 3/4 packet dried spaghetti
  • a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water
  • lots of black pepper
  • grating of nutmeg

Carbonara is a very quick dish to make and one that requires a little bit of haste towards the end, so being organised and following the steps below will help make the perfect pasta dish.

First, bring a large (5 litre) pot of salted water to the boil.

Now cut up the pancetta into bite size cubes and slowly fry them in the butter and oil (the oil will prevent the butter from burning). The pancetta will happily caramelise over a low flame while you get on with the rest of the dish.

Next separate the eggs so that you have 4 yolks. Freeze the whites for meringue or macaroon making. Add the milk, parmesan, black pepper and nutmeg to the yolks and gently combine.

With the pancetta gently browning and the egg mixture ready, cook the spaghetti until el dente, about 10 minutes. While the pasta is bubbling away, chop up the garlic and add to the pancetta.

Ok. Time to assemble the dish.

You have the pasta cooking, the pancetta and garlic sautéing  and the egg mix ready. Place a strainer in the sink and when the pasta is ready, drain it. Don’t drain it completely though. Leave some cooking water in the bottom of the pot, perhaps 2-4 tablespoons.

Now, tip the pasta back into the pot along with the pancetta and egg mix and stir everything thoroughly to combine. The residual heat from the just cooked pasta and warm pancetta will cook the yolks, but because there is no direct heat, they won’t be scrambled. The little bit of pasta water and milk will help to make a beautifully silky sauce to coat the spaghetti.

Due to the salt in the pasta cooking water, the garlic and the smokiness of the pancetta, salt shouldn’t be necessary, but just check before you sit down and enjoy.

Enjoy this recipe? Then you might like classic spaghetti and meatballs