Author Archives: lettercollumkitchenproject

About lettercollumkitchenproject

A cook that gardens. Sun addict. Not a good addiction in West Cork hence the travel addiction. Add in a splotch of kitchen snooping while away, a big walled organic garden while home and a kitchen full of a bit of everything. Runs an organic bakery/delicatessen/food shop with her husband using food from the garden and the years of accumulated kitchen snooping. Check out the shop and garden at www.lettercollum.ie

Rapid Fire Supper

Sunday evenings are a bit of loose cannon in our culinary week – no designated cook nor plan.

Usually whoever is the hungriest acts first.

Last night I spotted a small bowl of borlotti beans on the counter that had been picked a few days previously. It was too small to have any real purpose but too valuable to waste. I put them in pot with a bashed clove of garlic, covered them with water and set them to cook. As they were fresh this only took twenty minutes. When they were cooked I drained them, dressed them with olive oil and little salt and then checked out the fridge.

I found a bag of mixed mushrooms from the farmers market- shiitake, oyster and portabello and then I discovered a tub of Glenilen cremefraiche – surely the creamiest and tastiest. Hmmm…. a plan was beginning to form.

Here’s what we had. Fast , comforting and tasty – if little blonde – it was on the table in ten minutes.

Serves 2

Borlotti, Mushrooms and Orzo

400g cooked borlotti beans – or one can drained and rinsed

200g orzo

300g mixed mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

2 heaped tablespoons creme fraiche

a little chopped parsley

Put a saucepan of water to boil to cook the pasta

Slice the mushrooms and chop the garlic

When the water boils add a heaped teaspoon of salt and the orzo. Cook for 5 -7 minutes – check the packet for cooking time

Heat a large sauté pan. Add the butter and olive oil and as soon as the butter melts add all the mushrooms and stir well. Keep the heat high and stir the mushrooms every minute until they almost begin to brown. Add the borlotti beans then stir in the chopped garlic, cook for one minute longer. Take the pan off the heat.

At this stage the orzo should be cooked. Drain it and add it to the pan.

Stir in the creme fraiche and parsley and you’re ready to go


Tomato Party

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Storm Ellen did a superb job of flattening our beans but fortunately the tomato tunnel stood strong and our beautiful tomatoes are still ripening and bursting with flavour.

The feasting is endless. Tomatoes with everything.

Whilst browsing for tomato ideas I came across a recipe for Panzanella. It was the picture that caught my fancy as a salad using old bread that was dried then got wet again sounded odd. I checked out a few more recipes and realised this idea had real potential and no better chance of success than when surrounded by ripe home grown tomatoes.

Panzanella originates in Italy where there are ripe tomatoes and dry bread aplenty. These simple ingredients paired with the best olive oil and vinegar that you can lay your hands on make a stunning salad.

The first step is to dry out the bread, which proved easier said than done in a West Cork kitchen. I used thick slices of sour dough bread as recommended and spread it out in a bread basket and left it in the kitchen to dry.

In the south of Europe where these recipes originate bread bought in the morning is stale by the evening, hence the proliferation of recipes using old bread but no such luck here. Two days later the bread was still perfectly edible and far from dry so I turned the oven on for assistance.

I couldn’t resist rubbing the slices of bread with a cut clove of garlic before ripping it into small pieces and tossing with a drizzle of olive oil. ( if you like garlic bread, you will like this) I spread the bread on a baking tray, popped it in the oven and ten minutes later it was beautifully dry .

Now is the moment to make this recipe if you live in this part of the world. The local tomatoes are ripe and at their full flavour potential. The only time of the year we can eat such tasty tomatoes without travelling. Check out the farmers markets and small stores that sell home grown vegetables

This recipe is well worth the effort = dry bread and tomatoes tossed together with olive oil, vinegar and basil makes a sublime combination however odd it might sound, a real flavour and texture bomb in the mouth.

Simplicity at its best

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Panzanella

Tuscan Tomato and Bread salad

 

4  large ripe tomatoes

4 thick slices sourdough or country bread

3 cloves garlic

1 small red onion.

1 bunch basil

150mls extra virgin olive oil

50mls vinegar – the best you have

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Salt and black pepper

Anchovies in oil (optional)

 

Put the oven on 180c

Cut the crusts from the slices of bread, rub with a cut side of garlic – no need to peel it.. Tear the bread into small pieces (2cm).

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Put it into a bowl, drizzle over a little olive oil 1-2tbs, toss well then spread out on a baking tray. Bake for ten minutes then check. The bread should be crisp but not brown.

Dice the tomatoes into 1 -2cm cubes, sprinkle over a little salt and put them into a sieve or colander and set them over a bowl to catch the juices. Leave for 15-20 minutes.

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Peel and finely slice the red onion. Massage in a few grains of salt to separate and soften the onion. Peel the remaining 2 cloves of garlic and chop very finely.

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Put the garlic into a small bowl together with the Dijon mustard, vinegar and the juice that has run off from the tomatoes. Whisk these together then drizzle in the olive oil whilst continuing to whisk until you have a creamy emulsion. Stir in the sliced onion.

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Put the tomatoes and dried bread into a bowl – approx. 50/50 of each. (Keep any remaining bread to top other salads or soup). Chop the basil and add to the bowl, pour over the dressing then toss together until well mixed. Leave aside for ten minutes to let the flavours to mingle before serving.

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Pea Days

I have a cameo memory from when I was young of sitting on the back doorstep shucking peas in the sunshine with my mum. Peas were super exciting then as although peas were available in cans all year round it was before the frozen pea revolution and canned peas were completely different to fresh peas. Fresh peas were a total treat when they arrived.

We grow peas in our garden. Just for us, not for the shop, because if we were paid to grow, pick and shuck the peas without a mechanised system they would be like gold.

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We just grow them to eat like sweeties when they first ripen and as the crop ripens we always make risi e bisi (a pea risotto) and summer vegetable pilafs, paellas and salads but after that we begin to scratch our heads and the peas keep coming. It’s a real grow your own phenomenon, the all or nothing syndrome and when the peas ripen they need eating as it’s obvious they should not go into the freezer.

This is new recipe that we’ve enjoyed this summer. It was inspired by a recipe from Spain called Tortillitas de Camarones which are crispy little fritters made with baby shrimp. Last autumn we visited Sanlucar de Barrameda in the very south of Spain and I have happy memories of bars where camarones were served as tapas on the terraces, usually with an accompanying glass of chilled manzanilla, the local sherry.

I became addicted to these thin crispy fritters and when I got home I tried to make my own. They weren’t quite the same and it wasn’t only the lack of sunshine that was missing  so I googled the problem and after reading many recipes and watching a particularly edifying YouTube tutorial I cracked it!

You might be wondering at this stage what this has to do with the peas, well I discovered they are an excellent addition to this recipe, either peas and shrimp or peas alone. Both work very well and the peas alone are suitable for vegans which is always a bonus.

There are couple of little tricks involved so read the recipe carefully before you begin.

Use a combination of gram flour and white rice flour if you want the fritters to be gluten-free. The water needs to be chilled and sparkling gives the best results

 

Pea fritters – Tortillitas de Guisantes

 

200g peas – fresh or defrosted

1 small onion

90g gram flour

40g white flour or rice flour

¼ tsp turmeric

A little lemon zest

1 tbs finely chopped parsley

Chilled sparkling water

Oil to fry

 

Pod or defrost the peas.

Sift the gram flour and regular flour or cornflour into a bowl. Add half teaspoon salt and turmeric. Stir to mix.

Peel and finely chop the onion small and finely chop the parsley. Zest a few swipes of lemon for the mix

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Put everything except for the water into the bowl and mix well then start stirring in the chilled water until the batter has a medium pouring consistency, like a crepe pancake mix or pouring cream.

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Heat 4cms oil in a frying pan or wide based saucepan and when it is hot add a tablespoon of the fritter mix, spread it a little with the spoon after it goes into the pan, spreading the fritter with the back of the spoon under surface of the oil., it should be bubbling just below the surface. You need to do this quickly. Repeat but don’t overcrowd the pan.

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Cook each side for 2-3 minutes, until golden. Lift onto kitchen paper then cook the next batch. It’s a good idea to stack the fritters like dishes so the oil drains off both sides.

Serve with lemon wedges

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Fridge Booty

I often arrive home hungry and gaze into the fridge where there’s nothing instant to eat but many pots of left overs. Fortunately the left overs are full of potential and anything that tasted good the night before can be enjoyed with egg so we make odd frittatas/tortillas. Pasta works very well as do left over beans, lentils and vegetables.

Yesterday’s lunch was courgette and spaghetti encased in an egg blanket which makes a surprisingly great tortilla. Interesting texture and plenty of flavour – I threw in an extra handful of basil, and today’s could be lentils and stir-fried kale. The possibilities are endless and easy if you’re happy to live on a diet of eggs and random left overs. Add ins are welcome additions; cheese, herbs, tomatoes etc

Simply fry the ingredients in little olive oil until they are hot then tip them into a bowl of whisked eggs seasoned with salt and pepper. (I usually use 4 or 5 eggs)

Mix well and pour back into the pan.

Cook the egg mix carefully, lower the heat and cover with a lid. When the egg is cooked at the sides and beginning to set in the middle give the pan a shake and with a bit of luck your tortilla will be mobile, if not gently ease it away from the pan with lifter until it moves.

Place a plate on top of the pan and flip the tortilla onto the plate then slide it back into the pan again and cook for 2 minutes more – not too long as it’s better if the egg isn’t cooked dry. If the thought of flipping the pan freaks you out you can finish the tortilla under the grill or in the oven in which case you’ll have a frittata – the main difference between a tortilla and frittata being how you finish cooking the eggs.

Delicious with salad on the side and even portable if you need to run.

 


Stalking Courgettes

I have been stalking our courgette plants, prompted by a photo of my son’s dinner which was  a plate of courgette carbonara – our family is really into food porn! It got me dreaming of young courgettes which are succulent and tasty and perfect for this simple dish where they are the star of the show

So I ‘ve been waiting for our courgette plants to produce and finally there are these little stubby beauties winking at me.  Apart from being the first and therefore really wanted the small courgettes have a real flavour unlike the big ones which look splendid but are often more substance than flavour. As the season goes on our enthusiasm for courgettes lessens but right now we’re delighted to see them

The dish takes as long as the pasta takes to cook so salt the courgettes and as soon the water boils you’re ready to go.

Serves 2

2-4 small courgettes

25g butter

25mls olive oil

50g grated parmesan

2 egg yolks

50mls cream

a little lemon zest

Handful chopped basil

250g spaghetti

salt and pepper

 

Wash the courgettes and cut into julienne strips, sprinkle with a little salt, toss to mix then leave for 15 minutes.

Put a large pot water to boil. When the water is boiling add a tablespoon of salt and the pasta. Give it a stir and set the timer.

Mix the egg yolks and cream together in a small bowl

Tip the salted courgettes onto a clean tea-towel and pat dry. Heat a pan to cook the courgettes, one minute before the pasta is ready add the butter and oil to the pan followed by the courgettes. Keep tossing the pan so the courgettes cook evenly.Season with salt and pepper and a little grated lemon zest

Set a colander over your serving bowl then tip in the cooked pasta and drain over the bowl. Reserve a little cooking water then empty the bowl. This will pre heat your bowl which is important when serving pasta. Put the spaghetti back into the bowl, tip the courgettes and any cooking juice on top then pour over the cream/egg mix and grated cheese. Toss everything together. Add a little reserved cooking liquid to help everything move. Stir in the basil and serve

 


Potato Capers

We had planned to be in Greece at this time giving a culinary tour of Syros but as we’re grounded we’re enjoying lots of Greek recipes which can be made anywhere! Syros is where we first encountered capers growing on shrubs that cling on the rocks overhanging the sea. Capers grow on small shrubs that grow wild in stone walls and crevices all over the Mediterranean. They are used to liven up all manner of salads, sauces, pastas and fish dishes adding a salty citric kick.

Capers are flower buds which need to be harvested early in the morning before the buds open, and rushed home to be preserved in salt or pickled in vinegar. Once preserved they keep for a long time and they are widely available in Ireland. My preference is for capers preserved in salt, they are fatter and more succulent but use whatever you have or can lay your hands on.

 

This recipe is to celebrate the arrival of the new potatoes, it’s fresh and zingy as summer food should be with herbs, feta, capers and a yoghurt, olive oil and lemon dressing.

Potato and Feta Salad

 

500g small waxy potatoes

4-5 spring onions or one red onion

1 tbs capers – rinsed well

2tbs black olives

100g feta

handful flat leaf parsley

handful mint

100mls olive oil

1 tsp Dijon mustard

juice ½ lemon

2 anchovies (optional)

3tbs natural yoghurt

 

 

Soak the capers in a bowl of fresh water

Cook the potatoes gently with their skins on, this will take 15-20 minutes depending on size. Take off the heat, drain and  cool then peel and chop into a large dice. Season with a little salt.

Tidy up the spring onions then chop finely or peel and finely chop the red onion

Rinse the capers in a sieve under the tap

Chop the parsley and mint

Put the potatoes, spring onion, capers, black olives and chopped herbs into a bowl and crumble the feta on top.

To make the dressing put the Dijon mustard, anchovies – if you are using them, olive oil, lemon juice and yoghurt into a jug and buzz until smooth, or, chop the anchovies finely and whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl

Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss together.

 


Where did I see that recipe?!

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I had definite ‘food slump’ last week, my brain just didn’t want to know what to cook so I ended up leafing through cookbooks in search of inspiration. At some point I came upon a recipe for barley risotto with feta which was interesting on two fronts. One being that I had piece of locally produced ‘Greek’ style goats cheese in the fridge and the other that barley grows here in Ireland and therefore hits the sustainable list.

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However between reading and making the dish I found I couldn’t remember where I’d seen the recipe. I checked through several books until I figured i’d better just get the dinner on the go or we wouldn’t be getting any.  I free styled the recipe but one detail which I thought that I had remembered was the cooking time – 20 minutes – which I had obviously got very wrong as the barley took a good hour to become nicely nutty and toothsome. In fact if I had thought about it all I would have realised that barley is not a fast cooker but luckily hunger is the best sauce and when the risotto was ready it was eaten with gusto. Just have the crossword handy to occupy yourself whilst loitering and stirring.

Tomato, Fennel and Barley Risotto

1 large onion

1 bulb fennel

75g butter

25mls olive oil

300g pearled barley

1 glass white wine

300mls tomato passata

1.2litre stock (approx)

200g local goats cheese or feta

rocket or basil pesto to serve

Peel and chop the onion finely. Heat a medium saucepan, add 25g butter, the olive oil and chopped onion, Cook on a medium heat.

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Cut the fennel in half lengthwise then slice thinly lengthwise. Add the fennel to the onions, sprinkle a little salt and stir well.

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Cook so that the onions and fennel are sizzling nicely without browning until they melt down, 10-15 minutes.

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Add the pearled barley and stir well until well mixed then add a glass of wine. Allow the wine to bubble up and reduce then stir in the passata. Bring everything to a bubble then begin to add roughly one fifth of  vegetable stock at a time, stirring very 5 minutes and adding more stock as needed to keep it cooking and from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Taste when the stock is used up and if the risotto is not ready add a little water and continue cooking.

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Dice the remaining 50g butter and dice the goats cheese.

When the risotto is to your liking take off the heat and beat in the butter. Beat being the operative word as this will make the risotto creamy. Stir three quarters of the goats cheese through. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if needed,

Spoon into shallow bowls, top with the remaining cheese and drizzle over a little pesto.

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Beam Me Up Spuddy!

Here’s a recipe to teleport you to Greece from your own kitchen using the humble spud.

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Just imagine the blue sea, the blue skies, sitting outside a taverna and all those tray bakes of vegetables, meats and fish. The Greeks are masters at traybakes and the tavernas often have rows of different dishes which have been slowly cooked in an oven displayed on the counter.

The slow cooking is key, generally the dishes aren’t complicated but cooking slowly creates intense flavour that hasn’t shooshed off into the stratosphere it’s just settled quietly in the pan

This dish is real simple spring food, potatoes roasted into sweet submission with olive  oil, oregano and lemon juice. Delicious with nearly everything and the bonus is it’s made with ingredients you might well have in the house.

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Greek Lemon Roasted Potatoes

 

1kg potatoes

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 tsp dried oregano

1 lemon, juiced

75mls olive oil

Salt

100mls vegetable/chicken stock

 

Oven 190c

Peel the potatoes then cut into large chunks.

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Toss with a generous glug of olive oil, chopped garlic, oregano and salt then put them in a single layer on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes. Take the tray from the oven, give the potatoes a shake then pour the vegetable/chicken stock over the potatoes.

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Bake for another 20 minutes then take the tray out again, shake the potatoes and sprinkle over the lemon juice . Bake for 15 minutes more or until the potatoes are golden and beginning to crisp.

Scrape out all crusty bits when serving.

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Is it Bunday?

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Every Easter we bake hot cross buns. In fact I have eaten hot cross buns on Good Friday more or less all my life. Not for religious reasons but because it’s a seasonal culinary treat. A brief interlude when I lived in Belgium, but otherwise I’ve always lived in one bun country or another.

Ever since the coronavirus lockdown I have been taking it very easy in the mornings, we’ve even become confused as to what day it is, but this morning i woke early and hopped up to put the buns on. It’s great to have a mission for the day even if it’s only to make buns. Hot cross buns are made with a brioche type dough but with added fruit and spices. Deliciously simple if you have time – which we do have right now. There’s no problem waiting for dough to rise, sure what else would we do?

Hot Cross Buns – makes 20 (plenty to share with the neighbours)

250mls milk

250mls water

1kg flour – maybe a little more

1dsp dried yeast or 20g fresh yeast

100g sugar

100g butter

2 eggs

2tsp cinnamon

2 tsp cake spice

100g currants

100g raisins or sultanas

100g candied peel

a small piece pastry dough to make the crosses

egg wash – egg  mixed with little milk

I use Dcl (freeze dried yeast) but fresh yeast is good too. The sachets of quick yeast are not suitable for this method. If you are using fresh yeast just mash it with little sugar before adding to the liquid.

Heat the milk and water to blood heat- the temperature you would comfortably bathe a baby in. Be careful, too hot and it will kill the yeast.

Put the liquid in a large bowl and sprinkle over the dried yeast and a teaspoonful of sugar. give the bowl a shake then leave until the yeast re-activates and pops to the surface. If you are using fresh yeast stir into the liquid.

Whisk some flour in until you have a thick batter. Add the sugar, 2 eggs, the spices and fruit then mix well.

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Melt the butter, stir into the batter then begin to add more flour. Stirring the flour in until the mx begins to leave the sides of the bowl.

Turn the mix out onto a clean, well floured surface. Scrape the bowl out then begin to bring the dough together . This is where a dough scraper or egg flip come in handy to prevent the dough getting stuck all over your hands. Flip the dough , adding more flour to the counter ( not on top of the dough) until it comes together. Continue kneading with your hands. Knead until the dough is bouncy and stops picking up flour.

Clean the bowl, dry and wipe around a little oil. Put the dough in the bowl then leave in a warm place to rise. Sunshine is ideal but otherwise any warm spot –  not direct heat .

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When the dough has doubled in size tip it to onto a lightly floured surface – this is where the oiled bowl comes into play – and knead once more. Put the dough back into the bowl and leave to rise once more.

Heat the oven 180c.

Line your baking sheets with parchment paper

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Roll the dough into a fat sausage, cut into two or three pieces lengthwise then cut into equal sized pieces – you should end up with 20-22 bits. Roll each piece into bun and place on the baking tray. Leave to rise until double in size.

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When the buns have doubled in size roll out the pastry quite thin then cut into strips.

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Glaze the buns with egg wash then lay the pastry over the buns to make a cross, then egg wash once more

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden,

Cook 2tbs sugar with 2tbs water. Boil for one minute then brush over the buns

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Time for a cup of tea!

 


Eggstraordinary Times

Our chickens have no idea that the covid virus has slowed most of the world down so we have a lot of eggs They are laying like machines, their systems in synch with the daylight hours. The eggs are piling up in baskets on the window sill awaiting a mission in life, Ordinarily we pass these valuable ovoids around our friends but as we have to stay at home we’re having to up our intake.

I’m digging out recipes that use eggs, this is a tasty one.

Indian Style Eggs is a fast and easy dish for brunch or lunch. A kind of a lightly spiced Indian style omelette with salad piled on top. I use garam masala, which is a mix of spices, which have been toasted and ground.

Indian Style Omelette with Salad on Top.

 

2 onions

2tbs ghee or vegetable oil

5 eggs

½ tsp salt

1 tsp garam masala

1 big ripe tomato or a handful of ripe cherry tomatoes

1 green chilli (optional)

a handful of chopped fresh coriander.

 

Peel the onions, cut them in half, then cut into 1cm slices.

Cut the slices into 1 cm pieces.

Heat a frying pan, add the oil or ghee then fry the onions on a medium high heat until they are translucent but still a bit crisp. This will take a few minutes. The onions shouldn’t brown.

Whisk the eggs in bowl together with the salt, then pour over the onions. Give the pan a little shake to mix the eggs and onions together then using a fork, draw the egg mixture that is setting to the middle, repeat this again with the set egg and give the pan a shake to even the ingredients out.

Sprinkle the teaspoon of garam masala over the top then turn the heat to low and cover the omelette with a lid for a couple of minutes, until the top is more or less set. Don’t overcook as the residual heat will make the eggs finish setting.

Dice the tomato/es and season with a little salt. Thinly slice the chilli. Maybe check out how hot it is by testing the end near the stalk. If you find it too hot remove some of the seeds as this is where the heat is. Of course if you don’t like chillies leave the chilli out and maybe substitute chopped spring onion.

Chop the fresh coriander.

Scatter the tomatoes, chilli and coriander over the top of the omelette and eat immediately.