Tag Archives: fish

Baracoa and Coconut Fish

IMG_6971Three weeks ago we were leaving Cuba after this little adventure. It was our second visit, having explored the ‘top’ end last year I was quite smitten, and wanted to see more. Below is a tale of our trip to the other end which proved quite challenging as  catching a bus in Cuba is complicated but it’s like a distant memory in the shadow of what’s going on in the world today

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Although the Cubans are really struggling at this time – one tanker of oil is delivered every fifteen days from Russia for the entire population of more than eleven million – it was the country that accepted the ‘coronavirus cruise ship’ which had been refused entry by other Caribbean countries.  The passengers were given medical care where appropriate and then flown home. It’s an extraordinary country, crippled by sanctions but perhaps compassion comes easier when people are used to having less? Perhaps that’s what we all have to gain whilst the world on pause. I’m fascinated by this country which survives on so little yet has so much – education and medical care for everyone, enough to eat (even though it’s no culinary hotspot) and most importantly time for each other . 

So here’s where I was last month!

 Baracoa, in Guantanamo province, is the oldest and most remote town in Cuba. At the very easterly tip of the country it’s the most Irish of Cuban towns. Add on twenty degrees and you could be home. The weather changes constantly, clouds rolling in dumping rain, the wind from the sea and then sunshine- you never know what you’re going to get. This of course means that it is green. Very green, lush with vegetation and jungle.
We travelled there from Santiago de Cuba crawling along on a bus that winds up and down the densely wooded mountains on a concrete seamed road. It’s the kind of ride where the gears grind and you know that you are doomed if the brakes fail as the bus climbs higher and higher and the jungle turns to Pine trees.

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The bus arrives at a tiny bus station beside the bluest sea with the town stretching back a few blocks all higgeldy piggeldy, it’s still recovering from Hurricane Mathew which made a good attempt at levelling the town. The houses are single storey and colourful with the obligatory verandas where families sit and everyone shouts and laughs with the neighbours.

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In the centre of the town is the Plaza Independencia with a church on one end, the post office, telephone centre and bars all around the tree shaded centre where the benches are full of people trying to get an Internet connection and there is music and dancing at night.

IMG_7046The fridges in the bars are empty bar water and rum. The embargoes are really hitting this small town perhaps because it the last on the delivery route but the rum is good and there’s ice for the mojitos.
We stayed in a casa particulare, a Cuban bed and breakfast which is the best bet for breakfast and dinner. Our host Leonardo let me into his kitchen so that I could watch him prepare this dish for our dinner.

IMG_6947It’s a traditional recipe from Baracoa, a ‘Lechita’ which is fish cooked in a coconut sauce. He made the coconut milk from fresh coconuts and cooked the fish for one hour in the sauce which had me pretty horrified as that’s a long time to cook fish. It tasted fine but the texture became a bit like meat. Personally I’d cook the fish for far less time but that is optional. One of the ingredients is achiote, which is the ground up seeds from an indigenous plant that grows in Cuba and Mexico. It gives colour and a little earthy taste. 

Lechita de Pescado

1 can coconut milk + half can water

1tbs achiote paste
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
A large handful fresh coriander, chopped, leaves and stems
1 green chilli , seeds removed if you don’t like hot
A little oil to fry
 600g  firm  white fish,like ling or monkfish
Salt and black pepper
Gently heat the coconut milk until it begins to boil then add the achiote, chopped onion and garlic, chopped coriander and chilli. Simmer for fifteen minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Divide the fish into four portions . Heat a frying pan and add enough oil to just cover the bottom then fry the fish on each side for a couple of minutes. Carefully lift the fish and submerge into the sauce then leave to cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes.
Serve with rice.

Tomato Party

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The time we have been waiting for all summer has arrived. The tomatoes have ripened and we are enjoying them with nearly everything. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We grew fifteen varieties of tomatoes this year, all selected for their flavour rather than prolific production or uniform size. The names are curious but in fact somehow apt when you see the fruits –  Bottondoro, Mountain Magic, Fandango, Liguria, Ox Heart, Moon Glow….. They’re all shapes and colours,  red, orange, pink, and yellow .

We let the tomatoes ripen on the vine, this guarantees that they are bursting with flavour and not all picked at once. There’s always a bit of a wait for the tomatoes to ripen but we are usually still picking them in moderation well into the autumn

Each variety has merits, the Bottondoro – orange cherry tomatoes are delicious roasted , we’ve been spooning them onto and over things with a dollop of creme fraiche. The Fandangoes, Ox Hearts and Moonglows have been cut into a chunky dice and consumed with just a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of  sherry vinegar and salt. They don’t need any fancy treatment.

We ‘ve also made pasta, stews, soups, risottos and most of all ‘pan con tomate’ the Spanish go to breakfast.

Pan con tomate is toast rubbed with a smidgeon of garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and tomato which is rubbed on the toast or grated.

Grating tomatoes is a very useful kitchen trick.

Simply take a large ripe tomato, cut it in half and grate it flesh side down, over a bowl, on the coarse side of the grater. The result will be a fresh tomato passata in the bowl and a tomato skin in your hand. Just bin the tomato skin and the tomato is ready to use.

Here is a recipe for a Greek dish, using grated tomato.  Prawns with Ouzo and black olives are the original incarnation but Ouzo which is a Greek aniseed flavoured aperitif can be replaced with whatever you have in the drinks cupboard. I use Pernod but brandy or white wine would work too.

This is delicious mopped up with bread or served with basmati rice or pasta for a main course. Fresh prawns would be the ultimate but uncooked frozen prawns will work too just be sure to dry them well before frying.

Serves 6 for a mezze, 3- 4 for a main course

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Prawns with Ouzo and Black olives

 

500g fresh peeled prawns – not already cooked

75mls olive oil

1 small onion

2 cloves garlic

2-3 large ripe tomatoes – about 500g

a good pinch of dried oregano

a small glass of Ouzo or Pernod

1-2 tbs black olives

salt and black pepper.

chopped flat leaf parsley

 

Peel and finely chop the onion

Peel and finely chop the garlic

Cut the tomatoes in half and grate on the coarse side of the grater, holding the skin side. Discard the skins

Dry the prawns on a little kitchen roll.

Heat a small frying pan, add the olive oil then the prawns. Cook for a couple of minutes until the prawns just change colour. Lift out of the pan and put aside.

Fry the onions until they begin to soften then stir in the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add the grated tomatoes, oregano and the ouzo or Pernod. Let the sauce bubble up and reduce for a few minutes. Stir in the prawns and black olives then cook for anther 3-4 minutes. Take off the heat, season with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped parsley.

 

 

 


Crispy Noodle Fish Cakes

The most challenging aspect of these Thai inspired crispy noodle fish cakes is getting the noodles out of the packet and into the bowl!

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Mung bean vermicelli, also known as glass noodles are like bailer twine, almost impossible to break. I use scissors but they still ping all over the place

Once the noodles have been soaked  the rest of the ingredients only have to be whacked into the food processor to make a paste. They are truly delicious and guaranteed to get the ummm of approval.

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Crispy Noodle Fish Cakes

600g white fish such as hake or haddock

75g glass noodles/mung bean vermicelli

2 stems lemongrass

2 cloves garlic

2cm piece fresh ginger

3-4 spring onions,

a handful fresh coriander

2tbs Thai fish sauce

1 egg

Put the noodles into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 5 minutes

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Drain the noodles and snip into small pled pieces with a pair of scissors.

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Chop the lemongrass, peel and chop the ginger and garlic then put them into a food processor and buzz to a puree. Keep the motor running, chop the fish into chunks and post down the chute into the processor then add 2tbs fish sauce. This should all buzz to a thick paste. Add the egg then tip into a bowl.

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Chop the spring onions and coriander.

Mix the noodles, spring onions and coriander through the fish paste.

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Wet your hands and form the paste into small balls.

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Heat a large frying pan, add enough oil to just cover the bottom. Put the fish balls into the pan and gently flatten a little. Don’t overcrowd the pan, you’ll probably have to cook 2 or 3 batches. Leave to cook for 3-4 minutes each side on medium high heat. Don’t fiddle about with them, wait until there is a good crust before turning and cooking the other side.

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Serve with dipping sauce or sweet chill sauce

makes approx 15  fish cakes.

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Dipping Sauce

3tbs lime juice

2tbs fish sauce

2-3 chillies

2 cloves garlic

1dsp sugar

Pell and chop the garlic, chop the chillies then mix together with the other ingredients.


Sardines and Sunshine

Some things you just can’t beat.
Sardines and sunshine. I swear they would never taste the same eaten inside in Ireland. It’s some kind of magical combination of Mediterranean sun and sea. There’s no big cooking procedure, just dust the fish with oregano and chuck them on the grill.
Today we ate our lunch in Kino, a small village in Syros, at a restaurant where we could literally step from our table into the sea, another few centimetres and we would have had our feet in the water

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Tempting as that was we stayed seated and enjoyed our lunch.
The sardines were super fresh, grilled and served with wedges of lemon, all washed down with a glass of chilled white wine.

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As soon as we had finished the local cats moved in, ready to eat the skeletal remains.

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Not a morsel was wasted!


Feta, Feta, Everywhere!

If Ireland’s the land of green grass, butter and Guinness then Greece has to be the land of feta and ouzo.
We arrived in Athens yesterday evening and took a ferry to the island of Syros this morning. We’re kind of travelling blind – not really knowing very much about Syros – but it came highly recommended by some friends who introduced us to some people that wanted to do a house swop.This was an irresistible idea. The last time I was in Greece was more than thirty years ago and I remember delicious grilled octopus – probably my first -and having to learn how to say coffee without sugar as all the coffee was made in the traditional way with heaps of sugar. It’s the only Greek that I remember – kafé sketo!
The ferries that go between the islands are huge but they’re not crowded in May. It’s a nearly four hour trip, with lots of rough sea which which could hardly feel, as the ferries are so big. At one point it lashed rain but as the boat approached land the sun appeared and we could see the town hugging the harbour with pastel coloured houses climbing up the hill behind.

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Kostas, our host was waiting on the square as pre arranged and we climbed the steps through the town to where we are staying. The house is stunning. Built in 1870 and recently renovated by our new friends. It has everything that we need and a sunny terrace which is where I am sitting whilst I write this.
We dumped our bags and wandered back down the steps in search of lunch – we have been given several recommendations- a very big plus of house exchanging – and soon found ourselves sitting in a little street on a comfortable terrace. It was a little bit tricky establishing whether we had arrived at the correct taverna as everything is written in Greek – naturally enough – and we can’t read Greek but Con dragged out some morsels of knowledge from his youth and we figured we were in the right place so we sat down and looked at the blackboard menu. It was Greek!

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The waitress soon appeared with a bi-lingual menu.
Somehow each dish we chose had an element of feta. All completely different dishes but lots of feta. This is not a complaint, more an observation!
We started off with Greek salad. Very traditional but irresistible when in the land of sun ripened tomatoes and fresh feta. It arrived to the table, a mound of tomatoes, cucumber, onion and olives with slab of feta and capers on top.

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The olive oil and vinegar is on the table so you dress the salad yourself. We polished the salad off then the Giant beans baked in tomato sauce arrived – with feta. These were delicious, the tomato sauce was made with fresh oregano, bay leaves and whole allspice

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And the final course was a stuffed calamari – stuffed with tomato, wild fennel and feta.
After the beans this was bit over the top and it didn’t get as many brownie points but maybe that was because we were already quite full.

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We washed everything down with a carafe of the local white wine and felt very happy sitting there in the sun!

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Banh Xeo – Sizzling Pancakes

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Banh Xeo are the most delicious Vietnamese savoury pancakes. They are fried until crispy then rolled up in salad leaves with mint and dunked in dipping sauce before popping into your mouth
Guaranteed to make you swoon. Our family thought they’d died and gone to heaven when I made them for dinner. Just silence and appreciative grunts coming from the dinner table.
The pancake is made with rice flour, or a combo of rice and wheat flour mixed together with coconut milk, spring onion, egg and turmeric. This is whisked to a smooth batter. I made them with prawns, mushrooms and beansprouts but the filling is fairly free lance. Whatever you fancy but don’t put too much in as the pancake will be unmanageable when you flip it.
The inclusion of regular flour makes them more manageable for non coeliacs but the recipe works well both ways
Here’s the recipe

200g rice flour or combo of rice and regular flour
2tbs cornflour
1 egg
half tsp turmeric
a handful of chopped spring onion greens
150mls coconut milk
about 100mls water
half tsp salt

Put the dry ingredients into a bowl, make a well in the middle then crack in the egg and add the coconut milk.
Whisk everything together and thin with water until you have medium pouring consistency – like melted chocolate. Stir in the spring onions.
Leave to stand for at least 10 minutes

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For the filling
20 raw prawns – 2 for each pancake
250g mushrooms
250g bean sprouts
a little butter or oil to cook the mushrooms

Salad leaves – washed and spun
a big bunch of mint leaves

Heat a frying pan. Slice the mushrooms, drop a knob of butter or a glut of oil into the frying pan and add the mushrooms. Toss them well and cook on a high heat until they are cooked the way you like them. Season with a little salt and pepper and put aside.
To make the pancakes heat a small to medium size frying pan. Add a little oil and a couple of prawns, cook them for a couple of minutes – until they are pink- then add a few mushrooms. Drag the mushrooms and prawns to one side and pour in a small ladle of batter.

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The pancake should be thin like a crepe. Cook on a medium high heat for a couple of minutes then add a small pile if bean sprouts to the pancake and flip in half. Increase the heat to high and cook each side until crispy. You might want to add a little more oil.

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To serve the pancakes make a little dipping sauce

Dipping Sauce

3tbs Lime juice
2tbs Fish sauce/Nam Pla
1tbs water
2-3 Chillies
2 cloves garlic
1 dsp Sugar

Peel and chop the garlic and chop the chillies then mix together with all the other ingredients.

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Put the pancakes onto plates and break or cut a piece off and wrap it in a salad leaf with a couple of pieces of mint tucked in. Dunk in the dipping sauce and pop it in your mouth.

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Yum!


Cashew Nut Island

This recipe is coming from my hammock on a small Thai island in the Andaman Sea, close to Burma.

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It’s the place for an ultimate chill out. No roads, no retail therapy, no stress unless you have trouble deciding what to eat next. We have a simple hut on the beach made from woven bamboo, there’s a bed with large mosquito net, a bathroom with a toilet, a cold shower and a bucket for flushing the loo and best of all a deck with two hammocks which saves fighting over who gets to swing in the breeze.

The family that owns our hut look after everything. They get up early and sweep the leaves from the paths and the beach. they make delicious home cooked food any time you ask them and the pineapple shakes they make are to die for.

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It’s surprising how quickly the days drift away between swimming in the sea and wandering about the island.

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Most of the island is covered in dense jungle or patches of rubber palms and cashew nut trees.  To get a cashew nut from the tree to our plates is quite something, The  cashew nuts grow under the fruit, it’s known as an apple but looks more like a pear and the nut is dangerously inedible in its raw state.

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The fruit can be eaten or made into smoothies or booze but the nuts need a serious roasting before they can be eaten. The nut in the shell is surrounded by  a caustic liquid that would burn the top of your mouth off if eaten raw. The roasting has to take place outside as the fumes are toxic, it’s quite palaver so when you consider there’s only one nut on the bottom of each fruit, the price of a packet of cashews seems quite fair.

As you might imagine the cashew nuts are delicious and feature on every menu. You can have salad with cashew nuts, prawns with cashew nuts, stir fried veg with cashew nuts, the list is endless. We had grilled barracuda with ‘green apple sauce’ the other night. It sounded quite a bizarre combo so of course we had to try. It was julienned Granny Smiths with a little carrot, chilli, garlic and cashew nuts, all dressed with lime juice and nam pla. Stunning!

Here’s a recipe for a sweet and sour carrot salad – with cashew nuts. We went for a ‘day out’ to another area of the island and ate this for lunch.

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I thought it was delicious and as usual we puzzled over what could be in it when we found the recipe in May Kaidees Thai Vegetarian Cookbook sitting on the table right front of us. Here’s my translation

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Sweet and Sour Carrot Salad

2 tbs shredded coconut, soaked in cold water for 2 hours

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

75g cashew nuts

1 tbs sesame seeds

50g tofu

2tbs soya sauce -not dark

juice 1 lime

1 tomato- diced into big chunks

2-3 carrots, peeled and grated

Drain the shredded coconut.

Put the coconut, 25g of the cashews and the garlic in a mortar and pestle  and mash together to make a rough paste. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle pulse buzz in a food processor and keep scraping it down

Crumble the tofu with your hands

Toast the other 50g of cashews gently in a dry pan, put them aside then toast the sesame seeds until lightly golden.

Put the carrots into a large bowl and mix together with the coconut/cashew paste then add the chopped tomato, sesame seeds, crumbled tofu, lime juice and soya sauce. Toss everything together

Pile the salad on a plate and scatter the toasted cashew nuts on top

I think I’d be very tempted to put a chopped chilli or two in as well!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Epic Feast

I’ve only just recovered enough from our Xmas dinner to talk about it.

Family consensus was to have an untraditional dinner this year. Not everyone was enthralled with the prospect of changing the big bird feast and there was quite some discussion. An idea was thrown in to cook a course each which sounded exciting to me. Kind of Italian style with a few antipasti, maybe a pasta, a little fish and duck for the slightly miffed annual big bird eaters who were grumbling that we could eat Italian everyday. The courses were delegated and we agreed to be prepped and ready to go for six o clock.

There was a little confusion on this point but it all landed on the table in a delicious  succession .

Here’s what we ate

Herby garden salad with toasted seeds and honeyed goats cheese

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Istanbul mussels , stuffed with rice and dill

 

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Braised fennel with tomato, capers, olives and lemon ricotta

 

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Tagliatelle with wild mushrooms

 

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Fatty prawns with borlotti beans and roasted cherry tomatoes

 

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Roasted Brussel sprout risotto

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And for the big bird eaters

A Salad of duck confit and raspberry vinegar

 

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Which must have been totally delicious because even after all the previous course the plates were scraped clean

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It didn’t stop there. We had xmas pud with lashings of cream, slices of buche de noel which i couldn’t quite manage and Irish or French coffee to wash it all down.

Quite the feast.

I did wake up at five o’clock in the morning feeling like a beached whale but apart from that I’d highly recommend this method of feasting.

The dirty dishes were fairly epic and of course as we had all cooked there was no designated dishwasher but somehow we muddled through

Funnily enough the desserts were traditional. I don’t know what happened there but I was very happy to have the Xmas pudding. Delicious. I’m not quite sure how I squeezed it in.

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Mangoes and Salmon

IMG_1009It’s funny how we give something up only to crave for something else. I don’t know what it was that bought this dinner on, apart from the delicious mango sauce, as we usually avoid eating salmon because it’s farmed. This used to be quite difficult when the salmon fishing ban first came in. I enjoy eating salmon now and then but apart from the very occasional wild salmon that is available in the summer season we normally boycott the farmed salmon as it’s unsustainable.  The detox diet has overcome that protest It  seems to have jumbled these ethics. All I could think of was grilled salmon with fresh mango sauce – a sublime combination – so that’s what we had for dinner last night.IMG_1002

Stir fried sprouting broccoli, sugar snaps and courgettes, and brown basmati on the side.

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Cutting out dairy, wheat and sugar doesn’t seem to be a problem on the what we really need to eat menu, i.e. breakfast, dinner, lunch. It’s the snacks and drinks that suddenly become inaccessible, most of what is in them is on the banned list. We seem to be snacking on an extraordinary amount of crisps.. We should probably put the crisps on the hit list as too many of them are definitely not good for you even if  they are wheat, dairy and sugar free

The mango sauce is the perfect fit for this kind of regime – the recipe has only ingredients that we can eat and it’s very simple to make. The difficult part might be finding the ripe mango but even green mangoes ripen in time so if it’s a bit hard, just stash it in the fruit bowl for a couple of days. Best put a large DO NOT EAT me sign on it if you don’t live alone to make sure someone else doesn’t discover it as it’s ready to go.

Mango Sauce

1 ripe mango

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 red chilli

3 cms ginger, peeled and chopped

2 lime leaves, (optional but very good), sliced very thinly

2 limes, juiced and also zested if you don’t have any lime leaves

75mls rapeseed or sunflower oil

1tbs nam pla (Thai fish sauce)

a handful of chopped coriander

Put everything except for the chopped coriander into a liquidiser or into jug and a hand held blender and buzz until smooth.

Stir in the chopped coriander and serve with grilled salmon or tuna – best cooked a little rare.

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Arroz Negre aka Black Rice

Last night we ate a Catalan speciality – Arroz Negre, meaning black rice. This spectacular dish, a relation of paella, is made using squid ink and although I have made this before, last nights version was the first time that i had made it with fresh ink.

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We bought some beautiful little calamari in the market and also asked for some ‘tinta’ which is the ink. Instead of handing over little sanitised sachets of the ink the fish monger rummaged around under the counter and came up with a little sac of fresh ink from a sepia, a close relative of calamari.  A sepia is a cuttle fish in English but somehow sepia sounds more attractive. It didn’t look like a lot of ink and i was a little worried that there might not be enough but believe you me there was plenty. By the time I had finished there was  ink everywhere. Running down the walls, dripping off the sink and the cooker and all over me. I couldn’t believe that I had made such an incredible mess. I have no photos to prove it as touching my camera was out of the question.

In a culinary way the ink gives a delicious rich ‘seafood’ flavour and it’s a very funky colour. Black. Incredibly black. It is powerful stuff. The squid uses it for protection, spraying it a bit like a smoke screen to overcome it’s foe or indeed sometimes stepped up into chemical warfare mode where compounds are released that stun or desensitise the agressors.

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We ate this with alioli and a few prawns on top but to be quite honest I would skip the prawns in future if they weren’t super doopa fatties as frozen prawns just don’t hit the spot. When we had finished eating our lips were black and we looked like a bunch of Goths.

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It’s delicious and very simple to make so if you fancy a ‘Goth’ dinner search out some squid and ink and try this out.

Arroz Negre

1 onion, peeled and chopped

olive oil

3 cloves garlic. peeled and chopped

1 very big ripe tomato, grated

about 700g squid – preferably not too big

300g bomba or calaspara rice

1 glass white wine

1 sac of squid/sepia ink or 2 small sachets squid ink

900mls seafood/fish/whatever stock

Clean the squid and cut into rings. Heat a large frying pan and pour in enough oil to spread over the bottom. Add the squid and fry quickly until translucent and just cooked. Tip into a bowl and leave aside.

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Put the pan back on the heat, add a little more olive oil and the onion. Cook on a medium high heat until the onion melts down then stir in the garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the grated tomato. Let this all bubble up then stir in the rice and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in the wine and when that boils  add the stock and the ink. Season with a little salt but take it easy as the stock will reduce during the cooking.

When everything is bubbling away turn the heat down to medium/medium high. There should still be plenty of action but not enough to burn. After fifteen minutes strew the cooled calamari back on top and push down a little with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook for three more minutes then turn the heat off and leave it to relax for five minutes before serving with a little aioli to spoon over

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