Simple, beautiful and fresh. I have come to the conclusion that complicated recipes are not for me. Pick your elderflowers from a tree that isn’t too close to a road or a dusty path. I think that some trees have a different complex of aromas in their pollens from others – so it’s interesting over time to make batches of cordial from different trees and see if you can taste any variation. I also think that cordial made with flowers early in the season when they start to open tastes more floral than cordial made with later flowers, which tastes richer. That might be my imagination, but a world of elderflower cordial tasting is a pleasant place to be for a while. There are loads of cordial recipes out there but this is a combination of the Pam Corbin version in River Cottage Handbook No 2 Preserves (a must have) and the Fern Verrow version (another must have book for both the recipes and the photography).
I have no idea if there is any medical sense behind this, but I have heard that children with hay fever were given elderflower cordial in olden days, in order to provide them with small doses of pollen to accustom their immune systems to the allergen in harmless amounts. A similar role has been claimed for honey. I’m not saying there’s any medical benefit to elderflower cordial, only that it tastes superb and you are using a bountiful natural resource.
Depending on the space in your fridge or freezer and how long you want your supply to last, you can make this without the citric acid if you like. Then it will keep only a few weeks on the shelf and will need to be refrigerated once open. You can make it and freeze it in plastic bottles, but I never have the room in my freezer for that and am trying to minimise my use of plastic in food preparation anyway. I use old glass olive-oil bottles, the ones with the swing-cap lids and I find that the cordial keeps several months in a cool place, which is as long as the supply lasts in our house and by that time we’re into the more winter-ish fruity cordials as the season rolls round.
You can make up the cordial with water, fizzy water or lemonade. If you want a Hugo Cocktail, add lime juice, mint leaves and prosecco and waft around the garden looking and feeling lovely.
Makes about 2 litres Timings: 1 hour to pick and start the steeping, overnight steeping, then about 30 minutes to boil up and bottle
Pick your elderflowers and bring them home as soon as possible, breathing in the scent from the bag every now and then.
Shake off any insects or dust but don’t wash them. Put them in a large bowl (not plastic) or pan. Using a potato peeler, peel the lemons and the orange and add the peel to the flowers while you boil the kettle. Keep the peeled fruit in the fridge. Pour the boiling water over the flowers/peel, cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to infuse and steep overnight.
Next day, strain the liquid out through your jelly bag. I hang mine from the cupboard where we keep our glasses so I have to be sure to start the straining only after we’ve laid the table for breakfast. Let the liquid strain for about 30 minutes and don’t squeeze the bag or you will get a cloudy cordial.
While it’s dripping through, squeeze the lemons and the orange, and strain out any pips.
Measure all the liquid that you have – the juice and the strained elderflower liquid – into a large pan – you should have about 2 litres. Per litre of liquid add 700g sugar and 2 teaspoons of citric acid, if using.
Bring to a rolling boil and skim off the pollen-laden scum that comes to the surface.
While it’s coming to the boil, boil up your kettle and sterilise your bottles.
Bottle the cordial while it’s still hot and clip the lids on, so the cooling down closes the lids more tightly.
When cool, wipe the bottles, label and keep them in a darkish place.
South German Potato Salad (vegan optional)
Actually, “Swabian” Potato Salad, but not everyone outside of Germany (and not everyone inside Germany either) knows where the unofficial district of Swabia belongs. You won’t find it on a postcode or town name but it’s an area taking in parts of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemburg with about 7 million inhabitants. It has it’s own culinary traditions and specialities which I was fascinated to learn about when I lived in Ulm - a beautiful town on the Danube. Eating new food when you’ve moved to a new country is a bit different from eating new things on holiday. You aren’t going back, so you have to get used to them and work out what you like to eat on a daily basis, and what your friends are likely to serve you.
I’ve always loved the English version of potato salad: perky little new potatoes, rich with mayonnaise, piquant with spring onions and chives, spritzed with lemon juice and sparkled with ground black pepper. I was initially suspicious of Swabian Potato Salad – the potatoes melt almost to a slurry in the stock, there’s no creamy mayonnaise in sight, and it is served at room temperature – how odd is that? But if you come at it from another angle, don’t see it as competition to a much-loved favourite, you will also find this delicious and quite different. It is a perfect accompaniment to a barbeque, it matches with grilled meat or sausages as effortlessly as you might expect from a German dish. It’s also great with cold meat from a next-day roast leftovers or with a big salad.
Try it and be brave. I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
Serves 6 Timings: 1 hour preparation, then time to cool.
Scrub then boil the potatoes in their skins until tender – about 30 minutes depending on their size.
Meanwhile make up the stock in a jug if you are using cubes or powder, or warm it up in a small pan if you are using home made stock. Slice 2 of the shallots and the leek up very finely and put them into the warm stock to tenderise. Reserve the remaining shallot and also slice it up very finely.
When the potatoes have boiled and are tender inside, drain them and let them cool a little and then peel them while they are still warm. As you peel them, chop them in slices and drop them into your serving bowl, adding ladles of warm stock as you go. Don’t use all the stock to start with. When you’ve sliced up about half the potatoes, add the vinegar to the bowl. Go on peeling and slicing potatoes and add them to the bowl along with the reserved shallot. Add more stock until you have quite a loose mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning – you might need more salt depending on the stock you used and you might need a good grind of black pepper.
Add the parsley and mix, then allow to cool and serve at room temperature.
The salad can be kept in a sealed container in the fridge for at least a day but I wouldn’t freeze it.
Green Beans Curry (vegan)
Another recipe from my neighbour, Asha, who makes such glorious food. It’s called a
“dry curry” – it’s not completely dry but there is no sauce to be mopped up. The fresh green beans still have their snap, and they end up coated in a savoury paste with spicy tomato flavour and the faintest background nuttiness from the coconut. You don’t taste or feel the desiccated coconut, so this can be served even to people who generally avoid the texture of coconut, and it just adds the extra nutrition and slight creaminess. I like to serve it with a dhal or other quite liquid dish for contrast.
I’ve never seen this recipe in a restaurant, so I don’t know exactly where it came from. I’ve seen a Sri Lankan green bean curry that uses coconut milk but that’s a lot more sauced than this version. If anyone knows any more about it, please let me know – I’d be interested to hear.
You can of course add other things to the basic vegan dish – cubed paneer or leftover cooked chicken are lovely mixed into the beans.
Serves 4 as a main dish alongside Makhani Dhal or other Dhal dish Timings: 45 minutes
Ground spices: 2 teaspoons turmeric, 1 teaspoon chilli powder, 2 teaspoons garam masala
Whole spices: 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
Top and tail the French beans and if they are thicker than a pencil, slice them down the middle to make thinner slices – you are cooking them quite quickly so they need to be thin.
Put the beans, the ground spices, coconut, ginger and tomato puree into a microwave bowl with 2-3 tablespoons of water and cook on full power for 6 minutes. You can of course cook them in a pan with only a small amount of water – you are looking to steam the beans quite lightly. When finished cooking, leave them in their pan until the next stage.
In a large frying pan, fry the onion in a little oil until transparent. You don’t want it to brown, so keep stirring and don’t heat too much. Add the potato cubes and continue stirring to warm them through. Add the whole spices and cook to release the flavours.
Tip the beans and any liquid they have into the pan and turn up the heat a bit. Stir through and cook finally for another 2-3 minutes.
Adjust the seasoning – it will need salt and pepper and add the lemon juice.
Serve sprinkled with fresh coriander.
Once you’ve made your own fruit cordials, your family will beg you to continue and you won’t look back. You'll start collecting bottles like a mad thing. You can make them out of pretty much any fruit you can lay your hands on. I know that rhubarb isn’t a fruit, but we eat it as such, and you can make the prettiest cordial out of it with an unusual but wonderful flavour. I got the idea for this recipe from Fern Verrow – an inspirational book about a farm run on organic and biodynamic principles and using seasonal produce for sensational taste.
Anyone with a garden patch of rhubarb or an allotment will know that it’s difficult to keep rhubarb under control once it gets going. This year, with the rains in January – which turned into a full-on flood in my allotment as the Mersey overflowed – the ground was saturated. Rhubarb loves that; you even need to water rhubarb when it’s raining, it’s that thirsty. This spring, it’s so happy, you can nearly hear it singing as it grows.
Once you’ve made enough crumble, cakes, and pies to keep you going, give this cordial a go as well. I use a jelly bag which I hang from a wooden spoon handle put through two cupboard doors in the kitchen, but you can line a sieve with cheesecloth and let it drip through that also.
As with all preserving, sterilise your bottles, funnel, jugs, and spoons well to help the cordial keep without spoiling.
Makes about 1 litre Timings: 1 hour work with overnight straining
Clean your rhubarb but don’t peel it as if you were making a compote. You want as much of the pink outside string bits as possible for the colour.
Cut it into 2cm chunks and put it in a large pan with the water over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and let it cook for about 30 minutes until it is really soft.
Spoon the liquid and pulp into a jelly bag and let it drip through into a bowl overnight. Don’t squeeze the bag as you want the juice to be clear.
Measure your juice and put it in a large pan. I had 1 litre of juice from this much rhubarb but you might have more or less depending on your type and juiciness of stalks.
For every 1 litre of juice add 600g sugar, the juice of 2 lemons and a teaspoon of citric acid. The citric acid helps the cordial keep longer but you can leave it out if you don’t have it – you just need to keep the cordial in the fridge or freezer if you aren’t going to use it in a couple of weeks.
Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and then bottle into sterilised bottles.
Add sparkling water and a few blue flowers for a perfect summer drink or make a cocktail for something a bit different for your garden party.
Bombay Potatoes (vegan)
Just spectacular. The family gobbled them up and would have eaten twice the portions. Another lesson in why the simplest things are often the best.
This is a dish you find all over India, so I don’t know why Bombay, now Mumbai, became specifically associated with them. Every family and every restaurant have their own way of doing it – some recipes are more roasted, some have more sauce, some include tomatoes and some don’t. I make a potato and spinach curry that has more sauce, so I decided to make this one dry and crispy. The whole spices are quite important as they give flavour and a little crunch to the dish.
Serves 4 Timings 90 minutes although you can boil the potatoes beforehand
Boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes in water with the teaspoon of turmeric added – the water will turn bright yellow and so will the cut surfaces of your potatoes. Try to avoid splashing the water on your kitchen work surfaces as it will stain. Drain the potatoes – they should be tender but not falling apart.
Heat your oven to 205°C.
In a large oven proof pan or metal oven tray, gently fry the whole spices in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil until they release their fragrance – about 2 minutes.
Tip the potatoes into the pan and mix well, sprinkling over the garam masala, curry powder and a generous pinch of salt.
Put the roasting tin into the oven for 45 minutes. Every now and then turn the potatoes with a spatula to ensure all the surfaces get crispy.
Serve either as a side dish to another meal or on their own with some fresh relishes and chutneys.
Wild Garlic and Potato Curry (vegan)
Another seasonal wild garlic recipe to make the most of the delicious harvest before it vanishes back underground for another year. You can substitute spinach for the wild garlic leaves at other times of the year and in that case you might want to add a crushed clove of garlic to the frying onions at the start of the recipe.
As always, please forage responsibly. Take your pick from an area where dogs and walkers don't go, and don't take all the leaves from one plant or denude an whole patch. A little goes quite a long way!
Combine with other curries in different sauces for a Curry Night Feast with friends and family; or make a simple meal with some warm naan and home-made chutneys and relishes.
Chutneys and relishes could include:
Serves 4 as a lunch or as part of a combined curry meal Timings: 30 minutes
In a wide flat pan, fry the mustard seeds and cumin seeds in vegetable oil for a few minutes while they sizzle. Tip in the chopped onion and chilli, and fry for a few minutes. Add the cubed potato and pour in water from the kettle to just cover the cubes.
Mix the powdered spices with some water in a glass to give you a light paste and pour into the pan of potatoes. This avoids you burning the ground spices in the hot oil and gives a more balanced flavour.
Add the lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper, then put the lid on and leave over a low heat to simmer for about 15 minutes. The potatoes will absorb the water and flavourings. Don’t let the pan boil dry, keep topping up with a little water if it’s all absorbed. After 15 minutes the potatoes should be tender and cooked and there should be a little flavoured gravy in the bottom of the pan. Add the torn up wild garlic leaves and put the lid back on again for a few minutes as they wilt down and cook.
Adjust the seasonings and serve with plain rice, fluffy naan and your relishes.
Celery and Squash Soup (vegan)
Sometimes an accidental combination just sings out loud. A few sticks of celery and half a butternut squash are denizens of the Monday fridge, leftovers from the weekend. But rejoice! The lightness and slight bitterness of celery balances the sweetness and creaminess of the squash and the two flavours meld like cheese in an omelette. It’s even good enough to make on purpose. It’s a great lunch time soup with a simple salad and some good bread.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Gently fry the onion and celery in a little vegetable oil until tender, 5 minutes. Add the cubes of squash and stir around. Add the vegetable stock, relish, and a little grind of pepper. You probably don’t need salt as the stock is salty enough but taste and adjust to your liking.
If you have had the oven on and you know you’re going to make this soup, you could also roast the squash cubes for 30 minutes in a medium oven with a little oil, but I wouldn’t put the oven on just for that.
Simmer for 20 minutes, then cool and liquidise. You can add the reserved celery leaves before you blend or hold them back for a garnish. Check the seasoning and serve.
Chicory, Orange and Hazelnut Salad (vegan)
This is a lovely light Spring lunch time salad – juicy from the fruit and crunchy from the nuts, with a back note of bitterness from the chicory and tiny sparkles of flavour from the mint. Very refreshing and full of vitamins. If you can’t get chicory, - which is mostly available in shops from January to March - a firm fresh lettuce will do, one of the cos type with strong leaves rather than floppy ones.
The dressing makes a full jar but if you have some left over, it goes well on a straightforward green salad too. It’s worth getting a small bottle of walnut oil if you don’t normally keep it in your salad-oils selection. (we all have one of those, don’t we?) It adds a lovely nutty taste to a French dressing and is high in Omega 3, so has health benefits. My sons don’t eat a lot of nuts, so I think that adding a sploosh to every salad dressing is a good way of getting nut oils into them.
You can eat this as part of a mixed salad table or by itself as a light lunch with some good bread to mop up the juices.
Serves 4 as part of a salad table, timings 20 minutes.
For the dressing:
Roast the hazelnuts by placing them on a tray in the oven at 180°C for 10 minutes. This can be done ahead of time, and the roasted hazelnuts kept in an airtight jar for use in salads, cakes, meringues, snacking.
Chop the hazelnuts roughly into smaller pieces but don’t grind them.
Peel the orange and try to remove most of the white pith, cut the fruit into small chunks. Do this over a small bowl to catch the juice, but you aren’t squeezing the orange.
Separate the leaves of the chicory heads and wash, they’re usually pretty clean but wash them anyway and dry.
Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a jar with a tight lid and shake well. Taste and adjust, you might need to add a bit more salt or a bit more sugar, depending on the sweetness of the juice you used. And you will need to shake well to dissolve the honey through the dressing.
Arrange the chicory leaves on your plate, strew over the orange chunks and then scatter over the hazelnuts. Drizzle the dressing over everything and add some tiny mint leaves for accent.
Chicken Curry – the Rajasthani Way (vegan/vegetarian option)
In Jaipur I had a cooking lesson from Mrs. Singh of Dera Mandawa, which also offers “homestays” – the Indian equivalent of a cosy bed & breakfast. Cosy isn’t the right word here, Dera Mandewa is a manor house of royalty - a place of huge courtyards, sized for the elephants to come inside and unload their burdens. We talked and talked through the velvety dark evening.
She explained to me that girls rarely left the mansion grounds, even for schooling. Rajasthan in the old days was a place of danger and kidnap, as well as beauty and nobility. Girls stayed close to their female relatives and learned the skills they needed in daily life. Counting the whole spices in and out of the curry sauce was key and was how you learned arithmetic – you don’t want to bite on a whole clove if it’s left in the sauce. Mrs. Singh herself was lucky enough to be in the vanguard of female emancipation, she went to school, became a doctor and then a consultant. Now she lives in her old family home, sharing her culture through food. This is the genuine recipe, with only my addition of tomato puree, as I think the little bit of sweetness is very pleasant. The sauce is made before you cook the meat and is itself vegan, so you can instead use vegetables or paneer for the protein to give you a vegan or vegetarian dish.
The onion, garlic, chilli and ginger paste can be made in larger quantities and kept in the fridge to be used in different dishes. My friend Mussarrat Butt from Artisan Nutrition in Didsbury (www.artisannutrition.co.uk) recommends doing this if you are going to make a lot of Indian food. She makes the paste from onions, garlic, turmeric root, salt and ginger and uses it in her vegetarian and vegan curries. It keeps for at least a week.
Serves 4 Timings – 90 minutes
A paste made from:
To be added later:
Put 4 tablespoons vegetable oil in a heavy pan, heat well. This looks a lot, but you will need it all. Tip in the whole spices – watch out, the bay leaf will spit like fury. Fry for a few seconds, then add the chopped red onion. Fry for about 10 minutes, moving about, until the onion is browning.
While that is frying, make the onion paste in the blender/food processor. Add a little more water if you want to, but remember the water has to be fried off in the next stage which will take longer if your paste is too liquid.
Mix the powdered spices in a glass with a little water to a loose paste – this is to avoid scorching the powder, which would give the sauce a burned taste.
Add this spice paste to the frying pan, stir and fry to release the fragrance. Now add the onion paste from the blender. The onion paste will meld with the hot oil and onions in the pan and make a thick, bloopy sauce – which will spit and bubble. Resign yourself to having to wipe down the hob after the cooking session. Fry the sauce for about 20 minutes, until it is thick and all the ingredients are combined. Stir in the tomato puree and taste the sauce for seasoning – you will need to add some salt. Keep frying and moving the mass around in the pan. At this stage, start to take out the whole spices – and, like Mrs. Singh, be careful that you count out what you counted in! Keep stirring until the sauce is very thick and the oil starts to show when you draw your wooden spoon through it.
Let the sauce cool, add the lime juice and adjust the seasoning. If you need to add a teaspoon of sugar, do so. You can leave it at this stage in the fridge for at least a day, and also freeze it for later.
Prepare your protein for the curry: if using chicken thighs, just fry the pieces in shallow hot oil until lightly browned and cooked through.
Add the chicken to the curry sauce, loosen with some water and stir in the cream. Warm up gently and don’t boil or the cream will split.
Serve with chopped fresh coriander, naan bread, plain rice and some simple relishes and chutneys.
Beetroot Soup (vegetarian/vegan)
Sometimes the simple things are the best, especially for lunch. Beetroot soup is sweet, earthy, friendly and really good for you. All sorts of things are said to lower blood pressure, but I understand that beetroot is among the few things to be proved to do so, other than prescribed medicines.
A straightforward vegetable soup, it’s easy to make, cheap and cheerful – who can resist eating something of such an amazing colour? Be warned, it can turn your urine pink – nothing to be worried about, just shows you have an efficient set of kidneys doing what they should do and filtering your blood.
You can cook your beetroot in a number of ways – wash the roots, remove any fibrous rooty bits and any tops and leaves (you can cook those separately like spinach), and then boil, or microwave. I prefer to roast mine when I have the oven on for something else – just wrap the beetroots individually in kitchen foil, and put them on a small roasting tin in the oven at whatever temperature you are cooking, for about 1 ½ hours, so if you are roasting a chicken, they will take about the same time. If you are making toad in the hole, just leave the beetroot in the oven for a bit after you take out the Yorkshire puds. I leave the beetroot in the oven to cool down after I put the oven off, it just makes sure they are fully cooked through and totally tender. When cool (and you can do this the day or so after) take off the foil, rub off the skin, and then use the cooked beetroot.
Serves 6 Timings: 20 minutes if using cooked beetroot.
Fry the onion gently in a little oil until tender – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the beetroot cubes and the stock and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly and then liquidise. You don’t need to strain through a sieve as there are no fibrous bits in beetroot (unless it's the last harvest from the allotment, in which case do please strain it!).
Warm through and adjust the seasoning – you may need to add some salt and pepper.
Serve with a swirl of sour cream if you like or plain yoghurt and some good bread.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.