Weekend trips to Holland are not the best for my waistline. Holiday food traditions have sprung up over the years, and are difficult to escape. A kaasbroodje, liquid cheese wrapped in puff pastry, as a late breakfast on the train out of Schiphol. Bitterballen, balls of shredded meat wrapped in bechamel and deep fried dipped in mustard, as a reward after long cycles across the coastal dunes. Freshly made Turkse pizza, or lahmacun, from the elderly Tunisian/Greek man on the main street who takes more pride and satisfaction in his culinary skills than a Michelin chef. Fresh bread from the market with chunks of hard goats cheese, devoured on the banks of the canal because the ducks there have developed not only the size, but the tenacity of feral cats and will snatch food straight from your hands.
One of the only healthy traditions which has sprung up is cooking a large pot of mussels, a staple at Dutch supermarkets, at some point in the weekend. Mussels are full of vitamins and acids which are said to help brain function and reduce inflammatory conditions. While this may not be the most photogenic dish, it is a very tasty one, especially combined with a dollop of aioli and fresh bread to mop up the sauce. The recipe is adapted from the ever reliable Morito cookbook. The recipe allows for some mussels to be thrown out, because it’s never a good idea to take a chance on shellfish.
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter/tapa
- 1 sliced bunch of spring onions, green and white parts
- 1 thinly sliced bulb of fennel
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 5 finely chopped cloves of garlic
- 1/2-1 teaspoon chilli flakes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon of sugar or honey
- 50ml white wine
- 1 kilo mussels
- 150g feta, crumbled
- 1 handful of chopped fresh tarragon
- Olive oil
- Sort through the mussels and find every mussel that is open, even slightly.
- Tap each opened mussel sharply on the side of a counter top or sink.
- If it closes, keep it.
- If it stays open, throw it away.
- If you’re not sure, throw it away.
- Rinse all the now fully closed mussels thoroughly with water.
- Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat and cook the fennel and fennel seeds slowly for five minutes.
- Add the chopped spring onion and cook for another five minutes.
- Add the garlic and chilli flakes and cook for a minute or two more.
- Add in the tomato, sugar/honey bay leaves and white wine and bring to the boil, then reduce to the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- Bring the mixture back to the boil and add the cleaned mussels to the pot.
- Put on a lid, and cook until the mussels are opened (about 3-4 minutes).
- If there are any closed mussels when the majority have opened, discard them.
- Stir in the tarragon and feta, and stir immediately.
This recipe is inspired by two Dublin sister restaurants, JoBurger and Crackbird. JoBurger was the first place I ever tried sweet potato fries, and I’m pretty sure the first place that sold them in Dublin, back in the dark days at the end of the Celtic Tiger. It was a pioneer of the casual gourmet fast food scene. It was and is a place where the menu told you they had put a lot of care and attention into it, but it was served in a setting where the music, decor and nonchalant staff feel more at home in a club. A lot of places offer this now, but JoBurger to me remains the best for a very simple reason: they know their food (with a hat-tip to Bunsen, another Dublin burger place that keeps their food game on point).Dublin is rife with gourmet fast food places passing off frozen oven chips, supermarket burger buns and pulled pork slathered in hot sauce to disguise the lack of flavour who looked at the business model, but forgot to factor in the food knowledge.
This recipe recreates the sweet potato fries from JoBurger with the whipped feta dip from Crackbird. The sweet potato fries are a little different, coated in polenta to keep the outside crispy, and smoked paprika and chilli to add a bit of heat. Feel free to add more paprika, I use even more than this when I’m making these for myself, but not everyone is as mad for it as I am. If you can’t find wild garlic, you can substitute with a finely chopped clove of garlic.
Serves 4 as a generous side
- 2 x large sweet potatoes (about 1.5kg in weight)
- 4 tablespoons polenta
- 3-4 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
- 1-2 teaspoons of chilli flakes (optional, I use mild pul biber flakes)
- Neutral oil e.g. sunflower or rapeseed
- 200g feta
- 2-3 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
- 1/2 large lemon
- Small bunch wild garlic (15-20 leaves)
- A handful of spinach leaves
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Preheat the oven to 190C.
- Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into finger sized wedges.
- Mix the polenta and paprika together with a decent amount of salt and pepper.
- Toss the sweet potato fries in a large bowl with 1-2 tablespoons of neutral oil, then add in the polenta mix and toss well to coat the fries.
- Lay them out on foil lined baking trays so that none of the sweet potato fries touch each other (you will need to do this in batches) and roast in the oven at 190C for about 20 minutes until the fries are crispy and browned on the outside, and soft in the middle, carefully turning them halfway through so they crisp evenly.
- Meanwhile, burn the lemon half on a hot pan until blackened and completely soft on the cut side (you can also skip this step and use the lemon juice straight up).
- Crumble the feta into a bowl with the yoghurt, wild garlic and spinach and blend with a stick blender until smooth.
- Add the juice of the burnt lemon, and the honey to taste (I like things very citrusy, so I usually scape all the lemon flesh in, add it slowly until you get the taste you like).
- Serve with the warm sweet potato fries.
Falafel have been a staple part of my diet for as long as I can remember. As a child, my favourite restaurant was the Cedar Tree, a Lebanese restaurant in Dublin. How exactly my parents managed to get two incredibly fussy eating children to devour falafel, hummus and other things that were incredibly exotic in Dublin in the eighties is beyond me, but it was one of the few places the whole family loved. One of my favourite childhood memories is emerging from the basement restaurant onto the street above to discover that the whole city had been freshly coated in snow while we’d been having dinner.
When I first arrived in Holland, with a giant suitcase, a map, and very little else, falafel was my first meal. It hadn’t really occurred to me that not speaking a word of Dutch might pose any problem, until I realised I was hungry and had no clue what anything on any of the cafe menus were. Too embarrassed to ask, I ended up finding one of those fast food places with pictures of everything, relieved I could recognise a plate of falafel. Later, living in Aarhus, a roll of freshly baked flat bread stuffed with falafel, cabbage, chilli sauce, leaves and tahini from the Palestinian take away a few doors from my flat cost about €4. It was one of the few things my two day a week salary would stretch to, and became a weekend staple.
I was always disappointed when I tried to make falafel myself.Many past attempts ended with bland results. The key to this recipe is using dried chickpeas soaked overnight, but not cooked. I tried using tinned chickpeas, and ended up with spicy garlic mush that dissolved on the frying pan. Being completely honest, this recipe, while delicious, is a million miles away from the falafel you get in Middle Eastern cafes, with their crispy brown deep fried shell giving way to tiny grains delicately spiced grains of broad beans. For starters, broad beans are difficult to track down in Dublin, so I make these with chickpeas. Also, pan frying just doesn’t give quite the same effect.They’re inspired by falafel sold from a Turkish deli stand at the market in Leiden. The recipe makes about 20 falafel. They freeze and keep well, and are great combined with tabbouleh to make a packed lunch for work.
- 250g dried chickpeas, soaked in lots of water for 12 hours
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 chipotle chile in adobo
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 8-10 slow roasted cherry tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and/or coriander
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
- Rapeseed or sunflower oil
- Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl or measuring jug.
- Use a stick blender to break them down and mix them together.
- The chickpeas should take on a consistency like grains of sand, you don’t want them completely pureed to a paste.
- Check the seasoning, they can take a good amount of salt.
- Form the mixture into golfball sized balls, flatten them slightly into patties, and then roll them in a bowl of sesame seeds to coat.
- Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
- Fry the falafel in batches, about 2 minutes on each side (watch carefully, they burn easily).
- Drain on kitchen paper and serve warm.
If talking about the weather was an Olympic sport, I’m confident I could medal in it. I’m not unique in this respect, I think all Irish people would be able to do the same. This is probably because we have so much of it. For a garden party last week I brought sunglasses, sandals, shoes, umbrella, hat and raincoat. We go abroad to places with normal, seasonal weather and confuse everyone by observing repeatedly that it’s hot on a June afternoon. Talking about the weather is conversational stretching. Whether you’ve known the person for 5 minutes or 5 years, it eases you into talking about real things.
I say talking about the weather, but really, it’s mainly complaining. There’s a sweet spot of 25C with clear skies and a light breeze which makes me happy. Everything else is moan worthy. Having spent the past two months complaining about how cold it was, I stepped off a plane in Amsterdam recently to 35C at 8:00pm, and the conversation instantly changed. How can anyone stand this heat? It’s the kind of weather where the day is just one long process of getting in and out of various bodies of water interspersed with lying in the shade and groaning. In this kind of weather, you want long, relaxed meals with minimal stove time, so I made this supper with a little help.
If you have two people working together, it’s quick to put together, with lots of great summer flavours. The pappardelle is adapted from a recipe in Helen Atlee’s wonderful book on Italy, The Land Where Lemons Grow.You need really good, sweet and very red tomatoes for the bruschetta, the kind you only get around this time of year. This serves two with some bruschetta topping left over for lunch the next day.
- 4 medium sized vine tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
- 1 small shallot, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon chopped basil
- 1/2 tablespoon chopped thyme
- 1/2 loaf of bread, chopped into slices
- 1 clove of garlic
- Extra olive oil for drizzling on bread
Orange, Lemon and Tarragon Pappardelle
- 1 orange
- 1 lemon
- 1 shallot
- 15g butter
- 1 tablespoon (ish) white wine
- 100ml cream
- teaspoon chopped tarragon
- 200g pappardelle
- Grated parmesan (to taste)
- 500g broad beans (unshelled weight)
- Mix the tomato, shallot, basil, thyme, olive oil and vinegar in a large bowl, and season well.
- Peel the lemon and orange and julienne the peel.
- Boil the peel for five minutes so remove the bitterness and drain.
- Melt the butter in the a sauce pan and add the shallot.
- Cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or so, until softened but not coloured.
- Add the wine and peel and reduce.
- After 2-3 minutes when the wine is almost gone, add the cream and tarragon.
- Squeeze in some juice from the lemon and orange.
- Taste after a minute and add more if you like, the original recipe called for the juice of two oranges and one lemon, but I thought this was a bit much. I ended up using about 1/2 of each, but it’s whatever you like yourself.
- Season well with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, shell the broad beans and boil for 3-4 minutes in boiling water.
- Refresh with cold water, and when you can handle them, squeeze off the tough outer coating.
- Cook the pappardelle in boiling salted water as per packet instructions.
- Rub each slice of bread with a peeled garlic clove, drizzle with some oil and toast until golden on both sides (you can do this under the grill or in a pan).
- When the pasta is cooked, toss it in the sauce and add the broad beans.
- Mix in some grated parmesan to taste (again, it’s up to you how much, I like quite a lot, about 1.5 tablespoons per portion, but that’s just me).
- Top the toasted bread with a spoonfull of the tomato mix and serve with the pasta.
I turned thirty last weekend, and it seems to be one of those events that makes you stop and take stock of how things have gone so far. Mainly because people keep telling you what a momentous occasion it is, then try and reassure you as they hand you a paper bag to hyperventilate into. In my lifetime, a lot of things have changed. Little things, like I no longer hate tomatoes, and basil, and so can make this recipe, and much, much bigger things. Exciting things, like careers taking off and people I have known for half my life getting married. Watching the country I grew up in change, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Saturday will mark a big personal occasion,celebrating the wedding of two lovely people. With a bit of luck, it will also mark a big public occasion, because I really hope that when I wake up on Saturday, Ireland will have passed a referendum which will allow same-sex couples to marry as well. I’m mindful of friends and family who will want to marry, and who currently can’t do so in their home country, as well as those who already have married far from home, and are not recognized as such here. I’m hopeful that we will be our best selves as a country this weekend; loving, brave and open to change. There are a lot of things we can’t alter about Ireland, but this is something within our control. We can be a country that values everyone equally, regardless of our differences. That would be a nice way to start off my thirties, and if I can grow to like tomatoes, quite frankly anything is possible. So, Irish readers, please get out and vote Yes to Marriage Equality on Friday 22 May 2015.
- 450g cherry tomatoes
- 1 head of confit garlic, or roasted garlic
- 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
- Olive oil
- 40g Parmesan cheese
- 70g walnuts, roughly chopped
- A handful of basil leaves
- Chop the cherry tomatoes in half
- Toss in a few tablespoons of olive oil together with the balsamic vinegar and season well.
- Roast at 160C for 1 to 1 and a 1/2 hours until soft and a little browned and wrinkled.
- Once they are cooled, add the parmesan, walnuts, basil and top up with olive oil before blending.
- Check for seasoning.
- You can make this as thick or as liquid as you prefer your pesto to be.
- Store in the fridge with a layer of olive oil on top.
Just what the internet needs, another toast recipe. I met up with an old friend, now living in San Francisco this week. Among many other things discussed over sunny pints, the topic of the tech booms transforming our cities and hipsterfication of everything came up. It reminded me of a story I heard on This America Life on the origin of the San Francisco artisan toast trend that seems to make up 50% of Instagram right now. You’re probably rolling your eyes right now, but the story is both inspirational and sad. It originated in a cafe called Trouble, which is run by Giulietta Carrelli, a woman who struggles with schizoaffective disorder. She set up her cafe as a lifeline, against all the odds, after years of living rough. It was a way to stay connected to her surroundings and to interact with people and have a support network. Everything she sells is something which has helped her through the worst moments of her illness in some way. She started selling toast because it represented comfort and home. You can read the whole story here which I’d strongly recommend doing rather than going on my very flawed summary. It’s a nice reminder that people are more than the sum of their troubles.
Black pudding is something that will always remind me of Ireland, and home, so I’ve included it here. You could also use chorizo, or just keep it veggie if the idea of blood sausage is too creepy. This recipe makes about a cereal bowl sized amount of pea guacamole, it’s an easy thing to whip up quickly to share with friends.
- 250g frozen peas, cooked
- 100g goats cheese or feta
- 1 avocado
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tablespoon Greek yogurt
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
- A pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
- Bread of your choice
- Black pudding
- Blend all the ingredient 6 ingredients, and check seasoning. Add chilli flakes if using.
- Fry some slices of black pudding, and serve the guacamole slathered on toasted bread with warm black pudding on top.
Ireland is a small country, both in size and population. What this means in practice, is that everyone knows everyone. When you meet someone for the first time, you will inevitably try and work out who you both know, and will almost certainly succeed. Facebook has of course helped with this, but there is also the old school approach of “oh, so you’re one of the Borris-In-Ossory Murphy’s, Sean Murphy is my dad’s cousin”. It’s a stereotype, but it is also very very true. There are whole swathes of counties that you can discard from your potential dating pool due to the high risk of everyone there being related to you.
This is kind of inevitable in an island, and is part of the reason Ireland has higher rates of genetic illnesses like coeliac disease. As a result of this, Irish restaurants were doing gluten free dishes long before it was trendy. So, this is a vegetarian, coeliac friendly recipe to celebrate Paddy’s day. These twice baked potatoes are an update on colcannon, a traditional Irish potato dish made with mashed potato and kale or cabbage. Then I added a Greek flavour, courtesy of my stalwart fridge ingredients, feta and greek yoghurt.
- 6-8 medium sized baking potatoes
- 3 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 150g kale, washed, trimmed and chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 4 tablespoons of greek yoghurt
- 150g feta
- 75g cheddar cheese
- 1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs
- 2-3 teaspoons chilli flakes (optional)
- Poke some holes in the potatoes with a fork and bake at 180C until cooked, about 45 minutes -1 hour depending on size.
- Meanwhile, saute the leeks over the medium heat in some olive oil for 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook for a minute.
- Add the kale and cook until it’s wilted and the leeks are soft and starting to turn golden.
- When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out the middle and add to a large bowl, leaving shells with just enough potato to give structure.
- Mash the potato in the bowl with the yoghurt, salt and pepper until smooth.
- Stir in the remaining ingredients.
- Fill the potato skin shells the potato/kale/cheese mix.
- You can either freeze them now to cook later, or go ahead with the next step.
- Bake in the oven at 180C for 15 minutes or so, until the top starts to brown and crisp.
I am a sucker for those articles that tell you how to make the type of products you normally buy. You know the ones, with pictures of East London/Portland/Brooklyn types with plaid shirts, tattoos and massive beards standing outside the shed on their allotment that they use for home smoking their own duck prosciutto, or ridiculously photogenic young couples on farms posing with their pet goats, Poppy and Sunflower, whose milk they use to make their own organic cheese with. I love the idea of making my own cheese, smoking things, preserving things. I just never do it. I bought cheese cloth with great intentions, but instead I just make labneh. It’s straightforward and quick to make and provides just the right amount of smug DIY satisfaction. Labneh is a traditional Middle Eastern strained yoghurt ‘cheese’. Basically you just buy some thick yoghurt, and strain it through cheesecloth for a day or two with some salt, garlic and spices until it has a thick, smooth consistency and a rich tangy flavour. You can use it as a dip with some crispy pitta bread, as a substitute for cream cheese, dress some roasted vegetables with it or really anything you fancy.
- A tea towel sized piece of cheese cloth or muslin
- 250g natural or greek yoghurt
- 1/2 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1-2 teaspoons chili flakes of your choice (plus a bit extra for topping)
- 1-2 teaspoons dried dill (as above)
- 1 teaspoon zaatar
- A pinch of salt
- Olive oil
- Line a sieve with the cheesecloth, folded to make a double layer.
- Add the yoghurt and remaining ingredients besides the oil and stir well to combine.
- Leave in a fridge overnight over a bowl to drain the excess liquid.
- Grab the corners of the cheesecloth in the morning to form a bag and squeeze the labneh well to drain out any remaining liquid.
- Serve topped with some extra dill, chilli flakes, chopped fresh chili if you have it, and olive oil.
An unusual little shop opened on the slightly desolate stretch of Dun Laoghaire Main Steet near the People’s Park recently, taking the place of a perenially empty Indian restaurant. To the untrained eye, it looks like a slightly spartan newsagent, but inside it’s filled with a selection of all the random things a Guardian reader could need. Family members have sourced Sheridan’s cheese, olives, and tamarind paste in recent weeks along with fresh vegetables like baby aubergines and okra.
Recently they’ve been selling glorious Irish broad beans (fava beans) for next to nothing and today I bagged myself a kilo out of the sheer excitement of seeing them. Broad beans scream cliches like ‘summer in a bowl’ and ‘fresh and healthy’. Which is what you need when your last meal was a mountain of chips from the fantastically named ‘Legends of Dun Laoghaire’ chipper at stupid o’clock. Unfortunately, if you’ve had an evening where garlic cheesy chips seemed like a good idea, the chances are the next day isn’t going to be a very productive one. Sunday afternoon laziness kicked in. So I turned them into a lovely dip, the ultimate in lazy cooking. This is quick and easy to make and moderately healthy.
Serves 4 with bread and other things to dip in
- 300g shelled broad beans (from about 600g weight in their pods)
- 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 heaped teaspoon butter
- 2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon finely grated parmesan/pecorino/vegetarian-friendly hard cheese if you’re that way inclined
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- A few fresh mint leaves
- Shell the peas, and boil in their skins for 3-5 minutes in a medium saucepan until soft.
- Drain the beans from the saucepan, run a paper towel over it to dry it and return it to a low heat
- Heat the butter in the saucepan, and cook the onion until soft and glistening, about 6 or 7 minutes
- Add the garlic for two minutes until it colours slightly
- Remove from the heat and add the broads back in (you don’t need to take them out of their pale outer skins for this)
- Add the remaining ingredients, and blend.
- The puree won’t be completely smooth, but shouldn’t have any big chunks.
- Check the seasoning and serve with warm pitta bread.
During my most recent, technically ongoing, attempt at becoming one of those fit, healthy, exercise loving people, I signed up for the daily Women’s Health Magazine email. Ever since then, it’s been a daily barrage of guilt (“four foods you have to stop eating or your loved ones will turn against you”, “five ways your flabby arms are ruining your career”) combined with some fairly sweeping statements about physical intimacy that do not bear close examination. It’s a constant reminder that I am just not one of those gym junkie types.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the gym being both relaxing and addictive. For me, it’s cooking that offers the kind of buzz and sense of calm people get from exercise. I exercise based on a combination of Catholic guilt and fear. The most relaxing thing for me is a day with nothing to do but cook. This lamb dish from the Morito cookbook was made on one of those kind of days, a lazy Sunday with hours to spend in the kitchen. It’s a little bit time consuming, but not tricky to make, and it looks so pretty at the end that you get a fantastic sense of accomplishment. I followed the recipe pretty much to the word, but if I was remaking it, I’d add some tahini to the aubergine to give a bit of extra bite. This dish serves 6-8 as part of a mezze.
- 600g stewing lamb
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or a cinnamon stick)
- 1 onion, halved
- a few sprigs of thyme and some bay leaves
- 3 aubergines
- 3 tablespoons greek yoghurt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 50g butter
- 1 white onion
- 1 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- chilli flakes, to serve
- 2 tablespoons chopped mint
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
- 2 tablespoons toasted pinenuts
- Put the lamb in a large sauce pan with all of the ingredients down to and including the bay leaves.
- Simmer for around 45-50 minutes, skimming the froth off the top as you go (appealing, I know!)
- The meat should be very soft and easy to tear apart with a fork/your hands once cooled (test with a fork before taking off the heat)
- Roast the aubergines in a very hot oven, over a gas flame or over a barbecue until soft (around 45 minutes in an oven at 220C)
- Once they cooled, scrape the flesh from the skin into a bowl, and blend with a stick blender.
- Stir in the yoghurt, oil, lemon juice and garlic.
- Once the lamb is torn into small shreds, heat the butter in a saucepan.
- Cook the onion in the butter with a pinch of salt until soft and sweet, 10-15 minutes.
- Add the spices and cook for a minute, then add in the lamb.
- Fry until bits of the lamb are crisping up, then remove from the heat, and pile on top of the aubergine in a big bowl.
- Top with the pinenuts, mint and pomegranate seeds.