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sweet and savoury

Tis the season…autumn meets winter, the appearance of parsnips to confound French people, it’s that period of in-between-the-Thanksgiving(s) plus the Halloween call for pumpkin head carving that will create a lot of pumpkin gut spilling. What to do with it?

pumpkin pie

Pie! This is a weeks worth of breakfast right there so that alone will make it worth your while.

Pumpkin Pie, nothing revolutionary for some people but I had never made one. No idea what it actually tasted like either.  Minor details. I somehow unintentionally avoided it up to now.  Turns out it’s an acquired taste, a good one, a great breakfast food and it begs to made in savoury form (as most of these pies do). Unsweetened canned pumpkin puree is mostly used for this kind of recipe but canned was not to be found and secretly I didn’t want to go down that road. (The slippery slope of canned goods and all…) Smaller pumpkins or the natural “slices” of the large ones made good candidates for the filling. Carve it up into hunks and roast it for about an hour with a little olive oil until you can put it in the food processor.

A little spice in the filling adds a necessary bit of flavour and the nuts on top give a little toasted crunch to an otherwise rather mushy affair…

Happy Halloween!


- about 3 good chunks of a large pumpkin (the big slices) chopped and slowly roasted until you can puree it and set it aside to cool (maybe do it in advance)
- 3 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 150gr brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

- one pate brisée – make a pastry of short choice and prepare your crust in a wide pie tin
Use half wholemeal flour if you feel like it – this is not a delicate dessert so the crust can take a sturdier flour.
- 1/2 cup finely crushed hazelnuts (the other half you can sprinkle on top)
- 1 tablespoon of maple syrup

Optional (but so important!)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon of freshly grated cloves

- 1 inch of fresh ginger (grated)


You can roast the pumpkin flesh well in advance. An issue may be that the pumpkin puree becomes a little too liquid. The cornstarch will offset that so it’s not a problem. Even if it seems a little “wet” once out of the oven, time in the fridge or time to cool will sort that.

Make the crust in advance, prick the base with a fork and brush the edges with the maple syrup. Instead of baking blind, scatter a layer of the nuts over the base in order to prevent the pumpkin filling from making it soggy. You could experiment here – crushed biscuits, toasted almonds…this will help to create a barrier between the filling and the base. Adds a little something to the taste too. The rest of these crushed nuts or cookies can be your topping.

Once the pumpkin flesh is blended and cooled beat in the eggs, the vanilla extract and the sugar along with any spices you want to add for flavour.  Pour the filling into the base and sprinkle with the rest of the hazelnuts creating a topping.
Bake for about 50 minutes at 190°C.

Serve chilled or a room temp with vanilla ice cream or fresh cream.

Small, red and eaten extensively in China and Japan,  azuki beans are often eaten as a good luck or celebratory dish in Japan being cooked with sticky rice to form the red rice dish sekihan. Boiled with sugar they form the red bean paste commonly used in Chinese and Japanese desserts and are used to make teas, ice cream and soups.


Their use in sweet treats got me thinking about the almond milk in the fridge and how a sweet and salty rice bowl would be pretty good for the red beans waiting on the shelf. The wild rice and quinoa give a great nutty base and absorb the almond milk and coconut to give a fluffy bowl with great texture and flavour. I also had them in mind to replace the black beans in Heidi’s infamous black bean brownies that have taken the food blogs by storm but that’s for the next post.


Like all legumes and beans, they are very good for you, full of minerals such as zinc, magnesium and folate and unlike most dried beans you can get away without soaking overnight before cooking them.  They are also easier to digest then other beans. If you do find the time to soak them in cold water for a few hours, rinse them well before cooking.  They also  retain their shape during cooking which makes them prettier to serve.  This recipe would also work easily with black beans, plain rice or other grains.


1 cup red azuki beans (cooked)
2 cups quinoa
1 cup wild rice
1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic diced
2 tablespoons strong tamari
1 teaspoon butter
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
11/2 tablespoon dessicated coconut
1 cup almond milk (or more depending on how “liquidy” you like it)
1 cup water


The beans will take at least an hour so keep this in mind or have them cooked the day before. To cook them put 1 cup of beans with 2 cups or more of water and bring to the boil. Let simmer at a relatively high heat for about an hour or maybe more until you can easily mash them with a fork.

The rice and quinoa mix will take only about 25 minutes. In a pan melt a little butter and add the chopped onions stirring until translucent. Add the diced garlic and the grated coconut mixing well, lowering the heat to keep it from sticking. Pour in the quinoa and rice stirring so that they absorb the buttery onion mix.  Slowly add a little of the almond milk ensuring the quinoa and rice are coated. Then add the water bringing the rice and quinoa to the boil. Lower the heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed. At this point add more almond milk stirring well. Add one tablespoon of tamari. When all the liquid is absorbed add more almond milk and tamari and take off the heat. Set aside until the beans are ready. When the beans are done, drain them in wold water to rinse off any excess starch or cooking liquid then return them to their pan adding 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. Toss around on the heat then serve over the fluffy  rice and quinoa. Serve immediately.

Retain a little almond milk to pour over as you finish cooking and are about to serve.

Add the beans and drizzle with tamari and a little maple (or agave) syrup.

Take this recipe and remove the cherries…and add whatever you feel like….smoked duck breast, feta, cream cheese, broccoli, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, ricotta, tofu…


It’s still cherry season. Inspired by Syrian food and having eaten devoured my way around the better part of the country last year it seemed the time to attempt a savory cherry sauce…

Despite most Parisian shops displaying evidence to the contrary it is possible to find them for less then 3 euro a kilo. Never having thought much about the potential of cherries, eating my way around Syria on holiday last year changed my mind.  The northern Syrian city of Aleppo boasts a specialty dish that has infiltrated every eating house in the country – lamb, either a kebab or perhaps meatballs, served with a hot, dark, thick cherry sauce that is delicious.

Dinnering in Syria

Spot the cherry sauce?

The countryside surrounding Aleppo is famous for a particular type of black cherry which is smaller and a little sour. They bloom in spring time and the fruit is plentiful. Hence the ubiquitous lamb with cherry sauce dish on every menu…
Sissi House, a relatively upmarket Aleppan restaurant in the old Christian quarter was my first taste of the cherry lamb experience. Al Khawali in Straight Street in Damascus was another. The more innovative and modern Naranj, and for me the best, (albeit upscale for Damascus) restaurant does a less traditional version of the Aleppan cherry kebab as well as an extensive menu of all kinds of Syrian traditional delights given just a touch of a modern makeover.  This restaurant has a retractable ceiling, a touch of Beruiti glamour and truly good food. Reservations essential and never dine before nine!


Saha – A chef’s journey through Lebanon and Syria - the cookbook previously discussed here - has a cherry sauce recipe. I made very much my own version of it the other night and impatiently devoured it cold with cheese the following day. Not exactly the most authentic of first attempts but a decent, versatile sauce nonetheless. Next time it will be duly served hot with spicy lamb. This is a great little compote to serve cold or hot.

Note: Another recipe can be found here on a great blog, recently discovered - Anissa’s – she has a great sophisticated and authentic cherry kebab and sauce recipe here.

cherry sauce.JPG


1 kilo fresh cherries – pitted, not too ripe

250ml chicken or vegetable stock

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon nut oil for frying

1 tablespoon butter

1 half teaspoon cinnamon

Optional – some Greek yogurt or crème fraiche for serving when serving hot

Soak the pitted cherries for about an hour in enough water to cover them. Heat the nut oil with a little butter, add the diced garlic and fry until golden and soft. Add the cherries with their soaking water, the pomegranate molasses, and the white pepper. Simmer on a very low heat with about 250ml water or stock for about 45 minutes. Add half a teaspoon of cinnamon before bringing to the boil until most of the liquid burns off and you’re left with a thick dark sauce. It will be quite reduced. Take off the heat and either serve immediately hot with lamb cutlets or spicy lamb meatballs. Otherwise leave to cool and chill overnight to serve it with cheese.

Paris. The tenth arrondissement – foodies beware….The rue Faubourg Saint Denis holds a few off-beat treasures.  From Julhes with their cheeses, exotic mustards, gourmet deli and never ending wine tastings to the coffee bean man just up the street  (Brulerie Lanni) and his giant roasting machine passing by the Passage Brady and the Kurdish sandwiches, you could spend hours here snacking and discovering.

On a recent wander hunting cardamom pods and other random pantry staples, I picked up some lemon grass powder in the Passage Brady.  A key ingredient of Thai, Malay, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine this pale green grassy  powder has a long history and is potent, lemony, sweet and tart in your nose.

Here’s a basic flour-less chocolate cake with a playful side. Use agave instead of sugar for a more healthful cake and a different kind of sweetness.


The basil plant on the window-sill is inviting, demanding to be added to everything. I figure a solid chocolate cake can be played with, dark chocolate can always take a little flavouring. I recently had sesame chocolate and Darjeeling tea flavoured chocolate. Amazing. Especially the sesame. To be exploited in an upcoming dessert recipe – tea, dark chocolate and sesame…

Flourless chocolate cake with lemongrass and fresh basil


125 gr good quality dark chocolate
100 gr unsalted butter and some for greasing
half teaspoon salt
150 gr sugar – or 1 cup agave syrup
1 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
3 eggs50gr cocoa powder
1 generous  teaspoon of ground lemon grass powder (available in good spice stores or Asian good stores)



Pre heat the oven to 180 c. Line and grease a cake tin. (about 8 inches – not too big or you’ll have a rather flat cake!)

Melt the chocolate and the butter over hot water stirring constantly until smooth. Add the salt and set aside.

Beat the diced basil into the sugar and add this to the chocolate mixture.  Add the eggs one at a time mixing constantly.  Then  fold in the cocoa powder slowly mixing until smooth. Stir in the teaspoon of lemon grass powder at the end.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 20 minutes then turn out onto a rack to cool. Serve warm with a sprig of fresh basil.


Following up on Sunday’s flat bread dough.…use it also to make a healthy pizza. Once you’ve made  your dough and are ready to roll, brush the edges of the rolled out dough with maple syrup or honey or agave syrup should you have some on hand.

Blanch some fresh broccoli in a little boiling water with some fresh coriander leaves and chopped garlic for a few minutes until cooked but crisp. Let it cool.

Sprinkle the dough liberally with chopped tomatoes, feta, the cooled broccoli and some zaatar and black pepper. Bake in a hot oven for about 15-20 minutes. Done.

Stumbling upon this book in a Toronto bookstore was like finding the book you always needed but didn’t know it. Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and other irritating states – A dinner party approach to international relations, by Chris Fair. The author is a political strategist and South Asian expert and so behind a seemingly tongue in cheek project there lies a serious and thought provoking editorial. Each dinner party menu is preceded with a rather scathing commentary on why an irritating state is a rather less then savoury world player before laying out a menu based on their usually much less irritating cuisine.
Fair believes that food and foreign policy are inextricably linked and that a possible solution to international relations lies in a gigantic dinner party.

A great mixture of bed time reading and well planned easy to follow recipes. Should Obama fail to save the world through eloquent speeches and general intelligent politicking – perhaps peace and world order can be restored through dinnering?


I have tried making this Persian dish a couple of times with varying degrees of success. It’s an Iranian staple cooked using duck or veal or lamb as well as chicken. There is a myriad of recipes for this available on the Internet and so it’s hard to know where to look so I always ended up going my own way not quite following the recipes to the letter but still coming up with a rich, fruity sweet and sour concoction. Impatience is my kitchen virtue, what can I say. While they say a blender or food processor is essential before you embark on such a recipe, take heart. I personally tend to leave the food processor where it can’t torment me with it’s bizarre adult proof lid and revert to the good old “place-nuts-in-plastic-bag-and-bash-relentlessly-on-the-floor-until-pulverised” method. This works well, at least until your neighbours object…

Chris Fair includes a recipe for this Iranian chicken, walnut and pomegranate stew Khoresh-e-Fesanjan and it is the best I’ve come across. Detailed and informed and easy to follow.

The following recipe is reproduced here from Chris Fair’s wonderful book as mentioned above. Highly recommend it.

(Depending on how many people – this is for about 8
4 small yellow onion also finely chopped
1 pound walnuts shelled – roasted and cooled
half pound carrots
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses or syrup
5 cups warm water
almost a teaspoon of saffron threads (if you have to, use powder)
2 teaspoons rock salt
4 tablespoons ghee (vegetable oil)
2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons demerera sugar (use white if necessary but a strong brown sugar is nicer)
1 and a half teaspoons cinnamo


Fresh pomegranate seeds and rose petals


Roast the walnuts being careful not to burn them -set aside and let cool. Slice the carrots and the onions finely. Then mix the pomegranate syrup with the warm water mixing well. Deal with the saffron – grind the saffron in a mortar and pestle with a little of the rock salt. Apparently some people use a sugar cube, up to you…

Then in a large skillet or pot heat the ghee or oil and fry the onions until translucent. Do this slowly so they don’t burn or become brown. Then fry the chopped chicken breasts until brown. I add a couple of tablespoons of water here to prevent sticking. Then add the carrots for another few minutes of frying stirring constantly on a low heat.

Pulverising the walnuts - ideally you have a food processor. I have one but the heartache involved every time in opening and closing the thing means I revert always to my trusty method of placing said walnuts in a plastic bag and pounding them for all I’m worth with a large rolling pin. Usually while crouching on the floor. So – whether by violent means or using a food processor you have learned to handle grind the walnuts into a fine powder. At this point either using a blender or a food processor – blend the rest of the salt, cinnamon, sugar and saffron into the pomegranate mixture . Add the fried carrots and blend again until smooth. Add the creamy mixture to the chicken. Then add the ground walnuts.

Cover the pot and simmer for about 40 minutes over a low heat. Walnuts burn easily so keep an eye on it.

At this point add a little sugar or syrup to taste, the colour will start to turn to a reddish brown and you can add water if necessary to prevent it from being too thick.

Serve with white rice and garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds.


There is something about roasted fennel. Usually served raw with oranges, the flavour that emerges from soft slightly crispy, almost see through slow roasted fennel makes for something a little different. Turkey, chicken, crab meat, tofu would also work well.


3 sweet ripe oranges
fresh lettuce leaves
2 bulbs fennel
2 turkey breasts
salt, pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons walnut oil (or olive oil)


DSC_0579The key to this is to make sure the fennel is nicely thinly sliced before roasting, too thick and it doesn’t get that delicious slow cooked translucent caramelized quality.

Adding cinnamon to the oranges when chopped into pieces brings out their flavour. Served alone, this is also a quick and easy Moroccan inspired salad or dessert.

Cook the turkey in a hot skillet with a little oil and a little cinnamon. Set aside. Once the fennel is done remove from the oven and let cool. Once cooled toss the orange, turkey and fennel together drizzle with the rest of the oil and cinnamon and serve on the lettuce. Also works well in a soft tortilla wrap or  cold the next day.


Special at the supermarket on huge north African dates. Add two chicken breasts and a bulb of fennel. Take home and start chopping…

This is easy, sweet and savoury as well as being low in fat. Fennel is a wonderful creature. When roasted it becomes a docile flavour, almost caramel yet still strong enough to stand up to a strong companion such as a spicy chorizo. The dates dissolve in the oven to give a sticky sauce and are picked up by the fresh cumin making a simple dish a surprising contrast of flavours. The whole garlic cloves become soft and liquid in the oven losing their pungency but none of their sweetness. (Obviously a spoon of maple syrup drizzled over the lot just before baking would not be out of place but that could remain optional…..)

Ingredients (serves 2)

6-8 sweet dates (halved and pitted)
2 chicken breasts (chopped into strips)
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds (toasted in a dry pan)
1 inch of fresh ginger root (finely crushed)
2-3 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons of nut oil (or olive oil)
1 large tomato
1 bulb of fennel


Preheat the oven to about 200 degrees

Toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan and set aside
Finely chop the ginger and mix with the nut oil in a small dish or glass. Add the toasted cumin to the mix at this point too.
Chop the chicken into strips. Then deal with the fennel. Remove the outer layers and the leafy stalks as well as the tougher ends and bottom from the bulb. Cut in half and place the cut side down. Then slice finely sideways into strips.
With a knife slice into each date and squeeze out the stone and then cut the dates in half
Cut the tomato into large chunks.

Layer the chicken, the fennel slices evenly along the bottom of an oiled oven proof dish and follow with another layer of the dates and tomato chunks plus the whole cloves of garlic.

Pour the ginger and oil mix over the layers along with a glass of water. Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour. You’ll know it’s ready when the fennel is soft and the chicken cooked through.