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It’s shopping season, again, and we are in a fix. What do we give our friends? They already have everything they need, and if there is something they want, they can just go and get it. Everyone has particular tastes in books, clothes and fragrance. Everyone has limited space in their home, and no one needs more tat.
One year we were toying with the idea of non-material gifts: our friends could choose between good advice or a haiku, to be delivered to them by text. That wasn’t a success either. My dear friend S was given the advice “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood”, which he found offensive, and the haikus were surprisingly hard to write. It all felt a bit thin on the ground and stingy, so it was back to the high street, much to the relief and delight of many overpriced soap-sellers in Marylebone.
But still, it doesn’t sit right. A gift is a way of saying to someone that they matter to you and, in our age of affluence, nothing from a shop seems to quite do it. So we do what we always do: we cook.
Every year at Christmas we bake batches of heavily spiced date cakes for the people who work with us. It is our way of thanking them for their hard work and dedication, and carries with it our best wishes for the year to come.
For our friends, we make little treats to go with a festive drink at home, which means spending a bit more time in the kitchen than we normally would.
And to the readers of this column, whether you spend the run-up to Christmas shopping, cooking or both, we would like to offer our very best wishes and wholehearted gratitude for making this year so much better.
For recipes: get in touch at email@example.com
Photographs: Tamin Jones
Tarator — almond dip
Traditional tarator is a Turkish dip made with walnuts, bread and garlic. We find it works really well with the subtle flavour and creamy texture of almonds.
A good companion to sticks of raw fresh vegetables and whatever crispbread you like to serve in a party situation, this dip is also great with roast chicken or white fish. The recipe makes enough for a party of 10.
|80g||blanched whole almonds|
|180g||sourdough bread (crusts removed — it can be slightly stale)|
|1||clove of garlic|
|150g||thick Greek yoghurt|
- Place the almonds, bread, garlic clove and salt in a food processor and blitz to a rough crumb consistency, then add the egg yolks and lemon juice. While the machine is working, slowly drizzle in the oil in a steady stream (it’s like making a mayonnaise) until it is all incorporated and thick, then remove from the processor to a bowl. Fold in the yoghurt and taste to season. You may need to add a little salt and water to loosen the texture.
- Serve with vegetable sticks, crisped flatbreads or anything you enjoy using as a scoop.
Spiced butternut squash phylas
These started life on our breakfast menu in the restaurant and proved so popular that we thought it a shame to stop serving them by noon. We now make a smaller version for canapés and they go down a storm. (When you make them, be sure to stash away a few for your breakfast the next day.) They freeze well before baking, so they’re an easy-to-prepare-in-advance kind of canapé. Makes 20.
|For the pastry|
|1 pack||filo pastry|
|For the filling|
|4 tbs||olive oil|
|1||small dry chilli (or a pinch of chilli flakes)|
|2||long shallots or 1 small red onion, chopped (100g net)|
|1||butternut squash (about 600g-700g before prepping), peeled and grated (500g net)|
|1 tsp||ground cumin|
|1 tsp||ground coriander|
|6||sage leaves, chopped finely|
- To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the cinnamon stick and chilli, followed by the chopped shallots. Fry on a medium heat for about a minute before adding the grated butternut squash with a pinch of salt. Mix around the pan and cook until the butternut softens — this will take approximately 5-6 minutes on a medium heat.
- Next, add the ground cumin and coriander. Mix well and fry for 30 seconds before removing from the heat. Add the honey and chopped sage and mix well. Allow to cool before adding the crumbled feta and removing the cinnamon stick and the dry whole chilli.
- Preheat your oven to 200C and line a baking sheet with baking paper.
- Place a sheet of filo pastry on your workbench, brush with melted butter and then cover with another sheet. Repeat this process until you have 4 double-layered sheets.
- Cut each one of these sheets into 5 even-sized strips. Divide the pumpkin mixture between them and spread it along the bottom length of each strip. Roll the filo pastry to create a snake that you can then spiral into a little snail shape. Place this on a baking tray. Brush the remaining butter on the top and bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes or until it is golden all over. You can keep these little snails in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before they are needed, if you prefer to bake them fresh later.
Chicken kofta with honey and lemon glaze
Like a puppy, this recipe is not just for Christmas: these canapés pack quite a flavour punch but are not overpowering, so you can make bigger ones, tasty enough for your weekend dinner party and easy to prepare midweek. Makes 30 small kofta.
|For the chicken kofta|
|5||spring onions, finely chopped|
|1||large bunch coriander, about 40g, finely chopped|
|1kg||chicken thigh mince|
|2||lemons, zest of|
|1||green chilli, finely chopped|
|1 tsp||smoked paprika|
|1 tsp||sweet paprika|
|To cook and glaze|
|Vegetable oil for shallow frying|
|Juice of 2 lemons|
- Mix all the ingredients for the chicken kofta together until they create an even mass. Use a small amount of water to help you form little balls of about 30g-40g each (about the size of a walnut). Put in the fridge to chill.
- Heat a large frying pan with vegetable oil 2cm deep. Place the balls carefully in the oil and fry on one side for about 3 minutes before flipping and frying on the other side for another 3 minutes. Once they are all beautifully golden, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate or tray lined with kitchen paper to absorb excess oil. Discard the frying oil and wipe the frying pan down (or use a fresh one if you prefer).
- Return the balls to the frying pan and drizzle with the lemon juice and honey. Set on the heat and swirl the pan around, coating each one before skewering and serving.
- You can, if you wish, prepare the first stage in advance and then simply heat the balls just before serving: place in an oven set to 200C for 5 minutes. Then add the glaze, shaking to coat.
Prawns cured in saffron and clementine
Nothing beats a good prawn cocktail — in fact, we are quite partial even to mediocre ones. This is a great alternative; the pink prawns, bright saffron and golden clementines make for a really eye-catching plate that will not disappoint on flavour. And if you care for it, the addition of extra red-hot chilli flakes will take everything up a notch.
Allow at least two prawns per person.
|20||whole, large, uncooked prawns (or, if you prefer, use pre-cooked)|
|To poach the prawns|
|1 tbs||(heaped) sugar|
|1 tbs||(heaped) salt|
|For the marinade|
|2 tbs||olive oil|
|1||green chilli, thinly sliced|
|1 tbs||coriander seeds|
|3||clementines, peeled and broken into segments|
|Pinch of saffron|
|3 tbs||white wine vinegar (or you can use rice wine vinegar)|
|1 tbs||(heaped) sugar|
- To poach the prawns, bring the water to the boil, add the sugar, salt and the clementine halves. Place half the prawns in the boiling water and poach for 3 minutes, then remove to a bowl of iced water and repeat with the second amount (don’t be tempted to poach all at once as the water temperature will drop too much). Allow the prawns to cool in the iced water for 6-8 minutes; strain, remove the heads and peel the shells. Set in a large bowl.
- Heat the oil with the sliced chilli, bay leaves and coriander seeds in a small frying pan until the seeds start jumping around a little and there is a lovely aroma of spice. Now add the clementine segments, followed by the saffron, vinegar, sugar and salt and toss together; pour over the prawns and allow to infuse until you are ready to serve. They should be kept in the fridge and will keep well for 2-3 days.
Pistachio, cranberry and rose marzipan
Christmas is a time for indulgence, and using pistachio nuts to make marzipan is truly a luxury, not only because their price has rocketed over the past few years but also because it is so damn tasty. Our recipe makes about 20 pieces.
|For the marzipan|
|160g||ground pistachios (use a food processor or spice grinder)|
|1||lemon, zest of|
|50g||dried cranberries, roughly chopped|
|Splash of lemon juice|
|To garnish (optional)|
|40g||roughly chopped pistachios|
|Handful of dried rose petals|
- Mix the marzipan ingredients together, using as much lemon juice as is needed to make a dough. Work together by hand to help the oils come out of the nuts.
- Tear off pieces of about 15g and roll them into balls. You can then roll these in chopped pistachio or rose petals or both, or shape them any way you prefer. Keep covered until serving.