Kitchen Notes: Building flavour and a warm salad


I think of flavours in terms of tones, going from earthy and sweet to sour and light, and various grades in between. And I like my food to have a range of tones of flavours, be multidimensional. I know it may seem strange to talk of food in such terms, but somehow it makes sense. A garnish of certain fresh herbs on a meaty stew or curry.  A squeeze of lemon or lime or a drizzle of brightly-flavoured extra virgin oil on pasta or salad lift that dish to more interesting heights. I also often use fresh chillies to give that uplift. I mix raw and cooked, grains and brightly flavoured vegetables, add the afore mentioned flourishes in order to achieve these tastes. They rock my boat, they just do it for me.


In and Out of Blogging

Vine leaves

Sapanca walnuts

In an Istanbul traffic jam, half a fig passes hands. Plump and purple, glistening in the afternoon sun. A smile radiates a man’s face. His pleasure warms my heart.

The fig was a gift from a generous vendor at a wonderful weekly market in Sapanca in Turkey where we’d just finished a week’s workshop on food and photography. The man was a fellow participant at the workshop. I’ve taken a lot from the trip, and not just in the kilos of pepper flakes and helva in my suitcase! More about the helva as well as about what I’ve learnt will come in another post. For I am back to blogging.


Sri Lankan-style chickpeas for Lisa

I’ve created this dish especially for a blogging event run by a one of my favourite bloggers, Lisa from Lisa’s Kitchen. The event is No Croutons Required, and the this month’s topic is chickpeas. I really wanted to take part, partly because I haven’t in ages, and partly because I really love chickpeas myself. After a bit of thought, I decided to adapt one of my favourite veggie Sri Lankan recipe, varar, adding caramelised shallots, coriander and lemon juice. The result is a gorgeous warm salad of chickpeas flavoured with caramelised shallots, curry leaves, coconut and lemon juice that goes great with many Indian and Sri Lankan dishes, and it’s also delicious on its own as a snack. I love it. I hope Lisa will like it, too.

A note on chickpeas. I really notice a difference in flavour between tinned and dried chickpeas, and for me, this is one instance when it’s worth taking the time to soak and cook the chickpeas. They’re so much nicer like that! I can even eat them as popcorns after they’ve just been cooked – they really are delicious. But if you really really can’t be bothered, then next time you’re in your favourite Asian supermarket, pick up a tin of East End brand of chickpeas. They’re the tastiest ones I’ve found. Still, for hummus and falafel, I’d soak and cook my own chickpeas.


Sri-Lankan-style chickpeas



Sri-Lankan-style chickpeas salad



SOURCE:  Inspired by Jasmine’s varar

PREPARATION TIME: 2 min, if the chickpeas are ready

COOKING TIME: 5 – 10 min, again, if you’re not soaking your own chickpeas

CUISINE: Sri Lankan

SERVES: 1 as a salad, 2 as a small side dish




a little vegetable oil

2 medium shallots, halved and then sliced thinly

1 green finger chilli 

a small handful of (preferably fresh) curry leaves

a little salt

1 tsp tempering spices (a mixture of brown/black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds – see Sri Lankan spices for recipe)

a pinch of turmeric

1 cup of chickpeas (cooked, or tinned)

a handful of desiccated  coconut

fresh lime juice to taste

1 heaped tsp chopped coriander leaves



  • Heat the oil in a wok (or frying pan) and add the shallots and the chili. When the shallots start going brown, throw in the curry leaves and a little salt. Stir and cook until the shallots are completely caramelised. Then, remove half of the mixture and set aside. (This will be sprinkled on top when the dish is done).
  • Return the pan to the heat, and add the tempering spices and turmeric. Stir.
  • Add the chickpeas to the pan, and a couple of tbs of water (or chickpeas soaking water), and warm the chickpeas through. Then in goes the coconut and a pinch of salt. Stir it and cook for 30 s, again until it’s warmed through.
  • Just before serving, add lemon or lime juice, chopped coriander and some more salt if needed. Sprinkle with the remaining shallots and serve. Enjoy!




More Sri Lankan food at Maninas:


The aroma of curry leaves: Sri Lankan cooking (Introduction)

Sri Lankan spices (including recipes for Sri Lankan garam masala, curry powder and more!)

Varar – Sri Lankan cabbage and leek with coconut (V)

Sri Lankan coconut dhal (V)

Sri Lankan Pineapple Curry (V)

Sri Lankan Fish Curry (Meen Kulambu)

Sri Lankan Fish Cutlets



And more chickpeas recipes:

My version of Catalan chick peas with tomatoes and almonds (V) – This is a must-try, with its delicious flavours of saffron, garlic, tomatoes, almonds and coriander!

My Moroccan-inspired chickpeas  (V)

Chana Masala (V) for RCI Punjab

Chana masala from scratch (V) – No shop bought spice mixes!





I’m also submitting this post to to MLLA-21 hosted by Mirch Masala, and started by Susan, The Well Seasoned Cook.

Persian feasts in my kitchen: The first courses

After the introduction to some fantastic Persian blogs, we’re continuing with our Persian journey. I now got our favourite Persian book from A., A Taste of Persia, lovingly called Batbook, which is the book we used most for our feast, so tonight, I’ll tell you about the dishes in more details.

Just to remind you, here’s the lovely Batbook:


A Taste of Persia: An Introduction to Persian Cuisine

A taste of Persia – by Najmieh Batmanglij

Right, and here’s the summary of the menu:



Yoghurt & Cucumber Salad (V)

Feat & walnut salad with herbs (V)

Stuffed peppers, aubergines and tomatoes (in a tangy tomato sauce )(V)

Fresh Herb Kuku – Iranian baked omelette (V)

Lamb fillet kebabs



Saffron Rice (V)

Rice-stuffed chicken

Potato and lamb koresh with orange feel(Iranian stew)

Duck in walnut and pomegranate sauce



Iranian almond and rosewater baklava served with vanilla ice-cream



And now the delicious details:



Yoghurt & Cucumber Salad (V)

Mast-o khiar, Batbook pg. 26

IranianFeast06.09 077

Yoghurt & Cucumber Salad – Photo by Samantha Twigg Johnson

The recipes for this salad, which can easily be turned into a soup, is availably on Batmanglij’s website, Najmieh’s Kitchen. Yoghurt is combined with cucumber, mint, spring onions, dill, oregano, thyme, tarragon, garlic and raisins for a refreshingly cooling summery salad. Garnished with radish, walnuts, herbs and rose petals, it is a beauty to behold.



Feat & walnut salad with herbs (V)

This isn’t an Iranian recipe, but my creation based on an Iranian cheese and walnut spread from Batbook (pg. 33). We didn’t have the time to puree it in the blender, plus I improvised a bit with the ingredients, but ths spirit is there: cheese, walnuts, herbs. And it’s fantastic! I love the combination of the salty feta and walnuts! I works really really well. Especially with the fresh herb kuku. I’ll post the recipe soon.



Stuffed peppers, aubergines and tomatoes (in a tangy tomato sauce) (V)

Dolmeh-ye felfel sabz-o badjeman-o gojeh farangi, Batbook pg. 36

We adapted this recipe to make it veggie friendly by omitting the meat completely, and increasing the quantities of rice and yellow split peas (or chana dhal in our case). These were mixed with herbs and advieh and then used to stuff the veg. The tangy tomato sauce has sugar, cinnamon, lime juice and saffron on it.



Fresh Herb Kuku – Iranian baked omelette (V)

Kuku-ye sabzi, Batbook pg. 49

IranianFeast06.09 035

IranianFeast06.09 031

Fresh Herb Kuku – Photos by Samantha Twigg Johnson

I was quite impressed by kuku, the wonderful Iranian omelette. This version is baked in the oven, and based on fresh herbs: parsley, coriander, spring onions (including the green bits), fresh fenugreek (methi). The original recipe calls for dill and chives, but we didn’t have any, so I substituted what we had. The herby egg mixture is seasoned with advieh, Iranian spice mixture, and given a slightly tart edge with the addition of barberries, sour little berries characteristic of Iranian cooking. We also threw in a small handful of walnuts for a bit of crunch, and it was delicious. Really good with the yoghurt salad, and the feta and walnut salad. Batmanglij’s recipe (without the walnuts) is available on

Lamb fillet kebabs

Kabab-e barg, Batmanglij pg. 76

If you have a chance, have a look at the picture of kebabs on pg. 76 in Batmanglij’s book. Ours looked nothing like it. I think we have a long way to go in perfecting our kebab skills. Oh well, at least we had fun. Have you ever tried juicing an onion? No? Oh you must. Actually you mustn’t. Still hilarious though!


Let me tell you about mains next….




Here are the other posts from my Persian series:


Persian feast in my kitchen: Intro

Persian feast in my kitchen: the mains

Persian baklava: the sweet end to our feast


And check out:

Persian food blogs




Digg This

Warm Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Goats’ Cheese

I am submitting this delicious Warm Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Goats’ Cheese for the next Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Anna from Anna’s Cool Finds. This delicious salad is flavoured with thyme and bay leaf.  Both of these herbs are common in Croatian cooking.

Thyme grows wild in the small pine wood behind my house in Dalmatia. It is tiny, and has small pretty, purple flowers that have an amazing fragrance. That’s how I think of thyme. It’s called majcina dusica (pronounced ‘maytchina dushitsa’ in English), and it means  ‘mother’s little soul’, but it could be loosely (very loosely) translated as ‘mother’s little honey’. I’m not sure about the etymology of the name, and I couldn’t find anything about it one the Internet. The leaves are used in cooking, or for making tea. (I also know a wicked joke linked to majcina dusica, but I better give it a miss here! Anyhow, it doesn’t work very well in English.)  

This lovely salad can be served at buffets and parties, and it also makes a great lunch. IT can be made vegan by omitting the goats cheese. We had it for dinner with some crusty bread, and it was fantastic! Check the verdict section for more info on what we thought about it. The recipe is below!


Warm Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Goats’ Cheese


SOURCE: Delia Smith’s Winter Collection


COOKING TIME: 20 – 30 min



8 oz (225 g) Puy lentils (green or brown variety will work just as well)
1½ oz (40 g) walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 heaped teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the dressing:

2 crottin goats’ cheese or 4 oz (110 g) of any other firm goats’ cheese
1 fat clove garlic, peeled
1 level teaspoon sea salt
1 rounded teaspoon powdered mustard
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons walnut oil
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 oz (30 g) rocket leaves
freshly milled black pepper


First you need to cook the lentils. To do this, heat the oil in a medium saucepan and when it’s hot, lightly fry the chopped walnuts for about 1 minute. Then remove them with a draining spoon to a plate and keep them aside for later.

Now to the oil left in the pan, add the onion and crushed garlic and let these cook and soften for about 5 minutes. After that, stir in the lentils, bay leaf and thyme and make sure they all get a good coating with oil. Next add 10 fl oz (275 ml) of boiling water, but don’t add any salt – just put a lid on, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and let the lentils cook for 30-40 minutes or until they’re tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. You really need to bite one to test if they’re done.

While the lentils are cooking you can prepare the dressing. Use a pestle and mortar and crush the garlic with the salt until it’s creamy, then add the mustard and work that into the garlic paste. After that, whisk in the balsamic vinegar, followed by the oils. Then season well with freshly milled black pepper.

As soon as the lentils are cooked, add salt to taste. Empty them into a warm serving bowl and while they’re still hot, pour the dressing over. Give everything a good toss and stir, then crumble the goats’ cheese all over and add the rocket leaves, torn in half. Give everything one more toss and stir, and serve straight away with the walnuts scattered over.



Delicious combination of different structures and flavours! Crunchy walnuts and salad leaves created a great contrast with creamy goats’ cheese and lentils. I loved the slightly sour notes of the balsamic vinegar combined with lentils, cheese and aromatic thyme and bay leaf. We will definitely have it again!

While the lentils were cooking, they were oozing delicious aromas. I tasted them, and they were gorgeous! We could have stopped cooking there and then, and had the lentils cooked with onion and herb only! I suggest you do the same!

We enjoyed the dressing, too, and we might use it again with different salads.

All in all, thumbs up for good old Delia! 🙂


We didn’t add rocket to the salad, but served the lentils on a bed of salad. Also, we used green lentils instead of Puy lentils, and soft goats’ cheese instead of hard goats’ cheese (hence the photos). This added extra creaminess to the structure, and the flavour of cheese permeated the whole salad. The result was very very rich in flavour. Next time we will try and use hard goats’ cheese, as suggested by Delia, to add more variety of flavour into different bites of the dish!

What I would do differently next time

This is only a tentative suggestion. I thought the walnuts were a little oily and turned out soft, and am thinking of either dry-roasting them next time, or not roasting them at all, to add more crunch to the texture. I will try frying them for less time, too. I think I might have done more than a minute this time.


Random update:  have just realised this is my 50th post! 🙂


Other lentil and goats’ cheese recipes in the blogosphere:

Donna Hay’s Lentil and goats’ cheese tarts at Other people’s food

Bulgur and Lentil Salad with Tarragon, Almonds, and Goat Cheese at Savoury and Sweet

Spinach Salad with Lentils and Crisp Warm Goat Cheese at Serious Eats

Lentil Salad with Mint and Goat Cheese at Better Bites


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