Spring is a tricky time of year for salad lovers. In theory we should all be eating new baby greens and skipping about the place like newborn lambs. In practice, at least in Wellington, we’re as likely to be huddled over the soup pot muttering incantations to the weather gods. The following salad is my answer to this kind of climatic conundrum – it makes use of the things that have now sprung back into season (avocados, parsley, lemons), but it has enough heft to keep you warm on a less-than-optimal day. It also makes a great take-to-work lunch, even if it’s not warm enough to sit outside and eat it.

Pearl barley, lemon and avocado salad

Serves 4-6

Pearl barley is brilliant for salads like this as long as you remember to keep it in balance with the other ingredients – I can happily eat it unadorned but that can be a bit confronting for first-timers. I aim for a 50-50 ratio: 50 per cent barley, 50 per cent other things. Meyer lemons (actually a lemon-mandarin hybrid) are sweeter than ‘real’ lemons and have golden skin and flesh.

1 1/4 cups pearl barley

3 large Meyer lemons, washed

6 spring onions, finely chopped

1 avocado

3 big handfuls fresh mint and flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

4-5 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Put the pearl barley in a sieve and rinse well under the cold tap. Tip the barley into a medium saucepan and add 2 1/2 cups boiling water. Set over medium heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the barley is tender and has absorbed most of the water. Set aside to cool completely.

While you’re waiting, cut one of the lemons into small dice – including the skin, but making sure to discard any pips. Put into a bowl. Add the zest and juice of the other two lemons into the bowl, plus the spring onions. Peel and stone the avocado and dice the flesh into the lemon mixture. When the barley has cooled, add this to the bowl with 4 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Fold together gently, then stir through the chopped herbs. Taste – add more oil if necessary and season well with salt and pepper. Pile onto a dish and serve. Any leftovers should be kept in a tightly covered container in the fridge. The avocado may brown a little but it will still taste good on day two.

When Frenchman Arsene Wenger became the manager of the Arsenal football team in 1996, the players were not amused. Marie Antoinette might have been in favour of cake but Wenger took the opposite view: half-time Mars bars were out, broccoli was in. The proof was in the (lack of) pudding – within two years the team went from being lardy losers to league and FA Cup champions.

I haven’t played football since about 1985, but broccoli is still held in high esteem in my household. We call it healing broccoli and it’s the perfect panacea if you’ve been overdoing it in any way. I can’t promise these recipes will help boost your skills when it comes to the beautiful game, but they’re highly likely to score you points at dinner time.

SPICE-ROASTED BROCCOLI STEAKS WITH TAHINI-YOGHURT DRESSING

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

This should dispel any scary memories of over-boiled broccoli for good. You can skip blanching the broccoli if you like but it makes it much easier to cut it into steaks. If you can’t be bothered (and are ok with broccoli rubble going everywhere), add another 5-10 minutes to the roasting time. The dressing is optional, but addictive.

1 head broccoli, stalk trimmed

2 Tablespoons sesame seeds

2 Tablespoons almonds or walnuts, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspooon smoked paprika

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

For the dressing:

1 small clove garlic, smashed to a paste with ¼ tsp salt

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

3 Tablespoons tahini

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup Greek yoghurt

2-3 Tablespoons water

Heat the oven to 210C and put a baking tray in the oven to heat up.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the broccoli and cook for two minutes, then drain well.

Put the seeds, nuts, salt and spices in a large bowl. Mix well and add most of the oil. Stir through the broccoli until it’s evenly coated with the spice mixture.

Arrange the broccoli on the hot tray, drizzling over the remaining oil and any spice mixture that’s left in the bowl. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, turning half way through. Transfer to a platter, season with freshly ground black pepper and serve with the tahini dressing on the side.

To make the dressing, put the garlic paste, lemon zest and lemon juice in a small bowl. Mix well, then whisk in the tahini, olive oil, yoghurt and water (add a little extra water if it seems very thick). Taste for seasoning, then set aside. This can be made in advance and stored in a covered container in the fridge for a couple of days before using.

ORECCHIETTE WITH TOASTED BREADCRUMBS, BROCCOLI AND OLIVES

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

This is a guaranteed family-friendly no-waste dinner that will both encourage your children to eat their greens and use up that rapidly staling baguette in the bread bin. Work fast and you can have this on the table in under 20 minutes.

1 head broccoli, stalk trimmed

Salt

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cups roughly torn stale bread

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 Tablespoons capers

¼ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped

¾ cup olives

350g dried orecchiette

Finely grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the broccoli and cook for two minutes, then lift out with a pair of tongs and drop into a sieve. Put the lid on the pot and set it aside – you’ll reuse this water to cook the pasta.

Set the broccoli on a board and chop into 1-2cm pieces (including the stalk). Return the pot of water to the heat. When it’s boiling, add a generous spoonful of salt and the pasta. Cook for 10-12 minutes (according to packet directions).

While the pasta is cooking, set a heavy frying pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the breadcrumbs, garlic, capers and sundried tomatoes. Cook for five minutes, stirring often, until the breadcrumbs are golden. Add the olives and broccoli and toss over the heat for another 2-3 minutes.

Drain the pasta and add to the frying pan. Toss everything together, then divide between four bowls. Let diners help themselves to grated Parmesan at the table.

As if we needed another sign that everything that is old is new again (see also, the return of 90s fashion, sexual harrassment, the gender pay gap), learning the ‘secret’ meanings of flowers is apparently in vogue. Yes, just like our Victorian forebears (and generations before them), we are all supposed to be fascinated by the symbolism of floral tributes. This could be for real, or it could be a spurious story cooked up to promote Valentine’s Day flower sales. I’m not convinced either way. That said, I do have to share a floral fact I’ve recently learned: fuchsia flowers and berries are edible. True story.

I’ve long admired fuschias – there was a large, lovely fuschia overhanging the front door at the house I grew up in, and the house I live in now has a dainty miniature bush at the front gate. But it wasn’t until I read this post about foraging by the always-excellent Jane Wrigglesworth that I realised they were edible. While Jane suggests dipping them in tempura batter, I prefer dipping them in something far more refreshing.

Fuchsia fairy cocktails
You can make this with any kind of edible flower, but it’s hard to go past the elegance of a fuchsia. Tiny rosebuds would also be sweet.

The base syrup is useful to have in the fridge and can be used in any kind of drink – use prosecco or sparkling wine, or soda water.

1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup hot water
3 tsp rosewater

Fuchsia flowers
Gin or vodka
Prosecco or sparkling water

Put the sugar and water in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then let bubble away for a couple of minutes until thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Transfer to a glass jar and stir in the rosewater (add more if you like, but it’s best to start with a light hand). Store in the fridge until ready to use.

To make a proper fairy cocktail, put three tiny fuchsia flowers in a champagne glass. Add a tablespoon of syrup and one to two tablespoons gin/vodka. Stir well, then top up with very chilled prosecco, sparkling wine or soda water. Stir gently and serve immediately.

Happy Valentine’s Day x

I’ve just been at my excellent public library, where I was thoroughly depressed by the vast numbers of diet books pushed into prominent positions on the shelves. I don’t want to make life hard for the lovely librarians, but I cheered myself up by swapping some of them for better, more interesting cookbooks by people who genuinely love food and eating. I can’t be the only one who wants to dive into a cronut at the sight of some of those preachy titles, all ‘written’ by strange robots with rictus grins and perfect hair. But I digress. I was in the cookbook section because I was wondering what to make when we have some friends over in the weekend. It’s a bit like going shopping for something to wear because you can’t stand your clothes – sometimes you just need a bit of perspective.

Anyway, I got so cross at all the diet/dreamy lifestyle bollocks books that I forgot about looking for dinner inspiration and so we’re going to have my never-fail feeding a crowd of people of various shapes and sizes option – this easy barbecued, butterflied lamb, with various accompaniments. One of those accompaniments is going to be this lovely radish tzatziki, which I invented a week or so ago. Oh, and we’re going to have lots of wine and a great big pudding!

 

Radish tzatziki

All the gardening books (and no doubt the lifestyle book writers) will tell you that radishes are easy and fast to grow. This is true, unless they are pecked out by birds or you have a drought. My first top tip, as a former lifestyle writer (albeit without perfect teeth and great hair), is to buy a packet from the shops. So quick! So easy! And there’s no sugar! My second top tip is to use the grating attachment on your food processor to shred the radishes. This will save time, energy and your expensive manicure.

1 clove garlic, smashed to a paste with 1/2 tsp salt

1 cup thick, full-fat Greek yoghurt

1 1/2 cups shredded radishes, plus a few more for garnishing purposes

2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint

Put everything in a bowl and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with barbecued lamb and pita breads, or pork chops, or anything you like really. Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to two days.

Happy weekend!

 

If you are lucky enough to live in a hot climate, or at least one where hot summers are guaranteed, you can’t begin to imagine how incredible it is to suddenly be blessed with blazing sunshine and balmy temperatures. After Wellington’s dismal effort last summer (grey skies, rain, wind, occasional flooding), which was so miserable I started seriously considering moving to Auckland or even Hamilton, everything has changed. It’s seriously hot (I’m writing this in a bikini, while eating an ice cream sundae) and I love it all over again. I don’t think I’m the only one. Just before Christmas I bumped into a former Wellingtonian who now lives in Sydney. He was laughing at how relaxed the city and its inhabitants were as a result of the better weather. “Everyone is so happy,” he said, “it’s like we’ve come somewhere completely different!”

There are downsides to this weather – there’s a water ban, so my garden is slowly dying (while my naughty neighbours keep their lawns lush with irrigation systems in a flagrant display of privilege), it’s been too hot to sleep at night and my sourdough making is taking a hit – but I’m not complaining. Instead, I’m off to the beach with a bottle of my icy-cold homemade ginger beer. Here’s how to make it (it will ferment and be ready in super-quick time if you’re similarly blessed with good weather). Happy holidays!

Homemade ginger beer

Makes 1.5 litres

For the syrup:

2/3 cup caster sugar

3cm fresh ginger, finely grated

1 tbsp ground ginger

Finely grated zest and juice of two lemons

1 cup boiling water

For the yeast:

¼ tsp dried yeast

½ tsp sugar

2 tbsp lukewarm water

Make the syrup first by putting the caster sugar, fresh and ground ginger and lemon zest in a bowl. Stir in the boiling water and leave to steep for 10 minutes.

Put the yeast, ½ tsp sugar and warm water in a cup and set aside until it is bubbly.

Set a sieve over a funnel into a clean 1.5 litre plastic soft drink bottle. Pour in the syrup, followed by the lemon juice, pressing down to extract all the syrup from the grated zest and ginger. Fill the bottle with cold tap water until about 5cm from the top. Shake to mix, then add the yeast mixture. Cover tightly with the lid. Leave in a warm place (the kitchen will be warm enough in summer) until the bottle feels hard when you squeeze it. This will take about 24-36 hours. Chill in the fridge before opening.

Once you’ve got the ginger beer made, you can either drink it straight, add it to gin or vodka-based cocktails or use it in this classy shandy…

Ginger panaché

Ginger beer + crisp lager = instantly refreshing pick-me-up. If you’re too cool to be seen drinking a shandy, tell everyone it’s a panaché (that’s what you call a shandy in France).

1 x 375ml bottle lager, very chilled

1 ½ cups (375ml) homemade ginger beer, very chilled

1 lemon, sliced

Ice

Half-fill two tall glasses with ice. Half-fill each one with ginger beer, then top with an equal amount of lager. Stir to mix, garnish with lemon slices and serve immediately. Repeat as necessary with remaining lager and ginger beer. Santé!