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Winner of Channel 4's 'Come Dine With Me' (West London) 'Bronze' winner in professionally judged 'AA Home Cooking Competition 2009' Appointed resident cookery columnist for Foodepedia

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

RECIPE: Italian Arancini

I had a few girlfriends over for dinner last week and I bought some lovely scallops from Moxon's (my all time favourite fishmonger in London) and I bought a dozen plump, juicy scallops and a beast of a 1.5kg Seabass. I made a vegetable risotto using enoki mushrooms, cavolo nero cabbage and fennel... which complimented the seafood perfectly. I stuffed the seabass with fennel discards, lemon, bashed garlic, shallots and some herbs. If only I had taken a picture! But sometimes enjoyment cannot be interrupted by having to take photographs! Sadly despite their only being 4 of us, there wasn't a single scrap of seabass or scallops left but I did find myself left with a rather generous bowl full of risotto which I stuck in the fridge.

Leftovers are such a crime. I myself have always been one of the biggest criminals when it comes to throwing food out because I would buy more than I could use. Oh how times have changed! When I think of how many people in the world are without, I make sure I shop when I need to and I have also devised ways to use up most of the usual foods that get left behind in my fridge. But risotto? Risotto is easy. The Italians have already devised a very clever way to use this up by forming the pretty unsavoury stodgey rice into little balls, filled with either meat ragu or a little square of Mozzarella cheese and frying them. The result? Deliciously golden, crunchy on the outside, round balls of soft tasty rice with an oozy cheese centre. Not to shabby for me, I tell you. But having devoured many of these balls over the years courtesy of Carluccio's restaurants, I was a bit worried my version wouldn't turn out great.... Oh how very wrong I was! They turned out to be so delicious!

I won't lie, I do find dipping things in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs to be all too tedious... BUT when the result is so great and uses up leftovers, its a win-win situation and I'm prepared to go the extra mile! So here is how to make them;

Italian Arancini

**Quantities will depend on how much leftover risotto you have**
Leftover risotto (any kind as long as it's leftover and not fresh)
Japanese Panko or normal breadcrumbs (Panko sold at supermarkets, fishmongers and Oriental shops)
Free range eggs, beaten
Plain flour, seasoned
Mozzarella cheese (not Buffalo for this!) cut into 1 inch cubes

Preheat some oil in a deep pan over a medium-high heat (electric) or medium heat (gas), enough to cover about 3-4 inches of the base. Basically the trick to preparing this is to take a small handful of the cold risotto and gently flatten it out a little in the palm of your hand. Then place a cube of mozzarella cheese in the centre and gathering the edges around the mozzarella, form a nice round ball ensuring there are no cracks. Then roll the ball in seasoned flour, shaking off any excess... then coat in beaten eggs and finally roll generously in panko crumbs and deep fry for about 10 minutes, or until a deep golden brown on all sides.

That's it! That is all there is to it! Next time you have risotto left over and don't fancy reheating it the next day... Why not turn it into these delicious little golden balls of fabulousness? Oh and for the record, I made 9 Arancinis... and they were so tasty, they lasted less then 9 minutes!

Monday, 13 December 2010

RECIPE: Persian-Inspired Winter Wild Rice Salad

I do love a good rice salad... not entirely certain where my love for them comes from. If I'm not wrong, I think it was my Aunt Zahra's house on Boxing Day in the mid-80's and we were served a deliciously crispy roasted goose. I cannot recall all the other side dishes and accoutriment but I do remember a rice salad, studded with raisins in a kind of curried mayonnaisey dressing (similar to that of Coronoation chicken) I'd never had anything like it before and I was quite impressed. To this day, when I make a rice salad (of which there have been MANY) I always visualise that rice salad. Ahhhh, nostalgia is a funny thing.

My Mother has an annual ladies lunch at her work place and the tradition has become that I prepare an enormous salad of some sort and she and the ladies feast on it, along with other contributed dishes. Without boasting, I'm told my salads are always a hit and thank goodness for that as you never want to fall foul of a group of ladies! Especially not when it comes to food or cookery!

The recipe I have just finished making is a Persian-inspired rice salad and it is totally foolproof, therefore I really recommend it as a fab 'alternative' dish for your Christmas or Boxing Day table. Ingredients like Barberries, sour cherries, dill, pistachios and dates are all very Persian... but they are merely a guideline, you can add whatever you like.... Yes even that odd bag of pecan nuts stuffed in the back of your cupboard. Quantities are also vague and not so important; you simply put what you have at home into the salad.... it's that simple.

Persian-Inspired Winter Wild Rice Salad (party size quantity!)

500g of Camargue wild red rice
500g of Wild and long grain rice (mixed, from Sainsburys)
300g of peeled whole pistachios
200g of dried sour cherries
150g of flaked almonds
250g of chopped dates
600g of feta cheese
2 bunches of spring onions, thinly sliced
4 bulbs of fennel, halved and very thinly sliced
Grated zest and juice of 4 unwaxed oranges
2 bunches of dill, finely chopped
200ml of olive oil
125ml red wine vinegar
Maldon sea salt
**optional** 100g of Barberries (Sour Persian red berries, from Persian supermarkets)
**optional** Fresh pomegranate seeds to garnish

Cook your rice according to the instructions on the packet, then drain and wash the rice in cold water to allow the starch to drain away. In a large bowl (or several bowls if you need to) mix all the ingredients together, adding the dried fruits, nuts, spring onions, fennel, dill and mixing well using your hands. Then drizzle the entire amount of olive oil, vinegar, juice and zest of your oranges as well as your salt and incorporate all the dressing evenly, using your hands to ensure every grain of rice gets an even coating. Finally add the dill and mix the ingredients again until even. My best advice is to serve the dish the following day and only at the time of serving should you add the crumbled feta cheese and your optional fresh pomegranate seeds.

It's a simple recipe... But it's a crowd pleaser also. There are lots of different flavours, textures and colours in this dish and nothing overpowering or offensive so it's a win-win situation for all!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

RECIPE: Persian Aubergine and Whey (Kashk-e-Bademjan)

Aubergines are fantastic and the global love for them can be well charted on the spice route from Italy through to Asia, Iran and right through to China. I like them all shapes and sizes, baked, grilled and fried... Spicy, garlicky or herby, I just can't get enough. Whether you call them aubergine or eggplant, these dark and curvy beauties make a great meal.

Fortunately, aubergines have now been cultivated so they are no longer bitter making the 'salting' of aubergines no longer necessary. We Persians have such varied aubergine recipes, but one of my favourites is called 'Kashk-e-Bademjan'. Kashk is simply, whey; which is the remaining liquid after milk has been curdled and strained and 'Bademjan' just means aubergine and this dish is a classic way to start a meal in any Persian restaurant, perfect for starters or even a veggie main course.

Persian Aubergine and Whey (Kashk-e-Bademjan)

4 large aubergines, peel and chop into 1-2 inch squared chunks
3 small onions, diced or thinly sliced into half moons (your choice entirely)
Whey (available from Persian / Middle Eastern supermarkets)
Vegetable oil

In a large preheated pan over a medium-high heat (or medium if using gas) add some oil and slowly caramelise you onions (if they are burning, turn the temperature down) Then add your aubergines to the pan (at this stage you may need to add more oil) and stir the mix well making sure the onions are evenly incorporated. As aubergines act like a sponge for oil, I tend to add a few tablespoons of hot water and cover the pan with a tight lid so the mixture is partially steaming as well as frying, but that's up to you. Add more oil if you wish. Stir the aubergines every 8minutes until they are golden brown. Once the mix is fully cooked and nice and brown, add in your whey Whey is quite salty so I like to drizzle enough to cover the top layer of my aubergines (usually about 4 tablespoons) and then mix it well. Remember you can always add, but you can never take away! Many Persians prefer to serve the aubergine and caramelised onion mix in a flat dish and simply drizzle the whey generously on top so you have a bit of sweet and a bit of salt. Serve it however you like, but for heaven's sake serve it with bread! Preferably Persian naan flatbread, otherwise toasted pittas or Lebanese flat bread are also great!