It’s two weeks into the new year and, with the fridge finally bare of leftovers and the stomach full of one too many treats, the annual pledge to make better choices has finally kicked in. Alas, the extremities of diet and exercise usually fall by the wayside come February. For this reason, I prefer a gentler approach to annual resolutions. A high dosage of vegetables, prepared lovingly and no less decadently than at other times of year, is the prescription – plus a little sweet luxury just to keep me going.
Crispy couscous with pumpkin, tomatoes and cinnamon (pictured above)
The crisp, caramelised layer at the bottom of the pan makes this couscous particularly appealing. The trick to achieving this layer – known as tahdig or socarrat, depending on where you are in the world – is to let the couscous cook undisturbed, resisting the temptation to stir. Serve with a bowl of yoghurt.
Prep 25 min
Cook 1 hr 20 min
½ crown prince pumpkin or butternut squash (750g), skin on, cut into 2cm wedges and halved widthways
3 tsp ground cinnamon
8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
105ml olive oil
Salt and black pepper
2 large onions, peeled, 1 cut into 1cm-thick rounds, the other finely chopped
2½ tsp caster sugar
4 star anise
⅓ tsp chilli flakes
750g plum tomatoes (around 6-7), coarsely grated and skins discarded (600g net weight)
1 tbsp tomato paste
250g giant couscous
250g baby spinach
15g coriander leaves, roughly chopped
Heat the oven to 240C (230C fan)/465F/gas 9. Toss the pumpkin with a teaspoon of cinnamon, a quarter of the garlic, two tablespoons of oil, three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Spread out on an oven tray lined with baking paper, then roast for 30 minutes, until cooked through and nicely browned.
Put the onion rounds on a second lined tray (keep them intact) and drizzle with a teaspoon and a half of oil. Sprinkle with half a teaspoon of sugar and a small pinch of salt and pepper, then roast for 18 minutes, carefully flipping over the rounds halfway, until softened and deeply charred. Keep warm while you get on with everything else.
While the vegetables are roasting, make the sauce. On a medium-high flame, heat three tablespoons of oil in a large saute pan with a lid, then fry the chopped onion and star anise, stirring occasionally, for eight minutes, or until softened and browned. Add the rest of the garlic and the remaining two teaspoons of ground cinnamon, and cook for 30 seconds longer, or until fragrant. Add the chilli, tomatoes, tomato paste, the remaining two teaspoons of sugar, a teaspoon and a half of salt and a good grind of black pepper, and cook for eight minutes, stirring often, until thickened.
Pour in 500ml water, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and rich. Measure out 400ml of the sauce (leave the star anise in the pan), pour this into a small saucepan and keep warm. Meanwhile, tip the couscous into the remaining sauce and stir to combine. Add 375ml water and quarter of a teaspoon of salt, and bring to a boil on a medium-high heat. Cover with a lid, turn down the heat to medium and leave to cook undisturbed for 30 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed and the base and edges of the couscous have crisped up.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan on a medium-high flame. Add the spinach, an eighth of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper, and cook until barely wilted, about two minutes. Stir in the coriander and set aside.
To serve, spoon the couscous on to a serving plate and top with the reserved sauce, pumpkin and spinach, layering it all up as you go, then add the onion rounds. Drizzle over the last teaspoon and a half of oil, and serve warm.
Kohlrabi ‘noodle’ salad
Heat, acidity and the numbing effect of ginger and Sichuan pepper create an intensity here that can flavour an entire meal. Serve this with some fried tofu and a bowl of rice. Kohlrabi is an underused vegetable that I love. If you can’t get any, this will also work with a large radish, such as daikon, or with green papaya. The salad can discolour and go a bit soggy, so it’s best to toss it together just before serving.
Prep 25 min
Cook 35 min
Serves 4 as a side
2 tsp white sesame seeds, toasted
1 tsp black sesame seeds, toasted
1 tsp poppy seeds, toasted
1 tsp dried kombu or nori powder – blitz a sheet in a spice grinder or food processor
1½ tsp aleppo chilli flakes (or ¾ tsp regular chilli flakes)
½ tsp Sichuan peppercorns, finely crushed
1 tbsp roasted and salted peanuts, roughly chopped
Flaked sea salt
3-4 medium kohlrabi, trimmed and peeled (570g net weight)
3 tbsp lime juice
2cm-piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tbsp rice-wine vinegar
6 spring onions, finely chopped
60ml sunflower oil
Put the first seven ingredients in a small bowl with half a teaspoon of flaked sea salt.
Slice the kohlrabi as thinly as possible – use a mandoline, ideally. Stack the slices on top of each other in manageable piles and cut into 2cm-wide strips to resemble very short tagliatelle. Transfer to a bowl with the lime juice and a teaspoon of flaked sea salt, toss and leave to marinate for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the ginger and three-quarters of a teaspoon of flaked sea salt in a mortar and pound to a paste. Transfer to a small bowl with the vinegar and two-thirds of the spring onion. Heat the oil in a small pan on a medium heat until warm, then pour over the ginger and spring onion, and leave to steep for 20 minutes.
Drain the kohlrabi to get rid of the liquid that’s collected at the bottom of the bowl, then toss with the oil and ginger mixture. Transfer to a platter, sprinkle over the mixed seeds and nuts, and finish with the remaining spring onion.
I guarantee you won’t miss the dairy and eggs commonly used in doughnuts. Instead, these are made with olive oil, which makes them rich and velvety. You can use other types of alcohol and fruity juices in the glaze, if you like, but please don’t leave out the sprinkling of salt at the end – it makes these doughnuts so much more special.
Prep 10 min
Prove 1 hr 50 min
Cook 40 min
130ml lukewarm water
1 tsp fast-action dried yeast
1 tbsp caster sugar
¼ tsp salt
215g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
½ tsp grated tangerine zest
½ tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
1 litre sunflower oil, for frying
For the glaze
150g icing sugar
2½ tbsp Grand Marnier
2 tangerines – zest finely grated, to get 1½ tsp, then juiced, to get 2 tbsp
½ tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
Flaked sea salt, to serve
Put the first eight ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook in place. Knead on a medium-high speed for seven minutes, or until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl (it will be quite sticky), then transfer to a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour and a half, until soft, pillowy and doubled in size.
Meanwhile, whisk all the glaze ingredients in a medium bowl, until well combined and smooth.
Lightly flour your hands and a clean work surface, then tip out the dough on to it. Punch down to release the air, then use a sharp knife to cut the dough into eight equal pieces (about 45g each). Clean and dry the work surface, then grease with a little olive oil. With lightly greased hands, shape each piece of dough into a smooth, round ball. Transfer to a tray lined with greaseproof paper, spacing them well apart, then leave to prove again, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until the dough springs back slowly when touched.
Heat the sunflower oil in a medium saucepan on a medium flame until it reaches 180C. Line a tray with plenty of kitchen paper. Once the oil is hot, use your hands very lightly to flatten each round of dough so it’s got two sides but without squeezing out much of the air. In batches of three, carefully lower the doughnuts into the hot oil and fry for two to two and a half minutes on each side, until golden brown and cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked doughnuts to the lined tray and repeat with the remaining balls of dough.
Once you’ve fried all the doughnuts, drop them individually into the bowl of glaze, turning them a few times with a spoon until coated on all sides. Transfer to a wire rack to dry for five minutes, then coat again with a second layer of glaze. Sprinkle with some salt and leave the glaze to set for another 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.