I love using pickle brine in dressings as it adds gently spiced acidity and some sweetness. Here, it finds a way into all the frilly, charred leaves of the cabbage, their bitter edges a pleasant contrast. Plump prawns make this feel special, and I’d definitely add some potatoes or buttered brown bread to bulk it out, if in the mood.

Charred Sweetheart Cabbage with Prawns and a Pickle Brine Dressing

1 sweetheart cabbage, quartered
350g raw, shell-on prawns (around 12 prawns)
Generous sprinkle of Urfa chilli
A wedge of lemon

Pickle Brine Dressing

2 tablespoons dill pickle juice from a jar (I used Mrs Elswood)
1 tablespoon strained pickling spices from the jar
½ shallot, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Light a barbecue for direct cooking.

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a clean lidded jar or bowl and shake or whisk to combine.

Rub the cabbage with a little neutral oil and season with salt. Grill over direct heat for 6-8 minutes on each side, or until nicely charred. You can take this quite far, as the inside leaves will stay soft and tender.

Coat the prawns in oil too, then grill for a minute on each side, or until fully pink and cooked through.

Separate the charred cabbage leaves, remove the root and arrange them on a plate. Add the prawns, dressing, Urfa chilli and a big squeeze of lemon juice. Serve.

These wings have it all: smoky meat, crisp skin and a killer dressing of aromatic citrus, sweet-tart tamarind and fragrant lime leaves. Toss together with fresh herbs, chilli and pickles and you will find yourself unable to stop eating them.

Grilled Chicken Wings with a Grapefruit, Tamarind and Lime Leaf Dressing

(serves 2)

600g chicken wings, jointed
Small handful mint leaves
Small handful coriander leaves
1 red chilli, very finely sliced

Tamarind, Grapefruit and Lime Leaf Dressing

100ml pink grapefruit juice (1 pink grapefruit)
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
6 lime leaves, torn
½ teaspoon fish sauce
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
2 teaspoons caster sugar

Quick Pickled Shallots

2 small shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rings
50ml rice vinegar
120ml tap-hot water
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt

 

Light the barbecue for indirect cooking with the coals positioned in the centre (leaving a ring around the outside with no coals).

Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt with the tap-hot water and stir until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Add the shallot rings and set aside.

Place the grapefruit juice, sugar, lime leaves and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook for a few minutes, then remove the lime leaves and garlic and discard them. Set the liquid aside while you cook the wings.

Rub the chicken wings with a little neutral oil and season with salt. Place on the barbecue in a ring around the coals – they should be nice and close to the coals so that they cook slowly but are not over direct heat.

Cook the wings gently for 20-30 minutes, or until crisp all over and cooked through. You can move them closer to the coals as they burn down, and give them a final crisping and charring over direct heat.

While the wings are cooling a little bit, add the fish sauce and tamarind to the grapefruit juice and return to heat to reduce by half – this will only take a couple of minutes on high heat.

Pour the hot dressing over the wings and add the sliced red chilli, herbs and pickled shallots. Toss to combine and serve.

 

Duck and Endive Salad with Pickled Walnut Dressing Recipe

Serves 2

2 duck breasts (weighing around 230g each), skin scored lightly in a criss-cross pattern
250g stale sourdough bread, torn roughly into crouton-sized chunks
The cloves from a half a bulb of garlic, separated but unpeeled
Olive oil
2 pickled walnuts
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 shallot, cut into fine rings
2 red chicory, leaves separated
4 large handfuls watercress

 

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Place the sourdough chunks into a roasting tray and add the garlic, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Mix well and cook for around 25 minutes, turning once, or until golden and crisp.

Place the shallot rings into a bowl of iced water.

Make the dressing by smooshing 3 cloves of the now-roasted garlic with a pinch of salt, the pickled walnuts, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon good red wine vinegar. Shake in a jar to emulsify (or use your preferred method).

Season the skin of the duck breasts and place them in a cold cast iron skillet or other heavy based pan. Turn the heat on low-medium and let them slowly heat up for 5 minutes or so. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for another 5 minutes then turn over and cook for a few minutes more. Cooking time will depend on the exact size and heat but this should give you crisp golden skin and pink flesh. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Mix the salad leaves with some of the dressing and the croutons and arrange on two plates. Arrange the duck slices and some of the shallot rings on top, then drizzle with a little more dressing and sprinkle with crunchy salt. You may feel like adding a further dribble of olive oil – I did.

People get worked up about bánh mi, don’t they? All spittle-mouthed and red around their Pob-like cheeks. A major point of contention is the bread because the bánh mi is a product of French colonial rule in Vietnam, when the baguette was adopted but made lighter, somehow, with a famous, crackly crust and aerated crumb. People argue about how this baguette is made.

Some say lightness comes from the use of rice flour, but many argue this is rubbish because hardly any Vietnamese recipes contain rice flour and those that do never work. Also there’s the question of humidity, with many claiming the bread gets its texture due to high atmospheric humidity (and goodness knows it IS humid there, I have frizzy hair photos to prove it) but really, it’s more likely down to humidity levels in the oven during baking.

I say this as someone who isn’t a baker, so what the hell do I know anyway? I also didn’t eat any bánh mi when I was in Vietnam, because a) I was only there for 24 hours, and b) I was at the wrong end of the country (it’s a Southern thing) and my guide told me the bánh mi in Hanoi are ‘all shit and just for tourists, so don’t bother’.

What I do know about bánh mi, is that they’re a lesson in the perfect sandwich. There’s something crunchy, something soft, something pickled, something creamy or fatty… there’s heat and herbs and it’s all brilliant, providing you don’t expect it to blow your mind, in which case it will definitely blow your mind. In any case, it’s just a freakin’ sandwich. Here are three bánh mi experiences I can remember as I write this:

Best Bánh Mi Experience: Banh Mi Hoi An in Hackney. This place sells some of the best bánh mi in London and trust me, I have put the work in. Get the pork special or whatever it’s actually called. You’ll know when you get there. There isn’t really any seating and it’s cramped (unless it goes downstairs? I can’t remember) so be prepared for a takeaway situation.

Worst Bánh Mi Experience: Somewhere in the Vietnamese bit of Melbourne. Someone told me about this incredible bánh mi I just had to have so I did another ‘mad sandwich dash before the airport’ thing and by sheer brutal bad luck got a taxi driver who was total clown shoes. He got lost three times and chucked me out on a massive freeway after we had a disagreement. Anyway, I found it, ordered it, ate it, and it was shit. Then I couldn’t get a taxi back because it was a weird area and so I had to walk for two miles and got vicious sunburn.

Best ‘Bad but Good’ Bánh Mi Experience: Viet Café, Camberwell. You just know I go back for this all the time and I don’t even care who knows. The bánh mi is objectively Not Good with its pappy, part-baked baguette, overcooked pucks of ‘chicken satay’ and – wait for it – sweet chilli sauce but damn, does it hit the spot. The sweet chilli sauce makes the whole thing work, it’s sweet-hot gloopiness both lubing the dry chicken and bringing its own special brushstroke of filth.

Arguments aside, the bánh mi is quite simple, really, and anyway, if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to make a good sandwich. I made this as backup when a mate came around for lunch and I was recipe testing something else I knew wasn’t going work (but had to be done that way anyway for completeness) and he liked it, so I made it again, but better. This would be fantastic with fresh turmeric which is usually available EVEN IN MORRISSON’S in south London but did they have it this time? Of course they didn’t. Still, that makes the recipe a bit more accessible, I guess. Just use the ingredients you have to hand, guys; that’s what the Vietnamese did.

Turmeric Fish Banh Mi

This makes 3 sandwiches, or I guess one massive baguette which you could portion up. You want to find a light baguette for this, so leave sourdough out of it, because that won’t work at all (if you’re local, I bought these at Ayre’s Bakery in Nunhead). Also, it’s best if you cut the veg into thin sticks by hand – I have used a fancy julienne peeler in the past and it makes the strips too thin so they just flop in the pickling liquid and lose their crunch.

For the pickled vegetables

1 large carrot, cut into thin sticks
1/4 daikon, cut into thin sticks
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Large pinch salt

Dissolve the sugar and salt in the vinegar over heat and pour over the vegetables in a shallow dish. Leave while you make everything else, stirring occasionally.

For the fish

300g firm white fish, cubed (I used haddock). Don’t be an arse – make sure it’s sustainably sourced.
1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated (grating leaves behind the nasty fibrous bits)
3-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed (yup, much more towards the 5 end of the scale myself)
2 tablespoons fish sauce (I used Three Crabs brand)
Zest of 1 lime
2 teaspoons turmeric powder

Mix the ginger, garlic, fish sauce, turmeric and lime zest and smother all over the fish. Leave for 20 minutes or so. Brush off any excess marinade, thread onto skewers then cook under a moderate grill for a few minutes each side (this depends on the size of your chunks, obviously).

For the sandwiches

3 small, soft, white ‘torpedo’ baguettes
1/2 cucumber, deseeded and cut into long strips
1 red chilli, finely sliced
Coriander leaves
Mint leaves
Mayonnaise

Assemble by splitting the baguettes and pulling out some of the crumb (yes, I forgot), spreading with mayo, adding pickled veg, herbs, chilli, cucumber. Add the fish by putting the whole skewer into the sandwich, clutching the bread, then removing the skewer. You may want a squeeze of lime juice, but see how you go.

I first tasted sabich in Tel Aviv a couple of years ago. I’d become so obsessed with the idea of tasting one, in fact, I made a point of seeking out as many as possible, managing just three. That number looks a bit more impressive when you consider that I went on a mad dash around the city in the few hours I should’ve spent packing for the airport, and I was eating sabich right up until I buckled into my seat.
The sandwich starts with a soft, round proper Israeli pita, not those cardboard slippers we get in the supermarkets, which is warmed (not toasted), and split for filling. Inside you’ll find sliced potato, hard-boiled egg, fried aubergine, pickles, salads and sauces, including amba. That’s a sweet and tart sauce consisting of mangoes and spices and it basically makes the sandwich.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to make one, and I think part of it was the fear of cooking from increasingly distant memories. The amba is sweet, sharp and vaguely musty, and the zhoug a lightning bolt of green, all zippy herbs and chilli heat.

I’d love to go back to Tel Aviv one day, a thrilling city with incredible food. These sandwiches are a glimmer of that sun-soaked city on a freezing afternoon in South London, and for now, that’ll do me just fine. For now.

Sabich Recipe

Makes 6 pitas with leftover amba and zhoug (a very good thing)

For the amba

Amba is a sweet and sour mango sauce which probably arrived in Israel with the Iraqi Jews and is a common topping on sabich and falafel. It really makes this sandwich.

2 unripe (green) mangoes (you should have no trouble finding these in the supermarket…), peeled and diced
5 cloves garlic, crushed or grated
1 heaped teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large pinch turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon vegetable or groundnut oil, for frying

In a small saucepan, gently heat the sugar with the lemon juice and vinegar, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the mango pieces along with 200ml water and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the pieces are very soft (you will blend the sauce). In a separate, small frying pan or saucepan, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the garlic and cook very briefly, stirring, for 30 seconds or so. Add the turmeric, cumin, fenugreek and some salt and mix well. Transfer to a blender and whizz until smooth. Set aside to cool.

For the zhoug

Zhoug is a Yemenite chilli sauce which is fantastic with pretty much everything, including grilled meat and fish.

Large bunch of coriander and stalks
Slightly smaller bunch of parsley and stalks
5-10 green chillies (depending on their heat and your tolerance)
8 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
Juice of 1 lemon
2 large pinches of salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a pestle and mortar, crush the cumin and caraway seeds. Add the salt and crush the garlic too. Transfer to a food processer with the herbs, lemon juice and chillies and blend to a paste. Add the oil and blend again. Check for seasoning.

For the sandwiches

1 aubergine
3 potatoes
6 small, round, soft pita
3 eggs
1/2 small white cabbage, finely shredded
1 carrot, grated or cut into very fine strips
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Vegetable or groundnut oil, for frying

First, cook the aubergines by cutting into 1 cm slices, then frying in oil. I used a cast iron skillet for this, with oil to a depth of 1cm. Remove the slices when they are golden on each side and rest on kitchen paper.

Cook the potatoes in salted water. Drain, cool a bit and slice.

Cook the eggs by covering them with cold water. As soon as they start to boil, time them for 5-6 minutes (small-large), then transfer to a bowl of cold water. Peel and cut in half or slice.

Make a salad by mixing the cabbage, carrot, onion, olive oil, vinegar and some salt and pepper.

To assemble the sandwiches

Warm the pittas, but don’t toast them – they should be soft and pliable. Cut the top off and stuff with the ingredients and sauces. Direct into mouth.

Cheese toastie with beef cheek, cauliflower leaves and pickled mustard seeds

Many of us need comfort after the events of the past week or, to be more accurate, the past year. Yes, the cheese toastie is a small thing but its cheering potential should not be underestimated; a shit tonne of melted cheese + nostalgia = a force to be reckoned with. I should, as a sandwich fanatic, own an old Breville toastie maker; I often find myself hankering for the old triangular style made with cheap white bread. Instead, I have a snazzy Heston Blumenthal contraption I was sent as a freebie but which I’ve battered through consistent heavy use. It just about works if you hold in a screw and say ‘melted cheese is the one’ three times fast while thinking about pickled onions.

The build. Piling on half the cheese, beef and pickled mustard seeds.
The build. Piling on half the cheese, beef and pickled mustard seeds.

There was something lovely about the simplicity of old school toasties, with their one, maybe two-item fillings. Cheese; ham and cheese; cheese and onion; cheese and tomato. We all know the dangers of hot tomato as part of the learning curve; many a child went to school with a tomato-shaped blister on their chin. Beans were also high risk. There was egg if you were being fancy (tricky to pull off).

Add blanched cauliflower leaves and more cheese.
Add blanched cauliflower leaves and more cheese.

This style of toastie is still popular in pubs in Ireland, at least in Dublin, where lots will do a ‘toasted special’ – a very basic toastie which I’ve seen cooked in a normal toaster turned on its side while I waited for my pint of Guinness to settle. Cheap white bread, weird canary yellow cheese, too-thick onion. Lovely.

Toasties now are a different thing entirely – a street food trend, people’s livelihoods. We buy them from air stream trucks and restaurants for anything between £5 – £10. They contain multiple varieties of cheese (for the right balance of flavour vs. stringiness) and there are additions, like slow cooked short rib; haggis; onion and herbs; chorizo; macaroni; roast broccoli; pickles; you name it, they toast it.

I rather enjoy the way toasties have evolved, even though it took me a week to make this one. Why? Life. I forgot to buy ingredients, then I didn’t have time to slow cook the meat, then Trump… nope, still can’t deal with it.

Cheese toastie with beef cheek, cauliflower leaves and pickled mustard seeds.
Cheese toastie with beef cheek, cauliflower leaves and pickled mustard seeds.

So this is a thoroughly modern toastie. There is beef cheek which has been cooked slowly in a sauce given depth with red miso. There are cauliflower leaves because right now I’m enjoying them more than the florets, and there is a poky mixture of pickled mustard seeds and onion to offset the cheese. About that: it’s Isle of Mull Cheddar and Marechal. A good combination for flavour + requisite stringiness. It’s a very full-on experience, a world away from the simple toasties of childhood. The thing is, I have a lot more to worry about now. I need a comfort toastie to match.

Cheese Toastie with Beef Cheek, Cauliflower Leaves and Pickled Mustard Seeds

We made the beef stew in a pressure cooker to save time (it had been a week, after all). I use an Instant Pot in case you’re interested. The method as a whole is actually a little ridiculous now I look back over it but hey this is what we did. It tastes fantastic.

For the stock and beef cheek

1 onion, diced
500g beef cheek
2 tablespoons plain flour
2 tablespoons red miso

For the stock

Beef bones (get some from your butcher, they’ll give you enough for stock)
2 onions, roughly chopped into a few pieces
3 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
Parsley stalks

Put the beef bones in a roasting tin and roast for 30 mins at 220C (not fan assisted). Remove from the tray (keep the pan with the drippings) and put in a stockpot, cover with water and add the roughly chopped onions, peppercorns, parsley stalks and bay leaves. Bring to the boil then simmer for a couple of hours, 3 or 4 if you have time, occasionally skimming off the scummy bits that rise to the top. Strain and reduce the stock by half.

Warm the pan with the drippings and stir in the flour, mixing well for 2-3 minutes. Add a good splash of stock to loosen everything, set aside.

Dice the beef cheeks then sear them in a little oil. Set aside. Brown the diced onion until soft and starting to colour, set aside. Add a splash of red wine, scraping up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Add back the meat, gravy (from the roasting tin) and top up with the stock. Cook for 30 minutes then release the pressure quickly. Add the onions and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the meat, reduce the sauce a little, add back meat and the miso. Season.

It’s best if you now leave it overnight. The meat mixture goes thick and jellified and is easier to work with.

For the sandwiches

Slightly stale sourdough
Cauliflower leaves (these are best if you go either high or low end. So, caulis from a farmers’ market or a supermarket basics range will have the most leaves)
Large handful cheddar, small handful Marechal per sandwich
1 tablespoon mustard seeds mixed with 1/2 finely diced onion, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 tablespoons white wine vingegar for 10 mins
Butter

Butter the outside of the bread. Blanche the cauli leaves. Layer up sandwiches with half cheese, beef, cauli leaves, pickles, more cheese. Toast in a sandwich toaster, or you could use a hot pan (weigh the sandwich down with something heavy, fry in butter).