Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know I was in Belize in Central America a couple of weeks ago. I can’t write much about that trip now because it will all be published in a magazine later this year but I came back feeling very inspired by the food, and I wanted to create something which incorporated Caribbean ingredients. Longtime followers will know that the food of the Caribbean has always attracted me and I learnt lots in Belize, where the cuisine combines many culinary influences.

I’ve used achiote in this soup – an earthy flavouring made from ground annatto seeds, also popular as a colouring agent. I was already familiar with it as an ingredient in Mexican pork pibil recipes but using it to flavour soups and stews was new to me. I added it to a base of homemade fish stock with pierced scotch bonnet chilli and some cassava – a total revelation. To be honest, I’d always dismissed cassava as a boring starchy root but it has a really interesting nutty flavour and the texture of a very waxy potato.

I used cod cheeks because they’re really good value and hold their bouncy texture well in soup, and splashed out on some massive, meaty prawns. On the side, I made fry jacks, which are deep-fried dough dumplings served with pretty much anything in Belize – eggs, refried beans and cheese are all popular toppings. I’ve added wild garlic to mine, which brings me just about to the end of the bin bag of wild garlic I’ve been working through for the past week.

This is a stunner of a recipe (even if I do say so myself) with deep flavour from the fish stock but a lightness, too. The corn brings pops of sweetness and the scotch bonnet a background buzz of tropical heat. The jacks were a perfect accompaniment while still warm – crisp on the outside, fluffy and garlicky inside and ready to soak up that soup. Heaven.

Belizean Inspired Fish Soup with Wild Garlic Fry Jacks Recipe

Serves 4

For the fish stock

1kg fish heads and scraps
1.5 litres water
Small bunch parsley stalks
1 sprig thyme
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
Large knob of butter

For the soup

600g cod cheeks
8 raw, shell-on king prawns (you could shell these if you want to make the eating easier but I like to get messy and suck the heads once cooked)
2 scotch bonnet chillies, pierced and left whole
300g cassava, peeled, woody core removed and diced
1 teaspoon achiote powder
Handful wild garlic leaves washed and sliced
2 corn cobs, kernels sliced off (or you could use a tin)
Handful coriander

For the fry jacks

250g plain flour
30g butter
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
50g wild garlic leaves washed and finely chopped
Oil for deep frying

First, make the fish stock. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onion for a few minutes. Add the fish heads and scraps and fry a few minutes longer. Add the water, herbs and a pinch of salt and bring to the boil, skimming off the scum. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, then strain. This is the base of your soup.

Make the dough for your fry jacks by mixing the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix with your fingers until it resembles crumbs. Add the wild garlic and milk and mix to a dough. Knead 30 seconds until smooth, then separate into 8 balls.

Add the stock to a large saucepan. Mix a tablespoon or so of the stock with the achiote powder until you have a red paste. Add this back to the soup with the cassava chunks and allow to simmer while you make your fry jacks.

Heat a couple of inches of oil to 180C in a heavy cast iron skillet or another suitable pan. Roll each ball out into a circle on a lightly floured surface and cut each circle in half. Make a slit in the centre of each (see photo to see what I mean). Deep fry each piece for a couple of minutes, then carefully flip over. They’re ready when puffed and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.

Once the jacks are done, finish the soup by dropping in the corn, wild garlic, cod cheeks and prawns and cooking gently for 4-5 minutes. Season. Finish with the coriander and serve with the jacks.

I want to quickly share a recipe D cooked which made another dent in our bulging bin bag of wild garlic – a boned shoulder of lamb stuffed with the neverending leaves, crushed seaweed, lemon zest and pine nuts.

I’ve become more interested in cooking with seaweed since I wrote an article for Great British Food magazine about it recently. It adds a lovely umami seasoning to lamb in particular and this recipe is a stunner – soft roast meat with a powerful filling which works well with potatoes, flatbreads or a grain like bulgur wheat on the side.

Shoulder of Lamb Stuffed with Wild Garlic, Seaweed and Pine Nuts Recipe

1.8kg shoulder of lamb (or thereabouts) – this is the weight with bone-in. Ask your butcher to bone it so it will lay flat on a surface and be rolled up again once stuffed.

For the stuffing 

20g dried seaweed (we used wakame stems)
100g pine nuts
1 tablespoon sea salt flakes
1 tablespoon Urfa chilli flakes
Zest of 1 lemon
200g wild garlic washed and checked thoroughly for critters
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Pulse all the stuffing ingredients together in a blender until you have a rough paste.

Place the lamb skin side down and smear the filling liberally across the meat. Roll it and tie it up with string, for roasting. There are proper methods for tieing it but we just made it work.

Put the lamb into a roasting tray, rub the skin with a bit of olive oil then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Roast for one and a half hours or until it reaches an internal temperature of around 60C. If you want to crisp the skin further, finish under a hot grill for around 3-4 minutes (watching carefully).

We went foraging for wild garlic in London last weekend, stuffing two big bags with pungent green sprays. After sifting through for buds (now pickled), we found ourselves left with an entire binbag-full. It triggered flashbacks to the time we ended up with 34kg of spring onions.

So it’s wild garlic in everything. I’ve put it into my easy everyday flatbread recipe, smearing them with extra wild garlic butter while still warm from the skillet. D has made batches of wild garlic kimchi and wild garlic pesto, and we had wild garlic buttered soldiers with our eggs this morning (recommend). Yesterday I made the wild garlic and cheese börek recipe below, and I’m still staring down a half-full bag.

Here are the recipes for the wild garlic flatbreads and the börek – enjoy! You, too, could stink of garlic 24/7. Oh, and before you ask: I got the stuff in Mile End, not Camberwell. Sorry! I believe Dulwich Woods is full of it, though.

Wild Garlic Flatbread Recipe

Makes 8-12 depending on how large you want them.

500g strong white flour plus a little extra for dusting and mixing
2 teaspoons salt
30ml olive oil
300ml warm water
1 packet of instant yeast
150g wild garlic leaves, washed and chopped
Extra wild garlic chopped and mashed into butter is recommended for serving!

Mix everything together in a bowl and give it a knead on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes, until smooth and springy. You may need to add a little more than 500g flour (just a dusting), as the wild garlic adds moisture but just mix it together and see how you go. You want a nice, smooth, springy dough.

Leave the dough in a warm place for an hour or so until it has roughly doubled in size.

Knock back the dough and divide into 8 balls for larger breads or 12 for small.

Roll the dough balls flat and cook for 2-3 minutes in a properly hot, dry pan (I use a cast iron griddle) until a little charred on each side. They will start to puff up when ready. Keep them warm inside a clean tea towel while you cook the rest.

Wild Garlic and Cheese Börek Recipe

150g wild garlic leaves washed and chopped (don’t worry about them being *too* finely chopped as they will wilt and it’s nice to have some slightly larger bits I think)
200g white Turkish cheese (I bought ‘beyaz peynir’ which literally means ‘white cheese’ in the Turkish Food Centre but you could use feta if you don’t have a similar shop nearby)
1 packet yufka pastry (again I buy this in the Turkish Food Centre – you could use filo if you like but it will be a much crisper result as filo is thicker)
Around 100g butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
A sprinkle of za’atar and chilli to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Mix the chopped wild garlic leaves well with the crumbled white cheese.

Have your melted butter ready, then lay out a double sheet of yufka on a work surface. Brush all over with butter. Lay another two sheets overlapping the edge on the right-hand side of the first sheets. Brush with butter. Repeat this four or 5 times (depends how much surface space you have, to be honest.

On the bottom edge of the sheets, make a long strip of the wild garlic and cheese mixture, as if you are making the largest spicy cigarette of your life. Carefully roll it up into a long sausage, brushing the edge at the top with a final layer of butter before sealing. Curl it around into a snail shape, then add to a cake tin, brushing again with butter (bit of a theme, the butter thing). Finally, give it a quick wash with the egg – this makes it nice and golden.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown. It tastes best when still slightly warm from the oven.

It’s that time of year again folks: people are going bonkers for wild garlic. Us Londoners are making fools of ourselves scouring the tiniest patches of woodland, picking through sodden newspapers and train tickets, or having fivers wrestled out of our hands at farmers’ markets. Those of you in the sticks are laughing your jolly, garlic-scented heads off while tapping out pitying tweets about having a patch the size of a rugby pitch at the bottom of the garden. What is ‘garden’?

I’ve often wondered why wild garlic is so appealing. It’s not like we can’t get the same flavour – more or less – from standard issue, widely available garlic bulbs. I think it’s the colour, the greenness, the signal that this, finally, is spring. This year more than ever we need to grab fistfuls of pungent leaves and blend them into soups and pesto. We need to feel healthy and refreshed while still being comforted by that deeply satisfying flavour. That familiar allium honk.

Wild garlic comes before asparagus, broad beans and peas and it’s like a viridescent balm for chapped lips, windburned cheeks and pale skin. Plus, putting wild garlic in something instantly makes it more impressive, amirite? Take boring old soda bread – the least challenging of any loaf and so straightforward a child can make it (I imagine) – lob a load of leaves in there and now you have New Bread, Exciting Bread. It’s warm from the oven, ready to daub with butter and eat like no one is watching. Maybe no one is watching in which case, let yourself go. Several slices must be consumed before considering other ingredients. Once you get to that point, this is perfect with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. I really recommend adding the dill, too, if you’re into it.

Wild Garlic Soda Bread Recipe

As a little side note, a mate said to me, ‘I think soda bread always tastes slightly fishy’ and I agree. Is this the bicarb? Who knows. It’s not unpleasant but it is definitely there. All the better for topping with smoked salmon, eh. 

300g strong white bread flour
200g whole grain (seed and grain) flour
400g whole live yoghurt
Large pinch salt
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
A large handful of wild garlic leaves washed and roughly chopped

Preheat your oven to 180C

Mix all the ingredients together until they form a shaggy dough. Knead for about 30 seconds, then form into a round shape on a baking tray. Cut a cross in the centre about 2/3rds of the way deep.

Place in the oven for 40-45 minutes – when it’s done it will sound hollow when you tap the base of the loaf. Allow to cool a little before slicing, otherwise the middle of the loaf will be sticky.

I was all geared up to tell you about a pie recipe I’ve been working on; a pie recipe that is, frankly, cursed. I’ve just made it for the third time and I’m still not happy with the damn thing. A friend actually said to me, ‘why bother though?’ Yeah, not sure really. Maybe I need closure.

So, here’s a recipe for an excellent chicken dish I made today because I have a head cold and need comfort. You know when you’re clearly not well but still have a tiny bit of enthusiasm so attempt to leave the house, and then regret it? That’s what happened when I went to the butcher for this chicken. I struggled into Peckham, ran into a friend, chatted to her while standing five feet away, sweating, croaked at the butcher for some meat, then scuttled home and lay down for three hours before I could even contemplate cooking.

It was definitely worth the effort, though, even the part where I decided to cook the orzo in the same pan, which necessitated standing over it for ten minutes, adding chicken stock and stirring, like making risotto. There was no way the accumulated fat and sticky brown bits were going to waste and anyway, stirring results in a creamy texture. Maximum comfort achieved.

I used butter to fry the chicken because I am sick and that is allowed. I can basically do anything I like. The pasta soaks it up, along with the chicken fat, released from its crisp, bubbled skin. A friend at the gym gave me the wild garlic (the gym! Irony! LOL!) as she has tons in her garden, and thankfully I’d whizzed it into a pesto yesterday because getting the blender out is annoying for a perfectly well person, let alone me. It’s not even like it lives at the back of a cupboard but there’s something about washing the individual parts, the blade, the little bits that get stuck in the rubber seal… NO. I wouldn’t have coped.

It’s perfect on top of this dish, a bright splash of spring flavour that can find the taste buds despite everything. It’s a foil for the rich pasta and a cheering green – flowers added for extra gaiety. I ate it in bed, naturally, the cats reaching a tentative paw forwards every now and then, hoping for a scrap of meat. We all curled up afterwards and fell asleep again and – I shit you not – I actually dreamt of that sodding pie.

Chicken Thighs with Orzo and Wild Garlic Pesto

4 large, skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
25g butter
175g orzo
1 shallot, finely diced
450ml chicken stock, hot

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas mark 6

Heat a cast iron skillet or other oven proof dish on the hob over a medium heat and add the butter. When melted, season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper, then add them to the pan skin side down and cook until deep golden brown, about 5-8 minutes.

Turn them over so the skin is facing up and put the pan in the oven for 15 minutes (this time may vary depending on the size of your thighs). Remove from the oven and set aside on a plate.

Add the shallot over a medium heat and cook, stirring, for a minute or so. Add the orzo and stir to coat it. Add the chicken stock a splash at a time, stirring until all the liquid is absorbed before adding the next splash. Once the orzo is just soft, add back the chicken thighs.
Allow to reheat for a few minutes, leaving the orzo undisturbed so it goes crisp on the bottom of the pan. Top with the wild garlic pesto (or serve on the side).

Wild Garlic Pesto

200g wild garlic, washed and dried thoroughly
100g Parmesan, grated
100g pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan until golden
Lemon juice
Olive oil

Put the wild garlic leaves in a blender with the Parmesan and pine nuts. Transfer to a bowl and add enough olive oil to make a sauce. Add lemon juice and salt to taste.