Fig and Walnut Bread

Sundays are for long walks with Marco and baking bread.  This morning there’s a distinct autumnal chill in the air.  It’s not quite hat weather but it’s not far off.  We’re heading to our favourite woods to chase pheasants (Marco) and pick mushrooms (me) and when we return, I’ll make my current favourite bread: Spelt, Fig and Walnut.

I’ve taken to kneading my bread by hand again.  For a while there, I was using a mixer to do all the work and a fine job it did of it too.  Missed the therapy of working the dough myself, though.  It feels oddly right now that those 15 minutes have returned to my Sunday routine.

Fig and Walnut Bread (Got the idea for this bread from the back of the Doves’ spelt flour package.  I’m not so keen on bread make entirely with spelt though.  This ratio was more to my liking.)

300ml tepid water

1 tspn dried active yeast

1 tspn brown sugar

150g spelt flour

350g strong white flour

1 tspn salt

6 dried figs

1 teabag

75g walnuts

A little oil

  • Add the yeast and sugar to the water and set aside for 10 mins.
  • Sift the flours and salt into a large bowl. Add the water and use your hand to mix to a rough dough.
  • Turn out on to a clean surface and knead for 10 – 15 minutes until dough is silky and pliable. Place in a lightly oiled plastic bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for an hour or two until doubled in size.
  • While dough is rising, briefly toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan then chop roughly. Soak the figs in hot tea for 30 mins, blot dry then chop roughly.
  • When dough is risen, tip on to a lightly floured surface and knock the air out. Stretch dough out into a flat rectangle and sprinkly across the nuts and figs.  Roll dough up then knead again for a couple of minutes until filling is evenly distributed and dough is holding together again (it’ll be a little tricky at first but it will happen).
  • Shape into a ball and place on lightly floured baking sheet. Cover ( I put a big plastic bowl upside-down over the dough) and leave to rest in a warm place for another hour.
  • Meanwhile, heat the over to 190oC. Make sure there is a baking tray heating on the shelf below the one you’ll put the bread on.
  • When the dough is risen, sprinkle with a little white flour then slash diagonally three times. Place in the oven.  Pour a cup of water into the hot baking tray then shut the door quickly.  This will create lots of steam to give you a good crust.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes. Bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  • Let cool completely before slicing.

Very good with some salty butter and/or sharp cheddar.

The Highland Cross (And a Sweet Nut Butter)

At the beginning of the summer I took part in the Highland Cross with two friends.  It’s a coast to coast event involving walking/running 20 miles then cycling 30 miles through some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery. Armed with picnics and cameras, we weren’t your normal competitors.  After a couple of miles, we couldn’t even see the other walkers ahead of us and we finished almost last!  I know I’d like to run in the event in the future but this summer I had an absolutely lovely day  walking in the hills, chatting with my friends, cheering on the runners and munching away on silly amount of food I had in my back pack.

The Jelly Babies were kindly shared by one of the marshals.  My own snack of choice was a bag of Brazil nuts and dates. And it was this snack that inspired the below sweet nut butter.  It’s very rich and very good.  It’s terribly good for you and, once made, will keep in the fridge for at least four weeks.  Highly recommend smearing it on toast in the mornings and topping with banana.

Brazil Nut and Date Butter

250g Brazil Nuts

10 dates

Pinch of salt

  • Simple add the nuts and dates to a food processor and blend until nuts begin to release their oils.  Add a few splashes of water to loosen, a pinch of salt and continue blending until a buttery consistency is reached.  This can take several minutes.  

Un-dull Dhal

I fell out of love with dhal a few years ago.  Before then I’d regularly make big batches for the freezer and it was a weekly staple when life got particularly hectic.  One day I just couldn’t face it anymore.  Like the macaroni cheese of my childhood, I’d eaten it too often and its uniform taste and texture was no longer comforting; dhal was just dull.

There’s a happy ending, though, as recently I discovered this dahl.  It’s the same lentil stew but with a mix of spices and quickly fried ingredients mixed through at the end.  It utterly delicious and each mouthful a little different than the one before.  I an enamoured once more.

Tarka Dhal (adapted from an epsiode of Saturday Kitchen where a Goan chef cooked for Rick Stein)

For the lentil stew:

Oil (ground nut, coconut, sunflower – not olive)

1 large onion, sliced thinly

3 medium tomatoes, quartered

2 garlic cloves

1 tspn turmeric

200g lentils



For the “seasoning”:

Oil (as above)

1 tspn mustard seeds

1 tspn onion seeds (optional)

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 green chilli, chopped finely

3 garlic cloves, chopped

4 medium tomatoes – skinned, deseeded and chopped

½ tspn astofoetida (optional)

Heat a good glug of the oil over a medium high heat.  Once hot, add the onions and tomatoes and cook for approximately 6 minutes until onion is soft but not coloured and tomatoes are collapsing.  Add the garlic and turmeric and cook for another minute. Stir in the lentils then add enough water to just cover.  Add a pinch of salt then bring to a simmer.  Cook for 30 mins until the lentils are softened and the water absorbed.  You’ll probably need to add a little more water every now and again.

While the lentils are cooking, make the tarka.  In a large frying pan, add the mustard and onion seeds to the oil.  Place on a medium high heat and cook until the seeds start popping.  Add the onion then cook for a minute.  Add the garlic and chilli.  Cook for a minute.  Add the tomato and asafoetida and cook for another minute.  Remove from the heat and stir into the lentils.  Finally, stir the coriander and a good grinding of pepper into the dhal.

Grilled Pineapple with Coconut Ice Cream

Summer came to North Kessock for a few days and it was glorious.  It may return, it may not. We can at least be happy knowing that we made the most of it whilst it was here.  We lived outside, basking in the morning sun, watching the roof tiles steam and the bees buzzing in the clover.  There were long lazy bike rides in the afternoons and a few half hearted attempts at gardening.  With the evening came reading (me) and PacMan (D) on the patio with white wine (me) and local ales (D).  And interspersing all of this were as many barbecues as we could possibly fit into those lovely sun drenched days.

‘Twas grand.  :)

If you are thinking of doing a spot of outdoor cooking/eating, can I warmly recommend the following dessert.  It’s very nice indeed and ridiculously easy if you buy the ice cream from the shop.  If you want a dessert that makes you moan expletives, however, make the ice cream yourself.  I used the wonderful David Lebovitz’s recipe (here) but replaced half the double/heavy cream with coconut milk.

It’s also a perfect recipe for the end of a BBQ meal as the pineapple cooks perfectly over cooling coals, meaning you can cook it slowly whilst you enjoy your main meal.

Grilled Pineapple with Coconut Ice Cream



Brown Sugar

Coconut Ice Cream (Bought or this recipe replacing half the cream for coconut milk)

Mint leaves

  • Cut the pineapple into 2cm rounds then cut into semi circles.  You may want to cut off the skin first – it’s easier to eat this way but less pretty.
  • Squeeze a little lime juice over each slice, both sides and rub with a little brown sugar.  Maybe 1/4 tspn per semi circle.
  • Place on BBQ over low heat for 20 mins, turning occasionally.  If your BBQ  is hotter, turn more frequently and reduce cooking time.
  • Serve warm with a scoop of coconut ice cream and some torn mint leaves.

Rocket and Walnut Pesto

Summer in Scotland has, thus far, looked like this.

My vegetable garden is protesting.  So much so, there is only one thing growing successfully: rocket.  It’s a hardy wee bugger.  The other plants are hunched and shrivelled and staring sulkily at the cold, grey sky; the rocket, though, is just getting on with the job of being all green and tasty.

Well done, rocket, well done.  Take centre stage for once…

Rocket and Walnut Pesto

75g rocket

60 g walnuts, toasted briefly

60g parmesan cheese, grated

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 garlic clove, chopped (Not two, David.  Not two!)



Extra virgin olive oil

  • Whizz together the walnuts and chopped garlic in a food processor.  Remove to a bowl.7
  • Add the rocket and a good glug of olive oil.  Whiz until just chopped.  Add the walnuts, garlic, cheese and lemon juice.  Whizz until it looks like pesto.
  • Stir in salt, pepper and possibly some more lemon juice to taste.

Spring Greens Spanakopita

A really beautiful dish.  It makes everyone go “ooooohhhh” both when it’s brought to the table and when they try it.  Best served slightly warm rather than hot.

Spring Greens Spanakopita (adapted from A Modern Way to Eat)

1 large leek, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely

400g spring greens (stalks removed and roughly chopped)

200g spinach

Zest of ½ lemon

200g feta (crumbled)

3 large eggs

Small bunch of parsley, chopped

1 heaped tblspn chopped dill

6 sheets of filo pastry

Olive oil for brushing

  • In a large pan over a medium heat, sauté the leek in little olive oil until soft and silky. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more.
  • Add the spring greens to the pan along with 2 tablespoons of water. Cook for two minutes until the greens have wilted then add the spinach.  Cook for another 3-4 minutes until all the greens are wilted and tender.  Remove from the heat and drain in colander lined with muslin or a large sieve.  Leave to cool then squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the greens.  Don’t skip this step.  Soggy spanakopita is not good.
  • Add the eggs, crumbled feta, lemon zest and some salt and pepper to a large bowl. Add the cooled greens and mix well to combine.
  • Lightly oil a 20cm loose bottomed cake tin. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush each sheet of filo then place it in the tin, gently pushing it down (take care not to rip it!) The filo should rest in the bottom of the pan and hang over the sides.  Repeat with the remaining sheets of filo, changing the angle of the sheets so they don’t lie perfectly on top of one another.
  • Once all the filo is in the tin, add the greens mixture, again, using a wooden spoon to gently push the mixture down.
  • Use your fingers to pull the filo over the top of the mixture, scrunching it to create pretty layers on top. You shouldn’t be able to see any greens once you’re done.  If you can, tear up another filo sheet and block the holes.  Brush the top with a little more oil.
  • Bake in a 200oC oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and push the pie out of the cake tin.  Return to the oven and cook until the pie is golden all over (another 10 mins).
  • Leave to cool for 30 mins then serve warm.

Jeow Mak Keua


I took part in two cooking courses last summer: one in Vietnam and one in Laos.  Despite preferring Vietnamese food generally, it’s two Laos dishes I’ve found myself making most at home.  The first is stuffed lemongrass.  It’s a cracker of a recipe and I’ll share it very soon.  The second is Jeow Mak Keua – a very spicy aubergine dip/paste.  It’s one of my favourite things right now.   I like to eat it with brown rice and nothing else but it’s very nice as a side dish for grilled meat.

Jeow Mak Keua (As learnt at Tamarind cooking school)

1 medium aubergine 

1 large red chilli

2 fat cloves of garlic

Fish sauce

1 spring onion, chopped

Small handful of coriander. chopped

  • Prick the aubergine all over then thread it on to a skewer along with the garlic and chilli.  Cook under a hot grill or on the BBQ until charred on the outside and soft on the inside.
  • Peel the garlic and chilli and pound to a paste with a pinch of rock salt using a mortar and pestle.  (Remove the seeds from the chilli if you don’t want it too hot)
  • Peel the aubergine and cut into rough chunks. Add to the mortar and pound with the chilli/garlic paste until combined.
  • Stir in coriander and spring onion then add fish sauce to taste.