Posts tagged recipes
One Vine Day

In which I attempt to be entrepreneurial, teach at Borough Kitchen and make dolmades…

I’m sure you noticed that we’ve had some weather recently. Scroll to the end for my dolmades recipe that works either as a light snack in the summer sunshine or comforting ballast should it turn to rain.

Harringay Local Store

In the meantime, I’m very bad at self promotion but here goes: the BIG NEWS of the last few weeks is that my ready meals are available in the lovely Harringay Local Store on Green Lanes and will be coming to the Deli At 80 as of next week. There’s a rotating selection of dishes each week (check my Instagram to find out what’s on the menu) and its a chance for north Londoners to try my food without committing to a whole freezer fill.

Good And Ready Meals

This sort of go-getting entrepreneurialism really doesn’t come naturally to me so I owe thanks to the proprietors of these lovely local institutions for being so welcoming and encouraging when I approached them. I hope to expand my range of stockists soon so will keep you informed.

I’ve also been teaching a lot at the Borough Kitchen Cook Schools. Confusingly, nether of these are based in Borough, which is home to the original fancy pan shop, but in the sister shops in Hampstead and Chiswick. The pasta and fish classes are my particular favourites to teach but they’re all a lot of fun. Get in touch if you want to know which precise classes I’ll be teaching over the next few months or to arrange a private lesson in the comfort of your own home.



I let the domain subscription on my old Clare Cooks blog lapse recently. Most of the photography on it was terrible but I stand by the recipes so I’ll be reposting some of them here as the opportunity arises. I made some dolmades the other day so it seemed like a good time to revisit this one.

I think my platonic ideal of a dolma is lemony, herby, spiced but not overwhelmingly so, and studded with solid little pinenuts and plump sultanas. I like the versions with meat but have kept these veggie as the real pleasure of the things is textural: soft rice in a taut leaf wrapper.

I make no pretence of authenticity. My recipe contains saffron in an attempt to recreate a version my husband James and I ate on the last night of our honeymoon at a lovely restaurant called Ochre in Oia, Santorini’s prime spot for sunset-botherers. They specialised in putting a modern twist on traditional Greek classics. I don’t generally think it’s a cuisine that benefits from being fancied-around with, but they did it quite sensitively and I was particularly taken with their dolmades. Let me know of you give it a try!


  • 60 (or so) vine leaves

  • 3 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 onion, finely chopped

  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

  • 1 tsp ground cumin

  • 200g rice

  • 50g pine nuts

  • 50g sultanas

  • generous pinch saffron

  • 1 lemon

  • handful dill fronds, finely chopped

  • handful parsley leaves, finely chopped

  • 1 litre vegetable stock 


  1. Preheat your oven to 200C/gas mark 6. If you’re using fresh leaves, have a sinkful of cold water and a pan of boiling water ready. Snip the leaves off their stalks, wash them in the sink, stack into piles of roughly 20 and blanch for a minute. Put them back into the the cold water then drain and set aside. (Piling them up before blanching means they’re orderly when it comes to rolling.)

  2. Soften the onion in the oil over a low heat. Don’t let it brown.

  3. Meanwhile toast the pinenuts in a dry frying pan over a medium heat or on a baking tray in the oven. It will only take a couple of minutes so watch carefully and transfer to a bowl as soon as they begin to go golden and smell nutty. Also put the sultanas and saffron threads in a small bowl and add enough boiling water to cover.

  4. When the onion is translucent and tender (about 10 minutes) add the garlic and spices. Let them cook for a minute until fragrant. Then add the rice, stir to coat it in oil and cook for another five minutes.

  5. Add the pinenuts, the sultanas in their saffron water and 300ml water. Put a lid on the pan and let the rice cook for about 15 minutes. You want it soft but still a bit chalky in the middle. Check as it goes and add more water if necessary. When it’s ready, stir in the lemon zest, fresh herbs and a few grindings of black pepper.

  6. Wait until cool enough to handle and then make your rolls. Lay a vine leaf on a chopping board and put a small amount of filling just above where the stalk used to be. A teaspoonful is plenty for a small leaf, a big one can take up to two. Roll once from the bottom then fold in the sides before continuing to the top. They should be firm but not too tight as the rice will continue to swell whilst cooking.

  7. Lay them in a neat layer in a baking dish. Anthony Worral Thompson (That well-known expert in Greek food) advocates putting a layer of sliced tomatoes underneath to stop them sticking which I think is a nice idea (like I said, authenticity isn’t my game here).

  8. When they’re all done, squeeze over the lemon juice, add enough stock so the dolmades are just submerged, cover with foil and cook for 45 minutes. Allow them to cool to room temperature then drizzle with more oil before serving.

If Ifs And Ands Were Pots And Pans

  • If you want meat dolmades then add 200g mince just after the garlic and spices and brown before adding the rice.

  • Consider other herbs, especially oregano or mint.

  • Chopped walnuts would make an interesting, slightly more bitter, alternative to pine nuts.

  • No vine leaves? Try savoy cabbage.

  • A tabbouleh-style bulgar wheat filling would be lighter than rice.

Current kitchen listening: ANTHROPOCENE REVIEWED

I discovered this via the always-fascinating 99% Invisible and binged the whole lot in a day. John Green (whose novels I have not read but which include The Fault In Our Stars) muses on various aspects of the human era and rates them on a five star scale. It’s full of interesting facts and I love his wistful humour. The most recent episode includes an evaluation of Sycamore Trees which was all the prompting I needed to commend it to your ears.

Fermented Harissa

Lordy, it's been ages hasn't it? Apologies. I've been super busy getting ready for the launch of Sycamore Seeds, a children's cookery club I'm setting up with my husband James. We'll be at Hornsey Vale Community Centre on Monday afternoons from September 10th but are doing some Summer Taster Sessions before then on August 15th and 22nd. See the Sycamore Seeds page for more details.

fermented harissa hummus

OK. Plug over. What I actually wanted to talk about today was how I I’ve recently jumped on the fermenting bandwagon. Partly because fermented things are straight up delicious but insanely expensive to buy. And partly because I read Dr Michael Mosely’s The Clever Guts Diet. The book isn’t terribly well written (the good doctor is a bit sketchy on some details and not half as witty as he thinks he is) so I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. There are probably better things out there on the same subject, but it's interesting nonetheless. I didn’t know for example that there are neurons in the gut - a “second brain” about the size of a cat’s but arranged in thin sheaths along the walls of the alimentary canal! He’s also reasonably good on the different types of bacteria that live down there.

So, anyway, I finished it determined to get proactive about probiotics (basically the live bacteria in yoghurts, kimchi and other fermented things). And, becasue being preactive isn;t a thing, just to eat more prebiotics (fibre in vegetables, grains etc. that feeds the bacteria in your gut). So decided to get fermenting.

Some experiments have been successful (fermented slaws and krauts, particularly one with turmeric and chillies) and some less so (sweet potato tasted OK but was texturally a bit disgusting and slimy). But my favourite so far has been a fermented “harissa”.

I got the idea from the Winter issue of Saveur but their recipe required a dehydrator so this is a less complex version. It’s still delicious though and good on all sorts of things. I love it on my weekend brunch eggs, with grilled meat or fish, added to salad dressings or stirred into hummus. It keeps for ages in the fridge too and just carries on getting better so it’s well worth making a big batch. This makes a 500ml Kilner jar’s-worth. If that sounds like way too much then just scale it down accordingly.


Fermented Harissa

  • 10 red peppers
  • 1 red chilli
  • 3 garlic coves
  • 1 litre warer
  • 4 tbsp salt
  • 1tsp coriander seeds
  • 1tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 1tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 1tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 2tsp dried chilli flakes

Core and deseed the peppers. Chop them into strips. Cram them, as tightly as possible, into a large jar (or however many receptacles you need) along with the fresh chilli and peeled garlic cloves.

Dissolve the salt in the water and pour over the peppers. They need to be completely covered. Weigh them down with a “pickling pebble”, small jar or plastic bag filled with water. Anything to keep the peppers from bobbing out of the brine and going mouldy. Leave to ferment for 1-2 weeks, tasting occasionally to see when it reaches your preferred level of “tang”.

When the peppers are fermented to your liking, drain them and put in a blender. Blitz to a paste and pour that into a sieve lined with a J-Cloth. Drain for 30 mins or so.

Meanwhile, grind all the whole spices in a spice grinder and put in a small saucepan. Add the olive oil, paprikas and chilli flakes. Heat gently until fragrant then allow to cool.

Return the red pepper paste to the blender and add the spice oil. Blend again until smooth and evenly combined. Taste and add salt if necessary. Store in a sterilised jar in the fridge and eat on everything.

Sycamore Smyth X BAM Bacon (Part 1)

In which Christmas comes early, I make pancakes and listen to podcasts...

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty festive. The Christmas Forest tree shop has arrived in Finsbury Park, my husband James has started practising carols on the piano and I’ve got a variety of yuletide feasts to plan for both private and corporate clients.

BAM bacon

Plus I was lucky enough to receive an early present from my friends at BAM Food who produce a range of hand-rubbed, hot-smoked bacon and were kind enough to send me some of their superlative rashers.

You obviously don’t need to guild the lily with bacon as good as this - it makes a fabulous, no-frills sandwich that would see off even the harshest hangover - but I thought it might be fun to create a couple of recipes with a little more to them whilst still giving pride of place to the pork.

I know BAM's co-founder, Jon Doody, from the UK's Chilli Cook Off scene, over which he has presided since 2012. He'd sent me some of their "Naked" bacon but also Chilli and Garlic flavours too so, knowing he's a man not to make false promises when it comes to spice, I couldn't resist starting with the chilli bacon. It's got a kick for sure, but a coquettish chorus line can-can rather than a roundhouse. 


My early twenties were days when culinary ambitions were often dashed the constant mess and undone washing up of communal kitchens. Back then, a favourite low-maintenance dinner option was a baked sweet potato, the insides with a pinch of chilli flakes and plenty of butter, with a couple of rashers of crisp bacon on the side. This combination of sweet, spicy and salty ticks a lot of boxes for me and I the components seemed ripe for rejigging into a riff on an American breakfast classic.

(Chef’s note: Unless you can be bothered to get up and cook the sweet potatoes from scratch in the morning, I’d do them the night before. You can peel and boil them but baking is probably least fuss. Once they’re soft just slit the skin and scoop out the insides.)


Sweet Potato Pancakes with BAM Chilli Bacon and Maple Syrup (makes about 10)

  • 200g cooked sweet potato
  • 1 egg
  • 200ml buttermilk
  • 50g butter, plus extra for frying
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • ¼tsp bicarb
  • Pinch salt

To Serve

  • BAM Chilli Bacon
  • Maple syrup
  • Butter

Set the oven to 100°C - you'll need it to keep things warm. Cook the bacon first and pop it in there on on a kitchen paper-lined plate. Puree the sweet potato or pass it through a sieve into a mixing bowl. Add the egg and buttermilk. Melt the butter in a large frying pan, letting it brown slightly, then tip into the bowl too and whisk 'til everything is well combined. Put the dry ingredients in another bowl and sift over the sweet potato mixture. Gently fold together - it’ll be more like an airy, loose cake mixture than the kind of liquid batter you’d make for Shrove Tuesday. Put the frying pan back on a medium heat and add spoonfuls of the batter in flat dollops about four inches in diameter. Don’t crowd them in the pan or they’ll be difficult to flip - you’ll probably need to do them in two or three batches (keep cooked pancakes warm in the oven). Cook for a couple of minutes 'til golden brown on the bottom and beginning to set on top then carefully flip with a spatula and give them a couple of minutes on the other side. Make up a little stack for everyone, top with a knob of butter, add the chilli bacon and be generous with the maple syrup.

If Ifs And Ands Were Pots And Pans

  • There’s a nice explanation on The Kitchn website about the difference between bicarb and baking powder. Leave out the bicarb if you prefer a more dense, Scotch-type pancake.
  • I’m not sure why you’d want a baconless breakfast but if you were going to leave it out and top the pancakes with yoghurt and fruit or something, a tsp of spice in the batter would be a good addition. Cinnamon or allspice are the obvious contenders.
  • The potatoes add a discernible but subtle sweetness. If you weren’t going serve them with maple syrup (although again, I don’t know why you’d do this) add a couple of tbsp of syrup or caster sugar to the wet ingredients.
  • In her examination of American-style pancakes, the always-reliable Felicity Cloake recommends half-and-half flour and cornmeal, a suggestion from The Pioneer Woman blog. Buckwheat might be an interesting alternative for a slightly nutty, wholewheat vibe. 

I’ll be back soon with another BAM-inspired recipe but in the meantime check out their website. They do a classic “naked” bacon as well as the flavoured versions and a selection of hot sauces too which will definitely be worth trying.

Before I go though, I thought I’d introduce a new section on the blog. I listen to an awful lot of podcasts whilst I’m cooking so thought it would be nice to include some recommendations.

Current Kitchen Listening: Two Shot Podcast

I discovered this in the Observer's recent podcast supplement and have now binge-listened most of the back episodes. The format is simple: Craig Parkinson, best known for playing Matthew "Dot" Cottan in Line Of Duty, puts the kettle on and chats to other actors. But he's got such a knack for intimacy that it's full of thoughtful insight and personal revelation.

Parkinson tends to steer away from specific credits, focusing instead on what got people started in acting and the things they've learned along the way. So although everyone's story is different, after listening for a while a pattern begins to emerge: early inspiration, difficulties overcome, the importance of collaboration etc.

He's a generous interviewer, giving his guests plenty of space to think and talk, but also inviting the listener into the confidences being shared. From his opening greeting - “‘Ello! ‘Ow yer doin’” - you feel genuinely welcomed.

Some of my favourites so far have been the episodes with Neil Morrissey, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Danny Mays but they've all been diverting in their own way. Incidentally, Sanjeev Bhaskar was my first ever celebrity interview as a young journalist. I was clearly nervous and he was very sweet to me but Parkinson makes rather more of their time together...