Fennel and Chicory Salad with Mango Vinaigrette

Fennel and Chicory Salad with Mango Vinaigrette
Mango vinaigrette was the first salad dressing I really took note of. Before then I just thought that dressing was a bit of oil and vinegar and there you go. I was still at school and for a treat our form teacher invited the eight of us in her form for lunch after Saturday morning school at her house. Although I’m not sure how much of a treat we thought it was at the time. She meant well but I’m sure she regretted it instantly as we probably took great advantage of her hospitality being bratty teenagers. There is one residing memory I have of this lunch though and that is the homemade mango vinaigrette she served with the salad. The vibrancy of the fruit standing up to the mustardy undertones and tang of white wine vinegar has always resonated with me every time that I have re-created this dressing in my adulthood.

Mango Vinaigrette

Mango is to me a winter fruit. It’s this time of year that I make my mango chutney and lately I’ve been blitzing up the fruit to dash into sparkling water as an alternative to my sorely missed evening gin and tonics. The bright orange flesh and tropicality seem to stick two fingers up at the drizzly weather, bringing sunshine into my grey kitchen.

To use the mango as a dressing ingredient the salad must be comprised of bitter leaves to balance the sweetness. Fennel and Chicory are perfect as their firmness are not overwhelmed by the heavy dressing which might be a failure of a more droopy leaf.

Although I love the mango at the moment I make variations of this salad all year round. It pairs beautifully with a seared tuna steak, with shredded roasted pheasant and when the season comes around again I will probably make huge bowls of it for our summer barbecues.

Fennel and Chicory Salad with Mango Vinaigrette

Like any salad it’s quick to throw together, save a bit of chopping. It’s imperative, and I cannot stress this enough, that you take the time over the slicing of the veg so that the fennel, chicory and onion are as thin as humanly possible. I can get a little bit overbearing about this in the kitchen but it is important so that you do not render the raw fennel and chicory indigestible. The salad should be a joy to eat and if the vegetables are too thick then it could be a bit of a chore.

With most salads I dress them moments before it hits the table but with this one I feel it benefits from half an hour to let the dressing soften the vegetables.

Fennel and Chicory Salad with Mango Vinaigrette

Fennel and Chicory Salad with Mango Vinaigrette
Serves 4-6

1 fennel bulb
2 red chicory
1 red onion, peeled and halved
2 large handfuls rocket
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1 mango, pureed (4 tablespoons needed)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon water

  1. Slice the fennel, chicory and onion extremely finely then toss them together in a large salad bowl with the rocket.
  2. Pour in the white wine vinegar and salt and pepper into a screw-top jar then screw the lid back on and shake well until the salt has dissolved.
  3. Add the Dijon mustard into the jar and shake again until combined.
  4. Add the honey and shake once more until combined.
  5. Add the pureed mango and shake again. The mixture will be quite thick.
  6. Pour in the olive oil and shake well.
  7. Finally add the water to thin the dressing down a little and give a final good shake so everything has fully combined.
  8. Drizzle the dressing over the salad until all the leaves are just coated, you probably won’t need all of it, saving some for another day.

Pork Crackling, Lemon and Fennel Meatballs

Pork Crackling Lemon and Fennel Meatballs

This isn’t a quick whip-me-up midweek supper I’m afraid but a bit more of a languid affair to begin on the Saturday then work your way across to the Sunday for a bounteous end of weekend supper. So then I’m not sure why I’m giving this recipe to you on a Tuesday but at least it gives you time to hunt and gather.

The most important ingredient in these meatballs is the addition of pork crackling. I’m sure that I read somewhere that this is how a famous chef makes his meatballs taste so good but I can’t find any residual reference of that so I might have just made it up. Nevertheless it adds texture, flavour and fat to these meatballs which are wonderfully succulent, meaty, fresh with lemon and bright with fennel. You simply must save some crisp crackling for sprinkling over the top as well for added umami crunch.

I bought 1 kilo of pork skin, even though only 300g is really needed for the recipe. I then cooked all of the pork skin by boiling it up to soften it and after that portioned out the amount I needed for the recipe, cutting up the rest to put in the freezer, ready for frying up into crackling snacks at a later date. You never know when the urge is going to hit so it’s best to be prepared.

Pork Crackling Lemon and Fennel Meatballs

I ummed and ahhed over how to serve my meatballs; in a sauce not in a sauce. Then once I had decided on that I wondered if they would be best accompanied with an Italian-American inspired marinara sauce. However, at the weekend we had a bit of a trip to Ikea, now I have never eaten their meatballs but you can’t help but be deluged with the images as you are wandering, rather painfully, around the labyrinthine warehouse. Can you imagine I only went to buy candles and napkins and I think we ended up in this other dimension for about two or three hours. Nothing like wasting your weekend away. Anyway, since everyone waxes lyrical about these meatballs I always mean to try them, but without fail by the end of my shopping trip and an hour long queue to buy a few measly items I just want to get the hell out and the idea of meatballs falls by the wayside.

So, when I was researching the gravy these mythic Ikea meatballs came to mind and I sought inspiration from Swedish meatballs, although since I’m no expert I certainly have no idea if this gravy tastes remotely like anything Ikea (or any Swedish recipe) offers. I just liked the idea of a simple gravy, imbued with the intense flavour of good stock, a bit of redcurrant jelly for sweetness and then finished off with the creamy tang of crème fraiche. The gravy compliments the unctuous meatballs perfectly. They have so much flavour packed in that I just wanted the gravy to nest the meatballs not create a swimming pool for them, so don’t expect more than a couple of spoonfuls of sauce per serving.

Pork Crackling Lemon and Fennel Meatballs

These meatballs are rich so I found that just to accompany them with a bowl of steamed greens and carrots was plenty but by all means I can only imagine the possibilities if you would like to serve these with a prodigious mound of mashed potato.

Today this recipe seems a perfect fit for the wintry weather we are experiencing and I can think of nothing better than sitting down cosily later with a bowl of hot creamy meatballs whilst gazing upon the blanket of snow currently covering North London.

Pork Crackling Lemon and Fennel Meatballs

Pork Crackling Lemon and Fennel Meatballs
Makes about 16 meatballs

300g pork skin
60g ground almonds
60ml milk (or water or veg stock)
1 onion, finely diced
2 teaspoons butter
500g pork mince
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
Zest ½ lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
25g parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons flour
450ml chicken stock
½ teaspoon redcurrant jelly
150ml crème fraiche

  1. The day before you want to eat your meatballs, prepare your pork skin by rubbing all over with plenty of salt and pepper.
  2. Place the skin in a wide saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to a gentle boil then put the lid on a leave to simmer for about an hour and a half.
  3. Remove the pork skin from the water and pat dry. Leave to cool before refrigerating overnight to completely chill.
  4. Also, the night before you should prepare the almonds by pouring the milk over and leaving in the fridge to soak overnight.
  5. Another job I would recommend doing the night before is caramelising your onions, so place the diced onions in a medium saucepan with the butter and cook on a very low heat for about 20 minutes to half an hour until the onions are soft, golden and melting. Leave to chill in the fridge overnight.
  6. The next day finish your pork crackling. Slice the pork skin into strips. Then heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a wide bottomed saucepan and when hot, place the pork skin into it. As the skin turns into crackling it will spit a lot so clear the sides of anything you don’t want covered in oil and stand back. Fry for about 10 minutes on the first side and 3-4 minutes on the other side. Remove with a slotted spoon and leave to cool if you are very restrained. Then chop finely. Reserve the fat in the pan for making the meatballs in a minute.
  7. To make the meatballs, add the pork mince into a large mixing bowl along with the soaked almonds, caramelised onions, fennel seeds, lemon zest, garlic, parsley, thyme, about two-thirds of the pork crackling and an egg. Season then mix thoroughly with your hands until completely combined.
  8. Shape into balls, about 50g each and heat the pan in which you cooked the crackling which should be still filled with the pork fat. When hot, drop your meatballs into the pan and cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side.
  9. Remove the meatballs and set aside. Then remove most of the fat, leaving about 2 tablespoons. Carry on heating on a low heat and add the flour, mixing into the fat so that it turns into a smooth roux.
  10. Slowly add the stock, whisking into the roux until it’s all combined. Keep whisking as the sauce begins to bubble. Taste for seasoning.
  11. Add the redcurrant jelly and whisk through. Then add the crème fraiche and whisk into the sauce so it becomes thinner and smoother. Again, taste for seasoning.
  12. Place the meatballs back into the pan and coat thoroughly with the sauce. Cook for about 5-10 minutes until they are piping hot then remove from the heat.
  13. Serve the meatballs with the gravy and plenty of parsley and the rest of the pork crackling sprinkled over the top.

Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad

Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad

I love all my cookbooks equally.

Actually that’s not true at all, I definitely have some that I give a higher regard to more than others.  And some are just plain useless but they might be signed by the author or kept for sentimental reasons.  I continually cull my cookbooks, especially since I’m a bit of an impulse cookbook buyer and acquire a lot of dross, so this has to be done regularly lest my house become overrun and my husband gets grumpy.  Last week I sent another batch to the charity shop, always a sad day but it had to be done to make way for my new Christmas cookbooks, of which there are many.

Wesley reading OttolenghiI do read and use recipes from my cookbooks all the time but this January I want to make sure all the newbies get christened as soon as possible so they feel truly welcome and part of the family.  So the first one to get the royal treatment was Jerusalem, a book I have been longing for all year.  Ottolenghi’s previous cookbooks, Ottolenghi and Plenty, are my kitchen stalwarts and a first glance at Jerusalem confirms that his third time out is not a disappointment to the canon.
fennelOttolenghi’s recipes seem to made for Januarys.  The ingredient lists always feature fun new spices that you haven’t heard of before and unique ways of marrying herbs and vegetables that can inspire even the most rigid of detoxes. There were plenty of recipes I wanted to try immediately but this salad is the one that leapt off the page, purely because I had all the ingredients in and thankfully used up one of the dozens of oranges I have hanging around.
Chicken Orange and Fennel Salad2

This salad was so zingy and fresh and the method of preparing the orange was a unique way to create a fruit dressing.  I am definitely going to try the same technique with lemons and limes.  The resulting blended orange mixture was slightly bitter from the orange peel but the honey and orange juice added sweetness with a gentle infusion of saffron.  As the orange coated the warm chicken the zesty oils were released and were so delicious with the fennel and herbs.  The only thing I found in the recipe was that in the initial boiling of the orange I topped up the water a couple of times as the liquid was running too low and not covering the orange enough for it to soften.

Another great thing as well is that you yield more orange than is needed and it can easily be kept in the fridge, ready for the next batch you are going to make the following day, which I guarantee you will as it is hella good.

Chicken Orange and Fennel Salad4
Chicken Orange and Fennel Salad5

Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad

Serves 2
Recipe from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamini, adapted for quantities

1 orange
½ tsp of saffron threads
50g honey
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 chicken breasts
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 fennel bulb, sliced finely
Handful of coriander leaves, torn
Handful of mint leaves, torn
Handful of basil leaves, torn
½ red chilli, seeds removed and sliced
½ garlic clove, crushed

  1. Trim and discard 1 cm off the top and bottom of the orange, then cut into 12 wedges, keeping the skin on, removing the pips and place in a saucepan along with the saffron and honey. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 1 hour until the orange peel is soft.
  2. Blitz the orange with all the liquid in a blender until smooth. Leave to cool.
  3. Toss the chicken breasts with 1 tbsp of olive and seasoning and grill for about 2 mins on each side on a very hot griddle to achieve the char lines, then move to an oven pre-heated to 180°C for 10-15 mins until the chicken breasts are just cooked. Remove from the oven and leave for a few mins until cool enough to handle.
  4. Tear the chicken up with your fingers and place in a large bowl. Add ¼ of the orange mixture and stir to thoroughly coat the chicken.
  5. Add the fennel, coriander, mint, basil, chilli and garlic to the chicken and toss together with the olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning.
Chicken Orange and Fennel Salad3

Jerk chicken with kohlrabi and fennel remoulade

There are a handful of restaurants, pubs and cafes which I go to frequently. You might even say I was a valued regular if you forget for a moment that we live in London where all you would get if you were recognised by the staff would be a knowing smirk. One of my ‘regular’ places until earlier this year was a Caribbean restaurant in Crouch End called Rhythm. It wasn’t the most happening place it’s fair to say. In fact most of Crouch End steered away in droves and went to the lively restaurant next door. Ha, I thought, more fool them, queuing for hours, eating their free popcorn. I can just turn up here at the drop of a hat, I never have to book and the food is ten times better. I was very smug about the whole thing. Until Rhythm closed as no one went there except me.

Rhythm had a limited but faultless menu. I should know, I tried everything on there, dozens of times. But the one dish that truly had me in their thrall was their jerk chicken. It gave a wonderful amount of heat but it was also packed with a truckload of flavour. The heavy blackened skin was the highlight, hot with sweet aromatic spice. Underneath, the leg meat, so juicy from hours of marinating and slow cooking, would fall off the bone, only for you to gather it up with the thick sauce pooling on your plate ready to knock your socks off again.

When Rhythm closed I was bereft, where would I get my jerk chicken fix now?  I mournfully tried other local places but their jerk marinades were either not spicy enough or too spicy with no flavour coming through.  Then under a beam of heavenly light I remembered something.  I had a kitchen.  And a tonne of cookbooks.  And the internet.  So I toiled mercilessly for days, weeks, months until I had tweaked the recipe into perfection – well, one lazy Sunday- and produced actual jerk chicken myself.  In my own kitchen.  It was a revelation.  I wonder how many other restaurants I don’t need to go to now I know I can cook these things myself.  I may never need to go out again.  Except for tonight.  It’s Friday – treat night!

The only way to have jerk chicken is with a bucketful of cooling slaw to temper the firework of spices exploding in your mouth.  I love this kohlrabi and fennel remoulade as it doesn’t try to compete with the jerk, it is just happy to sit back and do backing vocals.  The kohlrabi also gives it a wonderful creamy texture instead of the sometimes too crunchy results that you can get with homemade coleslaw.  Also, kohlrabi is such a gorgeous colour, see it below getting chummy with the purple cauliflower.
Purple Cauliflower and Kohlrabi
Jerk Chicken with Kohlrabi and fennel remoulade

Serves 4

Jerk Chicken

8 chicken thighs
Small handful of parsley, including stalks
Small handful of coriander, including stalks
1 scotch bonnet chilli
1 onion
2 tbsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp crushed chillies
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp agave nectar/ honey / molasses
2 tbsp muscavado sugar
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp soy sauce
100ml dark rum
Good glug of olive oil

  1. Blitz all ingredients for the jerk marinade in the food processor then rub the marinade all over the chicken thighs.
  2. Place in an ovenproof dish and leave to marinate for at least an hour or overnight in the fridge if you can.
  3. Place the dish in oven preheated to 180°C and cook for 50 mins until chicken is cooked.

Kohlrabi remoulade

1 kohlrabi, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
1 fennel bulb, core removed, sliced into matchsticks
1 garlic clove
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp cider vinegar
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 egg yolk
75ml olive oil
75ml sunflower oil
Squeeze of fresh lemon

  1. Crush the garlic clove with a large pinch of salt and bash up.
  2. Put the crushed garlic in a bowl with the mustard, vinegar, sugar salt and egg yolk and whisk together.
  3. Mix the oils together in a jug then trickle in a steady steam into the egg mixture, mixing constantly to emulsify.
  4. Once all the oil has been added and the mixture is thick and glossy squeeze in some lemon juice and add more salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Mix in the kohlrabi and the fennel to coat thoroughly.