a cooling summer essential: cacik (turkish cucumber, herb and yoghurt sauce)

cacik (turkish cucumber, herb and yoghurt sauce)
I've always loved plain old yoghurt. I like to use it as a marinade and meat tenderiser, or with fresh fruit for breakfast. Having a cooling yoghurt and cucumber condiment such as raita has always accompanied my curries. But I have to confess that the Turkish Cacik or Greek Tzatziki yoghurt and cucumber sauces had always left me a bit cold. And then I had my light bulb moment.

hot-smoked salmon salad with mustardy crushed new potatoes and summer green vegetables

hot-smoked salmon salad with mustardy crushed new potatoes and summer green vegetables
It's too hot to think and too wet to shop (dear god, I think I might need water skis to get down to Kentish Town High Road). The cupboards are almost bare but I do have some fresh new potatoes from a friend's garden, lots of fresh herbs from my own garden and some rather wizened looking broad bean pods as well. 

a cooling summer courgette soup

a cooling summer courgette soup
A cooling summer soup is a welcome way to use up a summer glut of courgettes. This vegetable's beautiful delicate flavour is perfect in a chilled soup and I thought would be a really good way of cooling down on a baking hot day. I've read somewhere that you can cool yourself down by not just drinking cool drinks but eating cold food. I think this may be right - well it certainly worked for me!

mouthwatering velvet chicken and summer vegetable stir fry

velvet chicken
If you have ever wondered why the stir-fried chicken at your local Chinese restaurant is so much more moist and succulent than the version you make at home, the chances are that there is a really simple reason. It's a Chinese cooking technique beautifully known as "velveting".

some are hot and some are not! padrón peppers: the vegetable equivalent of russian roulette!

tapas: padrón peppers
Pimientos de Padrón are tiny bright green peppers from the Galician region of Spain which look like small green peppers or even mild green chillies. And that's part of the thrill, because although they taste like mild and sweet peppers, some of them pack the heat of chillies . . . just not all of them.

It is said that one in 20 padrón peppers is a hot one. In Galicia there is a saying "Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non," which means "padrón peppers, some are hot and some are not." So try them if you dare!

artichoke heart salad with preserved lemon and honey dressing

artichoke heart salad with preserved lemon and honey dressing
Here Comes The Sun
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
It's all right, it's all right

George Harrison
, 1969

I think I may have had an ancestor who was an Inuit or more likely a Viking, or perhaps just some kind of troglodyte who never saw the light of day. Because even with the best will in the world, total sun block cream, hats, scarves and plenty of iced water, I just can't spend too much time in the sun or it's a trip to A+E for me - just me and my minor case of sunstroke. Which is all a bit sad really.

poached cherry, roasted balsamic red onions and goat's cheese salad with cherry vinaigrette

poached cherry and goat's cheese salad with cherry vinaigrette
When it comes to recipes, I am something of a tinkerer. I find something I like and then wonder to myself whether there was something I might have missed. Could the recipe be improved?

In itself, this is not a problem. Unless you are like me; you write a food blog and have set yourself the challenge of getting out of a culinary rut (number one in my culinary New Year's resolutions). I had assumed that no-one would want to read the same old, same old, with my minor tweaks and fol-de-rols.There are also times when frankly I had tinkered too far and the food was only fit for the compost heap. (But let that be our little secret.)

nigel slater's baked tomatoes (and a few baked sweet peppers) with fragrant spices and coconut

Nigel Slater's baked peppers with tomatoes, spices and coconut
tomatoes, spices and coconut
(it shouldn't work but it does)

Nigel Slater
's recipes are often seductive in their simplicity. The Kitchen Diaries II recipe simply entitled tomatoes, spices, coconut is the perfect case in point. Although I have to confess to being a teensy bit perplexed by his addendum ("shouldn't work but it does").

Why shouldn't it work? Is it because Nigel has stuffed tomatoes with well, yet more tomatoes?

It can't be because of a gorgeous combination of onions, garlic, fresh ginger, mustard seeds, peppers, cherry and vine tomatoes, red chilli, turmeric and coconut milk? Can it? No, of course not!

yotam ottolenghi's baharat-spiced beef and lamb meatballs with lemony broad beans

Yotam Ottolenghi's beef meatballs with lemony broad beans
If you needed an excuse to buy Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's fabulous Jerusalem cookbook, I think this recipe is probably worth the price alone. A combination of beef and lamb is gently spiced with fragrant baharat, a soothing mixture of black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cumin, cardamom and nutmeg.

The meatballs are freshened with a zingy mixture of fresh herbs, including dill, coriander, mint and parsley. I ran out of dill and used some chopped fennel tops, which is why the meatballs in my photo are strewn with spiky herb fronds. Delicious none-the-less.

yotam ottolenghi's baharat spice mix

Yotam Ottolenghi's baharat spice mix
Baharat is a Middle Eastern blend of spices popular from Turkey to Egypt and Iran used in a wide variety of dishes from soups, rice and tabbouleh to tomato-based stews and tagines.

I was planning on making the beef and lamb meatballs with lemon broad beans from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's superb Jerusalem cookbook. The meatballs are spiced with fragrant baharat, which you can buy from the Ottolenghi online store. However the recipe is so easy and I do have a spice grinder, that it seemed easier to make it myself.