Vietnamese Papaya Salad/ Goi Bo Hoi An


I spent New Year’s Eve enjoying an Asian themed pot luck dinner with a great group of friends. I love pot luck dinners as you get to try many dishes at once thus satisfying that urge when faced with a menu packed with many scrumptious sounding dishes to order it all! We started with a papaya salad that a friend had learnt at a cookery school on a trip to Vietnam last year. It was so delicious that I could have eaten it all night! But of course the other dishes were great too: peanut, chilli and lime thick sauce; chicken and lemongrass curry and chicken, coriander and coconut curry.

In the papaya salad the ingredients are all raw and the combination of flavours and textures is fresh, fruity, juicy, crunchy, sharp and zingy all at once! What could beat that? Answers in the comments section please!

The original recipe from the cookery school my friend went to calls for beef, onions and shallots but she omitted these at New Year and it was scrumptious as is so I have written the school’s recipe here but without the above mentioned ingredients. However she included carrots so I have added these.

Serves 6 // Takes 30 mins

What you need:

For the salad –

150g lettuce

150g green/ yellow papaya (grated)

150g tomatoes – seeds removed and cut into thin strips

150g carrot – cut into thin strips

75g cucumber – seeds removed and cut into thin strips

4 fresh red chillies – finely sliced with seeds removed

For the dressing –

Juice of 1 lime

1 tbsp fish sauce

3 tsp brown sugar

1 clove of crushed garlic

For the topping –

2 tbsp peanuts – crushed

75g fresh mint leaves

75g fresh coriander leaves

40g Asian basil

What you need to do:

Like most Asian dishes there are a lot of ingredients that need a lot of laborious slicing but it is well worth it.

All you need to do is prepare the salad ingredients as listed above, mix the dressing ingredients, toss the salad in it in a bowl and sprinkle the topping over it.

You can find information on the cookery school here. Thanks for the delicious dish and recipe Isa!



Find more Asian recipes on Conker and Indigo here and here.


Secret Vegetable and Herb Garden

Someone who wasn’t invited for dinner stopped by for a clandestine snack.

Perhaps I still have Olympics on the brain but I think these plants look like they are raising their arms in victory after winning a race!

I live in the Islington area of London which is a pretty affluent area full of great restaurants, some of the best furniture shops in town, Camden Passage which is a hot spot for antiques, and Regents Canal. It has its fair share of yummy mummies but hasn’t quite reached Nappy Valley status. I love it. However, it used to have a bit of a rough reputation. There was an estate very close to my home which caused a lot of problems for the local community, so much so that a cab driver dropping me home recently asked if I had problems with this specific estate as he certainly had heard about its rough reputation. I hadn’t really been aware. During this shady patch a community association was formed to clean up the area and rid the reputation it had unfortunately obtained. The local square which used to have the debris of boozy and probably druggy activities was cleaned up, new flowers were planted, borders were tended to and a herb and vegetable garden was planted. This garden is for anyone who is a resident to help themselves to – such a great idea. Of course I’m not going to tell you where it is though. I want the chives all for myself!! Miaow!

Also, I love (said with a lot of oomph) taking photos of plants hence the multiple photos of cavolo nero – its bubbly yet strong surface is a structure to admire, don’t you think?! I once made a vegetable arrangement from them which I posted several years ago here.

On the Side: Fennel, Orange, Radish and Chilli Flake Salad

The other day I saw Matthew Bourne’s ‘Play Without Words’ at Sadler’s Wells which was fantastic. Bourne is a choreographer of contemporary dance, I always see his productions and so far none have failed to impress. He is well known for his ‘Swan Lake’ with all male swans. He also did a take on ‘Carmen’ called ‘Carman’ set in a garage with the main character being a mechanic (Carman of course!)  getting hot and bothered with the head of the garage’s wife. Before the show I had lunch in the courtyard cafe at the Lillian Bayliss studio next door. The food there is always great and this time was no exception. I had a frittata with a fennel, lemon juice and chilli flake salad. Cue yummy noises! Here’s my take on the salad with orange and radishes for hits of peppery and sweet flavours and eye pleasing pops of pink and orange.

Takes 5 minutes // Serves 2

What you need:

1 orange

2 small fennels or 1 large one

6 radishes

A sprinkling of dried chilli flakes

What you need to do:

1. Wash all ingredients bar the chilli flakes.

2. Cut the hard base of the fennel and the shoots of the top off. Slice the shoots lengthways and keep the grassy bits.

3. Slice the fennel length ways so you keep the intricate layers together.

4. Slice an inch off the top of the orange and juice it.

5. Slice the rest of the orange, bar an inch at the other end, into slices, cut the rind off each one and juice the other end.

6. Slice the radishes as thinly as possible.

7. Arrange all the ingredients in a bowl, pour the orange juice on top and sprinkle the chilli flakes over it.

Quick Lunch: Roasted Aubergine, Sweet Potato and Green Leaves

There’s a great little restaurant in Islington called The Afghan Kitchen. It has a short and simple menu and is a very casual place to eat with customers sharing tables. They do a dish with roasted aubergine, it is simply sliced in half length ways and put in the oven. I love it like this! So simple and it melts in the mouth. When I work from home I like to make something like this for lunch so yesterday I roasted aubergine and sweet potato for about 30 minutes at 180C and served them with green leaves. Easy and tasty. There’s no need to slather ingredients in sauces, I just drizzled olive oil on top and let the flavours be true to themselves. Goodness, that sounds like a motivational speech for vegetables. I’m sure you know what I mean!!

Windy Picnic at Joss Bay/ Day Trip to Margate

Last weekend I went to Joss Bay and Margate. I was gasping for a day out by the coast and also curious to see Margate which is undergoing a regeneration, so it’s said. Margate had been a national tourist hotspot but sadly its heyday has long gone. It used to be full of city dwellers enjoying the sea air and festive atmosphere that goes with all piers and boardwalks, then tourism changed and people didn’t find Margate as appealing as before. So, like several other seaside towns, it turned pretty grubby and run down. I had read about the new creative quarter and efforts to bring back day trippers so was intrigued to see how the town was. I had no personal frame of reference to compare it to other than having seen photos of it when it was thriving. There has been a recent addition of a modern art gallery, Turner Contemporary, which is an effort to draw new crowds. I was interested to see if this really had made a difference.

But before Margate, we stopped at nearby Joss Bay to start with a picnic of a very colourful salad (fennel, beetroot, chicory, radishes and tomatoes), some delicious mini quiches from Euphorium Bakery (which I realise I have been calling “Emporium Bakery” for about a year!), and thyme, Emmental and mushroom muffins (recipe to be posted soon). It was a very windy day and with every gust a sprinkling of sand deposited itself in my wine, salad and face. It’s all part of a good day out! After investing in a very handy windbreaker, I was enjoying my calm state of mind so much amongst the wind, seagulls and occasional thunks as people knocked wind breakers into the sand that I would have been very content to spend the whole day there. But we had come on an adventure to Margate and would have to scoop ourselves up from the human shaped dents we had made in the sand and move on.Mini quiches are recommended, dried seaweed, not necessarily.So to Margate! One of the first things to strike you on the waterfront is the series of white blocks of the new Turner Contemporary Gallery by David Chipperfield Architects who did a fantastic job at the Neues Museum in Berlin. It’s certainly modern compared to the quaint houses and streets in the old quarter nearby and inside it is functional with white walls, poured concrete floors and plenty of natural light. Tracey Emin, who hails from Margate, has an exhibition on and Rodin’s The Kiss is on loan to the gallery. The paths around the building are made of crushed shells which is a very nice touch. We didn’t actually spend that long in Margate. Once we had wandered around the prettiest streets, had tea and cupcakes at The Cupcake Cafe, and walked down the pier it felt like we had seen it all. I would hope to say that we hadn’t but there was certainly no feeling of being enticed further into the town. One thing that did strike me was the very frequent sight of boarded up shops. So much for the regeneration. A whole stretch of the waterfront was boarded up. This felt odd next to the vintage and contemporary furniture shops and whimsical teashops.

Once Margate was an exciting destination that people went to for holidays, to spend on something that was special. But for many years now, since losing its holiday appeal, it has been an attractive town for cheap accommodation with local authorities (even in London) relocating people to hotels that have been turned into bedsits. Now with the swanky new gallery, the hope is that people will find Margate attractive again. I’m not a Tracey Emin fan so the exhibition certainly wasn’t what brought me to the town but the idea that this previously fun seaside resort was being reinvented was. Sadly, I can’t say that it’s that exciting. If you’re looking for a great seaside experience there are many more British coastal towns which are doing much better and survive with or without visitors. I do hope things will change though and if you’re looking for a good cupcake, the mango and blueberry ones at The Cupcake Cafe are seriously yummy.Vintage shopkeeperLocal wildlife

Summer of Salads: Barley, Beetroot, Avocado, Broad Bean and Fennel Seeds

I went to two picnics at the weekend – one by the Serpentine in Hyde Park at the Nomad Cinema to see Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” and the other in London Fields. I took this barley salad along to add to the pot-luck picnic. I ate barley (orzo) a lot when I lived in Florence and was so pleased to find it the other day in Waitrose. I love that the salad turns pink with the beetroot juice!

Serves 6.

What you need:

400g barley

5 pre-boiled beetroots

2 avocados

200g broad beans (frozen)

a smattering of fennel seeds

a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil

What you need to do:

1. Wash the barley, drain, place in a pan with ample water covering it and bring to the boil. Then simmer for about 40 minutes or until tender.

2. Boil a small pan of water and put the broad beans in. Boil for 3 minutes.

3. Slice the beetroot and avocadoes.

4. When the barley and broad beans are cooked and drained, allow them to cool, mix them together then scatter in the beetroot and avocado slices, the fennel seeds and a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil.

Enjoy with or without a “nomad cinema”!

Summer of Salads: Garden Supper

I went to a friend’s the other evening and had the most scrumptious supper plucked mainly from the garden. The menu was gazpacho, beetroot and carrot salad and radish pods with lettuce. Rabbit food to some, delicious to me!!

Gazpacho recipe

What you need:

1 cucumber

1 red pepper

3 big tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

1 small red chilli

1/3 of a red onion sliced

red wine vinegar, olive oil and salt & pepper to taste

What you need to do:

Put all the ingredients in a blender until they reduce to a thick soup consistency. Transfer it to a bowl and add ice cubes.

Don’t blend it too much so that the ingredients are left a little bitty. I’ve always had the soup with a smooth consistency but it is really good with more texture.