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Category Archives: Savoury Food

A Week in Shetland

October 2022 and I’m back in Shetland, this time to pursue food and history. In 2019 it was all about stunning coastal walks and brilliant wildlife. And Shetland made an impression. My musings on this visit are recorded here.

So with my long suffering but enthusiastic travelling companion in tow, I certainly got to grips in a determined way with the culture and the stories of Shetland food.

A highlight was A Taste of Shetland Food and Drink Festival – blogged recently here. What an amazing experience. A really good way to encounter local produce and producers. I tasted samples of tablet, sponge cake, sourdough, bannocks, oatcake and some gin to wash it all down. Have I left anything out?

Some wonderful restaurants too, in Lerwick where we were based, doing innovative food with local, seasonal food. I think I had seafood wherever I went – Shetland seafood is gorgeous.

Some highlights were beautiful scallops and mussels at No 88 Kitchen and Bar, exquisitely presented dishes at Da Steak Hoose and the best crème brûlée ever at C’est La Vie!

But I need to do a big shout out to the Cake Fridges of Shetland – what a fantastic, quirky idea!

These are fridges literally set up on the roadside where the owner bakes cakes and treats which you buy by putting money in an honesty box. And that’s it! Shetland is such a community minded place that people are honest.

I visited The Cake Fridge in Aith – the original cake fridge, and bought hot coffee and tiffin – a kind of chocolate slice. Very Shetland and quite delicious.

On the island of Unst, seemingly in the middle of nowhere we were delighted to find a cake fridge, this time more accurately a cake dolls’ house! And on a cold and windy day we bought shortbread, more tiffin and tablet to keep us fuelled for exploring this most northerly island.

History and archeology were also on the agenda. And we struck gold when we met the eloquent and knowledgeable Chris Dyer from Garths Croft on the island of Bressay. Chris is an archeologist, historian and farmer, who is a passionate enthusiast for native and heritage breeds and sustainable farming.

An afternoon spent at Garths Croft was an immersive experience in the workings of a small croft. Readers of this blog may be aware of my love of sheep – and I was fascinated by the sheep that Chris breeds for colour. And I was particularly taken by Dinky, a sheep that had been hand reared from birth by Chris. I admit to being a bit sentimental where sheep are concerned…

Chris also is highly informed on local food and the importance of food miles in agriculture and food production in Shetland. We ate some outstanding local dishes on Chris’ recommendations.

One of those recommendations was the wonderful Speldiburn Cafe which we visited when we were on Bressay. Now here was great Shetland food – soups, bannocks. cakes and tiffin, all home made and all served with a welcoming smile!

We were able to tap into Chris’ other great passion, archeology, when we drove up to Unst, the most northerly point of the UK, driving across two islands via two ferries to reach this historic place. This bleak and windswept island is evocative, thought to be the first point of contact in the North Atlantic of the Vikings, and a treasure trove of archeological sites pertaining to Viking history.

At Haroldswick, a replica Viking Long House, where we had lunch, and a Viking ship the Skidbladner, give visitors some idea of Viking life. The replica ship actually made the voyage from Sweden to Shetland. Apparently bound for the United States in 2000, the ship stopped off in Unst where it remains today. Getting inside the ship gave me a real appreciation of how hard those Viking sea journeys must have been.

I had visited Unst in 2019, staying at Saxa Vord, at the service quarters of an old RAF base. Some of the base facilities are now being developed as part of the planned SaxaVord Spaceport, creating a successful, internationally recognised “new space business”. Today however Saxa Vord is abandoned, and we wandered around the deserted site. Another reminder of the historical strategic importance of the northerly isle – to the Viking invaders and latterly to those seeking to defend the UK on its northerly tip.

I think of all the sites we visited the ruins of Framgord Chapel and graveyard left the greatest impression on me.

Chris brought us to this special place above the beach at Sandwick. The chapel probably dates to the 12th Century. The graveyard was what fascinated me. With sweeping views of the beach, the graveyard is a testament to history and spirituality. Remarkably it’s still in use today, and contemporary headstones lie side by side with early Viking Christian graves.

On a more poignant note there is the burial place and memorial to crew members of a Norwegian ship torpedoed in 1940 during World War 2. The lifeboat was wrecked at Muness in Unst. The wild seas are still the graveyard of latter day northern seafarers.

We saw much more on Unst, and this would only have been the tip of the iceberg. The archeological treasures of Unst are numerous and bear more research.

I would add here that any trip to Shetland to discover its history is enhanced by visiting Shetland Museum in Lerwick – a really interesting and informative collection.

Of course I did and saw a lot more! I just wanted to give a snapshot, the highlights, of a memorable visit to wonderful Shetland. Highly recommended.

A Taste of Shetland Food and Drink Festival 2022: an Australian’s Perspective

It’s not a surprise to readers of this blog that I love Shetland. I fell in love when I first visited in 2019.

These northerly islands with stunning scenery, rugged coastlines, windswept beaches and marvellous unique wildlife capture the imagination.

I love the islands’ Viking heritage, too, evident in archaeology, language and place names.

But it’s the food and food culture that really draw me to the islands. An abundance of local produce, a cultural shared food heritage from the many influences of sea locked islands and a generosity of spirit to share and connect with food make for some wonderful food experiences.

So it was with great delight that I learned that the Taste of Shetland Food Festival was back again as a live event in 2022.

The pandemic has put on hold so many festivals and celebrations, and when a food festival returns from a place I hold dear, there was only one thing to do – book my ticket and fly from Australia!

So a week in Shetland – some walks, tours and good restaurants – culminating in a fabulous foodie weekend. I crammed a lot into one Saturday in the Clickimin Leisure Complex in Lerwick as I already had my Sunday organised going to Unst, with Chris Dyer of Garths Croft, which was another unique cultural experience in Shetland not to be missed.

So here’s a snapshot of my day and some photos which I hope capture the spirit of the Festival. First up, after the official opening, Nick Nairn, Celebrity Chef Cooking Demonstration:

A highly entertaining and informative session where Nick cooked lamb tikka skewers, sassermaet meatballs and miso salmon. All highlighting local Shetland ingredients. Nick knows his stuff and I’ve never laughed so much in a cooking show!

Next, a wander round the stalls. So many fabulous food and drink providers showing off their products! I could have eaten half of Shetland in a walk around. And I possibly did eat quite a lot of the lovely samples…

Too many providers to mention them all here, the photos will give you the idea. And lunch was a delicious beef pie from Scalloway Meat Co and a chance to sit down!

The afternoon was spent in two fabulous masterclasses, learning more about sourdough and bannocks.

Sourdough by Gus Dow taught this sourdough baker a whole lot more about the science of sourdough. Gus started with a Halloween pumpkin loaf fresh from the oven and then baked a couple of batard loaves, as well as showing how to make a sourdough starter. Great stuff!

Shetland Bannocks by Kevin Smith was the definitive workshop on bannocks for me, giving me insiders’ tips to shaping and cooking these notoriously tricky flour items. And I learnt some new Shetland vocab too. Can’t wait to try these new skills!

I also got to meet Marian Armitage, Festival Chair, “Proud Shetlander, home cook and award winning food writer”. Wow! My Festival experience was complete.

For more info on the Festival and A Taste of Shetland, click here for the website.

A great day all round, meeting, talking and eating – so congratulations to the organisers and to all involved for a successful 2022 Festival.

“Garths Croft Bressay Shetland”

Caramelised Onion Traybake

This is an easy and tasty dish perfect for lunch or my favourite, a simple supper.

It’s more of traybake than a tart, as it’s baked in a cake tin or pan. But there’s nothing to stop you from baking it in a traditional tart or pie dish, or even a normal baking dish.

The recipe came about because I had loads of beautiful red onions, plus a few brown ones on hand. I had just been to the Spring Harvest Festival at Vaucluse House run by Sydney Living Museums where I came away with a big tub of Vanella Cheese ricotta.

So caramelised onions on creamy ricotta on puff pastry was the go! Baked as a traybake made it easy to cut into slices for serving.

Not too tricky, give it a go!

Ingredients

3 large brown onions

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

4 red onions

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

300g ricotta

3 free-range eggs

Salt and black pepper

1 sheet of puff pastry (approximately 180g, if you’re using block puff pastry)

Method

Cut all the onions into rings. No need to be too precise – they can be quite chunky. Reserve the rings from two of the red onions.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat on the stovetop. Add the olive oil. Put in all the onion slices except the reserved red onion slices. Add the salt and brown sugar.

Cook for several minutes until the onions are soft and caramelised, turning occasionally. Now add in the reserved onions and cook for a further couple of minutes, until the onions have only just started to soften. Remove from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C fan forced.

Grease your cake tin/pan or tart dish or baking dish.

Mix the ricotta, free range eggs, salt and black pepper with a spoon or fork. No need to blend or process.

Place the sheet of puff pastry snugly inside the tin/pan/dish, cutting it or stretching it to fit your dish. If using block pastry, roll out 180g into a shape to fit the size of the dish.

Soon the ricotta mixture over the puff pastry. Layer the onions on top, making sure the red onions you cooked last sit on the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden round the wedges and the ricotta is set.

Serve warm or cold, with a green salad and crusty bread. You can freezer left over slices too.

Hot Smoked Salmon and Asparagus Pasta

When I first acquired Jamie Oliver’s book, 5 Ingredients, I cooked many of the recipes, as they were simple to make up and used only 5 ingredients give or take a staple or two!

This recipe lives up to expectations. The main ingredient, hot smoked salmon, is versatile. You can buy it in the supermarket, and as the salmon is already cooked, you can pop it straight into any number of dishes.

I was recently reminded that we need to buy environmentally responsible salmon. In Australia, Petuna and New Zealand King Salmon are good brands to look for and are available in supermarkets.

Ingredients

350g fresh asparagus

300g dried taglierini or angel-hair pasta (I used the latter)

250g hot-smoked salmon skin off

1 lemon

100ml creme fraiche (Jamie recommends half fat if you can get it. Just use full fat if you can’t get half fat)

Method

Use a speed peeler to strip the top tender half of the asparagus stalks into ribbons. Finely slice the remaining stalks, discarding the woody ends. Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions, then drain, reserving a mugful of cooking water. Meanwhile, roughly break the salmon into a large non-stick frying pan on a medium-high heat. Add the sliced asparagus stalks, and toss occasionally until the pasta’s ready.

Finely great half the lemon zest into the salmon pan, squeeze in half the juice, then toss in the drained pasta, a good splash of the reserved cooking water and the crème fraiche. Add the asparagus ribbons, toss again, then season to perfection with sea salt and and black pepper. Serve with lemon wedges, for squeezing over.

Hot Smoked Salmon with Coconut Rice and Greens

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Another recipe from the vault. Jamie Oliver is a source of simple but innovative recipes and Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals, which came out a while ago, was the inspiration for this salmon, rice and greens dish. The recipe’s based on his Green Tea Salmon with Coconut Rice, and Jamie’s Killer Kedgeree.

Hot smoked salmon is readily available here in Australia from supermarkets. I buy it often as it’s a quick fix meal that’s very versatile.

Ingredients

1 cup basmati rice

1 cup light coconut milk

1 cup boiling water

1/2 lemon

Handful of coconut flakes

A large handful of sugar snap peas

A large handful of green beans

3 spring onions

A scattering of shelled pistachios

1 hot smoked salmon fillet

Method

To make rice, combine the rice, coconut milk, boiling water and lemon in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, turn down heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until rice is almost cooked. Turn off heat and leave rice to finish cooking while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Cook the sugar snap peas and beans, separately, in the microwave, until just cooked but still crunchy.

Assemble the dish by placing the cooked rice minus the lemon half in a bowl. Flake the salmon fillet and scatter over the rice. Top with the coconut flakes.

PS The coconut rice is sensational and I’ll be cooking this again!

Arrange the sugar snap peas and beans on a serving platter to accompany the fish and rice, scattering with sliced spring onions and pistachios.

You can serve this salmon and rice dish with any vegetables and garnishes you like, or that takes your fancy.

Leek and Spinach Galette

Ingredients

450g good store bought shortcrust pastry, or you could make your own.

2 leeks

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 tablespoon butter

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

50g baby spinach leaves

140g light sour cream or creme fraiche

2 free range eggs

1 teaspoon mustard

Salt and ground black pepper

50g cheddar cheese

Egg wash – 1 free-range egg mixed with 1/2 tablespoon water.

Method

Roll out the pastry to a rough circle. About 20-25cm or 9-10 inches in diameter is good. This is a rustic galette and is very forgiving. Put the circle of pastry onto a baking sheet on your chosen baking surface. A cast iron pan is ideal (that’s what I used), but a baking tray works just as well.

Score another circle with a knife inside the pastry base, 2-3 cms smaller. Carefully turn up the outer circle to make a rough side for the galette.

Chop the leeks into rounds. Put the olive oil and butter into a large frying pan. When the butter is melted, add the chopped garlic and leeks. Add the salt and simmer the mixture on a low heat for 10-15 minutes or until the leeks are soft. Add the the baby spinach leaves and stir through. Turn off the heat and cover the frying pan. Leave for 5 minutes until the spinach has wilted.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.

Put the sour cream or creme fraiche into a bowl and stir to loosen. Add the eggs, and beat well to fully mix. Add the mustard and salt and pepper and mix.

Scatter the cheddar cheese over the pastry circle, and then scatter the leeks/garlic/spinach on top. Pour the sour cream/egg mixture very carefully over the filling inside the galette. If you have too much liquid, don’t use it all in case it spills.

Brush the pastry edge with egg wash.

Place the galette into the pre-heated oven, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the custard is set and slightly puffy. The pastry should be golden brown, too.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a green salad. You could throw in a few baby spinach leaves and some fried leek rounds for decoration too!

Keto Pork Pies

I have a friend who is on a strict keto diet. I often make recipes that are naturally keto friendly or adapting ingredients to make the recipe fit the requirements.

Hearty beef or lamb stews are easy, provided you leave out the root vegetables. Chilli beef is always a winner!

My friend is very partial to pork pies. So they are definitely on the “to bake” list! Now pork pies are notoriously tricky to make with hot water pastry. And if you hand raise the pastry, that’s really challenging!

You need to adapt the pastry with keto friendly ingredients. And it’s still a hot water crust pastry which is more difficult to handle than ordinary pastry. However this recipe doesn’t require hand raising. Simply bake in large muffin molds, or small pie molds as I did.

The keto pastry is not that difficult to handle and the resulting crust is quite delicious!

Ingredients

Filling

2 rashers bacon

300g pork shoulder

4 spring onions or 1 medium onion

A small handful each of thyme and sage

1/2 teaspoon chilli paste or chilli powder

Salt and pepper

Hot water crust pastry

200 grams almond flour

200 grams oat bran

1 ½ teaspoon guar or xanthan gum

1 teaspoon salt

Ground black pepper

60 grams butter

60 grams lard

200 grams water

1 free range egg

Jelly

1 gelatine platinum leaf

125 mls chicken or vegetable stock

1 free range egg, beaten, for glazing.

Method

Butter the pork pie molds well. Large muffin molds work well.

Chop the bacon rashers and the pork shoulder roughly, and put in a food processor. Add the spring onion or onion also roughy chopped, and the thyme, sage, chilli and salt and pepper.

Blitz in the food processor, until the ingredients are combined. Don’t over process. You want a pork mince, not a paste.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C fan forced.

Meanwhile, make the pastry. Mix the almond flour, oat bran, guar or xanthan gum, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Lightly whisk the egg, make a well in the centre, put in the egg and mix in. Don’t worry if you can’t mix in properly – you will get clumps.

Put the butter, lard and water in a saucepan over a low heat and cook until the butter and lard are fully melted.

Turn the heat up and bring the liquid to the boil, and as soon as it starts boiling, carefully pour all the liquid into the flour mixture. You will need to stir everything together quite quickly while the mixture is still warm. Make sure everything is combined.

This mixture will make 6 pies, so divide the mixture into 6 large balls for the pie bottoms and 6 smaller balls for the pie lids.

Press each of the larger balls of dough into the molds, pushing the dough down into the molds and up the sides. Make sure there are no holes.

Divide the pork mix into 6 portions and put each portion inside the pastry bottoms. Leave a space at the top, for the jelly.

Using your fingers, stretch the small balls of dough into circles to fit the top of the pies for the lids.

Brush some beaten egg around the edges of the pies. Place the dough lids on top of the pies, and gently press all around the edges to stick the lids and bottoms together.

Brush the pork pie tops with more beaten egg, and make a hole in the centre of the pies.

Put the pies in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, and egg wash the tops again. Put back in the oven for a further 10 minutes.

Take the pork pies from the oven and allow them to cool inside the molds.

Meanwhile, dissolve the gelatine leaf in the hot stock. Pour the stock slowly inside the pork pies through the hole in the lids until they are full. Let the stock soak in for a moment, then pour in a little more stock.

Put the pies in the fridge for a few hours for the jelly to set.

Serve at room temperature with plenty of your favourite chutney or relish, and maybe a few pickles on the side.

Moroccan Winter Soup

This is a hearty warming winter soup that is redolent with fragrant Moroccan spices. The base is root vegetables, and their robust flavours work well with the spice mix.

It’s pretty easy – bake the veggies with the spices, then transfer to a saucepan to cook a little more, then blend to soup consistency.

The root vegetables can be varied, but you definitely need some “orange” vegetables like pumpkin or carrots.

A note on the spices. As well as that beautiful spice sumac, I included ras al hanout or baharat. These are Middle Eastern spice mixes. Either mix is good – use whatever you can get your hands on.

Ingredients

500g pumpkin

500g carrots

250g sweet potatoes

250g swede

2 onions cut into chunks

4 -5 garlic cloves

2 teaspoon of ras al hanout or baharat

1 teaspoon sumac

Sea salt and ground black pepper

30mls olive oil

1.5 litres chicken or vegetable stock

Method

Preheat oven to 190 degrees C fan forced.

Peel the vegetables and chop into rough chunks.

Put all the vegetables into a large baking tray, sprinkle over the spices and salt and pepper. Pour over the olive oil. Mix well, making sure everything is coated with oil.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

Remove from the oven and transfer to a large stock pot or saucepan. Place on the stovetop. Add the stock, and bring to a medium boil.

Cook for 5 minutes to amalgamate the veggies and stock. Using a stick blender, blitz in the saucepan until you have a good soup consistency, still a bit chunky. Or you could put the soup in a blender and process.

Serve with crusty bread, preferably sourdough. You could add a dash of yoghurt and a sprinkle of thyme or coriander for added zhush!

The soup freezes and reheats well.

Bacon, Cheese and Chilli Scrolls

Sweet or savoury, scrolls are one of my favourite yeast based products to make. These scrolls are packed with streaky beacon, cheddar cheese and chilli/tomato/barbecue sauce. A perfect snack or quick breakfast on the go.

Make a basic enriched dough and fill it with the above ingredients, and bake into luscious scrolls.

Ingredients

Dough

500g strong flour

7g yeast

250g milk

10g salt

2 free-range eggs

50g butter

Filling

150g streaky bacon

75g good cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons tomato chutney

1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce

1 tablespoon barbecue sauce

Glaze

1 free-range egg, beaten

1 teaspoon sweet chilli sauce

Method

Put the strong flour into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook or into a large mixing bowl if kneading by hand. Add the instant yeast and salt, making sure the yeast and salt are on opposite sides of the bowl. Add the milk which you have warmed to tepid (microwaving is easy) and the beaten eggs. Mix by hand into a rough dough, even if you’re going to use the dough hook in the next stage.

Cover the bowl with a tea towel or my favourite, a plastic shower cap, and rest for 20 minutes. Then move the bowl to the mixer and knead with the dough hook until the mixture is smooth and starting to develop some elasticity, about 5 minutes. Add the butter in small pieces, then knead again for about 5 minutes, using the mixer until the butter is thoroughly incorporated, the dough is smooth and you can achieve the “windowpane” effect. That is, you can pull some of the dough off the dough hook, between two fingers, stretching it so that it’s translucent.

If you are kneading by hand, you will knead to work the dough really well, in both stages, to get it to the desired silky, elastic stage.

Cover the bowl again and leave in a warm place to prove for about an hour, until the dough is doubled in size. You ideally need a temperature of about 25 degrees C.

You can prepare the filling while the dough is proving. Put the bacon rashers in a cold frying pan and heat up on medium, cooking the bacon rashers slowly, until they are nicely crisp. Remove from the pan and cool to room temperature. Finely chop the bacon rashers.

Grate the cheese and put aside. Combine the chilli, tomato and barbecue sauces in a small bowl.

Once the dough is risen, take the dough out of the bowl onto the bench top or ideally a large wooden board. Flour the bench top or board liberally with flour. Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough into a large rectangle, as large as you can go, with the dough ending up about 1/2 cm thick. My dough rectangle is usually about 30cm in width by 40-50cm in length.

Liberally spread the sauce mixture over the dough rectangle. Scatter the chopped bacon and grated cheese on top of the sauce.

Now carefully roll up the dough along the long side. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into 18 pieces. These are mini scrolls – if you wanted bigger ones, slice into 12 pieces.

Line a large baking tin or tray with baking paper. Carefully place each slice, cut side up, into the tin or tray, fitting them snugly together.

Place the tin or tray into a large plastic bag. Put the tin or tray into the fridge, and leave for 8-12 hours overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 180 degrees C fan forced, or 200 degrees C non fan forced.

Remove the plastic bag from the tin/tray. With a pastry brush, glaze the scrolls with the egg chilli mixture. Place into the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the scrolls are risen and and nice and brown.

Pull apart and eat while still warm!

Lamb Shoulder Tagine

Winter has arrived fairly dramatically in Sydney in this first week of June. Time to get some slow cooking on the go! Lamb is always great in a casserole and lamb shoulder makes a great tagine with lots of Middle Eastern flavours. The shoulder needs to be boned and diced – try to get your butcher to do that for you. Less labour intensive than doing it yourself.

The tagine itself is the star – just serve it with couscous or rice or homemade flatbread to soak up the juice.

I make my tagine in a heavy based casserole. You could do this and serve in a tagine if you like.

Ingredients

2 teaspoons paprika – sweet or smoked

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon chilli powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice and rind of a mandarin or orange

1 kg diced lamb shoulder

2 eshallots

1 clove of garlic

1  x 425g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 1/2 x tins of water (use the chopped tomatoes tin for this)

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

125g dried apricots

125g pitted prunes

Method

Combine spices and pepper and salt in a large bowl.  Add the oil, rind and juice of the mandarin/orange and stir to form a paste. Add lamb and stir until well coated in the paste. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or longer.

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C.

Heat a heavy based casserole on the stovetop, and add half the olive oil. Tip in the lamb and cook over a fairly high heat until evenly browned, then tip onto a plate.

Add the remaining olive oil to the casserole and stir in the the eshallots, and then cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic and continue to cook for a further couple of minutes or until the garlic is softened but not browned.

Return the browned meat to the casserole. Add the chopped tomatoes, tins of water and stir well. Add the pomegranate molasses. Bring to the boil, then put the lid on and transfer to the oven.

Cook for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and stir in the dried apricots and prunes, roughly chopped. Cook, covered for a further 40 minutes or until lamb is tender.

If you’re not completely satisfied with the tenderness of the lamb you can cook for a further 15 minutes.

Serve with the aforementioned couscous, rice or flatbread. A spoonful of yoghurt is nice too, and some chopped coriander.

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