Leek, Lemon and Walnut Pilaf

I have lots of leeks in the garden that need eating – as some of them are running to seed.

I’ve also been fighting a virus so I came up with a dish that contains lots of vitamin C (parsley and lemon) and alliums (shallot, fennel and leek) – perfect for boosting your immune system!

I thought I’d adapt the recipe on the back of a packet of Freekeh for a Leek Pilaf.

I also included some of my first “late” bulb fennel.

Half of the fennel went into the pilaf – the rest I diced and used to make a salad.

I combined it with a few roasted walnuts, half  a chopped apple dressed with a pinch of salt, cider vinegar and olive oil and some finely minced parsley.

In August or September I stupidly planted out some of the fennel in a spot that was too shady and so – desperate for light – it bolted.

But it’s produced the most wonderful umbellifers of acid yellow that along with late-flowering orange calendula and creamy chrysanthemums have brightened up garden at this dismal time of year.

The rest of the fennel looks as if it will be edible – I must mound up the earth/mulch around the pale white bulbs as I’ve found that makes them bigger.

So what on earth is Freekeh!

I’d never heard of it until recently – but it is common in the Middle East.

It reminds me of bulgur, which is the cracked wheat used in tabbouleh – but it has a very different taste.

Freekeh is the young green wheat that’s been smoked and roasted.

Please ignore the erroneous weight shown on the digital scales! This is about 125g of Freekeh which I think, when cooked, is plenty for about four people alongside a salad or another side dish

I first came upon it a year or so ago in a local wholefood store and then, searching for a recipe, stumbled across one by Ottolenghi in his book, Plenty.

It was slightly too complex for my taste as it had too many competing flavours – the freekeh on it’s own has a strong smoky aroma and taste.

And he served it with yoghurt – which I thought was not really necessary.

But it did whet my appetite and curiosity and so I present you my simple take on Freekeh Pilaf.

Leek, Lemon and Walnut Pilaf served with Fennel and Apple Salad
5 from 1 vote
Leek, Walnut and Lemon Pilaf
Servings: 4
Author: Cath
  • 250 g leeks, quartered lengthways and chopped
  • 50 g bulb of fennel, diced
  • 1 shallot about 50g in weight, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme or double the amount of fresh
  • 1/2 lemon zested and juiced
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 125 g freekeh or bulgur wheat
  • 200 ml vegetable stock
  • 12 walnut halves chopped
  1. Pour and heat 2 tbsp olive oil into a wide, heavy frying pan or large saucepan on a low to medium heat.

  2. Add the finely chopped shallot, diced leeks and fennel and if you have no fennel just use an extra 50g of leeks to make up the weight. Soften for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don't brown.

  3. Rinse the freekeh in a sieve and add to the pan of leeks etc along with the thyme and the vegetable stock.

  4. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed (Do add a little more liquid and cook for five minutes more if the freekeh is a still a little crunchy).

  5. Then take off heat and let it stand covered for 10 minutes.

  6. Roast the walnuts under the grill or in the oven for a few minutes - don't let them burn! 

  7. Stir in the zest and juice of the half a lemon. 

  8. Top with walnuts and parsley.






Coriander and Peanut Pesto

This is a wonderfully aromatic relish for use when you have too much coriander.

But I must admit that rarely happens as I’ve always found it quite tricky to grow – it seems to bolt, flower and go to seed very easily.

Of course that’s no problem as you can use the seeds either green or dried in curries.

But this past week I noticed a massive amount of coriander had self sown and almost taken over a whole bed at the Escape Allotment.

The purple leaves are self-sown amaranth

So I picked a load – shared it out and brought some home to make this pesto.

It has coriander, basil and mint as well as ginger, green chillies and garlic.

This is all brought together with lime juice, tamarind paste, oil and blanched roasted peanuts.

Oh and there’s a little jaggery or natural cane sugar in there too.

It’s a good idea to wash and dry all the herbs you use.

I’m going to freeze the finished pesto in little ice cubes and use stirred into noodles over the winter.

You can also keep in a jar with a film of oil on the top in the fridge – but it’ll lose it’s brightness and verve after a couple of days.

This makes an awful lot – you can halve the recipe if you want.

Coriander and Peanut Pesto
Servings: 10
Author: Cath
  • 140 g fresh coriander with stalks and roots if you have them
  • 70 g fresh basil leaves
  • 10 - 20 g fresh mint leaves
  • 1/3 (UK) cup blanched peanuts
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp finely grated ginger root
  • 1 lime squeezed (about 2 tbsp juice)
  • 2 tsp jaggery or palm sugar
  • 2 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 125 ml peanut/groundnut oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Wash and dry the herbs thoroughly.

  2. Leave the coriander leaves, stalks etc intact - but use only the leaves of the basil and mint and discard the stalks.

  3. Roast the peanuts until golden brown. 5 or 10 minutes in a hot oven or dry roast in a pan or under grill. Leave to cool a little.

  4. Blend the leaves with the peeled garlic cloves, ginger, lime juice, tamarind paste, green chillies, natural cane sugar/jaggery, salt and oil.

  5. Add peanuts and blend until well amalgamated.

  6. Stir into noodles or use as a dip/relish.




Pesto with a twist

The twenty or so basil plants I sowed from seed earlier this summer are getting a bit leggy and so I tipped them out – nipping off the top two or four big leaves down to the next set of leaves on the stalk.

They were crying out to be pulverised into pesto – I do it every year and freeze it to be used over winter.

Basil doesn’t like to be cold and wet so pour water into the tray or saucer which the pot is standing in so it can draw water up into the pot

You can make pesto with vegan parmesan – Violife is quite a good brand.

But I think pesto tastes just as good, if not better, without the “cheese”.

I added some mint and lemon juice to lift the flavour.


This vegan pesto has a little mint and lemon juice to make it sparkle.

Servings: 6 people
Author: Cath
  • 100 g fresh basil leaves
  • 100 g pine nuts
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 10 g mint leaves
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Wash your basil and mint leaves with no large pieces of stalk remaining and spin dry in a salad spinner.

  2. Add basil and mint leaves to pine nuts in a blender or food processor along with all the other ingredients; the crushed garlic, lemon juice, olive oil.

  3. Blend until fairly homogeneous.

  4. Add salt to taste.

In other news:

  • The pumpkins and winter squash have been harvested. I leave a little of the vine either side of the stalk which should be looking brown and woody. Try to keep the stalk intact on the gourd – otherwise it’ll be prone to rot.   The other way to tell if they’re ready is if they sound hollow when tapped lightly. They should last between three and six months. Here’s a good website with some nice recipes on it.

    Hungarian Blue, North Georgia Candy Roaster (the big pink banana shaped ones) and Hokkaido pumpkins
  • I used fleece to cover lettuce and oriental mustards earlier this week. I blagged a tray of chard and more mustard seedlings from the allotment project where I volunteer – they’ll go in also under cover tomorrow.
  • My pak choi’s been decimated by something in the greenhouse. That’s a lesson to plant stuff out as soon as it’s ready. I left it too long and too late!
  • The last of the tomatoes are being brought in to sit on the windowsill to ripen – today I made ratatouille with the last aubergine, a couple of red peppers I grew from a plant given to me by a work colleague. I also made borlotti beans with garlic again. Here’s what they sound like when they squeak as they’re brought to the boil!
  • A lot of spent plants including courgettes and beans are going onto the compost heap. I’ve also been adding old used compost from my indoor aubergines, tomatoes and cucumbers which are pretty much finished now. The plants go on too. I’ve been layering with old cardboard boxes to introduce a little brown and air into the heap.
  • The chillies are still producing. I have picked two thirds of them and will make another batch of spicy jam soon maybe with the addition of some apple or pear and some basil or coriander.
  • I’ve been saving seeds of summer savory and basil – just pick the dried flower heads and pop them in a brown paper bag and shake them. Chilli seeds are also pretty easy to save.
  • Apples and pears are still abundant – I am thinking of having an apple day this Saturday with cake and apple bobbing. If I can find a juicer or press to borrow there will also be juice!
  • The cabbage cage needs dismantling and re erecting over the Purple Sprouting Broccoli which has outgrown the 4ft high tunnels over them. I’ll then put the tunnels over the red cabbage.
  • The pink veined swiss chard is still looking very healthy as are the leeks although some of them are producing flower heads and running to seed. The fennel I planted out a month ago looks as if it’s also going to bolt – not getting enough light where it is.

The Potato Harvest

I harvested my potatoes last weekend.

I was surprised.

The recent downpours must have swollen the yield as they are really quite decent size although the skins are a little tough – probably due to the long hot dry spell before it finally rained.

So far I’ve made Leek and potato soup, jacket potato with courgette and kidney bean chilli (I used Morrocan Ras al Hanout for the spice), and the stir fried potato slivers you can see in the photo.

The recipe for that came from one of my favourite cook books, Sichuan Cookery, by Fuschia Dunlop.

It is also in her book, Every Grain of Rice and it featured in this Guardian column.

I’ve also tried the version using green peppers (home grown of course).

I would also highly recommend Potato and Rosemary Pizza!

The Italian version of a chip butty.

Thinly sliced potato tossed in olive oil finished with chopped and whole fresh rosemary leaves and black pepper.

The space vacated by the potatoes (variety Mozart) has been swiftly planted up with a late sowing of fennel in modules and a few red chicory that have survived the total neglect I have shown them!

I’ve also planted up some lettuce after ripping out two spent courgette plants which left a good gap for the seedlings that will overwinter hopefully.

I also have a last flush of beetroot seedlings multi-sown in modules that must go in before I go away.

I’m also going to try and sow some coriander, dill, more lettuce and spinach and mustard leaves today.

Remember to pick your tomatoes when they show the first signs of colour and ripen on the window sill.

Otherwise they’ll split if left too long on the plant – which is what’s been happening to mine!

And I must get a garlic order in soon – you can plant cloves over three months from October onwards.

Other jobs

  • hoeing off red oxalis weeds and clearing an area to be planted up on my return with more winter veg seedlings
  • stopping pumpkin and winter squash plants – nip the end out of the growing shoots as they won’t produce any more viable fruit
  • look out for first signs of blight on tomato leaves and remove immediately
  • water bean plants – they need it and it’s very dry at the moment even though it’s not as hot as it was
  • prune cherries and plums if you didn’t do it earlier in the summer
  • pick early apples – you can tell if they’re ready if the pips are dark brown and they come off easily if you pull and twist gently
  • pick and freeze kale and chard
  • start harvesting wonderful red cabbage
  • Save seed – I have left some lettuce to flower and go to seed, also shungiku chrysanthemum greens, beans, mangetout peas, chillies, tomatoes.
  • Saving seed from courgettes, pumpkins and other curcubits are more of a faff as they tend to cross pollinate and will not come true next year (although you can take measures to stop this)





The Japanese Influence – cucumber salad

The first year I was in Japan I lived in a small town called Sukagawa in Fukushima.

It’s famous for its peonies.

I’ll never forget the care the people that ran the Botan-en took over their blooms.

Many of them had paper parasols shading them from the harsh summer sun.


This is a photo of a similar garden in Chiba ken

Annual festival

That’s true of most gardeners and farmers in Japan – they take great pride in and care of their produce.

In fact a lot of fruit is grown inside individual paper bags as an organic method of protecting it from pests.

I’m not sure they did it with cucumbers but Sukagawa did have an annual festival to celebrate the vegetable.

I used to find that funny when I was living there in the early 1990’s.

Poignant reminder

This year I’ve grown cucumbers for the first time – and I’m savouring every mouthful of the crunchy light vegetable.

It brought back wonderful memories of living in Fukushima prefecture – tinged with sadness about what’s happened there since then.

One organic farmer in Sukagawa took his own life after his cabbage crop was irradiated and his home was damaged in the earthquake.

And it’s reminded me how lucky I am to be able to grow my own food and how precarious life can be.

New take on an old favourite

I’ve still maintained my links with Japan and late last month I invited to supper  Morita-san, who was visiting from the small mountain town of Nagawa in central Japan.

I was delighted when he told me his favourite vegetable was pickled cucumbers and made my version for him – inspired by this Ottolenghi recipe.

The method isn’t there but it’s pretty easy to imagine how it all goes together!

Top tip is – the thinly sliced red onion is marinated in the dressing for 45 minutes before combining with the thickly sliced cucumber and crushed ginger and garlic.

It goes a gorgeous deep fuschia pink.

Easy pickle

And as well as growing my own cucumbers – under glass and outside – the allotment project where I volunteer gave me some of their haul!

Karen, who works there, told me to pickle them in a large jar with one tablespoon of salt topped up with cold water!

No boiling water or sugar – just chop them into large sections (the smaller ones I left whole) and add a few stalks of fresh dill.

I’ll report back next time!

If you try it just make sure you release the lid every now and then as some fermentation will take place and the jar could explode!