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.






Three Ways With Quince

When I’m bowling along to work on the bike I’ve noticed a street in the next village called The Coigncroft.

I’d like to think it’s a medieval Anglo French place name and that it was where quince trees once grew.

I planted quince trees (Vranja variety) both in my old allotment in Trowse (see pic) and here at Plovers Hill

A bowl of quince are a wonderful fruit that brighten any room with their colour and fragrance.

The deep yellow fruit are covered with an intriguing grey silvery down that washes or rubs off easily to reveal the hard gold coloured waxy skin underneath.

They need cooking as they’re are too hard and bitter to eat raw.

Quince blossom is one of the joys of spring. The pale pink handkerchief-like flowers droop languidly between the new velvety lime green leaves

They can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes and feature extensively in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cookery.

You can roast whole with the skins on, or peel and quarter them.

Be careful with your sharp knife though – they can be tough to keep stable when you make the first cut – a bit like pumpkins.

They turn a deep red if you cook them for a couple of hours at a simmer on a very low heat.

Last week I made a butter bean and quince tagine –  a dish of left overs that also included steamed chopped ruby chard.

I imagine  Moroccan style chickpeas and quince would be good – the lemony tart flavour of the quince replacing the need for, say, preserved lemon or something else acidic to lift and balance the flavours of the dish.

Anyway this year’s crop has been good.

I have made quince vodka – adapted from an old Jane Grigison recipe.

It’s basically a litre of vodka poured over three quite large quince that I grated – skin and all – and 60g caster sugar.

Leave untouched until Christmas except for the occasional shake or inversion and then drink.


My friend Steve who came earlier in the year to help me do some gardening says this about quince:

“They are amazing in apple pie. Just one, peeled & cored, and cooked in a light sugar syrup before adding to the apples. The recipe I used had me cook down all the cores and peel with water and sugar and then pass through a sieve to give an amazing amber syrup that was added to the pie filling.”

Don’t throw away the core and peel of the quince you have prepared to cook. Cover with water and cook for a long time on a very low heat and you’ll be left with great quince juice that you can use in the quince cake recipe or sweetened and reduced as a sauce.

I did the same to make the quince cake recipe that I found online from a Serbian cook although I didn’t add sugar – only adding it to the main cake mixture later as per the instructions.

The cake is wonderful –  here is the recipe.

If you don’t have a bundt tin with a hole in the middle – improvise like I did.

I used an upside down greased ramekin in the middle of the cake tin and poured the cake batter around it.

Another thing to make is membrillo – or quince paste.

It will keep for a good year or so.

Be careful when stirring it on the stove as it’s like molten lava and can spit and burn quite badly.

Cool the paste in a greased tray and keep in a tin with a lid

To make quince paste – roast/bake your quinces in the oven making sure to cover them in a large baking tray/dish.

After a couple of hours – when cooked – push through a food mill or mouli with skins and cores.

Weigh the puree and add an equal weight of caster sugar.

Cook in a saucepan for ages stirring with a wooden spoon until your arm drops off!

Then, once it turns a deep red and pulls away from the side of the pan, turn out into a greased tray to cool and set.

Cut into diamonds and dust in sugar and store in layers of greaseproof paper in a tin.


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.




Red and Black Currant Shortbread

We still have great strings of redcurrants hanging from the bush in our garden.

I made a couple more bottles of cordial which are now in the fridge (see earlier post for recipe).

We’ve frozen some.

And so I thought I better come up with another idea to use them.

I thought of a German redcurrant meringue shortbread but I still haven’t got my head around how to make vegan meringues.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered a friend talking about making shortbread and using the mixture as a sandwich for blackcurrants.

So with a little inspiration from this blog I came up with this recipe.

The shortbread base has just come out of the oven. Now the currants and topping (the same as the base but with ground almonds added) are about to go on.

Scandinavian touch

It worked really well.

I love the unique perfume and taste of the cardamom.

The spice is used a lot in Scandinavian pastries and cakes.

You could add an extra teaspoon of it if you like.

The fruit is tart and the shortbread is sweet but not too sweet.



5 from 1 vote
Red and Blackcurrant Shortcake
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
1 hr
Course: Dessert
Servings: 12
Author: Cath
  • 350 g plain, white flour
  • 250 g vegan margarine or spread
  • 120 g golden granulated sugar
  • 3 tsp ground cardamom
  • 60 g ground almonds
  • A pinch salt
  • 300 g redcurrants and blackcurrants cleaned and desprigged
  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 celsius (350F or Gas Mark 4)

  2. Sieve flour into big bowl and add a pinch of salt 

  3. Add margarine and rub in until it resembles breadcrumbs

  4. Add ground cardamom seeds (the little brown and black very hard seeds inside the pods) and sugar  and amalgamate well

  5. Press half the mixture into the bottom of a 8 or 9 inch cake or tart tin (preferably with a loose bottom) greased and lined with parchment or greaseproof paper and lightly prick with a fork

  6. Put in the oven for 10 minutes and then remove

  7. Pour a mixture of red and black currants onto cooked shortbread base

  8. Add ground almonds to remainder of shortbread mixture and mix well before pressing evenly on top of currants

  9. Put whole thing back into the oven for another 15 - 20 minutes until golden brown

  10. Remove and leave on rack to cool - mark out into slices and eat 




No Dig really does work!

Lush, dark,and rich

Some courgette plants are now in a bed mulched with cardboard and rough home made compost three months ago.

The moist soil underneath is lush, dark and rich and teeming with worms.

That’s in sharp contrast to the dry and dusty bed where I have mange tout peas growing – fleeced to protect from the pigeons (see my previous post).

The deeply mulched bed in the foreground with the fleeced mangetout peas behind in a bed which has had no freshly laid compost since last year

I gave them  a good soaking and they seem to be doing OK despite the lack of mulch.

I’ve staggered the sowing of peas to try and eke out the season so they don’t all come at once.

Poor germination

I haven’t had much success with carrots – it could be that the seed really is too old.

I may have better luck with a new packet I bought from Real Seeds – called Manchester Table Carrot.

I came across this website while looking for the right carrots.

Sowing like mad to keep up

I also sowed some “Kyoto Market” spring onions and some more squash (North Georgia Candy Roaster and Hungarian Blue) – all in modules – to go with the Hokkaido onion squash seedlings that are already big enough to go out under fleece.

My friend Julie saved the seed and gave me some.

Monday morning was devoted to sowing beans.

The six purple ones are two kinds of runner beans and the five massive white ones are Giant Greek butter beans which I can’t wait to try.

They were another gift – this time from Kate Poland who runs Cordwainers Garden in Hackney.

Bean seed
These beans were all given to me by my friend Kate

I also sowed some Cherokee Trail of Tears climbing beans which I’ve never tried before (not shown).

And some Cosse Violette are going in – they’re a purple french bean that cropped well over a long period last year (see gallery below).

Borlotti beans – both climbing and dwarf varieties – will be the foundation for many delicious meals throughout the year as they can be dried and stored (not shown).

Major motivation

My friend Tierney came over and helped plant out the courgettes and squash as well as some more mangetout.

The peas will hopefully climb up bamboo canes and extra chicken wire tied along the fence of the new bed.

I cleared nettles the other side so we don’t get them growing through and stinging our hands when we pick the peas in about six weeks time!

The stingers went on the new compost heap.

More compost – it’s officially an obsession!

Much of the past weekend was spent turning unfinished compost from my black plastic dalek bins into a big cubic metre open heap and layering it with grass clippings, partially rotted leaves and newspaper as well as the odd bit of kitchen waste.

I have added some QR compost activator which I bought from Chase Organics.

It’s reputed to speed up the composting process so it’s ready within 4 – 6 weeks.

It was devised by May Bruce (one of the founders of the Soil Association) just after the war based on a Rudolf Steiner recipe using a biodynamic preparation of seven herbs/medicinal plants including valerian, oak bark, nettle and yarrow.

Tierney proudly shows my Mum, Jan, the results of our labours

Meanwhile a massive mother heap at the bottom of the garden is yielding valuable growing material.

A major project in the next week or so will be to excavate the rest of that.

I’ll lay it around the blackcurrants, gooseberries and globe artichokes.

Then I’ll then underplant some of them with six strawberries I got at a plant swap.

And in other news…

Tierney and I also planted out cucumbers (fleeced initially as they haven’t been hardened off) and some more mixed lettuce that glowed like jewels in the freshly watered dark earth.

The new bed
The new bed complete with a cardboard path – edged with garlic chives and planted up with leeks and lettuce.

We moved the brassica cage (it protects the plants from pigeons and cabbage white butterflies) down the main veg bed ready for the magic caulis, the red cabbage and the cavolo nero kale that will be ready to set out in a couple of weeks.

That left the Nine Star perennial cauliflowers without protection.

After a bit of faffing we came up with a structure that works perfectly and adds an ethereal quality to the garden I think!

A veiled beauty in our midst.