Niçoise Salad

Summer is finally here with days of hot sun interspersed with showers so a shift to a lighter diet with more salads feels like a natural transition. The Leon Happy Salads cookbook seemed just the thing for this and I couldn’t wait to try their niçoise (amongst many others). The recipe is also on the ‘look inside’ section of the book on Amazon.

As usual, I couldn’t leave well alone and made some alterations to the recipe – I didn’t have capers, so added in some gherkins instead, left out the shallot and used fresh tuna steaks. It’s the dressing that makes this salad though, so don’t skimp on the capers/gherkins and anchovies.

This made for a pretty filling and tasty dinner so smiles all around.

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Niçoise Salad

Serves 2

100g new potatoes, boiled and halved (quartered if larger)
150g fine green beans, boiled for 2 minutes
2 boiled eggs, halved (7 minutes for large eggs will give just set yolks)
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cucumber, peeled, deseeded and chopped
4 radishes, quartered
12 black olives
2 tuna steaks, around 120g each
A small handful of basil leaves
Salt and black pepper
1 tbsp sunflower oil

Dressing
Juice of 2 tomatoes, sieved
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp capers/3 small gherkins
2 anchovies
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 basil leaves

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  1. Blitz all the ingredients for the dressing in a food processor.
  2. Season the tuna steaks with salt and black pepper. Heat the oil over a moderately high stove. Fry the steaks for one minute on each side (this left a sliver of pink in the middle, you can adjust your timings to suit how well done you want the tuna to be).
  3. Whilst the potatoes and green beans are still warm, toss the dressing together with all the vegetables. Arrange on serving plates. Top with the tuna and eggs and sprinkle with basil leaves.

 

 

Roast figs with goat’s cheese, walnut & maple syrup

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L made this for dessert one day after we had dinner together. It is quite literally what the title says, and makes an incredibly moreish of sweetness, tanginess and nuttiness all in one bite that you want to keep digging into again and again.

Halve some really ripe figs and roast them in a lined tray at 180 degrees Celsius for about 20  minutes. Keep an eye out for them and remove them once the tops are caramelised. Dry fry some walnuts in a pan whilst you’re waiting for the figs. Then arrange them prettily on a plate, sprinkle the walnuts and some lovely soft goat’s cheese over and drizzle with maple syrup.

A light, easy and dare I say healthy dessert!

Nando’s Supergrain Salad

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So Nando’s have a new summer menu. I tried their supergrain salad with grilled peri-peri chicken on top and absolutely loved it. It’s packed with all sorts textures and trendy ingredients like freekah, wheatberry, quinoa, pearl barley, edamame, avocado and kale. And just so happens to be delicious.

In the interest of eating healthier last night, I went out and bought ingredients to recreate it at home. There was no way I could get freekah and wheatberry at my local Tesco’s, so left them out and added bulgur wheat instead. Edamame can be found in the frozen vegetables section alongside frozen peas. If no edamame available, just add in those peas! Some halved cherry toms would be good as well. Basically just add in whatever you like, as long as it’s not cucumber or iceberg lettuce, reminiscent of a ‘mixed salad’. I’ll leave the amounts up to you, as they will depend on how many you want to feed.

The dressing recipe makes lots extra, feel free to use it on top of other types of salad, grilled meat or fish, in a sandwich as a sauce or as a dip for raw vegetables.

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Supergrain salad

Barley
Red quinoa
Bulgur wheat
Freekah
Wheatberry
Pearl barley
Edamame
Green beans
Tinned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed with water
Green leafy salad
Dried cranberries
Avocado, cut into chunks
Skinned and boneless chicken thighs, marinated generously in Nando’s medium spicy peri-peri marinade for at least an hour

Avocado & buttermilk dressing (recipe from here)

  • 3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 small jalapeño (deseed if you want it less spicy)
  • 1/4 cup of fresh coriander
  • 1 medium avocado
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper (black is fine too but I didn’t want speckles in my dressing)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Blend all the ingredients for the dressing together until smooth. Thin it down with some milk if you want a thinner dressing.
  2. Boil the grains according to the instructions on the packets. Blanch the frozen edamame and green beans for a couple of minutes and rinse under cold water to maintain their vibrancy.
  3. Heat a griddle pan on a medium heat. Rub some sunflower oil on tissue paper onto the pan. Cook the thighs until they have griddle marks on one side. Turn over and do the same on the other side. They will take about 15 to 20 minutes to cook through, I find turning out the little sections of meat on the thigh so they are as thin as possible as they cook helps. Cook until golden brown on both sides. Slice them against the grain into 1cm slices.
  4. Assemble your salad. Start off with the salad leaves on the base, then scatter over the different grains, cannellini beans and edamame. Arrange green beans and avocado around the sides and top with the chicken in the centre. Sprinkle cranberries on top, and dollop spoonfuls of dressing all over.
  5. Take lots of pictures for your instagram/pinterest/blog.
  6. Mix it all up and enjoy the goodness.

Beetroot risotto

I still have to do travel journals for my jaunts to the Italian Lakes, Lyon and Croatia! Whew. Meanwhile, here’s a little taster of what we got up to in Italy. Have you seen anything quite so dramatic? I mean, look at that colour.

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Beetroot risotto was not a combination that would have crossed my mind and I like that there are still places and chefs that can challenge your preconceptions of what food should look and taste like. This one’s almost Nordic in its simplicity don’t you think?

We had this dish at Il Vicoletto in Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore. A bright pink disc with swirls of melted gorgonzola on top, this was rich, comforting and just right for a chilly spring evening. JL and I shared it a a starter and were mighty thankful we did. Everywhere we ate in Stresa had impeccable food. The restaurants on our little Isola Superiore even gave complimentary prosecco before every meal.

So of course I had to try and reproduce it at home, and this is what I came up with:

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Not bad for a first try. It turns out there are tons of beetroot risotto recipes on the internet and I settled on a recipe from The Guardian.

Super simple to make, all it needs is a little babysitting over the stove so it doesn’t catch at the bottom and burn. The variety of toppings is endless. This time I went for smoked mackerel with black pepper, dill, sour cream and walnuts. Next time I’ll leave out the walnuts, they were pretty strong and overwhelmed the more delicate flavours of the dish.

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Beetroot risotto
Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a starter

250g cooked beetroot
2 shallots, peeled
2 garlic cloves, peeled
850ml chicken or vegetable stock
35g butter, plus a knob for later
A splash of olive oil
175g risotto rice
80ml white wine
A little fresh thyme (optional)
Juice of ½ lemon
50g parmesan, freshly grated
Salt and black pepper

Optional toppings
50g gorgonzola, melted and drizzled over with toasted walnuts
Grated parmesan cheese or crumbled soft goat’s cheese
Roast beef with horseradish cream
Smoked mackerel with sour cream or natural yoghurt and dill

1 Pour the stock into a pan, bring it to the boil then lower to a simmer. Blitz the beetroot with a blender or food processor adding 4 tbsp of hot stock to make a thick, smooth puree.

2 Dice the shallots and garlic. Put a second pan on the hob. Add the butter and oil. Once hot, add the shallots and garlic. Reduce the heat to low and cook gently for 5 minutes, until the onion softens.

3 Tip the unwashed rice into the pan and stir well to coat it. Cook for a minute, stirring. Increase the heat. Add the wine and stir until it’s almost absorbed, then immediately add a large ladle of hot stock. Add the thyme, if using. Reduce the heat, so the mix keeps bubbling but doesn’t cook too fiercely.

4 Once absorbed, add another ladle of stock and keep stirring. Repeat this step until you have used virtually all the stock and the rice is just about cooked – this takes about 15-20 minutes. Add salt, pepper and lemon juice.

5 Stir in two-thirds of the beetroot puree. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the rest of the puree and half the parmesan. Stir in the butter to make it glossy. Taste and adjust.

Turn off the heat, put the lid on the pan and leave to rest for 3 minutes. Spoon the risotto into shallow bowls and then finish with the remaining parmesan and your choice of toppings.

Tuna tartare

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I first had this dish at Barrafina in Soho many moons ago, amongst other stellar dishes. The excitement of sitting at the bar watching the chefs cook meat and veg on the plancha, trying to guess which one would be yours and that huge leg of jamon iberico staring you down, daring you to eat it was unbeatable. Get there early and join the queue, they only take bookings for groups of 8 or more.

This dish is brilliant for entertaining as it can be prepared well in advance with just the assembly required at the last minute, plus it looks thoroughly impressive with the jewelled tuna sitting on that lime green bed of avocado. (No need to tell your guests how simple it was to make!) Or have it as a light lunch spread on crisp toast.

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Tuna Tartare (modified from Barrafina cookbook)
Serves 4 as a tapa or 2 for lunch

2 ripe avocados, peeled
A small bunch of coriander, chopped (I used spring onions as I didn’t have any coriander)
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Salt and black pepper
50ml olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Juice of 1 1/2 limes
400g loin of tuna
20g sesame seeds
50ml sesame oil
40ml light soy sauce

  1. Start of by making the guacamole. Mash the avocados with a fork, and add in the coriander, garlic, salt and pepper to taste, the olive oil and a little of the lemon and lime juice. I like mine with a little texture still, but feel free to blitz in a food processor if you like a smoother consistency.
  2. Prepare the tuna. Slice the tuna into 1cm slices, then into 1cm strips, and then further into 1cm cubes. Mix the tuna with the sesame seeds, sesame oil and light soy sauce.
  3. To serve, place an 8cm ring mould on a plate. Spoon a quarter of the guacamole into the ring, and smoothen the top, then add a quarter of the tuna and sprinkle with coriander or spring onions and more sesame seeds.

Thai lunch

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I’ve gotten into running recently. No, to be more accurate I’ve been coerced into running. It never feels good before starting, sometimes does during and always after so I guess that keeps me going. After a reluctant session of burning calories it always feels good to have a nice meal to look forward to.

I’ve been asked plenty of times to make thai papaya salad (som tum) so today was the day it got made. Then I thought I’d make a variation of it with mango (som tum mamuang) as well, and throw in a beef stir-fry (phat bai horapha) as our protein. I forgot to top the beef with fried shallots, but other than that, it has been declared (not by myself) that this was the best meal I’ve cooked so far. And that’s good enough for me.

One of the reasons why I don’t make these too often is that green papaya is only found in Asian supermarkets occasionally here and it’s pretty pricey. If you prefer you can substitute it with jicama (also known as yam bean, Mexican/Chinese turnip), or  swede, cabbage and green apples. Or make the mango salad instead.

I’ve provided separate lists of ingredients for both salads in case you just feel like making the one, but the amount of dressing is for both. Just make 1/3 for the mango salad and 2/3 for the papaya salad. Feel free to adjust the ratios to your liking, but it should be highly seasoned as the papaya and mango will soak up the flavours. The mango should be just ripe but still firm so the little sticks don’t turn to mush when you mix them up.

If you can’t find fresh kaffir lime leaves for the beef some Asian stores will sell them in the frozen section. If you have to use dried kaffir lime leaves the flavour will be diminished so add a few extra leaves.

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Mango salad (som tum mamuang)
1 mango, peeled and julienned
5 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small handful of french beans, cut into 1 inch lengths
2 tbsp peanuts
1 tbsp dried shrimps, coarsely chop in food processor

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Papaya salad (som tum)
Half a green papaya, peeled and julienned (about 350g)
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
8 cherry tomatoes
1 small handful of french beans, cutting 1 inch lengths
3 tbsp peanuts
2 tbsps dried shrimps, coarsely chop in food processor

Dressing
6 tbsp fish sauce
4 tbsp lime juice
2 1/2 tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
4 bird’s eye chillies, sliced finely

  1. Whichever salad you choose to make, first make the dressing. Mix all of the ingredients into a bowl, and pop it into the microwave for 10 seconds then stir to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Put a pan on medium heat and dry fry the peanuts until golden brown. Toss them every so often as the oil in them will make them burn if not stirred around. Leave peanuts to one side.
  3. Use the same pan and increase heat to medium high. Put in 1 tbsp of oil per tbsp of dried shrimps and stir fry until crisp and brown. Drain on some kitchen towels.
  4. Mix the veg together. I used about 3 tbsp of dressing for the mango salad, and the rest for the papaya salad but do taste as you go along. Top with the peanuts and dried shrimps.

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Thai-style beef with basil and chillies (phat bai horapha)
Serves 2 to 3

Recipe modified from here

450g flank/skirt/hanger steak cut into 1/4 inch thick strips (I used fillet steak)
A:
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsps fish sauce
1 tsp white sugar

B:
2 to 3 Thai bird chillies (red or green)
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tbsps palm sugar
3 tsps fish sauce
2 tsps soy sauce

C:
2 to 3 Thai bird chillies (red or green)
3 cloves garlic
1 shallot sliced
4 kaffir lime leaves, central vein removed and very finely sliced into threads

2 tbsps vegetable oil
2 cups Thai basil
Fried shallots

  1. Combine beef with A and marinade for at least 15 mins or up to overnight if possible.
  2. Place all the ingredients from B in a food processor and blend until a rough paste is formed.
  3. Chop chillies and garlic from C and combine with the sliced shallots and kaffir lime leaves in a bowl.
  4. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a hot wok and cook half of the beef slices in one layer until brown before turning them over and browning the other side. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining beef.
  5. Wipe the wok. Add all the beef and ingredients from C and toss until aromatic and the shallots have softened, about 1 minute.
  6. Add the sauce mixture from B and toss constantly until the beef is coated and the sauce reduced to just coating the beef. There should be no liquid at the bottom of the wok. Add basil and toss to combine and remove from heat.
  7. Transfer to serving platter and top with fried shallots. Eat with plenty of boiled white rice.

Pimped up Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e pepe is that now-trendy Roman pasta dish that is simply pasta, pepper and cheese. The Italians do simple dishes so well, and that is a testament to the quality of their local ingredients.

And then of course I couldn’t help tinkering around with it.

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Simply boil spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Melt some butter in a pan until it is bubbling away, add in pine nuts and black pepper and stir in the spaghetti. Add some pasta water to make loosen it a little. Squeeze in some lemon juice. Serve generously with grated Parmesan and more black pepper to taste.

Just the thing when you’re too lazy to cook anything elaborate but still want something delicious.

 

Whitby Wanderings

G decided one day that a weekend away was in order and planned a surprise trip up north. I badgered him a bit to see if he would give up the destination and bummer he gave in so easily. The man does not hold up well in interrogation.

We drove through the Yorkshire Moors on the way to Whitby. They are as wild and desolate as Charlotte Brontë would have you believe but also really beautiful in their own way. We stopped by for a quick photo op at the Hole of Horcum before carrying on our way. I hiked the area with a couple of friends last year and can honestly say it was one of the most beautiful walks I’ve done.

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The long and winding road……

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We arrived in Whitby sharpish and were immediately buffeted by winds but thankfully it was dry and sunny. The harbour stood pretty in the sunlight with the abbey keeping a watchful eye in the background.

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We made out way to the Humble Pie ‘n’ Mash Shop and fortified ourselves with good ol’ pie, mash, peas and gravy.

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Ah, it was so good getting out of the cold and settling into our chairs by the wood-burning fire. The shop is full of kitschy knicknacks that will keep you occupied during your short wait for the food to arrive.

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G had the steak and stout pie and I chose the lamb, leek and rosemary pie. Delicious comfort food!

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But be warned, they only accept cash here so bring enough for your meal lest you have to dash over to the nearest cash point to get some (as we did).

We walked along the cobblestoned pathways and explored the shops to the left and right.

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And popped behind a row of shops down an alley and found ourselves on a little beach, away from the hustle and bustle. You can just about see the lighthouse on the pier in the background. The wind huffed and puffed us away back into town.

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Leading us to the bottom of the Whitby Steps. All 199 of them. We soldiered upwards and onwards for the sake of good views from above, burning thighs cursing us along the way.

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Up and up we went…

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And were greeted with an imposing view of the Church of St Mary and the graveyard at the top.

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It’s not difficult to imagine with the storm clouds rolling in and standing in the middle of the graveyard how Bram Stoker was inspired to write his horror novel Dracula. Down again we went and towards another beach. By that time the winds got a bit nippy so we retreated to a nearby pub and had some coffee before heading to our B&B.

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But not before a few more shots of Whitby in the golden light.

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Our guesthouse was luxurious by B&B standards and the owners Kath and Peter are the warmest and friendliest of hosts. Peter cooks up a stonking good breakfast as well. Prices are reasonable and the location is within walking distance to the town so it’s a win-win situation in my book.

After a bit of a rest we headed back down into town for a slap-up dinner at the Magpie. These people do good things with their fryer.

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Our pretty table setting of fresh flowers and thistle.

For starters I had breaded whitebait with garlic mayonnaise dip. They were crispy, not at all soggy or oily. G doesn’t like whitebait very much so I had the pleasure of finishing it off by myself.

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But the winner in the starters department was definitely his special of scallops with blue cheese, bacon and a pesto sauce. Oh my, it’s making my mouth water again. Look at those plump and perfectly cooked scallops.

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G had been craving a good fish and chips for a while so plumbed for that as his main – a ‘regular’ sized haddock and chips.

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Look at that monster. Yorkshire portion sizes are no joke. The picture doesn’t do it justice. The haddock was again perfectly cooked and so sweet and juicy underneath that crisp batter coating.

My dish though was the star of the meal. I’ve always loved monkfish and I couldn’t resist ordering it when I saw it on the specials menu. It was a beautiful melange of fish, artichoke, shallots, fried parma ham, potatoes and an amazing gravy. A curious combination, but it worked and I’m sort of sad that I probably won’t have a dish like that again.

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We waddled back home against the strong winds (oh those winds!) and went into a food-induced coma for the rest of the night.

The next day we weren’t so lucky with the weather but made the best of it with a short trip over to Robin Hood’s Bay. These are actually pictures as we were leaving when the weather cleared a little but I wanted to show the view whilst walking down to the bay.

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The village is full of little walkways and nooks and crannies that you can explore

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We watched the waves crashing onto the pier and nipped into the Old Coastguard Station to get a bit of respite from the rain where I met this little nipper who started waving and dancing at me as soon as I got my camera out:

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It was slightly difficult getting a good picture, he wouldn’t stand still. A crabby crab.

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On the way back we spied this little fella through a window.

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We drove back to Whitby for a late lunch where we queued up outside Mr. Chips restaurant in the rain and hail. What a change from the weather the day before. By the time we got in we were wet and cold and starving, I forgot to take any pictures of the food. Rest assured, it was very good and I would thoroughly recommend it. G went for fish and chips again and I went for the little set of small fish and chips with tea. Dessert deserves a mention though. We shared an apple and pear crumble and it was probably the most delicious crumble I’ve had. I think the key to that was a crumble layer that was almost as thick as the single layer of fruit beneath it.

Go to Whitby, stuff yourselves silly on fish and chips, breathe in some salty sea air and leave happy.

ABC soup

I grew up with this soup back in Malaysia, as many of my other friends would have. These springtime days are rather temperamental, so when it’s wet and windy outside nothing beats sinking into a bowl of comforting hot broth. Best thing is, you can leave it on the stove simmering away for a couple of hours whilst you go do other springtime-like chores and when you come back into the kitchen you’ll have wonderful chicken-y goodness wafting your way. It’s so flavourful and sweet that you won’t even to add seasoning at the end. It’s as easy as A-B-C.

ABC soup

Ingredients

1kg chicken wings
2 to 3 other pieces of bone-in chicken e.g. drumsticks, thighs
2 large corn on the cob, cut into 4 pieces each
2 carrots, cut into 2 inch chunks
1 large white onion, quartered then cut into chunks
2 large or 3 medium tomatoes, cut into chunks
A handful of new potatoes, halved
A handful of goji berries (kei chi) or dried Chinese red dates (leave out if you don’t have any)

  1. Put all the ingredients except the potatoes and berries/dates into a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer for a total of two hours. Skim off any scum from the top periodically.
  2. With 30 minutes left to go, add in the potatoes and goji berries/red dates.
  3. Remove the chicken wings from the broth.
  4. Remove the drumsticks/thighs and shred the meat. Or do what I do and serve them whole.

Stuffed Pitta Pockets

Last night was G’s turn to make dinner, and look at the delicious spread he made for us. Plenty of flavours and textures, all customisable according to taste. So much fun layering it all up, then slathering on salsa/guacamole/sour cream before taking a big bite out of them.

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The chicken was spicy, tangy and full of flavour whilst the vegetables added fresh zing and crunch and the toasted wholemeal pitta ensconced everything in its mellow nutty warmth.

My  little pitta pocket balanced precariously on G’s slightly more generous filled pitta. I had three halves and was stuffed with stuffed pitta. G had more. A lot more.

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Looking forward to round two tonight!