Lemon, Pea and Mint Risotto


Pablo Neruda wrote a poem about lemons, where he says they have ‘the diminutive fire of a planet’. They freshen up a risotto, at any rate. Risottos are good for late winter, when you still want something hearty but you also need the suggestion of warmer weather.

This is a version of a Jamie Oliver recipe. Heat a tablespoon of butter and another of oil in a pot, then soften a chopped onion in it, slowly, for about 10 minutes. Pour in your risotto rice (allow 100g per person for maximum comfort), turn up the heat and toast the rice grains for just a minute or two. Tip in a large glass of white wine and let the alcohol cook off.

(Top tip: don’t lean over the pot while this is happening, because you may get a little lightheaded. I speak from direct experience in the field.)


Once you’re starting to get a slightly floral scent off your risotto mixture rather than an alcoholic one, turn the heat right down and ease in a ladleful of warm veg stock. Keep the risotto moving until it soaks up the liquid and the texture loosens up and turns slightly creamy. Keep adding stock until the rice is soft and swollen, tasting to make sure it’s not still nutty.

Five minutes before the end, when the texture of the risotto is just a bit gloopier than you think you want it, pour in a load of frozen peas, enough to stud the mixture liberally but not to overpower it. Let the peas cook through, and then stir in half a handful of chopped fresh mint, the juice of a lemon, an extra knob of butter and some parmesan if you like. Several generous twists of salt and pepper, and spoon it into a large bowl. Sprig of mint recommended for decor.



Brixton Village and Ridley Road, Dalston

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What’s the trendiest food you’ve ever eaten? I’m in London at the moment. I’m not a natural Londoner: I get antsy in crowds, and am fond of long naps.

Coming down from Edinburgh (where the last word in fashionable food atm is a lemon drizzle from Lovecrumbs), London eating is pretty alien. Yesterday I went with Rob and George to Honest Burgers in Brixton for one of the coolest meals of my life.

George and I plumped for the Honest Burger itself, with beef (no hint of neigh), cheddar, bacon, onion relish, pickled cucumber and lettuce in a waxy little bun. The very British salt-and-rosemary chips were what made it all feel quite London (which, say, crispy shoestring American diner fries wouldn’t).

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The menu is in mid-noughties teen magazine-esque flowchart form, which makes you worry you might accidentally avoid ordering food and instead find out that you are an independent woman who loves to party. You will note, also, that the menu has a grand total of five meal options.

The homemade lemonade comes in faux Mason jars (you can tell that they are faux because they have handles); the burgers served on chipped enamel dishes on reclaimed wooden tables. We are each given a bone-handled knife: no forks.

I mean, I totally loved it, the parade of it. But London restaurants are starting to feel like movie sets to me, everything unusual and affected and attractive in a fake ‘oh I just threw this on at the last minute’ sort of way. Do people eat like this all the time? Am I doing it wrong?

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The rest of Brixton Village is a riot of market stalls, vintage shops full of questionable shoes, very weird spiritual outlets (there’s a place selling candles that apparently ward off court cases and bring back your ex-husband) and tiny cafes. The food stalls sell strange cuts of meat and rare veg.

I’d never seen a parrot fish before, but here I see about twenty, glaring out between crates of tripe and neat rows of pigs’ trotters.

In the evening I get the Overground north to deepest Dalston to meet Nancy, and have pizza and ginger mojitos in a tiny bar on Ridley Road which out-cools even Honest Burger. Wood-fired pizzas for £5 from the ‘Slice Girls’, and mojitos the same price, served in enormous plastic glasses while the DJ plays indie/samba to a dancefloor that’s too crowded for dancing. The rest of the street is deserted, but there’s a queue for this place.

I need to go and eat something really unfashionable now, for balance. Salmon mousse and pineapple fritters?

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The Nancinator and me. I’m pulling a pouty face to celebrate the fact that we are in Dalston.


Beef in Oyster Sauce

mushroomsCooked this tonight and Sean liked it so much, he said it made him never want to eat steak ‘the normal way’ again. High praise.

Having just discovered a really comprehensive Chinese supermarket round the corner from the flat, it was time to swipe a wok from my parents, order a copy of Chinese Food Made Easy and stock up on some sticky, tangy sauces.

This is Ching-He Huang’s recipe for beef in oyster sauce. I combined it with her tip for frying oyster mushrooms to go on the top. This is quite a dramatic way of having dinner: you lay out all your ingredients to start with, all meticulous and calm and organised, and then BLAM – smoke and sizzling and it’s all ready in about eight seconds.

beefSmother some steaks, cut into strips, (Ching-He suggests fillet; I used sirloin because I’m not a billionaire) in 1tsp light soy sauce, 1tbsp oyster sauce, pinch of sugar, salt, pepper. Set aside.

Toss three cloves of garlic and a medium chilli pepper, both finely chopped, briefly in 1tbsp of groundnut oil in a very hot wok. Chuck about 200g baby white-stemmed pak choi into the wok. Stir fry for one minute with 1 tsp oyster sauce and a pinch of salt mixed in.

Take the pak choi out and divide it between two plates. Chuck your beef in the wok with a bit more groundnut oil and sizzle for a minute or two until it’s done how you like it. Take it out and pile it on top of the pak choi.

Throw some sliced oyster mushrooms in your still-hot wok on a high heat with another tsp oyster sauce, 1tsp balsamic vinegar and some salt. Stir fry for a minute, then throw them on top of your beef. Serves two.

photo 3Yum.