Tag Archives: fresh herbs

Flowers for the Table

Flowers_LR-0058Placing fresh flowers on a table, already set with linens, candles, flatware and glasses, visually brings a beautiful table setting to life; creating a certain mood which complements the dining experience from beginning to end. I’m not talking about elaborate floral masterpieces (leaving those to the experts), just simple floral displays arranged with what ever available flowers or herbs you might have in the garden or buying them instead.

A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions – so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect.- Adabella Radici

Flowers_LR-0044Take for example Bougainvillea, a shrub that grows abundantly in Bahrain, I love its vibrant colorful papery flowers. Placed in small glass bottles or vases, Bougainvillea adds a wonderful splash of colour to a table setting and one that I am particularly fond of.

Adding Rosemary to a delicious Home-made Salted Caramel Focaccia is one way of enjoying this versatile culinary herb, but sometimes I use the green needle-like woody sprigs for simple floral displays, along with the perfumed frangipani and jasmine flowers. So simple, but visually very pretty. The more successful gardeners among us will have more flowers to choose from! Glass bottles or small vases with a single flower or small bouquet repeated down the center of a table can look quite stunning.

Flowers_LR-0073I am not in favour of vision blocking floral displays when seated at a table, they might look pretty impressive, but try having a conversation through one of them! Large floral displays are best suited to a buffet table setting. Here are a few other ideas for simple floral displays by a Pottery Barns floral stylist which I thought were very doable. So, whether it’s folding the napkins a certain way or placing pretty gift boxes at each place setting, whatever way you choose to set your table… don’t forget some flowers!

Farmers Market Basil Pesto

Basil Pesto in a Jar

Bahrain had its First Farmers Market last week and naturally it was the first thing on my to-do list that day! Glad I did not leave it so late in the morning to visit, the farmers market was already very busy when I arrived and there was an excited buzz in the air!

Living on an Island we rely heavily on imports and local produce is very limited, although some supermarkets in Bahrain do carry a small amount! Supporting our farmers who are willing to offer us more fresh market produce is a must and I would imagine it is no easy task growing some vegetables and fruits in Bahrain’s harsh climate… although we do have beautiful weather at the moment!

Bahrain's Farmers Market

Picking up some beautiful bunches of fresh basil (purple and green), some cherry tomatoes, lettuce, small purple aubergine and cauliflower… I headed home feeling I had won a gold medal! I think I got overly excited and bought way too much basil so I decided to make up a jar of  “Farmers Market Pesto”! Making your own fresh pesto is so easy and so worth the effort, tasting so much better than anything coming from a supermarket jar!

Amy from Appetite for Discovery (thanks for letting me know about the farmers market) was also at the farmers market buying some fresh beetroot and if you love beetroot, head over to her blog for a delicious Beetroot, Walnut and Goats Cheese Salad!

Cherry tomatoes, basil, lettuce, small aubergine, cauliflower.  Balinese Prawn Curry with small aubergine and cherry tomatoes.

As well as making fresh Pesto I made sure none of my fresh farmers market produce was going to waste… making a very simple cherry tomato and fresh basil salad, with a pomegranate and olive oil dressing… eaten with fresh crusty bread! Added some of the small aubergine and cherry tomatoes into a Balinese Prawn Curry for a quick meal! Made a citrus salad with the cauliflower and used the lettuce in a salad with avocado and fresh pomegranate!

Purple and Green Basil. Basil Pesto in a Jar.

To keep fresh herbs longer store them in a glass or small vase with some water and place a plastic bag loosely over the top. Secure the bottom of the bag with a rubber band and keep in the fridge, changing the water at least once! Your herbs will stay fresh and crisp for at least four days and sometimes a little longer!

Using purple basil makes the pesto a darker shade of green but if you prefer a more vibrant green, choose green basil! Fresh pesto can be used with lots of different dishes; mix freshly made pesto with some pasta, use as a spread in toasted sandwiches, mix with vegetable salads, use in dressings, serve with grilled fish, chicken and lamb… a really handy and delicious store cupboard item to have! The recipe below made almost 3/4 cup of pesto!

 

Farmers Market Basil Pesto

Ingredients:

  • purple and green basil (I used 2 purple bunches and one green)
  • 1 handful of pine nuts (I prefer not to roast them)
  • about 3 to 4 tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

How to make: Snip all the basil leaves from their stalks using scissors (discard bruised and damaged leaves) and gently wash the leaves in cold water. Using a salad spinner to remove the excess water from the leaves is really helpful, or you can pat them dry with some kitchen paper towel.

Place the basil into a blender/processor with the pine nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic and lemon juice. Blend together using the pulse button, stopping to clean down the inside of the bowl with a spatula. With the motor running drizzle in some olive oil until the pesto has achieved a nice thick creamy paste. To taste, season with some sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place pesto into a suitable jar with a lid (clean and sterilize) and pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface of the pesto.  Store in the fridge and use within 4 days! Pesto can also be frozen (in a suitable container) for a couple of months in the freezer!

Dont forget to visit Bahrain’s Farmers Market which will be held each Saturday from 8am to 12am in Budaiya!

Vietnamese Salad

Recently some friends travelled to Vietnam and how I wished they could have packed me in their suitcase! However, they did bring back a little of Vietnam in the form of a cookbook, Vietnamese Food by Bobby Chinn (already a fan) from his restaurant in Saigon. Thank you dear friends… a wonderful foodies gift!

Having indulged recently (not just me) on some home-made bread and desserts it was time to scale down the calories in the household and this Vietnamese Salad made a welcoming change! Not wanting to spend as much time in the kitchen (needing a break), preparing food that is quick and easy without compromising on flavour and taste is first choice.

The taste of this simple salad relies on the freshest ingredients… so no limp herbs, dried out carrots and dry chicken please!

Using a julienne peeler for preparing the carrots for this salad came in very handy but of course you can use a good sharp knife instead!

The original recipe uses birds-eye chillies, but I opted to use medium chillies instead. Depending on your tolerance level to the spicy heat (Scoville scale) of different chillies you may want to de-seed them! You could also make this salad with prawns instead of chicken, replace the basil with mint and scatter over a few roasted peanuts on top, the choice is yours! Bursting with fresh clean flavours this salad makes you feel good after you’ve eaten it and the only shame would be… not to make it!

 Vietnamese Salad

The recipe below has been adapted from the cookbook Vietnamese Food by Bobby Chinn.

Ingredients:

  • 4 small skinless chicken fillets, poached (see note below)
  • 2 star anise
  • fresh chicken stock or make some using a stock cube
  • 4 lemon grass stalks, tough outer leaves removed and very finely sliced
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 to 4 medium chillies de-seeded (or not), finely snipped using kitchen scissors
  • 2 small carrots, peeled and cut into very fine matchsticks (100g)
  • 50g thinly sliced white onions
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
  • 100ml of freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil (I used Thai basil from the garden)
  • 1/4 cup of freshly chopped coriander

Poaching the chicken: Place the chicken fillets in a single layer into a saucepan and pour in some chicken stock to cover, add the star anise. Bring the stock to a gently boil and immediately reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cook the chicken for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the saucepan with a lid and allow the chicken to further cook in the hot stock for about 20 minutes. Test the thickest part of the chicken to make sure it is cooked through, if not, bring the stock back to a simmer and leave (removing from heat) to cook for a couple of minutes more. When done transfer the cooked chicken fillet onto a plate and cool.

Assembling the salad: Place the lemon grass, spring onion, chilli, carrots, onions and garlic into a mixing bowl. Shred the cooled chicken and add to the mixing bowl. Pour over the lime juice and gently toss all the ingredients together. Next throw in the basil and coriander and gently toss together. Divide the salad between four serving plates and serve immediately. Serves 4.

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