Pearl Couscous & Roasted Pumpkin Salad with Maple Dressing

This salad is a real winner. One you will make again and again. Healthy but filling, it just hits the spot.

Maple Dressing:
¼ cup olive oil
3 Tbs maple syrup
4 Tbs orange juice
2 Tbs cider vinegar
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup pearl couscous (also known as Israeli couscous)
1 small butternut pumpkin (also known as butternut squash)
1 Tbs olive oil, salt and pepper
4 cups baby spinach, firmly packed, stalks removed, or larger leaves, torn up
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ of a red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup pecan or walnut halves

Place dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake to combine. Preheat oven to 200°C. Peel pumpkin and cut into 2cm cubes. Mix with the oil, salt and pepper, then spread out on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 25 minutes or until cooked and starting to brown. Cool.

Meanwhile cook the couscous for 5-10 minutes in a pan of boiling, salted water, until al dente. Drain in a sieve, then run it under the cold tap and drain again. Toast the nuts by stirring them in a dry frying pan over moderate heat for a few minutes.

Mix the spinach and couscous with some of the dressing and arrange in a shallow salad bowl. Arrange the pumpkin, pecans or walnuts, cranberries and onion over the top. Drizzle with a bit more dressing.

Serves 4

Asparagus with Smoked Salmon, Poached Egg & Quick Hollandaise

Asparagus goes very well with smoked fish and with eggs. This recipe uses both and ties all the ingredients together with a delicious herby hollandaise sauce, which takes no time at all to make.

It’s best to be cautious on timing the first time you make the sauce. Microwave ovens vary and it may only need 10 or 12 seconds on High in yours.

10-12 spears asparagus
4 slices smoked salmon
2 large eggs
Quick Hollandaise Sauce:
2 egg yolks
3-4 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt and cayenne pepper
60g butter, melted
1 Tbs chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
To garnish:
Pink peppercorns (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil

Trim and wash asparagus and place in a frying pan. Add cold water to cover, then turn on the heat, bring to the boil and cook for 3 minutes or until al dente. Drain on paper towels then arrange on two heated serving plates. Meanwhile poach the eggs and make the sauce.

Arrange a poached egg and two slices of smoked salmon on each serving of asparagus. Garnish with the sauce, a few pink peppercorns, if using and a drizzle of olive oil.

Quick Hollandaise Sauce: place egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a heatproof bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk to combine. Whisk in the hot melted butter, then zap in the microwave for 14-15 seconds on High (no more or the egg yolks will scramble). Whisk vigorously to combine, add the tarragon and serve.

Serves 2

Coleslaw with Fresh Corn & Ginger

Try this slightly different coleslaw mix for a change. It’s healthy and goes well with meat, chicken or fish. The quantities are easily halved.

4 cups shredded red cabbage
4 cups shredded white cabbage
2 carrots, coarsely grated
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 cobs corn, kernels removed
2 spring onions, thinly sliced (optional)
½ cup raisins or sultanas
1-2 Tbs grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs honey
1-2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Any leftovers will keep, refrigerated for a day or so.

Variations: add some small broccoli or cauliflower florets, pine nuts or cashew nuts. If you don’t like things too sweet, leave out the raisins and use less honey.

Asian Salmon Salad

This light main course was served by my son and daughter-in-law when I spent three nights with them in Sydney last month. Light, delicious and healthy.

4 salmon portions, about 180g each
2 tsp vegetable oil
8 cups lettuce, or mixed salad greens, in bite-size pieces
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, halved, de-seeded and sliced
1 avocado, sliced
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs hoisin or oyster sauce
1 Tbs rice wine vinegar
1 Tbs honey or brown sugar
2 Tbs water
1 clove garlic, crushed
Sesame Dressing:
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1½ Tbs white vinegar
2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp honey or sugar
To garnish:
1-2 tsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1 spring onion, thinly sliced or red onion

Remove skin from salmon and discard, then cut salmon into bite-sized pieces. Mix the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl, add salmon and mix.

Shake sesame dressing ingredients in a jar then mix with the lettuce. Divide between 4 individual salad bowls and top with the tomatoes, cucumber and avocado.

Heat vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan. Remove salmon from the sauce and add to the pan in one layer. Keep the sauce. Cook salmon for a minute on each side, then arrange on top of the salads. Add sauce to the pan and cook for 30 seconds, or until syrupy. Spoon over the salmon. Garnish with sesame seeds and onion and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Zucchini with Feta, Herbs & Pine Nuts

We like to have one or two vegetarian meals a week. This recipe is delicious.

4-6 medium zucchini (courgettes)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
125g creamy feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup chopped fresh herbs (whatever you have)
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
To serve:
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic glaze

Preheat oven to 200°C. Wash zucchini and halve lengthwise. Make diagonal cuts in both directions on the cut surface of each zucchini half then arrange on a baking tray, lined with baking paper. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and cooked.

Meanwhile mix the topping. For the herbs I used a mixture of coriander, marjoram and sage, but use whatever you have.

Arrange one or two zucchini halves per person on serving plates. Spoon topping evenly over the tops and drizzle each plate with a little oil and balsamic glaze.

Serves 4

Watermelon Carpaccio

This delicious recipe makes a light, vegetarian lunch for the warmer months. It looks just like a raw beef carpaccio but in fact it’s thin slices of watermelon!

I haven’t put quantities in the ingredient list because they will vary according to how thick you cut the watermelon and the number of servings. The photo shows a lunch size. As a starter make them smaller.

Thin slices of watermelon
Crumbled feta cheese
Thinly sliced red onion
Lightly toasted pistachios, roughly chopped
Chopped fresh mint
Salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
Extra Virgin olive oil
Juice from ½ a lemon
To serve:
Balsamic glaze (optional)

Arrange overlapping slices of watermelon on serving plates. Sprinkle over the cheese, onion, capers, pistachios and mint. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice.

Serve with balsamic glaze, if liked.

Substitutes: use pine nuts instead of pistachios; creamy goat cheese instead of feta, rockmelon instead of watermelon.



Quick & Easy Italian Chicken

Chicken Parmigiano is one of my favourite chicken dishes and the rest of the family like it too. However, it takes a bit of preparation and while it’s not complicated it doesn’t fall into the quick and easy category.

This recipe is similar, but without the tomato sauce and it can be prepared in a jiffy. Serve with a salad and crusty bread or rice. A real crowd pleaser which is easy to double.

4 or 5 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/3 cup olive oil
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp Oregano
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup grated Parmesan
2 tsp crushed chilli (optional)
½ tsp salt
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs or home-made stale breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan, extra
2 Tbs finely chopped parsley
3 Tbs melted butter (optional)

Place the olive oil, lemon juice and rind, oregano, garlic, Parmesan, chilli and salt in a large rectangular lasagne-type dish and mix well. Slice the chicken breasts in half horizontally so you end up with 8-10 thinner pieces. Place them in the dish, one by one, turning them to coat them evenly with the oil mixture, then arranging them to cover the whole dish.

Mix the breadcrumbs, extra Parmesan, parsley and melted butter and sprinkle evenly over the chicken. You can leave out the butter if preferred. Bake for about 30 mins at 180°C or until golden brown and cooked through.

Serve with a green salad or a tomato, red onion and basil salad dressed with a simple olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing and crusty bread or rice, or both.

Serves 6

Note: crushed chilli is sold in jars in most supermarkets

Aleppo Pepper & Honey Chicken

According to Wikipedia, Aleppo pepper is a variety of capsicum used as a spice, particularly in Turkish, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. Also known as Halaby pepper, its pods are ripened, semi-dried, de-seeded and crushed.

I’ve been seeing quite a few recipes which call for this spice and realised it was one which, believe it or not, I didn’t have in my collection. It’s not sold in Australia in your average supermarket selection, but I found it at The Essential Ingredient.

If you look at images online you will see that Aleppo Pepper varies in colour from bright red through to a dark brownish red. I suggest you buy a bright red one, as the colour is a big part of the appeal of this spice. The flavour is somewhere between a spicy, tangy pepper and a very subtle chilli.

This recipe can be halved or doubled. If preferred, you can use chicken breasts or bone-in pieces, such as wings or drumsticks, instead of boned thighs, adjusting the cooking time accordingly. I prefer to use thighs as chicken breasts tend to be a bit dry.

This recipe is easy and absolutely delicious, with a subtle pepperiness and a very attractive colour. You will want to make it again. Perfect for a weekend BBQ, but it can also be cooked in the oven.

1 kg boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Juice of 1 lemon or 2 limes
2 Tbs Aleppo pepper
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt to taste
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs honey
2 Tbs finely chopped parsley
To serve:

Lime wedges

Trim chicken pieces of any excess fat. Place in bowl with remaining ingredients. Mix well, then leave to marinate for at least half an hour or overnight if that suits you.

Cook the drained chicken in a preheated oven 200°C for 20-30 minutes or on a BBQ – preferably a charcoal grill. If cooking in the oven, cook in a single layer and you may want to line the baking sheet with baking paper which comes up the sides a bit, to make the washing up easier. Burnt honey is always a pain to clean!

Garnish with lime wedges to serve.

Serves 6-8


Prawn Wontons with Pesto

These prawn wontons are quick to make using a packet of wonton wrappers from the supermarket. Thaw the packet enough to remove the number you need, then stick them back in the freezer.

I used frozen green (raw) prawns from Aldi which are peeled and deveined and you just have to remove the tails. Remove the number you need from the packet and then stick it back in the freezer.

I used pesto I had frozen in ice cube trays last summer. We grow lots of basil which is an annual. I always make several batches of pesto just before the first frosts arrive, because frost invariably kills the plants. If I had used freshly-made pesto it would had been a brighter green but the taste was still good. Then I used ginger which I also freeze in ice cube trays and keep in my freezer, so I always have it on hand.

Adjust the recipe to serve more people. Three makes a nice starter or light lunch, four makes a light main course, which we ate accompanied by a substantial side salad.

16 wonton wrappers, thawed
8 very large or 16 medium green (raw) prawns, thawed if frozen and dried
Pesto preferably home-made
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger, optional
2 cups baby spinach leaves
2 tsp butter or oil
Extra virgin olive oil

Arrange half the prawns on half the wonton wrappers. If using two prawns, place them like two moons facing inwards so they make a neat circle in the middle. If using ginger, mix it into the pesto. Top the prawns with a teaspoon of pesto. Moisten the bottom wonton wrapper with a little water around the edge, then press another wonton wrapper on top. Pinch well to seal.

Heat a large pan of water and when boiling, turn down a bit so it’s simmering. Add the wontons one at a time and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the wonton wrappers are translucent. Meanwhile place spinach in a small frying pan with butter or oil. Cook for a minute or two, until wilted.

Arrange drained spinach on 2 serving plates. Top with the wontons, drained then dried on kitchen paper. Mix a little oil into the remaining pesto and drop it over the top. Drizzle a little oil around the edge of the plates and serve.

Serves 2

Ten Super Quick Dinners

We all have our favourite quick and easy recipes that we make regularly. The recipe you think of as you take the main ingredient out of the freezer.

Tried and tested, easy no-brainers.

What are your favourite go-to recipes you can make with your eyes closed? Here are some of mine.

Salmon with Ginger and Sweet Chilli Sauce
Crispy Skinned Fish with Tomato Salsa
Lamb chops with Dijon, Rosemary and Honey
Steak Diane
Smoked Haddock with Tomatoes and Cream
Eggplants with Labneh and Spicy Cashews
Sticky Chilli Chicken
Pasta with Broad Beans and Pesto
Chicken with Spinach, Pine Nuts and Raisins