Monthly Archives: October 2011

Recipe: Pumpkin jam (or there’s more to pumpkin than soup and lanterns)

It’s that time of year again when any house with resident kids rush out to buy one of those large orange things, only seen once a year, that overflow from the supermarket shelf for about a week only to disappear again shortly afterwards. Many people have no idea what to do with them (apart from the obvious lantern) and so hundreds end up binned, without so much as trying to put the scooped out innards to good use.

It’s a shame that many people find pumpkin so difficult to deal with. I love pumpkin. I’m so glad they are now in season as they are one of my great Autumn pleasures. While the stereotypical Halloween pumpkin only seems to stick around for a short while (no doubt all stocks are depleted over the Halloween period), there are still a variety of squash’s and gourds that make a more prolonged appearance.  When it comes to eating seasonally Pumpkin is what should be taking pride of place on our table. Not only do they look beautiful, they taste fantastic and because they are really a fruit they are totally versatile. Use them in a creamy comforting soup, roasted with some wintry herbs (like thyme and garlic or rosemary) or add some zingy spices; chilli, lemongrass or ginger gives an exotic edge as does a sprinkle of Zahar or Sumac or add sugar and spice and it turns into the filling for an all American pumpkin pie.

I’ve blogged about my pumpkin soup with chilli and ginger before and true to form I will be making it again this year, but I’m at risk of being predictable so I thought this year I’d also try something different, pumpkin and ginger jam. I know, it sounds weird, a bit like the tomato chilli jam I’ve made recently, but I found a basic recipe in one of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstalls columns, added a couple of touches of my own and voila! Pumpkin to last through the winter, to serve with Christmas meats or cheese or even on my toast. Now I just need to see if the kids will eat it!

Spiced pumpkin jam:

1kg pumpkin flesh chopped small

an inch of peeled and finely chopped ginger

a good pinch of pink peppercorns

a pinch of chilli flakes

the zest and juice of one orange and one lemon

600g sugar

Mix all the ingredients in a big saucepan and leave over night to macerate. I used 600g of sugar, but the original recipe used 900g so if it seems like it needs more sugar add another 100g. I don’t think the 900g is necessary.

The next day, bring the mixture slowly to the boil stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil rapidly for about 20 to 30 minutes or until it has reached a setting point. Test for a set by placing a saucer in the freezer until very cold. Then drop half a teaspoon of the jam on to it and see if a skin forms. If it does your jam is ready. Leave to cool and then pour into sterilised jam jars. The recipe only made four small jars, but the gorgeous jewelled orange colour and sweet but sharp taste reminded me of marmalade….our own British version!




Filed under British food, Foraging for fruit, home cooking, local produce, preserving, Uncategorized

Supper club at Conwy Feast

As I mentioned in my earlier post Conwy Feast this year was bigger and better than ever. I’m a regular attendee and love to discover all the new features they add each year. They know how to keep it fresh and it’s always a lovely surprise to see old favourites and new additions, so you can imagine my excitement at being asked to take part in a special new event. A supper club which was held on the Saturday evening before Blinc.

It all began at the beginning of October when the organisers approached me with the idea of cooking a six dish tasting menu with matched wines alongside Jimmy Williams, Welsh culinary squad gold medal winner and head chef at Signatures restaurant in Conwy and Morfudd Richards, wine expert and restauranteur….home cook versus accomplished chef. I’d originally mentioned that I would like to do a demo so this idea came as a pleasant surprise!

Eeeek… I admit initially I was slightly terrified, rather daunted but also delighted that they’d asked me.It sounded ambitious, but I like a challenge so I didn’t hesitate when I said yes!

Guests paid five pounds a head and since we were very much testing the waters tickets were limited to sixty.  None of us knew what was going to happen, whether people would be interested, whether costs would be covered, so it was a real shot in the dark, but within three days of the tickets being released, half were gone; snapped up presumably by eager supper club and Signatures fans. It all looked very good.

Jimmy and I met, discussed menu’s and planned. He opened up his kitchen to me for preparation, which is where I spent best part of the Friday afternoon and Saturday.  I fretted over not being able to source all my produce locally, not being able to contact my mushroom supplier and whether my venison was too dry and Jimmy spent hours measuring perfect 4cm portions to fit into the tiny tasting dishes. Neither of us had done anything like this before so we were winging it from day one.

Our supper was to take place at 5pm in the True Taste kitchen immediately after Michelin starred chef Bryan Williams. I left the jam stall at 1.30 in order to head over to Signatures to meet up with Jimmy and finish off our prep only to discover my car blocked in. The culprit? The same Bryan Williams. I refrained from having a hissy fit. I kept my cool as he returned to his car looking a little sheepish. Car abandoned I managed to get a lift from one of the festival assistants. I can’t remember his name, I think it was John, but whoever my knight in shining armour was I was very grateful!

We’d been allocated an hour in the prep-kitchen to do our final preparations before the demo at five.  By four o’clock we were all packed into our borrowed van, trays of food precariously placed in the back with commis chef Sam wedged in beside it all in the hope he would stop the stuff from sliding around and my helper Mark driving. It’s all glamour you know!!

Jimmy and Sam in the prep kitchen

We arrived into a busy prep kitchen and promptly had to find ourselves fridge space, oven space, work surface space and plating space. Jimmy seemed to know everyone and I felt like the rogue cook in the camp for a bit, but the Llandrillo college staff and students were really helpful and I soon settled down to what I needed to do.

A little while later Morfudd arrived and grabbed me saying,

you must be Denise” as she planted a couple of kisses on either cheek before dragging me off to taste all the wine she’d selected for my food.  Next I was introduced to Sian Lloyd ITV weather and TV presenter who was hosting the event. With about five minutes to go before we were due to cook Sian asked,

so what are we doing”?

Jimmy and I looked blankly at each other “dunno” we both replied.

“Who’s directing?” she tried again. We still looked blank.

“well does anyone know what’s happening?”

waiting in the prep kitchen

We grabbed Fiona the organiser, who helped us map out a rushed itinerary, the ordering of how the dishes would be served and when the wine samples would be handed out and Jimmy and I decided who would cook first. While outside the they tried to work out who had paid for their tickets and who hadn’t. It was all done on the hoof, but by 5.15, only fifteen minutes late we were ready to go.

I described how to hot smoke fish and put my trout on to cook, Jimmy prepared his sea bass and the first samples were sent out to the waiting group of guests. We talked about our main courses and then I demonstrated my caramel (which for the record did end up burning…but not during the demo, it jut didn’t cool down quickly enough at the end).  All in all though for a new, untried event I think it came off very well. If overheard comments were anything to go by the guests loved it, they thought the food was fantastic and I for one didn’t even have a hint of nerves, in fact I had a ball.

Yes of course there were a few glitches, but hey it was a pilot and we all learnt from the experience. Jimmy says if we do it again he will put away his ruler and I reckon I need to work harder on my food ordering and costings (I definitely over spent on the venison!).

So are we doing it again next year I hear you ask? Well that is in the hands of the organisers. We have a year to work on it so watch this space!


Jimmy's perfect portions 🙂

The menu’s and wine:


Hot smoked local rainbow trout with horseradish cream on a bed of carrot and beetroot slaw (courtesy of Ellie and Rosie at Salad Club) and winter leaves

  • Las Medallas Manzanilla, Spain

Roast venison haunch with wild mushrooms, dry cure bacon and herbs, potato dauphinoise and buttered wilted kale

  • 2008 Rasteau, Cotes du Rhone villages, Dom de Escaravailles, France

Pear tatin with vanilla salted caramel and Black Mountain cream

  • 2007 Royal Tokajii Aszu 5 putt, Hungary
Seared Anglesey sea bass on fresh tagliatelle with a Conwy mussel broth.
  • 2010 Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur lie, Loire, France
Shoulder of Welsh lamb, root vegetable dauphinoise and red wine sauce.
  • 2010 Zarcillo Pinot noir, Chile
Glazed lemon tart with raspberry sorbet.

  • 2007 Ballet D’Octobre, Dom Cauhape, Jurancon, France

My suppliers:

  • Beetroot & carrots and potatoes – Pippa and John small holders in Bethel who run a vegetable box scheme (otherwise known as ‘them two over there’)
  • Local venison-Williams & son, butchers in Bangor
  • Wild mushroomsThe Mushroom Garden
  • Dry cure bacon – Williams & son butchers, Bangor
  • Fresh herbs (parsley & thyme) and kale – Moelyci environmental centre (market garden)
  • Butter (unsalted) – Calon Wen
  • Salted butter-The Victorian Farm Food Company, Shropshire
  • Sea salt and vanilla salt – Halen Mon
  • Black Mountain liqueur –Celtic spirit company
  • Olive oil – Petros

On a personal note I want to say a massive thank you to all the producers that gave me free samples to use in my demo, to Mark and Sam for making lovely looking samples in the tiniest of dishes and for being the perfect commis chef’s, to the staff and students of Llandrillo college for being helpful and professional and being lovely to this strange woman who breezed in, in her flowery sundress and tights, to the organisers of Conwy Feast for taking a chance with this (and me), to Sian and Morfudd for being generally lovely and making the event relaxed and informal, to Jimmy for opening up his kitchen to me and of course to Sean, Sophie, Rosie and Becky for holding the fort, flogging my jam and chutney and being the perfect PR assistants for supper club.

Denise x

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Conwy Feast & Blinc in pictures: just a few of my favourite things

I think you will see a few posts popping up here over the coming week about the fantastic Conwy Feast. There was so much to see, hear and taste that it was a weekend that fed all the senses. With both Conwy Feast and Blinc (Wales’s first digital arts festival) running concurrently its no surprise that the usually sleepy, walled medieval town of Conwy saw around 25,000 people visit over the weekend. Even the sun shone for us!

And what a weekend it was!.Since it began in 2003 the Conwy Feast has rapidly grown into the second largest food festival in Wales. It attracts a wide array of foodies from all over the country and its patron Bryn Williams of Odettes in London returns to demonstrate year after year. Other regular visitors include the two Sian Lloyd’s (from BBC and ITV), chefs Aled Williams (of Cennin in Beaumaris) and Hywel Jones (Michelin starred chef from Lucknam Park) who like Bryn have flown the flag for Wales as part of the Great British Menu and Bryan Webb, chef and patron of Tyddyn Llan Michelin starred restaurant in Llandrillo near Corwen. This year also saw Morfudd Richards attend for my ticket only supper club event, where Jimmy Williams from Signatures restaurant and I cooked a three course tasting menu with wine. More on this in my next post.

For now though I want to share some of the sights and images that summed up the weekend for me. From the huge array of fantastic Welsh produce just waiting to be tasted, the great array of local musical talent that played across two stages and culminating in the amazing Blinc projections on Conwy Castle on Saturday night. What more can I say…we had a brilliant time.

Conwy mussel boats in the harbour

my little jam stall in Fresh: the new producers tent

Vegan cupcakes from Aderyn Melys...taste totally divine and look beautiful as well

yummy truffles on my next door neighbours stall

Pretty patterns on the handmade butter, churned on site from the Victorian Farm Food Co. in Shropshire

Gemma looking pleased at punch to see the labels she designed for me on the jars

Welsh produce from around the festival, old favourites and new discoveries

Pen-y-Lan sausages…very very moorish

The outdoor cafe with its ’30 mile menu’. Three courses made with exclusively local produce.

Apples and honey at the Anglesey Apple Company…they do the most fab fresh pressed apple juice

Cynan selling his local shiitake and oyster mushrooms from The Mushroom Garden…now regularly bought by Michelin star restaurants. I used his mushrooms in my supper club menu, they are the best.

Beautiful bread from Scilicorns bakery in Llanrwst….their polish bread is my favourite.

everything you always wanted to know about apples from Ian Sturrock grower of rare, organic, Welsh fruit trees and discoverer of the Bardsey Island Apple (which led to a resurgence in interest in rare breeds). I have two of his trees in my garden.

A bar full of Welsh draught beer

Charcuterie from Trealy Farm….Love by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall I can see why; I loved their sweet chorizo and venison chorizo so I just had to buy a selection while I had the chance.

Fantastic shutters in Elizabethan town house Plas Mawr, one of the fantastic locations for some of the Blinc digital installations.

And the grand finale….

Blinc: projections on Conwy Castle

Blinc projections on Conwy Castle








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Slow food

Only recently has the term slow food entered my foodie vocabulary. I’d heard it mentioned but never knew much about it, didn’t really know what it meant and it was only when one of my supper club guests Mari asked me if I knew about the slow food network in Wales, that I thought it was time I did a bit more research.

The Slow Food network is a relatively new movement, but actually not as new as I’d envisaged. It started in Italy back in 1986, spearheaded by Italian food activist Carlo Petrini. The aim of the organisation was to support and promote the love of good fresh food, an enjoyment of eating and ‘a slow pace of life’ something we really know about living in Wales, but which has slowly been eroded in most major cities. Slow food I guess is the antithesis of fast food and i guess it’s no surprise that the network started at a time when fast food was taking over. Another aim is to help people connect with where their food comes from, to understand how it’s produced and why it is better to go for quality, even if the price is a little higher.

Carlo Petrini. Picture courtesy of the slow food network website.

Over the years the remit of the network broadened ‘to encompass a wider quality of life and sustainability and environmental issues’ and in doing this it promotes the buying of sustainable local produce and going with the seasonal flow, something which is close to my heart.

Since its conception the movement and its ethos has spread worldwide and now there are more than 100,000 members in 150 countries. Supporters include a growing number of chefs including Richard Corrigan, a renowned lover of no fuss, good old-fashioned British food.

Growth of the movement is timely since there is increasing awareness of the need to return to a simpler way of life and more and more people are rejecting supermarket mass marketing as they rediscover small producers and what is available on their own doorstep. It’s not just the older generation who remember what its like to grow their own and buy locally. I remember very well the veg patch in my grandparents and mothers garden. We grew potatoes by the sack full, had fruit trees

My mother and sister clearing and digging our veg patch

veg growing at Moelyci environmental centre, market garden. One of my main suppliers and less than a mile from my home.

The closest group to us in North Wales is Dros-y-Fenai. Set up by David and Alison Lea-Wilson (of Halen Mon salt) they host regular networking events where avid food lovers get to celebrate the seasonal treasures we produce in Wales. For more information about the group or future events email I’m looking forward to their apple day next weekend!

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Anglesey Oyster festival

Celtic spirit liqueurs...Black Mountain is amazing!

Local food festivals here in North Wales do bizarrely seem to happen during he Autumn months when the weather is at its most unpredictable. The first day of the 13th Anglesey Oyster festival coincided with the Ogwen produce market (where I was cooking and selling my jams and chutney). It was a wet miserable day and I wondered if it was as slow over there as it was for us in Bethesda. It didn’t look good for Sunday and I didn’t much feel like a wet trip out, but as the new day dawned, the rain miraculously disappeared. Thankfully it stayed away for most of the day but by heck was it windy!

The Anglesey Oyster festival started as a small yearly social event where island residents gathered to eat lots of oysters, drink lots of bubbly and be entertained by the best of local bands and musicians. Over the past few years though it has become much more of a general local food festival, with less emphasis on the seafood element. This year even more so since oyster stocks have become so depleted. A well documented virus has hit the oyster beds hard (which might explain why the prices were so high!….£7 for one oyster and a glass of bubbly, is it just me or is that just too expensive?)

So I managed to get myself together and popped over for a well needed day of rest and relaxation. Unfortunately with a couple of reluctant kids in tow and my camera running out of battery on arrival, it wasn’t quite the chilled afternoon I’d hoped for. But hey, I was out! I know, I could have left them behind but I knew they’d enjoy it when they got there and having a family day was rather nice. I also wanted to meet up with some of the producers with whom I do regular business to chat about the forthcoming Conwy Feast.

It’s a small festival. More of a glorified two-day produce market really, but worth a visit if you are visiting Anglesey or happen to live in the area. I think it’s just as good for kids to a point; prepare to be fleeced and probably a few quid lighter by the time you leave and don’t expect to linger so you can watch demo’s. All I heard for the first half an hour was

“Mum, can I have this…mum can we get this apple juice, you know I love it…mum I really neeeeed these peppermint creams”

and by the time I’d stated that was IT, nothing else. They became quickly bored and wanted to go to the park. I didn’t get to watch any of the food demos because of their boredom. I should have come alone!

The other problem with food festivals is the cost. They are not for those without disposable income unfortunately. It would be nice to encourage more people to enjoy local produce, but sadly prices seem to be prohibitive. It is the same at Conwy, but at least there are lots of tasting opportunities and plenty of entertainment for the £10 weekend ticket price (£7 Saturday and £6 Sunday if you just come for the day).

I continued to amble slowly, trying and acquiring as I went along. I knew most people there and am very grateful to Cynan at the Mushroom Garden for the bag of wild mushrooms (to try out in my menu for next weeks demo), Ari for the bowl of olives “just to nibble as I walk round” and Carol at Condessa for the free sample of Black Mountain, a delicious heavenly apple and blackcurrant infused brandy. I wasn’t however going to pay £7 for bubbly and one solitary oyster.

The Conwy Feast in contrast is very much a family friendly event. It is now the second largest food festival in Wales and attracts the likes of Michelin star chefs Brain Webb and Hywel Jones plus Bryn Williams and Aled Williams who have flown the flag for Wales on the GReat British Menu along with Hywel. There are kids cookery classes, various events across the town on several stages, demos, live music across three stages and this year the festival coincides with Blinc the first Welsh digital Arts Festival. It really is all going on in Conwy next weekend and I am as excited as a five-year old in a sweet shop, at being asked to cook there! Lets just hope the rain gives us a break.



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Autumn pear tatin with vanilla salted caramel and Calvados cream

I’m a great lover of a good tatin and I’ve made this version a couple of times now since I discovered how well pear and salted caramel go together. It certainly went down a storm at the last two supper clubs and so, just to make sure it really was as good as I thought it was the first and second time round, I will be making it again at the Conwy Feast later this month while our British pears are in abundance.

I reckon I make mean savoury and sweet versions of the tatin and I’m always slightly amazed and quite impressed when I turn them out of the tin looking decorative, with their eye-catching swirl of fruit still in the same place that I set it!

I think a tatin looks much more spectacular than a Quiche or tart especially when their hidden fruity secrets are dramatically upturned and revealed. The gorgeous caramelised glistening top, with the soft fruit neatly laid out on the light crisp base is simple, but stunning. But I think a lot of people are a little scared of making tatin’s because they think they are tricky to pull off; it’s the whole idea that you have to turn something over quickly without dropping it that sounds terrifying in a lot of recipe books. They tell you to have ‘courage’ but I think that’s a bit over dramatic. Actually a tatin is deceptively simple to make; all you really need is a good pan that can go on the hob and then in the oven and a sheet of ready-made all butter puff pastry.

As aI was making this for a supper club dessert I didn’t cheat. I took a leaf out of Nigella’s book and made mine with a Danish pastry base. A little more effort, but oh so worth it. The light, spongy buttery base seems to soak up the juices beautifully. It’s not as crisp as one made with puff pastry, but it holds its form and the fruit on top perfectly.

Using pears instead of apples needed a little tweaking. The first tatin looked beautiful and contained more pear, but for the second I cut thinner slices. One word of advice from a diner was to make the pear slices chunky as the thin slices were lost in the vanilla salted caramel. Point duly noted.

Salted caramel has really grown in popularity over the last couple of years and what was once a well-kept cheffy secret, is now on the menu all over the place, from Haagen Daz ice cream, to Starbucks salt caramel hot chocolate. I was dubious for a while and not really sure I would like it…in much the same way as I didn’t quite trust the weirdly exotic salts I’d seen on the shelves of posh deli’s and over at Halen Mon, my regular local salt supplier. I felt slightly intimidated by them, as though I should really know what to do with them, but didn’t, so I shunned them. That is until I tried salted caramel ice cream.

That was it; unsure no longer I went from smitten to obsessed in a matter of weeks. I’d always half fancied trying the vanilla salt I’d seen at Halen Mon, but wasn’t sure how or where to use it. The scent had absolutely intoxicated me, so as my salted caramel obsession grew I finally knew what I would do with it.

vanilla salt

And that was how my pear and vanilla salted caramel experiment began, although I don’t think that is where it will end. I still think I’m being a little cautious with the salt. I haven’t quite found the freedom to be really brave yet, but I’m sure I will get there soon and there are plenty of other combinations I can come up with…. hmm hold on, I’m thinking chocolate…smoked salt…caramel…you see an idea is forming already.

Nigella’s Danish Pastry recipe says that for enough Danish pastry to make two 22 cm tatin’s you will need:

60ml warm water

125ml of milk at room

1 egg

350g strong white flour (I use Shipton Mill)

1 sachet easy blend yeast

1 teaspoon salt

25g caster sugar

250g unsalted Calon Wen or Rachel’s dairy butter straight from the fridge and cut into slices

Mix the water, milk and egg in a jug.

Make this the day before you want to make your tatin. Add the flour, salt, sugar and yeast to the bowl of a food processor (this really is the quickest and easiest way to do it) and whizz round briefly to mix. Add the butter and pulse. You want to still be able to see big chunks of butter (about 1 cm big). Turn the mixture into a large bowl and with your hands or a plastic spatula add the milk and egg mixture. Dont over do it. You will be left with quite a gooey mixture with chucks of butter visible. Cover with cling film and put in the fridge over night.

The next day take it out of the fridge and allow to warm at room temperature for a while. The lightly flour a large surface and roll out into a large square (about 50 x 50cm). Fold into three like a business letter and rotate the closed fold until it is on your left…like the spine of a book. Roll out again and repeat the same process two more times. You may not need all of this dough depending on how big or how many tatins you are making, but the dough will keep for up to four days in the fridge or you can freeze it for another day.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200 degrees C.

In your tatin pan melt 100g unsalted butter and 150g sugar. I’ve used both caster and granulated sugar and I’m not sure which one works best. Perhaps granulated gets a better caramel. You can try experimenting and see what you think. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it turns a beautiful bronzy caramel colour then remove from the heat and put to the side to cool. There was a little extra butter floating on mine so I gently poured this off.

Having never used the vanilla salt before I read a few online recipes and decided the simplest way was just to sprinkle a bit over the top of the caramel before I added the pears. I didn’t want to over do it so I erred on the side of caution and probably only used about a quarter of a teaspoon. I could have added more and will do next time.

Take as many pears as you need to cover the base of your tatin dish. I used about 5 for my large one, but really needed to use 6. They need to be fairly thickly sliced and packed tightly to form a circular wheel around the dish.. My pears were quite small so I did made an inner and outer circle.

Finally lay your sheet of rolled out pastry over the top of the dish cutting to shape and tucking in well around the edges to enclose the fruit. You can save the off cuts for something else (Danish pastries?).

Bake in the oven for about 20 to 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crisp and there are beautiful bubbles of caramel syrup visible around the sides. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for about five or ten minutes, then wearing oven gloves place a large plate over the top of the pan and swiftly invert. You shouldn’t have any problems with sticking and the tatin should just drop on to the plate with ease. Remove the pan and admire with awe. (If by any chance any of the fruit has stayed stuck to the bottom of the pan just pick it off and lay back in its place on the tatin. This is not a precious or pretentious desert and it doesn’t mind being adjusted and stuck back together a bit).

To serve:

Whip a carton of organic double cream with a tablespoon of icing sugar until quite thick and stiff. Stir in a tablespoon (or two) of Calvados brandy and serve a bit dollop with the tatin.


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Conwy Feast and Keralan spiced squash in the press

I’m very excited to announce that I will be cooking at this years Conwy Feast. On Saturday 22nd October ITV weather presenter Sian Lloyd will be hosting  a ‘secret supper’, where chef Jimmy Williams from Signatures restaurant and myself will be preparing and serving a range of dishes in the True Taste kitchen. Starting at 5pm we will cook a selection of simple, but delicious dishes that you can recreate at home to impress your friends and family. Wine expert Morfudd Richards will then lead guests through a guided wine tasting with wine specially chosen to match the food.

Tickets will be available online soon and will cost £5, but be quick as numbers are restricted to 50 to keep the feel of the dinner small and intimate.

On the theme of cooking at home, the North Wales Daily Post recently published my recipe for a seasonal Keralan spiced squash with coconut and beetroot and yogurt raitha. I last cooked this for a vegetarian / vegan dinner back last year and it went down very well so give it a try this autumn.

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