Great ways to learn new skills – classes, books and demonstrations.


Food and drink books written by an American authors don’t always translate well for a UK audience but Wild Drinks & Cocktails  by Emily Han is one of the exceptions; the recipes list ingredients in both Imperial and metric units, and the vast majority of ingredients are familiar and available across both sides of the pond.

Wild Drinks & Cocktails: Handcrafted Squashes, Shrubs, Switchels, Tonics, and Infusions to Mix at Home is packed full of recipes for drinks you can make using ingredients that can be grown in your garden or readily foraged – in the countryside or even in the urban landscape. Of course, you can buy many of the fruits, herbs and spices in shops and markets.

Wild Drinks & Cocktails

Before sharing recipes, Han runs through some key introductory topics: First, a guide to foraging, which stresses the importance of absolute certainty in plant identification, and provides a gentle reminder to consider the ethics of harvesting rare species or plants that local wildlife rely on for food or shelter; Next, how to harvest, with techniques for leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds and roots and suggestions of harvesting tools you may find useful; After that, an ingredients primer which covers herbs, spices and a comprehensive list of sweeteners from processed sugars and molasses to honey, agave nectar and maple syrup; and last, a list of kitchen equipment for making the recipes, including a guide on sanitising and sterilising tools and containers.

Recipes are divided into six chapters:

  • Teas, Juices and Lemonades
  • Syrups, Squashes and Cordials
  • Oxymels, Shrubs and Switchels
  • Infusions, Bitters and Liqueurs
  • Wines and Punches
  • Fizzy Fermentations

At the start of each chapter, Han explains the origins and methods for each type of drink it covers, so if you don’t know your infusion from your dedoction or your shrub from your switchel, you will soon! Likewise, many of the recipe introductions are enormously informative about ingredients and recipe history. In many cases, there is guidance too about health benefits of certain ingredients or concoctions, though there’s a wise reminder in Han’s introduction that the contents of the book should not be taken as medical advice. On a personal note, it’s good to see the world of western medicine waking up to the claims of traditional medicinal systems such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese about a variety of natural ingredients, many of which are now being investigated scientifically and several of which have been found to have beneficial effects.

Interspersed in the recipes for teas, cordials, vinegars, wines and so on are suggested cocktails – a great way to use some of your home made items.

Not every recipe has an accompanying photograph, but most do, and these are bright and appealing.

The recipes also provide an indication of how long you can keep the finished product. Although the liqueurs have a long shelf life, my only disappointment with the book is that many of the other recipes have surprisingly short one – for me, one of the key reasons to make cordials, vinegars and syrups is to preserve the season’s bounty to a time of the year when that ingredient is no longer available. I would have thought that cordials and syrups with a high sugar content – if made in clean equipment and stored in sterilised bottles – would surely last much longer than 2 weeks.

What I do like is that these are not just the run-of-the-mill recipes we’ve all encountered time and time again – instead Han brings an inventiveness not just in terms of some of the ingredients she uses but also in the combinations she suggests for well-known ingredients.

The good news is that I have two copies of Wild Drinks & Cocktails  to give away. Scroll down for the chance to win this beautiful book.

In the meantime, enjoy Emily Han’s delightful recipe for Vin D’Orange.

Wild Drinks and Cocktails Vin dOrange crp

Homemade Vin D’Orange

Here’s a vital bit of kitchen (and wildcrafting) wisdom: some recipes are meant to be enjoyed right away, while others are lovingly prepared for future pleasure. Vin d’orange falls into the latter category. Infused with winter citrus fruits, it reaches its prime in spring or summer—and that’s when you’ll thank yourself for having such foresight. (It’s also when you’ll lament that you didn’t put up more!) Served as an aperitif, vin d’orange is traditionally made from bitter oranges and dry white or French-style rosé wine. Depending on where you live, bitter oranges may be hard to locate, so this version calls for more readily available navel oranges plus grapefruit. The result is a wine that’s pleasantly bittersweet—delicious on its own over ice, or mixed with a little sparkling water.

Makes: about 940 ml / 1 quart

2 large navel oranges (preferably Cara Cara)
1 small grapefruit (preferably white)
1⁄2 vanilla bean, split
1⁄2 cup (100 g) sugar
1⁄2 cup (120 ml) vodka
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) brandy
1 bottle (750 ml, or 31⁄4 cups) dry white or dry rosé wine

Variation: To use bitter oranges, replace the oranges and grapefruit with 3 Seville oranges.


  • Rinse and dry the oranges and grapefruit. Trim and discard the stem ends. Cut each orange into 1/4-inch-thick (6 mm) rounds. Cut the grapefruit in half and then cut each half into 1/4-inch-thick (6 mm) half-circles.
  • Combine the oranges, grapefruit, vanilla, and sugar in a sterilized quart (1 L) jar. Pour the vodka, brandy, and wine into the jar and push the fruit down with a wooden spoon to submerge it as much as possible (it will insist on floating up). Cover the jar tightly.
  • Store the jar in a cool, dark place for 1 month, shaking it daily to moisten the floating pieces of fruit with the alcohol mixture.
  • Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the solids.
  • Bottle and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
  • Age for at least 1 month before drinking: the Vin d’Orange will continue to improve with age. Serve chilled.

Recipe extract from Wild Drink and Cocktails by Emily Han, published with permission from Fair Wind Press.


Fair Winds Press are offering a copy of Wild Drinks and Cocktails by Emily Han to two lucky readers of Kavey Eats! Each prize includes free delivery within the UK.


You can enter the giveaway in 2 ways – entering both ways increases your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment telling me about your favourite drink made from fruits, vegetables, herbs or spices.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win a copy of Wild Drinks & Cocktails by Emily Han from Kavey Eats! #KaveyEatsWildDrinks
(Do not add my twitter handle or any other twitter handle at the beginning of the tweet or your entry will be considered invalid.
Please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag.)


  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 4th December 2015.
  • The winners will be selected from all valid entries (across blog and twitter) using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • Each (of two) prizes is a copy of Emily Han’s Wild Drinks and Cocktails published by Fair Winds Press, and includes delivery within the UK. We cannot guarantee a pre-Christmas delivery date.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Fair Winds Press.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter both ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contact.
  • The winners will be notified by email or Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message.
  • If no response is received from a winner within 10 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received a review copy of Wild Drinks and Cocktails. Published by Fair Winds Press, a member of the Quarto Publishing Group, this title is currently available for £14.99 (RRP).


Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookery books are amongst the titles I hear most frequently recommended to others by those who own them, with particular praise for his way with vegetables; although his cooking is not vegetarian, he has a much-lauded knack for making vegetables the star of the show.

nopi-book Plenty More Ottolenghi Cover

His most recently published title, NOPI: The Cookbook, is written with Ramael Scully, the head chef at Yotam’s Nopi restaurant – it’s a real all-rounder with dishes featuring vegetables, fruits, fish and meat and the recipes are a heady mix of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Asian flavours with additional influences from all over the world. The book is full of temptations such as Roasted aubergine with black garlic, pine nuts and basil, Butternut squash with ginger tomatoes and lime yoghurt, Seared scallops with pickled daikon and chilli jam, Tomatoes with wasabi mascarpone and pine nuts, Sticky sesame rice, Lemon sole with burnt butter, nori and fried capers, White pepper-crusted lamb sweetbreads with pea purée and miso, Venison fillet with date labneh, blackberries and peanut crumble, Chicken supremes with roast garlic and tarragon brioche pudding, Persian love rice with burnt butter tzatziki, Black rice with mango and coconut cream, Caramel peanut ice cream with chocolate sauce and peanut brittle and Coffee and pecan financiers. That’s just the list that leapt out at me on the first look, but there are so many more recipes that intrigue me. Read my guest poster’s review of Nopi: The Cookbook, here.

Plenty More, published last year, is a vegetarian cookery book in which recipes are grouped by cooking method – tossed, steamed, blanched, simmered, braised, grilled, roasted, fried, mashed, cracked, baked and sweetened. After the enormous success of Plenty back in 2010, fans old and new were delighted to discover another 150 vegetarian recipes to enjoy at home.

The good news is that I have a copy of each to give away. Scroll down for the chance to win both books.

In the meantime, enjoy this delicious recipe for Courgette and Manouri Fritters with Lime and cardamom Soured Cream from NOPI: The Cookbook.

NOPI Courgette and Manouri Fritters

NOPI’s Courgette & Manouri Fritters with Lime & Cardamom Soured Cream

Makes 12 fritters, to serve 4, or 24 smaller fritters, to serve 8 as a snack

3 medium courgettes, trimmed
and coarsely grated (580g)
2 small shallots, finely chopped (50g)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
finely grated zest of 2 limes
60g self-raising flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
21/2 tsp ground coriander
11/2 tsp ground cardamom
150g manouri (or halloumi or feta), roughly broken into 1–2cm chunks
about 150ml sunflower oil, for frying
coarse sea salt and black pepper
For the Lime and cardamom soured cream
200ml soured cream
5g coriander, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime


  • Mix together all the ingredients for the soured cream sauce in a small bowl, along with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper. Set aside in the fridge until ready to serve.
  • Place the grated courgettes in a colander and sprinkle over 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside for 10minutes, then squeeze them to remove most of the liquid: you want the courgettes to keep a little bit of moisture, so don’t squeeze them completely dry.
  • Transfer to a large bowl and add the shallots, garlic, lime zest, flour, eggs, ground coriander, cardamom and a grind of black pepper. Mix well to form a uniform batter, then fold in the manouri cheese gently so it doesn’t break up much.
  • Pour enough oil into a large frying pan so it rises 2–3mm up the sides and place on a medium heat. Once hot, add 4 separate heaped dessertspoons of mixture to the pan, spacing them well apart and flattening each fritter slightly with the flat side of a slotted spoon as they cook. Cook for 6 minutes, turning once halfway through, until golden and crisp on both sides. Transfer to a kitchen paper-lined plate and keep somewhere warm while you continue with the remaining two batches.
  • Place 3 fritters on each plate and serve at once, with the sauce alongside or in a bowl on the side.

Recipe extracted from NOPI: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully. (Ebury Press, £28). Photography by Jonathan Lovekin.


Ebury Press are offering a copy of NOPI: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully plus a copy of Plenty More  by Yotam Ottolenghi to one lucky reader of Kavey Eats! The prize includes free delivery within the UK.


You can enter the giveaway in 2 ways – entering both ways increases your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment telling me about your favourite recipe for showcasing vegetables.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win copies of NOPI: The cookbook and Plenty More from Kavey Eats! #KaveyEatsNopi
(Do not add my twitter handle or any other twitter handle at the beginning of the tweet or your entry will be considered invalid.
Please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag.)

Rules, Terms & Conditions

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 4th December 2015.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is one copy of NOPI: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully and one copy of Plenty More  by Yotam Ottolenghi, both published by Ebury Press. The prize includes delivery within in the UK. We cannot guarantee a pre-Christmas delivery date.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Ebury Press.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter both ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contact.
  • The winners will be notified by email or Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message.
  • If no response is received from a winner within 10 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received review copies of both titles from Ebury Press. NOPI: The Cookbook is currently available for £12.99 (RRP £28). Plenty More is currently available for £12 (RRP £27). (At time of posting).


PARTNEREDPOSTPotatoes have been getting a bit of a bad rap lately. The last couple of decades have witnessed a vilification of carbs; the noughties in particular saw a surge in uptake of diets advocating a severe reduction of carb intake. Even for those not following a low-carb diet, potatoes often lose out to pasta and rice, perceived as quicker and easier options.

But actually, potatoes are a versatile and very healthy ingredient – they’re inexpensive, 100% natural and unprocessed; they are low in fat and sugar and an excellent source of fibre and potassium; and they store very well – when we’ve had a particularly generous crop of home grown, we’ve been able to enjoy them for several months after harvesting by keeping them in a cool, dark cupboard.

Of course, they are also available to buy throughout the year – whether you shop at your local supermarket, independent grocer’s or food market. I like to buy by variety, experimenting to make up my own mind – do King Edwards or Maris Pipers make the best roasties? Are Charlottes or Red Duke of Yorks best for potato salad?

These days most retailers also label potatoes to indicate whether they are suitable for baking, boiling, mashing, frying and so on – the rule of thumb is that waxy varieties and new potatoes are great for potato salads because they hold their shape and texture well when boiled. Fluffier varieties are best for baking and roasting, and make fabulous chips. There are also many potatoes that can be considered good all-rounder varieties; find out more from the AHDB’s Potato Variety Database.

But the question remains – can you create a quick and delicious weekday supper using potatoes in the same time as it might take you to rustle up a pasta dinner or stir fried rice?

Of course, the answer is yes!

Rostizza - Potato Rosti Pizza Base on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle (4)

We were challenged to create and share a new potato recipe, something quick, easy and suitable for a weekday lunch or dinner and a little adventurous and different to boot. I hope you’ll agree that our Röstizza – using a potato rösti as a gluten free pizza base – is just that!

Rostizza - Potato Rosti Pizza Base on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle (2)

The Röstizza: Potato Rösti Pizza Base

Serves 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

#glutenfree #quick #easy #recipe

400 grams potatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
15-20 grams butter
2 teaspoons finely grated parmesan
1 teaspoon salt
75 grams grated mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons pizza sauce
Optional: Very thinly sliced salami or chorizo sausage or other toppings of your choice

28 cm frying pan
Electric or gas hob

Note: We use a food processor to grate the potatoes and buy ready-grated mozzarella cheese for this recipe. Add a little more prep time if you grate both by hand.


  • Peel and grate the potatoes.
  • Microwave the grated potatoes in a bowl for approximately 1 minute on full power, until piping hot.
  • In the meantime, heat butter and oil in a frying pan on a medium heat.
  • Retrieve grated potatoes from the microwave, add grated parmesan and salt and mix thoroughly.
  • Add potato mixture to the pan, toss briefly to coat well in butter and oil, then spread out to create a flat and even rösti, pressing down firmly.

Rostizza - Potato Rosti Pizza Base on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7606

  • Fry the rösti pizza base for about 12-15 minutes until golden brown beneath, checking by lifting an edge very carefully with a spatula towards the end of the cooking time. The time will vary depending on your frying pan and the exact level of heat.
  • Once the bottom edge is golden brown, use two plates to help flip the rösti over: Place the first plate upside down over the pan, use oven gloves to grip both plate and pan firmly together and flip over to transfer the rösti onto the plate. Now use a second plate to flip the rösti over again. Pour out any remaining oil from the pan if need be, before placing it upside down over the second plate, and flipping both over one last time. The rösti should now be upside down within the frying pan. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds, and much less risky than trying to flip the fragile rösti directly in the pan.

Rostizza - Potato Rosti Pizza Base on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7609 Rostizza - Potato Rosti Pizza Base on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7613

  • Preheat the grill to high.
  • Turn the heat on the hob up to high and add the toppings over the golden brown surface. First spread the pizza sauce, then the grated cheddar and then add any additional toppings such as salami slices, mushrooms or other vegetables. This should take no more than 4-5 minutes, allowing the second side of the rösti to crisp up.

Rostizza - Potato Rosti Pizza Base on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7616 Rostizza - Potato Rosti Pizza Base on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7623

  • Transfer the pan to the grill for about 2 minutes, until the cheese is melted and starting to colour.
  • Serve immediately.

Rostizza - Potato Rosti Pizza Base on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle (1)

Rostizza - Potato Rosti Pizza Base on Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle (3)

As you can imagine, it’s easy to ring the changes by switching what you put on top.

Try pesto instead of a tomato-based pizza sauce or skip the sauce entirely for a pizza bianco.

Use a mixture of cheeses to create your own quattro formaggi (four cheeses).

As for toppings, you could opt for ham and cheese, pepperoni and jalapeno or a wonderful vegetarian medley of mushrooms, onions or peppers.

For more quick and easy potato recipes, check out:

This recipe was commissioned by Love Potatoes, as part of their ‘Potatoes: More than a bit on the side’ campaign. Visit their website for more great potato recipes and detailed nutritional information.


The food at NOPI restaurant is a heady mix of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours with additional influences from around the world – just the kind of cooking my friend and fellow blogger Lisa aka Cookwitch adores, so I asked her to review this new cookbook written by Yotam Ottolenghi and NOPI’s head chef Ramael Scully on my behalf. I am sure you will enjoy her guest post below; to learn more about Lisa read my recent Meet The Blogger interview with her, here.


Most people have heard of Yotam Ottolenghi, the gently spoken Israeli of the big brown eyes and welcoming smile, wandering around the world in search of beautiful food. Many may not have heard of Scully.

No, this is not a foray into X-Files alien food, this is a wonderful partnership – sometimes more of a tug o’ war – between the more familiar Mediterranean influences of Yotam and the still slightly mysterious Eastern zing of Scully, a chef raised between Australia and Malaysia.

They say:

“The Mediterranean influence is still strong in our cooking but we are as likely, these days, to be reaching for the mirin and miso as we are towards the pomegranate molasses, olive oil and date syrup. The cupboard is wide, the menu ever-changing and the experiments ever-underway. We continue on with both a boundless enthusiasm and an unswerving dedication to detail. The result is some very merry-making food.”

Merry-making food? Bring it on, I say.

The book is an utter joy right from the start. The voice of it is extremely loving, and slightly teasing, telling of the differences in approach between Scully and Yotam, plus properly highlighting the brilliance and dedication of the rest of the staff. To paraphrase;

Scully: How about we put a chilli/salt/pickle garnish there?

Yotam: Do we even need a garnish?

It is a restaurant cookbook, yes, with the most popular dishes from NOPI, but everything in it seems achievable. If extra time is needed, it tells you. If an ingredient is hard to source, it tells you what you can use instead.

It also doesn’t talk down to, or over you, or assumes that you already know everything. For me, it gave me that bit more confidence in making some of the recipes.

Every photo almost glows on the page. There are simple dishes, with just a few ingredients, and there are long and involved ones, but you never get the sense that the author is telling you not to attempt them because you’re not a chef.

There are some I wouldn’t do unless I had a week off, and some I could probably do in an evening, if I was organised (or motivated) enough, but in the main I would put them down as being Weekend with Nothing To Do cooking. (Other people count a weekend spent cooking as relaxation too, don’t they? Not just me? Anyone?)

Having spent a week buried in the book, I finally decided on the courgette fritter recipe.

I’ve been on a real vegetable kick lately, and though the Mixed Cauliflowers with Golden Raisins, Ricotta and Capers called to me, I had overdosed on cauliflower the week before, so I felt a nice, green change was needed. Plus it has cheese in it, so that was a done deal.

I admit that I am NOT a recipe book cook. I am a recipe book reader. I honestly find cooking from someone else’s recipes quite tiring, as I think I get nervous that I’m going to do it wrong, or miss a step. If I try a recipe that I know I will want to make again, I write it down in a small notebook, and list the steps in the order that I would cook them. Once I’ve done that, it makes it easier. I know, I’m weird.

I really did want to give this a try though, so I persevered. Even though I read the recipe countless times, I still managed to forget things when I went shopping. I also changed some ingredients. One out of necessity and another because I loathe the original.

IMG_20151017_162758 IMG_20151017_165432

Courgette and Feta Fritters

Adapted by Lisa from Nopi: The Cookbook

For the fritters
3 courgettes, coarsely grated, then popped in a colander with 1 tsp salt to drain
2 eggs, lightly beaten
60 g self raising flour (might use chickpea flour next time, lower the carb count and make it GF friendly)
2.5 tsp ground coriander
1.5 tsp ground cumin (original was ground cardamom, but I really dislike it, and 1.5 tsp is a LOT)
2 small shallots very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated (I used a garlic press)
Finely grated zest of two limes
150g feta, crumbled into 1cm bits (original recipe calls for manouri cheese which is hard to find unless you have a Greek grocer near you)
For the sauce
200ml sour cream
5g chopped coriander (I had none, so I used chopped celery leaves that I had in the freezer)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (nope, not me!)
grated zest and juice of 1 lime. (I totally forgot the juice)


  • When the courgettes have sat for 10 minutes, squeeze all of the water out and put into a large bowl.
  • Add in the spices, flour, shallots and zest, then mix in the egg.
  • Gently mix in the crumbled feta so that it doesn’t disperse too much.
  • (The book says to put oil in a frying pan to a depth of 2-3mm but with a good non-stick pan, you probably won’t need that much.)
  • When the oil is hot, drop in dessertspoonfuls of the mixture, 4 at a time spaced well apart. Flatten them a bit with the spoon.
  • (I formed mine into loose and slightly lumpy quenelles, to see if I could, but that is really not necessary.)
  • Cook for 6 minutes, until they are browned and crispy on one side, then turn them over and cook the other side.
  • For the sauce, mix together all the ingredients.
  • Drain the fritters on paper towels, and serve hot with the dip, though they are equally good when lukewarm. I would reheat them in the oven, they should crisp up again.

IMG_20151017_140720 20151017_175304

The second recipe of the day was the result of misreading another recipe further into the book. There’s a recipe in the book for lamb rump with vanilla braised chicory. I parsed it as vanilla braised lamb. When I realised I thought, well, why not? So this happened.

My Brain:

“Ooh, lamb with vanilla. No, wait, that’s lamb with CHICORY braised with vanilla.
Although…[goes to shops]
What would you braise it in? I’ve got red wine, but would rosé be better? Marsala perhaps? Nobody’s got that. No, I’ll have to stick with red. Maybe the butcher has venison! That would work.
[goes to butcher]
No, the lamb leg looks nicer. Still not sure about this cooking liquid though.
Hang on…[mentally catalogues shelves]
Tea. I have vanilla tea. And cinnamon sticks. Ok…this might work. ”
What was actually said out loud:

Vanilla & Red Wine Lamb

Inspired by Nopi: The Cookbook’s Lamb Rump with Vanilla Braised Chicory

1/2 small leg of lamb, bone in, FAT ON, in a covered casserole dish
2 small bottles red wine (18.7cl)
2 small bottle’s worth of water
1/2 cup Vanilla Ceylon Tea
5 dried rosehips
1 shallot, cut in half (not peeled)
1 small stick cinnamon, snapped in half
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthways
2 tbs honey
1 tbs date/carob/fig molasses – or blackstrap molasses


  • Put all the above in a pan, bring to the boil, then lower the heat right down and simmer for an hour.
  • Take off the heat, leave to cool, then pour it all over the lamb. Place the vanilla pod on top of the lamb joint.
  • Cover, place in a hot oven (200C) for 1/2 an hour, then turn the heat down to 150C and let it cook for a good 3 hours. Test it for tenderness at the 3-4 hour mark, and if it’s tender (it fell off the bone for me) then keep the meat warm and reduce the sauce down in a pan on the stove top until it is thick and jammy.
  • Serve it with roasted squash or mashed parsnips, or perhaps a puree of white beans because that sauce, oh that sauce, needs a transportation vehicle. Or maybe just a loaf of good bread…

I am still reading through the book.

Venison fillet with Date Labneh, Blackberries and Peanut Crumble anyone?


NOPI: The Cookbook is published by Ebury Press, who provided a review copy to Kavey Eats. Currently available from Amazon for just £12.99 (RRP £28).


Lizzie Mabbott is a prodigious cook and a prodigious eater!

I’ve been following her cooking and eating exploits on the web for many years, first on the now-defunct BBC food discussion boards and since 2008 on her well-known blog, Hollowlegs. If she isn’t eating she may well be cooking, if she isn’t cooking she might be shopping for ingredients, and if she isn’t doing either of those things, there’s a good chance she’s pondering on what to eat or cook next!

When I learned that she had secured a book deal I was not surprised in the slightest as her delicious personal twists on classic British, European, Chinese and other South East Asian dishes have long made many readers salivate, myself included.

154155-Lizzie Mabbott Chinese Spagbol - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle

In Chinatown Kitchen she draws upon her amazing heritage; Lizzie is Anglo-Chinese, born in Hong Kong where she spent her formative years growing up not only on Chinese food but also exposed to the many cuisines of South East Asia. At 13 she was transplanted to England, where she has been ever since – albeit with some judicious globetrotting to feed those hollow legs!

To describe the book as simply another tome on South East Asian cooking is to put it into a box that it doesn’t neatly fit into. It’s much more than Chinese – or even South East Asian – food made easy; rather it’s a very personal collection of recipes that represent Lizzie’s personal food story. There are classic Chinese and South East Asian dishes, sure, but there are also a fair few of Lizzie’s own inventions including some excellent mashups such as this Chinese Spag Bol recipe and an Udon Carbonara.

Most recipes are illustrated with colourful and appealing photographs, styled but not overly fussy and with the focus firmly on the food.

At the heart of the book is the idea of seeking out ingredients in the food shops of your nearest Chinatown – or indeed any oriental supermarkets or groceries you can find – and putting them to delicious use. To that end, the book is not just a set of recipes but also a shopping and ingredient guide. Add to that an introduction to key equipment and techniques and you are all set to get cooking.

I tried hard not to bookmark every single recipe on my first pass, when trying to narrow down the list of what to make first. I ended up with 23 recipes bookmarked: Deep-Fried Whole Fish in Chilli, Bean Sauce, Japanese Spinach and Cucumber Salad, Grilled Aubergines with Nuoc Cham, Korean Rice Cakes with Chorizo and Greens, Sesame and Peanut Noodle Salad, Cabbage in Vinegar Sauce, Chinese Chive Breads, Griddled Teriyaki King Oyster Mushrooms, Banana Rotis, Poached Pears in Lemon Grass Syrup, Braised Egg Tofu with Pork and Aubergine, Spicy Peanut and Tofu Puff Salad, Fish Paste-Stuffed Aubergine, Mu Shu Pork, Steamed Egg Custard with Century and Salted Eggs, Cola Chicken Wings, Red-Braised Ox Cheek, Xinjiang Lamb Skewers, Red Bean Ice Lollies and Black Sesame Ice Cream with Black and White Sesame Honeycomb, plus the two I’ve already mentioned!

So far, we’ve made two recipes, Chinese Spag Bol and Roast Rice-Stuffed Chicken. We’ve loved both and will certainly be working out way through the rest of my “short” list over coming weeks and months.

Lizzie Mabbott Chinese Spagbol - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle overlay

Lizzie Mabbott’s Chinese Spag Bol

As Lizzie explains, this recipe has little in common with the bastardised ragu we call Spag Bol in Britain – there are no tomatoes, nor red wine for a start – but it is made by simmering minced meat in a sauce and dressing noodles with the results. The predominant flavour comes from yellow bean sauce, with additional notes from soy sauce, hoisin and Shaoxing wine. Lizzie servies it with fresh vegetables and finely sliced omelette.

Serves 4

2 free range eggs
2 tbsp cooking oil
2 spring onions, white parts finely chopped, green parts sliced into rings
5 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
2 tsp peeled and very finely chopped fresh root ginger
400 g (14 ox) fatty minced pork
3 tbsp yellow bean paste
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
100 ml (3.5 fl oz) water
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 carrot, peeled
Half cucumber
300 g fresh Shanghai noodles


  • Firstly, beat the eggs. Heat 1 tablespoon of the cooking oil in a wok, or a nonstick frying pan, until shimmering, add the beaten eggs and cook them over a medium heat until set to make a thin omelette. Remove to a plate and set to one side.
  • Heat up the rest of the oil in the wok over a medium heat, add the spring onion whites, garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant. Then add the minced pork, breaking up any clumps with your hands, and cook until browned. Add the yellow bean paste, soy sauces and hoi sin sauce with the water and Shaoxing rice wine and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it’s looking a little dry, add a touch more water.
  • Meanwhile, julienne the carrot and cucumber and set aside. Roll the omelette up and slice finely.
  • Cook the noodles in a large saucepan of boiling water for a minute, then drain and place in a big serving bowl. Pour the meat sauce on top, then add the vegetables and omelette and stir to combine. Garnish with the greens of the spring onion and serve.

191929-Lizzie Mabbott Chinese Spag Bol - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle


Lizzie Mabbott’s Roast Rice-Stuffed Chicken

9332-Lizzie Mabbott Chinese Roast Chicken with Sticky Rice Stuffing - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle overlay 9339-Lizzie Mabbott Chinese Roast Chicken with Sticky Rice Stuffing - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle notext

The Roast Rice-Stuffed Chicken is a slightly more involved dish requiring the chicken to be marinated overnight (in a marinade that includes red fermented tofu and oyster sauce, amongst other ingredients) and the sticky rice filling to be made ahead ready to stuff inside the chicken before roasting. I made the wrong call to substitute a black sticky rice I had in my larder for the white sticky rice Lizzie’s recipe stipulates, and I’m sure that was the reason my mandarin peel and Chinese sausage-studded rice wasn’t sufficiently cooked through, but I do want try again with the right rice, as the flavours were fabulous. What’s more, the marinade on its own was super easy and amazingly delicious; even if we don’t have time to do the rice stuffing every time, I know the marinade will be used again and again.


Chinatown Kitchen: From Noodles to Nuoc Cham is currently available on Amazon UK for £10 (RRP £20). Kavey Eats received a review copy from publisher Mitchell Beazley. Recipe text reproduced with permission from Mitchell Beazley.


One of my food and drink goals in recent years (and certainly for the next few too) is to learn more about sake. Not just how it’s made (which I understand pretty well now) and the different categories of sake (which I finally have downpat) but – most importantly of all – working out what I like best in the hope of reliably being able to buy sake that I love.

Here, I share what I’ve learned over the last few years plus some of my favourites at this year’s HyperJapan Sake Experience.

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Images from

What is Sake?

Sake is a Japanese alcohol made from rice.

Although it is referred to in English as rice wine, it is often pointed out that the process is more akin to brewing beer, where one converts the starch to sugar and the resulting sugar to alcohol. In wine making, it is a simpler process of converting the sugars that are already present in the fruit. Of course, it’s not entirely like beer making either as the sake production process is quite distinct.

Wine is typically around 10-15% ABV. Beer is usually lower, with most beers coming in between 3-8%, though there’s been a trend towards ever stronger beers lately. Sake is brewed to around 18-20%, but often diluted to around 15% for bottling.

Until a few years ago I’d only ever encountered cheap sake served warm and was not a huge fan. However, since trying higher quality sakes served chilled, I’m an absolute convert.

In terms of typical flavours, my vocabulary is woefully lacking, but for me the core flavour is a subtly floral one – perhaps this is intrinsic to the rice and rice mould? The balance of sweetness and acidity varies though classic sake is not super sweet. Sometimes it is fruity and sometimes it has a more umami (savoury) taste. I am often able to detect clear differences on the palate but unable to define these in words – clearly I need to drink more sake!


How is Sake made?

Sake is made from rice, but usually from varieties with a larger, stronger grain with lower levels of protein than the rice varieties that are typically eaten.

The starch sits within the centre of the rice grain, surrounded by a layer of bran, so rice is usually polished to remove the outer layer before being made into sake. The more the rice is polished, the higher the percentage of starchy centre remains, but of course this is more expensive as it needs far more rice to produce the same volume of alcohol.

After polishing and being set aside to rest, the rice is washed, soaked and steamed. kōji rice mould (Aspergillus oryzae) is sprinkled over the rice which is left to ferment for several days. This mould helps to develop the amylase enzyme necessary to convert starch to sugar. Next, water and yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) are added and the mixture allowed to incubate. Water and yeast are added multiple times during the process. The resulting mash then ferments at 15-20 °C for a few weeks.

After fermentation, the mixture is filtered to extract the liquid, and the solids are often pressed to extract a fuller range of flavours.

In cheaper sakes, varying amounts of brewer’s alcohol are added to increase the volume.

Sake is usually filtered again and then pasteurised before resting and maturing, then dilution with water before being bottled.

These days you can also find unpasteurised sake and sake in which the finer lees (sediment) are left in. I’ve even had some very thick and cloudy sakes where more of the solids have been pureed and mixed in to the final drink.


What are the different categories of Sake?

Because the most desirable bit of the rice is the core of the grain, the amount of polishing is highly relevant. Labels must indicate the seimai-buai (remaining percentage) of the original grain.

Daiginjo means that at least 50% of the original rice grain must be polished away (so that 50% or less remains) and that the ginjo-tsukuri method – fermenting at cooler temperatures – has been used. There are additional regulations on which varieties of rice and types of yeast may be used and other production method restrictions.

Ginjo is pretty much the same but stipulates that only 40% of the original rice is removed by polishing (so that up to 60% remains).

Pure sake – that is sake made only from rice, rice mould and water – is labelled as Junmai. If it doesn’t state junmai on the label, it is likely that additional alcohol has been added.

So Junmai daiginjo is the highest grade in terms of percentage of rice polished and being pure sake with no brewer’s alcohol added.

Coming down the scale a little quality wise, Tokubetsu means that the sake is still classed as ‘special quality’. Tokebetsu junmai means it’s pure rice, rice mould and water whereas Tokebetsu honjozu means the sake has had alcohol added, but is still considered a decent quality. In both cases, up to 60% of the original rice grain may remain after milling.

Honjozo on its own means that the sake is still rated above ordinary sake – ordinary sake can be considered the equivalent of ‘table wine’ in France.

Other terms that are useful to know:

Namazake is unpasteurised sake.

Genshu is undiluted sake; I have not come across this yet.

Muroka has been pressed and separated from the lees as usual but has not been carbon filtered. It is clear in appearance.

Nigorizake is cloudy rather than clear – the sake is passed only through a loose mesh to separate the liquid from the mash and is not filtered. There is usually a lot of sediment remaining and it is normal to shake the bottle to mix it back into the liquid before serving.

Taruzake is aged in wooden barrels or casks made from sugi, sometimes called Japanese cedar. The wood imparts quite a strong flavour so premium sake is not commonly used for taruzake.

Kuroshu is made from completely unpolished brown rice grains. I’ve not tried it but apparently it’s more like Chinese rice wine than Japanese sake.

I wrote about Amazake in this post, after we enjoyed trying some in Kyoto during our first visit to Japan. Amazake can be low- or no-alcohol depending on the recipe. It is often made by adding rice mould to whole cooked rice, allowing the mould to break down the rice starch into sugars and mixing with water. Another method is to mix the sake solids left over from sake production with water – additional sugar can be added to enhance the sweetness. Amazake is served hot or cold; the hot version with a little grated ginger to mix in to taste.


HyperJapan’s Sake Experience

Last month I tasted a great range of sake products in the space of an hour’s focused drinking as I made my way around Sake Experience in which 11 Japanese sake breweries shared 30 classic sakes and other sake products.

Once again, this was my personal highlight of HyperJapan show.

For an extra £15 on top of the show entrance ticket, one can visit stalls of 11 Japanese sake breweries, each of whom will offer tastings of 2 or 3 of their product range. You can learn about the background of their brewery, listen to them tell you about the characteristics of their product and of course, make up your own mind about each one.

One reason I love this is because tasting a wide range of sakes side by side really helps me notice the enormous differences between them and get a better understanding of what I like best.

A large leaflet is provided as you enter, which lists every sake being offered by the breweries. A shop at the exit (also open to those not doing the Sake Experience) allows you to purchase favourites, though not every single sake in the Sake Experience is available for sale.

HyperJapan 2015 - Kavey Eats - © Kavita Favelle-110415


Kavey’s Sake Experience 2015 Picks

My Favourite Regular Sakes

Umenoyado’s Junmai Daiginjo is made using yamadanishiki rice and bottled at 16% ABV. The natural sweetness is much to my taste and the flavour is wonderfully rich with fruity overtones, and a spicy sharp piquancy that provides balance.

Ichiniokura’s Junmai Daiginjo Kuranohana is made with kuranohana rice and bottled at 15-16% ABV. This one is super fruity; the brewery team explained that they use a different yeast whch creates a different kind of flavour. There is less acidity than usual, which emphasises the sweetness.

Nihonsakari’s Junmai Ginjo Cho-Tokusen Souhana is made with yamadanishiki rice and bottled at 15-16% ABV. To me, this Junmai Ginjo represents the absolutely classic style of sake; it has a hint of dairy to the aroma and a typical sake flavour, subtly floral and very crisp.

My Favourite Barrel-Aged Sake

Sho Chiku Bai Shirakabegura’s Taruzake is barrel-aged and bottled at 15% ABV. The wood flavour comes through clearly, though it’s not overpowering – this is a clean, dry style of sake with a hint of greenery. Although it’s not hugely complex, it’s well worth a try.

My Favourite Sparkling Sakes

Ichinokura’s Premium Sparkling Sake Suzune Wabi is made with Toyonishiki and Shunyo rice varieties and bottled at 5% ABV. Unlike some sparkling sakes on the market that are carbonated artificially, the gas is 100% natural, produced during a second fermentation. This sake is sweet but not super sweet, with a fruity aroma balanced by gentle acidity. If I understood them correctly, the brewery team claimed that they were the first to develop sparkling sake, 8 years ago. Certainly, it’s a very recent development but one that’s become hugely popular, a way for breweries to reconnect with younger markets who had been turning away from sake as their drink of choice.

Shirataki Shuzo’s Jozen Mizuno Gotoshi Sparkling Sake is made with Gohyakumangoku rice and bottled at 11-12% ABV. Although most sparkling sakes are sweet, this one breaks the kōji (mould, kōji, get it?) as it’s a much dryer style, though not brut by any means. I can see this working very well with food.

For the sweeter sparkling sakes (which are usually marketed almost exclusively to women by the breweries), Sho Chiku Bai Shirakabegura’s Mio and Ozeki’s Jana Awaka are
sweet, tasty and affordable.

My Favourite Yuzu Sake

Some of the yuzu sakes I tried were perfectly tasty but very one dimensional, just a blast of yuzu and nothing else. One was a yuzu honey concoction and the honey totally overwhelmed the citrus.

Nihonsakari’s Yuzu Liqueur is bottled at 8-9%. The yuzu flavour is exceptional, yet beautifully rounded and in harmony with the sake itself. It’s not as viscous as some of the yuzu liqueurs certainly but has some creaminess to the texture. Be warned, this is one for the sweet-toothed!

My Favourite Umeshus

Learn more here about umeshu, a fruit liqueur made from Japanese stone fruits. Umeshu can be made from sake or shochu, but those at the Sake Experience were, of course, sake-based.

Urakasumi’s Umeshu is bottled at 12% ABV. Made with fruit and sake only, no added sugar, it’s a far lighter texture than many umeshu and has an absolutely beautiful flavour, well balanced between the sweetness and sharpness of the ume fruit. Because it’s so light, I think this would work well with food, whereas traditional thicker umeshu is better enjoyed on its own.

Umenoyado’s Aragoshi Umeshu is bottled at 12% ABV. A complete contrast from the previous one, this umeshu is super thick, in large part because the ume fruit, after steeping in sake and sugar, are grated and blended and mixed back in to the liqueur. The flavour is terrific and I couldn’t resist buying a bottle of this one to bring home.

My Favourite Surprise Sake

Ozeki’s Sparkling Jelly Sake Peach comes in a can and is 5% ABV. The lightly carbonated fruity liqueur has had jelly added, and the staff recommended chilling for a few hours, shaking really hard before opening and pouring the jellied drink out to serve. The flavour is lovely and I’d serve this as a grown up but fun dessert, especially as it’s not very expensive at £3 a can. I bought a few of these home with me!


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Kavey Eats attended the event as a guest of HyperJapan.


I don’t often gravitate towards cookery books focusing on a single ingredient as they so often have a core of fabulous recipes padded out with a bunch of weak page fillers.

But Diana Henry’s A Bird In The Hand is a wonderful exception, chock – or should that be chook? – full of appealing recipes for simple, tasty chicken dinners.

A-bird-in-the-hand Diana Henry's Chicken with Pumpkin Cream and Gruyere - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-withtext

In the UK we purchase and eat a lot of chicken. It’s so good roasted, grilled or barbequed, fried (pan or deep), poached, cooked in a stew or casserole… and well-suited to flavours from all around the world – a wonderfully versatile meat.

In this book Diana Henry shares a collection of over 100 chicken recipes that range from quick and casual to impressive and celebratory. I am tempted by nearly all of them! Some, like Baked Chicken with Tarragon and Dijon Mustard, Chicken Forestière, Thai Chicken Burgers, Soothing North Indian Curry and Japanese Negima Yakitori are similar to recipes we have made and enjoyed before; a good reminder to make them again soon.

Others are dishes we’ve not thought to try ourselves. My copy of the book is frilled along the top edge with little scraps of paper bookmarking those I want to try soon – Spanish Chicken, Morcilla and Sherry, Vietnamese Lemongrass and Chilli Chicken, Bourbon and Marmalade-glazed Drumsticks, Chicken with Shaoxing Wine, Crisp Radishes and Pickled Ginger, Tagine of Chicken, Caramelised Onion and Pears, Chicken Legs in Pinot Noir with Sour Cherries and Parsnip Purée, Roast chicken stuffed with black pudding and apple and mustard sauce, Ginger beer can chicken, Chicken Pot-Roasted in Milk, Bay and Nutmeg, Pot-Roast Chicken with Figs.

They all sound so good, don’t they?

Diana Henry's Crusted Chicken and Chorizo Paella - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-1 Diana Henry's Crusted Chicken and Chorizo Paella - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-3

Both dishes we have made so far have been enormously comforting, delicious and likely to be repeated again and again. Though there are only two of us, we felt the Crusted Chicken and Chorizo Paella was best made in a large quantity; we scaled it down to make two thirds and that served us both for two meals, plus a generous portion for my lunchbox one day too. Warm, comforting, tasty and not complicated to make.

The Chicken with Pumpkin, Cream and Gruyère actually blew me away. As you can see, it’s such a simple recipe and yet I would never have thought to combine chicken and pumpkin, nor to cook the combination so simply in cream flavoured with garlic and grated cheese. Be warned, this is a rich dish, so small portions will be plenty. A crisp vinaigrette-dressed green salad is my perfect accompaniment.

Again, we scaled the recipe down by half. We used chicken thighs (which I much prefer to breasts) and butternut squash and switched the two hard cheeses for close cousins we had on hand. We also decided to cut the thighs into three pieces before frying, rather than after as in the recipe.

Full, original recipe provided below.

Diana Henry's Chicken with Pumpkin Cream and Gruyere - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-1

Diana Henry’s Chicken with Pumpkin, Cream and Gruyère

Serves 6

1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) pumpkin or butternut squash (unprepared weight)
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
8 skinless boneless chicken thighs or breasts
400 ml (14 fl oz) double cream
1 garlic clove, crushed
25 g (scant 1 oz) grated Gruyère
25 g (scant 1 oz) grated Parmesan


Preheat the oven to 200 C / 400 F. Peel and deseed the pumpkin and cut it into wedges. Put the wedges into a roasting tin, brush with olive oil, season and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until completely tender (and even slightly caramelised). Now put the squash into a gratin or other ovenproof dish, one that is big enough to accommodate the chicken too.

Meanwhile, cook the chicken. Simply season it all over, heat one and a half tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the chicken on both sides until golden and cooked through, eight to ten minutes. Cut each piece into three. Add the chicken to the pumpkin.

Heat the cream with the garlic until it’s boiling, take off the heat, season and pour over the chicken and pumpkin. Sprinkle on both cheeses and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The dish should be bubbling and golden. Serve. You need something to cut the richness so a salad of bitter leaves is good. Children like it with pasta, but I prefer brown rice or another nutty whole grain.

Diana Henry's Chicken with Pumpkin Cream and Gruyere - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-1 Diana Henry's Chicken with Pumpkin Cream and Gruyere - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-2 Diana Henry's Chicken with Pumpkin Cream and Gruyere - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-3

You may also enjoy:

A Bird in the Hand by Diana Henry is available from Amazon for £9.99 (RRP £20). Published by Mitchell Beazley. Kavey Eats received a review copy from the publisher.


It’s been a gradual (and on-going) learning process over the years to work out which cuts of beef are best suited to which dishes or cooking methods. Although I’m pretty confident about the cuts to buy for my favourite meals, I am still getting to grips with others and constantly on the look out for new ways to get the best out of them.

When I asked a few friends for their thoughts recently, it quickly became clear that choosing which cut of meat to buy isn’t an easy task for everyone. And of course, buying the wrong cut for your dish often leads to disappointment, which makes people even more nervous the next time. Says my friend Matt Gibson, “I’ve never really got the hang of the cuts, especially for beef. Basically I just buy whatever looks nice in the shop without thinking too hard about it”.

That comment spurred me on to create my guide to choosing the right cut of beef. The suggestions below are based not only on my own favourites but also incorporate recommendations from fellow bloggers, food writers and chefs.

Beef cuts diagram via


First, Lessons from a Master Butcher

Having been a butcher since he was 14, Martin Eccles – Master Butcher at Quality Standard Beef & Lamb – reckons that memories of bad experiences in the past also linger; during a private butchery class he explains that “plate waste” was once common when buying a chop or steak to cook at home – that’s the pieces of tendon or gristle left uneaten on the plate – but today’s butchers are moving to reduce that by cutting meat differently.

A big part of Martin’s job for Quality Standard Beef & Lamb is working with butchers to train them on adapting the way they breakdown carcasses to better suit today’s consumer. He advises them on how to to optimise “carcass utilisation” and how best to create modern cuts and smaller roasting joints to suit singles, couples and smaller families. The organisation also works with farmers and supervises the Quality Standard Beef and Lamb marks.

What does Martin mean by modern cuts? He shows me a large rump of beef and explains that it consists of three distinct muscles. Because a steak is best when cut across the grain of the muscle, he separates the three rump muscles, completely removes the silver gristle and then cuts the muscles into individual steaks. Where traditional rump steaks consist of all three muscle types held together with connective tissue, the three new cuts – picanha (aka rump cap) steaks, prime rump steaks and bistro rump steaks – are each comprised of just one muscle. They are easy to cook, tender and with no plate waste.

EBLEX-masterclass-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9215 EBLEX-masterclass-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9217 EBLEX-masterclass-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9225
Martin breaking a rump into different muscles and cuts of steak

Incidentally, here’s a quick Kavey lesson for you: Raw meat is made up of muscle, fat and connective tissue – the muscle is what we think of as meat; the fat melts or crisps during cooking, adding flavour and moisture; collagen-heavy connective tissues (such as tendons and ligaments) also break down if cooked for long enough; but other connective tissues (such as cartilage and membranes) don’t break down and are what we subsequently label as gristle. Note that while we have a preference to avoid gristle in Western cooking, the stretchy and chewy texture is prized and enjoyed in some cuisines.

Back to Martin’s lessons on newer ways of cutting beef. Whipping out a long lump of meat from the shoulder blade, he tells me that this was (and still is) commonly cut and sold as feather steak. But the feather has gristle running right down the centre, meaning that every steak has a piece of gristle at its heart. Another option is to cut the long blade into two thin pieces, remove the gristle completely and then divide the two long flat irons, as they are known, into individual portions.

EBLEX-masterclass-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9235 EBLEX-masterclass-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-9237
Martin cutting feather blade into two, removing membrane and creating flat iron steaks

Martin also tells me how butchery changed in the years following World War II; beef was far less readily available and animals were older and tougher too so butchers broke the meat down into smaller cuts, separating the tender ones from the tougher ones, to allow for different cooking. Now that we have access to top quality beef again, there are still cuts that benefit from long, slow cooking, but it is also be very straightforward to choose quick-to-cook, tender cuts.


Kavey’s Guide to Beef Cuts & Dishes


Although it’s not really a cut so much as (usually unspecified cuts of) beef ground through a mincer, mince is one of the most popular ways we buy and eat beef.

Restaurant chef Mat Follas often cooks mince at home as his kids love dishes such as “burgers, meatballs and lasagnes”. Bloggers Alicia Fourie, Laura Scott, Karen Burns-Booth and Kathryn and are also fans, praising its versatility and adding dishes such as meat loaf, chilli, spagbol, cottage pie and keema to the list. My husband Pete makes a mean ragu, letting it cook longer for a more tender texture.

Alicia’s recently purchased a mincer attachment for her stand mixer so may switch to making her own; I hope she’ll share tips on which cuts are best for which dish.


Braising / Stewing – Shin of Beef, Ox Cheek, Brisket, Chuck, Oxtail, Short Rib, Flank

Everyone I spoke to loves braising beef – cooking it long and slow in liquid until even the toughest cuts become tender. Collagen is your friend here, as it breaks down into a gelatinous sauce that adds flavour and richness.

Blogger Sally Prosser (a Brit transplanted to Dubai) loves “slow-cooked casseroles with red wine, bay leaves and carrots or a beef stew with dumplings” at “any time of the year, even the height of a Dubai summer”. Food blogger and journalist Neil Davey buys “the low and slow” stuff (listing several braising cuts) more than anything else as he likes “no fuss hearty cooking”. At this time of the year, he uses the slow cooker a lot. “While these are no longer the bargain cuts they were, you still get a lot of bang for the buck”. He uses these rather than mince for dishes like chilli, cottage pie and pasta sauces.

Food blogger Helen Best-Shaw recommends “shin of beef for long slow cooking, it is so rich and also very affordable”. Laura agrees, telling me beef shin is her favourite “as it makes the most tender yet fully flavoured stew. It does need lots of cooking time” but she reckons its worth it.

Karen and Alicia favour brisket; Karen says it’s her “number one cut for flavour” and recommends “Hunting Beef – an old English recipe where the beef is marinated for 4 days in a spiced salt rub”. This cut is also a popular choice for making corned beef, salt beef and pastrami.

Alicia and Neil are the only ones to mention my personal favourite, ox cheek which is still an underrated (and therefore bargainous) cut. I adore it in dishes like beef cheeks bourguignon and Chinese-style braised ox cheek, but it also works beautifully substituted into recipes such as balsamic and red wine braised lamb or beef carbonnade with mustard toasts. Make sure you (or your butcher) remove(s) any remaining membranes before cooking cheeks whole or cubed. Incidentally, I’m really not sure why beef cheeks (and tails, liver and blood) are often labelled as ox – the term more commonly refers to cattle used as draft animals rather than for food. I guess it’s one of those language hangovers…

beef_shin bone in & boneless,cubes,braising stk beef_rolled brisket
Shin (bone in, boneless, cubed) and rolled brisket

Roasting – Rib, Picanha, Sirloin

When Martin told me that Brits roast far less than they used to, I didn’t believe him and yet only two of the friends I spoke to listed a roasting joint in their top three cuts.

Neil, Karen and I are in complete agreement that the best joint for roasting is a (fore) rib of beef. As Karen points out, it would be her number one beef purchase if the cost weren’t so prohibitive, and likewise Neil does a rib roast a couple of times a year. There’s no question in my mind that beef rib is the tastiest choice – the texture of the meat, the marbling of fat through the meat, contributing to its superb flavour. But yes, this is an expensive joint. Cooking for two, I often buy a boned and rolled rib, but if cooking for more, bone in is gorgeous.

Topside and silverside are two very common roasting joints. Usually significantly less than half the price per kilo of rib joints, this makes them very popular, and a decade ago these were the joints Pete I usually bought; we took supermarkets on their word that these cuts were great for roasting. Eventually we realised we were more often disappointed than happy with their taste and texture, and decided we’d rather have really fabulous roast beef once every few months than mediocre roast beef every couple of weeks.

Another cut that I think makes a fantastic roast is the picanha (aka rump cap). Picanha is the cut’s Brazilian name, by the way, and it’s a highly prized piece of beef. Here, it’s often cut and sold as steaks, but ask your butcher to sell you the rump cap in one piece and try it for your next roast.

My other choice, when there’s no rib available, is a very thick slab of sirloin. The meat counter in our local supermarket cuts sirloin steaks to your preferred thickness; instead of asking for steaks, I have them cut me one piece about 7-8 cm thick, which makes a quick two person roast (with leftovers for a tasty sandwich).

Where I don’t want to stretch budget to one of my three preferred roasting cuts, I’d rather roast a chicken or lamb, or cook a braising joint long and slow, in liquid.

I certainly recommend avoiding beef sold only as a ‘roasting joint’ without any indication of cut, like a recent example from our local supermarket, bought when the meat shelves were unusually bare. Sadly, for all the label’s fancy talk of Hereford Beef and 30 days dry aging, it was enormously disappointing.

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Fore rib of beef (bone in and boneless) and boneless sirloin


The two front runners for choice of steak are rib eye followed by sirloin.

Rib eye is my own favourite, and our number one purchase for a perfect dinner of steak and triple cooked chips – Pete’s in charge of those and they’re super!

At home, Mat also chooses rib eye because “it has flavour, unlike most other cuts, from lots of fat”. Neil agrees. A few years ago he attended a comparison session between rib eye, fillet, rump and sirloin. He says, “Fillet is boring as, sirloin and rump are both very good, but a well marbled piece of rib-eye, cooked somewhere around medium-rare / medium so that there’s a char and all that fat is starting to melt? That’s what it’s all about.” Laura too loves a rib eye, “well marbled with a good layer of fat”, adding that it’s “the fat that provides the most flavour when it comes to a good steak”. She’s also a fan of wagyu (high quality, highly marbled Japanese beef) for the same reason.

Sirloin is the steak of choice for Sally, as it offers “the perfect balance of fat to meat ratio for a fat-averse family”. She also buys 3 kilo whole sirloins for the barbecue. I don’t find it as flavoursome as rib eye but if you can find a longer aged piece, that helps.

What about other cuts?

Steaks from the rump are usually very good, though I’d recommend seeking out the newer cuts Martin describes above, where the three rump muscles are separated and then cut into steaks individually.

Kathryn reckons that “ribeye and rump give you quite a lot of ‘bang for your buck’ particularly when it comes to flavour”. She also finds rump “is a bit more forgiving when it comes to timings and you can cook it for a little longer and it doesn’t get ruined”.

Incidentally, when it comes to cooking any of the fattier steaks (such as rib eye) I recommend taking them to medium rare (or even medium if that’s your preference) rather than rare; this allows the fat within the meat to melt and the larger pieces of fat to brown.

Flat iron, another cut that I talked to Martin about, is another tasty and somewhat more affordable choice, though I rarely see it in supermarkets; a butcher is your best bet. It’s cut from feather blade piece but divided into two to remove the central gristle, which leaves two long thin pieces that can be portioned into three or four steaks.

If you’ve ever travelled to France you’ll be familiar with onglet and bavette, two popular cuts served in restaurants across the country. Karen (who spends much of her time in France) loves rump for flavour but in France she’ll usually opt for bavette, which offers flavour at a great price. So what are onglet and bavette in UK terminology? Onglet is known here as hanger, skirt or butcher’s steak, cut from the plate (diaphragm) area and with a really deep flavour. Bavette is flank steak, taken from just behind the onglet and is also dense and well flavoured. Both are best cooked fast on a very hot griddle, medium rare to rare. Overcooking these can result in dry or tough steaks.

Flat iron, onglet/skirt and bavette/flank are also great choices for marinating before cooking.

Fillet is known as the most tender cut, but it has very little fat and lacks the flavour of the other cuts; I would never choose it myself. (For American readers, this cut is what you guys call tenderloin).

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Skirt (onglet) steak


Buying British

Perhaps it’s a function of who I asked, but everyone I spoke to makes an effort to seek out British beef and lamb.

Mat, being a kiwi, has an excuse for choosing New Zealand lamb, though he also points out that British lamb is sold in early spring when it’s not had much time running around in fields and is too young to have developed enough flavour. When it comes to beef, he buys British. For his restaurant he buys from a butcher or wholesaler, for home it’s a split between butcher and supermarket. He says he’d “rather spend a little more for quality and have less quantity”, echoing my own thoughts on enjoying a fabulous beef rib roast every now and again rather than an inferior roast every fortnight.

Karen buys British when she’s in the UK and French or New Zealand when in France, preferring organic, locally sourced meat with a known provenance.

Neil explains that although he’s “been known to happily devour USDA steaks at Goodman”, when cooking at home, he buys British, noting that “we produce some of the finest meat in the world; the fall out of the BSE problem and Foot & Mouth has been a massive improvement in farming standards and improved labelling”.

Laura has been to visit two animals farms (something I’ve also done) and believes “our meat is of a high standard”. She buys organic or Freedom foods meat, keeping an eye out for special offers which she stores in the freezer.

Alicia always seeks out British, and if there’s none available, she doesn’t buy. She says that although “Rayner makes a compelling case for New Zealand lamb, for [her] it isn’t about the food miles so much as supporting British farmers and creating food that has a sense of the place we live in”. She doesn’t “understand steak houses that open here making a virtue of the fact that they use American beef – the British beef I have had is the best I have had anywhere”.

While Matt may not yet have much knowledge of cuts, he does “pretty much avoid buying non-British”. As he hates the “overall big supermarket experience” he buys most of his meat from local independent butchers, which he has within walking distance. When “it’s a choice between rubbish ‘local’ supermarkets who aren’t good for meat, or fabulous, friendly independent butchers who really know what they’re doing, it’s no surprise I end up in the butchers”.



Alicia Fourie
Helen Best-Shaw
Karen Burns-Booth
Laura Scott
Mat Follas
Matt Gibson
Neil Davey
Sally Prosser

With thanks to Quality Standard Beef & Lamb for arranging a private masterclass with Martin Eccles and giving us some delicious British beef and lamb to take home. Further information about British beef (and lamb), including quality assurance, nutrition, cuts and carving advice can be found at the Simply Lamb & Beef website. Additional images courtesy of Quality Standard Mark and Shutterstock.


Have you heard of supertasters? To my eternal regret, I have, because I’m one of them.

The label makes being a supertaster sound exciting, suggestive of a superior palate. The truth of the matter is that a supertaster is simply someone who “experiences the sense of taste with far greater intensity than average”. Yes, that does mean a supertaster can detect hints of flavours that others may miss. A key identifier is an increased sensitivity to bitter flavours in particular; it’s usual for supertasters to dislike bitter foods and drinks.

A Guardian article about supertasters last year shares a wonderful quote from John Hayes, professor of food science at Penn State University, who says of supertasterdom, “It’s not a superpower, you don’t get a cape and it doesn’t make you better than other people.”

I first came across the term several years ago, and immediately wondered if I might be a supertaster; I’ve always had a very strong aversion to virtually every food and drink commonly listed as items that a supertaster dislikes – grapefruit, carbonated water, several of the brassica family, many alcoholic beverages such as hoppy beer and dry wine. When we were little, my younger sister occasionally amused herself by merrily sucking on wedges of lemon; it made me wince just to watch!

The increased sensitivity to other tastes and textures (sweet, salty, umami, fatty) is less problematic. While I am known to have a sweet tooth, for me it’s very much about flavour – too much sugar blows out the other tastes, so I prefer fruity dark chocolate to cheap sugary milk chocolate, for example. I generally love creamy, fatty textures and the flavours that come with them. I like salty things but it’s all about balance; although salt is known to boost flavour it helps counter bitterness as well so I like it well enough but too much of it overwhelms the rest of the dish. Some chefs add so much salt to their food I wonder if they can taste it at all.

Embarrassingly for an Indian, I cannot tolerate heavy-handed use of hot chilli – it makes my tongue burn so much I can’t taste anything else at all. And the pain isn’t pleasant either. Chilli sensitivity is a pain in the arse, but I manage to cope with a low to medium level so I’m not totally limited to baby food!

Incidentally, children are usually supertasters and share an aversion to bitterness that most grow out of, so when they tell you they don’t like Brussels sprouts, they may not be lying!

Coffee is commonly cited as an ingredient that we supertasters tend to avoid and yet I drink gallons of it. But I always choose the least bitter instant coffee available; very, very light roasts with fruity rather than bitter notes, and always  drink coffee with plenty of milk or cream and a frankly ridiculous amount of sugar (or dulce de leche in place of both). Coffee ice cream is one of my favourite things. Strong, dark, bitter coffee – as enjoyed by coffee aficionados – is a complete no-no for me; it’s far, far, far too bitter.

You might be wondering what causes this supertaster condition?

Current theory holds that the presence of a gene called TAS238 is involved, which seems to govern the ability to detect bitterness (usually tested via reactions to propylthiouracil) plus a higher than usual density of fungiform papillae taste buds on the tongue. Being a supertaster to some extent is not that uncommon – I’ve seen articles suggesting it’s as high as one in four. But the level of sensitivity varies and many supertasters are only mildly so.

It’s thought that this gene could be an evolutionary remnant; since many toxins are bitter, a natural aversion to bitterness would have steered our ancestors away from potentially unsafe foods.

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Back in early December, Pete and I were invited to a food and beer matching event by Leffe. I don’t usually enjoy beer (the bitterness from the hops being the problem) but I have found the occasional lightly-hopped fruit beer palatable. Pete, of course, loves his beers.

To make the evening more of an experience, Leffe invited along The Robin Collective, a company that runs lively events for brands interested in exploring taste in a fun and light-hearted way.

As we sat down around the table, they handed out some tiny plastic bags of mysterious white powder, a pink pill and a tiny square of white paper. There were a few raised eyebrows!

With no idea what it was, we were asked to place the little square of white paper onto our tongues. Immediately, I grimaced with disgust at the intensely bitter taste flooding my mouth and asked if I could please spit it out. To my surprise, nearly everyone else looked at me in surprised disbelief, stating that the square tasted of absolutely nothing, or for a couple of them, very mildy bitter at most.


At this point, The Robin Collective revealed that the paper was a supertaster test (soaked in phenylthiocarbamide, which functions similarly to propylthiouracil). I was clearly towards the stronger end of the scale. The blue dye they asked us put onto our tongues next (commonly used to aid the visual identification and counting of taste buds) was a bust – the room was simply too dark to see, let alone count taste buds. It just looked as though we’d all eaten blue slushies! The white powder  was sodium benzoate, another molecule which supertasters are more sensitive to, and can detect more flavours from.

After this, we moved on to our meal, matching courses with different Leffe beers, including Leffe’s new-to-UK Ruby, a pretty rosé beer featuring red fruits of the forest along with their blonde, brown and nectar (honey) beers.

At the end of the meal, The Robin Collective also had us experiment with miracle berry, a fruit which naturally interferes with taste receptors such that your perception of sour ingredients is that they are sweet. We chewed on the pink pills before proving the effect by sucking on a plate of lemon wedges, which tasted wonderfully sweet.

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The beers were introduced by the very knowledgeable, charmingly enthusiastic and excitable Luke Morris, who has worked with many beer brands including Leffe. He told us about each beer, discussed the best food matches and guided us through our tasting.

As expected, different beers worked better or worse with different dishes.

Sometimes it’s a case of echoing the dominant flavour profiles in the dish with flavours also in the beer. Sometimes it’s better to contrast the beer and food. Either way, a great match can really make the food on the plate sing and likewise certain foods do a super job of bringing out different aspects of the beer.

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Of the four beers we tried during the evening, my favourite was the fruity ruby – drinking it with the food helped to lessen the light bitterness and bring out the fruity flavours. Pete was keener on the brown beer, with the blonde in second place. For him the sweetness of the nectar and ruby beers was less appealing.

Kavey Eats attended this beer and food matching event as guests of Leffe.


A few weeks ago, I was invited to Almeria and Murcia, two neighbouring regions in Southern Spain, to learn more about their agricultural practices and produce.

1 Agrobio – Biological Pollination & Pest Control

We started with a fascinating visit to Agrobio, a company that produces and sells bumblebees for pollination and a wide range of insects for biological pest control. Before a tour of the bee production facilities, we learned more about the use of bees for pollination from researchers Isabel Mendizábal and David Morales.

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Isabel and David at Agrobio

Tomato crops were used as an example; tomato flowers are not naturally very attractive to pollinating insects, so farmers need to intervene. In the past, farmers have employed a variety of techniques to pollinate their tomatoes; the use of hormones (which cheat the flower into thinking they are pollinated but result in poor quality seeds, poor setting of fruit and also need human intervention every few days to spray) or the use of blowers and vibrators (intended to release pollen by blowing or shaking it loose from the flowers, but expensive and not very effective).

But bees have proved to be more effective and cheaper and they result in perfect fruit setting.

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Hive bees won’t pollinate tomatoes as there is no nectar in the flowers; once the first few bees from a hive visit the field, they’ll pass on information to the rest of their hive that there’s no nectar in that location. But bumblebees don’t communicate in this way, so each bee will merrily visit any tomato flower it encounters. Additionally, bumblebees don’t store food, so they will leave the colony box to find flowers every day.

Once farmers switch to using bees for pollination, they usually switch to biological pest control too; chemical pesticides often cause bees to die, not to mention the residues of chemicals that remain in the produce. To make matters worse, pests develop resistance to widely used chemicals over time, meaning that farmers must use ever increasing amounts to protect their crops from the same pests.

Indeed, Almeria’s farming community suffered a catastrophic blow in 2006, when Greenpeace published a report about its discovery (in German supermarkets) of unacceptably high levels of pesticide residues in produce from the region, including pesticides not permitted to be used in the EU. The supermarkets in question quickly switched to non-Spanish producers, but the scandal grew as more European vendors tested for and detected the same residues and stopped buying from Almeria. Brussels placed the offending chemical on its blacklist and with that, Almeria could no longer sell affected produce within the EU. The blow to the economy was severe and resulted in unusually rapid and wholesale changes to the industry; in 2005 just 300 hectares in the region used biological pest control, now 27,000 hectares in the region do so.  The use of chemicals dropped drastically; indeed Almeria has become a global showcase for farming with minimal use of chemicals. The regional public administration also support the change, keen to ensure the problem does not arise again; they provide subsidies, training and other resources to support the agricultural community.

Said Isabel of the change; “We passed from an example of what you must not do in agriculture to an example of what you must do.

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The process of growing bees is utterly fascinating. Agrobio selectively breed different species of bumblebees for different regions around the world. For example, the UK bumblebee is a different subspecies to the ones found elsewhere in Europe. If Agrobio were to sell UK farmers the European subspecies, it would breed with our native bumblebees and our unique subspecies would be lost. For this reason, Agrobio produce a number of difference species and subspecies of bumblebees for their various farmers around the world.

By clever use of a series of temperature and light controlled rooms, Agrobio are able to mimic the various lifecycle stages of the bumblebee and produce the bees all year round. We explore the various rooms, blinking in bright lights as huge bumblebees buzz around us, a row of workers gently picking individuals and placing them into boxes; we squint in dark red lit rooms in which bees are in a state of hibernation, and even see a tray of dozing ones transferred from one very cold room to another. In the last room, boxes of bees are carefully packaged, along with a feeder of nectar, ready for transport to the customer.

Agrobio provide bumblebee colonies in two types of boxes suitable for use in a greenhouse or outdoors; the indoor boxes have more ventilation to allow the heat to dissipate; outdoor boxes are better protected against the weather.

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As with the bees, breeding insects for biological pest control isn’t straightforward; agrobio perform extensive research to determine which insects are the best natural predators for the various pests that plague farmers, with the choice depending on crop varieties, climate and geographical location. They then produce and sell the relevant insects in large quantities. Although they do a lot of research to improve the efficacy of their biological pest control species, they are keen to point out that there is no genetic manipulation involved, just careful use of selective breeding to favour natural characteristics. With some insects, it’s a case of breeding them in large numbers, packing them in suitable bottles, tubes and boxes and shipping them to farmers for release. With some insects, particularly parasitoids, the pregnant females don’t travel well so instead they will allow the parasitoids to impregnate some of the pest species, send those out to the farmers, and once released into the greenhouses, the parasitoids hatch and breed, and lay their next generation of eggs within the pests of the greenhouse.


2 Clisol – The Future of Farming

Lola Gómez Ferrón is a fruit and vegetable grower who embraced biological, sustainable farming long before the rest of the region were forced to follow suit. It’s a family business which she inherited from her parents, and she and her husband now employ just 6 staff to help them look after 2.2 hectares of land. The average figure, she explains, is around 3 people per hectare, but of course it depends on what you’re growing and how you are growing it. Tomatoes, for example, need much more effort than melons!

The first thing that most visitors to the region notice, even before they land, is that the vast majority of agricultural land is covered in greenhouses. Looking down, as your flight comes in or takes off, you cannot fail to notice the extensive coverage of green and white plastic tunnels across the landscape.

Lola explains the history of local greenhouses:

The Almeria region has a unique semi-desert climate which is warm enough for many fruit and vegetables to be grown outdoors. However, the region suffers from blasting winds, often 100 days of the year or more, which destroy crops and made farming very difficult. Around 50 years ago, farmers in the region began to put up traditional greenhouses – the regular structures used elsewhere, with plastic coverings. These succeeded in protecting crops from the wind but also conferred an additional benefit – Almerian farmers discovered they could now grow produce throughout the winter, when the rest of Europe could not. Year round produce became central to the economic success of the region’s agriculture.

The original greenhouses were flat, but rainwater collected on top and often caused the structure to collapse; that lead to a change in the shape of the greenhouses, most of which now have a 10-12% gradient roof angle to allow for water to run off without weighing down or damaging them.

The extra heat provided by the plastic coverings was a boon in winter, but in summer, the heat was too intense. Rather than remove the plastic coverings from such vast areas of land, local farmers developed a system of whitewashing the plastic during the summer to reflect away much of the heat, and then washing the plastic back to green for the winter. Many of the greenhouses are quite low in height, which makes it easier for the farmers to clamber on top to paint or clean.

Other changes include improved ventilation; earlier greenhouses required manual opening and closing of vents but the newest models are fully automated and computer controls open and close vents on different sides of the structure according to sensors monitoring temperatures within the greenhouse and wind direction outside. (Plants being such efficient producers of oxygen, need ventilation to blow out excess oxygen and bring in fresh carbon dioxide).

Greenhouse coverings now make use of photo-selective plastics which reflect light in such a way that some pests such as aphids and whitefly are less likely to enter.

We also learn why Lola has moved away from traditional soil-based agriculture to hydroponics:

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Lola has one greenhouse still using the traditional system, which allows her to show visitors the differences between this and her newer hydroponic systems.

The soil in this region is poor. Traditionally, farmers used to add a 50 cm layer of fertile soil imported from elsewhere, on top of the local orange soil. Then they would add 2-3 cm of manure and then 12-15 cm of protective sand above that. To plant the crops, the sand was moved aside, the seedling planted into the soil below, and the sand moved back into place. But after 5 or 6 years, all the goodness in that imported soil was depleted and the farmers faced the enormous task of removing the top layer of sand and replacing the soil once again. It was an arduous and expensive cycle.

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Lola grows both tomatoes and peppers using her closed-system hydroponics techniques

Lola has instigated closed-water system hydroponics in several of her newer greenhouses. She uses coconut husk purchased from India, where it’s a discarded by product of coconut farming. All the nutrients required are added to the water, which circulates within the closed system. Nothing leaches into the soil; nothing enters the water table. Again, specialist sensors detect when plants need more water, and allow controlling computers to direct the flow as required. When the plants are young, they are fed by clean fresh water. That water is recycled through the closed system repeatedly. By the time the plants are older, the water has been recycled numerous times, but the older plants are able to handle that. Lola is convinced that in the future, most if not all farming will use closed-water hydroponics systems – no contamination of the land or water table and very efficient use of water – an increasingly limited resource.

Lola uses biological pollination and pest control, and is pleased that the price has dropped as more and more farmers adopt the approach, and companies like Agrobio (she uses a competitor) are able to increase volumes and reduce prices. Things are constantly evolving as more research leads to greater understanding; where once the sticky insect traps – placed on greenhouse walls to attract and trap pests – were bright blue, they are now a much paler blue. Why? Because recent spectrum research has discovered that the brighter blue attracts both pests and pest control insects but the paler blue attracts only the unwanted pests.

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Lola smiles as she tells us that she loves her plants as she loves her children; “a plant lives, grows, thinks, moves – it’s the same, not less, than people”.

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After teaching us so much about the history, current practices and future of farming in the region, Lola also shares some of her personal tips for tomato growing, several of which could readily be implemented by a home grower. I’ll be sharing those with you next year, as I’m eager to give them a try myself. Lastly, we enjoy a fine feast of farm fresh produce served with local olive oil and honey.

You may enjoy this short BBC Video filmed in Almeria last year, which features Lola and showcases her hydroponic tomato greenhouses.


3 Agromark – Traceability of Produce

Agromark in Murcia is a successful fruit and vegetable farming business owned and run by three brothers. One of the brothers, Carlos Doménech Llopis, gives us a tour of one of their broccoli farms, telling us that an impressive 80% of the broccoli consumed in Europe during late autumn and winter is grown right here in Murcia.

Like Almeria, Murcia boasts a microclimate that allows them to grow crops throughout the winter. Unlike Almeria, it doesn’t have ferocious winds to deal with, indeed Carlos tells us a little more wind would be very welcome when it comes to ventilating their greenhouses!

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Before visiting the greenhouses, we learn how seeds are processed by the rather grand Urbinati potting machine; I find it utterly mesmerising. Soil is imported from Estonia (and on occasion from Scotland) and fed into the machine which breaks it up, fills it into the seed trays and pushes a small hole into each pot. Today, Agromark are using seeds purchased from Malaysia; a variety called Calabrese Broccoli F1 Hybrid Parthenon. The bright blue coating protects the seeds and also makes it easy to identify the source; each seed company uses a different colour coating for their seeds. A vacuum system sucks individual seeds onto a rotating cylinder and releases them into the seed trays below. These are then covered with vermiculite, a mineral-rich rock that expands when heated, providing a superlight covering for the seeds that locks in moisture and leaches beneficial minerals.

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After potting, the seed trays are transferred into a climate-controlled room for 48 hours, during which time they germinate. Once germinated, the seedlings spend 35-55 days in the greenhouses before being transplanted to the fields outside. The consistency of temperatures in the germination room and greenhouses ensures a 99% success rate for germination; much higher than can be achieved outside.

In the greenhouse, we are shown seedlings at various stages. Each seedbed is meticulously labelled to show the variety, the date they were sown, any feeds or chemicals applied and so on. This commitment to traceability fulfils stringent requirements from customers including Sainsbury’s and Waitrose in the UK and other supermarkets and distributors across Europe.

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When it comes to the other end of the process, Agromark are keen to pick, package and distribute the produce as quickly as possible. To this end they’ve developed a process whereby workers walk through the field, cutting only the heads of broccoli that are fully grown and in good condition; these are dropped onto a conveyor belt that carries them into a mobile packing shed where they are cut, wrapped, labelled and packed into crates within minutes.


Coming soon, a round up of traditional food in the two regions.

Kavey Eats travelled to Almeria and Murcia on behalf of the We Care You Enjoy campaign, funded by Hortyfruta and ProExport.

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