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The Lunchbox 21
Hello, and welcome to this fortnight’s newsletter. Today’s missive will send you out into the world with a new favourite condiment, a crumb-free kitchen and the recipe for the OG chop salad. It’s an extra special one, so go sharpen your knives!
Paid subscribers are going to get the recipe for my very favourite rhubarb & custard recipe that has a few magical qualities, as well as my ode to the beauty of the lemon🍋, a much underrated flavour enhancer.
It’s only £4 a month to be a paid subscriber and you’ll be supporting my writing of this and helping me to sustain it. Click the orange button below - and thank you for your support 🧡
PS I’m going to be eating my way through Tuscany for the next few weeks, you can follow the gastronomic journey here.
What I’m currently consuming
(*Nothing here is sponsored*)
The Condiment: White Mausu Organic Peanut Rayu Sauce
At a time of peak chilli sauce fascination, White Mausu has managed to gain a cult following among chilli oil fanatics; to know it is to love it. Packed full of peanuts, sesame, chilli and tamari, this delicious, umami-laden condiment fuses Japanese, Chinese and Korean flavours to create a sauce that perfectly balances fiery heat with punchy, nutty flavours. Eat it on your fried eggs, drizzled over avocado toast, as a powerful dumpling sauce or stirred though your egg noodles. The Cashew Crunch is legendary too.
The Utensil: Food Scraper
I have no idea how I got to this age without a food scraper by my side. I initially bought it to scrape up those pesky bits of sticky bread dough from my kitchen counter, but have now found that it sits beside me during all kitchen adventures. While before I might have left a trail of herbs or crumbs or onions peel behind me, this handy little thing allows you to scoop up and clean as you go, leaving a very satisfyingly clear cutting board. What’s more, if you want to take chopped veg to your pan, a nifty movement involving the scraper and your spare hand, and the whole lot is cleanly transported. Or perhaps you want to cut some pastry, score your soda bread or turn over up a delicate piece of fish in the pan. This is your answer. Mr versatile and can easily be found for under a fiver.
Something to fill you up
Freekeh Tabbouleh with Apples, Almonds, Feta & Date Syrup
Watch my how-to video here
This is one of my favourite things to order when I go out for Lebanese food because it cuts through all that delicious tahini, houmous and crispy fried food and basically cleans your palate. The best news? It tastes just as good when you make it at home (dare I say, better), gets better with age - and it’s an absolute cinch. Today I’m taking it to the next level with smokey freekeh, crunchy apple, roast almonds, feta and a little date syrup to finish off. Pack this is in your lunchbox and off you go.
75 g freekeh wheat or fine bulghur, rinsed
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1 big bunch of parsley, 75g, leaves and stalks finely chopped
1 medium apple, chopped
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 handfuls of roast almonds, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
150 g feta, crumbled, to serve
Date syrup, to serve
Place the freekeh in a pan, pour over 250 ml boiling water and a pinch of salt, and simmer for 20-35 minutes (cooking times vary wildly) or until tender. Add more water and keep going if it’s not cooked yet. Meanwhile, combine all the other tabbouleh ingredients, except feta and date syrup, in a salad bowl so they’re ready to go.
Transfer the freekeh to the salad bowl and run your fork through it to fluff it up. Stir it up with the other ingredients and season to taste. Divide between plates, then crumble over the feta and drizzle lightly with date syrup. Eat with houmous or the dip of your choice.
Something to finish you off
Rhubarb & Custard Cake
Yeah, I know, those two words together are MAGICAL. Well, so’s this cake! It has a very special texture that changes from a spongey, fruity top layer to a custardy middle and fudgy bottom. By stopping folding the egg whites just before they’re completely incorporated, you then use them to hold up the rhubarb so it doesn’t sink. Magic!
200g forced rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 4cm pieces
30g caster sugar
Juice + peel of 1/2 orange
4 eggs, separated
175g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp essence
480ml whole milk
A squeeze of lemon
120g butter, melted
100g plain flour
Icing sugar, to decorate
Preheat oven to 160C/140C fan. Grease with melted butter a 20cm casserole pan or cake tin (but not the loose base type).
Place the rhubarb, 30g sugar, orange juice and peel in a small baking tin, cover with foil and bake for 20-25 mins until tender but holding shape. Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks. Set aside.
Gently warm and infuse the milk with the vanilla and keep warm. Melt the butter.
With an electric whisk, beat the egg yolks and sugar for 5 minutes until thick and creamy. Stir in lemon juice, the slowly whisk in the melted butter.
Using a large metal, fold in the flour with a pinch of salt, then slowly stir in the warm milk, bit by bit. It’ll be very wet, but don’t worry.
Fold in the egg whites until no large bits left, but the top is still foamy. Be careful not to over-fold, you want the egg whites to still be discernible.
Pour into the greased pan and top with the cooked rhubarb pieces. The egg whites will hold them up. Reserve any juices for pouring on after it’s out the oven.
Place in the middle of the oven for 45-60 minutes until the centre jiggles only slightly. Keep an eye on it though as all ovens are different. Remove and cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge, place a plate on top and invert to remove. Place another plate on top and invert again so the rhubarb is on top. Allow to cool completely then sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.
The Light Touch - The flavour booster that won’t weigh down your plate
As we stroll into spring, our cooking will undoubtedly adjust the to new warmth in the air and brightness of light. For me, the one ingredient that’s at the heart of creating lighter, brighter cooking is…lemon.
An indispensable magic ingredient in the kitchen, it really comes into its own when presented with the green, fresh produce of spring. And indeed, this is the time of year when the Italian season begins, particularly along the famed Amalfi coast and Sicily where you can find festivals celebrating the start of the season.
We’re probably all familiar with the power-dressing skills of lemon when added to salads and the little dance salty, briny fish and seafood does when lemon is squeezed over - but what else is it good for?
Yes, my friends, adding lemon juice to a dish - sweet or savoury - changes its whole flavour profile. Suddenly, a pan of drab leeks is brimming with complexity, a strawberry tart tastes like it’s packed with a thousand perfect berries, and garlic-braised spinach isn’t just a side dish — it’s the best part of the meal. Lemons are as crucial a flavour-enhancer as salt. If your dish isn’t working, it should be the first thing you reach for. And have you every tried roasting them with chicken or fish and squeezing the roast fruit juices over everything at the end?
And it’s not just the juice that we should be using. While lemon juice adds an acidic punch, the zest is where the oils are and holds all the fruit’s fragrant, floral notes. Stir it into creamy dishes, fold it into cakes or shower it over your roast vegetables and you’ll get the most concentrated citrus flavour.
Besides making your mouth water, acidity cuts grease and heaviness and gives food a fresh, clean taste. A few juicy drops on something deep fried or grilled meat is often exactly what it needs. Lemon juice can also change a food’s texture, depending on your needs, such as when macerating berries, pickling onions, tenderising meat and ‘cooking’ ceviche.
How will lemon to improve your food? If something feels flat, grab your lemon. Squeeze it into soups, sauces and drinks. Toss it with salads, vegetables and pasta. Rub it onto pork, chicken and fish. Stir it into cakes, biscuits and pastry. And add it to anything and everything containing mayonnaise, cream and butter. Go forth and get juiced!