FRANCE IS GREAT… What, again?


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Inspired by my recent purchase of a big book of French recipes called “SIMPLISSIME”, I have been (figuratively speaking) wearing my big French Toque on a daily basis. Aspects of France – and the French – may annoy us, but it has to be generally agreed that they are very good at the cooking. But don’t just take my word for it. Many writers have lavished praise upon it, for example…

“France … is a land of milk and honey, the best milk and the most perfumed honey, where all the good things of the earth overflow and are cooked to perfection”. A quotation from a collection of essays titled “Camera Obscura” by WILLIAM BOLITHO (1891–1930), a South African journalist, writer and biographer.

Apart from being a military man, Lt. Col. Nathaniel Newnham-Davies, (pictured above right), could justifiably lay claim to being the first proper food writer and restaurant reviewer of modern times. In 1903, he published The Gourmet’s Guide to Europe, which, not surprisingly, expressed his love for the food of France…

“When the Channel has been crossed you are in the country of good soups, of good fowl, of good vegetables, of good sweets, of good wine…

The British beef stands against all the world as the meat noblest for the spit, though the French ox which has worked its time in the fields gives the best material for the soup-pot; and though the Welsh lamb and the English sheep are the perfection of mutton young and mutton old, the lamb nurtured on milk till the hour of its death, and the sheep reared on the salt-marshes of the north, make splendid contribution to the Paris kitchens. Veal is practically an unknown meat in London; and the calf which has been fed on milk and yolk of egg, and which has flesh as soft as a kiss and as white as snow, is only to be found in the Parisian restaurants. Most of the good restaurants in London import all their winged creatures, except game, from France, and the Surrey fowl and the Aylesbury duck, the representatives of Great Britain, make no great show against the champions of Gaul, though the Norfolk turkey holds his own.”

Looking through SIMPLISSIME the other day, I came across a recipe for “Spaghetti Carbonara”. A generation ago, this would have been unthinkable! If you found pasta in a restaurant in France, it was almost certainly have been badly cooked. The French kitchen then was closed to just about every foreign influence. Now it’s all changed as my recipe this week demonstrates…. A dish from a French book using coconut milk!

COOKING MADE EASY – this week’s Recipe

My pictures show one is already popular in our household and will so is very suitable for dinner parties.

Chicken with Tomatoes, Coconut and Lemongrass

INGREDIENTS for four servings


4 medium-sized chicken legs or 4 chicken pieces

250 grams of peeled and seeded tomatoes

2 stems of lemongrass

4 preserved lemons, each chopped into about 8 pieces

3 – 4 sprigs of fresh basil

1 litre of coconut milk

Salt and pepper



      1. 1.     Heat the oven to 170ºC
  1. 2.     Cut each chicken leg or piece into two
  2. 3.     Put all ingredients into an oven-proof dish, distributing evenly
  3. 4.     Bake in centre of oven for about one hour, until chicken is tenderly  
  4.         through
  5. 5.     Give it a stir now and then
  6. 5.     Dish up and serve with boiled or steamed rice and sliced green beans


Appetising, tasty and good for you!





It was a Frenchman who said: “If there’s no food for you to eat…. you should talk about food”, to which I add, “And if there’s no-one to talk to, read about it”. I am never happier than when I am at my stove – and when I am not, the next best thing is either reading or writing about it. After rather many years cooking for myself and my family, I still enjoy all this as much as I ever did.

In winter, yes, I do cook more northerly European stews and casseroles, but my heart is in the Mediterranean. The variety of ingredients, the simple cooking methods and the delights of appearance and flavour combine to make it Numero Uno for me.

From my photo album, here are six of the dishes I love to cook and eat. All are very simple to make – and as you can see, tomatoes are an important ingredient for me. Just think, they’ve only been growing in the Mediterranean for 400 years.

Below: Calamari, freshly fried.         Courgettes and Scrambled Eggs

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Braised Fennel with Tomatoes         Green Beans “Yakhni”

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The Real Greek Cypriot Salad           Gigantes

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Calamari: beginners will need some practice! Generally calamari requires only a minute or two. Over-cooking makes it tough (unless you go to the other extreme and cook it for some time (as in a casserole. It is splendid baked with red wine, onions and garlic).

Many readers have their own, preferred, batter mixture, so use the one you are happy with. I find that unless I have access to a deep fat fryer, my batters are not always successful. I sometimes use a Tempura batter recipe and this is the one I like (enough for four serving of whatever you are frying – shrimp, fish goujons, bits of chicken, and so forth)

100 gr corn flour 150 gr plain flour 10gr baking powder Some iced sparkling water – soda or Perrier – to make a thinnish batter but thick enough to coat your finger.


1. Mix the flours and baking powder together

2. Gently add iced liquid

3. Stir, but not too much, mix is better slightly lumpy

4. Season to taste, then dip ingredients into batter making sure each piece is covered all over.

5. Deep fry in hot oil until crisp and golden

Courgettes with Egg: stir-fry courgette pieces until cooked through and then add the beaten eggs stirring as you would scrambled eggs until you have the consistency you want. Do this quickly because courgettes “throw” quite a bit of moisture.

Fennel or Green Beans with Tomatoes: start by stir frying sliced onion (and garlic if you like) until translucent. Stir in chopped fresh tomatoes and cook through, then add the fennel or beans, cover and gently simmer until done.

Cyprus Salad: Buy FRESH. Keep in a cool place. Don’t wash unless you feel you must. Cut up ingredients as fine or as coarsely as you like. I like it like the salad in my picture.

Gigantes: use canned if you will, when you tip them (minus juice) into an almost cooked-through carrot-onion-celery-tomato mix just a few minutes before serving. Add some of the juice if necessary. Otherwise, and preferably, soak dried beans overnight and proceed (they will need 30 – 45 minutes cooking).

You can buy little round tins of Greek Gigantes Yakhni (sauce of tomato, onion, garlic and herby hints) if you are in a hurry. Or, you can, as I do, make a big pan of it and freeze small pot-size quantities (say 4 -5 tablespoonsful each – which just happens to be enough to spoon over two plates of pasta)

Kali Orexi!

March Issue…… Nigel Slater’s New Book….. One Pan Dinners…… and Stolen Chickens


  BOOK REVIEW “A Year of Good Eating” Duck with Udon Noodles…Agnello Rapido….Lentils with Cous Cous… Roast Chicken with Lime and Mint…. A menu from a new international restaurant? Some of my dream dishes? No – just a few of 250+ recipes in a just-published volume of gorgeous grub. Read on. The British seem to […]

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Thoughts for Summer Meals


As the temperature rises, so does the urge to sit at a shaded café table, overlooking blue, blue sea and contemplating a cool glass of chilled Xynisteri, whilst considering the menu. Or, if you want the wine to wait for the food, a non-alcoholic refresher. I have just the thing. HONEY DEW LEMONADE Ingredients for […]

[Continue reading...]

Thoughts for Summer Meals


  As the temperature rises, so does the urge to sit at a shaded café table, overlooking blue, blue sea and contemplating a cool glass of chilled Xynisteri, whilst considering the menu. Or, if you want the wine to wait for the food, a non-alcoholic refresher. I have just the thing. HONEY DEW LEMONADE Ingredients […]

[Continue reading...]