There's a certain sense of normality seeping back into our lives and our meal times at the moment. After months of having all the time in the world to potter away in the kitchen, albeit with a baby strapped to me and a toddler teetering on a stool shouting orders, easy dinners are back on the menu - whether it's make-ahead meals I prep in the morning for a simplified dinner later in the day, or an easy recipe comprising ingredients that don't take too much prep time and can be assembled through the madness of a normal, full-on day.
The summer months are a great time to simplify your cooking and I have three recipes that will hopefully take the guesswork out of midweek dinners. An easily adaptable noodle bowl with irresistible sticky soy duck breast is an ideal building block for using up any sad-looking vegetables in the fridge. Make the base with thick udon noodles, thinly sliced hot duck and build it up with fresh shaved or shredded veggies.
If you're in BBQ mode, give the recipe for lamb shish kebabs a go. It's a great "assembly job" feast, the elements of which can all be plonked on the table with everyone helping themselves to smoky lamb, pickled pink veggies, toasted pitta, hummus and a vibrant saffron yoghurt.
Lastly, a recipe born out of necessity and a true 'what's in the fridge' supper that offers surprisingly delicious results. Aubergine slices sizzled and bathed in olive oil form the base for a simple recipes with store-bought gnocchi tossed with the best of the season's tomatoes.
Three midweek summer meals to reclaim your kitchen mojo!
Sticky soy duck breast, chunky noodles and plenty of freshly-shaved veggies - this is a truly easy midweek meal that is big on flavour and texture.
For the duck:
2 duck breasts, scored
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 bird's eye chillies
2 tbsp honey
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp five spice powder
200g cooked udon noodles
½ head Chinese cabbage, thinly sliced
6 spring onions, thinly sliced
Handful roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
Large handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped
Small handful mint leaves
1. Place the duck on a cold pan, bring up to heat and cook for 8-10 minutes until the skin is crispy, flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes, basting with the juices as you go.
2. Drain excess fat off the pan, keeping about a tablespoon in. Add the sesame seeds, garlic and chillies to this.
3. Stir through the honey, hoisin, light soy sauce, rice vinegar and five spice powder. Allow to bubble for a minute or two until reduced a little.
4. Toss the cooked udon noodles in the dressing then arrange in serving bowls with the cabbage and spring onions.
5. Once rested, slice the duck breasts and top the bowls with the meat along with the peanuts, coriander leaves and mint.
A simple plate of good ingredients best enjoyed when tomatoes are at their very best and it take little work to make them shine.
1 aubergine, sliced ½-inch thick
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
2 sprigs oregano, leaves removed
2 x balls of buffalo burrata
50g rocket leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Slice the aubergine, arrange on a large tray and brush with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Heat a large griddle pan over a medium heat. Arrange the slices onto the hot pan, cooking for 3 minutes each side until char marks are formed. Repeat with remaining slices and keep warm.
2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt well. Add the gnocchi and cook according to packet instructions.
3. Toss the cherry tomatoes in a large bowl with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, balsamic, honey and oregano until combined. Season to taste.
4. Fold through the gnocchi.
5. Arrange the aubergine on serving plates, top with the gnocchi, rocket and tear over the burrata along with lots of freshly ground pepper and oregano leaves. Drizzle over any remaining dressing.
When cutting the lamb for the skewers, keep it small so the pieces, once threaded on skewers, have an opportunity to go crispy on the outside and beautifully tender inside.
1kg boneless lamb leg, cut into small 2-3cm pieces
3 garlic cloves, finely grated
2 tbsp olive oil
For the spice mix:
2 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted & ground
2 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted & ground
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp cardamom pods, seeds removed & crushed
For the garlic & lemon yoghurt sauce:
A small pinch of saffron threads
2 tbsp hot water
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
Zest of ½ lemon
200ml tub Greek yoghurt
Sea salt and ground black pepper
For the pickled onion & red cabbage
¼ head red cabbage, finely sliced
1 red onion, finely sliced
Juice of ½ lemon
A pinch of sugar
Large pitta bread or lavash bread
Flat leaf parsley or coriander leaves
1. Place the lamb into a large mixing bowl with the garlic, the olive oil and all the ingredients for the spice mix. Season with sea salt and toss to combine completely. Leave the lamb to sit covered in the fridge for at least one hour. Alternatively make this ahead of time and leave to marinate overnight.
2. While the lamb marinades, prepare the yoghurt sauce by infusing the saffron threads in hot water in a small mixing bowl and leaving to stand for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well to combine. Season to taste and set aside.
3. For the pickled onion & red cabbage, place them in a mixing bowl and add the juice of half a lemon, a pinch of sugar and generous season of sea salt. Using your hands, massage the cabbage and onions until they become soft and tender. Set aside.
4. Once the spices have permeated the meat, thread the lamb pieces onto 12 metal skewers and arrange on a large baking sheet. Place the lamb skewers to cook over a hot BBQ for 3 minutes either side or until medium rare. Turn as needed until you have a lightly charred exterior and a blushing interior. While the lamb cooks, cook the pitta breads or lavash bread, whichever you are using, until lightly charred.
5. Spread each pitta or lavash with hummus and top with the lamb skewers, the pickled vegetables and herbs of your choice. Drizzle with the yoghurt sauce and a sprinkle of sumac, if desired.