Herby Butter Bean and Tomato Salad


I am, if not fanatical, then certainly evangelical when it comes to pulses.  For years I have raved and enthused about lentils, chick peas, cannellini beans and the like (please note there are recipes for all of the above on these pages).  Now it is the turn of butter beans to be my true favourite.  I say now but in fact many, many years ago in a shared house one popular communal supper was a combination of butter beans, tuna, spring onions and a lively vinaigrette.  So, whilst that particular recipe isn’t a current favourite, it seems pulses have long been popular in my life.  These days pulses are all the rage and readily available in jars which is my preferred choice.  Until recently jarred beans were the preserve of delis and Spanish shops but not only are they on the shelves of most supermarkets now but can also be delivered to your door which is how I found myself with a monthly subscription to Bold Beans.

Owing to this regular arrival of beans I have upped the pulse game Chez May and we eat a lot of them although that we doesn’t include my son who says he has been over pulsed and needs a break.  Endless winter suppers have been bolstered and padded out with these beans and now it is the turn of our summer salads to be pulsified.

The recipe that follows couldn’t be easier, in fact it is barely a recipe.  It utilises half of a batch of my fresh herb sauce (July 2013) but I recommend you still make the whole amount as you will certainly find a use for the other half*.  This is a salad with some backbone which is always useful, nothing to go particularly limp here so it can be made ahead of time and, in fact, is still good the next day so ideal for lunch boxes.  It can easily be scaled up so handy for summer lunch parties.  Above all though, it is the work of minutes and truly delicious.

Herby butter bean and tomato salad

1 700g jar butter beans, drained and rinsed (usually around 500g net)

1/2 batch fresh herb sauce (July 2013)

1 large handful of cherry tomatoes halved

Chopped chives (optional)

Mix the butter beans with the herb sauce and tomatoes.  Put into a serving bowl and scatter with the chives if you are using them.  Serves two for lunch or more people if there are other dishes alongside.


*If you have lots of tomatoes, simply slice then and serve with some of the leftover fresh herb sauce spooned over.  This makes a wonderful summery tomato salad and you can easily add some sliced mozzarella which is also delicious and looks fabulous.

Please excuse the really not very good photograph.


Spag Bol

I suspect a lot of us have our own version of this classic.  Whilst I don’t think it holds up as a true Italian sauce for pasta, it is delicious and has found a very welcome home here.  Few things beat a good spoonful of this richly flavoured and satisfying sauce atop a pile of spaghetti, or whatever pasta you have. This is certainly one of the first things I remember cooking in a shared house after leaving home and haven’t really stopped making it since although I have certainly refined the recipe since.  The older readers of these pages won’t, I suspect, need a recipe, but students and less experienced cooks may find it useful so here we go.

This is an excellent recipe to make quite a lot of and then divide up and freeze some smaller amounts – you will never regret having a pot of bolognese in the freezer for times when you can’t be bothered to cook or are short of food or funds.  This sauce is entirely untroubled by being frozen but do remember you can only re-freeze this if you have changed the state of the meat ie if you have defrosted raw mince you should not refreeze that raw.  If however you defrost raw mince then make this Bolognese, you can freeze the now cooked mince.

I am always keen to slip in a little extra veg where I can and some finely chopped carrot along with the onion are a great way of adding to your 5 a day and using up carrots should they be languishing in the fridge.  A handful of red lentils will melt away, become almost indistinguishable, pad out the sauce and up your fibre intake.  Both are a win win but neither are in any way essential, just tips if you have either hanging around or you need to stretch supper.


This is quite a large amount of sauce using 500g of minced beef.  This can easily be halved or make the whole amount, eat some this evening for supper and freeze the rest. If you haven’t got any tomato puree then a squirt of tomato ketchup will be fine but don’t go mad as it is quite sweet.  Probably the most important tip is long, slow cooking.

I tablespoon oil

2 onions, peeled and finely chopped

500g minced beef

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons tomato puree

2 tins peeled and/or chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf (if you have one but entirely optional)

Warm the oil in a large pan that you have a lid for and cook the onion with a pinch of salt slowly until really soft, probably around 20 minutes, with the odd stir.  If you are using carrot too then put this in the pot with the onion.  Add the mince and cook gently until it has all changed from pink to brown at which point you can add the garlic and oregano. Give it a good stir and leave to cook for a few minutes before adding the tomato puree (or ketchup), the tinned tomatoes, salt and the bay leaf if you have one.  Once this has all come up to a gentle simmer put the lid on and leave to tick away for at least an hour but two would be better.  You could also put this into a low oven rather than leave it on the hob.  Give it a stir a couple of times during the cooking time to check nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan.  Serve with pasta* and grated cheese if you want.  Make sure any sauce you are freezing is absolutely cold before you put it into the freezer.  When you come to use it, defrost and then make sure it is heated properly ie, really hot, before you eat it.  This amount would serve 8 people.

*When you cook pasta always keep a mugful of the starchy water as this is ideal for thinning down any sauce, helping it emulsify well and coating the pasta effectively.



Easy mayonnaise



Mayonnaise is a handy staple to have in the fridge at any time but I find myself reaching for it more during the summer months.  Who can resist a leftover Jersey Royal topped with a blob of wobbly, glossy mayonnaise?  There are so many picnic opportunities for the jar of mayo and it is essential for any number of salads or cold collations (now that’s a word I don’t often use).  Then there are chips, if you start dipping hot chips into this mayonnaise I predict you will struggle to stop.

Of course you can buy your mayonnaise and there are good ones available, but and this really is a proper but, none are as good as a jar of homemade.   Rich and unctuous with a satiny sheen, fresh yet savoury with a gentle hum of garlic – what is not to love.  I should mention that garlic isn’t traditional unless you are making an aioli (see Introduction) but having tried with and without, my lot prefer it with.

Like many other recipes using eggs, making mayonnaise is a form of alchemy and certainly isn’t difficult but there are a couple of important provisos.  The most crucial of these is to add your oil slowly, really slowly to start with, almost drop by drop.  Once the initial mix of the egg and other ingredients start to to thicken with the addition of the oil you can speed things up a touch but I tend to go pretty cautiously until I have thick and glossy mixture in the bowl.  I used to make mayonnaise with just egg yolks but when I saw an Ottolenghi recipe using a whole egg I adjusted my recipe and have been set on that ever since.  So much easier not to have a couple of egg whites winking at you from the fridge.


To make a simple aioli I would up the garlic to three cloves.  Whilst this might not have the authenticity to hold its head up in the South of France it works for me.

You can make the mayonnaise in a food processor but it is easier to use one with a small bowl otherwise the blade is chasing the egg around in rather a large space and it may not combine with the oil.  I find a hand held blender the easiest and most reliable method.

1 whole egg

1 heaped tablespoon of dijon mustard

1 clove garlic chopped (see Introduction)

1 heaped teaspoon caster sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vinegar, white wine or cider (tarragon vinegar makes a glorious mayonnaise)

500ml vegetable oil (or 400ml vegetable oil and 100 of olive oil) in a jug

Juicy of half a juicy lemon

Put the egg, mustard, garlic, sugar, salt and vinegar into a bowl and mix briefly with your hand held/immersion blender.  With the blender going start adding the oil, drop by drop initially.  Once you can see the ingredients emulsifying you can up the oil to a thin but steady stream.  When all the oil is added and you have a thick and wobbly mayo, add most of the lemon juice and give a final whizz.  Taste, it should be spot on but you can add a little more lemon juice or salt if you wish.  A jar of this lasts for ages in the fridge but it tends to go pretty quickly.


Best everyday vegetable soup

I must make soup at least once a week and there are so many reasons for this.  Warming and nourishing, a great way to use up vegetables (particularly sad or slightly bendy ones), get your five a day in one go, disguise vegetables for those less keen, good for you, super cheap and of course absolutely delicious.  Whilst I make many variations on vegetable soup, what follows is my blueprint.

A couple of leeks and carrots is where it starts but you can add so many other things thereafter.  If I have some butternut hanging around then a few chunks of that, peeled, will go in.  A lonely courgette or a few florets of broccoli will also find a happy home.  I nearly always add some red lentils, a superb way to add to the already fibre rich soup and they yield such a velvety texture.  Half a bunch of parsley languishing in the fridge will go into the pot rather than the compost and a teaspoon of curry powder will certainly be added if there is a parsnip in the mix.

The resulting soup will go off in packed lunches and I will thoroughly look forward to my bowl when I stop for lunch.  Any extra (what?) can be frozen for another day.

If you are feeling flash add a swirl of cream or a handful of croutons when serving.  This is very simple and possibly rather old fashioned but it is an absolute winner too.

Everyday soup

Once blended taste for seasoning, depending on your stock you may need a touch of salt.  I sometimes add a splash of milk or indeed cream when whizzing to add a touch of richness, particularly if I have a scrap of cream (or creme fraîche) that needs using up. A splash of sherry just before adding the stock is only ever a good thing if you have a bottle to hand.

A tablespoon of oil

A small knob of butter

2 leeks, finely sliced

2 carrots, peeled and chopped fairly small

100g red lentils

1 litre vegetable stock (chicken stock is fine if that is all you have)

A few sprigs of parsley if you have them

Melt the butter with the oil in a medium size pan.  Add the leeks and soften for a few minutes before adding the carrots and the lentils.  Stir into the oil and then add the stock. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the carrots are soft and the lentils breaking down.  Add the parsley and whizz with a hand held blender then taste and season if necessary.  This is enough for 2 very hungry people or three on a normal day but is easily doubled or trebled.

The picture above is before blending, the picture below is after.


Cauliflower curry

Rarely have I taken a photograph that so inefficiently portrays the delight that this curry delivers.  The most arduous thing that is required here is to chop up a cauliflower and then let the magic happen in the pan.  Barely a recipe although one that a you can tinker with at will, adding or subtracting to suit you and whomever you are cooking for.  I sometimes make this with individual spices but more often turn to a good paste and then shake in a couple of extras that I like.  The use of a paste not only makes this even easier and quicker  but may be a useful shortcut for those without an entire spice drawer at their disposal.

The reasonably large quantity of stock which is required to cook the cauliflower is then given substance and body by the addition of red lentils.  I have only used half a tin of coconut milk because I’m looking for a suggestion of its sweet, fragrant note rather than a full on green curry vibe – the other half I freeze until next time.  I also use all the cauliflower, stalks, leaves and all which makes the supremely satisfying, not only in the eating sense but also in the frugality and no waste sense.

Cauliflower Curry

I add the cardamom and nigella seeds simply because I like their specific flavours but it is entirely up to you and the curry will absolutely not suffer without them.  If you love ginger add some grated ginger or chuck in extra garlic if that is your thing, the following is simply my way, you can go off piste as you please. The paste I have taken to using is a Jamie Oliver Keralan one but any good quality medium heat paste will be fine – use what you have.   Brown rice seems to work particularly well with this and leftovers are tip top for lunch the next day.

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 generous tablespoon of curry paste (see introduction)

100g red lentils

1 litre vegetable stock

1/2 can coconut milk

1 cauliflower chopped into small florets, stalk and leaves cut up too

A handful of cherry tomatoes

Fresh coriander, chopped

Soften the onion in the oil and then add the paste and lentils, stir it all well and then add the stock and coconut milk.  Bring it up to a simmer then add the cauliflower, florets, stalk, leaves and all.  Cook for about 15 minutes until the cauliflower and lentils are cooked – the lentils will break up a bit and thicken the sauce.  Add the cherry tomatoes for the last few minutes just to heat through and soften a bit.  Serve with masses of chopped coriander sprinkled over and some brown rice.  Serves 4.




Student food


Times have changed Chez May as my daughter starts her second year at University.  Food wise this means two things;  at home we can relax into more vegetable based, mediterranean style cooking and secondly I am on call for the odd piece of advice when it comes to cooking, said daughter now being in a shared house.

When I look back at my days of sharing a house it was definitely more fun, practical and economical when we shared shopping and cooking.  I once found myself living in a flat where we all had a shelf in the fridge and a shelf in the cupboard.  Miserable – not only were the contents of everyone else’s shelves more appealing than my own but it meant we cooked and ate separately, truly no fun at all.  Thus, before Minty left, we conducted an experiment.  I wanted to buy a bag of food as reasonably as possible the contents of which would serve four people sensible, easily cooked and delicious food for several days.   The challenge was to see how far the groceries would go and to make sure that nothing got wasted, that ingredients were used for more than one recipe and little twists and hints would give additional ideas. My daughter isn’t a fan of what she calls my hippy, lentil stuff but we found many recipes that fit the bill, there was only one absolute veto.

Minced beef can be easily transformed into a bolognese, cottage pie, meatballs or chilli (February 2014), all easily eeked out with no loss of flavour.   Whilst none are cutting edge recipes they absolutely are suppers that many students will be happy to both make and eat.  Of course many teens are adept at more sophisticated and exotic recipes but I would recommend getting the basics under your belt (literally) before branching out.  There is nothing more demoralising or more likely to put you off cooking than a disaster when you are hungry.

Vegetables can be sneaked into many things under the guise of ballast and stretching for another guest, such as can red lentils which melt away as theycook and become almost unidentifiable (almost).  Tired vegetables get a chance to shine chopped into a cottage pie or a soup and most fruits can either be whizzed into a smoothie or tucked under a crumble (October 2015).  Always aim to throw nothing away.

Our bag consisted of some vegetables which would provide a base for the bolognese, chilli, soup and dhal.  A basic collection of spices including curry powder, which can be built on.  The ever useful tinned tomatoes and red kidney beans.  Red lentils for the Easy tomato soup (March 2020) the easiest thing in the world yet cheap, delicious and filling which my daughter loved – but also for the quick dhal, which my son and I could eat every day but which my daughter wouldn’t even taste.  Pasta and rice of course, stock cubes plus oil, vinegar and mustard. There was also flour for quick flatbreads (March 2018), soda bread (April 2013), pancakes and crumble.  Chicken thighs to be split between the always popular Claypot chicken (May 2103) and a gentle curry – incidentally chicken thighs are less likely to dry out than breasts and to my mind, far more delicious.

As I’ve said before, cooking and eating well are one of the absolute joys in life and being able to feed yourself healthily and economically is a valuable life skill.  That’s why I am obviously keen for Minty to eat well but also to enjoy cooking and sharing food with others.  I’m not saying the alternative is a diet of Silk Cut and Jacob’s Creek but….

Finally a photograph of iced buns because they are far more tempting than a picture of a bag of groceries and also an easy recipe for a welcome treat (May 2017).  More recipes to follow.






Black Bean Shakshuka

Straight off let’s be clear that this is my version of a Shakshuka – the fact that it has a spiced tomato sauce with eggs poached in it leads me to use the name but it may not have full North African credentials.  That said it is properly delicious and is a regular chez May.  You probably have the ingredients to hand but if not  Shakshuka is happy to be flexible and adapt to your store cupboard.  Most of the year I will use a tin of good tomatoes but in the summer a pile of just too soft tomatoes are ideal.  I’m as happy with chopped coriander or parsley strewn over the top so use what you have or both.  This is an absolute favourite of my son but if he isn’t around I will add some spinach just before the eggs to wilt in the heat of the tomatoes.

The black beans were an addition when I was short of bread to toast so wanted to bulk up the Shakshuka a bit.  We liked this version so much that they are now a permanent addition, they give a little extra texture which I find most welcome – great for adding some fibre to your diet especially if you are off the bread for any reason.   Cook one of two eggs per person as you please, I find one is enough for me but the lads in the house welcome two.  As ever with my recipes there is room for manoeuvre, both as mentioned above but also in the level of spicing.  Listed below are the spices I use but do add extra spice by way of chopped fresh chilli or a pinch of chilli flakes if that suits. Should I have run out of harissa I will just up the amount of paprika and cumin and will certainly add chilli in this instance.

Black Bean Shakshuka 

I tablespoon oil

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon harissa

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon tomato puree

1 tin tomatoes (I prefer whole to chopped but whatever you have)

1 tin black beans, drained

Eggs, as many as you want to use, see introduction

A handful of chopped coriander or parsley or a combination of both

Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a frying pan for which you have a lid (or you can use a baking sheet instead of a lid).  Cook the onion for 10 minutes or so until soft and translucent but not coloured.  Add the garlic and all the spices along with the tomato puree.  Cook for a couple of minutes then add the tinned tomatoes along with a slosh of water to rinse the can.  Finally add the beans along with a good sprinkle of salt and a couple of grinds of pepper.  Simmer for 5 minutes to bring it all together then make as many dips in the sauce as you have eggs.  Crack the eggs into the dips and put the lid on the pan whilst the eggs cook.  When the whites are set remove from the heat, cautiously check the seasoning of the sauce – add some salt and pepper to the eggs but you decide if the sauce needs any more.  Strew over the chopped herbs of your choice and serve on toast if you like.  Serves  3-4 and is good for breakfast, lunch or supper.

Party Salad (and 10 years)

How this became known as Party Salad I don’t know but a salad needs a name and this has stuck.  One of the reasons may be that the components can be made ahead and brought together at the last minute whilst in your high heels and sequins. I served this to some friends recently and they all loved it, had seconds and asked for the recipe so you can’t beat that.

Never easy to get a picture of a salad so let me tell you what you see here – at the bottom there is a layer of baby spinach topped with a layer of brown rice which has a trickle of the herby green sauce.  Then comes the pickled cabbage on top of which the roasted vegetables are strewn.  Finally more green herby sauce, a few blobs of Greek yogurt, some toasted seeds and then the pink pickled onion.   So several layers but happily all can be made ahead with the spinach either coming from the shops or, if you are considerably more efficient than me, your garden.

I have served this salad, or variations of it, many times recently and any leftovers are positively stellar in packed lunches.  You can of course customise it too – use bulgar wheat instead of brown rice if you prefer or even little boiled new potatoes cut in half if that’s what you have.  Here I have roasted peppers, courgettes, onions and carrots, use the recipe for roasted vegetables from the salad (July 2014) using whichever veg you want.  In the summer I made the herby green sauce with parsley as per the recipe (July 2013) but recently used coriander as there was a big bunch in the fridge – different obviously but quite delicious.

My spicy seeds are perfect for sprinkling over (November 2018).  To make the pickled cabbage use the recipe for the quick pickled onions (August 2014) using quarter of a white cabbage very finely shredded.  You could have a layer of picked onions instead of cabbage plus the pickled onions on top, one less thing to make I suppose but I have no doubt a bowl of pickled cabbage in the fridge won’t last long.  There is just something about the combination here that I love, all the flavours and textures together, knock out.

As for the 10 years – it has been ten years since I started posting recipes here although the writing of them started many years before that.  These recipes and ideas are used by me weekly if not daily and also, happily for me, by many others.  Thank you for the many, many comments and for telling me how much you love my recipes.


Ice cream for breakfast (what?)

Over the years I have tucked into many an unorthodox breakfast.  Cold pizza, obviously – a classic and I expect everyone has enjoyed this questionable delight – always better in theory than practice I find.  Leftover curry, now I can remember particularly enjoying this on occasion and it strikes a chord as I hate waste. I believe there was a breakfast beer once as well but, to mitigate, the breakfast was a midday one and the sun was already high and hot.

Following these culinary surprises then, ice cream seems modest, benign even.  And here’s the thing, some speckled bananas and soft strawberries which were otherwise destined for the compost and hens respectively, became a treaty breakfast.  A highlight was that rare double glow of not wasting food and praise from one of my children for a delicious and to be repeated breakfast.

The truth, as you can plainly see, is that it’s not much of a recipe.  I feel no shame however, at presenting it here because it is delicious, healthy and just what we need during this hot weather – fruit for breakfast that cools you down and also feels like a Mr Whippy.

I used bananas and strawberries here but raspberries add a fabulous fruity brightness if you have some.  A mix of mango and passion fruit would bring a touch of the exotic to my west Dorset kitchen that would be most welcome.   The only constant is some Greek yogurt which adds creamy smoothness and brings the gravelly frozen fruit together.

When you see some bananas getting too brown and soft or the berries have become a touch squishy get them in the freezer.  Even if you don’t want to eat this ice cream in the immediate future the slow demise of the fruit won’t wait and better they go into the frosty hinterland than the bin.

Strawberry and Banana ice cream

I can’t be prescriptive here, the whole point is to use what you have.  What you see here was the result of two soft bananas and half a punnet of strawberries.  I added two tablespoons of Greek yogurt and then another once it had been whizzed initially. Here is a sort of recipe, not that you probably need it.

Two soft bananas, sliced

Two good handfuls of strawberries, hulled and chopped

Greek yogurt, two or three tablespoons

Freeze the bananas and strawberries for a couple of hours.  When they are frozen put them into a food processor with two tablespoons of yogurt and whizz until smooth.  You may need another tablespoon of yogurt.  This amount served three for breakfast.

* I like the taste as is, bright and a touch sharp from the yogurt but tempered by the sweetness of the fruit.  You can always add a touch of honey if you prefer it sweeter.


Soup and pudding

Much as I love the indulgences of Christmas I also relish the clean new page of January and the opportunity it presents.  In December we are encouraged to tuck in.  Have whipped cream on that!  Would you like gingerbread syrup?  Brandy butter and cream with your minced pie?  Why not it’s Christmas.  So it goes on….  Then suddenly, on the first of January it’s all about kale, steamed vegetables, cutting out food groups, veganuary.  It all feels a bit bonkers, the change from the rich sparkly food filled photographs of December to the austere, vegetable dotted ones of January.

I’ve mentioned in previous January posts that whilst it’s not for me to tell anyone what to eat I am happy to provide the sort of recipes that will help with the reset.   Although that fresh clean page of the New Year encourages good, healthy eating I am still greedy.  I want to get excited about food, love the look it and love the taste even more.  January tends to be cold and often rather grey, we need a lift and food is such an easy and satisfying place to get it.

Not the time for leafy salads, now is for crunchy numbers full of the root vegetables that relish the cold.  That they tend to grow locally is of course a bonus.  I had a celeriac lurking in the fridge that had arrived before Christmas.  Yesterday I made half into a soup along with a couple of sad, beginning to sprout potatoes, a leek plus half a bag of rocket.  The other half I grated and made into celericac remoulade (January 2016).  Some slightly bendy parsnips, carrots and beetroots were roasted back into deliciousness.  The result was enough for two lunches plus a packed one and I was relieved to avoid the guilt felt if anything has to the compost having been found at the back of the fridge past its best.   Fridge clearing at its best.

My advice would be to go large on the veg – soup is the number one superstar for using up various vegetables as well as being extremely good for us.  Put soup into the search bar at the top of this page, there are lots of different, easy soups you could rustle up. Vegetable based soups are cheap too which is a bonus at this time of year.  Easily zhuzzed up into a Saturday lunch with some really good bread, homemade focaccia (May 2014) or soda bread (December 2018) if you want to along with a crunchy salad makes this a feast rather than a sad offering.  If you still have some Christmas cheese looking less than tempting, transform it into cheese and chive scones (October 2014) or my Cheese bread (December 2014).

When it is particularly cold outside a pudding always seems essential to me.  There are two routes you can take here – something, clean and refreshing to reinforce your good intentions such as the granita shown at the top of this post.  The gloriously coloured blood orange granita is of course a seasonal treat (February 2013) but the golden one behind it is an iced tea granita (July 2013) and who doesn’t have a teabag in the cupboard?  Light and palate cleansing yet sweet and fruity enough to be a treat.  Alternatively choose the nursery pudding route to warm yourself up from the inside.  You will find lots of such puddings in the recipes here, this weekend we had a big baked golden syrup sponge – along the lines of the raspberry larder pudding (March 2015) but using half a tin of golden syrup in place of the raspberries and raspberry jam.  Yes it was rich, sweet and super indulgent but it was also extremely good and provided the necessary ballast for the weather along with lifting the spirits.