Khoresh Bademjan – Persian Beef & Aubergine stew

In our garden we have a larch-pole pergola over which a tangle of grapevines drape. Running through them is a rambling clematis, Montana, I think. Underneath stands the big Aussie barbecue on which, in summer at least, I cook my home made sausages and burgers plus steak, chicken and whatever else takes my fancy. The vines provide a degree of shade and repel light showers. They also produce grapes, at least two of them do, the sauvignon blanc and the phoenix. The pinot noir (a vanity project) is perennially infertile. Any fruit rarely ripens - most years I end up with sour grapes (literally and metaphorically) that I chuck into the compost. Last year, faced with a bumper harvest, I cried “enough!” Half-remembering a dish I last ate at an Armenian restaurant in Manchester thirty-odd years ago, I went on the net to find it. Khoresh bademjan is a Persian beef-and-eggplant stew that involves a generous quantity of unripe grapes. As such, it’s proved the answer to this failed vigneron’s prayer. This, my own version, based generally on a traditional one, has evolved over time.


  • 8 small aubergines, halved lengthways (or 2 large aubergines, part-peeled – ‘striped’ then cut into chunks)
  • 1 kg beef.  Can be round steak, chuck steak or anything in between. Best bought in a piece and sliced into strips approx  80 cm x  30 cm  x 20 cm thick. No need to bet too picky about this.
  • 2 onions, 1 cut into quarters, 1 cut into thin slices.
  • 3 cloves garlic,
  • 3 corms turmeric (or 3 tsp powdered turmeric)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1-2 cups sour grapes (ghoreh) I have read that verjus can substitute for the  sour grapes but have never tried it.
  • ½ teaspoon saffron 
  • olive oil and/or vegetable oil
  • salt and black pepper
  • fresh coriander, finely chopped, for garnish (optional)


  1. Blitz, briefly, the tomato paste, turmeric, garlic and cumin seeds in a food processor.
  2. Season and tenderise the beef according to your favourite method. Tenderising depends on the cut of beef – 1-3 hours in a pan, and on the method used – simmering/pressure cooker/sous vide or whatever your favourite method is. Drain and reserve the beef stock. Discard the onion.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200° C. When heated cook the aubergines as in 6 (below).
  4. Heat a little olive or vegetable oil in a large pan and caramelise the onion slices (10-15 mins). Add the tomato paste/garlic/turmeric/cumin ‘blitz’ and the finely-chopped onion and the beef and briefly ‘brown’ the meat.
  5. Add the tomatoes, sour grapes, the stock plus enough water to cover the beef. Add salt and pepper and cook for about 25 minutes. Top up the liquid if necessary and stir occasionally. Cook without a lid on the pan as you want stock to reduce and thicken.
  6. Place aubergines in a flat dish. Drizzle with olive oil then bake in oven for 20-25mins. Remove, add to beef and at this stage add the saffron if you are using it. Cook for a further 15-20 mins.
  7. Garnish with fresh coriander (if liked just before serving.
  8. Serve with rice or nan bread.

Serves 4-6

Wigan Bill’s Uppercut

In the UK Census of 1893 my paternal great grandfather, William Whalley, is listed as ‘Occupation: carter’.  His son, my grandfather, also William, is listed as ‘carter’s lad’. There are many gaps in my knowledge of our family’s history  and now alas, no one to ask.’Carter’ could mean he was, self-employed, a 19th century haulage contractor. Or, he could have been merely an employee, driving a railway float or a dray belonging to a local brewery. What the census also omits to say is that William the Elder was, at least according to my father, George, a wrestler and bare-knuckle boxer, celebrated in his home town as ‘Wigan Bill’.

Wigan is a town in South Lancashire, now raised to the status of Metropolitan Borough and absorbed into the Greater Manchester conurbation. It is famous for its pier and for Wigan Casino, spiritual home of Northern Soul, an era ably documented in ‘Blues & Soul Magazine’  by my ex-colleague and great buddy Mr.Frank Elson.

If you exclude members of the local rugby team, nowadays the Wigan Warriors, like Ellery Hanley, Shaun Edwards, Andy Farrell, Billy Boston, Martin “Chariots” Offiah et al, Wigan’s most illustrious son is George Formby, in his day Britain’s highest paid entertainer. Other noteworthy locals include Roy Kinnear, Sir Ian McKellen, The Verve, and of course, my great-grandad. 

I spent some time in my childhood there, staying with my mother’s sister Aunty Millie and husband, Uncle Jack. According to my dad, Uncle Jack would himself have been a rugby legend except “he was too bloody lazy to train.” Wigan, in those days, like most of the Lancashire ‘cotton towns’, boasted a fine market, to which my cousin Eric and I used to repair to spend our pocket money. Except that in those days of post-war austerity there was little to spend it on, sweets being ‘on the ration’ except for those that claimed to cure sore throats, influenza and hangovers. I do recall eating a whole bag of Fisherman’s Friend, along with a cold black pudding on the bus home. Treats in austere times.

Wigan’s signature products are pies – the denizens are known to those of  the surrounding “Cotton Towns” as “Pie-Eaters” – and a confection called Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls (slogan: ‘Keep You All Aglow’). *

Cheese stalls abounded on the market, all of them selling the traditional Lancashire which was for centuries a farmhouse cheese made from surplus milk by a unique method of blending three days’ curd of varying maturity together. Cut from a large block, it comes in three varieties, creamy, mature and ‘tasty’, ranked according to pungency and aggression. The tasty, used principally to make ‘Welsh rabbit’ (cheese on toast), would vie with Fisherman’s Friend when it came to curing the aforesaid ailments. 


Wigan Bill’s Uppercut, named for my great grandfather, is a fusion of French flair and Lancastrian aggression.**

You need about 250ml of tapenade, which might be bought from a delicatessen or made, in the following manner

150g stoned black olives

8 anchovy fillets

60g capers, drained

4 cloves garlic

125ml extra virgin olive oil

a generous grind of black pepper

Place all the ingredients except the olive oil, inside a food processor. With the machine running, add the olive oil in dribbles and blend briefly to make a finely-chopped but not ground-to-paste mixture. Those who see beauty and dignity in labour could, of course, grind all ingredients by hand in a pestle and mortar. This mixture will keep up to four days in a refrigerator.

To finish

200g ‘tasty’ Lancashire or other strong crumbly cheese.

400g ribbon pasta, tagliatelle or similar or spaghetti or macaroni.

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp milk

Preheat the grill. 

Put the pasta in a pan of boing water (a spot, no more, of olive oil will help prevent the strands from coagulating) and cook until ‘al dente’ ( which does not mean “chalky”). Drain, put into a serving dish and stir the tapenade into the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, mix the milk and mustard and drizzle lightly over the cheese. 

Crumble the cheese over the top of the pasta/tapenade and grill just until cheese starts to bubble. Serve.

Serves 4

* The Lancastrian folk singer Mike Harding wrote a rather fine song about Uncle Joe’s.

** Older rugby fans might think of this recipe as Jean-Pierre Rives-meets-Andy Farrell.

Chicken roasted over tea and oranges


Blimey! Been asked for this recipe yet again – by someone who attended my “One Man and his Hob” cookery classes back in 1998. Keeps happening, so thought I might leave it here for posterity.

Smoking over aromatic leaves is an ancient and honourable technique of Chinese cookery. This is my own adaptation, inspired by a desire to replicate something I ate in a Manchester Cantonese restaurant many years ago. I used to cook this dish at my cookery classes, always to universal acclaim and I well recall the shiver of savagery that ran  through the assembled pupils when I kicked off with “Mutilate a free range chicken…” One thing’s for sure, if you have any latent instincts for violence, preparing this dish will help assuage them.

Years later, I decided that this recipe could be tweaked to accord with other cuisines. Swap the orange for lemon, the five spice rub for dried oregano and the lavender for rosemary and and you have a version that’s definitely Italianate. Plum and paprika would take it towards Eastern Europe.

One free range chicken

125g Chinese tea, preferably Lapsang Souchong or Oolong.

1 flat tbsp Chinese five spice

light soy sauce

sea salt, approx 2 pinches

one large orange, cut into thin slices

2 good handfuls lavender leaves

one medium orange, quartered

fresh coriander for garnish

Preheat the oven to 200°C

Mutilate a free range chicken by slitting along the breast bone and behind the legs. Twist the legs and wing bones so that the chicken lies flat, spatchcock fashion, but don’t separate it into joints. Lay the chicken on a chopping board  or other flat surface, breast side up. Attack the chicken with the flat of a heavy cleaver, a meat mallet or a rolling pin. If you don’t have any of these, a half-brick, wrapped in tinfoil for hygiene’s sake, is equally effective but somewhat inelegant.

Turn the chicken over and stamp on the bones with the butt end of the cleaver or rolling pin. With the point of a small stout knife, prise away any bones that come loose. To cook this dish you need an oven tray and a wire rack or trivet. I’d recommend you cover the inside of the tray with tinfoil. It makes cleaning up afterwards easier because you can simply wrap all the gunge and spent fat in a foil parcel for throwing in the waste bin.

Sprinkle the tray liberally with the tea. Layer the orange slices on top, then the sprigs of lavender. Place the chicken , breast up on the rack so that it is suspended just above the tea/orange/lavender. Rub five spice all over the skin. Sprinkle generously with the light soy sauce and add the pinch of salt. Cook in oven, on middle rack.

After 20 minutes, take chicken out of oven, turn upside down and give the other side the same treatment with the five spice, soy sauce and sea salt. Return to oven.

After a further 20 minutes invert the chicken again and cook for another 20 minutes, or until done. The skin should be crispy.

To serve chop or cut the chicken  in half, lengthways. Then chop crosswise to divide the chicken into several pieces. Serve on a bed of boiled rice with fresh coriander, plus the orange quarters, to garnish.

Serves 4 or would stretch to 6 for moderate eaters. Delicious cold, too.

Guinea Fowl in Cataplana

Guinea fowl may be bought from a poulterer or good butcher. Pheasants are in season from November 1st until January 31st. You can buy them from a butcher, if you have no friends who shoot.

A chef at a hotel on Loch Ness, Scotland gave me this recipe, circa 1987. He cooked a five-course dinner with whisky in every course! Afterwards we drank… whisky of course.

This dish, a favourite of mine, I cook in a cataplana, a traditional Portuguese casserole from the country’s Algarve region. I brought one home from Portimao, 33 years ago. I’m now on my third – the second I gave away to a young friend and glad to report it’s still in use. 

Cataplana are made from copper or spun aluminium and  of a ‘clamshell’ design (imagine two woks, one upside down on top of the other, joined together with a hinge and sealed with a clamp on either side). Though the seal is not perfectly air tight it makes a great fist of tenderising meat or fowl. If you remove one of the sections for the last ten to fifteen minutes of cooking any sauce in the dish thickens up nicely.

You could, 0f course, use any lidded, oven-proof casserole dish.


2 guinea fowl or hen pheasants

4 rashers of smoked or pale  bacon

8 tbsp orange marmalade

4 tablespoons of whiskey

4 tablespoons of water

8 sage leaves

4 sprigs of lavender

freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.

With a sharp knife cut the birds in half along the backbone.

Place the halves of the bird skin side up in the cooking dish. Spread the marmalade on the skin side of the pheasants. Drape a rasher over the breast of each bird Add the sprigs of lavender,  scatter the sage leaves and pour the whiskey over the pheasants. Season with black pepper.

Marinate for 1 to 2 hours.

Place the lidded casserole or cataplana in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes. Arrange on dinner plates, one per person, and pour the pan juices over the birds.

Quail stuffed with Roquefort

Honey-basted roasted quail painted with pomegranate syrup and aniseed myrtle and stuffed with Roquefort cheese; serve on a bed of ‘interesting leaves’ dressed with an extra virgin and aged balsamic vinaigrette or multi-coloured roasted vegetables cut into small pieces. In Australia there’s a man called Vic Cherikoff, regarded as a pioneer  of the native foods industry. Packaging and merchandising Aboriginal foraged herbs and spices, he brought many ‘new’ aromas and flavours to the cook’s palette. Aniseed myrtle is one of my favourites. Sainsbury’s in the UK used to stock a selection of Cherikoff products, including this one.

I once cooked* this dish for 500 people. Yes, 500. In November I received a phone call from an Irish hotelier who had been co-opted on to the organising committee of Catex, a large catering industry exhibition held annually in Dublin. Traditionally, on the last night of the show, there was a gala dinner at The Burlington Hotel, only venue at that time with the capacity to accommodate 500 diners.  Anyhow, I get this phone call from one of the organisers. ”Hi Ernie, got this great idea. We are going to get three restaurant critics to cook the dinner, starter, main and dessert. Calling it ‘The Tables Turned.” “Super idea, Ray,” said I. “Go for it”.

Towards the end of January I got another phone call.  “Well,” said Ray, “What are you gonna cook?” I couldn’t explain that I was merely making encouraging noses, that the intention hadn’t been to volunteer.

I thought the dish through. I wanted to make a statement. To remind diners that meat actually came from birds and beasts, not from anonymous trimmed cut-to-size portions. I wanted them to eat with their fingers, so I put a paper ruff on the leg. I did not want to serve potatoes (humungous spud consumption is a feature of Irish daily life) so I envisaged a bed of lentilles de Puy, simmered tender in good stock and shot though with skivers of caramelised shallot and shards of Fingal Ferguson’s crisp smoked dry-cured bacon. 

My tour de force main course was well received, I thought. Two Michelin-starred chefs came over to shake my hand. A noted gourmand asked for the recipe. When I went to the gents I could hardly get my head through the door. But there is another kind of chef – the ones who work not in fancy restaurants but who toil in more mundane eateries; also in schools, prisons, hospitals, barracks. They go under the umbrella of The Panel of Chefs and are usually found clad in green blazers. Anyhow, I found myself standing at ‘the stone’ between two such. “Whadya think of that meal?” said one. “Yeah. Hundred quid for a pair of  f*ckin’ sparrows… ..and no spuds!”

4 quail, unboned

4 25cm cubes of Roquefort orother strong blue cheese

Pomegranate syrup

2 tsp Australian aniseed myrtle or 12 cloves star anise, ground to powder 

2 tbsp soft honey for basting

‘Interesting leaves’ could include a mix of: rocket; mizuna; baby spinach, shredded cos or butterhead lettuce; bok choi; watercress, corn salad. Dress at the last minute with a 50/50 blend of aged (at least 6 years) balsamic vinegar and good extra virgin olive oil.

Preheat oven to 240°C.

Dilute the honey in a little hot water.

Loosely stuff each quail with a heaped teaspoonful of Roquefort. Place the quail in a shallow ovenproof dish. Using a pastry brush, paint each one lightly with the Pomegranate syrup. Scatter a generous pinch of powdered aniseed myrtle (or star anis) over each one. Place in oven. After 5 minutes, remove and drizzle honey over the quail. Roast for 20 minutes, basting twice with the honey and juices from the dish. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Arrange on large plates and surround with dressed ‘interesting’ leaves or serve with Puy lentils cooked in stock or with roast baby potatoes. And plenty of them!

CODA. A year or two later I was at a function where, at my table, was a guy I recognised as one of the bigwigs from The Panel of Chefs. Maybe luckily, he didn’t seem to know me. One of his confreres asked him asked “How are the bookings going for the Catex dinner?” “Bit slow,” he replied, “Funny thing. People keep ringing up asking ‘Are we having quail?’”

Make of that what you will.

  • ably assisted by the entire kitchen brigade of the Burlington Hotel (now The Clayton Hotel, Burlington Road).

Vietnamese Green Mango Salad

I was taught to make this by the chef of a favourite Hanoi restaurant, Madame Hsien, since when it’s become a staple in our house. It is rather time consuming to make – I prefer not to produce it for family parties – but production time can be cut down by using a spiraliser gadget (The crank-handle ones are very affordable) for the onions, carrots and courgettes.


2 green mangoes, peeled and julienned

nugget of fresh ginger about 35mm long, peeled and julienned 

1 small bunch of mint, finely chopped

1 small bunch of fresh coriander, finely chopped

(Thai basil can also be used)

half a red pepper, deseeded, cut into thin strips and fried briefly in a little olive oil

1 carrot and 2 medium-sized courgettes julienned


1 red onion thinly sliced or 3-4 scallions, thinly sliced

50g peanuts or cashews (optional)

For the dressing

1 tablespoon of Thai fish sauce

1 tablespoon of light soy sauce

Juice of a lime

1 tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar or rice vinegar

1 tablespoon of palm sugar or light brown sugar or more to taste

dash of Sriracha or Thai chili sauce

Mix together all the dressing ingredients together and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Add dressing to the salad and serve immediately.

You might need to play around with the dressing. Add the fish sauce a teaspoon at a time. You can adjust the balance of the addressing by using less or more vinegar/sugar.

Unless you want ripe mangoes it’s very difficult to get the green ones here! Yellow-fleshed mangoes will do fine as long as they are not overripe.

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