Saturday, 31 December 2016

Merry Christmas & Happy 2017!

It's New Year's Eve and I can't believe it is 'that time' of year again!  Honestly, where has it gone??!

Just thinking about the blogging part of my life, I've enjoyed trying out all the new places opening up in and around Birmingham and checking out their vegetarian offerings and there is plenty more to come in 2017!  (Rumours of London's famous The Ivy for one.....)

I was also thrilled this year to be a short listed finalist for the Birmingham Food Drink & Hospitality Awards in the Best Food & Drink Blogger category!  A glorious plaudit - a true highlight of the year!

I hope Christmas has been a joyful and peaceful time for you all, that you've had some quality time with those who are special in your lives, some time to recharge those internal batteries and the opportunity to devour the lovely food that the Christmas season always brings.

As we countdown to the new year, I just want to say a big thank you for your support with Word In Veg Ways - whether that is reading each post or following me on social media or even by voting for me in the BFDH Awards this year, I treasure every single gesture of support - I thank you wholeheartedly!

I hope you enjoy the rest of the Christmas break and I wish you lots of happiness and health  for 2017!

Anna xx

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Rise of Social Enterprises

Having frequently seen Miss Macaroon on the Birmingham food scene over the years, I was really pleased to hear when MD Rosie Ginday announced that she was opening a shop in Birmingham's Great Western Arcade.

The shop focuses on selling macaroons which can be consumed over a glass of Prosecco.

Rosie operates Miss Macaroon as a social enterprise which provides employment and training for unemployed young people.

Social enterprises are on the increase with many businesses wanting to not only have  commercial success but to also 'give back' to the community.

My recently written article for Midlands publication Express & Star, focuses on Miss Macaroon and the popularity of social enterprises and how they benefit the community.

To read the article, click here.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Food Roots Interview - Joudie Kalla

After thoroughly enjoying reading and reviewing Joudie Kalla’s cookbook – Palestine On A Plate, I thought it would be interesting to interview Joudie via my Food Roots Interview series to find out about her and her heritage and how it fits in with her personal and professional life.

Joudie Kalla
Photo:  Ria Osbourne

Joudie has been working as a chef in London for 16 years focusing her cooking around Palestinian cuisine, promoting healthy, vibrant, moreish dishes that are packed full of goodness.

She trained at the prestigious Leith’s School of Food and Wine and has worked at restaurants such as Pengelley’s (a Gordon Ramsey restaurant), under Ian Pengelley, Daphne’s and Papillon under head chef David Duverger.   

Her book and her work has been applauded by Ottolenghi chef Sami Tamimi (who has also taken part in my Food Roots interview series).
Photo:  Ria Osbourne

Palestine On A Plate makes for a really fascinating read (click here for the review) and the Q&A below will offer insight into the nuances of this branch of Middle Eastern food with an appetite to find out more.


In the book, you talk a lot about re-connecting with your Palestinian roots in recent years, what do you feel was the catalyst for this and how do you incorporate honouring your roots into your daily life?
Reconnecting with my Palestinian roots came quite suddenly but in two stages. Once where I found myself lost in Beirut and realised I couldn't really communicate with anyone properly to get back to home, and secondly was when I lived in Paris on my own and really felt food sick. I missed the meals we were eating at home and things that were usually on the dinner table and it just sparked something in me to really think about who I am and where I am from. I started to learn how to read and write properly in Arabic and began a year long course at Leiths school of food and wine also. This was combined with my mother teaching me all her recipes. I went to Leiths because I wanted to become a chef and putting all those skills together with what I was learning at home just opened up a whole new world for me.


Do you feel the supper clubs that you host have brought you closer to your roots as well as introducing many to Palestinian cuisine?
My supper clubs are the most recent thing. I used to run my own deli serving Palestinian food and catering as well. It brought me closer to my roots and my background, learning all the secrets from my mother. The supper clubs just helped me reach out to more people as they were more public and very specific. So many lovely people attended these events, which continue each month, and it brings me so much pleasure to see them all enjoying the food, meeting new friends and learning about Palestine. I also get to meet them and chat about dishes that they have never heard of or had before. So it’s always a good thing.


What kind of dishes would you choose if catering for a vegetarian dinner party?
Well this is an easy subject as we generally eat vegetarian food. You know, we didn't have labels before. It was just food. And when I was writing the book I realised that about 90% of it was vegetarian by default. So I had to change it and add different things to balance it out for every reader. For a dinner party I would probably make a selection of things as this is traditionally how we eat.

I would have a delicious tangy Yalanji, which is a tabbouleh stuffed vine leaf,
Hindbeh salad - which is a dandelion sumac, paprika and caramelized onion dish served with pomegranate seeds, my charred cauliflower and tahini salad.

And to finalise the meal it would add my Burghul (cracked dark wheat) tomato and courgette stew.


On special feast days, festivals or holy days, what are the special things that you cook and do they have any symbolism?
Wow, on feast days it can be so many things. But it’s usually a Makloubeh which can easily be turned into a vegetarian dish and something we do often. This is a real showstopper of layered vegetables that have been previously cooked, layered with fragrant rice and then cooked slowly and flipped over in one piece like a cake.

We always have mamas Muttabal on every special occasion as it is so delicious and goes well with everything.
My feta wrapped vine leaves also come out to play as they are so beautiful and take such little effort that it’s always good to have something simple when things can get a bit messy and complicated in the kitchen.

I would also say that we have the feta and spinach pies as they remind me of my aunties as they love pastry making and this is something very reminiscent of them.
I think rather than symbolism, we have an emotional connection to them. The fact that they are traditions and that my grandmothers would make them and serve them is something that is important to us. We like to feel connected to our food not just in taste, but in history. So my mother does it and I do it too. It feels like home and all the family is around is when the food is down, even if it is just a few of us at the table. Every dish reminds us of someone.


What are the key items you’d suggest having if wishing to replicate a Palestinian pantry?
Ok so my pantry is INSANE. I learnt from my mother to always buy in bulk as you never know what you want to cook or eat on any given day. I literally have everything and then some.

To replicate a Palestinian Pantry I would suggest the basic ingredients:

Palestinian pearl cous cous
Dark Burghul
Vine leaves
Pomegranate molasses
Olive oil
Orange blossom
Lots of  tomato passata and tomato puree
Egyptian rice

The list can go on. But I think this is a great way to start with things that I use all the time to create many dishes and their bases.


Palestine on a Plate: Memories from my mother’s kitchen by Joudie Kalla, photography by Ria Osbourne, is published by Jacqui Small (£25).


Notes & My Thanks

I would like to thank Joudie Kalla for her time in participating in the interview.
For my review of Palestine On A Plate:   Click here.
Find @Palestinesplate to follow Joudie on Twitter



Monday, 5 December 2016

Mr Crumb Stuffing

I don’t always make stuffing when putting together a Sunday Roast Lunch, but when I do, it is usually a cheap & cheerful packet mix that I can make up in minutes (sorry to all food purists, it is very uncouth of me I know…..)

I’ve never really thought about ‘luxury’ stuffing until I was alerted to Mr Crumb.  Mr Crumb is an Irish company that state that their methods replicate those from grandma’s kitchen (made in small batches, made by hand).  The onions are sautéed in Irish butter, before being mixed with fresh breadcrumbs from a local bakery, herbs, spices and other ingredients.   (Suitable for vegetarians).

It’s a chilled product, it comes in a tray which can be oven baked or microwaved and the contents of which can be formed into balls if you wish.

Available in two flavours, I had the Apple & Apricot version and I gave my mother the Sage & Onion one to try for herself.
Photo:  c/o Mr Crumb
She oven baked hers and said it was extremely tasty, nice, soft and not grainy like standard stuffing and was packed with flavour plus it wasn’t too ‘heavy’.

Photo:  c/o Mr Crumb

I too oven baked my pack, with similar commentary – so much nicer than packet mix stuffing, a much more rustic flavour with good chunky pieces of apple and apricot which makes a difference visually and taste wise.  My Carnivorous Husband (MCH) also remarked this was the best stuffing he has had in a very long time and asked should we have this for Christmas Day?

In answer to MCH’s question, I believe yes.  As Christmas is the Grand Prix of Sunday lunches (I’m paraphrasing DJ Johnny Vaughan there), a little more quality and convenience is much deserved.  I like the idea that I can just pop it into the oven all ready to go as there will be 101 other things to sort out on Christmas morning.

All in all, a jolly nice stuffing for Christmas.  Or any time of year for that matter if you want to spend the extra pennies.


Notes:  Mr Crumb stuffing range is available in selected ASDA and Sainsbury’s branches in the fresh chiller cabinet section.  The stuffing is available in 225g trays, has an RRP of £1.50 - £2.00.

Disclosure:  This review was conducted following receipt of a complementary samples from Mr Crumb.  The review was conducted honestly without bias. For further information about reviews, please see the Disclosure tab on this website.





Monday, 28 November 2016

Italian Deli Figs

Regular readers will recall that I reviewed a vegetarian parmesan style cheese earlier in the year from Italian online deli food providers Vorrei.  And very nice it was too, so nice to have a quality parmesan alternative.

In the run up to Christmas, Vorrei have put together some hamper ideas with lots of quality, artisan, Italian goods that aren’t necessarily available on the High Street.

As such, I was sent a couple of their fig goods to try out. 

I adore figs and they’ve become quite en vogue in recent years, moving away from the notion that they’re only good for ‘fig roll biscuits’. 

The first item I tried was the Fig Ball.

The contents of which are handcrafted, 100% Italian figs from Calabria.  The variety used is Dottato and the trees they come from are 2500 years old!  (Did you know by the way that figs are deemed as one of the oldest known fruits in the world?).    Dottato’s USP is their richness and that each fruit bears very few yet fine seeds.

Harvested when the figs mature at end of season, they are then divided in to balls and wrapped in green fig leaves. 

Vorrei describe how the baking process that follows gives them a strong and intense taste.

Just open part of the fig leaves which will then allow you to eat them whole or partially in pieces. 

They are sticky yet delicious and I had some on some cheese which worked wonderfully.   The fig ball would make a fascinating piece on a (Christmas) cheeseboard.

The second item was Figs with Almonds.

Presented in a box, (makes for a nice gift to take as a dinner guest), the figs are as above, are the Dottato variety, boasting a bronzy outer skin and matching interior.    They are described as being handpicked piece by piece when fully ripe, they are then oven dried and then stuffed with Sicilian almonds. 

The soft fibrous fruit contrasted by the solidity of the nuts work well.  Again, another goodie for the cheeseboard and a breakaway from the usual range of crackers.  Cheeseboard to one side, they’re nice to munch on as they are.

Both are produced by Artibel who are based in Belmonte on the Tyrhennian coast of Calabria.  It is an ancient family run company dating back to the 12th century and from the mid 1900’s it began to specialise in figs.  Its use of raw materials and simple manufacturing methods offer that completely natural, rustic, artisan authenticity.

Figs themselves assert a wealth of health benefits which include being packed with potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, vitamins B1,B2, A plus they’re a good source of iron.  Combined with the almonds, it is packed with minerals (iron, phosphorous, calcium, vitamins A B1, B2 PP and C).

This might be an obvious thing to say, but being a fig fan will maximise your enjoyment of them as the taste is really intense and can’t really be muted.

As with the many of the items on the Vorrei hamper list, the fig goodies offer something different and interesting to adorn your Christmas table and/or future dinner parties with, so definitely worth taking a look at the site for some inspiration or as the Italians would say – ispirazione!
Disclosure:  This review was conducted following receipt of a complementary samples from Vorrei.  The review was conducted honestly without bias. For further information about reviews, please see the Disclosure tab on this website.





Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Review: Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party.  A phrase although associated with the American revolutionary events held in the 1700’s regarding tea imports, it is rather quite the opposite when it comes to café culture here in the UK.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Flying high on the back of a café chain in-situ in the south west region of the UK, Boston Tea Party (BTP) have spread their wings to Birmingham and following suit, is the recent(ish) opening in Warwickshire’s Stratford Upon Avon.

Stratford is definitely not short on tea rooms or coffee shops, café culture per se is a must have for those that descent on there week in, week out.  Having been invited to experience BTP myself, I was keen to see how it fared against its rivals.
BTP St Gregory's Hall
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Located in St Gregory's Hall Building at the top of the town centre, it isn’t by the river (which is the main hub of the town) but it is by the tourist office and all the souvenir shops so it is still in a ‘buzzy’ part of town but yet not as manic as if you were by the theatres. 
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

My visit was on a Saturday lunchtime in the heart of the school half-term week, so you can imagine how busy it was!  (Then again, Stratford is always busy).  Skimming a look around the café, it was all very contemporary, accented by smatterings of shabby chic with lots of their corporate blue colour dotted around both across their upstairs and downstairs dining facilities.  There were a lot families dining together and a handful of tourists here and there.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

All quite informal, you choose from the menu, make a note of your table number and go to the till to place the order.  The menu is quite varied with Breakfasts, Brunches, Lunches, Smoothies and Cakes (more so than desserts) with a good mix for those who observe a vegetarian, vegan or gluten free diet.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

The counter as you approach the till is packed with cakes and goodies so if you are only popping in for a coffee, you’ll have to have some serious will-power to by-pass those pastries!
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

On the walls around you, there are big boards and posters promoting that they only use free range eggs, organic tea/coffee, 100% organic milk (via Yeo Valley) and free range meat which supports their sustainability mantra echoed within their award plaudits.  To name a few:  Shortlisted for Food Made Good Awards 2016, Large Group of the Year (for ethical sourcing of ingredients and for minimising food waste) and Outstanding Commitment to Sustainability in the Bristol & Bath Good Food Awards.

Milkshakes/Smoothies/Soft Drinks
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
My Mother dined with me (she never turns down a visit to Stratford) and we both had a smoothie to keep the hunger grumbles away before lunch arrived.  She had the Breakfast Smoothie (containing raspberries, dates, almond milk, banana, chia and maple syrup) and I had the Dark Chocolate milkshake (nicknamed Cut the Crappe <cheeky play on words>) which was made up of: organic Yeo Valley milk, no frappe but instead used avocado.  Mum’s was sweet, fruity and grainy and overall very pleasant.  Mine was gloriously thick but I would’ve liked to have tasted a little avocado than I did do.
Veggie Burger with Tzatziki
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

I opted for the Veggie Burger.  I asked for no chilli which was honoured and I asked for Sweet Potato Battered Fries instead of chips (again, honoured).   The burger was big, a good mixture of vegetable based ingredients within, it was handmade and tasted fresh.  The Sweet Potato chips were a little over battered for me, I wish they had been just fries, so that’s my only negative.  The accompanying Coleslaw had a level of sweetness which was quite different due to the dried fruit within.   By the end, I had felt like I’d had a good hearty lunch.
Superfood Salad & Chicken
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Mum had a Superfood Salad with Chicken which also contained: avocado, mango, radish, sprouting seeds, sugar snap peas, leaves, carrot, nuts and seeds plus extra Sweet Potato fries.    She agreed with my thoughts regarding the batter on the fries, but thoroughly enjoyed her salad saying it was tasty, crunchy, felt healthy and it was well seasoned, plus she mentioned the chicken was very good and fresh.

We had Cappuccinos to accompany our cakes.  Mum had the Carrot Cake and I had the Raspberry Chocolate Flapjack and we shared each other’s.  The coffee was excellent, made to order.  The Carrot Cake was moist and a good size, likewise the flapjack, the chocolate contrasted well to its nutty base.  I was quite full, so I decided to take the remainder of my flapjack home for later – wasn’t going to let that go to waste!

Boston Tea Party is a café with a conscience, definitely wanting to promote its sustainability mission through its food and I think customers appreciate that, I certainly feel that’s a bonus in my eyes.  It’s very much a place to go for hearty fare with a quick turnaround time.  Its menu offerings and casual environment lends itself for family feasting so very good if you have little ones in tow but if you’re after a little escapism from the crowds then perhaps a visit outside of peak times would be advisable. 

I hope to see more Boston Tea Party cafes pop up in the Midlands region in the future.  With their encouraging positive approach to food and the environment, they’re a welcomed addition to the High Street.

Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from Boston Tea Party to sample their menu.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.      

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Palestine On A Plate

Joudie Kalla’s culinary memoir brings to life a part of the world that I have little knowledge about – the area of Palestine. 
Palestine on a Plate: Memories from my mother’s kitchen by Joudie Kalla,
photography by Ria Osbourne, published by Jacqui Small (£25).

Palestine On A Plate starts off with an introduction written by Joudie which she refers to as ‘My Journey’.  Her journey is about her desire to acquaint herself with her roots, first through re-learning the Arabic language and then through making food based on her passion for keeping her mother’s recipes arrive.  She expresses the bond and unity that food offers when sharing it with other people, the positivity that that can bring and how she has found that with her Arabic friends.  Also, her words about living/visiting Palestine and the colourful backdrops and landscapes she describes conjure up wonderful images.

The book is split up into sections with one specifically called ‘Vibrant Vegetarian’ which of course caught my eye instantly!  As I flicked through the other recipes, I was mentally thinking how I could convert them into vegetarian options and there are a number that would lend themselves well for that.

Against most of the recipes are beautiful photos helping you to depict the dishes.  I was also interested in the pickling section and also the recipes for different dips, stews, vegetables and Tahini Brownies – an interesting twist on a classic. 

Below is a recipe which has been extracted from the book which I’m certainly looking to try – Lentil & Aubergine Stew with Pomegranate Molasses.  How perfect for these chilly autumnal evenings!

The flavours highlighted within are very Middle Eastern (as you might expect) and whilst a lot of the ingredients specified can now be purchased alongside mainstream goods in many supermarkets, you may need to top up some by purchasing items from specialist shops or online.

Applauded by adored chef Sami Tamimi (of Ottelenghi restaurant and cook fame), this gorgeous book is a welcomed addition to my bookshelf and I look forward to becoming more au fait with Palestinian cooking, especially when in need of some comfort food this winter.
Palestine on a Plate: Memories from my mother’s kitchen by Joudie Kalla,
photography by Ria Osbourne, published by Jacqui Small (£25).
Lentil & Aubergine Stew with Pomegranate Molasses
My grandmother Najla was born in Yaffa in Palestine and lived there until she met my grandfather Fouad and then moved to Al-Lydd. She has provided my whole family with some really wonderful memories, mainly around food and cooking, as that was what she spent most of her time doing. Her commitment and love to us all has inspired many a chef in our family. This dish is very typical of both Yaffa and El-Lyd in Palestine and it has become very popular in Gaza, too. So this recipe is dedicated to all those areas where devoted families have continued the traditions that have been passed onto the likes of me, and hopefully now, to you. Rummaniyeh means 'pomegranatey'. There are pomegranate seeds and pomegranate molasses all over this dish, draped over lentils and aubergine to create a tangy, earthy combination of utter goodness. A vegan dream!
Serves 4
250g (9oz) brown lentils
1 heaped tablespoon ground cumin
600ml (1 pint) water
1 aubergine, peeled and cubed into small pieces
1 tablespoon sea salt
50ml (2fl oz) olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
4–6 large garlic cloves, crushed
150ml (5fl oz) pomegranate molasses
juice of 2 lemons
1 pomegranate, seeded
fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, to garnish
Taboon bread or Khubez (pita bread), to serve
Put the lentils, cumin and water in a saucepan, bring to the boil and then continue to boil for 10 minutes. Add the aubergine, salt and leave to simmer while you cook the garlic.
Set another pan over a medium heat. Add the olive oil and the crushed garlic and cook for a few minutes until they turn golden.
When the lentils and aubergine have been cooking for about 25 minutes, add the fried garlic and the pomegranate molasses and mix together. Cook for another 5 minutes, then stir through the lemon juice.
Place in a serving bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, scatter the pomegranate seeds over the top and finish with some parsley. Enjoy with hot taboon bread or Khubez (pita bread).
Tip: Taboon bread is a type of flat bread traditionally baked in a tabun oven and is soft, slightly chewy and doesn't tear easily. It is sold as street food, stuffed with hummus, falafel or shaved meat and is a staple bread in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Recipe and images extracted from Palestine on a Plate: Memories from my mother’s kitchen by Joudie Kalla, photography by Ria Osbourne, published by Jacqui Small (£25).
For more information about the book, visit the link here.
Disclosure:    This post has been written following a complementary copy of Palestine On A Plate.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.  



Friday, 4 November 2016

Review: Baxters Deli Toppers

Instead of ketchup or hummus, sometimes it is nice to have something different to top your food with, something that will add a different dimension.

Baxters have brought out a new range of jarred condiments called ‘Deli Toppers’ inspired by the flavours found at internationally eclectic street food events which are now organised in most towns across the UK.

Add caption
The bold flavours they come in are:  Red Slaw, Spicy Slaw, Red Onion and Jalapenos.  As the name (and flavours) suggest, the range promises to offer a little ‘pow’ boost to your meal or snack. 

I trialled the Red Slaw one and it had a good balance between a hint of sweetness with the tang of sour vinegar.  I’ve included a spoonful in my salad box and on a jacket potato (both work well).  

Red Slaw on a Sandwich
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

My favourite way was via an open sandwich I made using a slice of toast, slice of gherkin, vegetarian sausages then Red Slaw on top.  The pickled goodness from both the Red Slaw and gherkin slice really pepped up (or pow-ed up) my sandwich, adding texture, flavour and colour.

With Bonfire Night this weekend, if you’re planning a bbq or just some quick & easy (veggie) burger/sausage sandwich rolls to accompany your fireworks, then a jar of Red Slaw on the side (or one of the other Deli Toppers if your taste buds are strong enough), will give you something new to experiment with and something new to reach for in your pantry going forward.


Note:  For more information about Baxter Deli Toppers plus further recipe ideas, visit their site.


Disclosure:  This review was conducted following receipt of a complementary sample of Baxters Deli Toppers.  The review was conducted honestly without bias.  For further information about reviews, please see the Disclosure tab on this website.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Food Roots Interview - Omar Allibhoy


Omar Allibhoy
Photo:  c/o Neil Reading PR

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Omar Allibhoy a couple of times over the years, at Birmingham’s Good Food Show and also recently at the Birmingham Food, Drink & Hospitality Awards evening (at which incidentally his restaurant won the ‘Best Spanish Restaurant’ category).  And as he is so exceptionally charming and such good fun, I instantly had him in mind for one of my Food Roots Interviews.

Born in Madrid, Omar’s passion for food developed at a very early age where he would watch his mother cook and he’d learn from her.   It was not long before Omar’s longing to develop his culinary skills became a realisation after he enrolled into an evening cookery class while still attending school during the day. Omar also worked in numerous restaurants to gain professional kitchen experience however, his career truly took off after training under the watchful eye of world-renowned three Michelin starred chef Ferran Adria.

In 2008, Omar’s dream of taking traditional Spanish cuisine across the channel came to fruition after leaving his home country for London. He worked in a variety of restaurants including Gordon Ramsay’s Maze before launching El Pirata Detapas in Notting Hill, London.  El Pirata Detapas narrowly missed out on a semi-final place in ‘Ramsay’s Best Restaurant’ TV programme.  Omar was described by Gordon Ramsay as “The Antonio Banderas of cooking”.

Photo:  c/o Neil Reading PR

Omar launched Tapas Revolution at the end of 2010 and the restaurant opened with fantastic reviews from leading critics such as Tom Parker-Bowles and food writers from The Daily Telegraph, Time Out and The Guardian.   Five further restaurants have opened across London and the UK with February 2017 set to see the opening of a new restaurant in Eldon Square, Newcastle.

Omar’s simple food and flair for Spanish cuisine has awarded him recognition within the industry by winning last year’s Caterer and Hotelkeeper’s Acorn Award for ‘Rising Star’. In addition, the London Lifestyle Awards shortlisted Tapas Revolution for ‘Best Restaurant’ and of course as mentioned above, he won ‘Best Spanish Restaurant’ at the Birmingham Food, Drink & Hospitality Awards.

Photo:  Martin Poole

His new cookbook - Spanish Made Simple - is a journey of discovery through the best tasting and most authentic Spanish dishes.   (Published by Quadrille, £20.00).  Spanish Made Simple includes the best recipes for all sorts of occasions and of course some of his signature tapas. They hail from every corner of Spain - from the hot Andalucía to the cooler Galicia, passing through historic Castilla and the entire Mediterranean coast.  A number of the dishes are available on the current Tapas Revolution restaurant menu across the country.  See below for Omar’s vegetarian recipe of Piquillos Rellenos de Setas (Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Mushrooms) which has been extracted from the book.

When he’s not in his kitchen or writing, Omar can be found on popular television programmes including, Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, The One Show, This Morning, Masterchef, Saturday Cookbook, Paul Hollywood’s Pies & Puds and Nigel and Adam’s Farm Kitchen.   He also cooks Spanish recipes for Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube and is hailed as being at the forefront of Spanish food in the UK.

Here, Omar talks about his roots and his love for food, family and celebrations as well as telling us what he keeps in his pantry!


Living in the UK, how important is it for you to keep your Spanish roots alive? How much of that is expressed through food? 

I still live a very Spanish lifestyle, I have a lot of Spanish friends and most of the Tapas Revolution team I work with are Spanish. Although I’ve learnt many different ways of cooking, at home my comfort food is still Spanish food. If I invite people over for lunch or dinner rest assured there will be paella! 

How nostalgic (if at all) does it make you feel eating Spanish food at home? 

It’s actually probably the other way around – it’s eating Spanish food that comforts me and makes me feel less nostalgic.  

How important is food in Spanishculture? Do you celebrate calendared Spanish/religious festivals with any particular kind of feasting? 

Yes, food and gastronomy is very important in Spanish culture. We always have special dishes for each celebration throughout the year, usually originating from religious traditions. Now that I have a son I love keeping those traditions alive, so he learns about eating Torrija (egg bread) at Easter and Rosca de reyes (King’s cake) in January.  

What vegetarian dishes could you recommend when dining at a Spanishfeast and/or restaurant? 

Salads are very important in our diet and I believe that we do them very well. As Spain’s often quite hot, you want to eat refreshing salads and raw vegetables. Also two of the most important Spanish dishes are Patatas Bravas and Tortilla de Patas, everybody orders them when they go to a Spanish restaurant, so you won’t miss out. You can tell how good a restaurant is by those two dishes.  

What would be your 'must have' pantry items to replicate a Spanishkitchen? 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sweet Pimenton, Sherry Vinegar, Cumin Powder, Good Bread, Onions and Garlic.

Photo:  Martin Poole

Serves 6 as a Tapa
150g (5oz) Wild Mushrooms, such as oyster, or a mixture of field mushrooms
50ml (3½ tbsp) Olive Oil
¼ small Onion, finely chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
2 sprigs Fresh Thyme
A splash of White Wine
30g (2 tbsp) Butter
30g (3 tbsp) Plain (All-Purpose) Flour
400ml (1¾ cups) Whole Milk, hot
A pinch of grated Nutmeg
15 tinned Piquillo Peppers
400ml (1¾ cups) Double (Heavy) Cream
50g (½ cup) grated Cheddar cheese, plus extra for topping
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
Bread, to serve
I have always been a big fan of mushrooms in all their forms – from taking long walks with family to pick wild mushrooms, to cooking them in many ways at home. This recipe is packed full of tastiness.
Trim the mushrooms, removing the stalks, and wipe them with a damp cloth. Roughly chop. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat and fry the mushrooms for at least 2 minutes, season with salt and pepper, stir well and season again. Fry for a further 2 minutes. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic, thyme and cook for 2 minutes, then add the wine and cook for 1 minute.
Lower the heat to medium and add the butter. Let it melt, then add the flour and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the flour is lightly toasted. Add the hot milk, little by little, and the nutmeg, whisking until you have a smooth and silky white sauce. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time to make sure it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan, until the sauce has thickened. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill completely in the fridge. After at least 2 hours, the béchamel should be firm and ready to handle.
Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3.
Bring 3 of the piquillo peppers, the cream and cheese to the boil in a small pan over a medium heat and cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Use a hand blender to blend until smooth.
Using a spoon, fill the remaining 12 piquillo peppers with the mushroom béchamel. Lay them in an oven dish and pour the piquillo sauce on top. Scatter some more grated chese over the top. Bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned and crispy on top. Serve with bread.

Notes & My Thanks

I would like to thank Omar Allibhoy for his time in participating in the interview.
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Read my restaurant review of Tapas Revolution Birmingham
Spanish Made Simple:  Foolproof Spanish Recipes for Every Day by Omar Allibhoy (Quadrille £20.00).  Photography:  Martin Poole