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Important not to take food for granted

duck curry recipe. Polly Webster/PA.

By Lauren Taylor

Many of us probably eat ‘botanical’ ingredients all the time – but how much attention do we really pay to them? We’re talking flowers, seeds, leaves and fruit – and food writer Elly McCausland is on a mission to bring these small underrated ingredients to the forefront and celebrate the big role they can play.

“They aren’t always centre-stage but they’re the backbone of the dish and provide really important flavour accents – we don’t always give these ingredients as much attention as they deserve,” she says.

“A lot of the time, we think about the protein first, or the carbohydrate, and then we build a dish from there, whereas I’m thinking, ‘OK I have a pear, what can I do with that?’ Or a pineapple.”

Her first cookbook, The Botanical Kitchen, is packed with recipes celebrating fruits, leaves, flowers and seeds. And it’s all about letting these little powerhouses shine by doing as little as possible to them.

But she knows these ingredients can seem daunting. “My advice would be to use sparingly, they are quite powerful, like rose and lavender, you don’t want to end up with a dish tasting like soap.

“But the other thing I’ say is to be open-minded. We tend to associate floral flavours with sweets – Turkish delight, sugared violets – but actually a little bit of floral can have a really powerful and wonderful effect on savoury food.”

British but based in Oslo for her (other) job as a university lecturer, McCausland has taken a lot of inspiration from her travels around the world.

In the book, she talks about the disappearance of British and local apple varieties and the strong history the UK has with saffron. “A tiny part of me hopes I can get people to try and take food for granted a bit less and enjoy local [produce]”.



Roast Duck Thai Red Curry

Serves 4

4 duck legs

2tbsp sea salt flakes

2tbsp coconut oil

6 banana shallots, thinly sliced

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 lemongrass stalk, tough outer layers removed, very finely sliced

4 kaffir lime leaves finely shredded

400ml full-fat coconut milk

2tbsp Thai red curry paste

4tsp light muscovado sugar

1tsp ground turmeric

200ml hot chicken or vegetable stock

200g cherry tomatoes

A couple of large handfuls of spinach leaves

Juice of 1/2 a lime, and wedges to serve

Fish sauce or dark soy sauce, to taste

400g can of lychees, drained

30g roughly chopped coriander leaves


Rub the duck legs well with the salt and place them in a shallow dish.

Pre-heat the oven to 210°C/190°C fan/gas mark 6-7.

Place the duck legs on a wire rack above an oven tray lined with foil, then place them in the oven and roast for 10 minutes to crisp the skin. Lower the oven temperature to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 5, add a cupful of water or stock to the oven tray, then roast for 90 minutes, until the duck is tender and cooked through.

Meanwhile, make the curry. Heat the coconut oil over a medium-high heat then add the shallots and saute them for five to 10 minutes, until golden and starting to soften. Add the garlic, lemongrass and lime leaves and cook for another couple of minutes until softened and aromatic.

Lower the heat to medium. Add a couple of tablespoons of the coconut milk and the curry paste, sugar and turmeric, and saute for a couple of minutes until fragrant.

Add the stock and remaining coconut milk, then simmer for 15 minutes, until the sauce is thick. Stir in the cherry tomatoes and spinach and cook for another 10-15 minutes, until the tomatoes start to break down. Lower the heat, then add the lime juice.

Stir in the lychees to briefly heat through. Keep the sauce warm until the duck is ready.

When the duck legs are ready, place one leg on each of four plates. Divide the sauce equally between the four plates, pouring it over the duck legs. Sprinkle with the coriander leaves. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.



banana muffin recipe. Picture credit should read: Polly Webster/PA. .

Banana, Tahini and White Chocolate Muffins

Makes 12

For the muffins

200g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

Seeds from 8 cardamom pods, finely ground

1/4tsp sea salt flakes

100g white chocolate chips (or 1cm pieces of white chocolate)

3 large bananas, mashed

70g light brown soft sugar

1 egg

50g butter, melted and cooled

1tsp vanilla extract

60g tahini

For the tahini glaze

2tbsp tahini

100g icing sugar

1tsp lemon juice

1tbsp sesame seeds (a mixture of black and white looks nice)


Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases (or grease thoroughly with some extra butter if you don’t have paper cases).

Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, then stir in the cardamom and salt. Stir in the white chocolate.

In a separate bowl, mash together the bananas, sugar, egg, melted butter, vanilla and tahini.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, being careful not to over-mix – this is the key to a light muffin. Divide between the 12 cases and bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, until they spring back when pressed lightly with a finger.

Transfer the muffins in their cases to a wire rack to cool.

Make the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini, icing sugar, lemon juice and two tablespoons of water. When the muffins are cool, spoon the glaze over the top. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and leave for an hour or so for the glaze to set before eating.


The Botanical Kitchen by Elly McCausland is available now


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