Anchovies & Cucumber

The Plain Kitchen

This is the most wonderful little starter, or would work perfectly if you’re serving small plates of things. I have made it before with sour cream, as you sort of feel it should go well with it, what with the dill and cucumber, but in fact, this way is better: cleaner, sharper and fresh as anything. Make sure the anchovies are the ones marinaded in oil and lemon- not the jarred variety. They are usually found in the fish aisle, with the smoked salmon and mackerel. This needs to be prepared minutes before eating; it doe not do well to sit around.

I used the mini cucumbers one can buy little punnets of, and I use a potato peeler to shave ribbons from the cucumber. Also, this is one of those recipes that relies on very very good olive oil: please ensure you use a grassy, fruity oil as it completely makes the dish.

Serves 4


2 rashers smoked streaky bacon

8 mini cucumbers, shaved into ribbons

8 anchovies, each split into two thinner pieces

Pinch Maldon sea salt

Good grinding black pepper

Juice of ¼ lemon

Good handful fresh dill, chopped

About 2 tbsp very good cold pressed extra virgin olive oil


Chop the bacon finely and fry in hot oil until very crispy. Remove, and drain.

Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a bowl, and divide between plates. Top with a few pieces of crisped bacon. That’s it.



Gluten Free Arancini The Plain Kitchen

In my attempt to be a little more organised in feeding my family, I try to make easy to eat after school snacks for Barnaby, that don’t involve custard creams or crisps. Sometimes, it’s really difficult to have proper food to hand, and we all end up relying on not-so-great snacks. However, as with most things, with a little forward planning, proper after school eating can be achieved- and these arancini are absolutely perfect for such occasions. Of course, they are also perfect for any other snacks: with drinks, in lunchboxes: anywhere really. I have used a basic risotto here, that I make with pancetta. Use anything in your risotto, but just make sure that it is a fairly stiff risotto (I cook my risotto, to be used for arancini, for a little longer than usual). Refrigerate overnight, if you can, and then make the arancini: the risotto rolls into better balls, I find, after a night’s resting.

Makes about 12 balls


1 medium white onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, microplaned

2 tbsp olive oil

40g butter

100g pancetta cubes

1 cup Arborio or carnaroli rice

1 tsp marigold stock powder

2 ½ cups water

½ cup parmesan

Maldon salt to taste

Good grinding black pepper

½ cup polenta

300ml groundnut oil


Heat the olive oil and 20g of the butter in a saucepan or pot., and add the onion and garlic. Saute for ten minutes. Add the rice and pancetta, and keep stirring over a medium heat for about 4 minutes or so, until the rice begins to brown ever so slightly. Then add the Marigold, and begin adding the water, half a cup or so at a time, stirring between each addition to ensure the water is absorbed properly. This will take a while, about 25 minutes or so, but is worth the trouble. Once all of the water has been absorbed, remove the rice from the heat, stir in 20g of butter and the parmesan and season to taste. Refrigerate overnight.

When you are ready to make the arancini, take the rice out of the fridge. Roll into golf ball sized balls: but make sure that you leave a small little bit of risotto behind: you will use this to test the oil later. Coat the balls in the polenta. Allow them to come to room temperature, which will take about 20 minutes or so.

Heat the groundnut oil until very very hot: I use the little reserved bit of risotto to test the oil: it should puff up and sizzle as it hits the oil. Fry the balls for about 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and allow to drain on kitchen towel. Sprinkle with salt and parsley and you are ready to go. These are great served with a tomato dipping sauce, or mayonnaise too.

Auntie Bee’s Bean Salad

The plain kitchen gluten free blog

Funny how some people stick in your mind with such force, and memory, even though they were only in your life for short moments of time. Auntie Bee was one such person: she was my mother’s aunt, so, in all effects, my Great Aunt, but we were never allowed to call her that. She was far too young at heart for such things. Auntie Bee lived “in town”- that is, in Pietermaritzburg, our nearest town, about 45 minutes’ drive from the farm. Whenever mum went into town for farm supplies, or a big grocery shop, she would visit Bee, and, of course, in holiday times or on weekends we accompanied mum on the visits. Bee was larger than life, in all sorts of ways: she was a renegade; she swore and told rude jokes ( I remember one about a young soldier called Cox- she told mum and didn’t think I was listening. I was, but it went over my head at the time!), she smoked and had a husky voice, she ate Wilson’s mint imperials by the giant bagful, and her eyes sparkled all the time, even when she was in pain and her angina was giving her grief. She was generous, and kind, but more than anything, I loved Auntie Bee because she was a writer. She was intelligent, and interesting, and I thought she was very special indeed. She also did calligraphy: sepia ink was her favourite colour to write in, perhaps reminding her of the many historical documents she used to pore over while tracing our family history- she was a keen amateur genealogist. When I was in boarding school, she wrote to me every week, that careful sepia script on the envelopes, and her letters, crammed with her week’s news, were always so exciting to receive.  The arrival of my mother’s letters, and those of Auntie Bee, were the highlight of my tear-stained days at school. In my father’s many moves after my mother died, the very important box containing both my mother’s letters, and Auntie Bee’s letters, went missing. It is quite the most saddest thing ever: I had such links to my mother and others through those letters- now all gone. As we all know, memories sadly do fade, no matter what the great and good, in well-meaning but futile attempts to assuage your pain, may tell you. The letters would have been quite something to look back on, but it’s just one of those things, and I can’t dwell on it.

The one thing I do have, though, is Auntie Bee’s book she wrote, Valley of the Rainbirds. It was published by Tafelberg Press in 1987 (the year my mother died) and it told the story of Charlotte Richards, an English girl and her family leaving England in 1850 for Port Natal, on the Minerva. Bee (or Barbara Reynolds) was of settler stock herself and she had traced our family roots and history, and had drawn heavily on her findings for the novel. The most wonderful thing, for me however, was that she dedicated the book to me: I have it here in front of me: “For Justine Samantha with love”, it reads. As a young girl, I couldn’t quite believe that someone would do that for me, and in fact, as a grown woman, I still find it hard to believe. She was a wonderful soul, who I think of so often and miss very much. I wish I could go back and tell her how much she meant to me, and how often I think of her.





My mum used to make Bee’s “Bean salad” often, and here, I have attempted to recreate it. We always had it at braais (barbecues) or buffet type lunches, and, in true 70s and 80s style, it relies on tins, sugar and vinegar. Please do not let this put you off: it is quite the most delicious mix, and one which keeps in the fridge for a few days. I have, I must admit, added a few of my own ingredients, but the salad is still very much the original version. Perfect with cold cuts, pork pies and the like, this is a complete moment of nostalgia, and I love it.


1 tin baked beans

1 tin red kidney beans

1 tin black eyed beans (or butter, or cannellini: a variety is what you are after)

150g fresh green beans, topped and tailed

1 red pepper, finely chopped

1 jalapeño chilli, finely chopped

2 small shallots, finely chopped

8 cherry tomatoes, chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

¼ cup light brown soft sugar

¼ cup white wine vinegar

1 heaped tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp Maldon salt

Good grinding black pepper

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp celery seeds

pinch white pepper

1 tsp dried herbs (the old fashioned mixed dried herbs)


Rinse and drain the red kidney and black eyed beans. Add the rinsed dried beans to the baked beans, including the baked bean sauce too. Mix well. Steam the green beans very lightly, and then chop finely. Add to the rest of the bean mix. Pound the paprika, celery seeds, salt, pepper and dried herbs in a pestle and mortar and add to the mix. Add all of the other ingredients, and mix well. Serve cold or at room temperature.


Avocado Ritz

The Plain kitchen food blog

Well, yet another blast from the past here, and one which I adore. I find food trends and fads such funny things; and of course, the avocado is having its moment in the sun, and so it should. It’s one of our favourite things in the world, and South Africans have been eating avo on toast forever- I’m so happy the rest of the world has finally made the avocado (especially mashed on toast) its favourite go-to snack of choice. Avocado Ritz needs to make a comeback- it is quite the most sublime little dish, and of course, so easy to prepare. Ensure you have perfectly ripe avocados- we wrap ours in newspaper and pop them in the fruit bowl, which hastens the ripening of the fruit. Use Fuerte, or Hass- I prefer the latter, as even though they’re smaller, they are not as watery as the Fuerte varities, I find. You must use raw prawns- all the flavour comes from cooking them in the garlic butter and oil, and of course, you need to add these glorious pan juices to your pink sauce. I can’t resist a little serving of finely shredded Gem or Romaine lettuce, dressed in the pink sauce too; a little nod to the prawn cocktail, of course.


Serves 2


1 Hass avocado, sliced in half and stone discarded

For the Prawns:

150g raw prawns

Good knob salted butter

1 tsp olive oil

1 fat clove garlic, microplaned

Pinch Maldon salt

Good grinding black pepper

For the pink sauce:

2 tbsp mayonnaise

1 tbsp crème fraiche

1 tbsp double cream

1 tbsp tomato sauce

Splash soya sauce

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Slight squeeze of lemon juice

Good pinch paprika

To serve:

1 small head Gem lettuce, shredded

Few dill leaves

Pinch paprika


Heat the garlic, butter and oil until frothing a little. Add the raw prawns, and fry in the garlic butter until pink all the way through- keep stirring them about, allowing them to become almost a little sticky and encrusted with the garlic. Once down, remove from the heat and set aside.

Slice off a little bit from the bottom of each avo half, to make it sit properly on the plate- it will tend to fall over otherwise!

Make the pink sauce by mixing everything together in a bowl. Add the prawns and all of the pan scrapings too. Mix well.

Spoon the prawns and some of the pink sauce into the avocado. Mix the remaining pink sauce with the shredded lettuce, and serve alongside the avo and prawns. Sprinkle with dill leaves and paprika, and serve immediately.

Avocado Salsa on Batch 5 Toast

The Plain Kitchen Avocado salsa

A friend came over for a cup of tea last week, and very kindly gave me the most wonderful gift: a loaf of Bath Bakery’s Batch #5 Gluten Free Bread. It was a total revelation: that night I had three slices- and, as many of you may know, it’s generally very difficult to do this with a shop bought gluten free loaf. The bread was wonderfully soft- and toasted, it was sublime. I had yet another slice the following day, with the Avocado salsa I had made for the gram wraps: this was avo on toast taken to another level.

Batch #5 is available to buy online: their Seed Loaf looks pretty good too, and I will be ordering some this week.

Serves 1


1 thick slice of Batch #5 white bread

Butter for the toast (I like rather a lot)

½ large Avo (Hass, if you can)

½ tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp cumin

Absolute tiniest amount of very finely chopped shallot or red onion: this is optional, but I do like a slight fresh onion flavour in a salsa

2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

Pinch of Maldon salt

Grinding of black pepper

Few leaves basil and coriander, finely chopped

Squeeze of lemon juice

Sour cream and grated cheese to serve

Good gluten free toast and Avocado


Mix all of the salsa ingredients together. Toast the bread, butter it, pile the salsa on top of the toast, followed by the sour cream and cheese. Done.

Batch 5 Gluten Free Bread