After what seems like days and days of rain, the sun finally arrived today. What a joy to feel a little of the warmth that hopefully lies ahead. I had a halloumi cheese in the fridge, a perfect avocado and some leftover pomegranate. In other words the makings of a delightful salad that was just the thing to enjoy in the tentative sunshine. Halloumi is a great favourite in this household but is best cooked and eaten with all due speed – it somehow loses its tender unctuous-ness if allowed to get cold so this is one salad that needs to be eaten warm, straight off the griddle pan, onto the plate and no holding back.

Halloumi has a salty, deeply savoury flavour that works beautifully with sharp, fruity pomegranate. A few capers bring an intense tang and some soft, gentle avocado provide a soothing contrast. A simple dressing of lemon and olive oil, gently tempered with a little clear honey is all you need to finish. I have used a blend of oils here but if all you have is extra virgin then just use that. I find it can be a little strong sometimes.

Of course you can play around with this depending on what you have around the kitchen. Fresh mint, basil, coriander would be lovely and perhaps some roughly chopped toasted walnuts. But the point is that it is quick and simple, so I think it is perfect just as it is.

For two reasonably greedy people

One plain halloumi cheese
Flour to dust
Rapeseed oil
Two tablespoons pomegranate seeds, ruby red
One avocado, chopped
One tablespoon small capers
Two big handfuls of mixed green leaves

Dressing

Two tablespoons olive or sunflower oil
One tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Juice half a lemon
Teaspoon runny honey
Sea salt and black pepper

Whisk the dressing ingredients together. Adjust the lemon and seasoning to taste. Set aside.

Take your halloumi cheese and cut into six slices. Dust each side with a litre plain flour.

Toss the leaves, avocado and capers together and dress with a little of your dressing so that it is all lightly coated. You may not need all the dressing.

Heat a griddle pan and drizzle rapeseed oil over the whole surface. Griddle the halloumi until seared well on each side and cooked all the way through. You can keep the slices warm in a low oven for a few minutes if you need to, or even heat them through again later. Not quite the same as straight off the pan but needs must sometimes!

Arrange the salad and halloumi on two plates and drizzle over a little more dressing. Sprinkle each plate with pomegranate, grind some black pepper over the top and serve with toasted flatbreads (those Italian ones you can buy in Waitrose are rather good. The are called Mini Piada by Crosta and Mollica).

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Duck is so versatile. The rich, sweet, tender meat pairs wonderfully with a myriad of flavours. Just as great with red wine and rosemary as it is with this stunningly delicious sauce of orange, soy and ginger. Citrus flavours are lovely with duck, with honey enhancing its natural sweetness and providing a natural foil to the fiery ginger and deeply savoury soy. All marry perfectly to make a fragrant sauce that brings a little of the exotic to the duck whilst pairing rather beautifully with some crispy little potatoes and red cabbage. Fusion at its best!

It is important to remember that the deep layer of fat that lies under the duck skin needs to be rendered out. This can then be used to roast your little potatoes, so no waste there and you will be rewarded with a crisp, burnished blanket of duck skin with pink, tender meat beneath. A treat for two.

Any winter brassica is great with this but I particularly love the deeply purple red cabbage that has the added advantage of being all the better for early prepping.

FOR TWO

2 duck breasts
1/2 an orange (blush or normal) (use the other half for the cabbage)
Runny honey
100ml fresh chicken stock
Half a teaspoon fennel, freshly ground
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger
knob of butter

Three medium sized king edward potatoes.

RED CABBAGE

1/4 small red cabbage, finely sliced
knob butter and a teaspoon of rapeseed oil
1/2 an orange
a small star anise
A little water
Sea salt and black papper

Pre-heat the oven to 200c

Take a small frying pan. Slash the skin of the duck breasts in three or four long lines taking care not to go through to the flesh underneath. Season the duck well and rub some fennel into the skin.

Put the breast skin side down in the cold pan and put onto a gentle heat. Leave to render for about fifteen minutes or until all the fat has run out into the pan and the skin is golden and crispy underneath.

Meanwhile peel and cut the potatoes into small pieces. Put into a baking tray and pour all the hot duck fat over. Season well and put into a hot oven for about half an hour, turning every ten minutes.

Remove the duck from the pan and put skin side up on a plate. Drizzle some honey over the duck skin. Leave to one side while you get on with the red cabbage and the sauce.

Slice the cabbage very finely. Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan and add in the cabbage. Stir around and season well. Add the rind of half an orange, the star anise and a splash of water. Put the lid on and simmer, stirring occasionally for about ten to fifteen minutes until the cabbage is very soft and glossy. Add in the orange juice and adjust the seasoning.

When the potatoes are half way through their cooking time sit the duck breasts on top of them and put back in the hot oven for about five minutes. Then take the breasts out and leave to rest in a warm place (not in any oven, even a cool one!!). Make sure they are on something that can catch any excess juices.

Put the duck frying pan back on the heat and add in the chicken stock. Simmer hard to reduce and then add the soy sauce, orange juice and rind, freshly grated ginger and seasoning. Add a teaspoon of honey or more to taste. Whisk in a knob of butter to give the sauce a shine. Pour any duck juices on the sauce.

Carve the duck lengthways (it looks so much better this way) and serve on the potatoes and cabbage. Drizzle the jus over and around.

This soup offers a splash of colour in these cold winter months. Tomatoes are not at their best in January, but roasting in a hot oven for half an hour or so does have a marvellous effect on their flavour. This soup is lovely as it is but to ring the changes add a little cumin to the onion base. Some finely chopped preserved lemon is lovely in the salsa for more Middle Eastern vibe – this is one you can play around with but just make sure you use top quality olives and certainly nothing out of a tin. You could add a few basil leaves to the soup before blending. Basil, crushed into a paste with oil and salt will also make a lovely garnish.

Serves Four

500g tomatoes
2 red peppers
Rapeseed oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Fresh thyme
1 large onion
1 small potato
2 sticks of celery
Sea salt and black pepper
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

Pre heat the oven to 200c

Halve the tomatoes and remove their cores. Halve the red peppers and de-seed. Put them all in a roasting pan and drizzle over rapeseed oil and the balsamic and lots of fresh thyme. Season well and then roast in the oven for about thirty to forty minutes or until very soft and beginning to caramelise.

Meanwhile, chop the onion, celery and peeled potato. Heat a couple more tablespoons of rapeseed oil in a saucepan and add the onion and celery. Saute for a few minutes until softened. Add half the stock and simmer for a few minutes. Once the tomato and pepper are roasted tip all the contents of that pan into the soup, skins and all and then cover with more stock. Simmer for about five minutes and then blend well, using a hand held blender. If you want a perfectly smooth soup you could sieve it but I find that the skins blend in very well. Adjust the consistency with the rest of the stock and check the seasoning.

Serve with a spoonful of salsa stirred through.

OLIVE, CAPER AND PARSLEY SALSA

50g good quality black olives, stoned
2 teaspoons of small capers
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Juice half a lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Handful of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
Sea salt & black pepper

Use a pestle and mortar, or if you don’t have that a mini chopper will do, or just a good sharp knife.

Put everything into the mortar and cover with oil. Add a little salt and pound together until all the ingredients are broken down and well blended. Add lemon juice to taste and adjust the seasoning. The capers can be quite salty so bear in mind when adding salt.

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This fresh tasting, vibrantly colourful salad is wonderful in January, when oranges and pomegranates are at their best. It is lovely served alongside my chard, spinach and feta pie or you could serve it as a light starter. I love it with some of those tiny black olives tossed through it and if you want to add in some leaves then red chicory or radiccio work well.

Serves Four

2 oranges
1 pomegranate
1 bulb fennel
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
Sea salt & black pepper
A few tiny stoned black olives (optional)
Pinch sumac
1 handful fresh mint

Take a nice serving bowl. Cut the fennel in half and then slice very finely. Add to the bowl.
Cut the ends of the oranges and then slice all around the sides to remove the pith and skin. Holding the orange over the bowl, remove each segment, allowing the juice to fall in as well. Bash the seeds of of the pomegranate and add those and the juice. Add the olive oil and the pomegranate molasses as well as a good pinch of sumac. Season well and toss all together.

Finely chop a good handful of fresh mint and add this together with your little olives. Taste and adjust with a little more pomegranate molasses if you think it needs it. Serve fairly soon, although it will happily wait for an hour.

Few people won’t find their spirits lifted at the sight of a good pie. This one has the advantage in that the cook is spared the task of making any pastry; filo is best bought and no less excellent for that. This combination of chard, spinach, cheeses and spice is my version of that well known Greek favourite, spanakopita. It is brilliantly forgiving – as long as your seasoning is spot on and you remember to squeeze all possible water out of the chard and spinach you can’t go far wrong. It’s great as a leftover as well. Even better, somehow the next day. We prefer it warm, rather than very hot from the oven so timings can be relaxed. What you put in is entirely up to you – vary the herbs and spices according to what you have available. Leave out the leek if you don’t have any and if you prefer you could make it with all chard or all spinach. Just make sure you use enough to end up with a vibrant green filling. You may like to add in some finely chopped preserved lemon or some toasted, crushed fennel seed and while the sumac is pretty dusted over the top, a final flourish of nigella seeds would look lovely as well. Take care that the top of the pie doesn’t burn in the oven. Check after ten minutes and if it is getting too dark just cover the whole thing with foil while the pie finishes cooking. You could make mini ones too, in muffin tins.

Serves Four (or two greedy people with leftovers)

1 red onion, finely sliced
2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
1 clove garlic
Small piece of leek, very finely sliced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
200g swiss chard, stalks and leaves separated
200g spinach
Rind of one lemon
1 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
25g fresh herbs eg mint, dill, basil, chives, parsley, coriander (any or all)
3 large eggs
150g ricotta cheese
100g good quality feta (I use Waitrose barrel aged in the black tub)
4 sheets filo pastry
30g unsalted butter, melted
Sumac
Sea salt & black pepper

1 9″ square baking tin Pre-heat oven to 200c

Heat the rapeseed oil in a shallow pan and add the onion. Fry for a few minutes and then grate in the clove of garlic and add the leeks. Cook a little longer until everything is good and soft. Add the chopped stalks of the chard and then add the spices. Season well and remove from the heat. Tip the whole lot into a mixing bowl. Add in the rind of a lemon.

Shred the chard leaves and cook briefly in a tablespoon of two of boiling water until the leaves are wilted. Drain well and tip onto a chopping board. Wilt the spinach in the same pan with a little more boiling water and drain. Squeeze out all the water you possible can and add to the chard. Mix together well and then stir into the onion spice mixture in the bowl.

Roughly chop the feta and crumble into the bowl. Mix well. Whisk the eggs and ricotta cheese together and add seasoning. Stir this in and then check the seasoning, remember that the feta can be quite salty. Finely chop all the herbs and stir these in with a good pinch of sumac. Finally, stir in the pine nuts. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter what order you do all this in as long as it all ends up in the same bowl!

Now melt your butter. Remove from the heat brush a little around the base of your baking dish. I prefer to use a tin one as I think it conducts the heat better around the base of the pastry but if you are serving it at the table then you may like to use a ceramic one. Or enamel may be a good compromise. Take your first sheet of filo, brush melted butter over the whole thing (I do this quite sparingly) and lay it across the base of the dish, allowing the edges to hang over the sides. Butter side should be upwards. Repeat with the other two sheets, alternating the direction of the pastry so you have an even overhang.

Take your filling and put into the dish, spreading it out evenly. Scrunch the filo over the edges, folding it in on itself. Brush these with butter. You will have a gap left in the middle. Use the last sheet of filo, cut into four pieces. Each piece can be scrumpled up and placed on top. Brush any remaining butter over any pastry that doesn’t have a good coating and sprinkle on some sumac.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. You will probably need to cover the pie with some foil to stop it browning too much but this will depend on your oven. So check after ten minutes to see the progress.

Take out of the oven and leave to sit for a few minutes. This pie is lovely warm or at room temperature. Serve with the orange, fennel and pomegranate salad.

The top of the pie will soften fairly quickly. It is a good idea to refresh it for ten minutes in a hot oven just to crisp it up, although I still think it delicious even if the pastry has lost a bit of crunch so good to take a piece to work instead of a sandwich.

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Holiday season aside, I spend a fair few nights each week on my own. I have never felt that a solitary supper need necessarily be any less enjoyable than one spent in company – in fact, the beauty of being entirely bereft of company is the total freedom to eat exactly what I like, when I like. Certainly I want it to be easy, reasonably quick and healthy without being puritan about it. This recipe (if you can call it that) for a veg laden risotto enhanced with just a little chorizo is typical of something I might cook for myself midweek. Comforting but not fattening, easy without resorting to anything pre-prepared or processed (okay, the chorizo is borderline but there must be exceptions!) and with bags of flavour.

I seem to be buying a lot of kale at the moment. It is, of course one of the new superfoods and right up there in food fashion but it deserves it’s new status as more than just fodder for cattle. Cooked properly it is delicious; tender, flavoursome and adaptable. It works well with the leek; the chorizo and mozzarella are particularly delicious with it but not esssentil if you want to make this vegetarian or even vegan. Make this for one or six, just multiply the recipe depending on how many people you are cooking for, but I particularly like this when I’m on my own. Fire, dog, telly and this….perfect!!

For One

Handful of carnaroli rice (or arborio if you prefer)
1″ piece chorizo, chopped into small pieces
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic
1 dessertspoon rapeseed oil
Fresh thyme
1 leek, in half moon pieces, 1cm
350ml chicken stock (a knorr gel pack is fine)
Big double handful kale, heavy stalks removed
Small piece mozzarella, chopped
Fresh parmesan and olive oil to serve

Heat a shallow saucepan and add the chorizo. Do not add any oil at this stage. Heat the chorizo until it is starting to release its oil and once nice and crisp remove and set aside.

Put the kale in a separate pan with a dash of water and steam until the kale is wilted and tender. Remove and set aside. Use the same pan to heat the stock.

Add the remaining oil to the pan you cooked the chorizo in and throw in the shallots. Cook for a couple of minutes and then grate in most of the clove of garlic. If very large you will only need half. Add the leeks and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the rice. Stir well and then add ladlefuls of stock at a time, stirring and letting the risotto just bubble very very gently. I add stock, stir and then leave it for a few minutes whilst I get on with other things but for the best result you should really stir constantly. Carry on, adding the stock until the rice is just al dente. You may not need all of the stock. Taste after twenty minutes and it should be nearly ready.

Add the kale (you can chop it smaller if you like) and season. Make sure the rice isn’t too dry; adjust with the stock. Stir through the mozarella and chorizo and then serve in a warm bowl with parmesan grated over the top and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Of course, you could add some white wine or vermouth to the rice at the start if you have a bottle open. Just pour in half a glassful and simmer it away before adding your stock.

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Citrus is at it’s fabulous best in January and if you add a netful to your shopping bag along with some good black olives and a pack of free-range chicken thighs you have the makings of  a delicious and quick supper.  Orange and chicken go together well, the savoury saltiness of the olives providing a delightful contrast to the acid sweetness of the orange and the mild, plump chicken.   For absolute speed, a green salad and some good bread to mop up the juices is really all you need but if you have a little more time to spare, then rice, creamy mash or some puy lentils all work well with this.   I like to add a side dressing of tahini mixed with some lemon or orange juice and a little natural yoghurt.

Serves Four

4 – 8 free range chicken thighs
Fresh thyme
2 oranges
About 20 good black olives, stoned
A little water or chicken stock
Splash of white wine if you have it (or sherry)
Rapeseed oil
Sea salt & black pepper
Fresh mint, finely chopped

Heat the oven to 180C.

Trim the thighs of excess fat and make a couple of slashes in the top of each. Put into a roasting tin. Season well and sprinkle with fresh thyme. Slice the oranges thickly into half moon shapes and tuck around the chicken. Scatter over the olives and then pour around a glass of chicken stock and/or wine. Water will be fine if that is all you have. You just want a little around the bottom of the chicken.

Drizzle the whole thing with rapeseed oil. Bake in the top of the oven for about half an hour or until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through. Squash a few of the oranges to release the citrussy juice into the resulting juices and then serve the chicken with a few of the orange pieces and olives. Scatter fresh mint over the top.

 
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Poor old January. Not only does it have to compete with its arguably more glamorous neighbour, December but is also the month of resolutions, serious denial and short dark days. Best look upon it as a time of renewal and to help that thought along, try this delicious marriage of spiced up cauliflower and salmon. It goes marvellously well with some lightly dressed, herby quinoa and for your halo to shine even more brightly some steamed courgette adds a pleasing green finish with barely another calorie to worry about.

Serves Four

4 fillets of salmon (skinned)
1 small cauliflower
2 heaped teaspoons ground turmeric
1 heaped teaspoon freshly ground cumin
Rapeseed oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Heat the oven to 200c

Break the cauliflower into florets and put into a roasting pan, big enough so that they are all in one layer.

Sprinkle over the turmeric and cumin. Drizzle over two or three tablespoons of rapeseed oil and toss well so that the cauliflower is well and truly coated. Season very well with sea salt and black pepper.

Roast in the hot oven for ten to fifteen minutes until the cauliflower is beginning to feel tender when pierced with a knife. Then take the salmon fillets and roll them in the resulting spicy oil before sitting on top of the cauliflower. Season. Return to the oven for five minutes until just cooked through, but slightly rare in the centre.

Serve with quinoa and steamed courgette. Toss your quinoa (or you could use a bulgar/quinoa mix) with olive oil, lemon juice and lots of freshly chopped herbs.
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Fishcakes can hardly be described as cutting edge in the culinary world. But they are a versatile and useful way of using any sort of fish, smoked or otherwise and a wonderful alternative to a more pie.

With a little imagination, a good fishcake can rival even the most sophisticated of dishes if presented well and with a delicious sauce or dressing to complement the harmonious mix within a golden crumb. This recipe is a little different and uses celeriac alongside a smaller amount of potato. Celeriac goes beautifully with the punchy flavour of the smoked cod and is arguably lighter in texture. A little potato is essential to ensure the fishcake has enough body to hold it’s shape but it is the celeriac that shines here and is a star player in the autumn kitchen. Mash it, blend it, puree it, use it raw – it is wonderfully versatile and this is a great way of bringing new life to an old favourite.

I never fry my fishcakes. It is so much easier and much less messy to simply toast your crumbs in oil first and then bake the finished fishcake in the oven before serving. You also get a much more even colour and no burnt bottoms! I like this cannonball shape – it looks lovely on the plate, especially propped atop a pile of vibrant spinach but kale or chard would work well too. If you prefer a creamy sauce, then just use whatever your favourite is or whisk creme fraiche, stock and lots of chopped dill and parsley together over a gentle heat.

Serves Six

700g celeriac (peeled weight)
300g potatoes (eg maris piper, king edward)
500g smoked cod
whole milk
Six spring onions
Grated zest of one lemon
Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Dill, finely chopped
150g white breadcrumbs
Rapeseed oil
2 small eggs
Plain flour for dusting

One big spinach leaves, washed
1 large shallot
4 tomatoes, skinned and cored.
50ml Extra virgin or rapeseed oil
Juice of a lemon
tablespoon capers, chopped
Finely chopped flat leaf parsley and dill
Salt & pepper

Heat the oven to 180c. Put the breadcrumbs into a baking dish and drizzle over a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil. Toss well and bake, stirring occasionally for about ten minutes until golden brown. Season.

Cut the celeriac into pieces and also the potato. Simmer both separately in salted water until tender. Drain well and put into a bowl.

Cover the cod with milk and add seasoning and a bayleaf. Bring to a simmer and then immediately remove from the heat and leave to cool with a lid on. The cod will cook as the liquid cools down. Flake the fish into the celeriac and potato. Finely chop the spring onions and add these in with seasoning, the grated lemon rind and lots of finely chopped herbs. Check the seasoning and adjust.

Whisk the eggs and have the breadcrumbs ready. Take a big spoonful of the mix and roll in your (clean!) hands into a cannonball shape. Do this until you have used it all up. You can chill the mixture at this stage or even put in the freezer for a few minutes to make it easier to handle. Dust with plain flour and then dip first in the egg and then the breadcrumbs, making sure they are well covered. Put onto a baking sheet. You can freeze them at this stage or keep ready in the fridge.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to 180c. Put the fishcakes in the oven for about twenty minutes to heat through. Check they are piping hot using a skewer and if not leave them for longer. Meanwhile, roughly chop the tomatoes. Put the shallot into a pan with the oil and gently saute without colouring until the shallot is softened. Add the tomato and capers, the lemon juice and seasoning. Add a splash of water and swirl around to heat the sauce through. Add in the finely chopped herbs.

Heat a little more rapeseed oil in another pan and add in the spinach. Quickly wilt over a high heat and squeeze off any excess water.

Have heated plates ready. Sit the fishcake on top of a pile of spinach and surround with the tomato dressing. Garnish with a little rocket or watercress.

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Basically a spicy Asian noodle soup, this easy recipe for laksa is big on simplicity without compromising on flavour. Sometimes you just crave those spicy citrus flavours of Asia and if time is short then a bought jar of Thai red curry paste is a great shortcut. Everyone will have their favourites but I have always found Barts to be reliably good. It keeps for ages in the fridge, I always have coconut and noodles to hand leaving only the chicken and fresh herbs to buy. If you have fresh chicken stock then so much the better – like any soup it is only every really as good as the stock it is made with but in this case, there are so many other intense flavourings that you can get away with one of those knorr gel pots if you really haven’t any fresh stock available.

Make sure you are careful how you use the thai fish sauce – it is your salt here and like any seasoning not enough is disappointing and too much is a big mistake! Add a bit at a time and you won’t go too far wrong. Fresh coriander is a must here, as is the fresh lime and it is a wonderful thing that supermarkets are at last stocking fresh kaffir lime leaves. Their exotic, heady flavour is almost irreplaceable but if desperate then the grated rind of a lime could go in instead. Shred fresh lime leaves up finely and they will soften sufficiently.

Chicken is just a suggestion here. Prawns are great as well, either combined with the chicken or on their own. Pork fillet would also work well, as would some lightly seared rump/sirloin steak. Vegetarians could add chopped up tofu or just increase the vegetables. I have used a red pepper but fine french beans, mangetout or beansprouts would also work well.

Lastly, if you are having people round that you want to impress with your beautiful table manners then perhaps this not something for that occasion. Noodle soup is almost impossible to eat in any way other than greedily, messily and probably wearing a washable boiler suit.

Serves Two

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced
100g rice vermicelle noodles
2 teaspoons rapeseed oil/sunflower oil
1 tablespoon thai red curry paste
2 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
1 red pepper, sliced finely
250ml fresh chicken stock
1 can full fat coconut milk
Thai fish sauce
Dark soy sauce
Juice of a lime
Fresh coriander
Fresh basil/thai basil
Fresh mint
Sesame oil to finish

Cook the noodles according to the packet instruction. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a wide shallow pan. Add the thai red curry paste and cook for a minute or two. Add the red pepper, the chicken stock and the shredded lime leaves and simmer for a few minutes. Add the coconut milk and a tablespoon of thai fish sauce. Add a couple of handfuls of shredded coriander, including the stalks. Reserve the top part of the coriander for garnishing.

Simmer for about fifteen minutes and then add in a tablespoon of soy sauce. Taste and adjust the flavour with thai fish sauce and a bit of the lime juice. Throw in the chicken and simmer very gently for literally just a minute or two until cooked through. Add the noodles and warm the whole thing up, stirring through more coriander, basil and mint if you have it. Serve in shallow bowls with lots of herbs over the top and a drizzle of sesame oil.

chicken laksa