To celebrate the publication of my new cookbook, Feel Good (my 5th book!), I wanted to have a laid-back dinner with friends. Previously I’ve had 200-person strong parties with lots of party platters and sharing bites but this time (maybe I’m showing my age?!), all I wanted was to catch up with my lovely friends around a table and kick back and enjoy the evening. For this to be possible, the menu needed to be full of chilled out dishes that were sure to please a crowd, which, as we all know, is the holy grail of entertaining. I’m pleased to say I think I’ve cracked the perfect combination of dishes to allow you to delight your friends with delicious food and actually get to enjoy it with them. So, if you’re on the lookout for ideas for your own stress-free gathering, this menu might be just what you’re after. It celebrates the very best of seasonal British ingredients, you can make most of it ahead, scale the dishes up easily, and everything is veggie (bar a few anchovies, which you can skip if you like). I hope you and your friends love it as much as we did.
As my friends arrived, we enjoyed this chickpea farinata with with Kalamata olives, fresh rosemary (my favourite herb to grow as it just doesn’t die) and red onion. Crispy, salty, delicious and rich with olive oil, it’s the perfect party snack. The base is made from chickpea flour (aka gram flour) and as it’s quite affordable, it leaves you with a bit of budget to choose great olives. Think of the farinata as a base for your favourite pizza toppings and scatter it with the likes of grated cheese, crumbled feta, sundried tomatoes, and capers. We sliced them up into squares hot from the oven and served them canapé-style but they’re also delicious cut into wedges like pizza and served with a great big crisp lemony salad and oregano-sprinkled tomatoes.
Then we grabbed our seats and feasted on these four sharing salads…
This rainbow salad is a riot of colours with sweet red and yellow tomatoes of all shapes and sizes, raw carrots, juicy pomegranate seeds and spring onions. Then there’s the heavenly fried, spiced and sticky-salty chickpeas and halloumi, and a herbaceous cashew, cumin, coriander and mint dressing. Plant-based friends, swap the halloumi for firm tofu and give it the same delicious treatment. A plate packed with plenty of colours and textures will always be ‘feel good’ to me.
This next salad is such a favourite from Feel Good that it almost ended up on the cover. I adore chicory’s bitter leaves and always add them to colour up my green salads. Here we’ve got a three-leaf salad: red chicory for colour and flavour, the soft butter lettuce also known as Bibb and then good old Baby Gem. Then we add croutons made with leftover sourdough (as I love low-waste recipes), which are roasted in large trays along with butter beans, walnuts and herbs. Tahini is such a multipurpose ingredient and it’s put to good use here with a Caesar-esque dressing with garlic, lemon, anchovy and parmesan cheese. No boring salads here.
Warm Potato and Watercress Salad with Asparagus
Heralding the very end of spring and the start of summer, Jersey Royals and asparagus are in their short season at the moment so I couldn’t throw a Feel Good dinner without serving these special vegetables. There’s nothing like eating veg when they’re grown, harvested, cooked and eaten at their very best, as nature intended. There’s a little mustard and crème fraîche tossed through the potatoes and then capers, cornichons and fresh dill to add brininess and freshness. Then of course there’s the perky pea shoots and peppery watercress too. You could serve your potatoes warm but I love them made ahead, which is much easier. You can find this recipe on page 92 of Feel Good.
Roast Carrots and Fresh Beetroot with Dukkah and Herby Bean Dip
Our final salad on the night was this vibrant green herby, creamy dip, topped with roasted carrots, raw mixed beetroot – look out for Chioggia, the stunning tie-dye patterned ones – generously scattered with a crunchy homemade dukkah of toasted hazelnuts (or your favourite nuts) with cumin, coriander and sesame seeds. Find the recipe on pg 161 of Feel Good.
To finish, we had fresh mint tea and one of my absolute favourite sweet recipes from the book, my three-ingredient rich chocolate pots. Made with dates, the plant milk of your choice and good quality chocolate, these little pots can be made in advance and are a super quick and easy crowd-pleaser. You can also customise them however you like. We served them in pretty bowls – or use espresso cups or small teacups – with grated dark chocolate and a tiny sprinkle of sea salt on top and a platter of fresh fruit on the side for everyone to help themselves.
Wishing you a feel-good summer with lots of time to relax and put your feet up, you deserve it!
Find these recipes and many more in
Feel Good: Quick and Easy Recipes for Comfort and Joy
Nourishing and flavourful recipes to make you feel good
Fast and simple ideas for every occasion
From midweek meals to celebrations, breakfasts to desserts