The spice-loving cookbook author on ramping up flavour with ease
I use herbs and spices in a way that most people don't tend to in everyday cooking. From breakfast right through to a midnight snack, I raid my cupboards for all manner of spices and exotics, and add them to everything from toast and porridge to pastas, salads and even simple crudités. I absolutely don't hold back and always season things with the confidence that they will turn out well – the secret is knowing that I like the flavours I am adding.
Breakfast can often be a slice of toast with butter or a yogurt and feta spread. With butter, I add honey and spice in the form of chilli flakes or a generous sprinkle of ground cinnamon. With the feta spread and yogurt combo, I turn to dried herbs like oregano, thyme, marjoram, za'atar, and then layer it with olive oil, salt, pepper, nigella seeds and chilli flakes.
Pasta is a staple and while I respect the classic Italian recipes, I sometimes crave something a little different. I've been known to combine a little feta with dill, coriander or chives and add some chilli flakes and a little lemon zest. I'm all for using what you have at home to avoid buying more than you need and fresh herbs and spices are simple and affordable ways to pack flavours into humble dishes.
Herbs also end up in a lot of my drinks and even desserts. It's about understanding which flavours work well together, like mint and dill in lemonade; rosemary and citrus; thyme and pears, figs and apples; and coriander with mangoes, pineapples and more exotic fruit. Confidence in the kitchen is everything. Follow your instinct and listen to your hunger and it will give you the confidence to be more adventurous in the kitchen.
Feeling peckish? Try Sabrina Ghayour's fig, fresh pecorino and walnut salad.
The seasonally minded chef on trading meat for vegetables without losing out on flavour
For me, the focus when you are cutting down on anything should be on what you can eat and not what you can't. The vibrancy and variety of eating without meat inspires me and my cooking with every meal.
Without meat, you have to layer flavour and texture in a more thoughtful way, which results in a more exciting way to cook, in my opinion. It doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming – it can be as easy as some lemon zest on a salad or some roasted nuts or seeds to top a soup.
Think about the pillars of flavour every time you cook: sweetness; acidity; spice or heat from chilli; earthy flavours from roots of mushrooms. Each dish should have one of those elements as well as some interesting different textures. Eating with veg at the centre of your plate allows you to cook with the seasons, too, making it cheaper and friendlier to the world.
Try one of Anna's recipes, her traffic light tomatoes with lemon-roasted feta is all about marrying simple, uncomplicated ingredients together in one dish.
The food writer and blogger, aka Rocket & Squash, on the importance of getting excited about side dishes
It's too easy to forget about sides and leave them to the last minute – and that's a mistake, as they have the potential to be the best part of a meal. In fact, when it comes to British 'meat and two veg', the sides take up most of the plate, so it seems pretty negligent to only ever (over)cook the same, bland things.
With On the Side, I wanted to create a resource that helped people avoid this – both by showing that sides can actually be an inspiring starting point when planning dinner, and by providing an extensive directory showing which sides go with what mains. Favourite autumnal recipes from the book include things like a sweet potato, celeriac and porcini bake, and charred romanesco broccoli (and its leaves) with a piquant dressing. They're both ridiculously moreish and easily go well with loads of different things.
Often it's a case of adding an additional texture (some garlic and anchovy breadcrumbs or toasted nuts) or increasing depth of flavour (by scattering with fresh herbs, braising tough vegetables in appropriate booze, or finishing with a glug of browned butter). Sometimes it's just about taking a vegetable that you might not otherwise be drawn to and cooking it the right way. Or, if in doubt, just adding bacon.
At the end of the day, the best side dishes are 'awesome' because of the context they're served in; they will ensure the meal is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Middle Eastern food specialist on how to build the perfect bespoke spice collection
Having the basics is essential; ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and chilli powder. This feisty foursome can be used to flavour almost anything and you can buy them everywhere. For more developed tastes, ingredients like saffron, sumac, smoked paprika, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg are fantastic.
I'm really into Middle Eastern and North African cookery, so I always have an arsenal of spice blends and pastes that I can sprinkle, stir and slather onto anything.
Harissa is an incredible Moroccan chilli paste. It's fantastic rubbed onto chicken or fish, or served at the table to add an extra kick to your dinner. Ras el hanout, a blend of 20-30 spices including cinnamon and rose petals, gives so much depth to tagines. A zesty mix of sumac, thyme or oregano and sesame seeds, za'atar is another great one to have at home. It's a wonderful rub, or mixed with oil, it's a great dip for fresh bread. Dukka is a North African blend of spices and toasted hazelnuts that's delicious sprinkled over roasted vegetables or hummus. And finally, baharat is a woody blend of paprika, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom, great with lamb.
Finally, not spices, but perfect for the larder, are tangy barberries that can be used to bejewel rice, dried limes to scent stews, pomegranate molasses to dress salads, and rose water to add perfume to creamy desserts.
The kitchenware king on learning to love your pots and pans
If you want to understand the deep emotional importance of kitchen equipment, try having a clear-out of the cupboards. Sure, you start off with the best intentions of minimising clutter but you soon realise that every dish, bowl, burnt wooden spoon and bent fork is there for a reason.
Anyone who's graduated beyond pot noodles will have grown to love the kit they cook with, and that's not surprising: our kitchen gadgets and appliances are our most often-used creative tools, and they inspire us to do better. Sometimes it's a new gadget, a Japanese knife or a particularly gorgeous pan that makes us want to cook beautiful things, but just as often, it's the pot inherited from mum or grandma's rolling pin. Good kitchen tools either arrive loaded with emotional resonance and family history or we invest them with those things over time.
We develop a relationship with the items that function best. Boring, useless tools don't survive long in the Darwinian world of the kitchen. That egg coddler that seemed such a good idea when you bought it will become separated into its constituent parts, each of which will quietly migrate to the back of various drawers and then evaporate.
The objects that keep our passion for cooking alive are those we love, and cannot bear to throw away.
The founder of Brindisa on finding quality continental ingredients
When I founded Brindisa on a shoestring 30 years ago, my sole aim was to salute the largely undiscovered artisan food of Spain here in Britain. Back then, most people didn't have the knowledge of other countries' native ingredients that they do now. Venturing outside of your comfort zone can be the best way to discover new flavours. I have had many a long drive to meet a supplier who makes just one cheese, but those trips have been some of the most inspiring moments for the business.
A well-sourced piece of air-dried ham or a carefully picked bottle of wine can actually remove a lot of the hard work from hosting a dinner party. Good food is universally acknowledged to spark good conversation, and the extra effort you make to seek something out in a far-flung corner of the city won't go unnoticed. Places like Neal's Yard will make sure your cheeseboard is head and shoulders above its supermarket counterpart, and Garcia & Sons on Portobello, one of our longstanding customers, will give you a sense of Spain.
Sourcing those hard-to-find foods can be time-consuming and expensive, but, by supporting these artisans, we play an important part in helping to preserve the culture, jobs and ecosystems that might otherwise be lost – and for that reason alone, it's always worth the effort.
Here's one for your next Sunday brunch: try making huevos rotos with this recipe from Brindisa Tapas Kitchens.
The Rosa's Thai Café founder on cooking Asian cuisine with authenticity
I always make my own curry pastes in a large batch. It's easier than you think and will keep in the freezer for up to six months. That's why I always include paste recipes in my books. Ready-made pastes and sauces never taste the same; preservatives can change the flavours and colours quite dramatically.
Invest in ingredients like lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, shrimp paste, palm sugar and fish sauce. All of these ingredients can be found in Chinese supermarkets and online, and most of them last for a while or can be kept in the freezer without losing flavour. You can substitute ingredients when you need to – like Thai basil for Italian basil; green Thai eggplants for purple Italian aubergine, bird's eye chillies for finger chillies; Asian pumpkin for butternut squash; or galangal for young ginger. Sometimes that's not possible, so you can leave out lesser galangal and kaffir lime leaves. If you can't find lemongrass, though, the recipe doesn't work, so I'd cook a different dish!
I always think about whether my readers can find the ingredients in the UK, as well as how to adapt the recipes to their preference. For example, in Thailand, we often use very fishy ingredients like fermented fish paste. It's definitely an acquired taste, so I mark these ingredients as optional.
For a vegetarian/vegan audience, I offer alternative ingredients such as salt instead of fish sauce or mushroom sauce instead of oyster sauce. I make it informative by explaining different types of substitute proteins such as tofu and mushrooms.
Want to learn more about authentic Thai cooking? We travelled to Trang, southern Thailand with Saiphin. Find out what we learnt here.