I’m sitting on a train heading to London, in cattle class, but at least at a table, back to the engine and in the aisle seat, which I believe is the best position to travel. I can’t understand those who need to see where they are going when not in the driving seat – I like to know where I have been and avoid all those jerky eye movements to focus on those nearby things whizzing by. Neither do I like the claustrophobia of a window seat just in case I am unfortunate enough to find myself penned in by someone who is ‘malodorous’.
Opposite me by the window is an older lady who is eating a home-made ham sandwich. With my head down reading, the smell of it hits me first before looking up to watch her unwrap it from its tight aluminium foil packaging. The bread looks okay although meticulously machine sliced, and the ham is in thick chunks, as far from machine sliced as you could get. No mustard that I can see or smell. She must be 180. Her ham sandwich reminds me of my great-uncle Ifor who lived next to Lake Vyrnwy in deepest Wales. I recall, when very young on our only visit to his home for tea, he served us thick ham sandwiches. They were easily made with equal quantities of hot English mustard to ham. My sister and I swallowed politely with our noses running and eyes smarting. This was our introduction to the colourful but harmless looking substance for which a health warning should be issued. I haven’t touched it since.
The eating habits of the very British elderly travelling from who-knows-where are quite different from commuters travelling from Kings Cross to Edinburgh, which is the next leg of my journey. Four passengers (I’m on my fourth train of the day) to my left are eating an array of hot spicy somethings, one of which looks like Leon’s Thai chicken curry (I know this to be excellent), and is filling the carriage with wonderful aromas. A young man in view behind the party of four is eating sushi from the popular food bar, Wasabi. He has an array of little dipping pots, presumably of soy-sauce, chilli or wasabi paste.
Main train stations now offer fantastic fresh, fast food options. I had spent a good ten minutes in Wasabi looking at the delicately wrapped parcels of sticky rice, salmon, avocado, crab and much more, turned into their wonderful sashimi, nigiri, maki and yakitori sets. Tanmen or soumen are rice noodles soups with crisp vegetables, pak choi, bean sprouts, Chinese cabbage, mangetout, red chillies etc., in a delicious clear hot broth. The aromas of the soups and curries were intoxicating and left me lingering and being annoyingly indecisive about what to take away for my supper. I was overwhelmed, so boarded my train empty handed thanks to my dithering. All these wonderful choices – yet not a ham sandwich to be seen.
Mustard, horseradish and wasabi all have the same pungent and volatile properties that require goggles, breathing masks and fire retardant gloves to prepare. I already have a horseradish plant in the garden so I bought a wasabi plant to grow alongside. Wasabi is also known as Japanese horseradish and grows wild along stream-beds in the mountain valleys of Japan. Whilst still in its pot, the rabbits ate all the leaves which is surprising as the leaves are said to have the same spicy flavour of the roots, which when grated is similar to hot mustard. I’ve clearly not had the chance to try it, but apparently it’s great for the nasal passages, so good on you Mr Peter Rabbit.
Do try this month’s recipe or grate some of the horseradish root into a bloody Mary – it’s not as lethal as it sounds.
Roast beetroot and smoked mackerel salad with horseradish dressing Serves 4
Approx. £9.50 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores (This works equally well with rare beef slices or cold shredded smoked chicken rather than mackerel)
500g small beetroots
4–6 garlic cloves, unpeeled but bashed
1 large sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Sea salt / freshly ground black pepper
2 tbs rapeseed or olive oil
For the dressing
100ml crème fraiche
100ml thick yoghurt
squeeze of lemon juice
1 tbs fresh grated horseradish (Ludwell stores sells it ready grated in jars) – or substitute wasabi paste
2 tbs finely chopped chives, plus a little more to finish
To serve (for a more substantial salad, add cold new potatoes)
4 smoked mackerel fillets / rare beef or shredded chicken
Chicory / crisp lettuce
Preheat the oven to 200°C / gas mark 6 (AGA roasting oven, middle shelf)
1. Scrub the beetroots well, but leave them whole, then place on a large piece of foil.
2. Scatter with the garlic, thyme leaves, bay leaf and some salt and pepper, then trickle over the oil. Scrunch up the foil to make a baggy but tightly sealed parcel.
3. Place parcel on a baking tray and place in the oven.
4. Roast until tender – about 45 minutes for small ones, though this may take longer. The beetroots are cooked when a knife slips easily into the flesh.
5. Leave to cool, then top and tail them and remove the skin. Cut into wedges and place in a large bowl with the new potatoes if using.
6. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients and season to taste.
7. Turn the beetroots over gently into the dressing.
8. Divide the beetroots between four plates piling on top of the chicory or lettuce. Flake the mackerel / beef strips or chicken over the top.
9. Scatter on some more chives, season to taste and serve with lemon wedges.
A truly, truly scrumptious and dramatic looking salad for late summer entertaining
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.