Author Archives: Val McArthur

About Val McArthur

Chef who loves all things food - interested in healthy food and inspiring people to cook.

Red cabbage slaw with pear and fennel yogurt dressing

Who doesn’t love a good freshly made crunchy coleslaw? What’s great is its versatility to make it your own with different combinations of contrasting flavours, textures and colours. Any variety of cabbage works well as a base – kale, cavolo nero, hispi cabbage – then ‘build’ from there.

Fennel, pear and walnut are always going to go happily hand in hand so, for me, it’s a good place to start. I like the dramatic colour of red cabbage but make sure you slice it finely so it doesn’t dominate and become tricky to eat. Nobody wants to chomp on huge chunks of raw cabbage! The contrasting sharpness of the red onion against the sweet pear is welcome but I’ve pickled it in some lemon juice first, to subdue the rawness and astringency.

The yogurt dressing flavoured with fennel seeds keeps things nice and light. Remember to reserve the fennel fronds from the tops of the bulb to add for an extra hit of aniseed. The dressing is a million miles away from the artery-clogging and heavy mayonnaise supermarket coleslaws you can find. You may not need all the dressing so use as much as you like, so as not to drown it.

The coleslaw is sufficient and delicious enough to eat solo for a lunch, or it makes a great side dish to a buttery jacket potato or anything porky, particularly slices of succulent roast gammon or ham.

Serves 2

Fennel yogurt dressing
Heaped ½ tsp fennel seeds, toasted
75ml Greek yogurt
1 tbsp extra virgin
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
¼ tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp water
Pinch sea salt

Half red onion, thinly sliced
Quarter lemon, juice only
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
Quarter red cabbage, shredded finely
1 large ripe conference pear, peeled, cored and sliced
Generous handful walnuts, toasted
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds, toasted
Large handful of parsley, chopped

  1. Bash the fennel seeds to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar. Then add to a jam jar, along with the rest of the dressing ingredients, and shake vigorously.
  1. Slice the red onion on a mandolin or as fine as possible using a sharp knife. Put the red onion in a bowl and squeeze over the lemon with a pinch of salt. Set aside for five minutes.
  1. Slice the fennel on a mandolin and put in a serving bowl along with the red cabbage, pear, walnuts, seeds and parsley. 
  1. Add enough of the dressing to lightly coat the coleslaw, gently mix then serve.

Caramelised fennel tart with rosemary spelt pastry

Why do all the supermarkets not stock this superb vegetable? It’s so versatile: raw, roasted, braised, chargrilled, sautéed, pureed… there’s so many ways to eat it. Some people dislike the strong aniseed of fennel but they obviously haven’t tried when it’s cooked and becomes beautifully caramelised and sweet.

Fennel has a happy marriage with fish; the aniseed notes enhancing the fishy flavour, whether that’s smoked mackerel or some delicate lemon sole. They’re just right for each other, like lamb and mint or beef and horseradish. I can’t imagine a fish soup (with a generous glug of Pernod too) or fish en papilotte, without some fennel playing a secondary role.

When raw, it’s crisp and clean with a pronounced aniseed flavour and is delicious in salads. A fennel, blood orange and olive salad is a wonderful thing. It’s worth the potential loss of fingertips by using a mandolin to get ultra thin shavings. Don’t forget to save the delicate looking fronds for garnish, which look really pretty and give an extra fennel hit.

Give this wondrous bulb some heat and it is transformed into something soft, mellow and sweet; the liquorice is more rounded and toffee-like. Juicy roast chicken on a bed of onions, fennel and lemon slices; creamy fennel soup topped with a crispy skinned piece of fish, chargrilled fennel with tomatoes in a herb dressing… Where are those fennel doubters now?

In this recipe, I slowly sauté fennel till golden and soft, then bake inside a buttery rosemary spelt pastry crust with a filling of Burford Brown eggs, crème fraiche and parmesan. Hence why the tart looks so orange! The eggs have the most amazing rich yolks. Health food this is not, but once you bite into this tasty tart, any thoughts of its virtuous failings soon go out of the window. Serve the tart slightly warm (but really good at room temperature too) for a delicious lunch or a light dinner served with a crisp green salad.

90g plain flour
90g light spelt flour
90g unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
3-4 tbsp cold water

Fennel tart
2 fennel bulbs, cut into 5-6 vertical slices
Glug of rapeseed oil
3 Burford Brown or any free range eggs
150ml crème fraiche
15g grated parmesan


  1. Preheat oven to 200C and pop an oven tray in to heat.
  2. To make the pastry, put the flours, chilled butter and rosemary in a food processor and whizz until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add just enough cold water to bring the pastry together.
  3. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. This allows the gluten in the flour to ‘relax’ and it will make it easier to roll out and also prevent shrinkage when you bake it.
  4. Dust a little flour on the work surface and onto your rolling pin. Roll out the pastry, while turning the dough 45 degrees as you roll, and line a 9-inch tart tin.
  5. Gently press the pastry into the edges of the tin with your fingers, prick with a fork to prevent it rising and line with baking paper and beans. Put the tart directly onto the hot tray and blind bake for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and beans then bake for another 10 minutes till lightly golden and sandy in texture. Turn the oven down to 180C or 160C fan.
  6. Meanwhile, heat the oil in two large frying pans and gently sauté the fennel with a pinch of salt for about 15 minutes on both sides till golden and cooked through.
  7. Whisk the eggs, crème fraiche and parmesan in a large jug with a generous pinch of salt and pepper till combined.
  8. Add one layer of fennel into the tart base followed by two thirds of the egg mixture. Place the rest of the fennel on top and pour the remaining egg mixture around it.
  9. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes till the filling is just set. Allow the tart to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving with the reserved fennel fronds.



Spiced beetroot soup with orange


The recent mild weather fooled us into thinking spring was here but winter is still holding on with determination. Soups naturally come into their own during the winter months and they deliver a big warming hug in a bowl: nutritious, belly-filling and soothing all in one. They lift and nourish the soul; comforting but good for you too.

You could reach for one of the usual roots – carrot, onion, parsnip – to make a fine soup, but beetroot, with its shocking crimson and honeyed earthiness, makes a more interesting choice. Be warned though, cooking with beetroot can sometimes be a messy affair. Our first attempt at making Thai beetroot soup at Food at 52, where I teach, ended up like a bloody scene from a Quentin Tarantino film. That aside, cooking with beetroot is definitely worth a bit of drama in the kitchen.

In this Moroccan inspired recipe, the beetroot is roasted to intensify the natural sweetness and gives a lovely rounded nuttiness. I find a generous glass of water inside the foil-wrapped tray helps the cooking process and to also keep things moist. Always peel the beetroot when it’s still warm (disposable gloves highly recommended unless you want pink hands for a few days) and if the skin is proving stubborn to remove it means it’s not quite cooked. But because it’s going to cook further in the soup, use a peeler if you need to.

A whole bulb of garlic is roasted alongside the beetroot until deliciously caramelised and golden. I like to roast an extra bulb so I can make some ultimate garlic butter – smeared on freshly baked bread it’s heavenly. Then, onions and celery are sweated gently in a large pot with the garlic and fragrant spices – the heady aroma fills the entire kitchen. The warm aromatic spices work so well with the beetroot and a hint of orange, using strips of the zest and juice, bring a touch of freshness.

This isn’t super-quick to make but your efforts will be rewarded with a special soup – its eye-popping colour looks stunning and the beetroot with the subtle spicing is utterly delicious. It is, indeed, happiness in a bowl. Make a bit more as it freezes really well, too.

If you love beetroot but have never tried it with chocolate before, then why not give my delicious beetroot and brownies recipe a go – the beetroot providing a subtle background to the rich dark chocolate.

750g beetroot, scrubbed, leaves removed and pat dry
Large whole garlic bulb
Olive oil
1 onion, small dice
1 stalk of celery, small dice
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
0.5 tsp ground ginger
1/4 freshly ground nutmeg
1 litre vegetable stock
1 orange
Dill and toasted flaked almonds to serve


  1. Preheat oven to 180C.
  2. Line a high rimmed oven tray with foil then put the beetroot inside with a good pinch of salt and a generous drizzle with olive oil. Use your hands to coat evenly, add a large wine glass of water and cover tightly with some more foil. Put on middle tray in the oven for 1-2 hours depending on the size. A skewer should go through easily if cooked.
  3. Meanwhile, toast the spices in a small frying pan till fragrant then grind to a powder in a pestle & mortar or spice grinder.
  4. Cut the top third off the garlic, drizzle with olive oil and wrap in an individual piece of foil. Pop the garlic in the oven at the same time as the beetroot for 1 hour and leave inside foil to cool.
  5. When the beetroot are cool enough to handle, rub off the skins and remove the top and tail. Chop into 2cm dice.
  6. Heat a generous glug of oil in a large pot over a gentle heat and sweat the onion and celery till soft but not coloured, about 8 minutes. Squeeze the garlic out of the skins and add, along with the spices.
  7. Cook for a few minutes (adding more oil if you too dry) then add the beetroot, stock, orange strips and juice. Turn up the heat up and bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
  8. Blitz the soup till smooth and season with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve with a swirl of yogurt, some toasted almonds and chopped dill.