Oat Risotto with Wild Garlic, Roasted Squash and Feta

I’ve called this a risotto but it’s probably more like a warm salad. Groats are the whole oat grain containing the germ and bran similar to wheat or spelt berries. Once cooked they have a satisfying chewy consistency. If you can, it’s best to soak the groats for several hours or overnight before cooking (don’t worry if not, although you might need to cook for an extra 5 minutes or so). I’m using groats grown just a few miles away produced by Grown In Totnes, otherwise, Hodmedods also sell them nationally.

I usually make this with spinach and garlic, but as we’re in mid wild garlic season here I’ve used that instead. (Wild garlic is definitely delayed this year by the unexpected snow we’ve had, the flowers aren’t even out yet in April!)



  • 1/2 medium squash (kabocha, crown prince or butternut)
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 200g oat groats, rinsed
  • vegetable stock or water
  • A couple of handfuls of wild garlic, well washed
  • 100g feta


  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C
  • Scrub the squash, then cut into bite-sized chunks. No need to peel.
  • Place in a baking tray, drizzle a generous amount of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and mix. Bake for around 20 minutes until soft.
  • In a large pan heat some olive oil and gently fry the onion until nice and soft, 5-10 minutes is good.
  • Add the groats, coat in the onion and oil. Cover with vegetable stock and cook over a medium heat until soft, it will take about 20 minutes. The stock should mostly be absorbed.
  • Turn off the heat. Add the wild garlic and mix to wilt. Scatter over the roasted squash and dot with feta. You can put back in the oven for 5 minutes to warm through, or even better pop under the grill to lightly brown the feta.

A bit more…..

  • As the basic recipe is cooking the groats in stock like a risotto, you can add any vegetable or meat that you have to hand
  • Use chicken stock or add a splash of wine, even finish with cream if you like!
  • Leek and celery are good instead of or as well as onion
  • Replace the squash with roasted garlicky fennel, season with thyme and lemon zest
  • Use a locally produced soft goats or sheep’s cheese instead of feta
  • Any greens can be used, sturdier leaves such as kale may need a little cooking
  • Some lardons can be a good addition to the mix for non-veggies
  • Vegans can replace the feta with some capers and toasted nuts







Apple and Sloe Overnight Oats Cake

We’ve had a pot of sloes in the fridge destined for Sloe Gin but the requisite gin has yet to be bought. Needing to use them up, I wondered if baking would make these mouth-puckeringly sour fruit more edible.

So I added the sloes to an oat-based cake I’ve been trying out using Grown in Totnes oats. Surprisingly they lost much of their astringent sharpness and were a lovely addition to this cake which I’ve also made with blackberry and apple and roasted rhubarb.

If de-stoning sloe sounds way too fiddly, you could just use apple in the cake. Then make a simple syrup with the sloes and pour over the top. As the last wild fruit of the season, it feels good to use what we have growing around us.




  • 150g oats
  • 150ml milk (any kind)
  • 175g sugar
  • 175g butter
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 175g flour (I used spelt)
  • 3tsp baking powder
  • 2-300g apple, chopped
  • 100g sloes, stones removed


  • Put the oats in a bowl and cover with the milk. Leave to soak for an hour or so, or overnight
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C
  • Cream the butter and sugar
  • Add the eggs and beat together
  • Add the flour and baking powder and mix well
  • Fold in the apple and sloes
  • Pour the batter into a large prepared cake tin (22cm). Top with sliced apple or sloes.
  • Bake for 1hr – 1&1/4 hrs or until a skewer comes out clean
  • Leave to cool slightly before turning out


A little bit more…..

If you’ve forgotten to get the butter out of the fridge, as I frequently do, you could also melt the butter with the sugar in a pan over a gentle heat first. Leave to cool slightly before adding the eggs then continue as above

Any fruit can be used, sharp flavours work well with the oats

Vanilla, cinnamon or ginger add lovely additional  flavours

This works well as a tray bake, halving the baking time to around 30mins





Raspberry and Elderflower Drizzle Cake


I never once encountered Elderflower in Japan so it was a delight to be reacquainted with these beautiful frothy heads of pollen and pretty little blooms.  I recently made some elderflower syrup, with only Rapadura sugar to hand the resulting syrup is earthy brown in colour and not as delicate as it could be. My kids weren’t too impressed, so I began to think of alternative ways to use it.

This is a twist on my favourite lemon drizzle adding summer raspberries and using elderflower syrup on top. It’s what I call a ‘saucepan cake’. Instead of creaming the butter and sugar first (which requires you to be organised enough to take the butter out of the fridge in advance) the butter is melted with the sugar in a pan. I then use the same pan to mix the other ingredients (I even stick it on the electric scales to weigh the flour) meaning just the pan and baking tin to wash up at the end.

My children were much more impressed with this.


  • 200g butter
  • 180g sugar (I use Rapadura)
  • 200g self-raising flour (or plain spelt with baking powder)
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 punnet raspberries
  • 3 – 4 tbs elderflower syrup


  • Preheat the oven to 180C
  • Melt the butter and sugar in a pan over a gentle heat
  • Take off the heat to cool slightly
  • Add the lemon zest and one tbs of elderflower syrup, crack in the eggs and beat well
  • Add the flour and mix to make smooth batter
  • Break the raspberries into smaller pieces
  • Pour a third of the cake mixture into a prepared loaf tin
  • Sprinkle over some raspberries pieces, repeat and finished with raspberries on top (they mostly sink but some might remain)
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean
  • While still warm prick all over with a skewer or fork and spoon over the remaining elderflower syrup
  • Leave to cool in the tin









Photograph: Elena Heatherwick for the Guardian

Omuraisu is favourite with kids in Japan: fried rice with chicken, seasoned with ketchup served in an omelette covered with more ketchup.

I do it slightly differently adding different vegetables, using tomato puree or passata in the rice and saving ketchup for a token drizzle on top. You can add any finely diced vegetables and use brown or white rice. Tofu or tempeh is an easy sub for chicken.

I also sometimes use passata or puree with a little soy sauce and honey in a squeezy bottle in place of ketchup. And I’m experimenting with a fermented version at the moment!

But sometimes a little ketchup is OK and my kids enjoy squirting different shapes and making little flags to stick in as they do in Japan.


This recipe was a winner in the Guardian Cook’s kid issue.

·      1 onion
·      150g chicken, diced 
·      2 carrots, finely chopped
·      ¼ red pepper, chopped
·      4 mushrooms, finely chopped 
·      2 spring onions, sliced
·      50g peas
·      400g cold, cooked rice
·      2-4 tbs tomato puree
·      4 eggs
·      Ketchup or more spring onions to serve
Serves 4
·      In a large pan heat some oil over a medium heat
·      Sauté the onion and chicken to brown
·      Add the vegetables and cook for a few minutes
·      Add the rice and stir for 5 minutes to heat through
·      Add the tomato puree, season with salt and pepper and mix well
·      Turn off the heat and put to one side
·      In a frying pan, heat a little oil over a medium heat
·      Beat one egg in a bowl and season 
·      Add to the pan and swirl to spread evenly in the pan
·      Cook until just set, slide onto a plate
·      Place a quarter of the rice on half the omelette
·      Fold over the empty side over to cover the rice and let your little ones squirt ketchup on top
·      Repeat with the remaining 3 eggs
·      Grown-ups may prefer a sprinkling of spring onion



Very popular in Japan right now are onigirazu, a flattened onigiri (rice ball) sandwich. These were introduced more than 25 years ago by manga artist Tochi Ueyama in his ‘Cooking Papa’ series, which we just happened to have copies of in the guesthouse where we lived in Japan.
More substantial than a simple rice ball, the filling possibilities are endless, egg, tuna mayo, hamburger, tonkatsu matched with any cooked or raw vegetables.Cut open, they look lovely lined up in a box. This is one of my favourites. 
Salmon and Avocado Onigirazu
  • 4 sheets of nori
  • 4 bowls of recently cooked Japanese rice (short grain)
  • 4 tbs gomashio (ground, toasted sesame seeds mixed with a little salt)
  • 2 fillets of poached salmon, cooled (grilled works fine, too but will be drier)
  • 2 avocados, sliced long ways
  • 6 cm piece cucumber, finely julienned, 3cm long
  • 4 – 5 lettuce leaves, roughly torn
  • 4 tbs mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp ume paste, optional
Makes 4 (8 halves)
  • On a chopping board lay out a large square of cling film and place a nori sheet on top, turn so it is in a diamond shape
  • Place the equivalent of half a bowl of rice in the middle and shape into a rough square; flatten. You should have a small square with four triangles of nori showing
  • Sprinkle 1 tbs gomashio over the rice
  • Flake half of one salmon fillet over to cover the rice
  • Layer the avocado, then cucumber on top
  • Mix the mayo with the ume paste and spread a quarter over the cucumber, then cover with lettuce leaves
  • Cover with the remaining rice, keeping the square shape as much as possible
  • Now, fold the two opposing triangles of nori in over the rice, then the final two to make a small, square parcel
  • Bring the cling film corners over to wrap and secure
  • Wait till the rice has cooled before cutting in half with a sharp, wet knife
  • Repeat and place the onigirazu halves filling side up in a box

A little bit more…

  • You can use either brown or white rice, but it needs to be short grain. Pudding rice works well if you can’t find regular Japanese or sushi rice
  • The other fillings pictured are smoked mackerel, red pepper, and rocket with mayonnaise, and shredded egg, wakame and fermented ginger carrot
  • The difference between sushi and onigiri and onigirazu is the rice. Sushi rice is seasoned with vinegar, salt and sugar (or alternative) whereas onigiri or onigirazu uses plain rice. 
  • Cling film/saran wrap makes them easier to assemble and transport but I just use a sushi mat or clean tea towel to wrap them in


Miso, Ginger and Garlic Dressing


I started making this when running Ayabe Yoshimizu Guesthouse where there were several vats of rich dark miso in the basement that the owner had locally made. The guests could not get enough of this robust zesty, salty-sweet dressing, which works equally well over a green salad or as for a dip for small crunchy Japanese cucumbers. My son, however, likes to simply pour it over rice

The rich dark hatcho miso works best but it can be made with any kind of miso. The shoyu is optional but seems to add an additional savoury note. The dressing is rather thick so you can thin with water if preferred.

Makes 1 jar


  • 3 tbsp hatcho miso
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp soy sauce (optional)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 3cm knob of ginger, finely grated


  • Whisk all ingredients in a jar, thinning with water if necessary.


Takenoko Gohan & Taki Komi Gohan

Fresh, local takenoko, bamboo shoots, can only be enjoyed in spring, much like asparagus in the UK. Bamboo shoots impart a sweet, subtle flavour when steamed with rice and is much loved by Japanese. Here are two recipes to cook in a rice cooker, but can easily be cooked in a pan. Vacuum packed bamboo shoots could be substituted, as I will have to use next spring…..


Takenoko Gohan, Bamboo Shoot Rice


  • 2 cups of rice
  • 5 cm piece of takenoko,prepared fresh bamboo shoot, cut into bite sized pieces (or use canned if not available)
  • 2 Tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
  • Dashi, konbu and katsuboshi stock
  • Kinome, fresh sansho leaves, to garnish


  • Wash the rice and add to the rice cooker
  • Add the takenoko
  • Add enough dashi to reach the indicator for 2 cups of rice, add the soy sauce and mirin
  • Steam as usual
  • When finish mix the rice to evenly distribute the takenoko
  • Add the kinome to garnish

Takikomi Gohan Rice Steamed with Mixed Vegetables


This usually contains chicken, but I only use vegetables. Any seafood or vegetables of your choice could be added.


  • 2 cups (rice measuring cup) short grain rice
  • 5 cm piece of takenoko,prepared fresh bamboo shoot, cut into bite sized pieces (or use canned if not available)
  • 1/3 slice aburage (deep fried fried tofu skin), cut into strips, place in strainer and pour hot water over it and gently squeeze to drain excess oil
  • 1/3 carrot
  • 2 tbs hijiki seaweed, reconstitued in water for 20 minutes, then rinsed and drained
  • 2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water for 30 minutes to an hour to reconstitute then sliced (reserve the soaking water as stock)
  • 2 Tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
  • Dashi


  • Wash the rice and add to the rice cooker
  • Add the takenoko, aburage, hijiki, shiitake and carrot
  • Add enough dashi to reach the indicator for 2 cups of rice, add the soy sauce and mirin
  • Steam as usual
  • When finish mix the rice to evenly distribute the vegetables

Takenoko – Fresh Bamboo Shoots


April and May hail the arrival of fresh bamboo shoots in Japan, a seasonal delicacy synonymous with the arrival of spring. Just like asparagus or forced rhubarb they appear during a short period of time when little else is available. Of course today takenoko is available  vacuum-packed in supermarkets all year round, just like asparagus that is flown in from all corners of the world. Yet harvesting fresh local takenoko is still very much revered and enjoyed.

DSC_2120The timing is important, the shoots have to be harvested before they get longer than about 30cm, the takenoko above looked beautiful with the smooth brown leaves but the green tips had emerged and the edible parts were smaller and more bitter. These shorter, stumpier shoots were perfect.

While busy packing in the last few weeks we had several neighbours pop round asking if we wanted takenoko from the bamboo grove at the back of our hamlet. Despite being up to our eyebrows and deciding to cook only the simplest of meals (and no photos) I couldn’t resist….

Raw bamboo contain toxins which needs to be removed by boiling. Japanese typically boil with nuka, rice bran, or the water used to rinse rice to remove the aku or bitterness. I boiled them for about 15 minutes then simmered for over an hour. The outer leaves are then easy to peel to reveal the crisp, edible centre. Some people seem to peel before boiling or make a vertical slit in the leaves from top to bottom but boiling whole worked fine for me.

The flavour is mild and sweet so it suits being paired with strong flavours and dressings. Takenoko is used in many different seasonal dishes: steamed with rice in takenoko gohan or taki komi gohan, or simmered in soy sauce, nimono, or added to salads.

At one sayonora party for us our hosts had prepared five different simmered takenoko dishes, take komi gohan  as well as wild vegetable tempura, a truly local and seasonal feast that I will never forget.



Kinome Dressing

Kinome are the young soft leaves of the Japanese herb prickly ash. The flavour is a fragrant mix of citrus, pepper and mint and the leaves are used as a garnish or in simmered dishes. I like to use kinome to make a fresh, zesty dressing.

The early shoots are just leafing now, in a month or so they’ll be a little prickly and more defined. The seed pods, sansho no mi, appear soon after and once dried are one of the spices used in shichimi, Japanese seven spice.


Kinome Dressing


  • 4 tbs kinome, finely chopped
  • 5 tbs (70ml) olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper


  • Mix the oil, lemon and chopped kinome thoroughly, season to taste

Keeps for about a week in the fridge, although loses its lovely vibrant colour after a day

Kinome, Tomato and Tofu Salad



  • 2 tbs kinome dressing
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 blocks of silken tofu*
  • 1/4 lettuce, washed and ripped in bite size pieces
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • salt and pepper


  • Arrange the lettuce on a serving plate
  • Gently cut the tofu into quarters and place on the lettuce
  • Mix the tomatoes with the dressing and pour over the tofu
  • Garnish with red onion slices and fresh kinome leaves
  • Check and adjust seasoning if needed

*Tofu is best left on a chopping board that is placed at a slight angle on the draining board for 30 minutes or so to expel water, otherwise it will seep into the salad.


Rape Blossoms with Miso Mustard Dressing