Darina Allen: It’s crazily busy at Litfest HQ – the fifth Ballymaloe Litfest is underway

This year we’ve changed the emphasis somewhat so the proper title is A Food and Drinks Literacy Festival at Ballymaloe.

We’ve continued to build on the previous years events which have by now been written about from New York to Sydney, Los Angeles to Capetown with well over 35 nationalities attending.

They return to their own countries to spread the word of what’s happening on the Irish food scene and the fun and thought provoking events they attended at the Litfest.

Sommelier Colm McCan has managed to assemble yet another world class line up in the Drinks Theatre.

Isabelle Legeron M W, a London based wine writer and global crusader for the natural wine movement is coming along as well as many other luminaries from the spirit, craft beer and cider world.

Garrett Fitzgerald and James Boland will discuss their book The Brother Hubbard Cookbook. David Puttnam will be in conversation with John McKenna ‘Living, Working and Eating in West Cork’, Trish Deseine, Irish food writer and cookbook author will give her perspective on Irish food culture - also unmissable.

The humming Big Shed at the heart of the festival will once again be brimming with good things to eat and drink.

There will be the sound of music ranging from the gentle during daylight hours to the more energetic when the sun goes down.

Some of the weekend’s many free Fringe events will take place here and the Family Corner will ensure that festival goers of all ages will be kept happy and amused.

So what am I looking forward to at the Ballymaloe Cookery School? At last we’ve managed to tempt Clare Lattin and Tom Hill over from their restaurants in London’s Soho and Shoreditch to share some of their recipes.

Readers of this column will know that Raw Duck and Duck Soup as two of my favourite London restaurants.

Monika Linton from Brindisa who wrote the book I’ve been waiting for on Spanish food will teach a class on Saturday morning.

Then there’s Jacob Kennedy from Bocca di Lupo, back by ‘popular demand’ as is the beautiful and gracious Claudia Roden who will speak on both Saturday and Sunday.

Sunil Ghai from Pickle in Dublin will share the secret to many of the dishes that have made Pickle award winning new restaurant so renowned.

But you may not yet have heard of Sumayya Usmani who’s really making waves with her Pakastani food.

This is award winning author’s first appearance in Ireland – don’t miss…. Charlotte Pike has already built up quite a following with her Fermented book but this time she will focus on her recently published book, Smoked and show us how to have fun at home, hot and cold smoking all manner of delicious foods.

The BBC Radio 4 food program, Sheila Dillon and Dan Saladino are coming over from London to record from the Litfest.

There simply isn’t nearly enough space to mention all of the 64 speakers or events so go and check it out on litfest.ie.

Some events are already booked out but there are still lots of opportunities, so come along.

Maybe our biggest coup of all is Vytenis Andriukaitis who will speak in the Grain Store on Sunday ‘To Eat is a Political Statement’ and then there’s the Great Grocers and Joanna Blythman speaking on Nutrition – Really? and our own Professor Ted Dinan on Diet, Stress and Mental Health, and even a session on Food from Space by astrophysicist Niall Smith.

Clare Lattin and Tom Hill’s Crispy Lamb, Labneh, Mint, Red Onion and Pomegranate

Serves 4

1 whole lamb breast, about 2 kg, cut in half

500 ml lamb stock

1 pomegranate

Extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes

Small handful of mint leaves

Small handful of flat leaf parsley

1 red onion, thinly sliced

Juice of 1 lemon

160 g labneh

Chargrilled flatbread or toasted sourdough bread, to serve

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 6. Season the lamb breast with salt and pepper and put into a large roasting tray. Pour over the lamb stock, cover tightly with foil and cook in the oven for 2-3 hours, or until the meat easily comes away from the bone.

Once cooked remove the lamb breasts from the stock and allow to cool. Keep the lamb stock as you can use it another day — simply pour into small tubs and freeze.

While the lamb cools, remove the seeds from the pomegranate by cutting it in half and then holding over a bowl, cut side down on your spread palm. Hit the back of the pomegranate with a wooden spoon or rolling pin so that the seeds drop out into the bowl. If you have trouble try turning the half inside out and gently coaxing the remaining seeds out with your fingers.

Once the lamb breast is cool enough to handle remove all the meat from the bones in large chunks and set aside. Heat a frying pan over a medium high heat and add a generous glug of oil. Add the chilli flakes and then fry the lamb until nice and crisp, giving it a pinch of salt as it cooks.

When the lamb is crisp transfer to a large bowl. Tear in the mint and parsley and add the sliced onion. Squeeze in the lemon juice, add another good splash of olive oil and half the pomegranate seeds and season with salt and pepper.

Toss everything together with your hands and gently coax the salad out of the bowl with your fingers onto individual plates. Spoon a dollop of labneh on to a third of the plate, and finish by scattering the entire dish with pomegranate seeds.

Serve with chargrilled flatbread or toasted sourdough.

From Ducksoup: The Wisdom of Simple Cooking by Clare Lattin and Tom Hill

Shabbo Khala’s Cauliflower Pakoras with spiced moong daal batter

In Pakistan, a mother’s closest friends are like maternal aunts and are called ‘Khala’. Every Khala has her secret recipes — this one is my Shabbo Khala’s. As a child I would excitedly anticipate meals at her house, hoping to get some of these thinly sliced cauliflower florets in spicy lentil batter.

Serves 6–8

150g/5oz moong daal

2 tbsp water

½ tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp chaat masala

1 tbsp chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves

150–200ml/5–7 fl oz vegetable oil

½ cauliflower, cut into florets then florets sliced thinly vertically

To make the batter, soak the lentils in a bowl of water for at least 3 hours, or overnight, then drain and put them into a food processor or blender. Blend with the measured water until it is a smooth thick batter. Stir in all the spices, salt and chopped coriander.

Heat the oil in a wok-style pan over a medium heat. When the oil is smoking hot, reduce the heat to low.

Dip the slices of cauliflower into the batter (forming a thin coating of batter on the cauliflower) and deep-fry in the oil for 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Move the pakora around as they cook to allow them to cook evenly. Remove the pakoras with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Serve immediately.

From Summers Under The Tamarind Tree by Sumayya Usmani

Chicken Salan (on-the-bone chicken curry)

Salan means a liquid-based stew, and the closest description in English would be a thin curry. An everyday staple, chicken salan is classically made using chicken on the bone alongside onion, ginger and garlic with tomatoes and a simple combination of spice. Feel free to experiment with different spice combinations to make this dish your own. It’s best served with an accompaniment of daal, rice and a vegetable dish.

Serves 4–6

3–4 tbsp corn oil

2 red onions, roughly chopped

1-cm/½-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated

1 garlic clove, crushed

400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes or 5 tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp tomato purée (optional)

salt, to taste

1 tsp red chilli powder (reduce if required)

¼ ground turmeric

1 kg/2¼ lb chicken with bones (ask butcher to cut a whole skinned chicken into 16 pieces with bone or use about 500g/1lb 2oz deboned thighs or chicken breast pieces (2.5–5cm/1–2 inches large)

100ml/3½ fl oz water plus 5–8 tbsp

For the ground spices

1 tsp cumin seeds

3–4 green cardamom pods

1 bay leaf

1 tsp coriander (cilantro) seeds

To garnish

handful of tender fresh coriander (cilantro) with stems, chopped

2 green chillies, finely chopped

For the ground spices, grind all the spices together then set aside.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. When hot, add the onions and cook for 8–10 minutes until golden. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so until the raw smell disappears. Add the ground spices, reserving a teaspoon of the spices to garnish. Now cook for about 10–15 minutes until everything is caramelised. The onions will start to darken, and the garlic and ginger will also begin to caramelise. This is what you need for an intensely coloured base.

Add the tomatoes, tomato purée, salt, chilli and turmeric then turn the heat to medium and bhuno (stir-fry) this mixture. If the tomatoes start to splutter a lot reduce the heat slightly. Cook for about 20 minutes until you are left with a thick, rich sauce.

Turn off the heat, let the tomato mixture cool, then blitz in a blender until smooth.

Add 5–8 tablespoons water to make sure it is not too thick — it should be the consistency of a thick jam.

Return to the pan, add the chicken pieces and 50ml/2 fl oz cup of the water and increase the heat to medium-high. Bhuno (stir-fry) the chicken until you start to see the oil separating from the sauce, about 15 minutes of vigorous stirring.

Reduce the heat to low, add about another 50ml/2 fl oz water, cover and cook until the oil floats on top of the curry sauce and the chicken is cooked through.

Garnish with chopped coriander, chillies and a sprinkling of the spice blend.

Serve with basmati rice, chapati and a salad such as crispy chapati kachumber salad.

From Summers under The Tamarind Tree by Sumayya Usmani


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