California inspires a fresh approach in the kitchen
I love the sunshine, I love the nature, I love the jaw-dropping coastline, the Redwood trees, the buzzing cities, the laidback wine country and the cool desert towns. There’s just so much on offer and it’s amazing how you can drive a few hours and be in a place with completely different scenery with a completely different vibe. I think there’s also an overarching entrepreneurial spirit in California, a feeling that you can succeed in anything, which is such a positive way to live. And, of course, as a food writer I’ve always been inspired by what I eat over there. There’s a fresh, balanced approach in the kitchen, with a huge emphasis on seasonal fruit and veg.
There are so many ingredients to choose from
Because of the climate and the hugely varying terrain, California grows a kaleidoscope of fruit and vegetables. There’s so much to choose from. Typical Californian ingredients include avocados (the original Hass avocado tree was said to be planted in 1926 in LA county), artichokes (Monterey even has an annual festival to celebrate its artichokes), almonds, walnuts, Meyer lemons (a slightly sweeter, soft-skinned lemon) and Black Mission figs. The list goes on and on, but those are a few of my favourites.
Farmer’s markets are a great place to source ingredients
I think local farmer’s markets are always a good bet. They tend to only offer seasonal produce and you’ll spot new things coming in as we move through the seasons which is a good way to keep things fresh in the kitchen. There are some fantastic greengrocers (Clifton Greens (cliftongreens.co.uk) in Maida Vale is my local) around now too, and some great veg delivery services like Oddbox (oddbox.co.uk) which will send you the locally grown misshapen veg that doesn’t make into more commercial shops.
There's a reason we associate the West Coast with wellness
There are many reasons why we associate the West Coast with health and wellness. In the heartland of show business and entertainment, people want – need, even – to look good, and so we see health and exercise trends fly thick and fast out of Hollywood. California was also the birthplace of the hippie food movement, the 1960s counterculture that spread the word of peace and love and adopted a raw vegan lifestyle going to great lengths to live off the land. It is quite amazing how, 50 years on, this philosophy is fashionable once again and Californians have revolutionised plant-based cuisine. In more general terms, I think the outdoor lifestyle and abundance of fantastic homegrown produce effortlessly encourages people towards a healthier lifestyle. It almost seems like a natural way to eat out there.
Lots of Californian chefs have inspired me
I think Travis Lett at Gjelina in LA produces a brilliant veg-forward menu packed with really interesting, beautifully presented creations. For me his cooking really embodies what Californian food is about. I think Chad Robertson’s sourdough at Tartine in San Francisco is the best I’ve eaten, and I love that he has shared all his knowledge on the subject in his books – I use his method to make sourdough at home. And Jessica Koslow’s Sqirl in LA is a great neighbourhood café. There’s so much thought put into texture, flavour and colour in her seemingly simple creations.
I’m 100% in favour of a savoury breakfast
I find it’s a much better way to set me up for the day. I like to have at least two portions of veg in my breakfast too, it makes aiming for 8-10 a day somewhat achievable. And I don’t restrict myself to traditional breakfast foods either. In winter I’ll happily eat a bowlful of steaming red lentil dhal with a poached egg on top. In the summer months, I rather like a breakfast salad, usually comprising quinoa, some steamed green veg, avocado, cherry tomatoes, maybe a hard-boiled egg and some nuts or seeds with a very simple olive oil and lemon juice dressing. On a savoury breakfast note, I love the crab omelette with chilli and sweetcorn and the huevos rancheros. They’re both morning staples for me.
Coconut Jumbo Oat Granola With Charred Stone Fruit
This is a brilliant granola, not too sweet and perfectly crisp. The joy, of course, is adapting the recipe according to whatever leftover packets of seeds, nuts and dried fruit you have in your cupboards, though this combination is particularly good and makes enough for at least 15 portions. It stores well at room temperature in an airtight container.
100g flame or jumbo raisins
50g whole skin-on almonds, roughly chopped
50g shelled unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped
50g pecans, roughly chopped
250g jumbo oats
25g pumpkin seeds
25g chia seeds
4 tablespoons coconut oil
5 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
4 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
50g coconut flakes
To serve (per person)
1 nectarine, peach or apricot, halved and stoned
1 teaspoon melted unsalted butter
150g Greek or natural yoghurt
- Preheat a fan oven to 150˚C and line a large baking tray (pan) with baking parchment. Soak the raisins in a bowl of just-boiled water while you prepare the other ingredients.
- In a large mixing bowl combine the chopped nuts, oats and seeds. Put the coconut oil, maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla and water in a small saucepan and heat until it comes to a simmer. Drain the raisins and tip them into the saucepan, then pour everything over the nuts, oat and seeds mixture. Sprinkle in the salt and mix together well.
- Spread the granola mixture out over the parchment, making it a little thinner in the middle and piling it up more at the edges, as that’s where it will brown more quickly. Bake for 15 minutes, then stir well and continue to cook, stirring the mixture every 10 minutes until golden and fragrant (35–45 minutes in total, depending on how golden you like it). Stir the coconut flakes into the mixture for the final 5–10 minutes. Once ready, remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.
- When ready to serve, heat a griddle pan or BBQ over a medium-high heat. Brush the cut sides of the fruit with melted butter, place them cut side down on the griddle, and cook for 2 minutes until lightly charred. Spoon the yoghurt into bowls, top with a hefty sprinkling of granola and the fruit. Some edible flowers look rather pretty, too.
Cauliflower Tacos With Sprout Slaw And Coriander Cashew Sauce
I really enjoy pulling up at a traditional roadside taco stand where the meaty fillings are as unpretentious as they are delicious, but I’ve also eaten at plenty of taco places in California where the fillings are thoroughly modern and thrillingly creative. I know we’re all a bit obsessed with roasting cauliflower, but this method of steaming it, then sautéing it in a large pan gives the cauliflower a really good texture, not too soft but nicely charred in places. I think frying in butter really adds to the flavour, but you can use oil to make this recipe vegan. The creamy cashew sauce is great too and can be spooned over just about any vegetables.
1 cauliflower, broken into small florets and core removed (about 600g prepared weight)
4 tablespoons water
30g unsalted butter (or sunflower oil)
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 medjool date, pitted and finely chopped (it may be easiest to snip it with clean scissors)
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch of ground turmeric
8 corn tortillas
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season
For the sprout slaw
100g brussels sprouts, trimmed
Juice of 1/2 lime
Pinch of sea salt
For the herbed cashew dressing
50g unsalted cashews
Handful of coriander
10 mint leaves
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
1 green chilli, roughly chopped
Pinch of sea salt
- Soak the cashews in a bowl of cold water.
- Put the cauliflower florets in a large sauté pan or shallow casserole dish with a lid and add the water. Season with salt and pepper, cover and set over a medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes, shaking from time to time to turn the florets. Remove the lid and add the butter (or oil), garlic and chopped date and toss together with a pinch of salt. Turn the heat up a little and fry for 2–3 minutes, stirring regularly. Tip in the spices and fry, stirring, for another 5–7 minutes until the cauliflower is tender and golden in places. Set aside.
- To make the slaw, finely shred the sprouts and toss them in a bowl with the lime juice and salt. To make the dressing, drain the cashews then put them in a blender (ideally a high-speed one, see page 23) with the herbs, ginger, chilli, water, salt and a squeeze of lime juice. Blitz until smooth, check the seasoning (adding more lime and a splash more water to loosen, if necessary) then transfer to a bowl. Toast the tortillas, and pile on the cauliflower and sprouts, drizzling with the cashew dressing to serve.
NOTES ON… CORN TORTILLAS
It’s not always easy to buy pure corn tortillas outside of California, whereas they’re ten-a-penny in Californian supermarkets. Their flavour is distinctively corny and their texture chewier and more substantial. Plus, they’re smaller than flour tortillas, and each taco here is only meant to be two–three bites. There are Mexican (and non-Mexican) supermarkets online you can order them from and I would advise it. I usually buy a variety of 15cm blue and yellow corn tortillas. I prefer to heat them by lowering them straight onto a naked flame on a low hob and letting them char for about 30 seconds on each side. You can also toast them in a similar way in a dry frying pan, wrapping the heated tortillas in kitchen foil to keep them warm as you heat the rest.
Salmon Noodle Bowls With Chilli Relish And Pickled Radish
I make this kind of dish at least once a week. Once you get used to assembling all the separate components, it’s something that can be thrown together very quickly. It is also adaptable to whatever leftover vegetables you have lingering in the refrigerator: often I’ll pickle carrot or cucumber instead of radish and add a pile of steamed broccoli or edamame. The chilli-yuzu relish (also known as yuzu kosho), is not strictly necessary, but it does add a lovely extra flourish that I think is worth the trouble. This recipe serves two, but you can easily scale it up to serve more.
125g dried fine egg noodles
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 salmon fillets, skin removed
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 avocado, peeled, halved and stoned
1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
1 spring onion, finely shredded
For the pickled radish
2 tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar
2 teaspoons runny honey
150g watermelon radish, peeled and thinly sliced
For the soy dressing
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Japanese rice vinegar
1 teaspoon runny honey
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
For the chilli-yuzu relish
1 large or 2 small jalapeños (or any green chilli), seeded and finely chopped
Pinch of flaky sea salt
1/4 teaspoon concentrated yuzu juice (or mandarin or lime juice)
Pinch of caster sugar (optional)
- Toss all the pickled radish ingredients in a bowl. Set aside while you prepare everything else but keep tossing from time to time to coat.
- To make the soy dressing, mix all the ingredients together in a bow. Set aside.
- To make the chilli-yuzu relish, place the chopped chilli on a chopping board. Sprinkle with a little flaky sea salt and, using the flat side of the blade of a chef’s knife, crush the salt into the chilli using a rolling motion. You may need to scrape it up into a pile every now and then and chop it with the blade to help break down the skin. Alternatively, pound it in a pestle and mortar or blitz in a small food processor. Transfer the relish to a bowl and mix in the yuzu juice and sweeten it with the sugar if required.
- Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and drop in the egg noodles, simmer for 3 minutes then drain and rinse under the cold tap. Shake to drain, then toss with the sesame oil. Spread out on paper towel to soak up any more excess water.
- Preheat the grill to medium-high (240˚C) and line a baking sheet with kitchen foil. Place the salmon fillets on the lined tray, brush the tops with the soy sauce and grill for 7–8 minutes, or until cooked through.
- Divide the noodles between 2 bowls, and spoon over a little soy dressing. Arrange half an avocado and a good heap of pickled radish on each. Place a salmon fillet on each and top with the chilli-yuzu relish. Spoon over the remaining dressing and scatter with sesame seeds and spring onion to serve.
NOTES ON… YUZU
Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit, with a flavour somewhere between a mandarin and a lime. They’re not easy to find fresh, but in Asian supermarkets you can often find it sold concentrated in bottles. It really lifts the chilli relish in this recipe, though you can use a splash of lime or mandarin juice instead. Splash the leftover yuzu into gin and tonics or chicken noodle soups.
California: Living + Eating by Eleanor Maidment is out now. Visit Waterstones.co.uk; Photo Credits: Nassima Rothacker
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