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Claudia Roden

Claudia RodenCelebrated food writer Claudia Roden joined us for a webchat at GNHQ in April 2012. She was born and brought up in Cairo and her best-selling books include A Book of Middle Eastern Food and the international award-winning classic The Book of Jewish Food. She has won 6 Glenfiddich awards for her food writing and in 1989 was awarded Italy's two most prestigious food prizes. 

She has spent five years researching her latest book - The Food of Spain - which is filled with many amazing recipes passed down through generations. 

Q: Best hummus recipe? Mine is always too garlicky. effblinder

A: I think with hummus it is a matter of tasting as you go. So, if it was too garlicky, you just have to put much less. You must trust your taste and if you like it a bit thinner you can add a little bit of water.

Q: I have a jar of organic lemons I preserved about a year ago. How long will they keep? I would like to use them, but not sure if they will still be ok. rosierhu

A: They're fine to use.

Q: Why do some recipes including tomatoes state to skin (acceptable) and then to scrape pips from tomatoes leaving just a small amount of flesh? It seems such a waste, especially as the spanish tomatoes are so tasty and juicy. ladybird9

A: Yes, for a salad I would never peel tomatoes. And very often, for a sauce, if I blend them first in the food processor, I do not need to peel them. But otherwise when it is cooked the peel is unpleasant to feel whole.

About the seeds, there's no need to get rid of them. It was only a practice of French haute cuisine to remove them, for the sake of elegance.

Q: I like your Spanish book and must look for a Jewish one as I had some wonderful food in Israel last year, including a lovely spicy tomato dip. I have no idea what it was. Do you? jeni

A: Yes, it could be a Moroccan dish. And it might have had some roasted peppers, chopped finely, in it as well. It will be in my Jewish book. It's called, in French, Salade de Tomates et Poivrons Grillés, and it's on page 219! This variation has garlic, cumin, preserved lemon peel and hot chilli pepper. Hope that answers your question!

Q: Do you cook with your grandchildren? FeeTee

A: I have six grandchildren. The little ones always want to help with the cooking and one of them still comes nearly every week on her own for dinner, so she thinks of herself of my official tester of new recipes. If I'm cooking while she's there she always wants to do some.

I also have a grandson who went to catering school and wanted to be a chef. He very often came to help me. He now has his own business selling coffee, chocolates and now ice creams from a cart! Last week he had an ice-cream tasting - hundreds of people came!

Q: I have had vegetarian paella in Spain - yes I know it sounds a bit odd - and wondered if you had a veggie paella recipe you could share? Pamaga

A: There are many Spanish rice dishes with vegetables only. But they are not paellas, they are just simply called arroz. They use every vegetable as it comes in season.

One recipe from my new book was given to me by someone who runs a vegetarian restaurant in Seville. It is a creamy rice (arroz meloso) with artichokes, broad beans and peas. But you can really use any vegetables that you like. You can make it in a pan.

Fry a large chopped onion and a chopped green pepper until they are soft. You add 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, also chopped and turn off heat.

In another pan, bring a litre of veg stock to the boil (you can use 2 stock cubes). Add in the artichokes and broad beans to the fried onion and pepper and pour in the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the peas. Throw in 350g risotto rice, and some salt. Stir well and simmer for 15 to 18 minutes.

Q: We have a very productive quince tree in our garden and we have made membrillo, quince jelly, quince and apple pie and quince jam. We have found your lamb with quince recipe, but not tried it yet, but wondered if you had any other ideas what we can do with the many kilos of quinces we get each year? Mamie

A: You can cook quinces whole, either boiled or baked in the oven. A nice way to do them is cut in half, sprinkled with sugar and grilled until the sugar caramelises. This is the simplest recipe.

Q: I would like to try making my own pitta bread. I have heard it's not too difficult. Is this something you'd recommend, and do you have any tips? Solidair

A: If you have a pitta bread recipe, you can actually do it under the grill, and turn it over until it puffs up. It is easy to do at home. The only thing is that it doesn't keep very well if you make a lot. It is lovely fresh, and then you can freeze what is left.

Q: Best haroset recipe please. Johanna

A: There are many haroset recipes. Here is my personal haroset from Egypt. It is dark brown as it is meant to be the colour of the Nile silt that the Jews supposedly used to build the pyramids.

Put 250g pitted dates and 200g large yellow raisins or sultanas in a pan. Add 125ml sweet red Passover wine and add just enough water to cover. Cook on very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the dates fall apart in a mush. Then cook further until it thickens to a soft paste. Pour into a bowl and sprinkle with 60g of chopped walnuts.

Q: I googled you and your Moroccan blood orange and almond cake comes up more than any other recipe. I have tried this and it really is delicious. Is it your most popular recipe? cheeriblegran

A: I can say it has become my most popular recipe of mine all over the world. People have been using it for more than 40 years. Chefs have adopted it and Pret a Manger use it.

One that is now becoming a favourite is the Tarta de Santiago. It is the almond cake that you see everywhere in Santiago de Compostella.

Q: I love tabbouleh but there are so many different variations. What would you recommend to get the best result? Include onion? How much tomato? And is it acceptable to chop the parsley in the food processor? spid

A: My first recipe was one which my grandparents who came from Alepo in Syria brought to Egypt at the turn of the 20th century. It was then a peasant salad with a lot of bulghur, because people needed to fill their stomachs then.

Nowadays, the way Lebanese restaurants make it is with plenty of parsley and hardly any bulghur. And just a little tomato and onion. Lebanese people think it is a sacrilege to chop the parsley in the food processor, but I would do what you feel happy with.

Q: I have had ham made from pigs fed on acorns in Spain and it was close to heaven. Is it possible to buy this jamon in the UK - and if so, where? firenze

A: Yes it is possible to buy it. It is called jamon iberico di belota. I believe that Brindisa sell it. Also possibly several internet companies. It is extremely expensive, and unfortunately, when slices are packed in plastic, it is not as good as when it is sliced off the whole leg.

Q: Do you think that the traditions of home-cooked food have been lost in many restaurants and do you think Spanish cuisine is changing and adapting to meet a taste for lighter food? Much as I love tortilla and patatas pobres, I can see that it really doesn't do my figure any good! Mamie

"Home cooks have learnt from nouvelle cuisine/ nueva cosina chefs how to cook everything better, such as using less fat and not overcooking."

A: I think I can say in Spain since the tourist boom in the 60s, a kind of not very authentic, nor very good cuisine emerged in restaurants. Nowadays this is still the case but some very good restaurants are trying to bring back the real local types of dishes and want to make them very well. I would look out for them.

I can say home cooks have learnt from nouvelle cuisine/ nueva cosina chefs how to cook everything better, such as using less fat and not overcooking.

Q: Emergency ideas please for a dinner party. I need to be able to prepare as much as possible in advance (I don't mind sticking it in the oven on the night but won't have time to faff!). One guest is allergic to fish, another doesn't eat pork or shellfish. And I don't like creamy/cheesy dishes. Cathyl

A: Can I suggest my chicken with apples and grapes on p.361 of my new book? Peel and core 5 Golden Delicious apples. Cut one in half or quarters and the rest into 8 slices each. Put them in a bowl of water with the juice of half a lemon to stop them browning.

Blend 500g white grapes in a food processor and collect the juice by pressing the mush through a sieve. Discard the skins left in the sieve - you should get about 250ml juice. Then stuff a 1.5kg chicken  with the halved or quartered apple and put it in a bkaing dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and rub with 1 tbsp olive oil. Turn it breast side down in the dish and pour in 125ml of the grape juice. Rost in preheated oven (190C/gas 5) for 45 minutes then take it out, turn the bird over, pour the rest of the juice over it and return to the oven. Cook for another 30 mins or until the chicken is brown and caramelised and the juices run clear.

While the chicken is roasting heat 75g butter with 2 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan. Put in the drained apple slices and 500g white seedless grapes and saute over a medium heat, turning over the fruits and shaking the pan gently until the grapes are soft andgolden and the apples tender and caramelised (which takes around 20 mins.) Transfer to a baking dish with their juices and reheat in the oven when you are ready to serve.

Another suggestion is a lamb stew with honey, because you can just heat it up. It is a Moorish dish and serves 5-6. It is on page 398 of my new book. You have to cook it for 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hours until the meat is very tender. There is also brandy and cayenne or chilli pepper to mitigate the sweetness.

Q: I absolutely love tortilla and have experimented with various recipes to make it at home (with varying success). I'd like to know if I can par boil my sliced potatoes first and also is there a way of cutting down on the amount of olive oil without ruining the taste? rosiemus

A: In Spain, people would never par boil potatoes for tortilla. But, Tunisians have a similar recipe with potatoes which they boil. So if you have an objection to using too much oil, try boiling them. The taste and texture are different, but you might like it.

Q: The Middle East has had a difficult history, certainly in recent times. Do you feel food cuts across all that, or does it get caught up in the hostilities? Is the politics of food part of the interest for you, or can you ignore it? fryup

A: I think that food is a bond between even warring parties. That's what I found. But you might be aware of the hummus wars between Lebanon and Israel. It is just a commercial war between producers.

Other things you might like...

Q: I love the idea of tapas and am thinking of preparing a few dishes for a family birthday celebration in a few weeks' time. Do you have a suggestion for five or six dishes that would work well together? Preferably reasonably simple to make! champ

A: Yes you could do roast peppers, cut into slices with anchovy fillets. Another one is a goats' cheese with a trickle of honey. Creamy scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms. You can have Catalan tomato bread, where toast is rubbed with tomatoes (you can actually blend them in the food processor and spread them on top, then sprinkle with olive oil and salt). Cured ham would be a good addition.

Q: You have a fantastic job (at which you are very good!) - but I wondered how you got involved in writing about food? tomtom

A: When my family was forced to leave Egypt after the Suez crisis in 1956, we had no cookbooks - there were no cookbooks. I started collecting recipes from all the people who had left.

Q: Do you need a tagine pot to make authentic tagine? fridaygran

A: No, definitely not. I can say, nowadays, in Morocco, they use pressure cookers and then reduce it at the end, so that the oil comes through. I don't use a pressure cooker myself, but if they're going to do it, why not?