Fattoush, a paddlers’ bedou banquet

I first ate fattoush with bedou tribes in desert sands besides warm Arabian waters and, as I sit on Mull looking seaward, I realize the two landscapes are similar (aside from the cool breeze, regular and intense rainfall, lush green grass, rich biodiversity, cold nutrient rich water, staggeringly high cliffs, abundant wildlife, driving winter snow and merciless winds) – both are utterly deserted by man.

Why choose desert bedou fattoush to tackle the cold Atlantic swell you might ask. Arabs controlled the spice trail through the Middle East and, if anyone can pimp a salad an arab can. Besides, despite lobster, scallop, salmon and muscles all busy idling below our kayaks, one shouldn’t eat such luxuries too regularly lest they become the everyday we seek to surpass.

Salad pimping

This version is therefore a pimps salad, pimped. The added feta and hard boiled eggs, both add slow release energy to the recipe – much needed for tackling the swell.

Extra calories

Qataris refer to Fattoush as gulf salad but this may have been simply a palatable phrase for tourists for it is known regionally as fattoush (fattush, fattoosh or fattouche). The bedouin version included finely sliced hard-boiled eggs and, being far superior for a calorie hungry sea kayaker, this is the version I am describing. I can however find no reference to eggs in other fattoush recipes. My second addition is feta cheese, diced to cubes. Whilst, in Qatar, the cheese may not have been a feta, it was doubtless a goat or sheep white cheese, so feta will do.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

Dressing

– 4 Tsp. ground sumac, soaked in 4 teaspoons warm water for 15 minutes
– 3 Tbsp. (or more) fresh lemon juice
– 2 Tbsp. (or more) pomegranate molasses
– 2 small garlic cloves, minced
– 2 Tsp. (or more) white wine vinegar
– ½ Tsp. dried mint
– ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt flakes

Salad

– 2 x 8-inch-diameter pita breads, toasted until golden brown, diced
– 6 x hard boiled eggs, peeled and diced smaller than quarters
– 100g feta, diced to cubes
– ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil 
– 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
– one x 1-pound cucumber, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
– one whole red pepper, finely diced
– 6 x spring onions, thinly sliced
– 2 x little gem / baby romaine lettuces cut crosswise into ¾-inch strips
– 2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
– 1-cup fresh mint leaves 
– Ground sumac (optional)
Sea salt flakes

Preparation

Dressing

  1. Combine sumac mix, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, garlic, vinegar and dried mint in a bowl
  2. Gradually add oil, whisking constantly, until well blended
  3. Season with salt; add more lemon juice, molasses or vinegar to taste

Salad

  1. Mix tomatoes, cucumber, spring onion, lettuce, parsley, red pepper and mint in a bowl
  2. Add ¾ of dressing, toss to coat, adding more dressing by tablespoonfuls as needed
  3. Add pita, toss once
  4. Carefully place diced eggs
  5. Place pita pieces over salad
  6. Sprinkle extra sumac over, if desired
  7. Season with sea salt flakes to taste

 

Campfire cooking – French onion soup

This easy to prepare version of the timeless French classic provides perfect warming lunch respite during chilly spring or autumn sea kayak expeditions.

Whole onions keep well in the hold of a sea kayak as long as they are kept in a dry bag and the crunch of fresh vegetables can provide a welcome break from dried boil in the bag foods.

The following recipe feeds 4 people.

Ingredients

– 2 onions, sliced
– 1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 tbsp (15 ml) maple syrup
– 8 cups (2 litres) water
– 2 beef bouillon cubes
– ½ tsp pepper
– ½ tsp salt1 ½ cups croutons
– 200 gm cheddar cheese, grated
– Fresh chives to taste

Method

  1. Heat the oil and brown the onions and garlic
  2. Add the maple syrup to sweeten the onion
  3. Add water, salt and pepper, beef bouillon cubes and simmer for 20 minutes
  4. Serve topped with fried croutons, grated cheddar cheese and chopped chives
  5. A large thermos flask will keep the soup hot for 8 hours whilst kayaking

Serve

Huddle under tarp in the lee of your upturned kayak and drink the soup from a mug using both hands. Bask in luxury as the feeling returns to your fingers.

Gastro campfire cooking – crab cakes

The brown crab is the most popular edible crab in the British Isles and, with a lung full of air and a wet suit, catching one for a delicious campfire treat is an afternoon well spent.

The brown crab has a dimpled edge to its body giving this guy a comic resemblance of a Cornish pasty but all playfulness stops there – this crab has the charm and nuance of a British army battle tank.

Rust coloured, robust and heavy set, with a bone hard shell and a low gait defensive profile it has powerful claws menacingly accentuated with black tips at the business end. These pincers are used to sever flesh and break bones on the seabed and can take a finger – for this reason it’s best to dive his domain to his rules – with a heavy pair of gloves.

Ingredients

For the crab cakes
– 2cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled
– 2 red chilies, seeds removed
– 250g white crabmeat
– Handful fresh coriander
– 2 spring onions, finely sliced
– 2 free-range eggs
– 7-8 tbsp breadcrumbs
– Plain flour, for dusting
– 25ml olive oil

To serve
– Sweet chili jam
Salad leaves
Olive oil, for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
– One lemon

Preparation method

1. Finely chop ginger and chili
2. In a bowl combine the chili and ginger with the crabmeat, coriander and spring onions
3. Crack in one egg and mix well, then stir in 4 tablespoons of the breadcrumbs
4. Divide crab cake mixture into 6 equally and roll to patties
5. Place on a tray and chill in fridge for about 20 minutes before cooking
6. Prepare good campfire embers (Preheat oven to 180C / 365F / Gas 4)
7. Beat remaining egg in a small bowl with one tablespoon of water to make an egg wash
8. Place some plain flour and the remaining breadcrumbs in separate shallow dish
9. Dredge crab cakes in flour, dip into the egg and coat with breadcrumbs
10. Heat oil in frying pan and fry crab cakes for 2-3 mins each side, or until crisp golden-brown all over
11. Wrap crab cakes in tin foil (or place on baking tray for oven) and bake for 5-10 mins, cooked when piping hot through to centre

Serve the crab cakes with a slice of lemon each and a sprig of dill. Sweet chili jam, a few leaves of dressed salad, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Eat the ocean fresh* cakes from a cliff top looking out to sea.


* The term fresh fish is of course relative. On the high-street, at supermarkets and in city restaurants fresh fish really means days old so, when patiently waiting for your number to be called at the fish-counter, be ready to ask where your fish is from and how many days ago it was likely caught. Supermarkets invent terms to suit their needs and, as a discerning consumer, it really is your right to challenge nonsense. At Octane we have made a new, differentiated and entirely transparent definition – Ocean fresh. Simply put, it means caught and eaten same-day.

Campfire baked fish in newspaper – tastes better than it reads

We arrive ill–prepared – Hebridean beaches are known for their absence of banana leaves yet we have brought no substitute foil to bake our catch. We make do with a well–thumbed copy of The Scotsman.

This method of cooking small whole fish keeps the flesh moist and traps all the flavour within the paper shell whilst allowing our catch to steep in the fresh herbs. Catching wild fish and baking it that same day on the shore from which it’s caught makes it, in my definition ocean fresh*.

Cocoon

Season each fish liberally all over with sea salt and stuff the fish cavity with slices of lemon, garlic and fresh herbs. Wrap the fish in about five sheets of paper, wetting each sheet first before applying the next layer.

Cook the parcels for about 15 minutes a side (longer for larger fish) in the hot embers of a campfire – the paper won’t burst into flames, but you may need smear some water on the paper once in a while if the edges smoke.

Fish parcel

The parcel will blacken and the fish skin should come away with the paper to reveal beautifully cooked and succulent white flesh within.

Thankfully, by this stage, The Scotsman might be entirely illegible.

 

––––––––––
* the term fresh fish is of course relative. On the high-street, at supermarkets and in city restaurants fresh fish really means days old so, when patiently waiting for your number to be called at the fish-counter, be ready to ask where your fish is from and how many days ago your fish was likely caught. Supermarkets invent terms to suit their needs and, as a discerning consumer, it really is your right to challenge nonsense. At Octane we have therefore made a new, differentiated and entirely transparent definition – Ocean fresh. Simply put, it means caught and eaten same-day.

 

Wild clam with shoreline garlic vongole

Hartnett and LocatelliMichelin-starred chefs both, disagree whether good vongole has tomatoes or not and, in their books Cucina and Made in Italy, they remain divided. However, on one thing they are both adamant – good vongole uses the freshest clams. 

I’d like to say I choose fresh chilli every time as it adds a sweeter, cleaner and more colourful note than its dried compadre but cooking the recipe on a cliff top, a wilderness beach or near to wherever clams like to hang out can often preclude such luxuries. The little critters often choose to live far from the high street.

Clamming

The beach I choose to collect clams from is covered twice a day by the tide and, when exposed every six hours I take the opportunity to go clam hunting with a rake head, attached to a dissembled paddle end, which makes for the perfect tool. Clams live 6 to 12 inches below the beach surface and are easily found with a little hard raking.

Open or broken clams should be discarded and, after an hour at work, I often have a small bucket full or enough to feed at least three people.

Cooking clams

Preparation: Clams should be washed in fresh water first and broken clams discarded.

Cooking: Garlic and fresh chilli are softened in a pan at first. The olive oil and softened garlic and chilli is then joined by the wild fresh clams and white wine and left to steam until the shells open. The whole pan is then tossed with spaghetti (allow the spaghetti to sit in the sauce and on the heat for a couple of minutes for the flavours to be absorbed), sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley (in May and June we garnish with wild garlic leaves), and serve – it’s as easy as that.

Gastronomic camping

Vongole is an age-old traditional peasants dish and, on Octane wilderness expeditions, we eat it like peasants – on a cliff top, on a beach, in the baking sun and in the howling wind.

We catch it, we cook it and, against all the odds, when we eat it, it’s better than any chef of the celebrity moment big city restaurant gastro themed zeitgeist hype. And, when done with eating the world’s freshest seafood, we forego the Uber taxi home for another night of mediocrity underneath the Milky Way.

Chocolate banana

After the exertion of catching and cooking wild lobster and scallop, relaxing with the simplest of puddings is pure bliss.

Taking a banana, make a 2cm deep cut down the length of the fruit without cutting all the way through to the skin on the bottom side. Insert small pieces of chocolate into the groove and wrap the whole package in tin foil. Place into a campfire’s hot embers and cook until the banana is soft and the chocolate has melted.

Enjoy it very quietly and don’t ever tell chef it’s better than his lobster.

Eating wild – the lost craft

A century ago oiled kilted highland drovers managed to bleed their sheep, combine blood with barley grain and invent a globally respected phenomena to be called Black Pudding. Today baked beans, biltong and instant coffee seem to satisfy – where’s the craft gone in wilderness camp cooking?

Stornoway Black Pudding is so respected by food lovers it has even been granted Protected Geographical Indicator of Origin (PGI) status putting it on a par with Champagne, Parma Ham, Mozzarella and Parmesan. The recipe originates from the days of sheep droving from the Scottish western isles and distant Highlands to the burgeoning industrial market cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. On the drove, sometimes with hundreds of animals and taking many days, herdsmen would bleed their livestock and mix the rich blood with oats or barley to make what was later to become known as Black Pudding.

Although Black Pudding, when served with bacon and eggs, makes for the king of wilderness breakfasts we have a perfect compliment called Tin Tin breakfast.

Tin Tin breakfast

The recipe requires only a few disused tin cans making this the perfect simple wilderness campfire breakfast.

Ingredients

Whole grain bread, 12 slices, crust removed
Eggs, 1 dozen
Bacon, 6 streaky rashers
Butter

Directions

  1. Preheat Dutch Oven 
  2. Grease tin cans and place one slice of bread into each, pressing down at centre
  3. Crack one egg directly onto each slice of bread
  4. Fry bacon separately, cut lengths in half
  5. Place one cooked slice into each egg
  6. Bake multiple Tin Tins at once until egg is just cooked, or until desired consistency
  7. Remove from oven, remove from tin and plate
  8. Serve Tin Tin with black pudding and half a fried tomato for the ultimate wild camp breakfast