A Girls Only Valentine Dinner


It just turned out that way. My daughter Nicola and her partner Rachael were coming down from Birmingham on Friday afternoon for the weekend to celebrate my daughter-in-law Lyndsey’s birthday tonight (Saturday) – a pizza party at Ruben’s Refettorio. With restaurants full of couples eating meals marked-up for Valentine’s Day (even M&S’s usual 2 Eat in for £10 had risen to £20), it was decided we were staying in and I was cook. Then I invited Lyndsey as my son was away and she brought friend Liz. So it turned into friends and family sharing love, good humour, good conversation – and a glass or two of champagne!


To get into the spirit I’d bought heart-shaped candles and paper napkins with hearts on them. Nicola came bearing real gifts for us, wrapped up in pretty paper with cards. They were opened to reveal wonderful chocolates.


We began with champagne – of course! – and an eclectic mix of starters that I’d bought: a fantastic large buffalo mozzarella from Sapori TW1 with some sweet cherry tomatoes, some sushi-style salmon from Waitrose; salted almonds, habas fritas, taralli from Corto Deli, vinci olives from Carluccio’s and a gorgeous baguette from Paul. For a food blogger who normally likes to keep to one ‘theme’ throughout a meal, i.e., all Italian, or French, or Moroccan or whatever, I was obviously in free spirit mode and willing to go wherever my fancy took me. The main course though was definitely all Moroccan: two tagines – Aubergine & Tomato, that I’ve made before (click here) and a fish tagine that I hadn’t tried before. So here is the recipe:

Fish Tagine with Preserved Lemon & Mint


I found the recipe for this gorgeous fish tagine in Ghillie Basan’s Tagines & Couscous. I loved the sound of marinating the fish pieces in a spicy chermoula for a couple of hours before cooking the tagine. And making the chermoula is where the recipe begins. Pound 2 garlic cloves, 1 red chilli seeded and chopped and 1 teaspoon sea salt in a mortar and pestle until you have a coarse paste. Now add the leaves of a small bunch of coriander and pound until that is mixed in. Add a pinch of saffron, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and then mix it all together with 4 tablespoons olive oil and the juice of 1 lemon.


I bought 1 whole fillet of cod from Sandy’s fishmonger in Twickenham weighing almost 1kg, but any firm white fish will do. Cut it into largish chunks and then add all but 2 tablespoons of the chermoula and mix well (save the 2 tablespoons for later). Cover the dish and refrigerate for 2 hours.


To make the sauce to cook the fish in, gently fry 1 finely chopped red onion, 2 finely chopped carrots and 2 finely chopped celery sticks in 2-3 tablespoons oil. When they are softened, add 1 preserved lemon, finely chopped, with the 2 tablespoons of chermoula you saved. Add 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes and stir well. Cook gently for 10 minutes then add 150ml white white and 150ml water. Bring to a boil and then gently simmer for about 10-15 minutes.


At this point you could turn the sauce off – as I did – and save the last-minute cooking of the fish until you want to eat. Toss the marinated fish in the sauce and cook gently for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add a handful of chopped fresh mint.  I put both tagines on the table for people to help themselves with a bowl of couscous and a green salad.


The aubergine tagine is one of my favourite dishes but this ‘new’ fish tagine had a wonderful flavour and was a great hit with everyone. I’d made two tagines because Rachael is vegetarian – but she occasionally eats fish and tried the fish tagine too and even had seconds!

Our meal ended with Orange & Polenta Cake served with some creme fraiche and little heart-shaped chocolates.


Then I made a big pot of coffee and we ate some of the chocolates Nicola had bought with it. It had been a great evening and Valentine’s Day had provided a good excuse for a little extra indulgence, which was appreciated by all!

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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